This evening, I watched the independent film “Everyman’s War”, which deals with World War II. This film, put out by Virgil Films, Inc. and One Eighty Films, Inc. tells the story of several soldiers in the 94th Infantry Division, including Don Smith, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. It received the award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2009 GI Film Festival, which lends great credibility to director Thad Smith’s project.
The film begins with a stirring, but jolting scene from the 94th’s participation in the Battle of the Bulge, near Nennig, Germany, in January, 1945. It shows Don Smith attempting to evade German forces, while seeking to reach headquarters and make them aware of the dire situation for his men, who are facing down the 11th Panzer Division. It then fades to a now elderly Smith reflecting upon his service, while reading a letter informing him that one of his comrades recently passed.
It proceeds to 1943 in Kansas, where a Robert Fuller leaves his family farm for the Army. Other characters that will later interact with Smith are introduced at home, including colorful Angelo Benedetto, who was forced into the Army to avoid prison, and carried his criminal ways to the service, much to the chagrin of Corporal Starks, who became a mentor to Don Smith. German-American Karl Heinrick, faces down bigotry and suspicion to prove himself a loyal and proud American. The impression is given that Smith and most others in his squad are drafted.
The focus on the film is on Don Smith, who was working in a mill in Oregon, while seeming to attend college (he mentioned studying when not working), before the war. He begins a love interest with Dorine, but has to report before he can solidify a relationship. Fuller, Smith, and Benedetto all meet Corporal Starks, a married man from New York, who will become a father while overseas.
The combat for these men begin in northern France in late 1944, protecting coastal batteries in the wake of the D-Day invasion. Benedetto continues criminal activity, which eventually lands him in trouble. Smith and Starks create a strong bond of friendship, which is shattered when Starks is killed, thrusting Smith into leadership, which he proves himself adept at. As the men enter the winter of 1944 and the eventual Battle of the Bulge, the squad is joined by Heinrick, who is brought in as a replacement.
The men enter the town of Nennig to relieve comrades. Smith and his squad in M Company soon face attack from the 11th Panzer “Ghost’ Division, which inflicts casualties, forcing Smith to seek the command post to save his men. In the process his is wounded, but returns to duty several weeks later, only to find most of his buddies are not there, either dead, wounded, or captured. Smith encounters some of the horrors of post-war Germany, including a prisoner taking his life in front of Smith. Smith attempts to piece together what he experienced and saw when he returns home as well as in old age.
This is a story that will touch veterans’ hearts, as they may be able to relate to Smith. Viewers will appreciate the sacrifice of those who fought in World War II. The battle scenes were well-done, and the back-stories on each character exemplified the diverse nature of the American army during the war, ranging from the average men in Smith and Fuller, to those using the military to escape punishment (Benedetto), to those seeking to serve to prove themselves in a time of tribulation (Heinrick). You appreciate the bonds formed by the men, and the heartbreak they suffer, as they lose friends and witness the horrors of war. Based on the true actions of the 94th Infantry Division in Europe, I strongly recommend Everyman’s War for your viewing and give it my seal of approval.
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