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When Trumpets Fade is a 1998 war film directed by John Irvin. It stars Ron Eldard, Frank Whaley, Zak Orth, Dylan Bruno.

Overview

This film portrays the actions of an American private David Manning (Ron Eldard) during the Battle of Hurtgen Forestmarker, a battle between the U.S. Army and German Wehrmacht which took place from 1944-1945 on the Western Front .

Plot

Private Manning is a reluctant hero and is initially shown as a bit of a shirker - "just doing enough to keep in trouble to avoid promotion", according to another character. Through the sheer bloodiness of the Hurtgen battles, Manning is left as the sole survivor of his unit and subsequently promoted to sergeant. He believes he is unqualified for the position, but his CO thinks otherwise. Manning then tries to back out of responsibility by asking to be filed on a Section 8 (mentally unfit due to combat stress) but is refused.

Manning finds himself in charge of replacements, a prospect he is less than thrilled with. Eventually he accepts his responsibilities and his position in the scheme of things. At one point, he goes on patrol with his platoon, but sends Private Warren Sanderson up front. The men retreat at one point, but Sanderson goes forward too quickly, getting lost and then narrowly avoids contact with the enemy. After some time, Manning suggests that they leave without Sanderson. At that moment, Sanderson returns. After the incident to leave Sanderson behind, Manning is scorned by his peers and berated by his platoon leader.

The men make a push toward the town of Schmidt, going through the forest (considered safe by the commander) to take a bridge (where the commander says things will get hot) and onward to the town. However, in this first push, the men first advance easily, but find that the ground has been booby-trapped by landmines, and also are shelled by 88s.

After that, his captain comes to him with a suicidal mission requiring volunteers, and bargains with Manning that he will get that Section 8 if he volunteers for the mission with some of his men. While succeeding in the mission, one of his men loses control over himself and decides to run. Realizing everybody will run if he doesn't do anything, he shoots the soldier with his handgun, hitting one of the flamethrower gas bottle the soldier (Pvt. Baxter) is carrying in his back, which causes it to explode and burns the soldier to death. While the rest of the men finds his conduct horrible and uncalled for, they stop running and assault the position where the two 88mm cannons are located, destroying them in the process. As it happens, the final successful assault is led by the same Private Sanderson, armed with the other flamethrower.

Meanwhile, the rest of his section get to the bridge, suffering horrendous casualties and after the 88s are put out of action, get shelled by German tanks afterward. In the assault, Manning's lieutenant and platoon leader loses control over himself when a sergeant gives him a handful of dog tag from dead soldiers. When the lieutenant's battalion commander asks about the status of his platoon, the lieutenant snaps and tries to assault him--all the while moaning and crying--clearly unfit to lead soldiers in combat. Manning confronts the commander as the lieutenant is escorted out, picking up the mass of dog tags the lieutenant dropped, as the lieutenant's squad was wiped out, and is promoted to lieutenant by the commander.

After an altercation with another sergeant who accuses Manning of shooting his own men, Private Sanderson--who survived the raid on the 88mm cannons--defends Manning's conduct by acknowledging the fact that everybody would have run instead of fighting. Manning also silences them by telling them that their section is going to have to assault German positions again.

Manning devises a plan to destroy the German tanks the night before the assault. If they don't, he knows that the entire battalion is in jeopardy. He bravely leads three of his men (Sgt. Talbot, Medic Chamberlain and Private Sanderson) in a pre-dawn raid on the German batteries, mainly to spite those officers who demand the impossible while staying out of the firing line themselves. Manning puts himself in the most danger, clearing the minefield and cutting the wire, enabling the group to continue on. The operation costs the lives of all his men except one--the same who survived the raid on the 88mm guns (Private Sanderson)--while Manning gets wounded in the chest. The film concludes with a wounded Manning being carried back to the American lines by the now battle-hardened replacement Sanderson; a mirror image of his carrying back a wounded comrade at the opening of the film. Manning appears to faint/die from severe loss of blood, but it is not explicitly shown if Manning survives the operation. The film closes with a little note that the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest was overshadowed by the Battle of the Bulge quite soon after.

The overall point the film makes is that not everyone who took part in World War II was stereotypical hero material; in fact, Manning's role is distinctly one of an anti-hero, somebody ordinary pushed into extraordinary circumstances.

Awards

In 1999, the director John Irvin won his first ever award for the film which was the Silver FIPA Award for Best Director.

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