Often asked who was The White Eagle? Gerald Kochan producer of White Eagle in Borrowed Skies, explained that no one flyer was the White Eagle. The Polish Symbol is the White Eagle just as our American Symbol is the Bald Eagle. The cadets of the Polish Air Force Officer Cadet School in Deblin are nicknamed “Eaglets”. Each of these flyers came to represent the White Eagle abroad during WW2 for with the fall of Poland they carried the fight on. Reorganizing first in France and later in Great Britain upon the Fall of France, they never quit the fight against the Nazi occupiers of their homeland. Forming the largest foreign contingent during the Battle of Britain they downed over 200 aircraft during the battle. From their top aces like Witold Urbanowicz, Stanislaw Skalski and Boleslaw Gladych to the fitter on the ground who armed and maintained their aircraft they were all Eagles unbowed fighting in Borrowed Skies.
Specialist Ty Carter single-handedly beat back an assault of 300 Afghan troops who had superior armaments and position to him and his team. Disregarding his own wounds, he repeatedly ran through heavy fire to treat and carry to safety two fallen comrades. His conspicuous gallantry under fire prevented his post from being overrun and saved the lives of his troop. His actions also brought great credit upon himself in the tradition of American military service dating back to the first recipients of the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. Specialist Carter received this award on August 26, 2013
Documentary films can range from thrilling to merely interesting to downright tedious. Necessarily, they are concerned with truth rather than dramatic effect. But the best ones are both absorbing and educational. They also serve as beginnings of future discussions.
There are three particularly strong military documentaries about Germany, Poland and their relationship with each other during World War II. As with many great films of this ilk, some are not without controversy.
Triumph of the Will
Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda masterpiece is significant not only because of its horrifying message but also because of the filmmaker’s jaw-dropping, astonishing cinematography, which used what were considered avant-garde techniques at the time:
● Aerial photography
● Superimposed, simultaneously filmed images
● Distorted perceptions resulting from long-focus lenses
The Nazis had almost a million soldiers standing in formation in the Messe-Stadion in Nürnberg, and she captured all the action of the rallies in her cameras. One sees no cranes, no scaffolding and no camera operators in any frame of the film. To this day, film buffs are at a loss when it comes to how she did it with 80-year-old equipment and techniques.
Riefenstahl herself has been at the core of the controversy. She always steadfastly claimed to have been ignorant of Hitler’s anti-Semitism and future plans for Germany, but many scholars and historians don’t agree. While it is true that there are no outright anti-Semitic phrases in the film, her interview with Julius Streicher during the filming yielded the line, “… a people that does not protect its racial purity will perish.” Streicher was hanged after the Nürnberg trials.
This French documentary from Claude Lanzmann has been so controversial throughout its existence that such film critics as Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel and Pauline Kael have changed their opinions multiple times about its nearly 9.5 hours of footage. Lanzmann’s officially sought to portray Treblinka and Auschwitz through interviews with both survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust. He spoke with witnesses, too, and pulls no punches: Many of the interviews are tooth-jarring in their intensity.
The controversy comes from what appears to be Lanzmann’s hidden agenda. Through shrewd questioning, he alludes to his belief that the Poles themselves were somehow responsible for being nearly annihilated by the Nazis. He asks one witness, who lived in the town of Treblinka, if Poles who weren’t Jewish were afraid of the Jews because of what the Nazis were doing. The witness says, “Let me put it this way. When you cut your finger, does it hurt me?” Polish Holocaust survivors objected to the way Lanzmann went about making his film. They were particularly aghast at how he seemingly ignored the people in Poland who rescued Jews or fought the Nazis. He even admitted later that his specific intent was to indict the Poles as anti-Semitic co-conspirators, which probably explains his complete lack of portrayal of the massacres and other deaths of non-Jewish Poles. Lanzmann also leaves out Russian atrocities against the Polish people, such as the Katyn and Minsk massacres.
White Eagle in Borrowed Skies
Gerald Kochan’s documentary “White Eagle in Borrowed Skies” portrays the history of the Polish Air Force during World War II. When Germany invaded Poland in September, 1939, Poland fell in less than a month. Poland’s obsolete planes and outnumbered fliers were no match for the German onslaught. Two weeks into the invasion, Russia broke through Poland’s eastern defenses, and, after the Polish surrender on September 27, 1939, Germany and Russia divided Poland along the Bug River. As pointed out in the film, despite the hopeless odds, the Luftwaffe lost more aircraft in the Polish campaign than against the combined French and British Air Forces in the French campaign.
Realizing that Poland’s defense was hopeless, the Polish High Command told its Air Force personnel to continue the fight in exile. Poland itself was powerless to stop the invasion or the resulting slaughter over the next six years. But if the pilots could successfully find themselves bases in countries abroad to reconstitute, allies for which they could fight, Poland might have the last laugh.
They fought the Luftwaffe over Britain, North Africa, and Russia and one ace even tangled with Japanese Zekes and Georges in the Far East. They accounted for 203 aerial victories over German fighters during the Battle of Britain and thus were instrumental in the eventual victory of the Allies.
The United States military rewards many things, including superior achievement, dedication, conduct and bravery. Although many soldiers have earned Army Achievement Medals, Army Commendation Medals, Meritorious Service Medals and Good Conduct Medals, comparatively few have been recognized for bravery.
There are four main commendations awarded by the United States for bravery:
● The Medal of Honor
● The Distinguished Service Cross in all its variants
● The Silver Star
● The Bronze Star
The Purple Heart is an interesting case: It is awarded for being wounded in action against a belligerent enemy instead of in recognition of an action or actions. Because it is awarded for combat wounds, it essentially recognizes the soldier’s bravery—during today’s world of an all-volunteer military—for being in combat in the first place.
The Medal of Honor
Since the criteria of this highest award were tightened during World War I, it is given only to a soldier who “distinguishes him or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty in action involving actual conflict with an enemy.” Usually, the President of the United States presents the award to the recipient or, if it is a posthumous award, to the recipient’s immediate family. There are only two ways a soldier can be recommended for this award: by someone in his or her immediate chain of command with direct knowledge of the soldier’s actions or by direction of the President of the United States.
The Distinguished Service Cross
There is a version of this medal for each of the armed forces of the United States, the Navy/Marine Corps equivalent is the Navy Cross. The criteria are similar to those required by the Congressional Medal of Honor but do not meet the same level as actions that are “beyond the call of duty.” Several Distinguished Service Crosses have been revoked in the past for a variety of reasons. The most notable reason involved a case of six black soldiers who had received Distinguished Service Crosses for actions that merited a Medal of Honor. After a review lasting seven years, Congress awarded those soldiers their proper medals in 1997.
The Silver Star
The Silver Star is the third-highest award for bravery in the United States Armed Forces and, similar to the Distinguished Service Cross, is awarded for conduct that does not merit a higher award for bravery.
The Bronze Star
The Bronze Star can be awarded either for gallantry and heroism (in which case it carries the “V” device) or for outstandingly meritorious service in a combat zone. When awarded for bravery, its criteria are similar to those of the higher awards but such bravery does not meet the higher criteria. When awarded for meritorious service, it is the highest award other than the Legion of Merit that a soldier can earn.
A Famous Recipient
Audie Murphy is the most decorated United States soldier of all time. Astoundingly, he was awarded all five of these medals. In addition to his Medal of Honor, he received a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars with “V” device, and three Purple Hearts. Then, he turned 20 years old.