On April 18th, 1945, war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by enemy fire on Iejima* during the Battle of Okinawa. At the time of his death, Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, was well-known for his intimate and personal storytelling that highlighted the experiences of the “average” soldier. Pyle was able to tell the stories of enlisted men because he embedded himself in their day-to-day lives; he didn’t just observe their work, he lived, traveled, ate, and shared foxholes with them.
In remembrance of Ernie Pyle, the Unwritten Record presents photographs and motion pictures that highlight his work as a roving war correspondent during WWII.
(Photo by Barnett)
(Photo by TSgt. J. Mundell)
(Photo by Tsgt. Mundell)
(Photo by Barnett)
(Photo by Barnett)
(Photo by Blau)
(Photo by Bonnard)
(Photo by Blau)
Jack Lieb Collection
Jack Lieb was a newsreel cameraman who covered the end of the war in Europe (D-Day to Germany). Pyle appears in the following videos, which document preparations for the D-Day invasion in England and France.The records presented above were found in the following series:
The records presented above were found in the following series:
All sorts of comics have entertained readers without having their protagonist wear spandex and capes. Outside of standard superhero comics, you could pick up a sub-genre called war comics. The recent announcement of Steven Spielberg directing a Blackhawk film based off the DC Comics series attests to the place of war comics in pop culture.
These comics were generally grounded in reality, even if they occasionally had fantastical elements. But the focus was placed on the war and the soldiers who fought in them. With that in mind, these comics would definitely grab the attention of movie-goers.
That’s a hell of a MacGuffin — and one I don’t think any film has gone after.
(Adventures in the Rifle Brigade #1 by Vertigo Comics)
Adventures in the Rifle Brigade
This 2000’s mini-series written by Garth Ennis (best known for Preacher and his work on Punisher and Judge Dredd) and art by Carlos Ezquerra was a war comedy about a British commando unit in World War II.
The titular team was an over-the-top caricature of troops in WWII. Just to set the stage for the kind of comic this was, the team’s entire goal was to steal Hitler’s missing testicle.
Why? Because why not?
(Star-Spangled War Stories Vol. 1 by DC Comics)
The War That Time Forgot
The 1924 novel The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burrough was a classic tale about the savagery of war and a soldier who must tap into his primordial rage to destroy his enemies…and who also crashed on an island full of dinosaurs.
The adapted comic overlooked all those metaphors and symbolism and nose dove directly into “soldiers fighting dinosaurs” in a goofy action series.
Frank Miller got his first break into the comic book industry with “Weird War Tales” but his comics like “300,” “Sin City,” “Dark Knight Returns,” and “Daredevil” have all been huge successes.
(Weird War Tales #64 by DC Comics)
Weird War Tales
Another way to mix war films with another genre with a supernatural horror like with Weird War Tales. Each comic was part of an anthology and each focused on one conflict — retold with zombies, vampires, robots, and other monsters. The only reoccurring character was Death, who would introduce each tale.
(Our Army At War featuring Sgt. Rock #297 by DC Comics)
Our Army at War (featuring Sgt. Rock)
Hands down the most famous of the war comics has still never been touched — even if many have tried in the past. Sgt. Rock was a realistic war story written by Army veteran Bob Kanigher. While other writers would take over Sgt. Rock, the original Kanigher run of the character is regarded as one of the best series of and pioneered the Silver Age of Comics.
Joel Silver of Dark Castle Entertainment has been trying to get a Sgt. Rock film in production for ages now with none other than Bruce Willis cast as Sgt. Rock himself. Both Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino were rumored to direct at some point. Even though it’s stuck in development hell, this is still one of the most requested war comic films.
The officers of the USS Liberty were sunbathing on the decks of their ship on June 8, 1967, just outside of Egypt’s territorial waters. Not too far away, Egypt was in the middle of the Six Day War with the Israelis, who would occupy the Sinai Peninsula by the war’s end.
The peaceful day aboard the intelligence-gathering ship was destroyed when Israeli Mirage and Mystere jets tore through the air – and dropped ordnance that ripped through the Liberty’s hull.
Commander William McGonagle was severely wounded as the Israelis fired rockets, dropped napalm on the bridge, and then strafed his ship. He still managed to call his crew to quarters and take command of the Libertyfrom the bridge. The ship was on fire, men were dead and wounded, and McGonagle himself was burned by napalm and losing blood.
The Liberty was not a warship but a lightly-armed, converted freighter — a holdover from World War II. Her mission was to collect signals intelligence and radio intercepts on the war between the Arabs and Israelis but not to get involved in the fighting or violate Egyptian sovereignty.
With his ship still in range of the U.S. 6th Fleet, Cmdr. McGonagle radioed the USS Saratoga, which sent 12 fighters to assist. Those fighters were recalled on orders from Washington. The Israeli fighters eventually let up and disappeared on their own. But that wasn’t the end of the attack. When they were gone, three Israeli torpedo boats opened up on the American ship and blew a 40-foot hole in the Liberty’s hull.
The armaments on the USS Liberty were totally outmatched. The ship was carrying only four .50-caliber machine guns, a far cry from the Egyptian ship Israelis claim shelled the coastline that morning. The Liberty was a sitting duck.
With his ship burning and flooded, McGonagle directed the maneuvering of his ship for 17 hours while critically wounded. He refused medical treatment until he was convinced more critically wounded members of his crew were treated. He didn’t give up command until the Liberty encountered a U.S. destroyer.
For his gallantry and determination, McGonagle was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Israel maintained that its attack on the Liberty was a mistake, that the planes were looking for an Egyptian ship, the El Quseir. Some find this troublesome, considering the El Quseir was a very different size than the Liberty and had a very different profile. Still, The IDF’s own inquiry says the Israeli Chief of Naval Operation did not know the Liberty was in the area. The captains of the torpedo boats maintained that closer identification was impossible because the Liberty was “enveloped in smoke.”
McGonagle’s official account of the incident corroborates the Israeli account, but the crew of the Liberty aren’t so certain. A 2002 BBC Documentary includes interviews with the Liberty’s crew, Israeli officials, and even Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time.
“I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation,” then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk said of the Liberty Incident “Their sustained attack to disable and sink Libertyprecluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. … I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”
There are numerous conspiracy theory-related sites, some even run by Liberty crewmembers, that call into question some of the actions of the Israeli forces and of the orders from Washington. Some of these theories include:
• The Liberty was attacked to keep the U.S. from knowing about Israel’s upcoming attack on Syria.
• Trying to draw the U.S. into a greater anti-Arab war.
• Hiding Israeli war crimes (alleged massacres of Egyptian POWs).
• Israelis using unmarked aircraft.
• Torpedo boats machine gunning life rafts.
• Jamming radio signals meant that Israel knew the frequency the ships would be on– and thus knew they were American.
Official accounts (including from McGonagle) maintain that the Israeli torpedo ships halted mid-attack and offered assistance once the identity of Liberty was ascertained. The Americans politely declined.
The US Navy is having its sailors train on an aircraft carrier weapon system that the service is planning to rip out of its Nimitz-class carriers due to its ineffectiveness.
Sailors continue to train on the Anti-Torpedo Torpedo Defense System (ATTDS), a weapon system that was designed to counter one of the single greatest threats to an aircraft carrier — torpedoes, The War Zone reports, noting that the Navy recently released images of sailors aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower training on the ATTDS for a Board of Inspection and Survey.
The most recent training, which involved firing the weapon system, took place in late July 2019. The material survey for which the crew was preparing requires proficiency with all onboard systems, and that they are functional and properly maintained.
The ATTDS, part of the broader Surface Ship Torpedo Defense (SSTD) system, is installed and operational aboard the Eisenhower, as well as the USS Harry S. Truman, USS George H.W. Bush, USS Nimitz, and USS Theodore Roosevelt. But that doesn’t mean it actually works to intercept incoming torpedoes in time to save the ship.
Sailors stow an anti-torpedo torpedo aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph T. Miller)
The Navy has abandoned its plans to develop the SSTD and is in the process of removing it from the carriers on which it has been installed, the Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation said in a report released earlier this year.
The anti-torpedo system was a 0 million project that never really went anywhere.
In principle, the Torpedo Warning System (TWS), a component of the ATTDS, would detect an incoming threat and then send launch information to another piece, the Countermeasure Anti-Torpedo (CAT), an interceptor that would be launched into the water to neutralize the incoming torpedo.
The DOTE report noted that the “TWS demonstrated some capability to detect incoming torpedoes,” but there were also false positives. It added that the “CAT demonstrated some capability to defeat an incoming torpedo” but had “uncertain reliability.”
The report also said that the anti-torpedo torpedo’s lethality was untested, meaning that the Navy is not even sure the weapon could destroy or deflect an incoming torpedo. The best the service could say is that there’s a possibility it would work.
Fire Controlman 2nd Class Hector Felix, from Atlanta, fastens a bolt on an anti-torpedo torpedo aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph T. Miller)
Despite having plans to remove the SSTD from its carriers, a project that should be completed by 2023, the Navy continues to have sailors train on the system, even as the service reviews training to identify potential detriments to readiness.
“The Navy is planning to remove ATTDS from aircraft carriers incrementally through fiscal year 2023 as the ships cycle through shipyard periods,” Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) spokesperson William Couch told The War Zone.
“The Navy is sustaining the ATTDS systems that are still installed on some vessels, where it is necessary for the sailors to train with the system to maintain their qualifications in preparation for future deployments,” he added.
In other words, it appears that the reason for the continued training is simply that the system is on the ship and won’t be removed until ships have scheduled shipyard time, making the ability to operate it an unavoidable requirement.
INSIDER reached out to NAVSEA for clarity but has yet to receive a response.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A 19-year-old Arkansas native faces charges of maliciously attempting to destroy a vehicle in a Pentagon parking lot at the Pentagon on Monday morning.
The Justice Department said in a statement that a Pentagon police officer witnessed Matthew D. Richardson using a cigarette lighter to ignite a “a piece of fabric” that was inserted into the gas tank of a vehicle.
The vehicle belonged to an active-duty service member who did not know Richardson.
The Pentagon officer approached Richardson, who then told him he was trying to “blow this vehicle up” with himself. The officer attempted to detain Richardson, who fled and jumped over a fence into Arlington National Cemetery.
He was eventually detained by an emergency response team from the Pentagon near the Arlington House, a memorial dedicated to the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Officers searched Richardson and found a cigarette lighter, gloves, and court documents related to a previous felony assault arrest made two days prior.
If convicted, Richardson faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Whether or not you agree with the popular theory that the 1988 action picture “Die Hard” is really a Christmas movie, you’ll have to admit that NYPD detective John McClane is Bruce Willis’ greatest role.
There have been four sequels of varying quality over the past decades, but it had been seven years since Willis had played the part. That changed over the weekend when a new “Die Hard” movie showed up on YouTube.
“Die Hard” 2020 is actually a commercial for DieHard, the iconic battery brand formerly owned by Sears and now sold by Advance Auto Parts. The spot brings back a pair of iconic characters from the original movie.
McClane’s car won’t start and he heads to an auto parts store for a new battery. He runs into the original movie’s computer hacker Theo (Clarence Gilyard Jr.), who’s still out for revenge 32 years later.
Theo sends a posse of musclebound thugs to finish off the detective, who crashes through the store window to buy his new battery. After escaping through the ventilation system, he runs into limousine driver Argyle (De’voreaux White), who’s finally paid off the same car he was driving in the first movie.
As they try to get back to McClane’s broken-down muscle car, Theo runs them down and crashes into the limo. The DieHard battery takes a bullet but still works when installed and they crank up the car for an escape.
Will Theo get his revenge or will McClane escape again with a few more scars but still in one piece? You’ll have to watch for the result.
If you’re shocked that Bruce was willing to play John McClane in a commercial, he’s got some thoughts for you.
“I’ve never done any sort of commercial with the John McClane character, but Advance Auto Parts brought an idea to integrate DieHard the battery into the ‘Die Hard’ story through a short film that’s authentic to McClane and both brands,” Willis said in a press release.
“Advance approached this like a motion picture — the script is clever, the production intense and the spot is entertaining,” he continued.” This is what ‘Die Hard’ fans expect. I think they will dig the DieHard –‘Die Hard’ mashup.”
Back in the day before its release, the movie title was a clever play on an iconic brand name. Over the years, the movie became a brand that’s probably bigger than the battery ever was. And now we’ve come full circle: A battery looks to get a boost from a movie that once got a boost from the battery.
Enjoy the spot and don’t get your back up. Bruce’s movie career got jump started by DieHard back in the day and now he’s returning the favor.
Here’s the classic DieHard battery commercial that the movie title was supposed to evoke for audiences back in 1988.
Diehard Battery Ad – Sears Roebuck Auto Center (1976)
Every time a new comic book movie is set to come out, nerds flock to the internet and try to decode each and every detail in the trailers to figure what’s going to happen. Doing that kind of sleuthing relies heavily on having a deep understanding of comic book lore.
Last night, the new trailer for Captain Marvel dropped and, in short, it looks amazing. Since they’re changing much of her story from the comic books into a single, condensed, easy-to-follow plot, it’s left some civilian comic book fans scratching their heads.
Truth is, you need a good understanding of military culture to truly grasp the comprehensive awesomeness of this trailer.
Kinda spoiler-y: but these guys are called the Star Force and they’re evil. Take what you will about the plot details from that.
In the comic books, Captain Marvel, otherwise known as Carol Danvers, was an Air Force Intelligence officer turned fighter pilot who went by the callsign, “Cheeseburger.” She later joins NASA and is promoted to colonel before being caught in an explosion with an alien known as Captain Mar-Vell.
The explosion intertwines his alien superpowers with her and she takes on the moniker of “Ms. Marvel” before eventually taking on the title of “Captain Marvel” herself. She occasionally teams up with other superheros, like Spider-Man, the X-Men (which is actually how Rogue gets her flight and super-strength), the Fantastic Four, and, later, becomes a leading member of the Avengers.
The film, on the other hand, takes all 41 years of storytelling and condenses it down to her just being an F-15C pilot that gets caught in the explosion. The match-cut editing of the trailer suggests that she’s going to have to slowly piece together knowledge of her previous life on Earth before eventually becoming the hero the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs in Avengers 4.
That’s right. The Coasties may be getting a big screen superhero adaptation before the sailors do.
From the little bits shown in the trailer, we can see she was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and has Test Pilot School patches on her uniform. Earlier this year, Brie Larson, who plays Danvers in the film, took a trip to Nellisa AFB to get inspiration for her character from the real-life Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, who is the 57th Wing commander, the first female fighter pilot, and the inspiration for this new take on Captain Marvel. It’s no coincidence that Brig. Gen. Leavitt flew an F-15C, just as Carol Danvers will in the film.
Another awesome Easter Egg is her wingman, Lt. Maria “Photo” Rambeau. In the comics, Rambeau isn’t too noteworthy of a character. In the trailer, we see her taking on the moniker that her daughter, Monica, has as a callsign. Monica Rambeau later becomes an Avenger (more commonly known as Spectrum) and serves in the Coast Guard before becoming a superhero. Since this film is set in 1995, that leaves more than enough time for Monica to grow up and become a superhero by the time Avengers 4 takes place.
If you watch carefully, you’ll notice Carol’s cat is named Goose, a subtle nod to Top Gun. In the comics, the cat is actually named Chewie and is actually a demonic alien that can go through pocket dimensions that tries to kill Rocket Racoon at every occasion. In the film, the kitty just seems to be a regular cat with a name fitting of everyone trying to become a pilot in the late 80s and early 90s.
This training video was shown to female soldiers in the 1970s to teach Army etiquette by comparing candidates for a coveted assignment.
Not surprisingly, the standards are sexist by modern standards. Candidates for the assignment are rated on how feminine and pretty they are. The office even agrees on the best performing member of the unit, but she’s knocked from the top spot for walking too much like a man. Another candidate lacks military discipline and is inefficient, but is easy to look at so she makes it into the top three.
The whole thing is two packs of cigarettes and an extra-marital affair away from being a ‘Mad Men’ episode. Check it out below.
Cluster bombs and napalm are two of the most underappreciated yet effective types of munition that a plane can drop on the bad guys, but they’re not suited for every purpose. Yes, cluster bombs can do thing JDAMs can’t and yes, napalm does provide the age-old “smell of victory,” but when the bad guys are using local civilians as human shields, precision is paramount.
Thankfully, there’s a bomb for exactly that. On display at SeaAirSpace Expo 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland, Lockheed’s newly developed bomb is appropriately called the “Scalpel.” The Scalpel is a “precise, small weapon system with low collateral damage” designed for use “particularly in urban close air support (CAS) environments.”
The bomb weighs all of 100 pounds. That’s about the size of the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, a weapon that’s proven extremely effective against terrorists and tanks facing American troops. Like the Hellfire, the Scalpel is laser-guided, but there is one big difference: While the Hellfire has a relatively small, 20-pound, high-explosive warhead that detonates on impact, the Scalpel has options.
This new, laser-guided system has a “kinetic” option. What this means, simply, is that it can be set to not explode if not needed. This might sound like a waste of a bomb, but even without an explosion, a long (six feet, three inches), thin, 100-pound rod dropped from at least 15,000 feet doesn’t need to go off to put a world of hurt on some bad guys.
The Scalpel weighs about as much as a Hellfire, and uses Paveway mountings and settings.
The Scalpel is also quite easy for pilots to employ. The guidance system is the same as that of the Paveway series of laser-guided bombs, and the Scalpel uses the same computer settings as the GBU-12 laser-guided bomb. It has been used on the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, Mirage 2000, Mirage F-1, and the Jaguar.
The Scalpel is capable of hitting within about six feet of its aim point. It’s a safe bet that, with more military operations taking place in urban environments, the Scalpel will be used to tactically cut apart enemy positions without making too much of a mess.
It was a warm Sunday afternoon on May 20, 1917, as nurses and doctors of Chicago’s Base Hospital Unit No. 12 gathered on deck of the U.S.S. Mongolia to watch Navy gunners conduct target practice.
Laura Huckleberry, one of the nurses standing on deck, had grown up on a farm near North Vernon, Indiana, and graduated from the Illinois Training School for Nurses in 1913. With Huckleberry were her roommates, Emma Matzen and Edith Ayres, also graduates of the Illinois Training School Class of 1913 and Red Cross Reserve Nurses selected for coveted spots in the hospital unit.
Also enjoying the Atlantic breezes while lounging in deck chairs or standing at the ship’s railing, the group included Scottish-born Helen Burnett Wood, a nursing supervisor at Evanston Hospital. Wood’s mother had protested her daughter’s decision to join the unit, but the 28-year-old Wood had written just before the ship sailed to tell them not to worry.
But Wood’s mother’s worst fears soon materialized.
“We watched them load and fire and then Emma said, ‘Somebody’s shot,'” Huckleberry later wrote of the event in her diary. “I turned and saw two girls on the deck and blood all around.”
Pieces of flying shrapnel struck Ayres in the left temple and her side, while Wood’s heart was pierced. Both were killed instantly. Matzen suffered shrapnel wounds to her leg and arm. As doctors and nurses attended to their fallen comrades, the ship turned around and returned to New York. The wounded Emma Matzen was taken to the Brooklyn Naval Yard Hospital, then transferred to New York Presbyterian Hospital and later to convalesce at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
These three women became the first American military casualties of World War I. But it was unclear whether they were entitled to military benefits. Before their bodies were shipped home, Ayers and Wood were honored by the American Red Cross in a memorial service at St. Stephen’s Church. Their coffins, placed side by side, were draped with the Allied flags as New Yorkers paid their respects.
Although technically not buried with full military honors, the two nurses were honored in their local communities in elaborate public services described as “similar to those accorded the sons of Uncle Sam who fall on the field of battle.”
In honor of their martyred patriot, 32 autos in a “slow and solemn march” accompanied the hearse carrying Edith Ayers’ casket from the rail junction to Attica, Ohio. Area schools were closed for two days and most of the community paid their respects as her body lay in state in the Methodist Church. The burial concluded with a 21-gun salute from the 8th Ohio National Guard as a delegation of Red Cross nurses and representatives of the governor and the state of Ohio stood in silence.
Wealthy financier and former Evanston mayor James Patten, whose wife was a friend of Helen Wood, telegraphed his New York representative to have the body shipped to Chicago at his cost. Evanston Hospital, Northwestern University and First Presbyterian Church officials took part in planning the memorial services after obtaining the consent of relatives.
More than 5,000 people lined the streets of Evanston to view her funeral escort, which included a marching band, 50 cadets from Great Lakes Naval Station, Red Cross nurses, hospital and university officials and other dignitaries. Following church services, a contingent of Red Cross nurses accompanied grieving family and friends to the gravesite.
Part of the ambiguity about the military status of these nurses came from the fact that they were enrolled by the American Red Cross before being inducted into the U.S. Army. They also served without rank or commission. Although the Army and Navy had formed nursing corps before the war, this was the first time they had inducted women in large numbers.
The Senate Naval Affairs Committee investigated the incident, determining that it resulted from the malfunctioning of the brass cap on the powder cartridge case and ordering changes to naval guns to prevent recurrence of such mishaps. But as U.S. war casualties mounted, these women were soon forgotten.
Emma Matzen recovered from her injuries and rejoined her unit in France later that year. In 1919, she returned home to Nebraska, where she and a sister, also a nurse, ran a small hospital. Each adopted infant girls who had been abandoned at the hospital; both girls later became nurses as well. Matzen moved to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in 1949 where she did private duty nursing until she was 87. She was the only female among the 49 residents in her local VA Hospital; she died in 1979 at the age of 100.
Until the mid-1940s, the Edith Work Ayers American Legion Post in Cleveland was an all-women’s group comprised of former WWI Red Cross nurses and volunteers. The Attica Ohio Historical Society has honored her during annual Memorial Day ceremonies. Ayers’ graveside, although also without mention of any military service, has an American Legion marker. An Attica high school student, with the endorsement of the American Legion, has applied to the Ohio History Commission for a plaque to be placed in Attica in honor of its native daughter.
In Northesk Church near Musselburgh, Scotland, Helen Wood’s name is the first listed on a Roll of Honor of the congregation’s WWI deceased. In 2014, the flag which draped her coffin and her Red Cross pin were displayed in a WWI exhibition at the local museum. But Helen Wood is buried thousands of miles away in Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery. Among the grand tombstones of famous Chicagoans and war veterans, Wood’s simple headstone makes no mention of her military death. Her wartime sacrifice is recognized only by a marker provided long ago by the Gold Star Father’s Association.
On the centennial of the accident aboard the Mongolia, a public wreath laying ceremony will be held at Helen Burnett Wood’s grave site in Rosehill Cemetery May 20. Part of “Northwestern Remembers the First World War”, a series of exhibits, lectures, and commemorations from Northwestern University Libraries will also be part of the remembering of America’s first casualties of WWI. Support of the event is provided by the Pritzker Military Museum Library.
Jeremy Lee MacKenzie is an artist & filmmaker whose career began after being incarcerated as a teenager. His artwork, “Hidden Blueprints,” is a collection of wood-scrollwork cut from blueprints that were hidden in the prison system. He discovered the blueprints while serving sentences that totaled eight years, for bank robbery & drug trafficking.
He was inspired to become a filmmaker while working as a prison movie projectionist where he studied screenwriting and was released with scholarships to Champlain College. In 2015, he was awarded a screenwriting fellowship to Stowe Story Labs and that same year, won gold in the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards in LA.
In 2017, MacKenzie completed his film “Hidden Blueprints: The Story of Mikey,” and received the James Goldstone Emerging Filmmaker Award. In 2018, he was chosen for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Award and was then admitted to the USC School of Cinematic Arts to pursue his MFA on a George Lucas Scholarship.
Annenberg Media: Tell me about where you are from and your life growing up?
MacKenzie: I’m from Burlington, VT and my childhood was complicated. I had a lot of challenging things happen while growing up and I ended up in adult prison at the age of 17 for bank robbery. Looking back, it feels like it was 100 years ago, like I’ve lived in quantum time where every year contained the events of five years.
Annenberg Media: What is the most distinct memory you have of your mother and father?
MacKenzie: A positive memory I have of my mother is how she always encouraged me to be an artist and be creative. She was always very honest and encouraging if she thought I was good at something. My father encouraged storytelling and read me a lot of books growing up. He tested me on the stories to see if I was listening. He would reread me the same story and then change certain plot lines to see if I was paying attention. I would stop him and tell him, “no dad, the storyline goes like this…”
Annenberg Media: What challenges did you face at school and in the community?
MacKenzie: My parents separated after my younger sister passed away. I lived with my mother most of the time and my father during summers. When I was really young, I did well in school. At a certain point in my childhood we moved into a trailer park where we were living in poverty. A lot of the people living in that trailer park did not care much about school and were into drugs. Those became really tough years since I valued education but was now being punished for valuing academics.
At first I had to fight kids often when getting off the school bus because I was into focusing on school. My parents always tried focus my attention on education. I was very young and got sick of fighting and being an outsider, so I ended up joining the crowd. I got into drugs to succeed in that world. I often wondered if people around me who chose the drug path, went through those same bad experiences as I did.
At the age of 12 or 13, I transitioned into selling drugs and became a drug dealer. I wanted to excel in a world I was way behind in. By 14-years-old, my parents had lost full control. I had an 18-year-old stripper girlfriend living with me. I was deep into the world of drug dealing: at age 14, it was cocaine, 15, it was opiates, at 16, I was arrested for dealing heroin and at 17, I was locked up for bank robbery.
Bang, that escalated quickly! My parents were baffled at how things changed so rapidly.
Annenberg Media: Where did this lifestyle lead you?
MacKenzie: I served three sentences totaling eight years. During one of those sentences, I earned my high school diploma but was still struggling to separate from the drug world. During the course of one of my sentences, I was sent to a corporate prison in Kentucky. When I got there, I got my first college opportunity. Hazard Community College selected 20 inmates who they gave grants to start college while incarcerated.
Due to overcrowding and the mistreatment of inmates, a lot of violence was going on in the facility. It was a for-profit prison and the administration was not friendly. I had to make a choice between focusing on college or joining an uprising in the prison. A group of inmates were planning a revolt and ended up having a riot at the facility. The riot took over the facility for a night and the administration building was burned which included the education facility. The college opportunity went up in smoke. We were in lockdown for many months while they rebuilt the prison around us. This gained a lot of national media attention.
Annenberg Media: Did you have any creative outlets while incarcerated?
MacKenzie: Isolation can be a powerful tool. After the riot, while in lock down I started designing artwork. I would design blueprints for big pieces of wood-scrollwork. I had learned this wood cutting technique as a teenager from an old clock maker in prison and I taught myself how to design. I was designing on taped-together pieces of paper but we weren’t allowed to have the paper so I had to hide my blueprints until I could bring them home.
Those blueprints came to be my artwork years later. I used them as a tool for storytelling. Many of the blueprints I drew didn’t directly depict prison but told the stories of our experience on the inside through ancient themes. When I was not designing I started getting into TV and movies and I started watching this show called “Medium.” Everybody watched it. It was a way to escape from prison.
MacKenzie: My darkest moment came during my third sentence when I could no longer hide from my darkest truths and my responsibilities. I couldn’t hide the impact my actions had on my friends, family and community; I experienced a paradigm shift. I was in a segregation cell where I had more charges coming. The drug dealers who had been supplying me since I was an adolescent, who I had been protecting my whole life, were not protecting me or anyone else. The whole veil of that world came crashing down.
I realized the effect my life was having on everyone around me and the people I had protected and followed didn’t care about me anymore. I was in the segregation cell and I noticed there was a broken razor blade on the floor. “This is my out,” I thought. This was one of the few moments in my life where I contemplated suicide. But, I looked out the window and thought to myself, “No one could explain this to my dog, she’s never gonna know what happened.” I just wanted to see my dog again. She probably saved my life. Tests find a way of placing themselves in your path, especially at your darkest moments. I needed to let things play out until the end.
Annenberg Media: How was your life impacted after making the decision to stay alive?
MacKenzie: That was a very challenging period of time, but it passed. And I ended up getting a job as a prison movie projectionist. It was a makeshift movie theater with prison walls. We screened everything from the original “Star Wars” to “Casablanca” and “Chinatown.” It was a powerful experience watching “Star Wars” projected onto a prison wall.
While working as a prison movie projectionist, I started writing stories with the women’s prison. The women were relatable and had similar situations to mine. But we weren’t allowed to write to other prisons so I would send the letters to my father and he would re-address them to the women I was writing. I invited them to write a story where the women and I could insert our own characters and set them off on a journey together. I was very grateful to the women for that, as it provided a creative medium that was very valuable. It also provided companionship and helped with loneliness.
Working with the prison movie theater was a crucial time for me. All those earlier years of my father testing me on stories came back to me. I decided I wanted to become a filmmaker. I focused on screenwriting and reached out to different colleges to get the books they used in their screenwriting courses. I was no longer in a corporate prison and I made a deal with teachers to recycle prison paperwork. The education offices would print scripts on the back of the recycled paperwork I brought them. Filmmaking was like life or death- in my previous life I was going to die and this new life was the only way out. There were no other choices.
Annenberg Media: Did you plan on getting further education?
MacKenzie: I got a scholarship to go to college when I came home. The scholarship letter came from Bernie Sanders, which I still have. When I came home I realized there was all this time that I had missed. I did a lot of catching up in college.
As soon as I got to undergrad, I won gold in the Page International Screenwriting Awards for a screenplay. The award and screenplay got me connected with Julie Pacino, Al Pacino’s daughter. I began to excel and was pushed more towards directing. Julie ended up producing my film, “Hidden Blueprints.” Things began to happen much more rapidly and I ended up using “Hidden Blueprints” to apply to USC.
Back then, Ben Stiller was making his show “Escape at Dannemora” and his group reached out to have me in the show as an inmate. I have an escape on my record- at one point I tried to run away from prison- so I was not able to get security clearance to enter prison. But, I took a role as an extra on a different part of his show so I could still be apart of the production. I had this really funny moment where I was standing on set with Ben Stiller to my right and I was quietly watching him work. Then, the main actress comes out and I’m suddenly hit with this really familiar feeling: the actress was Patricia Arquette who I watched in the TV show, “Medium” years ago in that destroyed prison in Kentucky. I realize I’m standing in the middle of a show about escaping from prison starring the actress of the show we all used to watch to escape from the prison we were in. It was an interesting and affirming moment.
I sent the production staff of the show an email about it. It made me reflect on how far my arc had brought me. Within a matter of days the George Lucas Scholarship came in for USC. It gave me chills. I had projected “Star Wars” movies on a prison wall. Now I was headed to LA.
Aron Meinhardt, J. Lee MacKenzie, and Julie Pacino
Annenberg Media: Why Hollywood and why now?
MacKenzie: This is the epicenter of storytelling. I came here to fully engage in storytelling and USC helped me get here. I knew this was the path. This is the place to begin and branch off. This is a time when people from all different places and backgrounds can tell stories. I felt like I was one of those people that could have a place here.
Annenberg Media: What is it like to be a George Lucas Scholar at the School of Cinematic Arts?
MacKenzie: From where I come from, it has been extremely helpful and it has been an honor to have the opportunities I’ve had. I had the opportunity to work with some incredible people like Riley and Austin Lynch, Julie Pacino, Aron Meinhardt and many others. I got to collaborate with C. Craig Patterson who is a great friend, he is on a George Lucas Scholarship as well. I look forward to seeing who else I get to meet and work with.
Annenberg Media: What are your career and life goals?
MacKenzie: I want to direct movies. I direct films not because I love it, but because I feel compelled to. Telling stories was my only way out and it is the only pathway I see forward. I am going to continue on that path and see where it leads. It took a lot of people helping and believing in me to get this far. It didn’t start out that way. I deeply appreciate the people that helped me along the way. Wherever this path goes, I hope it is fruitful for both myself and for those that helped.
Annenberg Media: How is the coronavirus social distancing affecting you and do you have any recommendations?
MacKenzie: As I said, isolation can be a very powerful thing. I know a lot of people are stuck inside right now, for much longer than they are used to. A lot of movies are not getting made. People are scared and they are experiencing their own moments of darkness. But some of the most creative years of my life began with isolation and darkness like this. It wouldn’t surprise me if the solitude of this pandemic inspires and gives birth to a lovely period of filmmaking in its wake, the likes of which the world has perhaps never seen. I really hope to be a part of that movement and I think we will all feel fortunate when we see it happen.
Featured image shows J. Lee and Isabela Penagos—USC arts students.
When it comes to uniform variety, the US Air Force is definitely the least inventive of all the branches. The USAF carries the standard work option, OCPs, along with a more professional office version. When things get really fancy, the Air Force just ditches the flight cap and dons a white shirt instead of the blue – and that’s about it. No swords for officers, no Class-As, no khaki, no whites.
But it wasn’t always that way.
The Air Force used to have a ton of different uniforms.
From 1947 to 1995, the Air Force used a white version of its dress uniform for those in tropical zones, an easy way to keep cool while maintaining a professional appearance when necessary. The first fully-Air Force regulated white uniform featured a white coat, shirt, and pants, but with black shoes and blue tie, along with blue mess dress cap (aka the “bus driver” hat), complete with Air Force “farts and darts” on the brim.
For social events, the hat was gone, white gloves were added, and black bow ties replaced the blue necktie. Eventually that gave way to a new uniform, once the Air Force was completely free of Army uniforms in 1959.
In 1959, this uniform became officially known as the Tropical Dress Uniform, which included a coat very similar to the blue coat of the regular Air Force and was made of a Dacron-rayon blend instead of the Army’s cotton uniform. It was mandatory wear in tropical climates, but also at diplomatic functions, dinners, and anywhere else a white coat was the prescribed dress for the event. The blue mess cap was replaced by a white mess cap with an Air Force blue band around it and the black shoes were replaced with white ones.
By 1983, the Air Force introduced a new white uniform, the White Ceremonial Dress uniform, which was gone by 1989. Many aspects of the White Ceremonial Dress Uniform can still be seen on today dress blues, especially for officer ranks as the white ceremonial dress uniform was optional for lower enlisted personnel.
But whether tropical or ceremonial, the end of the white uniform came in 1995, when they were all phased out in favor of a simplified blue version for all locales and functions. The only formal uniform that remains in the Air Force is the Mess Dress Uniform, which is now drastically different from its ceremonial predecessors.
Theresa May asked Britain’s defence secretary to justify the UK’s role as a “tier one” military power, causing dismay in the Ministry of Defence. Underlying the statement is a realisation that the UK can no longer economically compete with top powers, defence experts told Business Insider.
“It’s a reflection of our economic status — times are tough,” said Tim Ripley, a defence analyst, adding: “It’s all about money… if you don’t have money you can’t spend it.”
The Prime Minister questioned defence secretary Gavin Williamson on whether money for the military should be reallocated to areas like cyber, and if Britain needed to maintain a Navy, Army, Air Force and nuclear deterrent all at once.
Ripley called it a retreat from “grand ambitions.”
“No matter how we dress it up, this new fangled cyber stuff is just an excuse for running away from funding hard power,” Ripley said. “If you don’t pony up the money and the hard power you don’t get a seat at the top table. No matter how flash your cyber warfare is, people take notice of ships, tanks and planes.”
There is a strong correlation between military power and economic status. The major powers including the US, China and Russia all demonstrate their strength through military posturing, and countries that don’t have enough resources for defence often pool with others.
Dr Jan Honig, a senior lecturer in war studies at King’s College London, said that shared defence can be disrupted in times of nationalism, and called it “highly ironic” that Brexit could mean the UK can longer fund its military.
“You can’t really do it by yourself even if you spent a lot more on defence which is not going to happen in this country with this measly economic growth and the uncertainty about international trade details,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s comments, which were first reported by the Financial Times, come in the context of her recent pledge of a fresh £20 billion for the National Health Service (NHS) and debate about where the money will come from.
“You do want to ensure that government policy has support from the people, so to say we’re going to pour a lot of money into defense just in case something happens … is a far more difficult thing to sell than funding the NHS and social care, welfare that is an immediate issue,” said Honig, adding that populations are also more switched on to the horrors of war.
But Julian Lewis, Chair of the UK’s defence committee told Business Insider that he’s now concerned about whether May will be able to properly fund the military after the NHS pledge.
“I am not won over … by this jargon of calling it a ‘tier one’ military power… What I’m much more concerned about is whether Theresa May will be able to give defence the money it needs,” he said, citing a “whole” of over £4.2 billion in the defence budget.
May’s comments will not lead to definitive action to pair down the military, but are a clear sign of the direction of travel said Ripley.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.