The Great Depression was a tough time in America. Today we can see the effects of 10-11 percent unemployment due to the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. Imagine what life in the United States would be like if unemployment was around 50 percent.
No one was driving Uber to make ends meet in the 1920s, so they had to resort to some pretty spectacular money-making schemes. One of these schemes was murdering alcoholic bums – which turned out to be pretty lucrative. But you couldn’t do this alone; you needed conspirators.
Michael Malloy was a victim of this kind of scheme but his death would end the lives of four of his conspirators, some former friends. Those “friends” would try to kill him seven different times, seven different ways.
Malloy was an out-of-work firefighter who became the target of his favorite bartender at his favorite speakeasy. The bartender, Joe Murphy, and the owner of the bar, Anthony Marino, decided no one would miss the 50-year-old drunk if he happened to drink himself to death one sad night. With two other customers, Dan Kriesberg and Frank Pasqua (who also happened to be an undertaker), they decided they would help that death along.
But first, the payoff. If they could get Malloy to sign a life insurance policy on himself, they could kill the old fellow and collect the insurance money. No one would be the wiser. So one night they got Malloy so drunk, he signed a petition to help Marino run for office. What the drunk really signed was three life insurance policies that would pay upwards of ,000 in today’s money if he died in an accident.
All that was left was to make sure the old fireman had an accident. But that proved much harder than they thought.
Their first attempt was to simply pour drinks down the old Irishman’s throat. They laughed and joked with him as they fed him free drinks all night. When he passed out, he passed out in the bar, only to wake up to more free hooch. The problem with this scheme was that Malloy’s health actually improved because he was no longer depressed. He didn’t struggle to pay for drinks and he had all the friends he could handle.
The conspirators decided that a new tactic was needed. Bartender Joe Murphy mixed Malloy a new cocktail they just got in – a drink mixed with antifreeze. Malloy remarked at how smooth the beverage was before he went to lie down… only to get back up later for more drinks.
Murphy then began to throw any kind of dangerous substance he could think of into Malloy’s drinks. The old firefighter drank more antifreeze, rat poison and turpentine. They served him food laced with wood alcohol, tin shavings, and rotten sardines. Malloy just loved the attention.
Stupefied, the conspirators began to take more direct actions. They doused him with water while he was blackout drunk and threw him into the snowy New York City streets and left him there. When Malloy showed up at the bar that night, he was wearing a new suit, courtesy of the good samaritans who found him and cleaned him up.
Soon they switched to outright murder. They paid a local cab driver to run the man down with his car and leave him. He survived. They tried to call in a hitman. They tried to substitute another drunk who resembled Malloy and kill him, but he survived. When none of that worked, they killed Malloy themselves.
They got the poor man drunk on wood alcohol – normally fatal for humans – and pumped his lungs full of cooking gas. That did the trick. They hired Dr. Frank Manzella, a local official, to produce a death certificate, Pasqua (the undertaker) arranged a pauper’s funeral, and Malloy was dead and buried within four hours.
The bartender, Murphy, received the first insurance policy. But the other insurers became suspicious and the whole plot started to unravel. First, the gang never paid the cab driver who ran over Malloy. Then, they told the hitman too much about their scheme and he began to talk around town. Finally, the insurers learned about another death under those circumstances surrounding the same speakeasy.
The jig was up and all the conspirators were caught, tried and sentenced to the electric chair at Sing-Sing Prison.
When the story about Mike Malloy’s indestructible nature, the local legend began to earn the nickname “Iron Mike.”
When Jessica Pearce Rotondi lost her mother to breast cancer in 2009, she had no idea of what she would gain: the chance to become a part of her military family’s history. The unexpected journey took her from her childhood home in Massachusetts to the lush mountains of Laos, where her airman uncle was shot down in 1972.
“Sending a loved one away and not knowing if they’ll walk through the door again is an incredible sacrifice,” Rotondi said.
It’s a sacrifice her mother’s family made multiple times. For not only was her Uncle Jack shot down alongside his AC-130 crew during the “secret war” in the neutral nation of Laos, her grandfather — Jack’s father — fell from the sky too, spending two and a half years in a German POW camp during WWII.
As “What We Inherit: A Secret War and a Family’s Search for Answers” so arrestingly confesses in its first sentence, Rotondi comes from “a family that loses children.”Rotondi spent a decade researching and writing her debut novel, a deeply personal family memoir and obscure history lesson released this April. Historical supporting evidence, it turns out, would be hard to come by.
Read more about Vietnam War vets traveling to find answers.
“Much about what happened in Laos has only recently been declassified. I embedded photographs of some of the reports and letters I found directly into the book, because I wanted to recreate that sense of expectation to show how the force of a single document can change a family’s hopes,” Rotondi, a Brooklyn resident, said. “Getting CIA officers, refugees and former soldiers on the record about their role in the war was a slow exercise in trust-building but led to some incredible conversations.”
Before her mother’s death, conversation about Rotondi’s uncle and grandfather’s wartime experiences were few. A chance discovery of a hidden-in-the-closet file cabinet just hours after her mother’s passing launched Rotondi onto what would eventually become “What We Inherit.” It involved thousands of hours of research, sifting through redacted files, yellowed newspaper clippings and maps of questionable accuracy.
Rotondi, whose work has been published in the likes of The Huffington Post and The History Channel, traveled to Southeast Asia in 2013 to locate her uncle’s crash site. She was not the first family member to do so; she was simply retracing her grandpa’s steps through Laos as he obsessively searched for answers about his missing son years earlier.
The process of writing her family’s tragedies reminded Rotondi of the incredible strength of military families.
“I had the incredible privilege of speaking to other families of the missing for this book, and the biggest takeaway from them was the strength of the unspoken bond between military families,” she said. “I read somewhere that we never truly die until our name stops being spoken aloud. There is power in talking about our lost and missing veterans — especially with the next generation.”
“What We Inherit,” a book worth reading, ensures that will never happen on Rotondi’s watch.
While the annual Army-Navy Game might be one of the U.S. military’s oldest ongoing traditions, it’s an event that has not always included the Commander-In-Chief. Only ten U.S. Presidents have attended the game at one time or another, but if the nation’s chief executive decides to come, there are traditions for that office to follow when Army plays Navy.
President Trump has attended the game for nearly every year he’s been in office, including attending as President-Elect. While there is no precedent that says he has to attend the game, the very fact that he goes every year could set a new precedent, all the same, creating a tradition for future Commanders-In-Chief to follow throughout their administrations. Woodrow Wilson did something similar when he attended the game, creating a tradition that carries on to this day when the POTUS is in the house.
Although Wilson wasn’t the first American President to attend (that was, of course, the most athletic and all-around competitive President, Theodore Roosevelt), Wilson started the tradition of switching sides during the middle of the game, walking across the field at halftime in order to show no favoritism toward Army or Navy as the game continued. Presidents in attendance from Calvin Coolidge through President Trump have walked across the field ever since.
For many years following the Coolidge Administration, the President did not attend the game. Watching a raucous football game in the middle of the Great Depression and the Second World War might have sent a bad message. But once the economy turned around and the Axis was defeated, President Harry Truman returned to the game for much of his administration. But it wasn’t until President John F. Kennedy helped throw out the pregame coin toss that another Presidential tradition was born. His immediate successors did not attend, but Navy veteran Gerald Ford sure did. The next President to attend would be Bill Clinton, however. And ever since, Presidents have attended at least one Army-Navy Game during their administration.
One presidential event that didn’t catch on was when George W. Bush gave the Naval Academy Midshipmen a pregame speech and a pep talk to the Army Black Knights before the Army-Navy Game as American troops were fighting to avenge the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – a special consideration for a wartime President.
The world is well aware of how the Navy uses its massive fleet of aircraft carriers to dominate the oceans while protecting America. These monstrous structures house thousands of sailors and dozens of aircraft just waiting for the word to deploy.
But there was another breed of the aircraft carrier that doesn’t get as much attention these days — the type that actually flew.
In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers made the history books when they showcased the first successful flight of a working hot air balloon. Months later, they copied the flight, but this time they had passengers inside the cargo basket — a sheep, a duck, and a rooster.
Though accurately steering the ballon was haphazard, the flying technique still gained public interested.
Within the next year or so, this new technology rapidly progressed as Jean Baptiste Meusnier designed the cigar-shape airship which we recognize today.
At the turn of the 20th century, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin introduced the rigid airship that came with a solid internal frame — dubbed the “Zeppelin.” At the time, Zeppelins were highly utilized as they could stay airborne longer, travel further and carry heavier cargo — by that we mean bombs.
Although the Zeppelin sacred the sh*t out of people as it flew over them, it didn’t take long to realize the lighter than air craft were vulnerable to even the most primitive fighters.
So planners came up with the idea of having fighter planes escort the beastly airships, and what better way than to have these airships carry the fighter escorts themselves?
England constructed the 23-class Vickers rigid airship that could carry three Sopwith Camel biplanes that could deploy from hooks beneath the airship’s hull.
Four of these aircraft carriers were built, and the all four were decommissioned by 1920 for various reasons. The U.S. took note of the clever engineering and constructed both the USS Los Angeles and the USS Akron.
The USS Akron had the distinct ability to launch and recover fighters in mid-air. The planes would just fly up, and the pilot would attach to a T-shape mount which would pull the aircraft into the Akron’s internal hanger.
Test flights began in the fall of 1931, but the Akron had loads of trouble flying and crashed — a lot. Several months later, the carrier was docked in San Diego where it unexpectedly took off taking three men with it. Two of the men fell to their deaths.
A few years later, the airship would crash one last time off the coast of New Jersey killing 73 passengers — more than double that of the infamous Hindenburg crash.
These events made the flying aircraft carrier very unpopular for war-time operations causing engineers to cease their development.
Hanson at the GI Film Festival San Diego. Photo credit BH.
Brian Hanson has lived a few lives and succeeded in some of the harder endeavors known to man: earning a Ranger tab and making a movie. He grew up in Southern California, worked in Hollywood for awhile and then felt called to serve in the U.S. Army. He left Hollywood and became a Ranger serving on multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Upon returning from his service he fulfilled his dream by writing, directing and producing his first film, The Black String, starring Frankie Muniz.
WATM: Can you share about your family and your life growing up?
I was born in Detroit then my parents moved to San Diego. They were tired of the snow and wanted a new lifestyle on the West Coast. My father has always been a huge TV, film and history buff. I grew up in Escondido which is a suburb of San Diego. I had a sister that unfortunately was killed in a car accident when she was sixteen so that was a life changing moment in our lives. It was a paradigm shifter. My parents worked hard, and my youth was in many ways the normal SoCal life — riding bikes with friends, enjoying summers and playing sports. I had a real fascination toward movies and telling stories. It was always in me. I played football and baseball in high school. I also did student government. We did a field trip when I was a senior in high school to see a talk show at Paramount Studios to see The Kathy Lee Gifford Show. Seeing the stage, PAs and cameramen showed me that showbiz was a real industry and that I could do it. Even though I did (short) films with my friends it made me aware that I could direct myself toward the industry. It is a real thing.
I graduated that summer and my sister died, so all bets were off on going into the industry at that time. I did one year at San Diego State and then decided to travel abroad with a friend. We worked as bartenders and lived in the United Kingdom. It is what 18 year olds should do— go see the world. I started reading Syd Field books and Robert Rodriguez books like Rebel Without a Crew, watching El Mariachi, Swingers, Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, Blair Witch, The Following…I was really into the big studio movies (Saving Private Ryan, Back to the Future, The Matrix) and the independents. It was like you can do this, get a camcorder and you can do it. I knew I wanted to join the military, but not at that moment in my life so I came back from Europe and transferred up to Cal State Northridge. I graduated and got my proper film school bachelor’s degree. I knew I wanted to be a Writer/Director. My parents were very supportive of my endeavor in making it in Hollywood and telling stories.
Once US Forces entered Iraq in 2003, I had read voraciously about 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. I knew I was going to join the military at some point, but when? I would be pouring drinks for young, good looking Hollywood people at a bar making hundreds of dollars a night where over their shoulder would be a TV on reporting the Battle of Fallujah. I started to not feel right about that, and I wanted to be an honest storyteller. I would like to be a storyteller that speaks truthfully and authentically and didn’t want to be the person that imitates. I didn’t want to be an imitator of Goodfellas or Full Metal Jacket. I knew I needed that life experience to be an authentic storyteller. I did a TV Pilot with some friends that we raised money for, and Brandon Routh was in it. This was right before he was cast as Superman in Superman Returns. Brandon and I bartended together at that time. He was a great guy to work with. I was also bartending at the Playboy mansion during the end of the glory days for Hefner and the Mansion. It’s tough to just walk away from all of that and you are making decent money in Hollywood. You are just one step or script away from “it” happening.
After not much happened with the TV Pilot I started to realize that Hollywood and LA are still going to be here. I wrestled a year or two of how to leave it behind after I had started a life. As I approached 30, I looked in the mirror and decided to join the Army because if I waited longer, the military wouldn’t let me join – I’d be too old. I would have regretted to my dying day if I did not serve. There were no questions in life. I knew joining as an older guy would be different when compared to most recruits. But I wanted to volunteer my time and some of the years of my life to serve my country, but I had to step up and go do it. I gotta do this and gotta do it now. I knew my goal was to come back to LA with this accomplishment and service to my country being complete.
Hanson at Fort Benning. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What made you want to become a Ranger and what was your experience like?
I didn’t know all the details when I enlisted as an 11Bravo (infantry), but I knew that Rangers and Green Berets were the high-speed special-operations units. One day in Basic Training at Fort Benning, the Ranger recruiters came out to ask for volunteers and my Drill Sergeant SFC Metcalfe looked at me and said, “Hanson, you better f’n volunteer.” So, I volunteered on the spot and a few months later I was reporting to Ranger Assessment Selection Program. Unfortunately, SFC Metcalfe was killed in action a year later when he deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd. I thank SFC Metcalfe for pushing me to go Ranger.
I was stationed at Fort Benning with 3rd Ranger Battalion where it is a high-speed training cycle. You train for six months and then deploy for about 3 to 4 months. There is always a Ranger Battalion deployed. Just operating at that tempo, at all times, is exciting and inspiring to see your NCOs, squad leaders and platoon sergeants are on their sixth or tenth deployment. It was very inspiring to see their commitment to the unit at the cost of their family and personal time. When you are a single young, enlisted person it is very inspiring to see that level of motivation. Rangers hold themselves up to the highest standard of leading the way. You are always being tested. It is uncomfortable and you never have a chance to relax. It is a great way to stay sharp. It is a tough head space to always be in. You are always being watched. The young (new) guys compete like professional athletes to deploy, like trying to make the starting roster. Once you deploy you want to be on that mission every time. I deployed to FOB Salerno in Afghanistan on the border real close to Pakistan. My second deployment was at Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion and then my last deployment I was at FOB Shank aka “Rocket City”. That place was hit like all day with nonstop rockets. It’s funny how used to it you get.
The Taliban used a lot of ingenious guerrilla tactics like setting ice on the mortars to eventually melt and then go off at some point during the day. Apaches would launch to try and find the culprits however they were not there. We ran the night shift out there for High Value Targets (HVT) where we went on night raids. To see how targets were acquired and track and intel was gathering where the strike force commander was the CO. From top to bottom the whole thing was a collection of assets. We worked with the Air Force, Navy, Marines, big Army, DIA and had civilians running the drones. It is amazing to see people come together for these task forces where all of these people work together on the fly. Being 30 and seeing this strike force run by young soldiers/civilians is amazing because in Hollywood most 23-year olds close to me are up and coming bartenders/actors/writers/directors. In Afghanistan we had 23-year-old Forward Observers bringing in Chinook helicopters into dangerous LZs to pick us up for a night raid. 24-year-old squad leaders are ensuring that everyone is accounted for and that no one is left behind on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. It is amazing to see what young people can do where they have been trained at such a high level and have high expectations. They achieve and are motivated. I think Hollywood is an amazing place where things get done, but I think a lot of it is a 10-year delay. It is a bit of an arrested development sometimes.
In a training incident I was a towed jumper. We were doing our yearly training for airfield seizures which is an entire battalion operation to seize an airfield. I was the last guy to jump out of a C-17 at night with a full combat load and got hung up on the plane which made me a towed jumper. I was hanging outside of a C-17 at 1000 to 1500 feet circling Fort Benning banging against the side of the plane and fully conscious. Thinking that I might die at any moment and this is not a normal thing to happen to people. My static line wrapped around my weapons case where when you are jumping your weapons case is attached to your thigh and your harness. Somehow there was too much slack in the static line to where it wrapped around the weapons case so it wouldn’t release me. The static line stays clipped inside the plane and it is supposed to pull the back of the pack tray. You jump and it pulls it out, but it got wrapped around and it pulled me.
I was okay with a tight body position and covered my reserve chute, so it didn’t release. I was out there for six minutes. I thought they were going to cut me loose to where all I have left is my reserve chute to land on some trees at night next to the Chattahoochee River. Then I started looking at my boots flying through the air and thought this is what parasailing must be like. Then I thought, did they forget about me and is the C-17 going to try to land? Do they not know I am out here, and I am going to do some high-speed combat roll on a tarmac as the C-17 lands? You are trained to keep a tight body position out there, so they know you are not unconscious. I kept slamming against the side of the C-17 behind a gigantic turbine engine. I hit the plane and stayed there where I started to get dragged across the skin of the plane. I felt hands underneath my arms and they pulled me in. Everybody was so glad to see I was alive and in one piece. I was just relieved as I was out there so long, I went beyond any initial shock, concern to just cut me loose guys so I can land on a tree with my reserve shoot.
They pulled me in and did a great job making sure I was okay. I had to retell the story for weeks to a lot of soldiers, especially Sgt Majors at the DFAC wanted to hear the story of a towed jumper. It was a very bizarre story because no one wants to be a towed jumper. It is a total nightmare scenario short of both chutes failing. It all ended well and twelve stitches in my chin was it. After all of that my 1stSgt checked on me and made sure I was alright. He then told me, “Get ready you are jumping tomorrow.” We had another jump the next day. The 3rd Ranger Battalion was like you are jumping tomorrow to get over any fear of jumping again. Just get out there and do it. I jumped not 24 hours later and believe me I was concerned. I said, “There is no way that can happen twice.” I got out the door and was fine. There is not a lot of pity or sympathy it is like get back up and do it again unless you are truly hurt, alright get up and do it as there is no time to think about. That is something I take with me to this day.
All of the pre-jump training you do these repetitive and boring things you already know, and I did one of those things without even thinking about it. It dawned on me why I do this training every single time. When that one time does happen, you are ready and have gone over the worst-case scenario. You will be that much quicker to save your own life or someone else. It seems so mundane and so repetitive and a waste of time until you need it. That repetitive action like weapons malfunctions….but when you need that instantaneous second nature habit it is the most important thing you could have known at that point.
Hanson at Camp Leatherneck. Photo credit BH.
Hanson on his last mission at FOB Shank. Photo credit BH.
Paratroopers jumping from C-17 Globemasters.
View of Camp Salerno. Photo credit wikipedia.com.
WATM: What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?
I am proud I stepped up to the challenge of 75th Ranger Regiment (thank you SFC Metcalfe) and made the team. Severing with my Ranger buddies was like the saying goes: “I was no hero, but I walked amongst a few.” I did my part and I know guys that are still out there doing it. I know squad leaders that are now getting their own platoons. Some guys have gone into elite units like Delta Force and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. I still think about them often and stay in touch. I want to make them proud because of the work they are still doing…I try to keep pushing myself in a way that would do right by the effort they are putting on…I am proud to have been on a team with those guys and seen what leadership means…and at such a young age and for so many people. I am proud to have seen it and been associated with that level of person.
Frankie and Paige Muniz, Kayli, Chelsea and Brian at Dances with Films. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into Hollywood?
One thing that you see among some twenty something bartenders or Hollywood newbies that is unacceptable in the Ranger Regiment and also unacceptable in the Army are excuses. It is the same on production, there are no excuses. There are just no excuses. I don’t want to hear it other than a solution. Maybe an, “I’m sorry,” and that is it where I don’t even want to hear an excuse. Unless there is something disastrous you need to untangle. No excuses, just solutions. The high-level professional types of productions have that mentality where I really appreciate it. I do see the correlation between military units and productions. You have one mission where everyone comes together to accomplish it.
Also, you see this in the military and it is a career everything, keep moving forward just like a twenty-mile ruck march. You worry about the next step, then the next phone pole, then the next quarter mile where they will all add up. You can be overwhelmed by all of it if you look at it all at once where if you do it one step at a time you see that you can do it. Those are two crucial lessons I learned in the Army.
Hanson, Frankie and crew at Dances With Films. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?
Even though I had worked in Hollywood before leaving, I came back a veteran, and still had to learn that there is a system in Hollywood. The system is not as rigid perhaps as the military. It isn’t just this artistic endeavor where you get to be a genius and be Quentin Tarantino or you are Steven Spielberg because you say you are. There is a hierarchy and there is a smart way to navigate. There is a way to get oriented and to a very real map of how this town works and have very realistic expectations. I think that veterans and others think of their prior accomplishments, whether a lawyer or a company commander of an infantry company, where you are not going to be a 1st AD. That is a ten-year path that is very regimented. The biggest challenge is understanding what the path to success is and how to realistically pursue those things. Know that they all take time and embrace that.
***Since leaving the Army I have learned so much by working as a Production Assistant on HBO’s Barry, Silicon Valley, Room 104 and worked as Assistant to Matthew Rhys on Perry Mason. Being on set and working for top level professionals has been an incredible learning experience and given me insight to become a better filmmaker on my own projects. I also greatly appreciate the film/tv mentorships, education and opportunities I was given through Veterans in Media Entertainment (VME), USVAA and WGF. It has been very important to find mentors and work for professionals.
Hanson with members of the cast and production staff at the Austin Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What was it like writing, producing and directing your own feature film, The Black String?
The story was percolating for a long time before making the film such as Donnie Darko, Repulsion, Jacobs Ladder, which does a great job of blending horror and military, and Rosemary’s Baby. It was conceived with my bartending buddy Andy Warrener before I joined the Army. We wanted to explore in that story what it is like to be on that edge where you are experiencing something and no one else believes. It is you against the world. How do you convince someone of something that crazy of a witch conspiracy or a coven of witches? Or some really wild, evil cabal? The moment you say those words you already sound like you are having mental problems. Doctors will definitely not be going to believe.
The challenge we wanted was for a character to have to convince his family, his friends and his doctors of something that is inconceivable where no one in the real world is going to believe that. We put that in a genre we enjoyed which was horror. Now we thought maybe we would make that movie, but I joined the Army and Andy got married and moved to Florida. The wild thing is that you never know what you write today may be a movie in five or ten years. I lived a whole crazy life in between thinking of the story while tending bar with my buddy and then going into the Army. The difference in the time gap was about seven years. I could not have guessed that would have happened, especially with Frankie Muniz.
The creative part I was very comfortable with in the directing and writing having made many short films. I got an MFA from Mt. Saint Mary’s University with the GI Bill, which is a beautiful thing, loves the GI Bill. I owe so much to the GI Bill. So, I got very comfortable with the directing portion where you get very creative to bring this vision and feeling and this emotion you have to life in a very technical way. It is running the business, the producing part of things, to where you are starting a business, you are an entrepreneur. My producing partner Richard Handley, he is a Navy veteran and was an officer and Physician’s Assistant, he runs a contracting business with the DoD. We ran a business together where many purely creative types don’t understand what that level of dedication and commitment is.
To this day I have had probably had equal amounts of discussions about corporate taxes, LLCs, investor shares and running a business as I have about storyboarding shots. When you are doing an independent film like this, truly a passion project, you are building a team that is not a whole lot different…then opening a small company. You and your business partner are shouldering the burden if not for months, but for years. You have to love it and I do where it has been a great journey to where we had such great crew members and other producers that have helped us along the way. It is a multiple year endeavor when you do something like that in the independent world. You really are from the very beginning of raising money all the way to negotiating with distributors and foreign distributors and how you cut checks to your investors. It’s a true business education and kind of feels like I got this mini MBA education.
That was unexpected but the directing part was just amazing. Working with such talented people and friends that I had before joining the Army…we really were able to bring a lot of relationships such as Ravi Patel I bartended with as well. Cullen Douglas and Ravi and I did a TV pilot in like 2008. It was amazing to be able to reach back to my pre-Army friends that are so talented and my post Army, new team of filmmaking friends and bring everybody together. We called on so many favors. We had such great support from Mt. Saint Mary’s, VME and Vega Baby. We called in every favor where it is such a positive experience. When we landed in Frankie Muniz where he is a champ.
He brought his “A game” even for the tiny movie it was. He loved the character and the chance to do something different. He gave everything to our tiny project as he would have to our multi-million-dollar project. He treated us with respect, and he treated the script with respect. He came to set daily with a big folder of his personal notes. He was meticulous like a pro and his level of preparation and how he kept track of everything and what he brought was just amazing. He took that movie and made it really something different than perhaps something we thought. Frankie made it his Breaking Bad character. Like his Malcolm in the Middle dad, Bryan Cranston did on Breaking Bad. He was still kind of that funny person but had a much darker take on it. It is a dark twist on that guy you already know. Frankie imbued the role in the film with his Malcolm in the Middle persona, but whoa that is the dark side of it. What happened? Like Breaking Bad, what went wrong? To work with a pro, I learned.
To be able to work with actors like Ravi, Frankie, Cullen, Oded and Chelsea where they are people that do this for a living to be able to work with people like that and be creative partners with them for my first feature was inspiring. To see how a team can really work with everybody really contributing some high-level creativity. Everyone on the team had so much to add. You have to shepherd the project to where everyone stays on track, but still allow personal creative contributions from cast members. A director is like a manager of a company. You have to work with the talent, resources and the money of your company. You still have to get to the goal, but you can’t be resistant to some things that are great new ideas.
Poster for The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Rich and Mari Handley with Yani and Brian. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Hanson and Handley on stage at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
“No excuses” and intense preparation for a project. It is preparing like you are the best and spending hours a day preparing. Don’t assume, always do pre-combat inspections. It is having everything truly ready to go. Because once you arrive on set and once you arrive at that location it needs to be ready and needs to be operational. If not you, need to have a back-up plan. Research and having contingency plans. Checking your equipment and your team. It can be seen as micromanaging, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. In the military everybody checks their troops. It’s just how it is to make sure your guys and your buddies are ready to go. I think that can be transferred to the civilian world and film production.
Frankie Muniz and Richard Handley in The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.
More of Muniz in The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
WATM: As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?
We need support from great organizations to promote veteran voices and veteran creators. Such organizations as We Are The Mighty, Veterans in Media and Entertainment (VME), of which I volunteer heavily with, the USVAA, United States Veteran Artistic Alliance, and the WGA Writer’s Guild Foundation do support veterans. We need the support from industry professionals and organizations. They are out there, and they are growing. I think that with the people in the position in power right now, the producers and executives that can green light things, I do think they do a really good job where there is always a presence of the military and law enforcement. There are always more and different perspectives. To keep in mind and do the rote, stereotypical type of story lines. There are a lot of really nuanced, interesting and unexpected perspectives that veterans can bring to the time-honored tradition of military inspired entertainment. The producers, executives and showrunners should be open to finding those unexpected angles to veteran stories.
Hanson with Steve Fiorina and Handley at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What would you like to do next in your career?
I plan on directing my second film in 2021. My first one was the horror genre where my next one is likely going to be a thriller with a military character. I always want to do things that are thought provoking. I definitely want to challenge viewers and explore philosophies. …Christopher Nolan makes great entertainment and with challenging ideas and philosophies. He is an independent filmmaker making giant movies, which is something to strive for. Since I have completed my first film…I have been working to get on great television shows as a writer. There are so many stories to tell and I joined the Army and lived this life to help tell authentic stories. I would love to be in day in and day out be in a room with other story tellers creating an amazing show. Creating stories with a team. I will continue directing but would love to be in that writer’s room doing innovative television.
Brian Matthew Rhys on “Perry Mason”. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
I am most proud of serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. In a sense in my career I may never do anything as meaningful as that even if I make ten more movies or even if nominated for an Academy Award. I don’t think that I’ll ever be prouder than spending those days with my Ranger buddies in Afghanistan or sweating in Fort Benning. I am also proud of making that first movie and everyone that contributed to that colossal effort from nothing. Rich Handley and I being these recent film graduates decided to make a movie where we built that coalition from the ground up. It is an effort we are very proud of and what we did and everybody that was able to help us achieve that.
On the back end we got distribution through Grindstone and Lionsgate to where we had to find everything from scratch. The studio didn’t fund this. Movie making is a risky endeavor and long commitment over many years. The movie has been out now over a year and we are still making producer phone calls and receiving emails four years later. When you divide the money, you might make on the back end of an indie film and divide the hours by what you put in it, there might not be much money so that passion that drives you to keep working. There is a bond between people that have that level of passion to work 15-hour days. You are not really thinking about the paycheck where you are there to get the job done because you believe it is similar to the military mindset.
My wife Yani Navas-Hanson is from Venezuelan; she left the country and I met her in Atlanta when I was at Fort Benning and she was studying at Georgia Tech. She was the accountant by trade and then was our accountant on the movie. She left her country, learned English here in the US and transitioned from corporate accounting to entertainment accounting and from taking on the challenges of an independent film. What someone like her can accomplish if they are driven and keep pushing forward and to be able to accomplish that in a few years is amazing. People do have to surround themselves with the right people. If you are in a relationship with someone who is not supportive with this career path or your family is not supportive, then you might have a tough time during the ups and downs. Family and friend support is crucial. I have fantastic and supportive friends and family.
Brian and Yani at Sitges Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
It looks like the Department of Defense is finally retiring the Cyber Awareness Challenge training. Sure, it’s outdated, uses graphics from the early 2000s, and barely scratches the surface of cybersecurity in a world where new threats emerge every other minute. But the campiness is what made it so ridiculous that it was enjoyable.
I just want to throw out there that everyone freaking hated that training when it came out. Eventually, everyone started to like it in spite of it being silly – kind of like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Then as soon as too many people started to actually enjoy the ridiculousness of it… They pull the plug on it.
Coincidence? I think not.
Pour one out for the dude who always believed in your cyber security abilities when you doubted yourself. Jeff, you’re never going to be forgotten. These memes are for you.
(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)
(Meme via Not CID)
(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)
(Meme by Yusha Thomas)
(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via Uniform Humor)
(Meme via SFC Majestic)
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)
(Meme by Ranger Up)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
BONUS: You guys have a good, safe, and UCMJ-free four-day weekend! Happy Easter.
In the famous words of my old First Sergeant… “Don’t do dumb shit.”
Military uniforms have been made from a variety of fabrics over the years: Cotton, wool, polyester blends… all have had their turn as what uniforms are made of. Now a new spin on one of the oldest fabrics could come into play.
That fabric, of course, is silk, which first entered the scene in China almost four millennia ago. Only this isn’t the silk that is used for the high-fashion dresses you see on the red carpet. That is from silkworms. According to a report from Marketplace.org, this silk is from spiders.
Okay, before you get carried away – no, this is not quite like the Spider-Man suits. The key, though is that the spider silk is strong. It has to be. Spider silk makes webs, which spiders usually use to catch food.
There’s just one problem. You need a lot of spiders to make silk, and spider’s just don’t get along with each other. We’re not talking things that can be worked out. Face it, when the critters you are counting on to produce material try to eat each other, productivity’s gonna be taking a nosedive. That doesn’t get the uniforms made.
So, the answer has been to genetically engineer silkworms to produce spider silk. This is not the only method in operation. Michigan State University researchers have figured out how to make a silk-like product from the deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, of spiders, and DNA sequencing is becoming much cheaper than it was in the past.
Either way, the material that is produced will have far more applications than the Kevlar used in the uniforms of present day. The spider silk could also be used to make protective underwear as well as improved body armor. That’s good news for the troops.
At a quick glance, the rules as outlined by the Geneva Conventions on which weapons are allowed (and disallowed) to be used in combat make little sense. The objective of combat is, ultimately, to put an enemy down so the conflict will end — and yet such killing must be done via the most humane means available.
Weapons like a nuclear ICBM are strongly condemned by the international community — but a depleted uranium tank buster round is fine. A Browning .50 caliber Machine Gun is entirely legal, but simply shaving a side of a bullet is a war crime. Incendiary grenades are banned, but (and it’s very explicitly stated) a flamethrower was permitted and often used during the Vietnam War.
So how, exactly, do the Geneva Conventions delineate what is and isn’t allowed when killing the enemy? It all boils down to two simple words: military necessity.
We follow the rules and keep war humane because we are not — nor shall we ever allow ourselves to become — the f*cking bad guys.
(UN International Criminal Tribunal)
This idea of the Conventions was to keep war as humane as possible, not just for the sake of civilians that may be in the area of operations, but for combatants. This is achieved by limiting the infliction of undue harm.
It’s understood that, by the very nature of combat, one side’s troop will be required to end the life of the other, but such killing doesn’t need to be sadistic or cruel. The previously-mentioned shaved bullet, or “dum-dum round,” is banned because, instead of entering the human body and either exiting or stopping, a dum-dum round ricochets around the organs, causing an extreme level of pain before ultimately killing via internal bleeding.
Human rights abuses can and will be tried by the UN.
(Photo by Ludovic Courtes)
Say the enemy is attacking troops from a positioned reinforced by armor. The troops in that position are allowed to use the lowest-level solution to counter enemy actions. Sure, an ICBM would technically get the job done, but that’s escalating the situation to an extreme level, putting civilians at unnecessary risk. Still, The troops something to punch through that armor, like a depleted uranium tank buster round.
It’s not quite as cut-and-dry as that, though. “Military necessity” accounts for what’s available at any given moment. If troops roll up in a vehicle outfitted with an M2 machine gun and terrorists open fire, troops aren’t required to fall back and find something a little less powerful than the .50 cal they have on hand.
That being said, the use of weapon, round, or weapon system must be carefully considered when there’s a chance civilians are in the area. After all, the objective of a given conflict is to stop the enemy by whatever means — not to harm innocents.
It’s also assumed that a flamethrower is only used on strictly military targets and that the troops ensure what they’re burning is indeed a military target.
(U.S. National Archives)
With those qualifying factors in mind, let’s consider a weapon like the flamethrower. Despite its reputation, this weapon wasn’t designed solely to roast the enemy alive. The flamethrower’s intended use is to clear out hard-to-reach tunnels and bunkers when sending in troops with only conventional means would likely result in their deaths. This same justification can be applied to thick forests or jungles.
It cannot, however,be used as the sole weapon of a troop, unless it is the only weapon on hand, and it cannot be used to specifically destroy the plant cover to prevent it from spreading, unless the plant cover is being used by the enemy as a military objective.
The aftermath of using a flamethrower isn’t something that can be controlled, so it’s highly discouraged, but not forbidden if used with caution.
Mikey Day’s World War I soldier desperately trying to get comfort from home is so real.
I just discovered this SNL sketch and then I had a drink in honor of everyone who got screwed over by Jody…
Not only that, it slyly captures the feeling of being overseas and wanting to connect with people back home. For service members, life gets put on pause during training, deployments, or remote assignments, but for the people we leave behind, well, life goes on.
This isn’t the first “The War in Words” sketch from SNL (Maya Rudolph joined Day in a Civil War sketch and it was also clever) but this World War I version cracks me up. Day plays the little voice inside all of us who just wants to do their duty but feels alarmed when it begins to dawn on them that they’re f***ed even though everyone else around them maintains that everything is fine.
It’s not fine.
Case in point: Day’s opening line in the Alec Baldwin Drill Sergeant video captures every single cadet I ever saw just…desperately trying to take a training environment seriously:
It’s no doubt that those who haven’t lived the military lifestyle have a difficult time with some of the logistics. In everything from decoding thousands of acronyms, to seemingly “hard” dates that change at the drop of a hat, to the mindset of doing without a loved one for months on end, if you haven’t lived it, it’s a foreign reality.
That’s not to say non-military folk aren’t empathetic, simply that they haven’t experienced military happenings firsthand. However, that is to say they should remain impartial at all times. And they definitely shouldn’t tell a milspouse the following three things:
You knew what you were getting into.
Yes. That is an actual thing that people say to military members and their spouses alike. A quite common thing.
Sure. We know the main points. But all the details? Some surprises are sure to come along the way with anything in life. No matter how prepared you are, no one can anticipate the emotions of that first deployment (or the tenth).
Saying that a milspouse can’t talk about a situation being hard just because they knew about it upfront, is wholly unfair. We are communicators. When things bother us, we discuss them. When we are having a rough time, we tell others … that’s part of what helps the situation get better.
But to be shut down by someone who has zero idea of what they’re going through and to have them tell you your feelings don’t matter because you knew a military marriage would be hard? Hold me back.
It’s a harder situation than anyone thinks – and instead of being told their feelings are invalid, military spouses should be celebrated and supported for their help within the armed forces community.
The guided-missle cruiser USS Monterey (CG-61) Homecoming
At least … it could be worse.
Sigh. Another common response to military lifestyle changes is “at least.”
“At least he won’t be gone that long.” “At least he gets to come home for the birth.” “At least he’s not deploying.” It’s a minimizing statement that makes us want to pull our hair out.
Why can’t it just be hard? Why do milspouses have to be told their feelings aren’t as big as they feel them?
Yes, it could be worse. That’s true of anything in life. But we don’t need the Debbie Downers of the world pointing out stats about how much worse off life could be. If you can’t muster up a sincere, “That’s tough! It’s ok to be upset,” then maybe just don’t say anything at all.
But you get great benefits.
And? Anything else you’d like to toss in from left field, Karen? Sure, milspouses are grateful for how wonderful it is to get free flu swabs or take courses via the GI Bill. But we promise, that’s not the first thought that comes up.
There are great benefits of military life. But it’s not exactly an even trade-off for the sacrifices the entire family makes. Really, it’s apples and oranges, and if you talk to milspouses about how they should be grateful for all the benefits during month seven of a deployment, they just might throw said fruit in your direction.
When talking to military family members, be careful what you say. Even when ill intentions aren’t in mind, be careful not to belittle their experience or denounce what’s been gone through. It’s a lifestyle that you can’t understand unless you’ve lived it, and sometimes, when things are hard, we just want to be heard.
The U.S. officially joined World War II after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but the U.S. knew that it would likely get dragged into the war in Europe and Asia for years before that.
For the last few months of 1941, America was preparing for an open conflict and the U.S. Navy was looking for a fight. At least four times before Dec. 7, both the Navy and the Coast Guard engaged in combat with German forces, capturing a vessel, threatening U-boats, and suffering the loss of 126 sailors.
1. The destroyer USS Greer duels with U-652 on Sept. 4, 1941.
The U.S. destroyer USS Greer was officially delivering mail to Argentia, Newfoundland, on Sept. 4, 1941. A British anti-submarine plane signaled the Greer that it had just witnessed a German submarine diving 10 miles ahead of the Greer.
Greer locked onto the German submarine U-652 and began following it.
The British airplane fired first. It was running low on fuel and dropped its four depth charges and flew away. The Greer, still in sound contact with the sub, soon had to dodge two torpedoes from U-652. Greer answered with eight depth charges after the first torpedo and 11 more after the second.
Neither vessel was damaged in the 3.5-hour fight.
2. Coast Guardsmen capture a German vessel and raid a signals post in Sept. 12-14, 1941.
Just a few minutes later, the sub fired a spread of three torpedoes, one of which hit the Kearny near an engine room and crippled the ship. Despite the damage and the loss of 11 of the crew, the Kearny was able to navigate to Iceland under its own power.
The opening few minutes of the movie Top Gun make for, arguably, one of the coolest aerial scenes ever caught on film. There’s a reason it’s the enduring air power movie of the 1980s. Too bad for the Air Force that Top Gun featured the Navy.
Except Air Force pilots do that sh*t in real life.
In 2013, two Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantoms moved to intercept an MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace near the Iranian border. The two IRIAF fighters were quickly shooed away by two F-22 Raptors who were flying in escort.
Except, they didn’t just get a warning message, they were Maverick-ed. That’s what I’m calling it now.
How an F-22 Raptor intercepts a Russian-built bomber.
The two F-22 Raptors were escorting the drone because of an incident the previous year in which two Iranian Air Force Sukhoi Su-25 close air support craft attempted to shoot down a different Air Force MQ-1. In the Nov. 1, 2012, incident, the drone was 16 miles from Iran, but still in international airspace. Iran scrambled the two Su-25s to intercept the drone, which they did, using their onboard guns.
The fighters missed the drone, which captured the whole incident with its cameras. The drone returned to base, completely unharmed. Not surprising, considering the Su-25 isn’t designed for air-to-air combat.
Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantom fighters.
The following year, another drone was being intercepted by Iranian aircraft. This time, however, it had serious firepower backing it up. The Iranians came at the drone with actual fighters, capable of downing an aircraft in mid-flight. The F-4 Phantom could bring what was considered serious firepower when it was first introduced – in the year 1960. These days, it’s a museum piece for the United States and most of its Western allies. Not so for the Iranians, who still have more than 40 of them in service. When the F-4s came up against the MQ-1, they probably expected an easy target. That didn’t happen.
One of the F-22 Raptor pilots flying escort for the drone flew up underneath the Iranian Phantoms. According to then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the Raptor pilot checked out the armaments the Iranian planes were carrying, then pulled up on their left wing and radioed them.
It wasn’t like this, but it could have been.
“He [the Raptor pilot] flew under their aircraft [the F-4s] to check out their weapons load without them knowing that he was there, and then pulled up on their left wing and then called them and said ‘you really ought to go home’,” Welsh said.