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The Great Raid Movie Storms D.c.

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Posted 30 July 2005 - 09:22 PM

Hopefully the movie does justice to the books.

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Actor Benjamin Bratt talks with reporters on the red carpet at the July 28 premiere of his movie "The Great Raid" in Washington. Bratt plays Lt. Col. Henry A. Mucci, who took action to free U.S. prisoners of war held by the Japanese in the Philippines. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
As for those military members serving today, Bratt offered a message of support: "Stay positive. Stay hopeful and all of us back home, no matter what you're reading or hearing, we do support the troops," he said. "We really feel for the young men and women who are putting their lives on the line."
America Supports You: 'The Great Raid' Preview Storms D.C.
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2005 – Servicemembers and veterans were among those who got a sneak peek of the film that promotional materials say tells the story of the "most spectacular rescue missions ever to take place in American history: 'the great raid on Cabanatuan.'"

Actor Benjamin Bratt talks with reporters on the red carpet at the July 28 premiere of his movie "The Great Raid" in Washington. Bratt plays Lt. Col. Henry A. Mucci, who took action to free U.S. prisoners of war held by the Japanese in the Philippines. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley (Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The raid was conducted to rescue the more than 500 U.S. prisoners of war who had survived the Bataan Death March through the jungles of the Philippines. Lt. Col. Henry A. Mucci, working from 6th Army Headquarters in Luzon in the Philippines, was charged with figuring out how to free the POWs before the Japanese army's "Kill All" policy was enforced.

Capt. Robert Prince and 121 Rangers and Alamo Scouts, aided by members of the Filipino resistance, were his answer.

Director John Dahl said he had more than one reason that compelled him to make the movie.

"When I first read about this story, I was sort of shocked at how little I knew about the war in Philippines and how little I knew about the Bataan Death March and the survivors," Dahl said. "My father served in the Philippines, and he had a very good friend of his who was a survivor of the death march."

Dahl added that he thinks everyone who worked on the film felt deeply honored to be part of an epic human drama that sheds a light on great American heroes.

The film that depicts the selfless heroism of a group of soldiers is more than just a feel-good war tale, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, said in an address to the audience before the viewing of the film. It's representative of a much larger picture, he said.

"There is perhaps no story which illustrates each and every tenet of the warrior ethos quite like "The Great Raid," he said. "While one cannot help but be inspired by the story ... and those depicted in this film, we must not forget that ... there are millions of examples (of such warrior ethos) from the Army's 230-year history."

Former Marine Capt. Dale Dye, who served as senior military technical adviser on the film, helped create that representation. He was responsible for training the "Rangers" of Charlie Company, 6th Ranger Battalion for the movie.

Learning the raid step-by-step was only one aspect of the training, Dye said. The other part was making the actors understand the gravity of what they were portraying.

"I said, 'Look, we are representing the real United States Rangers who went in and pulled off one of the most extraordinary raids the world has ever known, and I'm going to show you how to do it,'" he said. "And the extraordinary thing about it was, they got it. They understood that they were representing the real folks, folks who are still alive today. And I said, 'We are not going to let (them) down.' And they got it." Dye, who attended the Army's Ranger school during his 20-year military career, also had a role in the movie.

The movie adaptation of two books - "The Great Raid" by William B. Breuer and "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides -stars actors Benjamin Bratt, Joseph Fiennes, Mark Consuelos and James Franco.

Conseulos, who perhaps is best known for his role on the soap opera "All My Children," said it was an honor to have servicemembers and veterans at the premiere, and he said hoped that they felt the film did their story justice. He said his role in "The Great Raid" might have enlightened him a little, but really didn't alter his view of the military.

"I grew up with grandfathers in wars, and my dad was in the military, and I grew up around a lot of military," he said. "So I've always had a deep appreciation for the armed services and the sacrifices the men and women make."

The actor said the story is important because it hasn't really been told. It gives a good impression of what the men endured and what happened between Gen. Douglas MacArthur's famous "I shall return," and his actual return to the Philippines. Additionally, he said, it honors and gives credit to the Filipinos who aided the POWs and helped make the raid a success.

Benjamin Bratt, of "Law & Order" fame, said he thinks a lot of romantic nostalgia is attached to World War II and with good reason. "What this particular story is about and why it's significant and compelling to watch is that it's a perfect demonstration (that) war, regardless of the circumstances ... can bring out the worst in mankind, but quite often the best," he said.

Bratt added that it was a goal for the movie to honor the soldiers who lost their lives as well as those who survived Bataan in hopes that they would enjoy it and recognized themselves.

As for those military members serving today, Bratt offered a message of support: "Stay positive. Stay hopeful and all of us back home, no matter what you're reading or hearing, we do support the troops," he said. "We really feel for the young men and women who are putting their lives on the line."

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Posted 25 August 2005 - 04:35 PM

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Leader of WWII's 'Great Raid' looks back at real-life POW rescue
Bob Prince has never taken off the simple gold signet ring that his late wife, Barbara, gave him after they were married at Seattle's Church of the Epiphany on Jan. 31, 1942.

It can be seen in a 50-year-old photo taken around their third anniversary, when Prince was an Army Ranger serving an ocean away from Barbara, in the Philippine Islands.

Paul Joseph Brown / P-I
Former U.S. Army Ranger Robert Prince, 85, recounts the rescue of Allied POWs marked for death by the Japanese.
Then he was Capt. Robert W. Prince, 25, of the Army's elite Sixth Ranger Battalion. Prince, known for his coolness, just had been hand-picked by a man he deeply admired, Lt. Col. Henry Mucci, to lead 120 Rangers, Army Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas to rescue 512 prisoners of war from a nightmarish Japanese prison camp near the town of Cabanatuan.

The "Great Raid," the subject of a new movie, was cloaked in secrecy and draped with urgency. The POWs included many who endured three years of starvation, disease and torture after the battle for Corregidor and the Bataan Death March. In August 1944, with defeat imminent, the Japanese War Ministry issued a "kill all policy" to cover up war crimes by executing the witnesses. Before the Cabanatuan raid was carried out, prisoners in a camp near Palawan had been drenched with aviation fuel and burned alive.

"Our wedding anniversary was three years to the day that we brought out those prisoners," Prince, now 85, recalls, tapping the signet ring engraved with a "P."

"I didn't think about it being my anniversary at the time, though," he adds with a soft chuckle, glancing out the window of his condominium in Port Townsend that overlooks Puget Sound.

U.S. Army Ranger Robert Prince in 1945
The story, with embellishments that Prince says don't diminish the truth, is in the film "The Great Raid," which is playing in area theaters. The movie draws its story from the best-selling books "The Great Raid on Cabanatuan" by William B. Breuer and "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides.

Prince read the books and previewed the movie two years ago at home for director John Dahl, before production was delayed a year. Actor James Franco portrays Prince as the bookish but decisive narrator of the film -- and wears a similar ring. Benjamin Bratt plays Mucci, who died in 1997.

Prince has not met the actors but says he's happy with the film, saying it captures the spirit and significance of the mission.

"Dahl wanted to get inside my head, to know what I saw and felt," Prince says. He cautioned Dahl against turning him into a John Wayne. Dahl, apparently struck by the modesty and bluntness of old veterans, decided the facts spoke for themselves and resisted attempts to turn the movie into a "Dirty Dozen."

"Let's set something straight," Prince says, leveling a gaze as intense as the one in his old photo.

"We all worked together. I had no bigger impact than Colonel Mucci. The only reason the story has any legs at all is because we saved people in addition to beating up on the Japanese," he says. "The heroes of the thing are the POWs."

The rescue was widely celebrated nationwide for weeks but slipped into the shadows of history as the war entered its waning months.

As old soldiers sometimes do, Prince, a self-effacing man, was content to let his soldiering fade away, too. He returned from the military as a major on the day before Thanksgiving 1946. He traded in his green Army Ranger uniform to market apples in Wenatchee with the firm of Gwin, White & Prince, and to begin a family.

The couple had two sons. One is now dead. Prince moved to Port Townsend 18 months ago, after his wife died, to be near his son, Jim, and his grandchildren.

"It's nice to see him getting this recognition now," Jim Prince, a commercial fisherman, says. "He never talked much about the raid except once when we were growing up, when my mom told him to tell us."

Prince grew up in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood. He graduated from Garfield High School and Stanford University, studying history and economics. As war clouds gathered, he joined the ROTC and was commissioned a second lieutenant in early 1941.

A few months after he married the former Barbara Harrison, Prince was in New Guinea marching troops and mules across a 10,000-foot mountain range to support two divisions battling the Japanese army. The fighting ended a week before his group arrived.

"We sat there in New Guinea a year -- they didn't know where to use us," Prince recalls. Then the Army created a Ranger battalion in the Pacific, and Mucci sought volunteers.

By late 1944, Japan's defeat was imminent and Prince was tasting combat in the Philippines. In January 1945, with word of the massacre of Allied POWs at Palawan, Mucci was ordered to hand-pick a team to rescue prisoners at Cabanatuan.

Mucci, who embarrassed Prince by calling him "my wonderful captain," was to get the rescuers to the camp; Prince's job was to get in and out.

What made the "Great Raid" so tactically incredible was that there was no time to rehearse. "Some have months to rehearse, we only had hours," Prince says. "We were successful because we had all trained together and knew each other" and had the support of Filipino people, he says.

Intelligence was gathered from Alamo Scouts working behind enemy lines and Filipino guerrillas protecting the unit's flanks. Civilian spies risked lives gathering information -- though the film's love interest was one of the Hollywood embellishments but based on a real woman spy.

Odds seemed overwhelming. The prison had more than 200 guards and sat 30 miles inside enemy territory. A Japanese battalion was a mile from it. The nearby town of Cabanatuan was a transit hub with up to 8,000 Japanese troops.

Surprise was key. Yet the biggest obstacle was 300 yards of open ground through a dry, stubbled rice paddy. Rangers, laden with ammunition, rifles, machine guns and bazookas, crawled on their bellies.

To divert attention, a P-61 "Black Widow" night-fighter flew over. "While we were crawling across the open field, he was flying 500 feet above the camp, cutting his motor, doing every crazy thing he could to attract attention," Prince recalls. It worked.

Prince set the attack for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30, when F Company, crawling up a river to the camp's rear, was to open fire. The deadline passed. "I was getting antsy," Prince recalls. Ten tense minutes went by before F company arrived and began firing.

Prince gave two of his platoons different assignments. "Second platoon was not to fight but to get the POWs going right away" while first platoon held off prison guards, he said.

The film also embellishes some action. Rescuers faced two mortar attacks, not three. A Japanese truck, not a tank, was blown up. "I was watching and directing what was needed," Prince says.

Removing the prisoners -- American, British, Canadian and others, who had dubbed themselves "Ghost Soldiers" -- was an unexpected obstacle.

Conditioned by captivity, many POWs thought the raid a trick to kill them as they fled. Few recognized the green Ranger uniforms that evolved from blue or khaki uniforms during their years in captivity.

"One guy said, 'Who are you?' We answered, 'We're Yanks.' He said, 'No Yank ever wore a uniform like that,' " Prince recalls.

Rangers literally booted and shoved some POWs out. Rangers also removed their shirts to make stretchers to carry away sick and wounded prisoners and gave their clothes and boots to the emaciated, threadbare, barefoot men.

The fighting was over in 35 minutes. "It was pretty one-sided," Prince says. He checked each building himself before firing the flare that ended the assault, then met up with Mucci and began a long trek to freedom. Filipino guerrillas held off pursuing Japanese soldiers as the group made its escape.

In the end, Allied casualties counted two Rangers dead and several wounded. No Filipinos died. More than 500 Japanese soldiers were killed or wounded. All 512 prisoners survived.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Prince's role on Feb. 3, 1945, identifying "the son of Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Prince of 226 Maiden Lane" as a leader of "one of the most dramatic exploits of the war in the Pacific." Prince and Staff Sgt. Homer Britzius were the only two Seattleites in the raid.

Exuberant prisoners returned under the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco amid screaming sirens, salutes from Navy blimps and crowds waving flags.

One former prisoner told reporters: "I think I was the first American out of the prison camp. First thing I knew I was standing outside with a big Yank. His name was Capt. Prince of Seattle, Wash. The first thing I did was to grab the captain and hug and kiss him right there."

Accompanied by his wife, Prince and 11 Rangers were sent after the raid on war bond tours of the States and met with President Franklin Roosevelt.

Mucci and Prince received the nation's second-highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and in the late '90s were named to the Army Ranger Hall of Fame. Prince returned to the South Pacific to help plan a November 1945 invasion of Japan, but the war ended in August.

Today, Prince still soldiers out, unrecognized, from his condo for a daily half-mile walk. Of his new celebrity, he seems most excited about an invitation to a banquet with Fort Lewis' 75th Ranger Regiment. He wants to meet this generation's soldiers.

Prince, meanwhile, reads an April 16, 1945 interview with the P-I when he was home on leave.

"People everywhere thank me," he said then. "I think the thanks should go the other way. ... Nothing for me can ever compare with the satisfaction I got from freeing those men."

Reading his words again, Prince snaps: "True then, true now."


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