Growing up in a home the youngest of four boys and a sister, I was lucky to get lots of
hand-me-down clothes, toys and attention. My brothers were all history
enthusiasts, probably the result of our monthly trips to the library or book
store where we were each allowed to select our own books. Of course, once home
and read, the books were passed around, so we all had similar interests. If one
brother was reading about the Battle of Gettysburg, by the next trip to the
library, all of the others shared in the interest.
This supportive environment was subconsciously supported by my parents who were both
avid readers. My Dad, a WWII vet, was always reading some historic treatise,
and although he never really talked about the books he read, he always seemed
so smart when asked a question. I was always pestering him to teach me close
order drill, how to salute or the proper way to carry the musette bag and
pistol belt that he brought home from the war.
The best night of the week was, of course, Saturday night (baths withstanding).
There was usually a movie on the television and the whole family would stake
out their claim in the living room and Dad would make popcorn.
little town didn’t have a movie theater, but occasionally my dad would drop my
brothers off at a theater in neighboring La Crosse, Wisconsin, to attend a
matinee while he and I went to the library and book store. He didn’t say it,
but I was just too young to take to the movies.
in 1969, my brothers planned on attending the new release of the “Battle of
Britain.” I heard them talking about it for a week so when the day of our La
Crosse trip came around, I begged my dad to let me go to the movies with the
boys. He relented and all of us…the four boys and my dad…took our places in the
dark theater, anticipating the rise of the curtain and the big screen dog
the first planes lifting off grass runways, I was right there in the movie with
the RAF pilots. I didn’t have a plane, but I had mastered mimicking the sound
of a Rolls Royce engine and chattering Vickers machine guns. As the battle on
screen intensified, so did my vocal participation in the combat. Sounding
somewhere between a screaming Donald Duck and wet firecrackers, I was oblivious
to the people who got up and sat elsewhere. With each Hurricane or Spitfire
that started to tunnel in, I accompanied with appropriate 7-year-old-produced
vocal renditions of sputtering engines, gasping pilots and exploding gas tanks.
was only in a lull of the combat did I notice that my dad and I were
alone…everyone—including my brothers—had moved as far from us as the theater
walls would permit.
the agony of my brothers and my father were alleviated when the film finally
ended. I was exhausted from vocalized aerial combat. Nevertheless, I chattered
about the movie for the entire 30 minute ride back to our home. I thought the
movie was the greatest thing I had ever seen and I spent countless hours
recreating dog fights with pencil and paper. In fact, for years thereafter, I
was quick to exclaim “Battle of Britain” whenever someone asked me what was my
40 years passed when my brothers and I carried popcorn to our seats to see the
“Battle of Britain” when I noticed the DVD for sale at Wal-Mart. There was no
question that a movie that had made such an impact in my life had to be added
to my personal library. I purchased it, rushed home, and with a bucket of
chicken snuggled in my lap, I started the movie that I was sure would carry me
back to that matinee with my brothers and Dad.
movie started and I quickly devoured a few drumsticks and thigh before it
dawned on me….other than the original Henkels and ME109s used in the film, this
movie STUNK! It was painful to
watch, but I and the chicken persevered (though the latter surrendered early
before the Nazis’ second wave on London).
was truly disappointed. The movie didn’t stir me the way it had when I was
seven. It wasn’t “bigger than life”. It was the serious drama I thought it was.
Though the combat scenes were lively and there was plenty of cool air-to-air
action between Spitfires and MEs, it was no better than any of the hundreds of
other war movies I have watched in the ensuing 40 years. What had happened?
it dawned on me… “Battle of Britain” wasn’t my favorite movie of all time
because of good acting or realistic depictions of combat, though to my
7-year-old mind, those were the obvious factors. Rather, it was my favorite
movie of all time because it packaged a wonderful memory of being the “baby
brother” who got to spend a day at the movies with his big brothers and his
Preserve the memories,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine