Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014

Veterans Not Forgotten

Finnegan’s War Remembers Korea

By David Luhrssen
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Although it’s gained more attention in the last several years, including a granite memorial of morose-faced fighters in Washington D.C., the Korean War is still a largely forgotten conflict.

Filmmaker Conor Timmis sets out to do his best for remembrance with his documentary, Finnigan’s War (out on DVD). Dedicated to his grandfather, John Finnigan, who earned a Silver Star for bravely drawing enemy fire from wounded G.I.s (allowing their evacuation by medics), Finnegan’s War references some archival footage but focuses on Timmis’ cross-country journey in search of surviving Korean War veterans and their descendants.

It was, as recalled by my uncles who served, a rotten war fought against endless enemy hordes in a climate similar to Wisconsin with bitter snowy winters and hot humid summers. As one of the veterans Timmis interviewed put it: “If this is a police action, then they need more cops here”—alluding to Harry S. Truman’s description of Korea as a “police action” rather than a war. But war it was. Among the vivid memories Timmis collected are the smell of blood and gunpowder, the mayhem of headless bodies and dismembered limbs.

Timmis depicts the combat scenes as described in official dispatches with graphic-novel style visualizations, yet the veterans’ stories are the documentary’s most vital component. He located a cross section of them, including members of the all-black 2nd Rangers, the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment and Kurt Chew-Een Lee, the Marine Corps’ first Chinese-American officer. He also ventures to Wisconsin’s Ho Chunk Nation to talk with descendants of a Medal of Honor winner, Mitchell Red Cloud, Jr., who died firing his submachine gun while blunting a Chinese assault.

“War is mean business,” as one African-American veteran tells Timmis. “One atrocity after another.” By the time Korea ended, most Americans simply wanted to forget.

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