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On Common Ground
On Common Ground
Actors: Tom Brokaw, Walter Cronkite, John Kenneth Galbraith, Daniel J. Goldhagen
Directors: David Eilenberg, Jessica Glass
Genres: Educational, Documentary
NR     2004     1hr 28min

The true story of a battlefield reunion of American and German soldiers nearly 55 years after they fought a monumental WW II battle in the Huertgen Forest of Germany. Includes commentary from Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Tom Brokaw, Walter Cronkite, John Kenneth Galbraith, Daniel J. Goldhagen
Directors: David Eilenberg, Jessica Glass
Creators: Ethan Vogt, David Eilenberg, Jessica Glass, Atticus Brady
Genres: Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Educational, Military & War
Studio: Arts Alliance Amer
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 05/25/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 28min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, German
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Movie Reviews

A Heart-warming Pilgrimage of Reconciliation
Gregory Canellis | Tuckerton, NJ USA | 09/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

""On Common Ground" encapsulates the the journey of reconciliation embarked upon by veterans of the 28th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division during their visit to Europe in 1999. The film culminates in a meeting of American and German veterans who opposed one another in the deadly Huertgen Forest Campaign during the fall of 1944. "On Common Ground" lends a real-life look at the best of "Saving Private Ryan," and "Band of Brothers" combined. The emotions expressed by the American and German veterans, and the memories they share about their war time experiences are priceless. The film combines veteran interviews with historical themes throughout. The instrumental character is Michael Eliasof, president of the 28th Regiment Association, and a gifted story-teller. Of the thirty-man platoon who landed with Eliasof at Utah Beach on July 4, 1944, only six survived the war. The producers chose to focus on the veterans and allow them to tell their own stories. We see a true to life heart retching experience, reminiscent of "Saving Private Ryan" in an American military cemetery. Here, Stephen J. Butko of Pittsburgh, Pa. visits the grave of a fallen comrade. In 1944, Butko was offered a promotion from private to sergeant. He refused, but recommended his friend Elmer M. Miller get the job instead. Miller was killed two days later, and Butko has blamed himself ever since. Butko was eventually evacuated with combat exhaustion, and his segments are some of the most honest and moving in the film. Allowing the veterans to tell the whole story, presents problems, however. A more careful campaign structure on the 8th Division, would have provided a more solid framework from which to support the veteran's perspective. There was a military historian, Steve Bowman with the group, but apparently, most of his comments wound up on the editing room floor. The vets mention the various campaigns - Normandy, Brittany, Huertgen Forest, the German cities of Duren and Cologne, the Ruhr Pocket, liberating the concentration camp at Wobbelin, and eventual link-up with the Russians - but, only briefly. Anyone not familiar with the 8th Division, an outfit that sustained a 140% casualty rate, will not be any more informed from this documentary. A more careful telling of the campaigns would have underscored the ordeal these brave vets endured. The view from the foxhole was a narrow one. Grand strategy did not trickle down to the M-1 toting grunt. For instance, Eliasof contends that the Americans could have "advanced through the valley near Aachen, and been to the Rhine River in days" instead of fighting for months in the Huertgen Forest (He is referring here to the "Aachen Gap"). Likewise, a German veteran reinforces this claim by stating he is amazed that the Americans entered the Huertgen Forest in the first place. The film leaves it at that. The American strategy, of course was not that simple. But this is the crucks of the controversy that has vailed the Huertgen Forest Campaign ever since. The producers tightly kept the lid on a perpetual can of worms. To lend "professionalism," the producers injected brief comments by Tom Brokaw and Walter Cronkite. Cronkite was a war correspondent who accompanied combat units in Europe, and a much loved grandfather figure. Brokaw, getting more mileage out of the success of his "Greatest Generation" book, is a suave talking head. He is a top-notch professional journalist, not an historian, and by no means an expert on the history of WWII. Lastly, the producers chose to add a bitter controversy about German concentration camps and whether or not "ordinary Germans" were aware of their existence at the time. Eliasof wisely concludes that the German infantrymen opposing him apparently did not know of the true nature of the camps. The German infantryman, argues Eliasof, like his American counterpart, was merely trying to survive the riggers of combat, and was most likely not any better informed about the camps existence than Eliasof and his buddies were. One German admitted he had some knowledge of them, but assumed they were forced labor camps, and that the prisoners were fed and treated reasonably well. Others, claim they were totally unaware of their existence until after the war. Interestingly, two of the German veterans reveal that today, they are looked down upon by the younger generation of Germans (including members of their own families) as "murderers" for having been in the German military, and not opposing Hitler. As a spokesman of his own generation, he pleads with the viewers to reconsider this sentiment. The producers add a rebuttal (special feature) by Daniel Goldhagen, author of the book _Hitler's Willing Executioners_. Goldhagen's book is required reading in colleges. He argues that all Germans, at every level of society knew about the existence of the camps, and because of that knowledge, are deemed "perpetrators" in the Holocaust. On the one hand, this topic certainly cannot be ignored. The Holocaust was horrible beyond description. Since the 8th Division did take part in the liberation of the Wobbelin concentration camp, these vets saw the ghastly results with their own eyes. On the other hand, one gets the feeling that the German veterans who agreed to meet with the Americans in the Huertgen in 1999, were set-up and pummelled by the producers with the added weight of Goldhagen. But unfortunately, living with this dark chapter in German history is a fact of life for all Germans. If anything, the film brought that out. With American and German World War II veterans dying at an alarming rate, this film is indispensable for its historic value. I hope it finds it way to PBS, or other educational cable channels, so a wider range of viewers will benefit from its content. Despite this mild critique, this documentary comes highly recommended. Gregory Canellis son of Sgt. Nicholas Canellis, 13th Infantry, 8th Division 1941-1945 (deceased 1962)."
Charles Ashbacher | 06/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It's an excellent film. I never truly felt like I understood the sacrifices and trials that our soldiers went through in World War II. The reunion between the American soldiers and the German soldiers makes you think."
A moving description of what it means to be an old soldier
Charles Ashbacher | Marion, Iowa United States( | 01/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Many things have been said about old soldiers; however, this video gives visual evidence of what it means to be a soldier who managed to grow old. In the latter part of 1944, a major battle was fought between German and American forces in the Huertgen forest. It was a major battle; each side suffered over 30,000 casualties. However, it was not a strategic objective, in many ways it was a battle that took place simply because there was a war on and soldiers from both sides congregated there.
It is now almost 55 years later and groups of German and American veterans of that war are once again congregating near the Huertgen forest. This time, it is to revisit their experiences, how they came to that place in 1944 and what happened while they were there. Their memories are vivid; they tell stories of people dying beside them, in some cases they talk about their own physical wounds and how lucky they are to still be living 55 years later. They relive the battles as if they were yesterday; there are some tears, some smiles and even a few laughs.
This video is also another stark reminder as to what it means to be an old soldier. Years before, these two groups of men tried to kill each other through the most violent of means. Yet, when they get together there is a bond between them that non-soldiers find difficult to understand. There is no residual hatred; it reinforces a point that has been made many times. The soldier on the battlefield has more in common with his opponents than he does with his fellow citizens not in the fight.
NBC News Correspondent Tom Brokaw, CBS WWII Correspondent Walter Cronkite and noted economist John Kenneth Galbraith add commentary to this moving tape. It is also about the war and Cronkite notes that he was in fact covering the war in that area. If you are interested in World War II and the effect it had on the surviving combat soldiers, then this video is where you should begin.