Filmmaker Conor Timmis, third from right, stands with the surviving members of the all-black 2nd Rangers. His film, “Finnegan’s War,” won the best full-length documentary at the 2013 Oceanside International Film Festival. Courtesy photo
Filmmaker Conor Timmis, third from right, stands with the surviving members of the all-black 2nd Rangers. His film, “Finnegan’s War,” won the best full-length documentary at the 2013 Oceanside International Film Festival. Courtesy photo
Arts Featured Rancho Santa Fe

Documentary on Korean War breaks silence for veterans

“Finnigan’s War” is a reverent commemoration of the veterans of the Korean War.

It is one thing to be subjected to the atrocities of war and know that many of your brothers-in-arms died fighting for what they believed in, but it is another to realize those who sacrificed their lives aren’t being honored for their actions. Without remembrance, there is only silence. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the Korean War.

But that silence ended when actor/filmmaker Conor Timmis embarked on a year-long journey to pay homage to his late grandfather John Finnigan, not to mention the heroes who held their ground in the face of overwhelming odds. The result of his journey is a documentary titled “Finnigan’s War,” the recipient of the Best Full-Length Documentary Award from 2013’s Oceanside International Film Festival.

Timmis paints a remarkable canvas of the pain and loss our veterans endured as they defended one portion of Korea from the other, as well as its supporting factions. Utilizing his eye for arresting imagery and genuine humanity, he succeeds in opening the eyes of the rest of the world to those who fought in a war many Americans have more or less forgotten.

What I admire most about “Finnigan’s War” is its refusal to downplay the harsh reality of warfare; it doesn’t reduce the topic to “breakfast table” conversations.

Listening to Kurt Chew-Een Lee, the first Chinese-American Marine Corps officer, emphasize death and suffering as the strongest memories a soldier can have easily overshadows a typical war film’s carnage.

And knowing the intense adversity that Tibor Rubin faced as a former prisoner of war is more than enough to make you wonder how somebody can undergo that much hardship and still find the will to live.

Oh, and we should not forget the inspiration behind this documentary: John Finnigan, a Silver Star recipient who helped evacuate 15 wounded men in a chaotic battlefield.

In addition, Timmis makes excellent use of realistic hand-drawn animation in the style of a graphic novel to illustrate these men’s valor and perseverance, bringing to light the intensity of their actions.

And with Mark Hamill providing a to-the-point narration during these sequences, he proves you don’t need to go the R-rated route to showcase the graphic nature of war.

But war doesn’t just affect the soldiers, sailors, and airpersons; the folks back home have their part to play.

Half the time I see loved ones coming together, officially and unofficially, to commemorate the men who fought and died for them. In fact, I didn’t know that the Borinqueneers Motorcycle Club rides each year to pay their respects to the 65th Infantry Regiment, or that there was an elite all-black unit called the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company, which still has some of its members living and sharing stories about their battles.

It saddens me to hear that some soldiers never appeared again and had only their families to remember them by, such as Harold “Hal” Downes, presumed MIA, leaving behind a wife and son who miss him terribly; or Kristian Blanchard, who never got to meet his father. Watching those two express the anguish they feel from losing someone who mattered to them is hard to swallow, whether you’ve suffered the impact of war or not.

But for every melancholy moment, there is a spark of hope, reminding us that the dead will always be there in our hearts. I had no idea there was a U.S. Navy vessel named after Ralph E. Pomeroy, who suffered mortal wounds after inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy with his machine gun, and it’s good to know that Mitchell Red Cloud, Jr. has not been forgotten by his people for preventing his company from being overrun.

Both received the Medal of Honor for the decisions they made.

We must not forget to keep in mind that many men fought above and beyond the call of duty in the Korean War to protect our future, and to disregard their sacrifices is unspeakable. Fortunately, with “Finnigan’s War,” we can break that silence — one that has been unbroken for far too long.

Running time: 54 minutes
Rating:  Not rated

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