An old war movie brings two men together

I’m used to people of the same age group connecting as a result of an interview I did with a veteran. But it’s really something when the links cross generations. That happened last month.

Bill Berry was reading my Memorial Day “in their own words” war story on Bert Winzer and thought there was something familiar about it.

Hmmm. A commando unit of Canadians and Americans. An assault on a German-held mountaintop in Italy.

It sounded like a movie he had acted in as an extra about 45 years ago while a college student in Utah.

He kept reading, and when he got to the end, he knew it was true.

In the epilogue, I wrote that Bert’s unit, the 1st Special Service Force, had been memorialized in a 1968 movie, The Devil’s Brigade, starring William Holden, Cliff Robertson and Vince Edwards.

Berry, who lives in Bethlehem Township now but grew up in Sullivan County, was studying chemical engineering at Brigham Young University in Provo at the time the movie was being filmed at Corner Canyon and Jordan River.   He did some work as an extra, acting as an American soldier, and remembers being filmed in a scene where 1st Special Service Force men were prodding pack mules on a mountainside.

Bill called me and was eager to speak with Bert, who lives in Lower Macungie.

Bert had lent me a videotape of The Devil’s Brigade and I had watched it to get familiar with his story, which you can read here: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-memorial-day-war-story-winzer-20120527,0,345070.story

I told Bert about Bill’s call, and Bert was tickled about it. The next day, Bill, who is 65, just happened to call the 89-year-old ex-commando while I was visiting him, and they had a nice chat.

Bill told me that his role as an extra in the movie had special significance for him. His father, Carl Berry, had been an extra in the silent World War I drama Wings, which won an Oscar for best picture.

How did he swing that?

Carl was serving in the Army at Fort Sam Houston in the mid 1920s while Wings was being filmed in Bexar County, Texas. Bill said his dad told of sexy Clara Bow, the female lead, putting a car in reverse by mistake and hitting a man on the set.

Bill ended his chat with Bert by suggesting they get together for a meal. I hope it happens. Who knows what other connection might crop up between the play soldier and the man who lived it.

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