On Hilton Head, Oscar winner Gossett promotes new documentary on African-American soldiers
By Rob Wile, Island Packet
In 1952, Universal Pictures released a film called “The Red Ball Express” that told the story of a corps of military truck drivers who supplied Allied armies in Europe during World War II. The film carried the tagline, “From beachhead to battlefront, they carry the ammo for Patton’s tanks!”
In reality, the unit was almost entirely African-American.
In the film, however, most of the drivers were white.
For Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr., the unit’s story is illustrative of the dedication and ingenuity of African-American soldiers fighting during World War II.
Yet such Hollywood portrayals aided in obscuring the contributions of African-Americans serving in the military, Gossett said.
“That’s the way it was,” he said, adding, “we grow.”
Gossett spoke at the Hilton Head Island High School Visual and Performing Arts Center on Saturday to promote a new documentary chronicling the trials and achievements of African-Americans serving in every major U.S. conflict since the Revolutionary War.
The appearance coincided with the news that Gossett, 74, has accepted a six-month teaching residency at the Savannah College of Art and Design and Savannah State University. Gossett won an Academy Award for his role in the 1982 film “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
If there is one target audience for the new documentary called “For Love of Liberty,” it is young people, said Gossett, who served as executive producer.
“It is important for (them) to know upon whose shoulders they stand,” he said.
Yet it is essential that all Americans, regardless of race, know the soldiers’ stories, he said.
Saturday’s event was organized by the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association. Association president James Mitchell said that during Gossett’s stay in the region, the group plans to involve him in future projects, especially those targeting youth. Gossett also committed Saturday to take on programs promoting Gullah culture.
The documentary features a galaxy of Hollywood stars lending their voices to letters from African-American serviceman. Asked by an audience member how he was able to secure their talents for the film, Gossett first quipped, “Their my friends.”
In fact, Gossett went on to explain, many of the actors featured in the film served in the military themselves and were eager to participate. Among them were Morgan Freeman, who served four years as a mechanic in the Air Force and Bill Cosby, who joined the Navy during the Korean War as a physical therapist for wounded veterans. Rapper and actor Ice-T served four years as an Army Ranger in the 25th infantry.
The film aired on PBS in February, but has not been released commercially. Writer and director Frank Martin urged the approximately 100 audience members to contact their schools and libraries to stock the video to increase student exposure to the film.
“You walk with pride when you know where you came from,” he said.