Posted: Sunday, October 12, 2014 12:00 am
Upon his arrival in Hollywood, Paul Andert could see how important his role would be as a consultant.
Brad Pitt and his producing partners were filming “Fury,” an $80 million movie about World War II and the tanks that were used to drive into Germany and defeat the Nazis.
They were making a film about the famed 2nd Armored Division, a group of 14,000 soldiers, of which only a handful are still alive.
Andert is one of those men.
That would be Technical Sgt. Paul Andert, a 91-year-old Tulsa man and a platoon sergeant during the invasions of North Africa and Sicily.
One of this country’s most decorated soldiers, he was part of the D-Day landing at Normandy, and he fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
He arrived in Los Angeles in August 2013 along with three other 2nd Armored Division members to meet with Pitt, his co-stars and writer-director David Ayer.
Their meeting was a four-hour swap of war stories and a military education.
“I could tell that they didn’t know much about how things worked in an armored division. Like an actor, one of the tankers (soldiers inside the tank) asked me, ‘How did you see, because I couldn’t see anything in there?’” Andert remarked.
“I told them that of course you are partially blind inside the tank, and that’s where my job as infantry came in: I was riding on top of the tank, telling those inside where the fire was coming from, saying ‘We’re taking fire from the left’ or the right or from behind.
“I would call them on the phone that was on the back of the center tank (of five tanks driving forward as a platoon of tanks). We spent 30 months going from Africa to Sicily to Germany, and I probably spent half of that time on top of a tank.”
In talking with Pitt and actors Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal, was there any other immediate advice he offered the stars?
“They showed up, and some had ponytails,” Andert recalled. “I told them that those had to go.”
As a consultant, Andert said the “Fury” production team wanted his expertise “purely because there aren’t many of us left.” But when they fly him to Washington, D.C., next week for the film’s Wednesday premiere, that will be about celebrating him for the hero that he has always been.
“We got them corrected on some things. We had to tell them that some of the cuss words they were using weren’t right because we weren’t using some of those until after the war,” Andert said.
“Later they recorded me on video, too, and during that we talked about many more things, like concentration camps and rescuing people from burning barns. … The filmmakers said they wanted the real information, and I think it’s time that we got down to what it was really like.”
War is hell
Andert served with the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, part of the 2nd Armored Division, serving between 1940 and 1945, from the ages of 17 to 22.
He can confirm that war, for lack of any other appropriate term, is hell.
He also realizes how difficult it can be to portray such carnage on the big screen, but he’s doing what he can to make sure that “Fury” is as accurate as possible.
For many years, Andert showed off a German soldier’s helmet he had brought home from the war. The helmet had belonged to the last man he had killed in Germany.
“When you were fighting, you had to be a savage,” Andert said. “Then, when you stop, you have to become a human being again, and you wonder, ‘How did I do that?’
“You had to become two different people. You went a little nuts. People ask, ‘How did you do that?’ and there’s only one answer: We had to.”
Andert served under Gen. George S. Patton and knew the man well from their 2nd Armored Division days.
“Old blood and guts,” Andert said, chuckling as he recalled Patton’s nickname and the man as a great leader. “It was his guts and our blood.”
Then there was his meeting with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, as recalled by Andert.
Eisenhower: “You’re a bit young to be a platoon sergeant, aren’t you?”
Andert: “Yes, sir.”
Eisenhower: “You lied about your age to get in, didn’t you?”
Andert: “Yes, sir.”
Andert received the Silver Star (the third-highest award for valor and gallantry an Army serviceman can receive) to go with his two Bronze Stars and pair of Purple Hearts after being injured twice.
If you read Andert’s book “Unless You Have Been There,” you will find a tell-it-like-it-is account of his war experiences. He’s considering writing another book.
“The medals mean a lot to me, because they mean I was knocked off a couple of times,” he said. “I was in a plane that crashed, a boat that sank, a truck that was blown up, and I was blinded by the flash of a cannon shell.
“Another book could be on the 14 times that I should have been knocked off for good.”
There are plenty of military veterans who rarely talk about their battle experiences, if at all.
Andert talks to kids at elementary schools and church groups and many more, keeping a busy schedule after the death of his wife of 65 years and a couple of his children.
“I feel like I have to talk. I don’t know how a person can be a leader, and I don’t know how you can expect to win a war if you don’t know how it’s done,” he said.
“We haven’t truly won a war since WWII,” he declared, “and we can’t be a nation of wimps.”
Hollywood goes to war
When talking about war films, Andert has seen his share, and he often sees something that’s not quite right. The best he’s seen? “Pork Chop Hill,” a 1959 Gregory Peck film based on a Korean War battle.
“Saving Private Ryan” was “very good at the beginning part, the landing on Normandy,” said Andert, who was there. “But after that part, not so much.”
He hasn’t seen “Fury” yet to give his review, but Andert said he has reason to trust Pitt.
At the conclusion of that 2013 meeting, while the other men hovered around Pitt asking for a multitude of photos to be signed, Andert sat down and made out a list of his own requests for photos and autographs.
When his chance came to speak privately with Pitt, Andert gave him some of his books, and he asked for autographed photos to be sent later to about a dozen people, most of them veterans hospital nurses and those with local hospitals who have helped him for years.
“Brad did it all. He sent those items to everyone I asked. To us veterans, he always signed, ‘With respect,’ and I respected that,” Andert said.
He motions across the room to an American eagle statuette. It’s an item he has purchased multiple times and sent to some of his favorite people. He had one delivered to Hollywood.
“I sent one to Brad, and I told him, ‘This goes to a true patriot. This is my Academy Award to you.’”
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Michael Smith 918-581-8479