“I Wanted To Be A Man With A Gun'' is a feature length film constructed from the stories of three WWII veterans fighting on the European front. As they recount their experiences through the prism of their 90-year old selves, they reveal the shocking reality of combat that still weighs heavy in their lives.
Each soldier represents a unique and sometimes disturbing perspective in their experience of war - and how they respond to the challenges of surviving combat. Harold Kozloff, a brazen Jewish soldier in the infantry, hated the Germans and killed them with impunity. On the surface, Harold killed without conscience, yet the brutality of WWII touched his life forever.
Leo Litwak was a reluctant Jewish soldier who became a medic in the infantry. While he hated Nazism, he saw the German soldiers as victims of circumstance. Following the orders of the Geneva Convention he treated their wounds with the same consideration he practiced while working on American G.I.’s, but not without consequence.
Paul Mico, a Catholic Squad Sergeant in the 29th infantry, reluctantly takes enemy lives, and gives the film historical context from the Normandy invasion to the German surrender. His soft-spoken musings soon become shocking as he reveals how his squad killed unarmed prisoners. After the massacre at Malmedy, Belgium, where the Germans machine-gunned 84 American prisoners, Sergeant Mico and his men began a killing spree - the impact of which indelibly changed his life.
The soldiers do not censor themselves in telling their stories, including how they reacted to the Anti-Semitism of their fellow G.I.’s; their rage unleashed against the Germans directly involved in the persecution of their religious brethren; and the horrific consequences of the war to their lives. This powerful and poetic film employs a haunting original score integrated with rare archival footage, ultimately revealing that even in a justifiable war no soldier escapes the trauma of the requirement to kill or be killed.
The I Wanted To Be A Man With A Gun film project began twelve years ago when I was filming a documentary about the painter Elaine Badgley Arnoux. In her studio between setups, her husband, Harold Kozloff, casually told me three shocking stories about his experience in combat during World War Two. Several years passed, and his haunting tales kept reappearing in my mind. Finally, I called Elaine and asked if Harold would be interested in telling his stories on camera? "He has been waiting his whole life to tell his stories on camera,” Elaine responded! Thus began my journey into the hell of war.
I went to the movies regularly with my friend the novelist Herbert Gold, and he told me about his childhood friend Leo Litwak’s combat service as a medic. On a lark, I interviewed Leo and found him to be a terrific storyteller and asked him to be in my film. Time went by as it always does, and a year later at a holiday party a friend told me about his neighbor, Paul Mico, a WWII veteran, who, at 90 years old, was beginning to share his war stories. The three of us met for lunch and I heard his dramatic remembrances of front line combat. Paul agreed to participate in the project.
From the age of seven, I spent weekends at the local movie theater watching double features of Hollywood movies starring Errol Flynn, Alan Ladd, Jimmy Stewart, Bert Lancaster, Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, James Dean, Marion Brando, and Humphrey Bogart. My first emotional encounter with death took place at the end of “The Sands of Iwo Jima” when Sergeant Striker was shot in the back and died. The end titles came up and the theater emptied but I could not get out of my seat. I could not move. I thought John Wayne was immortal.
My personality was seared by movies and the myth of the hero. This fueled my fantasies of living a life of adventure. I learned early on that I was never to be the fearless male portrayed in the movies I consumed as a child, but the drama on screen created a hunger to know myself beyond the romance of the hero.
I was drafted into the U.S. Army after graduating from art school, and worked for an agency outside Washington D.C. which made tools for spies. I volunteered to work as a combat artist in Viet Nam, but I needed to extend my time in the service for the assignment, which I refused to do. I received an honorable discharge and went back to college.
Over the years, I managed to find employment that nourished my need for adventure, working in night clubs owned by gangsters, on cargo ships as crew, and shooting films in extreme situations where danger was close and escape was uncertain.
“Thou shalt not kill” is one of the most basic commandments of civilized society. What happens to people who were told: “It is now your duty to kill”? This longing to understand how we behave under extreme circumstances like war still haunts me, and has brought me to the making of I Wanted To Be A Man With A Gun.