The forgotten WWII Battle of Hurtgen to be filmed locally
This October marks the 76th year anniversary of the World War II Battle of Hurtgen. Never heard about it in history class? Two Blair County brothers hope to raise awareness of this battle and of the brave men who endured months of mud, cold and enemy fire in a thick forest along the German-Belgium border.
Through a short-film, Jared and Mark Frederick of Bellwood, hope to tell the story of their late maternal grandfather who oversaw communications for the Allied forces. They are the sons of John and Kathy Frederick. Kathy Frederick is the daughter of the film’s hero, Thomas Nycum.
“My main goal is to educate people on the battle. It was a costly battle … it was very long and gruesome. These men experienced some of the heaviest fighting in the war … but very little has been written about it. Other battles, such as the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day have gotten most of the attention,” Mark said.“These men bogged down in an endless array of ambushes, minefields and artillery bombardments. It was a really brutal and murderous place to be during that time.”
By day, Mark Frederick, 26, is the digital curator and IT developer at the Altoona Railroaders Museum. Frederick uses his Communications degree from Penn State Altoona to preserve photographs of Nycum’s later years. Nycum had various roles at the Juniata Shops until his retirement in 1981.
Nycum died in 1993 — a year before Mark was born.
Both brothers are huge history buffs — especially of World War II — and formed a nonprofit called the Furious Fourth to give lectures and stage reenactments in relation to the war and their great-grandfather’s battalion.
Jared is a history instructor at Penn State Altoona and serves as executive director of the film, titled “Hurtgen.”
Catie and Andrew Grant, a married couple who live in State College, serve as assistant director and producer, respectively.
“We are friends of Mark’s,” they explained. “And because we have a background in television and video production, Mark asked us to join the crew in a creative role and we were thrilled to accept.”
“My role as assistant director is to essentially run the set,” Catie said. “I work with both Marks (Frederick and Stitzer, the DP) on the daily shooting schedule. It’s my job to make sure each department on set has what they need and knows what has to get done and when, as well as make sure we’re staying on schedule.”
The 22-minute film is expected to cost $60,000. Fundraising for the project started in February and was going well, with $7,000 raised mostly through family, friends and social media followers, Mark said. Then COVID-19 hit, which brought the entire film industry to a halt — including plans for “Hurtgen” to begin filming this month.
Mark is scouting locations in the coming weeks. Pennsylvania forests in the area are “ideal” and very much like the Hurtgen Forest where the battle was fought. He said fundraising will resume.
Officials said filming is expected to happen in the fall and winter of 2021.
“The plan is to make the film available through film festivals, if selected, and eventually online as well. We also would love to share the film in schools for classroom viewing and discussion,” Catie Grant said.
While their grandfather returned home to meet their grandmother, Gertrude Schultz, and raise a family, he didn’t talk much about his war service. Extensive research and interviews with other veterans who served in Hurtgen Forest and family members enabled Mark to flesh out his grandfather’s role in the battalion, understand the men who served with him, and create a tribute for the 35,000 casualties incurred in what is the longest battle of WWII.
Unlike a war movie focused on tactics and told by generals and presidents, “Hurtgen” is from the perspective of soldiers on the front lines. The battle was nicknamed “the meat grinder” and the “death factory” because military leaders sent waves of men into deplorable and hazardous conditions.
“I think the film serves as a stark reminder of recklessness in the pursuit of victory. At the heart of it, my short film seeks to depict the forgotten stories of the men who endured that struggle … not only my own grandfather. They were battling enemy terrain and harsh elements. … the soldiers experienced isolation, fear, loss and bewilderment but got the job done and survived to make it back home.”
The telling of those personal stories is what makes the film unique, Mark said, as does showing the perspective of a field lineman like Nycum.
Nycum attained the rank of sergeant with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division. He entered the service in 1942 and his stateside training took him to various bases to be trained in how to place telephone lines in various terrains. The telephone lines linked advancing forces to headquarters for the coordination of artillery bombardments.
“He oversaw vital communications with the 20th Field Artillery Battalion,” Mark said. “This was in the era well before cellphones and even walkie talkies. He was responsible for setting up and repairing those lines. The weather is like another protagonist as the weather brought lines down, the enemy would cut them and vehicles would run over them so repairs were constant.”
The Hurtgen Forest was a battlefield from September to December 1944, and into February 1945.
The project’s social media site has garnered some national followers and connects others interested in the Hurtgen Forest. Because the forest remains an active lumbering site, occasionally the remains of missing soldiers are recovered and sent home. Mark shares these recoveries on the film’s social media site.
(For more information, visit Brush Mountain Media.com/hurtgen)