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The Guns of Ryan: ‘Defense of Freedom and The Sounds of Bethlehem’

By Rick Cartledge

This writer’s father and this writer recently began a series of articles for SAR. The series focuses on the World War II gun work by the Apache Regiment of the 101st Airborne. I immediately contacted writer and researcher Mark Bando. Mark informed this writer of the then new film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ from Dream Works/Paramount directed by Steven Spielberg. This writer’s father and the soldier on whom the film is loosely based served in the same regiment. They both jumped into Normandy with the 101st’s Apache Regiment — the 501 of Col. Howard Johnson.

I contacted Dream Works for additional information. The Dream Works/Paramount staff, provided very professional and enthusiastic assistance. Ms. Stephanie Watson, Mr. Spielberg’s Atlanta representative, kindly extended an invitation to my father and I to attend the sneak preview of ‘Saving Private Ryan’. On the appointed day we picked up Mike Thacker and motored to Phipps Plaza in Buckhead.

My father, Mike Thacker, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. During our homeward drive, I asked my father if he thought that the film accurately and faithfully portrayed the men with whom he served. He commented that it did credit to both the Airborne troopers and the Rangers, although he did not expect the actors to be in the same physical condition as Johnson’s Boys. My father felt that all of the actors had given very credible performances. He stated, ‘Though it may difficult to watch, I recommend viewing ‘Saving Private Ryan’ to all Americans over age 18. It is probably as close as Hollywood will come to war. War is not a parlor game. This film shows as well as Hollywood can what our generation did to insure the freedoms that we all enjoy today.’

As we motored southward, Mike commented that a prominent belt of 30 cal didn’t have primers. I laughed and said that we were probably the only three people in the theater that caught that. Mike’s statement brought us to the subject of the guns. Though very loud for a theater, we all knew that the real guns sound much louder than what we had heard. I then said that whoever drove those guns was very good. The steel sounded real. The motion picture soundtrack sounded as if someone had placed a microphone about 300 yards down the Knob Creek Range. The sounds reminded me of the old days when we had open lines on Thursday. You stepped to a position and, to use a 60’s drag race phrase, ‘run what you brung’.

The armed citizen and his history played an important off camera roll in this magnificent film. Mr. Steven Spielberg operates under the First Ammendment. For some elements of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ Mr. Spielberg requested assistance from those who operate under the Second Ammendment. For some of the history and the story of this, read on. In the fullness of time, I would learn just how close I was to the truth about the soundtrack to ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

Not Just A Southern Tradition

To better understand what will follow, a bit of family and unrevised American history presents itself. The Spaniards first brought gun craft to an eastern American settlement with the founding of St. Augustine. The Spaniards later withdrew leaving an extant settlement. Christopher Burroughs, ancestor of this writer, joined the Jamestown Colony in 1608. The Saints occupied half the Mayflower when it wandered onto Plymouth rock at a later date. Shooting for sport, food, and self defense started in the South and became a Southern tradition. The shooting tradition spread. Shooting and an armed citizenry became two hallmarks of colonial America.

In 1861, George Rockingham Gilmer Cartledge ran away from Boiling Springs Plantation at age 13 and joined the Confederate Army. His little brother Joe, age 11, tagged along. Both finished The War of The Sixties as sergeants. George Cartledge gave his son, my grandfather, a .22 rifle at age six. He gave him a gauge for ever year at twelve. Grandfather did the same for my father. My father did the same for me.

Grandfather and his friend Walraven carried their rifles to school, shooting at targets along the way. Walraven became a legendary shot in Madison County. For years he served in law enforcement around Danielsville, Georgia. Stories recount crooks surrendering in armed conflict when they knew that they faced the guns of Walraven. Grandfather, father, and Walraven continued the tradition of generations. As proof, this writer’s father relates the following boyhood story from the year 1930. Its generational history leads from Old Bob Lee to ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

My father ran out of ammunition on a Saturday morning. To replenish his rifle, he walked from the farm to the general store in Ila, Georgia. Just outside town, he stopped at the blacksmith shop. There, for a while, he watched a distant cousin and his son doing what came naturally on a Saturday afternoon. The son’s years numbered nearly seventy. The old Confederate counted more than ninety summers. These two men engaged in spirited conversation as they sat on a pair of wooden crates outside the forge. They talked as fathers and sons have done in this land since before the Revolution.

Across the narrow road, a saw cut board leaned against an old oak tree. Into the board, the men had tapped a number of forged flat nails. They sunk the nails into the wood just deeply enough to hold them straight. They left the nails’ square heads and most of their shafts exposed. My father stood and watched as the two old men speedily and skillfully loaded four Confederate Colts. They then took turns driving the nails. A penny bet rested on each shot. The son shot magnificently. The old Cavalier gave his son a run for his money. About three cents changed hands.

The father and son had shot in the same rythmic double handed style that John Singleton Mosby raised to an art form at a place called Milford Farm. Those of other climes first viewed this shooting style at a place called Manassas. The two men then reloaded their black powder guns after the white smoke cleared. My father left and went for shells at the general store. As he walked away my father remarked to himself that he would not have wanted to have met that old Cavalier and his friends at that place they called Cold Harbor. In the fullness of time, other men would say the same of my father and his friends at that place that they called Bastogne.

I think of this story whenever I hear the phrase, ‘Form us up again!’. I know what would have happened had Old Bob Lee been able to ride by that blacksmith, stop and say, ‘Men, they need us again in Virginia.’ The old Cavalier would have tuned his pistols plainsman style and stuffed them into his belt. Without a second thought, he would have fallen in behind Traveler. His son wouldn’t have been far behind. Men such as these not only inhabit the South but every other part of this nation. They have answered their country’s call for generations. They will do so again. Mr. Steven Spielberg crafted ‘Saving Private Ryan’ to honor such men. They answered the call in Normandy.

Far from Madison County there exists another relic of Confederate shooting. Last Sunday I held in my hands a very unusual rifle. Made in the Jaegeresque style, it is a heavy barreled yet graceful flintlock conversion — a Kings Mountain type of gun that Stephen Vincent Benet once described in a War Between The States poem. The barrel starts as an octagon and ends round. It mikes to .58 caliber. Fine open sights grace its top. Double set triggers nestle in the brass trigger guard of the cheek plated and brass mounted stock. The lock plate reads ‘Harpers Ferry 1818’. The hammer and percussion cap base give the look of a Richmond conversion. With this rifle on April 12, 1863, Confederate sniper Johnny Lane shot one of James J. Andrews’ spies aboard ‘The General’ during ‘The Great Locomotive Chase’. As to where the rifle is, don’t ask.

1871 — The Defense Of Freedom

Throughout the history of America we, as America’s citizens, have answered her call to defender her. American shooting, not words or pieces of paper, has defended this nation. Shooting is a skill gained over time, the more practice the better. In every war but one, the Federal Army outshot its enemy. After the War between The States, one Union General said publicly what they all said privately. He stated that a smaller and poorer equipped army had outshot them. That General help found and served as first President of the National Rifle Association. His name was Ambrose Burnside. As a Union General he met members of this writer’s family across battlefields in Virginia. Ulysses Simpson Grant soon followed Gen. Burnside into the Presidency of the NRA. These men helped found America’s oldest civil rights organization to encourage American civilian shooting. Unlike in most other countries, America’s is a civilian army in waiting. The Generals encouraged civilian shooting so that the Federal Army would never be outshot again. They had seen with their own eyes what being outshot costs on a battlefield. Ambrose Burnside remembered Confederate distance shooters to the end of his days. Only 400 such men held off his army and got a bridge named after him in Maryland. One of those shooters was a member of this writer’s family.

The esteemed author Tom Swearengen once remarked, ‘The generation that learned to shoot before 1945 shot better than the generation of today. They knew their guns better and were just better at it.’ Some of us younger ones listened to and learned from that magnificent generation. Those who did found themselves in better stead when they too answered the call. They carried with them the civilian shooting tradition passed to them by each generation from 1871. On June 6, 1944 that pre ’45 generation landed in Normandy in defense of our freedom. They brought with them America’s most valuable hidden resource in time of peril — American civilian shooting. From the beaches named Omaha and Utah, they shot their way to Berlin.

On the morning of June 6, 1944, the German coastal defenders on Utah and Omaha awoke to face the greatest armada ever assembled by mankind. Not withstanding the armada, the Germans on Utah found another considerable problem behind them, the Apache Regiment. Among those troopers stood blood kin to the Army of Northern Virginia. Col. Julian Ewell, 3rd Battalion Commander, was grandson of Gen. Ewell and nephew to JEB Stuart. Frederick ‘Fritz’ Niland, the man on whom Steven Spielberg in part would base his movie, served in Julian Ewell’s Company H. As for this writer’s father, he missed Drop Zone C and landed at Chef du Tont. From there, his Thompson carried on the tradition of the Enfields of Grandfather George and Great Uncle Joe.

For The First Two Ammendments

Director Steven Spielberg decided to pay tribute to that pre ’45 generation. He chose the script ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and worked with its author in a collaborative effort. After the establishing scenes, the script opens with scenes from the most pivotal day in the 20th century — June 6, 1944. The soldiers coming off the LCI’s weren’t a debating society. They were shooters. In defense of freedom they had come to kill or capture the men who were shooting at them.

As an accomplished director, Steven Spielberg knew how to film ‘Saving Private Ryan’. After much consultation and many ideas, Mr. Spielberg knew the look that he wanted for ‘Saving Private Ryan’. He also knew the sound that he wanted for ‘Ryan’. Sonically, ‘Ryan’ might have suffered in lesser hands. Cheesy stock recordings of Title 2 weapons could have found their way onto the soundtrack. They have done so in many other films.

Recording the sounds presented Steven Spielberg with no problem. He knew the sounds that he wanted. Mr. Spielberg would use a Hollywood sound crew of the same high caliber that he always had. The difficulty arose in finding someone who could generate those sounds. This proved to require a little more effort than just a trip across town. To generate the sounds that Mr. Spielberg wanted, the sound crew turned to three men who had learned shooting from the World War II generation. These three men carried on the American civilian shooting tradition passed down to them through the generations form 1871. These three also carried on another tradition. They carried on the tradition of Title 2 weapons. However, men such as these couldn’t be found on the outskirts of Hollywood. They lived on the outskirts of Atlanta.

The Title 2 tradition began with two civilian who bought guns in 1898. Theodore Roosevelt accepted the Tiffany family’s generous donation. The first automatic weapons in American ground combat debuted in The War with Spain. Lt. William Tiffany’s family bought two 1895 Colt Automatic Guns for his regiment. The Rough Riders carried them up San Juan Heights (see SAR July 98). For ‘Saving Private Ryan’ only real sounds from real guns would do. For those sounds, Mr. Spielberg’s men came to the Title 2 community. In so doing, Steven Spielberg and his men may have learned something new — not just about us, but about themselves as well.

Check Your Chains at LAX

One of the finest Title 2 scholars in America lives in California. Though not universally known (and I would hasten to add ‘yet’), his attention to detail enhances the depth of many Title 2 writers. I am but one. Occasionally, he yearns for the type of freedom that in California qualifies as but a faded memory. He buys a ticket at LAX, mounts some silver wings, and flies eastward or southward. When he lands, he spools C and L drums. He then empties them until his heart is content. With his heart replenished he then returns to California and the day job that he loves.

When he began the background work to film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ Steven Spielberg knew the following. Mr. Spielberg knew that many veterans who ‘were by God there’ would view his film. These veterans would know real from unreal. Men and women who came to Normandy by ship or parachute might suspend belief while viewing a comedy. These soldiers would not suspend belief while viewing a motion picture that dealt with them. Steven Spielberg applied his legendary craftsmanship to this film, with attention to the smallest detail. For the veterans who would view ‘Saving Private Ryan’ he wanted it not only to look like Normandy but to sound like Normandy. He wanted scenes that looked not staged but real. He wanted sounds not foley but real.

Mr. Spielberg immediately set out to find real guns and real sounds for ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Telephone calls quickly brought home to Dream Works the Title 2 reality. In some things, Californians are not as free as other Americans. Blank firing antiques and replica Title 2s live in California. Real guns don’t.

The Thunder of Bethlehem

To solve his problem, Steven Spielberg turned to his friend George Lucas. Mr. Lucas operates, among other things, Skywalker Sound. Mr. Lucas assigned the Title 2 problem to Shannon Mills. Mr. Mills teamed with Christopher Boyes. Mr. Boyes has not a bad last name when one thinks of Class 3 in World War II. These two consummate professionals list ‘Terminator 2’ and ‘Titanic’ among their many credits. With the roster set, Skywalker Sound evaluated the problem. Then they tackled it.

Shannon Mills concluded that the men that Skywalker sought lived free. These men drove the old guns in the old ways. Mr. Mills reasoned that he could best find free men on Freedom’s Highway — the Internet. Though he did not know which off ramp to take, he knew how to erect a billboard. Shannon Mills booted up his vehicle, shot down the Liberty on ramp, and merged with the traffic. Picking out a likely mile post, he erected his billboard —’Wanted — Real Guns and Gunmen for World War II Motion Picture Soundtrack’ Mr. Mills posted his shopping list of hardware required and left his E-mail address. A friend of Kevin Brittingham passed the info on to him.

Shannon Mills telephoned Kevin Brittingham. They worked out the arrangements for the shoot. Two days later Shannon Mills and Chris Boyes rolled to a stop on West Crogan Street just past the Courthouse in Lawrenceville, Georgia. The way they had packed their Suburu Outback with sound equipment would have made Paul Hogan proud. Kevin, Harold, and Vince met Shannon and Chris at the front door of Advanced Armament. Kevin pointed to the loaded Advance Armament trucks and told them to fall in behind. The convoy motored to the large farm of Kevin’s brother Greg outside Bethlehem, Georgia. Once on the farm, the trucks made their way to Greg Brittingham’s 500 yard gun range.

Both crews unloaded their separate gear. Before they set up, they discussed shots and held a safety meeting. Neither crew counted this as their first rodeo. Kevin, Harold, and Vince brought up the crew served guns and stationed the small arms at the ready. They then brought up the ammunition. Shannon Mills and Chris Boyes spent about an hour and a half carefully placing microphones at strategic spots. In addition to wiring everything from the firing position to the back of the berm, they employed hand held sound recorders. After Skywalker Sound finished final sound checks and cleared the range, the Advanced Armament crew went through their gun checks.

Kevin and Harold set up the MG 42 on a Lafette tripod. Vince brought up the belted 8mm ammunition. Kevin and Harold took turns letting the gun rip and piling up brass. Chris Boyes and Shannon Mills took turns operating the switchboard to the well-placed microphones and working the hand helds. They had rigged various mikes with kill switches to capture the gun sounds from different positions. With the switchboard they captured impact sounds in grass, dirt, wood, water, and steel. Harold Shinn then brought up the Solothurn S18/1000 20mm anti-tank rifle. Kevin cranked the chain and shook the ground. Skywalker Sound captured the thunder.

The Advanced Armament crew then switched to other guns. They fired the A-4 Browning, the ’03 Springfield, the BAR, and the M1A1 Thompson. Skywalker Sound captured these guns in single shots, short bursts, and extended bursts. As with the ’42 and Solothurn, they captured the sounds of shooting mud, water, wood, metal, and trees. They then recorded sounds past trees, through trees, and bullet impacts into sand. Skywalker also captured the sounds of loading magazines and loading each of the weapons.

Both crews then set up to capture some of the eeriest sounds used in ‘Saving Private Ryan’. A friend, now a retired Army officer, commented specifically on these particular sounds after viewing ‘Saving Private Ryan’. He did multiple tours in Vietnam with both Special Forces and the Rangers. He knows of what he speaks. He stated that,’...those sounds of bullets going past their heads made the hair on the back of my neck stand up!’ Advanced Armament and Skywalker Sound devised an ingenious and completely safe way to capture those sounds.

Using the microphone kill switches Skywalker captured the bullets in flight as the gun crew fired suppressed weapons. Advanced Armament fired at or past designated targets. The appropriate mike picked up the desired sounds. Kevin, Harold, and Vince used modern subguns for this part of the recording session. Kevin first hauled out an MP45SD. He then followed with a Beretta M12S with can. Vince Mueller wielded a Colt 635 with can. Harold Shinn finished off the first part of the session with a canned Uzi. The Advanced Armament crew then took turns firing. As they fired, Chris Boyes and Shannon Mills recorded both bullet flights and impacts from the suppressed weapons.

At days end, the last piece of brass hit the ground. Both crews were exhausted. The men of Advanced Armament and Skywalker Sound had brought their considerable skills to bear. They had pooled their considerable talents to create the firearms sounds for ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Their hard work and professionalism created something special for a very special movie. Kevin Brittingham stated that all of the guns sounds in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ came from the guns of Advanced Armament Corporation. Kevin, Harold Shinn, and Vince Mueller had the satisfaction of being half of the ‘Saving Private Ryan’ sound effects team. A couple of days later, the postman dropped off a letter. In it Kevin found a check and a thank you note from the other half of the team — Chris Boyes and Shannon Mills of Skywalker Sound.

Epilogue —’The Director Speaks’

In writing, most works contain an element in which the writer does not describe but speaks directly to the reader. Writers generally ascribe the phrase ‘the writer speaks’ to this element. One finds this in short stories, novels, and magazine articles. Motion pictures dictate a different kind of writing and a different element.

In film, first there is the script, or the word. The word answers the questions ‘Is it visual?’ and ‘Does it move?’. Dialogue and visuals drive films. These drivers make films the director’s medium, not the writer’s medium. Because movies also consist of collaborative effort, one very rarely finds the element of ‘the director speaks’. In ‘Saving Private Ryan’ Mr. Spielberg gives the viewer not only something wonderful but something quite rare.

In each and every detail, Steven Spielberg sought to honor those of that magnificent generation that secured freedom for all of us. He hired Dale Dye (see SAR July 98) as military advisor. He consulted with Dr. Stephen Ambrose and Mark Bando. He met with numerous reenactors, many historians, and visited actual locations to craft his film. When he looked for old guns driven the old ways, Steven Spielberg came to one of us. The Title 2 community legally owns and fires the old guns. In so doing we help preserve their places in history, both of uses and of gun craft. In the doing we honor those who came before us. When Mr. Spielberg asked for help from one of us, he paid the same honor to the D-Day soldiers that we do as a matter of course.

In short, Mr. Steven Spielberg wanted not only the sight but the sound of what so many had confronted. He wished for us to experience the most pivotal day of the 20th century — June 6, 1944. The veterans could point to ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and say to their grandchildren, ‘If you wish to know of the Second World War, see this picture!’. In so doing, Mr. Spielberg paid tribute to his father, to mine, and to so many other men and women of the magnificent generation that came before us. The readers and writers of the Small Arms Review now know the following. To get the correct sounds, Mr. Steven Spielberg did not go to Hollywood. He came to one of us.

In short, Steven Spielberg needed correct gun work. He asked.the Title 2 community for assistance. We delivered. Kevin Brittingham’s company generated the gun sounds for ‘Saving Private Ryan’. With those sounds, Mr. Spielberg added yet another component to the collaborative effort that is his magnificent film. Perhaps Herbert Biberman said it best. Mr. Biberman once remarked, ‘You must resist the tyranny of the Right and the Left. Your art must be free.’ In the making of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ Mr. Spielberg kept his art free. In the way he chose to keep his art free, he also kept it true.

‘Saving Private Ryan’ captured The Golden Globe Award for ‘Best Picture’. As for the Academy Awards, many honors awaited. In addition to other honors accorded the film on March 21, 1999, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed its highest honors for sound to Dream Works’ Skywalker Sound. The Academy honored ‘Saving Private Ryan’ with Academy Awards for ‘Achievement In Sound Editing’ and ‘Achievement In Sound’.

Though many more accolades will continue to come to this magnificent motion picture, the following says it for this writer. My father’s perspective on this picture comes from standing upright in Normandy with a Thompson submachine gun at 30 minutes after midnight on June 6, 1944. He landed as part of the Apache Regiment of the 101st, the regiment of ‘Ryan’. Thanks to Dream Works, I had the privilege of viewing this motion picture with him. Afterward, we talked about Normandy and the gallant men with whom he served. Some of that discussion rests in this article. Simply put, in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ Dream Works filmed the Defense of Freedom. In so doing, they employed the Sounds of Bethlehem. Well done, Steven Spielberg. Well done, Chris Boyes and Shannon Mills. Very well done.

This writer wishes to thank Ms. Stephanie Watson and the publicity staff at Dream Works/Paramount for their splendid asistance. Special thanks also goes to Phil Parker, ever alert and an all around good guy. I would like to thank Mr. Edward J. Land Jr. and The National Rifles Association of America for their kindness and splendid assistance. On a personal note, this writer would also like to thank Mr. Steven Spielberg, on behalf of his father and mine. — Rick Cartledge


Kevin Brittingham,
Advanced Armament Corporation,
221 West Crogan ST,
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
770-277-4946 phone,

Edward J. Land, JR.
National Secretary
National Rifle Association of America
11250 Waples Mill RD
Faifax, VA 22030

The 101st in Normandy and The 101st From Holland to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest by Mark Bando,
9025 West parkway,
Detroit, MI 48239
$23 each, $42 both PPD
Note: Readers will find Mr. Bando in the credits of Saving Private Ryan

The Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences,
8949 Wilshire BLVD,
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

by Melvin and Mario Van Peebles
available at rental stores

‘Saving Private Ryan’
by Steven Spielberg
now playing, need we say more.


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