Tour of Duty: The Invasion of Normandy Through Rock's Eyes

Tour of Duty: The Invasion of Normandy

For this week’s “Tour of Duty” I’d like to give you an insight to the scripting process and its accompanying illustrations for “Sgt. Rock – The Lost Battalion.” The narrator of the story is William Joseph Kilroy, a war correspondent and cartoonist for the fictional “Up Front” magazine. Kilroy’s name is a combination of one of my cartoonist heroes, Bill Mauldin (from his classic Willie and Joe “Stars and Stripes” cartoons, and his biography, “Up Front”) and of course, the wartime GI moniker, “Kilroy Was Here.” You’ll notice on the page-one illustration, that Kilroy’s art looks very similar to Joe Kubert’s. Well, that’s intentional, as I’d like Kilroy’s “magazine illustrations” to look like that of my favorite comic artist and also to pay homage to him. After I did my best “Kubert”, feel as though it actually looks like Joe, so I am truly a believer that Joe Kubert is “Sgt. Rock!”

Since Sgt. Rock and Easy Company historically fought in North Africa, as part of Operation Torch, (November 8, 1942), Sicily and Italy before landing in the first wave at Normandy, they must be part of the US 1st Infantry Division – “Big Red One.” Since I’m trying to use as much history and facts as possible, I have them landing at “Easy Red Sector” and even show the exact squadron of P-47 Thunderbolts that gave them cover at H-Hour (The 405th). Ironically, the 405th is also the exact squadron charged with resupplying the “Lost Battalion” several months later – but that and the return of Johnny Cloud is for another column,. I’ve also included a photo of Easy Red sector on my visit last year, and several re-enactors running across my lawn for reference.

So please have a read –Kilroy’s statistics were taken from reports on June 6, 1944 and many of the lines uttered by the soldiers were actually spoken by the real heroes of Omaha beach on that tragic, but historically triumphant day. I also wanted to capture the sentiments and flavor of those war correspondents’ writings and how much it differs from those of today.

Read On and Rock On!

Sgt. Rock - “The Lost Battalion”

By Billy Tucci

DAY ONE

“FIRE”

PAGE ONE (image 1)

Panel One

Three panels. One large, almost splash-like followed by two smaller panels.

By the flicker of a single electric lamp, a steady hand puts the final brushstrokes to a black and white portrait of an American Soldier, a grisly, tired and battle-hardened, Master Sergeant.

Both chaotic and cartoony, the illustration pays fair homage to Joe Kubert. The sifting pipe-smoke rising off panel adds an atmospheric apropos to this very personal portrait of an individual Allied soldier, one of thousands who fought, died and won the battle of Normandy.

But though the soldier is supposed to be anonymous, we all know his name – not only from the familiar chevrons on his helmet, but also by the headline scribbled in pencil on paper’s upper left hand corner – The “Rock” of Easy Red 6/6/44.

1.KILROY NARRATIVE: The end of the Second World War began this morning with the Allied invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europe.

2.KILROY NARRATIVE: As the final minutes of this day, the longest day, tick away to history, I am moved to quote my friend Bill Mauldin that “invasions are magnificent things to watch, but awful things to be in.”

Panel 2

Angle on a Corona portable typewriter centering a small desk cluttered with a journal, pens, pencils, brushes, inkwell, typed pages, ashtray, pipe…and a bottle of Scotch.

3.KILROY NARRATIVE: I learned today that Bill is right. I have just returned from the French Coast and the bloody beach codenamed Omaha.

Panel 3

C/U on the weary lamp-lit face of our narrator, WILLIAM JOSEPH KILROY, 3O’s

5.KILROY NARRATIVE: That most holocaustic piece of earth that brought me face to face with death, sheer terror and the American soldier who brought me through it all safely.

6.KILROY NARRATIVE: THE ROCK OF EASY RED

* Note to Mike: Kilroy’s NARRATIVE is in AMERICAN TYPEWRITER FONT

PAGES TWO AND THREE (image 2)

Double page Splash

Beneath a murky sky swarming with Allied fighter planes comes a double-page spread never before seen in comics -- a virtual (and historically accurate) eruption of action and emotion that was D Day.

In the foreground, men leap out of a burning Higgins boat landing craft to charge past their dead and dying comrades and into a murderous cauldron of machine gun fire. Beyond them are hundreds more doing the same thing. Some soldiers fire from behind steel cross-like “Belgium Gate” anti-tank obstacles. Others fall from the tearing streams of tracers and disintegrate in the tangled barbwire laden with mines. But most continue forward, dodging the heavy artillery hurtled into their ranks from the 100 ft. bluffs overhead.

1.KILROYNARRATIVE: Seventeen and a half hours ago…

2.KILROY NARRATIVE: The misty shores of Normandy, France

3.KILROY NARRATIVE: Easy Red Sector, Omaha Beach,

4.KILROY NARRATIVE: The sixth of June, nineteen hundred and forty-four.

5.KILROY NARRATIVE: 6:31 am -- H-hour – plus one minute

6.KILROY NARRATIVE: The first three thousand men of the Allied Expeditionary Force storm the Atlantic wall.

7.KILROY NARRATIVE: Three thousand seasick men against half a million.

8.KILROY NARRATIVE: Leonidas of Sparta would have loved the odds.

9.CAPTION: SGT. ROCK – THE LOST BATTALION – DAY ONE – “FIRE”

PAGE FOUR

Five panels

Panel 1

We nip at the canvas-covered heels of several US soldiers following hundreds of others thundering and falling across the bullet-riddled shale towards a five-foot seawall of sand and stone.

1.KILROY NARRATIVE: The waterlogged infantrymen of the US First Division were expecting cover from amphibious tanks launched five minutes ago…

2.ROCK: Move off the beach Easy! Move!

Panel 2

Several canvas-skirted duplex drive M4s, flip and sink beneath violent blackness of the sea.

3.KILROY NARRATIVE: But of the assaulting thirty-two Shermans, twenty-seven are quickly swallowed up in the Channel’s choppy waters –

4.KILROY NARRATIVE: Sealing the fate of their drowning crews in 30-ton coffins of steel.

Panel 3

At water’s edge, one crew manages to bail out of a burning tank while the few others around them explode under the German rain of ruin.

5.KILROY NARRATIVE: Of the few that did make it onto the beach, all were soon cut to pieces by the 88mm anti-tank batteries.

6.KILROY NARRATIVE: Artillery that was supposed to have been knocked out by the massive allied naval and air bombardments that preceded the invasion.

Panel 4

A group of pinned-down soldiers we’ll soon come to know as EASY COMPANY crouch, cling and press themselves against the short seawall for cover.

7.KILROY NARRATIVE: Exhausted from trudging through chest deep waters and sprinting across 400 yards of interlocking death, the heavily laden American Infantryman, armed only with rifle and grenade was now on his own.

8.ROCK: Shot’, you see anyway out of here?

Panel 5

Inset panel of a stoic faced Native American hunkered down next to a terrified freckled-faced eighteen-year old boy. In due time, these soldiers’ names will be revealed to us as LITTLE SURE SHOT and the ICE CREAM SOLDIER.

9. SURE SHOT: SNAFU, Rock. Without tanks to push through the draws, we’re pinned like Custer at the Little Big Horn.

10.ICE: They’re murdering us Sarge!

PAGE FIVE

Panel 1

The classic, iron-faced forty-year-old Master Sergeant of Easy Company, FRANK ROCK, turns to the troopers huddling to his left.

1.ROCK: What of it, Ice?

2. ROCK: You want to live forever?

Panel 2

Back on Ice, the fear on his face now replaced by an reassuring calm.

3.ICE: Nah, I just figure we move inland so they can murder us there.

Panel 3

Rock turns away and unbeknownst to his men, smiles.

Panel 4

But Rock’s expression quickly turns and as the chalk-dust from the bluffs overhead sprinkles his helmet like a fine snowfall, his own self-doubt becomes evident as he anxiously gazes skyward.

4.SFX: VRRRRRUUUUUURRRRRRRPPPPPPPPP!!!!!

Panel 5

Long horizontal panel from within one of the German concrete fortifications – the defenders have a clear line of fire to the beach, and as they unleash yet another 88mm round, and yet another landing craft disintegrates.

5.GERMAN GUNNER: FEUER!!!

6.SFX: KABOOM!

7.KILROY NARRATIVE: The Germans held their fire until the ramps came down ---

8.KILROY NARRATIVE: and then they cut into us with everything they had.

PAGE SIX

Four equally horizontal panels, with panels two and three taking up one line

Panel 1

Rock turns back to the water and the murderous, fiery killing ground straight out of hell. Strangely, amid the carnage a lone, crucifix-like FIGURE catches his, and our eyes.

1.KILROY NARRATIVE: By 8:30 am, the Navy had suspended all landings on the clogged beach in fear of sending even more men to their deaths.

2.KILROY NARRATIVE: Problem was the poor bastards already on the beach were now cut off of reinforcements and retreat.

Panel 2

Close in on the figure. We see it is actually two dead men. The first lies face down in the sand while the second one kneels, apparently shot while moving forward. Head reared skyward, arms spread out, the soldier’s body faces us, his back casually leaning against one of the Belgium gates in a silent, final rest.

We also notice something is in his hands.

3.KILROY NARRATIVE: The assault had foundered, and though some were able to make their way over the bluffs, thousands were slaughtered at the waterline or trapped beneath the bluffs.

4.ROCK (O/P): Easy Company…

Panel 3

Inset panel closing even more in on the figure’s hand and realize he’s holding onto a radio receiver.

5.KILROY NARRATIVE: Something had to be done.

Panel 4

As Easy blazes away skyward, Rock races off the bluffs towards the radio receiver.

6.KILROY NARRATIVE: And something was…

ROCK: Give me covering fire!

7.INTERMIXIING SFX:

BUDDA BUDDA! BUDDA! BUDDA! BUDDA!

CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK PING!

Panel 5

Close in on the deeply entrenched MG 42 machinegun teams blazing away presumably at Rock

8.SFX: VVVRRRUUUUUUUUPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!

PAGE SEVEN

Six panels

Panel 1

Amid a shower of tracers pinging off the rusted obstacle and thumping into the dead, a breathless Rock makes it behind the gate…

1.SFX: PING PING PING, WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP

2.KILROY NARRATIVE: After dodging and dashing back through the murderous caldron of Hun fire, a lone sergeant made his way to my own trapped position.

Panel 2

Where, to his surprise, comes upon, another helmeted FIGURE silhouetted in the panel foreground

3.ROCK: Where’s your weapon, Soldier?

Panel 3

Close on a terrified KILROY, his face ashen with fear and full of sand. A man so terrified he can’t crawl far enough into his helmet emblazoned with a brightly painted letter “C.”

4.KILROY: N.. N… Name’s William J. Kilroy, sergeant, I’m a cartoonist for Up Front Magazine!

Panel 4

At that moment and to Rock’s utter dismay, yet another soldier slides in behind the gate -- TAG ALONG, 20.

5.ROCK: Dammit! How many times do I have to –

6.TAG ALONG: Sorry, Sarge, but I couldn’t let you have all the fun!

Panel 5

THREE SHOT of the men, one terrified, one pissed and one smiling.

7.ROCK: Kilroy, this here knucklehead is Tag Along!

8.KILROY: I can see that.

9.TAG ALONG: You the Kilroy?

Panel 6

Above shot of the huddling men amid yet more tracers, more debris and more dead. As Tag Along blazes away with his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), Kilroy points to the dead man holding the radio receiver.

10.KILROY: Nah, the other one. Anyway, I came ashore with him, the NAVAL FIRE CONTROL OFFICER for Easy Red Sector!

11.TAG ALONG: You wanted to come here?!!

12.TAG ALONG: And he calls me a knucklehead!

13.KILROY NARRATIVE: An equally brave Private soon joined the sergeant and immediately provided covering fire with his BAR.

14.SFX: BUDDA BUDDA! BUDDA! BUDDA! BUDDA!

PAGE EIGHT

Six Panels

Panel 1

Three shot panel of the men -- bullets continue to ricochet off steal and THUD into the Naval Officer’s splayed body. Tag Along pours lead into the bluffs while Rock, holding the radio receiver in his left hand motions Kilroy to keep down with his right.

1.ROCK: Make that BAR useful Tag, and put some fire onto those bluffs!

2.ROCK: And you, Walt Disney, keep your head down!

SFX: BUDDA BUDDA! BUDDA! BUDDA! BUDDA!

Panel 2

Expended shells bounce off Kilroy’s helmet as the closed-eyed correspondent unleashes the Thompson on full Auto!

SFX: RATT TAT TATT TATTT TATT TATT

3.KILROY NARRATIVE: As correspondents are forbidden to engage in combat, I laid there helplessly as the sergeant grabbed the mortally wounded Beach Master’s radio…

Panel 3

INT. shot of the bridge of a US destroyer filled with helmeted and life preserver-wearing sailors, one, obviously in charge, grabs the combat phone. This is Lieutenant Commander SMITH, 20’s.

4.KILROY NARRATIVE: Which was linked directly to the bridge of the Fletcher Class Destroyer, the USS WATSON.

Panel 4

Long horizontal panel divided into four sub parts showcasing the colorful, but world balloon-less radio conversation between Rock and Smith.

5.KILROYNARRATIVE: Though the grizzled sergeant’s transmission was lost to me amid the deafening roar of battle.

Panel 5

Back into the bridge and Smith barking orders to his sailors.

6.KILROY NARRATIVE: The Watson’s skipper, Lt. Commander Stephan Scott Smith, heard it loud and clear…

Panel 6

Heroic Shot of the Watson (DD-482) -- the kind of picture that old sailor’s have on the walls of their homes, blowing its boilers at full power and knifing through the choppy seas towards the unseen beach.

11.KILROY NARRATIVE: And defying orders, took the initiative and within minutes, had the Spelvin less than 500 yards off shore.

PAGE NINE

Panel 1

Broadside shot of the USS Watson in all her glory BLAZING AWAY with its main batteries.

1.KILROY NARRATIVE: Where she unleashed a hellish barrage of her 5-inchers pointblank into the German bunkers.

2.SFX: BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM

Panel 2

Which vaporize in a violent explosion of steel, concrete and bodies.

3.KILROY NARRATIVE: and created a victory route off the beach!

4.KILROY NARRATIVE: There was one thing I did hear the Sergeant say…

5.KILROY NARRATIVE: “Thank God for the United States Navy!”

Panel 3

Back on the beach, Rock turns to Kilroy.

6.ROCK: You comin,’ Caniff?

7.KILROY: You kiddin? You’re the story of a lifetime!

Panel 4

Rock rises to his feet…

8.KILROY NARRATIVE: Suddenly, the grizzled old Sergeant rises and while speaking to no one in particular, ordered everyone to…

9.ROCK: Follow me!

And that’s where we’ll leave, heck, I can’t give it all away, can I? Anyway, thanks for your time and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Next Hellion we’ll showcase the colored interior artwork by Brian Miller and the Hi-Fi Colour team.

Nous Restons Ici!

Billy Tucci

Twitter activity