In our last This Comic Is History we looked at a book from off the beaten path, Maus. This time around, we’re going more mainstream with, Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion, written by Billy Tucci. This was a 6 issue mini-series published by DC Comics in early 2009.
Franklin Rock made his first appearance in 1959, in Our Army at War Vol 1 #81, the creation of Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert. He’s a soldier who has gone through different rankings, a name change, and a few different books since then. One thing has remained the same, the war. He’s a great choice for a historically based World War II book, since he’s spent most of his fictional life in that horrible event. The majority of his exploits took place in the war, and at one time he was thought to have been killed as the war ended. He has however, shown up in modern continuity, as a General even. You could say that he parallels Marvel’s Nick Fury a bit, as both came out of WW II, and had several other things in common. He is a capable soldier, with great skill at wielding the weapons of his day, such as grenades and machine guns. Rock routinely survived, and kept fighting, after receiving multiple wounds from gunfire and shrapnel. Frank Rock was a real hero of WW II.
The Lost Battalion is a term that refers to an actual group of soldiers from World War II, a battalion of the 141st Regiment of the 36th division, originally an Army National Guard division from Texas. During the course of action in 1944, these 200 or so men became cut off from other allied forces, and were surrounded by Germans in the Vosges Mountains, near the French/German border. This is how they came to be known as the Lost Battalion. Their’s is one of the most famous accounts to come out of the war.
Basically, elements of the first battalion of the 141st found themselves not only cut off, but separated from each other to a certain extent as well, during a mission in October of 1944. They were being pinned down in the mountains by a larger German force. The weather was horrible, freezing at night, almost constant rain, freezing rain, and light snow all proved to compound the situation. Their ordeal lasted for almost a week, and over that time they ran dangerously low on both food and ammunition. It was only through the teamwork of a few heroic groups that they were saved.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) got the assignment to come to their aid. Interestingly, this group was made up mainly of Japanese-Americans, fighting for freedom that their own families back home in the U.S. were not enjoying. See, these men who were fighting in Europe, had family members interned at camps by the U.S. government. All tolled, an estimated 120,000 Japanese-Americans were interned during the war. Thankfully for the men of the lost battalion, this situation didn’t lessen the zeal with which the 442nd RCT fought. For their part, the 442nd became one of the most decorated units in the history of the U.S. military.
If I were trapped behind enemy lines, I’d sure want guys like these to come looking for me. Though integral to the rescue, these U.S. soldiers on the ground weren’t the only ones involved in this relief mission.
The local French made their homes and their hospitality available to the men of the 442nd RCT, such as caring for their wounded. Also aiding in the fight were members of the French underground. Giving aerial support to the trapped men were pilots from several air units. These men braved nightmarish flight conditions to carryout their supply missions. The terrain was mountainous and uneven, with many of the flights occurring in zero visibility. There were accidents, such as crashing into a mountain, one plane clipping a tree with it’s wing, and even a friendly fire incident. While the weather grounded many other allied flights over France, these men eventually succeeded in dropping the needed supplies to the lost battalion. This undoubtedly kept them going long enough for help to arrive on the ground.
Not only were the trapped men freed, but the spot of land that they held proved valuable to the war effort. During the 6 days they were held down, The Lost Battalion fended off many German attacks, holding their position. This is truly an incredible story.
The Lost Battalion‘s author has done his research. Over the course of gathering information for the book, Billy Tucci got to know some of the men from the 442nd RCT, and from the Lost Battalion itself. Tucci even made two trips to France while researching material. Tucci has been a fan of Sgt. Rock and war comics since he was a kid. He also knows a bit about the armed forces himself, having served as a paratrooper in both the New York and Rhode Island National Guard. Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion is based on the real events that took place in October of 1944 in the Vosges Mountains. Whereas he loves the history, and includes a great attention to detail in the book, he emphasizes its real focus.
“First and foremost, it’s a Sgt. Rock story.”
I’d safely recommend this mini-series, which is available as a trade, for any fans of Sgt. Rock or World War II history. Heck, anyone who loves a good book, and doesn’t need to have a tight-wearing super-powered hero may well enjoy the mess out of this one. Just released as a hardcover this month, you can kill two birds with one stone. Spend some time reading a good comic, and get some learning in at the same time.