D-Day anD Dieter Dengler


For  the  post  on  NASA’s  LANDSAT 7  &  TERRA  Satellite  images  go HERE

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Today, 6th June (6-6), 2010 is the 66th anniversary of the Normandy landings by the Allied troops which changed the course of World War II and the start of the defeat of Hitler’s reign of evil. For more details on this, here is a wiki article.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6the June – D-Day

But what I wish to write here mainly about is of one the most profound and unforgettable documentaries I have ever watched. In my entire life. My only regret is that I had not watched it sooner. It is one of those stories that changes forever the way you view life, your place in it, the stories behind seemingly ordinary folks you run into at the grocery store or walk by the street; the manner in which you perceive reality in this world, the relativity of pain and sorrow and most of all, to witness first hand the incredible human spirit of survival against all odds. Yes, against every possible odd, when death is possibly your only friend and yet you do not give up on life. The documentary is named ‘Little Dieter Needs to Fly’.  Directed by the unique and amazingly accomplished and talented film maker Werner Herzog. I do not think words can do justice to the experience at a deep visceral and existential level that this film produces, so remarkably engrossing it is. Both visually and audibly in its unique artfulness. And with just a real life character and a few hired locals from Laos who help re-enact Dieter’s journey as he narrates it, it is still the simplest yet most profound stories on film a man can experience.

The story of a man who grew up in great hardship and all he wanted was to learn how to fly, from the day  as a little boy he caught the eye of an allied pilot who was shooting down his house. The grandson of the only man in his entire village who had not voted for Hitler and faced its consequences. The man who ended up as a pilot for the US Air Force and later a POW in Laos during the Vietnam War. And a man who for some reason just did not give up on life. I will not write the details of the harrowing tortures he went through in the hands of the Vietcong, or the details of the horrors he himself participated in due to his actions as an US army-man. Because this is a film to be seen, not written about, even though most of the experience of the viewer is simply from the narration of Dieter talking to the camera. What struck me most was quite simply the state of being of this man who was neither bitter, neither angry, neither judgmental nor traumatized but came across as just an objective, almost obsessive observer of life and the situations and realities that surrounded him. And saw both sides without any hatred, but only an obsession to fly. And in the harshest of circumstances since his childhood still somehow found inspiration. In war both sides are victims in the power play of leaders who use their citizens and soldiers as pawns. There are no winners. One country’s hero is another country’s barbarian and vice versa. And the torture of a Caucasian is no greater nor lesser than the torture of the Asians killed by dropped bombs. (Although you do begin to understand why the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners of wars were made, in 1929 and 1949, not that they are still followed everywhere.)  As Dieter says: “I don’t think of myself as a hero. No, only the dead people are heroes.”

I have amongst my friends a few who were former US marines and pilots. And an older lady who had fled Vietnam during the war and is a well established painter in America now. The marines I knew had entered the force more out of financial necessity. The lady had fled on a boat from Vietnam and would end up as a prominent painter and anti-war activist in the U.S. They had stories that were remarkable  and poignant. They had told me tales of their experiences and their views on war. The ways in which they perceived the world after that. How sometimes simple joys such as even lying back on a mound of grass and watching the sunlight filter through the veins of a leaf was a profound source of pleasure. This film only reinforced the point even more.

This is a documentary that despite picking up several awards is not something that has been shown around with great fanfare or publicity. There are no glamorous posters, and the online videos are insufficient and misplaced and it is best not to see those. And though it was remade as a full length feature film later in Hollywood, the latter did no justice to the real thing. Dieter Dengler in real life with his ordinary looks and captivating thickly accented monologues is ten times better than any Hollywood actor playing his part. But every person who has seen this documentary knows that it is one of those rare gems that changes  your life forever. That makes you view every moment of freedom, every meal, every drink, every warm bed as a gift. And makes you thank your lucky stars for the gift of life and comfort. That makes you question why people get into wars over ideologies and religion. And most of all, gives you the courage and determination to overcome every little hardship in life without complaining. A truly remarkable testament of the human will, of luck and of optimism.  As one reviewer wrote on the IMDB site – ‘Cancel your shrink and watch Little Dieter.’  And as though the documentary isn’t enough to uncover the unbelievable truth of Dieter’s life, at the very end of the credits, as a postscript you see a last clip of a very solemn yet somewhat comical ritual (comical only because the steps of folding a flag seem  so far removed from the gritty reality of the unpresumptuous basics of life that the protagonist has lived through) and at the ceremony the face of a woman of a certain ethnicity which leaves you intrigued and wondering that there is a whole other story of his private life that we do not know of.

If there is one documentary on DVD (and darn – there are SO many good ones, how can one pick!) that will make you determined to be content with the life you have and count every gift as a blessing, and to come out against all odds, this is the film. Amazingly intriguing. Indescribably captivating. Gut-wrenchingly true. Unfathomably powerful  in both its minimalism and intensity. And only the mastery of Herzog behind the camera could have brought this to life.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) – a film by Werner Herzog.

I think I’m just going to go and watch it all over again.

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Sidetracked Alert: A Very Happy Birthday today to a very special friend – a former accidental US marine who was born more to be a marine biologist or an evolutionary scientist  (with his INTP disposition) but instead ended up as a computer whiz after a stint at the Marines (and thankfully did not kill anyone.) Avid canoe-er and fisher, dog-lover, wood worker,  and a man of many varied trades, talents and quirky interests. With an exceptionally good heart. And a very unusual and intriguing story of his own life and adventures that I hope he writes a book about someday. Happy Birthday! Hope you watch the documentary if you haven’t. I remembered you a little as I watched it because Dieter’s style of narrating reminded me of the detailed manner in which you talk (minus the accent.) And your general optimism against all the odds you yourself have faced.