Although the movie "Pearl Harbor" attracted huge audiences the last two weeks, it bombed with film critics and military historians. In typical Hollywood fashion, Tinsel Town's version of reality bore little resemblance to the truth.
World War II veteran Frank Gutierrez knows only too well the liberties that Hollywood takes when it comes to supposedly real-life events.
While serving as a torpedo gunner aboard the USS Guadalcanal, Gutierrez was on board the aircraft carrier when sailors from his ship boarded and captured a German submarine. According to Gutierrez, the capture helped turn around the war because the Allies captured the Enigma machine, which the Nazis used to send coded messages. The use of the secret code had allowed the Nazis to control shipping lanes in the Atlantic.
Hollywood's version of this historical event the recent film "U-571" bears no resemblance to what actually happened, Gutierrez said.
"The movie plot is for movie purposes, and our part was for real," he observes. "The only true thing about it is that it had the number 22.3 at the end (during the credits)." That number is significant to Gutierrez because it was the number of the anti-submarine task force to which he belonged.
Gutierrez and the others who served on this task force received a presidential unit citation for their capture of the Nazi submarine. But Gutierrez is modest about his role in the mission.
"I did not do anything out of the ordinary. I just happened to be in the task force that captured this U-boat. Our mission was to find the German subs because they were doing a lot of damage and sinking our ships. They were killing us over there."
The movie now available on video stars Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, and Jon Bon Jovi. McConaughey plays Lt. Tyler, an ambitious young lieutenant eager for his first command. But first he must prove himself to his submarine commander. So, when the German U-boat is attacked and forced to surface, Tyler and his small group of submariners impersonate Germans so that they can get on board, capture the sub and grab the secret-code machine.
The first discrepancy, Gutierrez pointed out, was that the USS Guadalcanal was an aircraft carrier, not a sub. Second, the German sub was the U-505, not the U-571.
And, according to Gutierrez, the inaccuracies go on and on from there. The real event was significant and vastly different. The presidential citation Gutierrez received commends the task force for attacking the German U-boat and forcing it to the surface and for successfully boarding and capturing the sub intact. The citation also notes that this was the U.S. Navy's first successful boarding and capture of an enemy ship since 1815.
Gutierrez said that the capture had to be top secret for the rest of the war because the Allies did not want the Germans to know that they had broken the code.
Recalling the attack on the sub, Gutierrez said, "We wounded and then we captured it. We did not kill it. Depth charges damaged the rudder of the sub and forced it to come up. When we wounded it, it was just going around in circles. They tried to battle it out when they surfaced, but all they had was a 20-millimeter deck gun. We didn't give them a chance to fire.
"If we had sunk the sub, we would not have been able to get the code. Five people went on board and risked their lives. It (the sub) could have been booby-trapped. When they were bringing all the German prisoners aboard, it seemed just like winning a football game."
Gutierrez said he also felt lucky that no one on the Guadalcanal or the accompanying escort group was injured, nor was there any damage to American ships or aircraft.
The capture of the German sub occurred two days before the invasion of Normandy, Gutierrez said. After his service in the North Atlantic, he went on one year later to serve in the Battle of Okinawa, involving air strikes against the mainland of Okinawa. It was the last big battle before the initial occupation of Japan, Gutierrez said.
Recalling his war experiences, Gutierrez said, "The proudest things I've ever done were serving in World War II and marrying my wife."