It started during the Korean War, with an idea for a movie.
The plot revolved around a group of 14 men ordered to set up an observation post on Red Top Hill … a movie hill that was loosely based on the infamous Pork Chop. One of the men would die in the effort. The agony of dying in the last hours of the war summed up the Korean conflict in 80 minutes. The movie was named “Cease Fire!”
So, in mid-June 1953, Crump walked among the front-line troops, choosing each soldier who would be part of the fictional Easy Patrol. Every “actor,” every uniform, every bullet, every explosion was the real government-issue thing. No fake Hollywood stunts for this film. The 14 GIs-turned-actors were whisked off to the war correspondents’ building in Seoul, where they slept in real beds, ate dinner served by waiters at tables with linen cloths and had all the cigars and whiskey they wanted. Raised on John Wayne and World War II, these men knew the double excitement of being a movie star and getting out of the hell of war. But Ricardo could scarcely bear it. The 19-year-old from El Paso, Texas, was quiet, moodier than his comrades, and every day he would ask the same question: “When can I go back to my fellahs?”
Crump had already decided that Ricardo would be the American to die on that last day of the movie war. The other men were enjoying every minute of the experience, grateful to be away from the shooting, mud and death, but Ricardo couldn’t seem to wait to get it done. Crump couldn’t figure him out.
Wallis watched the black-and-white rushes with growing enthusiasm. He was Hollywood’s pre-eminent “starmaker,” and he talent when he saw it. As he watched, one warrior stood out: PFC Ricardo Carrasco. This kid had “it.” Wallis watched each piece of raw footage over and over. Every frame proved his instincts right. He wired the news to Crump: Get Carrasco under contract with Paramount. The starmaker had big plans for him.
Back in Seoul after a particularly long day, Crump pulled Carrasco aside for a private moment so he could relay the news. He held his breath and waited for the shriek of joy.
“No thank you, sir.”
Crump stood stock still for a moment. “No, wait, son, you don’t understand,” he said. “Hal Wallis is offering you a contract with Paramount Pictures. He wants to make you a star. He thinks you have what it takes.”
But Ricardo remained firm. “Yes sir, I understand that, but I’m not interested.” He paused. “Sir, do you think we could get me killed off in the next day or two?” he asked. Crump could only whisper, “What?”
“Sir, buzz is the Chinese are getting ready to attack Pork Chop again. The guy they got to lead my squad is green – he’ll get my fellahs killed. I have to go back … I couldn’t live with myself.” The director felt sick. This boy was throwing his future away with both hands.
“You’re a damned fool, kid. Go to bed. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
There’s much more at the link. It’s a moving, emotional story, one that I wish I’d seen in time to post it on Memorial Day – but better late than never. Highly recommended reading.