'The Cold Blue' Looks at the Men Who Flew Near-Suicidal Missions in WWII

Rick and Christina Gables
Courtesy of HBO

A meditation on youth, war, trauma and bravery, The Cold Blue premieres Thursday, June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, exclusively on HBO.

In 1943, during the Second World War, top Hollywood director William Wyler went to Europe to document the air war in progress. Wyler and his crew flew actual combat missions on B-17s in extremely dangerous conditions.

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Incredibly, the entirety of the raw color footage Wyler and his team shot for the documentary The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress was recently discovered in the vaults of the National Archives. After a meticulous frame-by-frame restoration, director Erik Nelson has constructed a compelling new documentary out of the material.

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The Cold Blue is a tribute not only to one of the world’s great filmmakers and his crew, one of whom died while filming The Memphis Belle, but also to the men of the Eighth Air Force.

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Intimate and poignant, The Cold Blue allows viewers to experience the daily lives of the heroic young men of the Eighth Air Force, who flew mission after deadly mission over Germany in World War II. The film features interviews with nine surviving members of the Eighth, as well as newly restored 4K footage and outtakes from the 1944 documentary.

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The new film brings to life the treacherous missions, intense weather conditions and deadly attacks endured by young American airmen more than seven decades ago. It also chronicles the ups and downs of daily life, as the men coped with their fears and hardships through humor and camaraderie.

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In recent interviews, nine of the few surviving Eighth Air Force veterans – Dr. V.G. “Gayle” Alexander, John Doyle, Paul ”Bud” Haedike, Glenn Harrison, John Ketzner, Morton Kimmel, Robert Rowland, William ”Bill” Toombs and Al Villagran – recall the harrowing experiences that Wyler and his cameramen captured in the summer of 1943.

Although these veterans are considered heroes, V.G. Alexander is quick to point out, “I was a pilot. The real heroes are buried in England, Germany and France.” Sharing their stories is their way to educate later generations about what they had to endure and ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The Cold Blue, Documentary Premiere, Thursday, June 6, 8/7c, HBO