When Trumpets Fade

When Trumpets Fade is a 1998 HBO war film directed by John Irvin and starring Ron Eldard, Frank Whaley, Zak Orth, and Dylan Bruno. First presented on June 27, 1998, Produced by John Kemeny and written by W.W. Vought, it is set during the World War II Battle of Hürtgen Forest, in the autumn of 1944.[1]

When Trumpets Fade
DVD cover
Written byW.W. Vought
Directed byJohn Irvin
StarringRon Eldard
Frank Whaley
Zak Orth
Dylan Bruno
Music byGeoffrey Burgon
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)John Kemeny
Running time92 minutes
Production company(s)HBO NYC Productions


Private David Manning is a soldier in the 28th Infantry Division who, in order to survive, does just enough to stay out of trouble but not enough to actually make a difference. Through the sheer bloodiness of the Hürtgen battles, Manning is left as the sole survivor of his platoon. He is assigned to lead a squad of green reinforcements and promoted to sergeant. He tries to get out of it, saying he is unqualified for the position, but his company commander, Captain Roy Pritchett, thinks otherwise. Manning then tries to back out of responsibility by asking to be filed on a Section 8 (designating him mentally unfit due to combat stress), but his request is denied.

Leading a squad of replacements on the front line is a prospect he is less than thrilled with. He meets with his new men and, that evening, leads them into position on the line.

The next morning, on patrol with his squad, Manning puts Private Warren Sanderson on point. Sanderson goes forward too quickly, gets separated from the squad, and then narrowly avoids contact with the enemy.

After some time, Manning decides the squad must leave without Sanderson. At that moment, Sanderson returns. After the incident, Manning is scorned by his peers and berated by his platoon leader, First Lieutenant Terrence Lukas.

Manning's company makes a push toward the town of Schmidt, to take and hold a bridge. However, they move into an enemy minefield and are shelled by 88mm guns.

They retreat, and Pritchett comes to Manning with a mission that he requires volunteers for. Manning wishes him luck, so Pritchett offers Manning a Section 8 if he volunteers for and succeeds on the mission.

During the mission, one of Manning's men, Private Sam Baxter, panics and starts to flee, and the other men follow suit. To stop them, Manning shoots Baxter, hitting the flamethrower he is carrying on his back, which causes it to explode and burn him to death. Although the rest of Manning's men are horrified by this, they stop fleeing and assault the position where the two 88s are located. Led by a crazed Sanderson, armed with another flamethrower, the group eventually succeeds in destroying the dreaded guns.

Manning's company secures the bridge after suffering horrendous casualties but soon gets attacked by German tanks. In the assault, Lukas is overcome with stress. Sergeant Patrick Talbot gives him a handful of dog tags from the dead soldiers in their platoon.

Manning, Sanderson, Lonnie, and Despin attempt to escape from the attacking Germans. Lonnie is killed, and Despin is captured by the Germans. Manning and Sanderson escape, but Pritchett, who has also survived the ordeal but cracked under pressure during the mission, is ordered off the lines before he can uphold his promise to Manning.

When the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel George Rickman, appears and asks him about the status of his platoon, a traumatized Lukas snaps and assaults him. Manning confronts Rickman as the howling Lukas is led away, picks up the mass of blood-soaked dog tags Lukas dropped, and presses them against Rickman's chest as his answer to the platoon's status.

Because of Manning's insubordination, Rickman recognises him and orders him to the command post. He subsequently promotes Manning to second lieutenant and gives him command of the platoon.

After an altercation with Talbot and Manning's friend, Corporal Toby Chamberlain, the platoon medic, in which they confront Manning for shooting Baxter, Manning tells them of a plan to destroy the German tanks the night before the assault. Chamberlain states they have no proof that Manning will not just shoot them, as he did Baxter. Private Sanderson, who survived the retreat back to American lines, defends Manning's conduct by acknowledging the fact that everybody would have run instead of fighting had Manning not shot Baxter. Manning also silences them by informing them that the battalion is making another push in the morning, anyway. If they don't knock out the tanks, he knows the entire battalion - including them - is in jeopardy.

Manning leads Sergeant Talbot, Corporal Chamberlain, and Private Sanderson in a pre-dawn raid on the German tanks, without the battalion's knowledge or support. Manning clears the minefield and cuts the wire, enabling the group to continue on, before they engage the German tanks with a bazooka. The operation costs the lives of all but Manning and Sanderson, although Manning is severely wounded, but the tanks are destroyed just as the rest of the battalion begins its advance.

The film concludes with the rapidly-fading Manning being carried back to the American lines by the now battle-hardened Sanderson, who assures Manning that he can now go home. This forms a mirror image of Manning carrying his wounded comrade Bobby at the opening of the film.

Manning loses consciousness and appears to die. The film closes with a note that the bloody Battle of the Hürtgen Forest was overshadowed by the Battle of the Bulge soon afterward.


  • Ron Eldard as Private, Sergeant, and then Second Lieutenant David Manning, who progresses from greenie, to squad leader, to platoon leader in C Company
  • Zak Orth as Private Warren "Sandy" Sanderson, a replacement in Manning's squad
  • Frank Whaley as Corporal Toby Chamberlain, a medic attached to C Company
  • Dylan Bruno as Sergeant Patrick Talbot, a squad leader in Lukas' platoon
  • Devon Gummersall as Private Andrew Lonnie, a replacement in Manning's squad
  • Dan Futterman as Private Doug Despin, a replacement in Manning's squad
  • Steven Petrarca as Private Sam Baxter, a replacement in Manning's squad
  • Dwight Yoakam as Lieutenant Colonel George Rickman, battalion commander of First Battalion
  • Martin Donovan as Captain Roy Pritchett, company commander of C Company, First Battalion
  • Timothy Olyphant as 1st Lieutenant Terrence Lukas, platoon leader of Manning and Talbot's platoon
  • Jeffrey Donovan as Private Robert "Bobby" Miller, a fellow soldier of Manning's
  • Bobby Cannavale as Captain Thomas Zenek, the new C Company commander
  • Frank-Michael Kobe as Oberfeldwebel, a German Army patrol leader


When Trumpets Fade was filmed on location in Budapest, Lake Balaton, and Lake Balentine, Hungary, and in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. US troops supporting Operation Joint Guard, stationed in Taszar, Hungary, were used as extras on the set.


John Irvin won the Silver FIPA Award for Best Director for the film at the Biarritz International Festival in 1999.

The film was also nominated for best cinematography (by Thomas Burstyn) by the American Society of Cinematographers and best sound editing by the Motion Picture Sound Editors, and Ron Eldard was nominated for best actor at the Seattle International Film Festival.


  1. Gates, Anita (June 26, 1998). "TV WEEKEND; From Prep School to the Projects: Checking in at Age 14". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
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