Friday, December 10, 2010

Here Comes the Cavalry

Despite painting tanks for the past few months,  cavalry has been much on my mind of late. I have found the strong WWII Russian theme of my Valhallan 40K army to have been a real inspiration and motivator in terms of actually getting my painting done, and suggested to my comrade Island Mike that he should find a similar theme for his side of our mighty Imperial Guard army.

In the first episode of AMC's zombie series "The Walking Dead", the main character awakens from a coma in a hospital, and after making his way outdoors, climbs a small berm to see precisely how the world has gone to serious hell. He views a post-apocalyptic tableau of shattered buildings, burned out cars and tanks, sandbagged emplacements, and a helicopter. The helicopter's nose bears the crossed sabres emblematic of the U.S. Cavalry and adopted by various 'air-cavalry' regiments, and also appropriated by Alberta musician Corb Lund to promote his album "Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!"  I think this is the first time I have seen them on a non-Vietnam era helicopter.

I know Mike to be fan of both Corb Lund and the logo, as he bought the t-shirt shortly after I introduced him to the album. He had also talked a couple of times about making his force airmobile using the new Valkyrie Assault Carrier model, so I e-mailed him and suggested he consider doing an Air Cav themed army. Using Catachan Jungle Fighters for troops and decorating his vehicles with those crossed sabres (or perhaps crossed chainswords would be more fitting for 40K). He thought the idea had merit, and I look forward to seeing the results once he claws some time back from his various responsibilities.

With its reputation for gallantry and guarantee of arriving in time to save the day in countless western movies, the cavalry have always been an evocative branch of the military, from the original horse soldiers, through the helicopter troops in Vietnam, to Edmonton's own Lord Strathcona's Light Horse tank regiment.

The U.S. Cavalry's distinctive yellow scarf often reminds me of Robert Duvall's character Col. Kilgore from Apocalypse Now and his "Charlie don't surf!" bravado, but I'll always have a soft spot for the men in John Ford's great 'Cavalry Trilogy' of Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande. Even though I count myself a fan of John Wayne, I can't really call him a great actor, but no one got better stuff out of Duke than John Ford, even when he is really playing second fiddle to Henry Fonda and character actor Victor McLaglen in this scene from Fort Apache:

It guts me that they cut this scene just before McLaglen, having been ordered to get rid of the whiskey, finds two more cups, hands them to the other sergeants and says, "It's a man's work ahead of us lads, and no mistake," but it's still wonderful stuff, and 'pour me some scripture' is definitely going into my lexicon. Fonda's Colonel Thursday epitomizes both the best and the worst of the cavalry of this period: forthright, responsible and brave, but also inflexible, closed-minded and bigoted. John Wayne's Capt.York, with his appreciation for the skill and courage of the Apache, makes a great counterpoint to his commanding officer.

Ward Bond (the village priest from The Quiet Man, another Ford classic), also gets some great material, as this dialogue reveals:

Lt. Col. Thursday: This Lt. O'Rourke - are you by chance related?
RSM Michael O'Rourke: Not by chance, sir, by blood. He's my son.
Lt. Col. Thursday: I see. How did he happen to get into West Point?
RSM Michael O'Rourke: It happened by presidential appointment, sir
Lt. Col. Thursday: Are you a former officer, O'Rourke?
RSM Michael O'Rourke: During the war, I was a major in the 69th New York regiment... The Irish Brigade, sir.
Lt. Col. Thursday: Still, it's been my impression that presidential appointments were restricted to sons of holders of the Medal of Honor.
RSM Michael O'Rourke: That is my impression, too, sir. Will that be all, sir?

It's one thing to ride in a helicopter or to crew a tank, but not everyone who does so gets to call themselves cavalry. Cavalry units carry a connotation of speed both tactical and strategic, as well as tremendous striking power; being 'fastest with the mostest' as Nathan Bedford Forrest put it. Thousands of years have passed since mounted soldiers first appeared, (possibly creating the legend of centaurs as they rode against infantry and chariots), and the word cavalry still holds allure, and is protected by those who bear it. Cavalry never rests, never secures, never defends; cavalry charges, with or without bugles.

I hope Mike gets an opportunity to putty some yellow scarves on his Ogryn squad if he gets the chance, and I am trying trying to figure out how to fake up a 28mm stetson like Col. Kilgore's for his platoon commander. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm jealous of Mike's theme, even if it does have cooler modeling potential, but, yeah, I wanna be in the cavalry...who doesn't?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to Stephen, I have a pretty good handle on the theme for the army. Now I just gotta get painting. Hoping to get a fair bit done over Christmas.