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Writer-director Glenn Palmedo-Smith’s Hold at All Costs asks the United States military to do the impossible: Learn from its mistakes.

Billed as “The story of forgotten soldiers in a forgotten battle of a forgotten war,” the Korean war documentary details the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division’s attempts to hold at all costs a remote station known as Outpost Harry.

After the end of World War II, former enemy countries were to be divided equally by Britain, USA, and Russia. Korea was split in half at the 38th Parallel, the USA supporting the South and Russia bringing Communism to the North. According to Oliver North, “We expected that America’s military might was going to be sufficient to deter aggression and contain Communism. We clearly underestimated our adversary.”

No one, not even Gen. Douglas MacArthur, guessed the might and supremacy of the Chinese army that had infiltrated Korea and surrounded the American troops. During the eight-day battle, much of which was fought at night, American troops were aided by the Greek Expeditionary Force Battalion. Outpost Harry withstood 88,000 rounds of enemy artillery. In the end, the Chinese casualties outnumbered American and Greek fatalities three to one.

Image Bob Baker and Glenn Palmedo-Smith

Rancho Sante Fe resident Palmedo-Smith is not the film’s only local connection. Bronze Star-recipient and “So nice to be nice” auto dealer Bob Baker was one of the 250 American soldiers assigned to protect Outpost Harry. It has always his desire to produce a documentary on the subject. Baker contacted Smith-Palmedo after reading a review of the filmmaker's The Hungry Woman, a true-life murder mystery that took place in a Southern California migrant camp. The two met and Baker agreed to bankroll the project, to the tune of $1 million. You can read Matt Lickona's interview with Glenn Palmedo-Smith here.

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Palmedo-Smith toured the world, interviewing 50 subjects. Visually, it’s little more than talking heads interspersed between newsreel footage, but for a change, I was not in it for cinematic refinement. It’s a gut-wrenching experience that might leave you pulling at your hair over the insanity of war (Zha Bing Shu of the Chinese Communist Forces infantry asks, “Americans fought with us against the Japanese; why are they attacking us now?”) and weeping along with the combatants and their long-suppressed memories.

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The Memorial Day presentation of Hold at All Costs airs tonight at 9 pm on KPBS, with a repeat broadcast at 2 am.

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