March 19, 2008

Philosophy professor films story of Korean battle

Professor Michael Epperson Professor Michael Epperson

It’s not a well-known battle in the Korean War, but the standoff of thousands of enemy forces by a small group of American and Greek soldiers is finally being brought to light by a Sacramento State philosophy professor.

Professor Michael Epperson and his brother Christos are in the middle of filming Outpost Harry, a documentary featuring historical photos, re-enactments, and interviews with the Greek and American veterans of the battle.

The fight began June 10, 1953, when about 3,600 Chinese forces attacked the Korean hill held by about 100 American soldiers. After holding on for six grueling nights, the Americans were joined by a company of Greek soldiers. The combined group was an interesting mix, Epperson says. The Americans were young, 18 and 19 years old, and many were inexperienced. The Greeks, in their 30s, were seasoned veterans and had something of a care-free attitude.

That first evening, the Greek soldiers went to the base of the hill, lit a bonfire, and started singing. The Americans thought they were crazy, Epperson says, but when the “party” drew a Chinese attack, the enemy was met by other Greek soldiers lying in ambush. When the full battle started later that night, the Greeks, outnumbered 30 to one, even launched a counter-attack against the oncoming forces. “It’s just an amazing story on a lot of different levels.”

The Greek soldiers’ experience and stoicism also bolstered the courage of the Americans, who had been worn out by six days of fighting. Even today, American veterans interviewed for the movie still look up to the Greek soldiers who fought alongside them, Epperson says. He and Christos also organized the first ever reunion of the Greek soldiers for the movie.

The production crew has completed the interviews, and is gearing up for shooting the battle scenes in Red Bluff this summer. Initial funding of $200,000 for Outpost Harry came from the movie’s executive producer, Mike Pagomenos. Another $400,000 has been contributed by Robert Baker, one of the battle’s veterans.

This is the Eppersons’ second historical documentary. Their first, The 11th Day, which told the story of Greek resistance during World War II, was released in 2005 and has appeared on the History Channel.

How does a philosophy professor become a writer and co-producer of war documentaries?

Epperson has always been interested in film-making, and says war is a particularly important topic in the field of ethics. Talking with the soldiers, he says, offers a unique perspective on the subject. “You get to the ethics of warfare more directly, without being solely an armchair philosopher.”

Epperson joined the Sacramento State faculty three years ago in something of a homecoming. His mother is Liz Dokimos, a former professor of speech pathology and audiology. And Epperson took computer science and biology on campus at the age of 11 through the University’s Discovery Program.

As a philosopher, Epperson’s work on these documentary films explores war as a crucible revealing what it means to be human, bringing together humanity’s best and worst qualities. “The mixture is explosive—sometimes horrific, sometimes dazzling—but always illuminating.”

More information on Epperson and the University’s philosophy department is available at (916) 278-6424, www.csus.edu/phil and www.csus.edu/indiv/e/eppersonm/home/. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.