At the end of the Jan. 24 episode of “24,” a photo of a military pilot appeared, with these words: “This episode is dedicated to the memory of Lt. Col. Dave Greene of the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 775.”
The screen then faded to black, and these words appeared: “His sacrifice, and the sacrifice of all our men and women of the military, will never be forgotten.”
Greene, who died in Iraq in July, had been part of the Marine unit that appeared on Monday’s episode. On the episode, which revolved around the freeing of the show’s fictional secretary of defense from terrorists, those were real Marines who swooped in on helicopters and rappelled down ropes in the rescue attempt.
“That group [of Marines] had just come back from Iraq, just weeks before we shot that episode” in October, says “24” producer Tim Iacofano, who worked with the Marines’ film and TV liaison office to arrange the unit’s appearance.
After filming was completed, Lt. Col. Eric Buer, who had served with Greene for 13 years, asked Iacofano if the show could pay tribute to Greene.
“I asked around Fox and the people I work for and everyone kind of felt it was the least we could do,” Iacofano says.
Maj. Mark Voelker, who knew Greene, set up a screening of Monday’s “24” at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where the reserve unit Greene belonged to is based. Voelker watched it with about a dozen other Marines who had served with the fallen pilot, including Buer.
“As we watched, at the end it got pretty quiet,” Voelker says. “After the ending played, the response was that it was perfect. It was exactly what anyone would have liked to have seen.”
The squadron took Greene’s death hard, Voelker says, because it was very close to returning to the U.S. when Greene’s helicopter was shot down.
“Everyone had started to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and thought everyone [from the unit] was going to come back,” Voelker says.
“He was one of the most impressive lieutenant colonels we had, that’s what made his loss that much more unfortunate,” Voelker says.
Not only was the tribute to Greene appreciated, Voelker says, the depiction of what Marines do was also well-received.
“What was done for the TV show was extremely accurate,” Voelker says. “That’s how things would have looked in reality. We were saying today that the show must have good advisers or are pretty in tune with the reality” of Marine combined air-land operations.
For the October shoot, there were between 50 and 75 Marines on the “24” set: six pilots, dozens of Marines aboard the helicopters and an array of safety and training instructors.
“For them, it was a training mission, so we had to conform to all their rules for safety,” Iacofano says.
As for why “24” ended up calling in real Marines to rescue William Devane’s fictional defense secretary, Iacofano says, “Helicopters are really hard to come by. They have all the helicopters and the guys trained to do that stuff. We’ve done roping with stunt men, but that’s pretty tricky.
“There’s a weight distribution problem — guys have to go out either side of the helicopter at the same time, or the thing could tip over. It could get quite dangerous. But that’s something these Marines are trained to do.”
Maj. Jeff Nyhart, who works in the Marines’ film and TV liaison office, said that given the armed forces’ many duties around the world these days, it’s sometimes difficult to find what film and TV producers are looking for.
“It’s not easy,” Nyhart says. “Training cycles are so intensive right now, and anything that interferes with operational commitments is not supportable.”
But after a bit of looking around, the Marines entertainment-industry liaison office in L.A. was able to find a unit that does the kind of land-air operation that the “24” producers were looking for.
As for the on-screen depiction of “calling in the Marines,” “it was great,” Nyhart says. “It was Marines doing what they do.”