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Posted 12/17/2003 9:42 PM
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Red Dawn imitated art
When U.S. troops set out to capture Saddam Hussein on Saturday, they first had to choose a name for their mission. It had to be relevant. It had to be inspiring. Most of all, it had to be cool.

Operation Red Dawn was born.

The mission was named for the 1984 film about a group of Colorado high school students — the Wolverines — who rebel after Soviet and Cuban forces invade the USA. The film starred Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Grey.

"Operation Red Dawn was so fitting because it was a patriotic, pro-American movie," says Army Capt. Geoffrey McMurray, who picked the name.

Speaking by phone from Tikrit, Iraq, McMurray said the name was logical after his commander in the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division had already dubbed the target farmhouses Wolverine 1 and Wolverine 2. Hours after Saddam was captured, a brilliant red dawn bathed Iraq. "The decision was made in haste. We didn't have time to craft up a name, so it just turned out it was ironic," McMurray says.

"I think all of us in the military have seen Red Dawn," said McMurray, 29. The Glendora, Calif., resident first saw the film when he was 10 years old.

"I was deeply flattered and honored. It's nice to have a lasting legacy," says John Milius, who directed and co-wrote the film.

The soldiers' successful mission epitomized "the spirit of the Wolverines. The message of Red Dawn is to liberate the oppressed," says Milius, best known as the screenwriter of Apocalypse Now.

"How cool is that?" says Thompson, when told about the movie's connection to Saddam. "Especially in mid-America, that's, like, everybody's favorite movie. I had the best time ever making that movie. I got to be a boy, shooting guns and riding horses," she says.

The MGM film was highly controversial when it was released. Critics labeled it anti-communist propaganda. Because of its violence, Red Dawn became the first film ever to receive a PG-13 rating.

The film is available on DVD, but without any special features. There are no plans for a Saddam-edition box set to capitalize on the renewed interest, MGM says.

"I'm always amazed at the attention that film continues to get," says Howell. Nearly 20 years later, fans "are still shouting 'Wolverine!' to me on a weekly basis."

So did the Army soldiers shout "Wolverine!" when they caught Saddam? "Ha-ha — no, I don't think so," McMurray says.

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