Baggio shows Caan, Coppola the ropes

A few weeks ago, Steve Corbo reviewed the movie “Gardens of Stone,” Francis Ford Coppola’s somber exploration of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment known as The Old Guard, which stands watch over Arlington National Cemetery.

We were delighted to learn that Retired U.S. Army Colonel Dan Baggio was a 1st Lieutenant and the Executive Officer of Charlie Company (Company C) of the Old Guard in 1986 when the movie was filmed. Hollywood came calling and Baggio was on duty and ready to serve.

Real life soldiers and officers auditioned to intermingle with actors in certain scenes during the movie, and Baggio was among them. Baggio recalls working closely with actor James Caan, whom everyone called “Jimmy.” They ended up having to film Caan from the waist up during marching scenes because he never quite got the hang of it. “He was kind of herky jerky,” Baggio sympathetically recalls. “I remember him as a really nice guy.”

In a rain scene that was cut from the movie, real soldiers stood wet and shivering, while actors were covered with blankets to keep warm between takes. “They were getting the prima donna treatment,” Baggio says.

Coppola wanted the movie to be genuine and relied on Baggio and other officers and noncommissioned officers for military advice. “Whatever scenes we were involved in, we’d do on-the-spot recommendations about how it should go,” Baggio explains. Soldiers wore authentic Vietnam fatigues, and the interiors of barracks from that era were used in the filming. “The movie showed barracks life, training, etc. and what it was like to be a soldier in the Old Guard,” says Baggio. “Some of the scenes outside of military duties tended to be a little bit Hollywood, but as far as the military scenes were concerned, it was spot on.”

At the end of the filming, all of the men were given bottles of wine from Francis Ford Coppola’s vineyard. “It was a cool experience,” says Baggio. “As an Old Guard member, I liked the movie because it reflected what we did and we got to be a real part of it.”

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Linda Grisolia

Linda Grisolia is a longtime Fra Noi correspondent, having contributed Onori and War Stories features over the years. She is a proud founding member of the Italian American Veterans Museum at Casa Italia and is a member of the board of directors. Many of the Italian-American veterans she interviewed for the Fra Noi were featured in the documentary, “5000 Miles from Home”, which aired on Channel 11. As a child, she remembers paging through her grandpa’s Fra Noi newspaper, fascinated with the Italian words, never dreaming that one day she would be a correspondent for that wonderful publication.

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