The first airman to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War will be played by Jake Gyllenhaal in a movie detailing his legendary last act of heroism in Afghanistan in early 2002.
Tech Sgt. John Chapman was fighting on a snowy 10,000-foot peak in Afghanistan known as Takur Ghar on March 4, 2002, when he charged into Al Qaeda bunkers and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to protect his teammates. After the airman was believed to be shot and killed, drone footage showed him getting back up to continue killing Al Qaeda fighters before he was fatally shot twice by enemy machine guns.
Though there was no expected release date available on Tuesday, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) showed that it will be directed by Sam Hargrave, who also directed the 2020 shoot-em-up Extraction. Also on the credit list are Chapman’s sister, Lori Longfritz, and Dan Schilling, who together co-wrote the book Alone at Dawn, the definitive account of Chapman and his last stand.
Like Chapman, Schilling is a former Air Force Combat Controller, a special operator trained to coordinate air support for other elite units like the SEALs and Army Special Forces. The CCT training pipeline has a 70 to 80% attrition rate, according to a 2011 study, which is about the same as that of the U.S. Navy SEALs. Schilling is also a military consultant on the movie, according to Deadline.
Chapman was originally awarded a posthumous Air Force Cross for his actions at Takur Ghar. The movie about him takes place 15 years later as Air Force Capt. Cora Alexander investigates whether the airman is worthy of an upgrade to the Medal of Honor, according to Deadline. Chapman was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Donald Trump on August 22, 2018.
“Alexander has to uncover the truth, and in revealing Chapman’s sacrifice to the world, she forges her own path to self-forgiveness and personal redemption,” wrote Deadline, in a synopsis which resembles that of the excellent 1996 film Courage Under Fire, starring Denzel Washington.
It was not clear who would play Alexander, or even if she was based on a real person. But hopefully with Schilling and Longfritz at the writer’s desk the rest of the film will be very real indeed. Lead actor Gyllenhaal also has experience playing service members, as he portrayed Marine sniper Anthony Swofford in the 2005 film Jarhead. Still, Gyllenhaal wasn’t the first choice for Chapman’s family, who told Task & Purpose in 2018 that Chris Pratt would be well-suited for the role.
The fallen airman’s heroic deeds shone even brighter amid the hopelessness of his situation, as Task & Purpose described in 2018:
On March 4, 2002, Chapman and his Navy SEAL teammates were on a reconnaissance mission dubbed Operation Anaconda, unaware that the mountaintop where they were supposed to land was actually an enemy stronghold. During their approach, their helicopter was hit several times by rocket-propelled grenades, and Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts was thrown out of the aircraft.
All of the team survived when their helicopter made a controlled crash and they decided to return to the mountain to try to save Roberts, knowing the odds were against them. Chapman was originally awarded the Air Force Cross for charging uphill in thigh-deep snow, single-handedly capturing an enemy bunker, and allowing the rest of his special operations team to find cover.
“His team leader said, ‘John’s actions saved all of us,’” Chapman’s former commander retired Col. Ken “RZ” Rodriguez told reporters in 2018. “That was what we based the Air Force Cross on when it was initially awarded many years ago.”
When Chapman was wounded and knocked unconscious about 17 minutes into battle, his team leader assumed that he had been killed, ordering the special operators to move to a new position, said an Air Force special tactics officer who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
But an exhaustive 30-month investigation into Chapman’s actions determined that the tactical air controller kept fighting for another 70 minutes after his teammates thought he was dead, the special tactics officer told reporters. Chapman’s actions delayed the enemy at a critical moment as they were preparing to shoot down a helicopter with a quick reaction force.
Schilling narrates the video below of drone footage taken of the battle, which explains Chapman’s actions and what he did to protect his teammates. Watch:
Related: ‘I knew I needed to do something’ — Airman awarded for braving rocket fire to treat wounded during Camp Taji attack