Honored

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In his play Beyond Glory, actor Stephen Lang portrays eight veterans of past wars who embody the meaning of courage.
Stephen Lang stars in Roundabout's production of Beyond Glory.
Stephen Lang stars in Roundabout's production of Beyond Glory. Photo by Joan Marcus

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Finn, John William. Lieutenant, U.S. Navy. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in action at Naval Air Station, Kanoohe Bay, Territory of Hawaii, 7 December 1941, were in keeping with the highest tradition of the U.S. Naval Service. Lt. Finn promptly secured and manned a .50 caliber machine gun in a completely exposed area, which was under heavy enemy machine-gun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times . . .

"Bastards! Screwed up my nooky on a Sunday morning. I was after some love with my beautiful wife. That's honest to God what I was doing when they came."

So speaks John William Finn, 93, through the lips of Stephen Lang, 54, in Beyond Glory, an 80-minute play for solo performer, crafted by Lang from his Sunday-morning hoop-shooting buddy Larry Smith's book of the same title about 27 Congressional Medal of Honor winners.

"It's really inappropriate to call them Medal of Honor winners," says Lang. "So many were awarded posthumously. They're Medal of Honor recipients." There are eight such recipients — seven still alive — in the Beyond Glory that actor–playwright Lang is now doing at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre after rave runs in Arlington, Virginia; at Chicago's Goodman; and at naval, air and military bases around the world. When Lang, who over the years has played real (Stonewall Jackson, George Pickett) and fictional (Colonel Nathan Jessep of A Few Good Men) military men of distinction, sat down to read the galley proofs of Smith's book, "the voices started coming so clearly, I just had the gut feeling this material was extremely dramatizable." He proceeded to shape the first of those voices — that of John William Finn — into "a dramatic nugget, a kind of bouillon cube of drama," then asked wife Kristina to listen to it. She listened, burst into tears — "and my wife [the mother of four] is hard-boiled."

The eight voices in the completed dramatization are, for diversity, of differing ethnicity, branches of service and wars. The only one most people have ever heard of is Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), of the 442nd (Nisei) Regimental Combat Team, who lost an arm hurling grenade after grenade at an overwhelming number of Germans entrenched on a mountainside near San Terenzo, Italy, on April 21, 1945. Inouye is also the only one of the eight recipients who has seen Beyond Glory. For the rest, says Steve Lang, "I would be immensely gratified — and immensely nervous — to know that any of them were in the audience."

Not long ago, during a visit to Athens's acropolis, Lang stood awestruck in the theatre of the Temple of Dionysius and thought about what soldier–historian Xenophon (431–355 B.C.) had said: What wins victory is not the number of combatants or the might of arms, but strength of soul. Or to put it another way — in the words of John William Finn: "I was goddamn mad. No sex. No breakfast. Anger, hunger, sex. Greatest instincts we got. Things we're born with. What else is there?" A medal and a ribbon.

Stephen Lang stars in <i>Beyond Glory</i>.
Stephen Lang stars in Beyond Glory. Photo by Liz Lauren
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