Author James Michener, who was in the South Pacific during World War II, in his book titled: "Tales of the South Pacific" wrote:
They will live a long time, these men of the South Pacific…. They, like their victories, will be remembered as long as our generation lives. After that, like the men of the Confederacy, they will become strangers. Longer and longer shadows will obscure them until their Guadalcanal sounds distant on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge.
Fortunately for us and future generations Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, have given us this 10 hour miniseries, so we will not forget ! These are the same men who gave us "Saving Private Ryan"(1998) and another HBO series "Band of Brothers"(2001). As with the earlier productions, "The Pacific", is a quality work of love to be treasured and is a fitting tribute to the United States Marines of World War II. I love the musical "South Pacific" but the men who fell and lived through the war deserve a realistic portrayal of what it was really like.
We don't subscribe to HBO so I missed the broadcast last year but purchased the Blu-rey DVD from Amazon.com with a Christmas gift certificate from my sister. Thank M!
This last weekend, first weekend since August with no real football game, was the perfect time to watch all 10 hours plus "extras" and so I went to my "Man Cave" and watched it all.
I started by watching the "extras" that has a documentary about the real people who are portrayed in the series. There are interviews with the actual Marines who are now old men along with their family's and friends. For those who have already died there are old interviews they gave years before. At least three of the Marines wrote books on their experiences in the war and that is the basis of the screenplay. I then went online and printed off short biography's of the main characters in the series so I could picture the actual people, then and now, with the actors portraying them. With that preparation I started the series.
This is not a series about generals, grand strategies or naval battles, this is about United States Marine platoons and squads taking one island at a time foot by foot from an enemy that will not surrender and will fight to the very end in an environment that resembles hell. The series is very loud with naval bombardment, airplanes, artillery, machine gun and rifle fire all at the same time and with modern special effects that gives you the feeling of being there. The musical score is very compelling as is the cinematography.
One of my complaints with war movies made before is that you didn't get the scope of the war because there were few World War II airplanes and ships still available and the need for a cast of thousands. However, with the new realistic digital special effects that problem has been solved and this series is a good example.
The series follows the Marines to Guadalcanal, Australia (one episode is devoted to the marines and their one year stay there after Guadalcanal), Cape Gloucester in New Brittan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and finally Okinawa. The final episode deals with the return home of some of the Marines that made it. It reminds me of the movie "The Best Years of their Lives" (1946).
One of the main characters is Sgt John Basilone who was awarded the Medal of Honor at Guadalcanal and was sent home to help with the US Bond drives and insists on going back to be with his men and is killed at Iwo Jima on the first day. He was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously for his valor at Iwo Jima. Prior to going back he marries a lady Marine. It breaks your heart when in the last episode she gives his medal to his Italian American parents.
At Guadalcanal he is shown firing a large mounted machine gun as hundreds of Japanese making a Banzai charge on the Marine line guarding Henderson Field. At one point he picks up the hot barrel to move the machine gun to a different position when there is the threat of their line being overrun. (see statue below). The dead Japanese attackers are starting to pile up like cord wood blocking the Marines fields of fire. In a break in the attack he leaves the Marine line and unpiles the dead Japanese to clear the line of fire. Incredible !
(Statue of John Basilone in his New Jersey home town)
There is Robert Leckie who wrote "Helmet on my Pillow" after the war and became a author of many books and an AP reporter.In the early 1950's he went to see the musical play "South Pacific" on Broadway in NYC and walked out in the middle saying the war in the South Pacific was no musical. It must have pained him to see the war portrayed that way after having lost so many of his fellow Marines there.
There is Eugene Sledge, who joins the Marines with visions of Kipling in his head and comes home a broken man who finds a measure of peace in nature and earns his PhD in Botany and becomes a college professor. He writes "With the Old Breed" about his wartime experiences. His friend Sidney Phillips likens him to the character Ashley Wilkes in the movie "Gone With the Wind. After the war when he enrolls at Auburn University, a young woman at the Registrar's office, asked him if the Marine Corps taught him anything useful. Sledge replied saying:
Lady, there was a killing war. The Marine Corps taught me how to kill Ja*s and try to survive. Now, if that don't fit into any academic course, I'm sorry. But some of us had to do the killing — and most of my buddies got killed or wounded."( *edited only for today's sensibilities and no criticism of Sledge is intended)
There is Sledge's friend from Alabama, Sidney Phillips, who joins up first and ends up at Guadalcanal and after the war becomes a medical doctor and one of the "talking heads" in Ken Burns wonderful documentary on the war.
This miniseries shows that our freedom is not free and must be defended often at a terrible price. It makes you appreciate life and gives a lot of prospective on our present problems. The movie is as graphic as "Saving Private Ryan" in fact, more so for a much longer period. Watching it is emotionally draining.
Anyone who watches this miniseries will know the wisdom of President Harry Truman's decision to drop the A bomb on Japan. Not to punish Japan but because that was the only way to keep them from a defense of their island similar to their defense of much smaller islands across the Pacific that would have caused thousand and thousands of deaths. Without that decision Japan would have fought to the end at a terrible cost to both them and the allies. There are family's all across America today, including mine, who can give thanks to Harry Truman for the sons, daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren who were born because of the men who were able to live and come home and start family's. My father in law was one !
(Click on the title for a great link to and episode guide from a United States Marine point of view)