Last year I gave my top ten picks for movies for Memorial Day weekend. Go here to read that post. Here are more films, in no particular order as to merit, to help remember those who went into harm’s way for us:
10. The Gallant Hours (1960)-James Cagney as Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, video clip at the beginning of this post, the film highlighting Halsey’s brilliant leadership in the fierce naval battles that raged around Guadalcanal in 1942. The importance of Guadalcanal was put succinctly by Halsey: “Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure. After Guadalcanal, he retreated at ours”.
9. John Paul Jones (1959)- Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero. Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great. The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days. The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong. This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900. Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications. Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison. Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.
8. The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)-This film earned John Wayne his first Oscar nomination as best actor. (Broderick Crawford would win for his stunning performance in All The King’s Men.) Wayne was initially reluctant to take the role, partly because he had not fought in World War II, and partly because he saw script problems and didn’t like the character of Sergeant Stryker as initially written in the screen play. (There is evidence that Wayne, 34 at the time of Pearl Harbor, and with 3 kids, did attempt to volunteer in 1943 for the Marine Corps with assignment to John Ford’s OSS Field Photographic Unit, but was turned down.)
Wayne was convinced to take the role because the film had the enthusiastic backing of the Marine Corps, which viewed it as a fitting tribute to the Marines who fought in the Pacific, and to help combat a move in Congress to abolish the Corps. Marine Commandant Clifton B. Cates went to see Wayne to request that he take the role and Wayne immediately agreed. (Thus began a long association of John Wayne with the Marine Corps, including Wayne narrating a tribute to Marine Lieutenant General Chesty Puller.)
Appearing in the film were several Marine veterans of the Pacific, including Colonel David Shoup, who earned a Medal of Honor for his heroism at Tarawa, and who would later serve as a Commandant of the Corps, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Crow who led a Marine battalion at Tarawa. The Marine Corp hymn is sung in the film after the death of Wayne’s character, one of ten films in which a Wayne character died, and as the raising of the flag is recreated.
Taking part in the flag raising were Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes and John Bradley, the three survivors of the six flag raisers who survived the battle. (The three men who raised the flag and subsequently died in the battle were Franklin Sousely, Harlon Block and Michael Strank.) (First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, who led the flag raising party that raised the first, smaller, flag on Mount Suribachi, and who was awarded a Navy Cross and a Silver Star for his heroism on Iwo Jima, also appeared in the film.) The flag on top of Mount Suribachi could be seen across the island, and was greeted with cheers by the Marines and blaring horns by the ships of the Navy. A mass was said on Mount Suribachi at the time of the flag raising and I have written about that here. Go here to see the ending of the Sands of Iwo Jima and listen to the Marines’ Hymn.
7. The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.
Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg. The film is a fine remembrance of the courage of the soldiers North and South who fought in our war without an enemy.
6. Red Tails (2012)- This film was released on Blueray this week, and I have been viewing it and enjoying it immensely.
Blacks have served in all of America’s wars, in spite of the racial hatred that was often directed against them during their service. In World War II the military was still segregated, and opposition to blacks serving as pilots was intense. However, the Army Air Corps could not ignore that blacks had passed the tests to qualify as aviation cadets. Trained at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, the 99th Pursuit squadron was activated in 1941 and sent overseas to North Africa in April 1943.
The 99th served in the Sicilian Campaign and in Italy. In the Spring of 1944 it was joined by the 100th, 301st and 302nd pursuit squadrons and formed the all black 332nd fighter group. The 332nd flew as escorts for bombers flying bombing raids into Czechoslavakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany. The 332nd became known as the Red Tails, or Red Tail Angels, for the red paint on the tails of their planes, and for the skill with which they guarded the bombers they escorted. The men of the 332nd in their time in combat destroyed 261 enemy planes, damaged another 148, and flew a total of 15,533 combat sorties. They suffered 66 pilots killed. 95 Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism were earned by the pilots, along with other awards for valor, and the 332nd received three President Unit Citations. A bomber group, the 477th Medium Bomber Group, consisting of the 616th, 617th, 618th and 619th bomber squadrons, was formed from Tuskegee Airmen, but the War ended before the unit was deployed overseas.
Red Tails, is a long overdue salute to these men who had to fight not only the enemy but the racial prejudice of many of their fellow Americans. They were a credit to their nation and to their race, the human race.
5. The Rough Riders (1997)- A superb recreation of the time and place, the film is a fitting tribute to the valor of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. Tom Berenger gives an uncannily on target performance as Theodore Roosevelt:
4. The Caine Mutiny (1954)-Humphrey Bogart gives a superb performance as the commander of the USS Caine who cracks under the strain of war. In one short sequence at the end, shown in the video below, the film is turned on its head and the audience is given an entirely new view of what they have seen. Queeg, portrayed by Bogart, is transformed from a villain to a man who needed help, and who was denied aid by his fellow officers. As a result a mutiny occurred, Queeg is destroyed, Maryk is branded a mutineer, his career probably destroyed despite his acquittal, and Keefer, the true villain of the piece, walks away unscathed, assuming his conscience does not trouble him.
The speech of Greenwald, the defense attorney is given at greater length in the novel and is much more effective:
“The lawyer’s blues were rumpled and baggy, and his walk was not of the steadiest, but nobody at the table was in a condition to notice. He came to the head of the table and stood stupidly, resting a hand on the empty chair, looking around slack-mouthed. “party’s pretty far along, hey” he said, as wine splashed in a dozen glasses and all the officers shouted greetings. Keefer made his glass ring with a knife.
“All right, quiet, you drunken mutineers. A toast, I say!” He lifted his glass high. “To Lieutenant Barney Greenwald–a Cicero with two stripes–a Darrow with winces–the terror of judge advocates–the rescuer of the oppressed and the downtrodden–the forensic St. George who slew with his redoubtable tongue that most horrible of dragons–Old Yellowstain!”
They all cheered; they all drank; they sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” in bellowing discords. The lawyer stood, pallid and skinny, his mouth foolishly twitching in momentary grins. “Speech! Speech!” said Keefer, clapping his hands and dropping into his chair, and everybody took up the cry and the applause.
“No, no,” Greenwald mumbled, but in a moment he was standing alone, and all the faces at the table were turned to him. The party settled into expectant quiet. “I’m drunker’n any of you,” he said. “I’ve been out drinking with the judge advocate–trying to get him to take back some of the dirty names he called me–finally got him to shake hands on the ninth whisky sour–maybe the tenth–“
“That’s good,” Maryk said. “Challee’s a decent guy–“
“Had to talk loud ‘n’ fast, Steve–I played pretty dirty pool, you know, in court–poor jack, he made a wonderful argument. Multitudes, Multitudes, hey,” He peered blearingly at the cake. “Well, I guess I ought to return the celebrated author’s toast, at that.” He fumbled at a bottle and sloshed wine into a class and all over his hands. “Biblical title of course. Can’t do better for a war book. I assume you gave the Navy a good pasting?”
“I don’t think Public Relations would clear it, at any rate,” the novelist said, grinning.
“Fine. Someone should show up these stodgy, stupid Prussians.”
Greenwald weaved and grabbed at the chair. “I told you I’m pretty far along–I’ll get to my speech yet, don’t worry–Wanna know’ about the book first. Who’s the hero, you?”
“Well, any resemblance, you know, is purely accidental–“
“Course I’m warped,” said Greenwald, “and I’m drunk, but it suddenly seems to me that if I wrote a war novel I’d try to make a hero out of Old Yellowstain.” Jorgensen whooped loudly, but nobody else laughed, and the ensign subsided, goggling around. “No, I’m serious, I would. Tell you why, Tell you how I’m warped. I’m a Jew, guess most of you know that. Name’s Greenwald, kind of look like one, and I sure am one, from way back. Jack Challee said I used smart Jew-lawyer tactics–course he took it back, apologized, after I told him a few things he didn’t know– Well, anyway…The reason I’d make Old Yellowstain a hero is on account of my mother, little gray-headed Jewish lady, fat, looks a lot like Mrs. Maryk here, meaning no offense.”
He actually said “offensh.” His speech was halting and blurry. He was gripping the spilling glass tightly the scars on his hand made red rims around the bluish grafted skin.
“Well, sure, you guys all have mothers, but they wouldn’t be in the same bad shape mine would if we’d of lost this war, which of course we aren’t, we’ve won the damn thing by now. See, the Germans aren’t kidding about the Jew. They’re cooking us down to soap over there. They think we’re vermin and should be terminated and our corpses turned into something useful. Granting the premise–being warped, I don’t, but granting the premise, soap is as good an idea as any. But I just can’t cotton to the idea of my mom melted down into a bar of soap. I had an uncle and an aunt in Cracow, who are soap now, but that’s different, I never saw my uncle and aunt, just saw letters in Jewish from them, ever since I was a kid, but I can’t read Jewish. but never could read them. Jew, but I can’t read Jewish.”
The faces looking up at him were becoming sober and puzzled. ” I’m coming to Old Yellowstain. Coming to him. See, while I was studying law ‘n old Keefer here was writing his play for the Theatre Guild, and Willie here was on the playing fields of Prinshton, all that time these birds we call regulars–these stuffy, stupid Prussians, in the Navy and the Army -were manning guns. Course they weren’t doing it to save my mom from Hitler, they’re doing it for dough, like everybody else does what they do. Question is, in the last analysis–last analysis–what do you do for dough? Old Yellowstain, for dough, was standing guard on this fat dumb and happy country of ours. Meantime me, I was advancing little free non-Prussian life for dough. Of course, we figured in those days, only fools go into armed service. Bad pay, no millionaire future, and you can’t call your mind or body your own. Not for sensitive intellectuals. So when all hell broke loose and the Germans started running out of soap and figured, well it’s time to come over and melt down old Mrs. Greenwald–who’s gonna stop them? Not her boy Barney. Can’t stop a Nazi with a lawbook. So I dropped the lawbooks and ran to learn how to fly. Stout fellow. Meantime, and it took a year and a half before I was any good, who was keeping Mama out of the soap dish? Captain Queeg.”
“Yes, even Queeg, poor sad guy, yes, and most of them not sad at all, fellows, a lot of them sharper boys than any of us, don’t kid yourself, best men I’ve ever seen, you can’t be good in the Army or Navy unless you’re goddamn good. Though maybe not up on Proust ‘n’ Finnegan’s Wake and all.”
Greenwald stopped, and looked from side to side. “Seem to be losing the thread here. Supposed to be toasting the Caine’s favorite author. Well, here goes, I’ll try not to maunder too much. Somebody flap a napkin at me if I get incoherent. Can’t stay for dinner so I’m glad you called on me to make a toast so I can get it over with. I can’t stay because I’m not hungry. Not for this dinner. It would in fact undoubtedly disagree with me.”
He turned to Maryk.
“Steve, the thing is, this dinner is a phony. You’re guilty. I told you at the start that you were. Course you’re only half guilty. F’ that matter, you’ve only been half acquitted. You’re a dead duck. You have no more chance now of transferring to the regular Navy than of running for President. The reviewing authorities’ll call it a miscarriage of justice, which it is, and a nice fat letter of reprimand will show up in your promotion packet–and maybe in mine–and it’s back to the fishing business for Steve Maryk. I got you off by phony, legal tricks–by making clowns out of Queeg, and a Freudian psychiatrist–which was like shooting two tuna fish in a barrel–and by ‘pealing very unethically and irrelevantly to the pride of the Navy. Did everything but whistle Anchors Aweigh. Only time it looked tough was when the Caine’s favorite author testified. Nearly sunk you, boy. I don’t quite understand him, since of course he was the author of the Caine mutiny among his other works. Seems to me he’d of gotten up on the line with you and Willie, and said straight out that he always insisted Queeg was a dangerous paranoiac. See, it would only made things worse to drag Keefer in. You know all about that, so as long as he wanted to run out on you all I could do was let him run–“
“Just a minute–” Keefer made a move to get up.
“‘Scuse me, I’m all finished, Mr. Keefer. I’m up to the toast. Here’s to You. You bowled a perfect score. You went after Queeg, and got him. You kept your own skirts all white and starchy. Steve is finished for good, but you’ll be the next captain of the Caine. You’ll retire old and full of fat fitness reports. You’ll publish your novel proving that the Navy stinks, and you’ll make a million dollars and marry Hedy Lamarr. No letter of reprimand for you, Just royalties on your novel. So you won’t mind a li’l verbal reprimand from me, what does it mean? I defended Steve because I found out the wrong guy was on trial. Only way I could defend him was to sink Queeg for you. I’m sore that I was pushed into that spot, and ashamed of what I did, and thass why I’m drunk. Queeg deserved better at my hands. I owed him a favor, ‘don’t you see? He stopped Hermann Goering from washing his fat behind with my mother.”
“So I’m not going to eat your dinner, Mr. Keefer, or drink your wine, but simply make my toast and go. Here’s to you, Mr. Caine’s favorite author, and here’s to your book.”
He threw the yellow wine in Keefer’s face.
A little splashed on Willie. It happened so fast that the officers at the other end of the table didn’t know what he had done. Maryk started to get up. “For Christ’s sake, Barney–“
The lawyer shoved him back into his chair with a shaking hand. Keefer automatically pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at his face, staring dumfounded at Greenwald. Greenwald said, “If you want to do anything about it, Keefer, I’ll wait in the lobby for you. We can go someplace quiet. We’re both drunk, so it’s a fair fight’ You’ll probably lick me. I’m a lousy fighter.”
The other officers were beginning to mutter to each other agitatedly, glancing sidewise at Keefer. Greenwald strode out of the room, stumbling a little near the door. The novelist stood up. There was a thick, ugly silence, as though someone had just shouted a lot of dirty words. Keefer glanced around and uttered a laugh. No eye met his. He dropped back in his chair. “The hell with it. Poor guy is just crazy drunk. I’m hungry. He’ll be around to apologize in the morning. Willie, tell them to bring on the chow.”
3. The Lost Batallion (2001)-A movie on the heroic stand of the 1rst Batallion, 308th Infantry, 77th Division, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in World War I. The Medal of Honor citation of the commander of the batallion says it all:
Although cut off for 5 days from the remainder of his division, Maj. Whittlesey maintained his position, which he had reached under orders received for an advance, and held his command, consisting originally of 46 officers and men of the 308th Infantry and of Company K of the 307th Infantry, together in the face of superior numbers of the enemy during the 5 days. Maj. Whittlesey and his command were thus cut off, and no rations or other supplies reached him, in spite of determined efforts which were made by his division. On the 4th day Maj. Whittlesey received from the enemy a written proposition to surrender, which he treated with contempt, although he was at the time out of rations and had suffered a loss of about 50 percent in killed and wounded of his command and was surrounded by the enemy.
2. Twelve Oclock High (1949)-An homage to the men of the Eighth Air Force and the high casulaties they endured as they pioneered precision day-light bombing in the skies over Europe in 1942-1943. The movie was hailed when it premiered for its gritty realism by Army Air Corps veterans. Few films have better illustrated the loneliness and pressure of command in war, as you lead men to their deaths and can do nothing to change that grim reality.
1. Faith of Our Fathers (2005)-I have never been a big fan of John McCain politically, regarding him as often being a RINO and running an incredibly lifeless campaign against Obama in 2008. However, nothing can take away his raw courage as a POW during the Vietnam War, especially his refusing early release until all American POWs were released. The movie is a moving depiction of the American POWs who kept faith with this nation in the worst circumstances imaginable.