In honor of Veteran’s Day, I thought I would write this installment of My Favorite Things on Military Movies. I am a U.S. Army Veteran; however, I have always been a fan of movies. Not only the movies that are technically correct, but the movies that exemplify the professionalism, discipline, and dedication that embodies a serviceperson.
My first favorite movie is a true oldie. I stumbled on this movie when I was 9 years old, before we had cable and the television stations went off the air around midnight. The Fighting Sullivans is based on a true story about five brothers that grew up in Waterloo, Iowa. You didn’t want to play Red rover with these guys. If you called one, they all came over. The movie was centered on World War II. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and they decided to join the fight before they were drafted. They went to join the Navy; however, the Navy denied their request to allow all of them to serve on the same ship. They wrote to the War Department and their request was granted. They were sent to serve on the USS Juneau. During the battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, a Japanese submarine torpedoed their ship and the order to abandon ship was given. All the brothers searched for each other before leaving the ship. The oldest brother was wounded and taken to sickbay. As they were evacuating him, a second torpedo annihilated the ship, killing all five. In 1943, The United States Navy christened the destroyer U.S.S. The Sullivans in honor of the brothers George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert. That destroyer was decommissioned in 1965 and donated as a museum in 1977. In 1995 a second destroyer was dedicated in their honor and is still in service today. The motto for both ships is “We stick together.” Who needs an Oscar when you have ships named after you?
My next favorite movie is another World War II movie, The Caine Mutiny. The USS Caine had a change of command. The former captain was replaced by the no nonsense, Commander Queeg. Commander Queeg’s way of running the ship, did not sit well with the men. One of the senior officers convinced the others that Commander Queeg was indeed a sick man, suffering from paranoia and what we know today as PTSD. During a typhoon, Commander Queeg, for lack of better words, freaked out. With the ship in danger of sinking, another officer took control of the ship. When Commander Queeg regained his faculties, he was furious. Nevertheless, his subordinates were now in control of the ship and relieved him of duty. The “mutineers” were tried for mutiny, an offense punishable by hanging. A cleaver and equally tough military attorney defended the group successfully. Commander Queeg retired and the others resumed their careers. The Caine Mutiny was nominated for 7 awards. Despite Humphrey Bogart’s excellent performance, he lost the best actor award to the young Marlon Brando. The Caine Mutiny did not receive any Academy Awards.
You probably could guess by now, another favorite movie of mine is centered around World War II, Midway. This movie had an all-star cast. There was Henry Fonda, Charleton Heston, Robert Wagner, Pat Morita, Dabney Coleman and even Erik Estrada. The movie focused on a Pacific Battle Midawythat ultimately was the turning point of the war. The movie showed how air superiority set the tone for winning the war. In the end, the United States destroyed the Japanese carrier force. This movie flip-flopped between the United States and Japanese Navies. Both bodies had internal disputes on how their operations should be executed. There was a lot of trial and many more errors. Fortunately, the United States had fewer errors and emerged victorious. I’m still dumbfounded that the awards academy did not nominate Midway for any awards.
I’m going to roll back a few years to the World War I drama Saving Private Ryan. After the troops invaded Normandy, it was discovered that three of four of the Ryan brothers were killed in action. The War Department sent a ranger squad to find the last brother, if alive, and return him to the United States to his mother. The squad covered a lot of ground and face a lot of loss and opposition to find Private Ryan. When they found him, he refused to leave because he was protecting a bridge from the enemy. The rangers stayed and helped protect the bridge. Private Ryan survived, his rescuers didn’t. This movie exemplified the soldier’s creed of finishing the job. This was an excellent movie. The invasion scene was awesome! I actually saw it at the theater and have watched it over a hundred times. Saving Private Ryan was nominated for 10 academy awards and won 5.
I’m going to go back in time a little further to the only Civil War Era movie I like, Glory. This movie is based on a true story about Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who took on the task of commanding the Massachusetts 54th Infantry regimen, which was the first all-African American regimen in the Union Army. Although, the regimen was endorsed by the War Department, his troops, all former slaves, were short changed in pay, uniforms, and equipment. Col. Shaw fought to have his soldiers receive all of the same benefits that their white counterparts had, including the opportunity to fight for their country. The 54th proved they were battle worthy. Nevertheless, they fell while trying to take Fort Wagner at he Charleston Harbor. Col. Shaw was buried on the beach in a mass grave with his soldiers. The all-star cast of Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington paved the way for 5 Oscar nominations. They came home with 3 out of the 5. Denzel Washington won best supporting actor.
I’m going to bounce to the future, for my last favorite military movie, By Dawns Early light. In this movie, the United States has been attacked with nuclear weapons. During the attack, the President of the United States helicopter crashes and presumed dead. The Secretary of the Interior in the only cabinet that can be found as is sworn in as POTUS and is safe in Air Force I. The movie bounces between the point of views of a bomber crew, an airborne AWACS plane, and the newly sworn in President. There is chaos on the bomber. No one wants the responsibility of nuking humans, despite their training. The new president has ordered a grand tour, which required all of the Russian military targets to be bombed. If that were to happen, there would not be anyone in charge to stop the war. To further complicate things, the real president is alive. He is not happy the Secretary of the Interior is in charge and has ordered the grand tour. The real president established communication with the commander of the AWACS plane. The President orders the AWACS aircraft to stop the grand tour. The only way to do that is to ram Air Force I. This was a riveting, thought provoking movie about nuclear war. Despite a strong cast of James Earl Jones, Powers Booth, Rebecca de Morney, and Martin Landau, they did not receive any Oscar nominations.
I pray that Hollywood continues to make quality movies that exemplify the dedication and sacrifice that servicepeople make. I look forward to Veterans Day as many stations pay homage to those who made the supreme sacrifice for their country with movie marathons. To all of the current service people, I thank you for your service and carrying the torch that my fellow veterans and I carried.