Thursday, September 2, 2010
WW II: the film"Flags of Our Fathers"
I just watched the film “Flags of Our Fathers”, the story of the lives of the men of the Marine unit that raised the flag(s) on Mount Suribachi in the Battle of Iwo Jima. It was difficult yet compelling to watch. For those of us whose fathers served in the War it’s particularly compelling. Mine was in the Army at the beginning. As part of the “great family tradition” Dad enlisted in the Reserves before Pearl Harbor. Seeing that war was inevitable, as he put it, it gave him the best chance of not getting into the worst of it. He didn’t quite get the scale of things to come back in early 1941. Defining that “Family tradition” is for another discussion, suffice it to say that I did the same thing during the Viet Nam War. It worked for me, not for him. I think therein lies the source of some of both the difficulty and compelling nature of viewing this film.
As is repeated a number of times in the lines of the film, most of those who experienced the war first hand, who disdain the “hero” label so firmly, were (are) generally loath to talk about it. So it was with dad, most of the time. There were small bits of stories that he shared though. He served most of the war years as a cook, later on as cook for officers’ mess. Sadly I can’t recount his unit, though I assume it was part of the 8th Army as that was made up primarily of Reservists from the Midwest.
Mainly, for we members of the “children of the war” so to speak, I think the film raises and maybe in part answers 2 questions that trouble us all. The first would be why didn’t they talk about it (most survivors have passed on)? The answer I get from these “realistic WWII films” of recent years is that they were sparing us and maybe themselves from the horror of much of the life of a soldier in war.
That seems to leave us with less knowledge of who they are (were) and consequently who we are as products of their parentage. It seems inconceivable that such an experience could not be a major part of forming their persona afterward. That defines the importance to us of the answer to the 2nd question, what was it like?
For those of us spared from life in combat, there’s only the guess that what the film(s) show is more or less what it was like. I’ve heard stories of WWII veterans saying it was pretty close. It’s not hard to conclude, though, that it’s nothing like actually being there in the midst of it fighting for all your worth for your own and your comrades’ survival.