Monday, May 10, 2010

Heroes

An argument could be made - I suppose - that the best thing that has ever happened for the countless men and women who served this country in World War II is the film-making exploits of Messrs. Hanks and Spielberg. I mean no disservice to the assorted works of Tom Brokaw regarding the people he glowingly refers to as The Greatest Generation, having read all of his books on the subject at least once (and recommending to you if you have not done so to peruse at least one of them in the three weeks between now and Memorial Day lest you forget that it is not simply a day about picnics, blockbuster movies and 10K races), but I truly believe an argument could be made that Hanks and Spielberg have done more to tell the stories of WWII than anyone else.

It seems to me as well - as someone born more than two decades after Fat Man and Little Boy descended from the skies above Japan onto Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945 - that the greatest service that Hanks and Spielberg have done for our WWII veterans is that they have added very little sweetener to their stories. Rambo need not apply for duty here. These are stories told in far more straightforward fashion. A fashion that recognizes that the line between the day-to-day and the heroic is one that may be transversed in extreme circumstances such as war one million times a day - and the crossing may not be immediately recognizable when it occurs.

The Missus and me have spent the past nine Sunday nights watching The Pacific on HBO. Last night's penultimate episode focused on the campaign in the Spring of 1945 to take the island of Okinawa, described in the narration at the episode's beginning as the final step to be taken in advance of an American invasion of Japan. Having watched this miniseries from its beginning, we have seen and have heard the statistics associated with those killed and those wounded in the campaigns for Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. Thus when Hanks' narration at the top of last night's episode described Okinawa as the costliest campaign of the Pacific in terms of the number of men wounded and/or killed, it certainly got my attention.

As did something else. One of the characters who we met for the first time last night mentioned to his comrades that he had been "drafted" to which his fellow Marines responded, "what type of Marine has to be drafted?" It did make me think how many Americans who died in combat in a setting akin to Hell or at the very least a reasonable facsimile thereof had volunteered for the privilege. And then it made me think about all of those today who still do. It is as incredible to contemplate now as it must have been close to seven decades ago.

In one of Brokaw's works about the Greatest Generation he includes a letter he received from a WW II veteran commenting upon - and thanking him - for writing the original book. The letter-writer included a passage from Emerson that summed up why he and his fellow combatants did what they did then and which I would suppose sums up why those in hostile places presently do what they do:

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near to God is Man,
When Duty whispers low, "Thou must",
The youth replies, "I can."

-AK

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