9/16/2007

Just Think of It-World War II Revived

I am not a big fan of the media in recent years. It tends to overexpose and sensationalize much of what it reports , on the one hand, and not follow through on news that was once overexposed, on the other. Clearly, the media can shape our thoughts and force our attentions. But, the media can also bring a subject to our attention that would not otherwise be there and help us to understand something that we might not otherwise understand. Such has been the case for me, regarding the subject of World War II, specifically those who fought the war, the Veterans. My media sources were television and a book. Now that I think about it I am not sure that literature can be considered as"the media". If not, excuse my mistake in so considering it.

I happened to recently pick up the book (audio book, in this case), Dream When You're Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg. It is not high literature, but it kept my attention and seriously increased my interest in the "story" of the WW II Vets, as well as what life was like on the home front. This has not been something I've been interested in the course of my life. My focus regarding WW II has been almost exclusively on the Holocaust. I have never liked reading novels or non-fiction about the war and have mostly stayed away from war movies, with the major exception of Saving Private Ryan. For my own edification, I did a search of the
Top 50 World War Two Movies in order to see what I had missed. The following is just a handful of them, those movies whose names I recognized, but have not seen:
Stalag 17, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Battle of the Bulge , Twelve O'clock High, Guns of Navarone, Mister Roberts, Where Eagles Dare, The Devil's Brigade , Mrs Miniver , Sands of Iwo Jima , The Dirty Dozen , A Walk in the Sun,

One can not have watched TV during these past summer months and not heard about the upcoming seven part series,
The War, a Ken Burns’s Film about World War II , scheduled to start on Sunday, September 23, 2007 . I have seen some of the Sneak Preview on my local PBS station, Channel 13, and found Ken Burn's explanations about how and why he wanted to do the series alluring, but I remained unsure of wanting to watch it. I remembered that, though beautifully done, I found watching Burn's documentary, The Civil Wars, a bit boring (of course, I was extremely sick in bed at the time, which may have had something to do with it). In any case, I put it on the back burner of my mind.

The clincher came this morning while watching, Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood. Bill Geist's did a segment that he called,
In Their Honor. It was about a group of "World War II vets from North Carolina, aged 79 to 102, who journeyed to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. They were there because Jeff Miller, a local businessman in Hendersonville, N.C., started a campaign in March to send every World War II veteran in the country who wanted to see it". "Sixteen million served in World War II. Now there's probably just a little more than 3 million alive," he said. "They're dying at a rate of anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 a day". The project grew quickly, as did the number of vets wanting to go and the amount of money it was going to take to see it through. The entire community got involved and money was raised, to the tune of $133,000. Two-hundred and twenty Hendersonville vets signed up for the first of what have come to be called honorflights. They arrived in Washington to a hero's welcome and were escorted to the memorial. There was one story of a vet who died just days before the event was to take place. The family still attended. It was a moving piece of journalism. Bill Geist ended the segment saying, "But the veterans who attended were feeling the appreciation so long overdue in this, a final tribute to the men-boys then, really, in their teens and twenties-who answered the call and saved the world. Think of it.

And think of it I did, so much so that I posted a comment on the CBS website. Apparently this segment was a repeat, originally broadcast in September of 2006. Perhaps they will show it yearly in September. They should. I was moved by the tens of comments I read from today and from those written after last year's broadcast. So many people of my generation talking about how their fathers never really spoke to them about the war they fought and about how proud they were of their fathers and how, in so many cases, they wished that their fathers had lived to be able to participate in this honor. I am moved by all of this, but I can't really relate to it personally. My father served in some medical capacity at an army base stateside. He was in Medical School at the time. I don't think he was considered a vet. I have never really known any vets, at least not of American wars. My parents did not talk much about those years.

All of the comments I read were about the men, but there was one that said this:

I am a WW11 vet still alive. I served as a member of the Womens Army Corps assigned to the Army Air Corps. I want to continue my efforts to fill the gap in history about women in the military. 400,000 women served in all branches of the service during WW11. Though we were not allowed to serve in combat positions, those combat positions would not have been possible were it not for the women,and some men,who supported those in combat. I enabled the training of bombardiers who flew in both war theatres. Women served as aircraft mechanics, spys, drivers, interpreters, nurses, transcribers, etc. both here and abroad. Five women were on a troop ship which was bombed and all five survived, 80 some nurses were taken captive the South Pacific and survived. Members of the Womens Army Corps served in Algeria, North Africa, England, Southeast Asia, Italy, Egypt, the,Pacific, and Australia . Therefore, I was distressed not to see/hear mention of women serving in the military in the "greatest war with the greatest generation". Lynn Ashley, EdD

These comments, that moved me as much as Bill Geist's segment, can be found at the bottom of the article about In Their Honor. I highly recommend taking a look.

I am not a flag waving American until there is something that reminds me of the importance of that flag. I am not an admirer of wars and so often believe that there must be alternatives to fighting them. I am patriotic. My view of patriotism is not of the flag-waving, rah rah for our country, right or wrong variety. I have always thought of patriotism as honoring and appreciating one's country, while at the same time speaking out and protesting the things that one sees as wrong in order to make the country more like it is supposed to be regarding freedom, equality and justice for all. War is certainly not always the answer to conflicts; in fact is should rarely be the answer. Perhaps I have avoided learning more about WW II because in my life time, I have not seen a war that I thought was justified to fight. I am pretty certain that I would have thought otherwise had I been alive in the 1940's.

I have no doubt anymore that I will watch Ken Burn's documentary, The War.
The congruity of these recent events, reading Elizabeth Berg's new novel, Dream When You're Feeling Blue, the anticipation of seeing Ken Burn's upcoming PBS documentary, The War and experiencing Bill Geist's segment on CBS' Sunday Morning, In Their Honor, has truly set in motion for me an enthusiastic desire to learn more about World War II, it's veterans and the home front at the time. If not now, when?

3 comments:

Dave said...

Of the movies about WWII you haven't seen, it might be an incentive to watch to know that "Stalag 17" and "Mr. Roberts" have some genuinely humorous moments to go along with the drama. There are also outstanding performances by the lead actors. And every time I see Peter Graves being all-American and respectable, I think, "You can't fool me, Buster. I saw Stalag 17!"

"Sands of Iwo Jima" is quintessential John Wayne, but before he became almost a parody of himself. Very realistic. (Actual battle footage is used in parts of it.) It helps us understand why every ex-Marine considers himself STILL to be one. It's a basic part of his identity, and rightly so. "Sands" also has an interesting second lead: John Agar, at the time the husband of Shirley Temple. He got the part with not much acting experience, but he turned out to be a better actor than a husband.

I'm looking forward to the Ken Burns series, too. I've already ordered the book.

Sherril said...

DAve,
THANK YOU SO MUCH for leaving a comment. I love that you still come around to read what I write. You're a good cyber-friend.
As for the war movies, I can't promise that I will check any of them out. Though my inerest has increased greatlly, it is mainly the human stories that interest me and not seeing the fighting. To me the only reason to watch that is so we know how brutal war really is and we don't romantisize it. But, I do appreciate getting your take on the onees you mentioned.
Again, Dave, thanks.

jp 吉平 said...

Hi Sherril!

I don't have anything smart to say about war movies. The last one I saw was Nanking, this summer when I was in China.

I just wanted to come by and invite you to my Haiku festival. Hope you contribute again this year!