In 2001 HBO aired “Band of Brothers,” which followed Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division from basic training through the D-Day invasion of Operation Overlord, up until VE-Day. Until that time it was the most expensive television series ever. This is a follow-up with the Marines in the Pacific.
I wouldn’t dream of belittling any serviceman or woman’s wartime experience. All of them had their particular horrors. We saw what the Army went through in Europe. With the Navy it was kamikazes and submarines—or for submariners, depth charges. With the Air Force it was aerial combat, fighter attacks on bombers, and flak from the ground. But I believe that no one had it harder, and for longer, than the Marines. The hardships these men endured are almost impossible to describe. This series shows it in all its brutality. We had never fought a foe like Imperial Japan, whose soldiers never surrendered, who were capable of brutality we can scarcely imagine. On Okinawa, they used civilians as human shields, and that was the least of it. (To this day, there is vigorous denial of this in Japan, to the intense anger of Okinawans. ) The things these men faced are shown in terrible detail here, and what might even be worse, the things they were forced to do, to the point that many of them became desensitized, just didn’t care anymore.
I like it that Episode Ten deals with the return to America. As far back as The Best Years of Our Lives movies have shown how hard it can be for a soldier to come home from war. Coming Home was much more graphic about it. But historically, most war pictures have emphasized the fearless heroism of our troops, up until fairly recently. And heroism there was, but precious little fearlessness, even among the toughest Marines. Only the insane were fearless on Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Peleliu, and Guadalcanal.
What is most powerful about this series is that it pulls no punches. There were horrible wounds suffered, physically, but some of the worst wounds were mental, and haven’t healed to this day. Each episode is introduced by veteran Marines, men now in their eighties, who say they still relive it all. Not only the shelling, the bombs, the suicide charges, the malaria, the mud, the heat, but the eventual reduction of their humanity to the point that they thought nothing of firing into huts that probably only held civilians … but might have soldiers, too. Fuck it, better safe than sorry. I came here to kill Japs, didn’t I? And haven’t they been trying to kill me?
And it broke many of these American men, far more than is commonly known. Here’s some figures from Wiki: 62,000 American casualties, 12,000 killed or missing. (Several thousand died later of their wounds.)
There were 48,000 cases of “combat stress reaction,” 48% of the troops who fought there. 14,000 soldiers were “retired due to nervous breakdown.” I guess George Patton would have hated these men, would have thought they were cowardly pussies, since there was “no such thing as combat fatigue.” He would have been kept busy a long time, slapping them all.
Here’s a list of episodes:
1. Robert Leckie and the 1st Marines land on Guadalcanal and take part in the Battle of the Tenaru.
2. John Basilone and the 7th Marines land on Guadalcanal to bolster the defenses around Henderson Field.
3. The 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal is relieved and arrives in Melbourne, Australia. Basilone receives the Medal of Honor and is sent home to sell war bonds.
4. Eugene Sledge enlists in the Marines and trains for combat, while Leckie and the 1st Marine Division are put into action at Cape Gloucester. Leckie is treated for nocturnal enuresis. Translation: He’s so stressed, he’s pissing the bed.
5. Sledge and Leckie land with the 1st Marine Division at Peleliu.
6. The Marines move to capture Peleliu’s vital airfield. Leckie is wounded by blast concussion and evacuated.
7. Sledge and the 5th Marines move into Peleliu’s Bloody Nose Ridge to face the Japanese.
8. Basilone is transferred to the 5th Marine Division and lands at Iwo Jima.
9. Sledge and the 1st Marine Division land at Okinawa.
10. Sledge and Leckie return home after the Japanese surrender.