Flags of Our Fathers opened this weekend here at LSA Anaconda. Our original plan was to go Sunday night, but due to a Husker hangover we pushed it back to last night. Wow. I had high expectations as I read the book on my way back to Iraq from leave and it was very moving. I think I'll go so far as to say that the movie does the book one better. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movies tells the tale of the six soldiers involved in the flag raising on Iwo Jima during WWII. I have to admit that before reading the book and seeing the movie I didn't know much about either the flag raising or Iwo Jima. This is the story that the movie tells.
Iwo Jima was one of the costliest battles in the Pacific theater. 20,000 Japanese soldiers had built an underground fortified complex on the island, and were prepared to fight to the death. They knew that they could not win, but were prepared to die to slow the allied advance. It is estimated that 18,000 of the Japanese died in the 40 day battle. The allies desperately wanted this island to provide an air base for the planned upcoming invasion of Japan. Over 7,000 Americans were killed and another 15,000 wounded.
Early in the battle, the Marines fought inch by inch to take Mount Sirabachi, a volcano on one side. Once they had taken the hill, the picture above was taken. Immediately, the picture was recognized as an epic one, and was ran on the first page of every major newspaper which immediately sold out. The people responsible for the War Bond tours were desperate to raise enough money to keep the war going, and the decision was made to bring the soldiers that were still alive out of the battle field and back to the States to help raise money. On a side note, can you imagine if the gov't had to borrow money from civilians to pay for this war? I don't think we would have Baskin Robbins in the dfac or probably any bullets for that matter.
The movie tells essentially 3 different stories at the same time. The battle for Iwo Jima and the flag raising, the war bond tour, and then the author's search for what happened, as his father was one of the men in the picture. Some reviews that I read knocked the movie as confusing due to the constant era changes, but I thought it was easy to follow, although that could have been because I read the book recently.
I really can't say enough good things about this film. It was very faithful to the book, I didn't notice one thing that I thought was missing or mis-represented. The acting was phenomenal. Ryan Phillipe has really grown up as an actor and carried the movie as John Bradley, a Navy Corpsman and the authors father. When I first heard that he was the star I thought there is no way Sebastian is going to pull this off, but I should have know better than to doubt Dirty Harry. Adam Beach (you may have seen him in Windtalkers) delivers a haunting performance as Ira Hayers, a Navajo Marine. Barry Pepper, the sniper from Saving Private Ryan and a young Joe Galloway in We Were Soldiers, is very solid in a supporting role as Marine sergeant Mike Strank.
The battle scenes are terrifying, very similar to the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan. The conditions on the island were absolutely horrendous, as the invasion force had no cover and were shelled with machine guns, mortars, artillery, and small arms fire. They had no where to go but straight into the fire so to speak. But, this movie is different from Saving Private Ryan in that there isn't the climatic battle scene. Instead, the real impact of the movie for me was watching the soldiers on the war bond tour. They were hailed as heroes and celebrities and were taken from town to town to help raise money, literally just weeks after the battle ended with the horrors of the war still fresh in their mind. Although relieved to be out of the war and safe at home, the soldiers share the feeling that they aren't heroes, they were simply doing their job, and the real heroes are lying dead on an island in the middle of the Pacific.
One scene in particular really drove the point home. One of the soldiers said that he wasn't a hero, he was simply trying not to get shot. He saw things, and did things, that no person should ever have to do. He wonders if his sergeant would be ashamed at some of the things he was forced to do. Keep in mind that these young men fought and survived the bloodiest battle of the Pacific campaign but felt guiltily about their role.
I guess that is how I feel at times. I'm in the rear with the gear, so to speak, and although still in a hostile area, I pretty much go about my day without a care in the world other than how long the line is going to be for chow today. I don't mean to say that I want to be in harms way, I'm perfectly happy here at my little desk with internet access making sure the legal operations of the 1-167th Cav are running smoothly. Every role, even the desk jockeys like me, are needed to keep our guys that are doing the fighting, killing, and dying equipped and ready. But, to say that I'm at war or in combat is a little bit of a misnomer. Sure the guy in the next village over keeps tyring to hit me with mortars, but he isn't a very good shot so the odds are pretty low of that actually happening. My biggest hardship is the separation from my family, other than that I don't have it too bad. Luckily, I don't think they'll be asking me to go on tour as a hero anytime soon to raise money. I'm still proud of my service over here, but there are definitley many more that have sacrificed much, much more than me. And they are the true heroes.