I always seem to spend way too much time trying to come up with an idea for this holiday piece. Every year I begin it a month or two in advance and still I end up with less than a week to finish it. Most would say that I strive on the stress of it all. They might be right who can say for sure, certainly not me. I was having a conversation with some new friends the other day over the internet about movies. The debate being which movie was the best of, the best western, action, Si-Fi and the like. It wasn’t long when before they happened on the best war movies ever made. I can tell you it is a very difficult choice as there are so many great ones out there but of course we all have our favorites. However, when I think of the best one ever made I am always reminded of one. In my opinion it should rank in the top three of every war movie list ever made. I know I just heard you all groan a bit and thinking oh great another critic. You could be right and I may not know a thing about movies. Then again how will you know I am not right if you have never seen the movie that I think should rank that high?
What’s the movie you ask, well I’ll tell you, The Story of G. I. Joe. The movie was released in 1945 and was directed by William Wellman and starred Burgess Meredith and Robert Mitchum among others. Like many war movies made during that time it also included real soldiers. Not the Hollywood film soldiers either, the Army gave the studios a company of soldiers that by the time the movie was released would be fighting in the war for real and some had themselves already died. Burgess Meredith stars as the war correspondent Ernie Pyle, a man who wrote about the men of war from his view-point, they talked with him. Perhaps it was the way he wrote about them and the war that made them open up to him and like him. His dispatches were read in nearly every paper in the states. To many his columns put the face of the soldiers before the face of the war. He spent his time with them 29 months according to him of which he figured he spent about a year on the frontlines. He wrote about many of the men women and services of support as well as those men digging the foxholes and taking the hills and fields. For those of you that have seen the movie you know that Ernie Pyle isn’t the focus of the movie yet it is his writing and work that it is based on. He himself didn’t like the title but in his own words “nobody could come up with a better one and I was too lazy to try.”
Oh sure Hollywood put its stamp of poetic license on it but that doesn’t change the fact that it is still a great movie about men and war. Many things have changed since WWII and most of living conditions for our troops have changed with them. Yet it’s still war and today as then it boils down to soldiers getting dirty, living out and in all kinds of weather, going through and into places where even angels think twice about going, if they go at all. Every one of them has a story to tell even if it is only about where they come from or maybe where they want to go in life but that is a story just the same. Life of the soldier is what Mr. Pyle wrote about best in his first person way he told of their day, the gripes, their humor and their deeds. After reading some of his columns one could see what drove him to continue and why after a short four month rest he went back to the war only this time to the pacific. Personally I think it was the soldier and not the war or the job that drove him. At the same time he grew weary of the many truths of war.
There are many truths about war and not many of them happy or good. There are at least three truths that will always be a constant in any war.
Truth number one: Young men and women die
Truth number two: Innocent civilians die
Truth number three: No one can change truth numbers one or two.
These are the only truths that matter and are the same in any war. One cannot always limit these truths, but one can and always hope and try to limit them both. It doesn’t always turn out that way but both have gotten better over the millennia. Still, some scream, holler moan when both of these truths happen, when instead they should be hoping that the end come soon rather than later.
Two quotes from the movie stand out in my mind every time I think of it and each one tells a truth.
“There is a difference in how men die in war. In the air they die clean-shaven and well fed … but the GI… the GI lives so miserably and dies so miserably.”
“For those that lie beneath the wooden crosses there is nothing we can do but pause and say; thanks pal.”
A brief pause is all many soldiers have ever gotten over their resting place. The pause would be just long enough to put them to rest under a patch of ground before getting back into the fight. No formal ceremony or and in some cases no formal mark to show that anyone lay beneath the surface of the ground. On how many battle fields around the world do American Soldiers lay at rest? Does it mean any less, the price they paid, where they are? Do their deeds go unknown; perhaps. Then again a lot of deeds go unknown to a majority of us that does not mean they were never done or never appreciated.
Like them love them or hate them they are the only thing between us and those that mean us harm. They protect us and often times live in other countries that they know some of the same freedoms we often take for granted. It is this day that we honor all of those that paid for us to live here with our freedoms. They may lie in rest in foreign countries under our flag, some unnamed field near some unnamed hill, in some jungle somewhere that many want to forget the names of, in cemeteries across the country and even in Arlington itself but still they have paid.
So to you my friends and family and family of friends, this day is for the fallen those in which the rules could not be changed. Remember them as they lived and for the sacrifice they have given to us. Their lives were not lost in vain no matter what some may argue. I tell you argue not of the why or wherefore argue instead that they come home safe. As always take this day in your heart no matter how you spend it. Remember too to grab your glass and fill it with your choice of beverage and offer a toast to all that have given and paid the ultimate price for your freedoms. God Bless them all wherever they find their final place.
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