Monday, March 29, 2010

The Pacific Miniseries, Part Two Review

Yeah, I'm more than a little late on this one. I haven't seen part three yet (it aired last night), but I hope to get to it last night.

Part Two had more pure action scenes than the first episode, which isn't very surprising. A setup episode was needed, and that happened more or less in Part One. Eugene Sledge finally is allowed to join the Marines, even with his father's disapproval. He'll be trained and ready for the Peleliu invasion (September 1944) and for Okinawa.

This episode concentrates on our in-country Marines, Leckie and Baslione. Leckie's beleaguered unit is in a defensive position on the outskirts of Henderson Field. The supply issue becomes a major problem for everyone on Guadalcanal, including the Japanese. The Marines take to looting the newly arrived U.S. Army unit, helping themselves to the food and other goodies that their own quartermasters lack.

Leckie even gets sick from canned peaches, probably due to some bug or virus picked up on the island. Other members of his platoon have dysentery or malaria on top of the mental scars of seeing friends and comrades masticated by the gears of war.

It was interesting that both Leckie and Basilone's units use an air raid as a diversion to raid the Army's supply depot. For the most part, the Japanese had air superiority over the skies of Guadalcanal until the island fell completely under U.S. and Allied control. The newly landed Army units didn't know that the Japanese attacked the airfield and not the supply dump, which allowed the Marines free access to the unguarded dump. However, after Midway, the Marianas "Turkey Shoot", Battle of the Bismarck Sea, and other battles across the Pacific ocean, the Japanese would relinquish air superiority. The IJA and Navy would no longer have enough trained pilots or aircraft to mount raids or attack Allied shipping. This was true for invasion of Normandy and the fall of Germany -- not enough planes, pilots and fuel to attack the Allied forces. It is a great morale boost not having to look above the battlefield for threats, like the German and Japanese soldiers had to do for most of the war.

The rest of the episode centered around Sgt. Basilone's epic defense of Henderson Field, which won him the Medal of Honor. He essentially was the lynch pin of the airfield's defense against a massive Japanese attack. At one point, he had to clear a mound of dead and wounded Japanese soldiers from his field of fire -- quite dangerous indeed. During the battle, he loses a close friend and one of the central characters in his platoon.

A very good episode, and I can't wait to see the next one!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Pacific Miniseries, Part One review and other comments

I remember hearing about The Pacific a couple of years ago. I knew Hanks, Spielberg and Company would be involved and that alone would guarantee it would be an excellent miniseries. Captain Dale Dye, technical adviser to many films and a capable actor himself, provided an excellent blog during the filming and post-production of the film. The blog gave real insight into the preparations and training of the actors and stunt performers.

This began a keen interest in all things Pacific Theater. I knew vaguely about the Pacific Theater -- Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Battle of Midway Island -- but nothing in depth like my knowledge of the European Theater. I read the books that the miniseries is based on -- Robert Leckie's Helmet for My Pillow and Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed... -- plus William Manchester's excellent Goodbye Darkness: a Memoir of the Pacific War. Patrick K. O'Donnell's compilation of Pacific veterans' oral histories Into the Rising Sun: World War II's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat gave some interesting background to most of the major battles as well as the many atrocities committed by both sides. I had read James Bradley's two Pacific books a few years ago: Flyboys and Flags of our Fathers. I even read a fictional account of the invasion of Japan, called Death is Lighter Than A Feather by There are probably a couple of books I've forgotten about and there are plenty of fictional accounts out there, my favorite being The Thin Red Line by James Jones.

The common theme for many of these books is the brutality of the fighting. From the hostile climate of the Pacific island battlefields, to the vast Pacific Ocean, the war was not in a pleasant place to fight. Malaria, dysentery, various parasites, as well as snakes and insects probably caused as many casualties as Japanese bullets, bombs or bayonet.

The nature of the fighting itself was brutal. Japanese children were raised in a militaristic environment where failure brought shame to not only you, but your entire family. Dying for the Emperor was a high honor. Sadism to other prisoners and other ethnic groups deemed inferior (Chinese, Koreans, Malaysians etc.) were commonplace. Bradley talks about captured airmen being tortured and eaten (!) on Chichi Jima in his book Flyboys. The Rape of Nanking is another horrific chapter in Japanese military history. Bataan Death March. Hell Ships. Cabanatuan, Camp O'Donnell, Changi Prison, the Burmese-Thai Railroad...the list is nearly endless. American forces weren't immune to such abuses, and I'm hopeful that The Pacific shows these incidents (they were mentioned in both books). The lack of regard for the enemy combatant was not unique to the Pacific theater, but certainly not a mainstay of the European theater, as far as United States forces were concered. The Eastern Front of the ETO was a different story. The Soviets and Germans had no love or regard for each other.

We get a glimpse of the brutality in the first episode. After a long night on Guadalcanal, a group of Japanese emerges from the jungle. If my memory is correct, these were the remnants of a larger group either retreating from or attacking the key airfield on Guadalcanal (Henderson Field, which is still the airport's name today). The Marine combat unit (I think a heavy weapons platoon, but I'm going to have to double check) set an ambush at Alligator Creek and massacred these forces (battalion sized) during the night. These few soldiers emerge and are instantly cut down by the platoon, except for one lone soldier. The Marines toy with this crazed soldier, shooting his arm and shoulder, never going for the kill shot. He screams at the Marines to kill him, and most still toy with him. He is finally put out of his misery by our central character for that episode (picture above), but not without his fellow Marines admonishing him for ruining their fun.

I've read where this macabre sense of humor was one coping mechanism used by soldiers and Marines -- albeit subconsciously -- to keep their sanity. That certainly was evident in this scene, as they laughed at the hapless and deranged soldier. Their time on Guadalcanal will only get worse, as supplies grow short due to Japanese naval blockades and air raids.

The opening scene was of Eugene Sledge getting examined by his father, a prominent physician in Mobile, Alabama. Sledge is the second character that will prominently be seen in Pelielu and Okinawa. It is shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the country is in a fever pitch to get back at those dastardly Japanese. Like many of his friends, Eugene wants to join the Marines as soon as possible. When his father detects a heart murmur, he is devastated. He literally cries at the thought that he can't enlist and protect his country. It really got me thinking about our society and culture today. Granted, we did have a nice bump in enrollment after 9/11, but it has been nine years since that awful day. This current generation of kids whines about having to walk five minutes from the dorm to our library, for crying out loud. We are spoiled and pampered -- I am no exception to this.

The third character is eventual Medal of Honor winner John Basilone, who will be prominently featured in the second episode. He was a pre-war Marine, who joined in 1940, served in the Philippines before they fell in late 1941. They use his character, via a briefing of NCOs by Colonel Chesty Puller, to introduce the entire series with an overview of what would eventual unfold -- island hopping over a vast ocean. A great technique, and very effective even for someone who knows how the war was fought out there. We also meet his family and briefly see him as he lands as a reinforcement in Guadalcanal.

Needless to say, I can't wait for the second episode.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Random Musings

It's been a while, so naturally I have a few things on my mind.

1. For one reason or another, we found ourselves in Florence (SC) the last two Saturdays. I really haven't been there in quite some time, perhaps since early January. Florence has the closest Target, Best Buy, big book stores, and so on. We go there anytime we need to get those (many) items that aren't available in Hartsville. I am pleased to announce that both the mall and other stores (Kohl's) appeared to be fairly busy. The mall actually looked busier than it did in late November, at the height of the Christmas shopping season. Even if it's people spending tax refunds, I'll take it. It's good to see people spending money again.

2. In an interesting profile of Billy Corgan in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine (links to the TOC, article isn't online yet), former Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain talks about his departure from the band. Nothing earth shattering there, or that Corgan's ego is still firmly in place despite being a pop culture non-entity since 1996. Chamberlain had an excellent quote about the current state of music:
"Music is such a small part of people's lives now...People don't sit around like they did in the Nineties and stare at album covers and think about Kurt and Billy."
This got me thinking about popular music -- do kids today listen to music the same way we used to back in Nineties? Or is this a disgruntled rock star venting about his former boss?

3. Maybe the most interesting thing about using Facebook is having friends from disparate universes argue with each other. For instance, an elementary school friend that I haven't seen since the other Bush was the P.U.S.A. got into a debate with my brother-in-law. Wild!

4. I'm not surprised that Darlington County had one of the lowest rates of return for the 2000 Census. The level of ignorance around here is stunning. Filling out the form takes minutes and might have made a difference here.

5. In related news, my wife had a PTO meeting last week -- staying at work until 7 PM, making for a 12 hour day -- and only two of her kids' parents showed up. Baseball practice > School function, evidently.

6. Wyatt will soon be 18 months old and Owen will be four in May. Unbelievable how time flies! We've been trying some gluten with Owen, and we haven't seen any negative results. We actually spent the night with my parents and he didn't have an issue with the cat, either.

7. We've finally started seeing signs of Spring around Hartsville. It has been the longest, coldest winter that I've had since leaving Pittsburgh in 1990. It rarely made it out of the 40s from late December until the end of February. Several weeks during that time, the temperatures never made it out of the 30s. It snowed three or four times, twice with significant accumulation. We had an ice storm, knocking out power for six hours. So weird! But I've really appreciated upper 50s-low 60s the last ten days or so.

8. The Pacific miniseries has started on HBO. Not surprisingly, it is excellent and I really enjoyed the first episode. HBO is streaming the first episode, but will make you buy HBO or maybe pay for the streams after that. Great marketing move for them -- and I think a unique one at that. They control their programming pretty tightly, so this is a big step forward (from my standpoint).