Tuesday, March 30, 2010

THE PACIFIC, Episode Three- The Saviors of Guadalcanal

James Badge Dale (center in teeshirt) as Robert Leckie

Spoiler Alert...if you haven't seen Episode Three of THE PACIFIC, advance at your own risk!

Part Three of HBO's The Pacific shows an abrupt departure from the storytelling style of its companion piece Band of Brothers. In BOB the audience received little information about the personal lives of the men in Easy Company. We knew where some of them came from through conversations with other characters; we knew some were married, others not, and we got a smattering of personal history. BOB was about the story of one unit, Easy Company, and how their wartime experience in Europe spanned most of the significant events from Normandy to the occupation of a conquered Germany. Most episodes of BOB dealt with an action in which Easy Company participated, as we saw some characters we got to know a little cut down and replaced by new ones, and old stalwarts marching on to VE Day.

The Pacific's story is told mainly through the eyes and experiences of John Basilone (Jon Seda), Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), and Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazello), as well as several secondary characters. Consequently we learn more about these characters in three episodes of The Pacific then we do in ten hours of BOB. And since it deals with individuals rather than a particular military unit, the action does and will move from location to location more readily than BOB, and some characters may not appear at all in certain episodes- Eugene Sledge is no where to be found in the third episode The Pacific- Saviors of Guadalcanal.

After being evacuated from Guadalcanal in January, 1943, the Marines are shipped to Melbourne in the Southern part of Australia for some R&R. Its summer in Melbourne, and when the transport docks they are greeted by throngs of thousands of Australians waving flags, carrying signs and banners greeting them, cheering them to the music of John Phillip Souza....Australians regard the American Marines as saviors of their country, and are treated as heroes by the populace.

Many of Australia's fighting men are serving in North Africa, and there is a shortage of young men in the country, and many beautiful, young, single women. The Marines are billeted at a cricket ground, but MP's look the other way when many of Marines go AWOL....it was time for a break, featuring booze and babes, after their ordeal in the Solomon Islands.

Leckie is partying with his buddies when he meets Stella (Claire Van Der Boom, pictured left), a beautiful Australian of Greek ancestry. He gets her address, and comes by her house the next day. Stella is the only child of loving and warm parents from the old country, who take an immediate liking to the young American. Over the next few weeks Leckie and Stella fall in love, and he becomes regarded almost as a new member of the family by Stella's mother and father. One day while siting in the back garden eating roast lamb provided by Leckie, Stella's father reads that Stella's friend from childhood, Alexi, was killed in combat. That triggers something in Stella- she realizes that the odds of Bob Leckie making it through the war unscathed may be long. She decides to break up with Bob Leckie- losing him in battle would be too much for her to take, and it would be even more devastating to her parents- particularly her mother- who had grown to love Leckie as their own.

Bob Leckie goes on a drunken bender after the breakup with Stella. He had lived through hellish months on Guadalcanal before attaining several weeks of heaven with a beautiful woman and her wonderful family, only to see it slip away through no fault of his own. He gets into a profane and violent confrontation with Lt. Corrigan. He ends up in the brig overnight- the next day he finds that he is being shipped out.

Meanwhile Sid Phillips (Ashton Holmes) has struck up a romance with a lovely young woman named Gwen, who is constantly under the watchful eye of her protective grandfather. Sid finally "touches the merchandise" shortly before he receives his orders to ship out. You get the feeling it was the first time for both.

During his stay in Melbourne Basilone and JP Morgan get into a a small brawl with an Australian soldier who mocked their toast to dead buddy Manny Rodriguez in a pub. Basilone and Morgan continue to drink it up and party hard. The next day a hung over Basilone is told by Lt Col Chesty Puller that he has to pull it together and be a better example to his men; Basilone was being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Several days later, after the medal ceremony, Puller tells Basilone that his next assignment was to rotate back to the United States- he was needed to sell war bonds, to put a human face on the war effort. Basilone says goodbye to old friend Morgan; in the final scene of the episode Basilone is looking out the window of a plane flying over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Watching the ending of this episode I thought about Basilone, being a sort of hero surprised by his celebrity much like the flag raisers of Iwo Jima, and how both were used to sell war bonds on tours conducted nationwide. And I remember hearing stories of the old timers who lived in those days, the ones who manned the home front. You bought war bonds, because you were expected to do so. You had gasoline, meat, and butter rationed, as with many other things. There was a sense of unity in the country, and of common purpose.

Maybe that was an America of which we may never see the likes of again.

Update- For Those Who Want To Know...."Did Bob Leckie Get Back With Stella And Marry Her?"

I was just looking at some of the queries to this blog....and the most popular one was "Leckie-Stella". A lot of people, myself included, wanted to know if Bob and Stella had a reunion and a happy ending.

Well....I'm not going to tell you. That would be one spoiler too many. But If you want to know more about Bob and his family after the war, check this article at NorthJersey.com, and this video at HBO.com for the answer....did Bob Leckie marry Stella?

Update May 19, 2010

For those who are still curious about the identity of "Stella" and what happened to her, I included the answer to your question in the bottom of the blog entry for Episode 10; Home & Beyond. You might be surprised.

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