Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Pacific; Episode Five- Peleliu

First, I'd like to apologize to the many readers who have been following my comments on HBO's The Pacific for the delay on this post- I'm just knee deep in spring cleanup, and a bit swamped right now. By far, The Pacific and its characters have been the most popular topic on this blog with the readership for weeks, and I thank you all for dropping by read my remarks and feelings about each chapter of this amazing series.

Chapter Five could be divided into three parts. The first was about John Basilone (Jon Seda), now involved in a war bond drive with Hollywood star Virginia Grey (Anna Torv).....and involved in a tryst in a hotel room as well. Was that an actual incident? I haven't found any evidence....but then again I didn't look very hard. But I'll tell you this- the producers of The Pacific went so far as to contact Robert Leckie's widow to get a picture of her wedding dress. When she gave them a black and white photo they asked her what color the dress was, demonstrating their commitment to accuracy. So if they say that Basilone and Virginia Grey (pictured left) were an item ever so briefly, that's good enough for me.

Basilone is a reluctant celebrity, but seems to be handling it well. His brother George comes to visit in the hotel lobby, and John tells George (now a Marine) in no uncertain terms- don't try to be a hero. Older brother John told George that he doesn't have to prove anything.

The second part of the story moves on to the rat and land crab infested island of Pavuvu where Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazello) joins the Fifth Regiment along with Oswalt and Leyden. The combat veterans they meet give the new guys a cold shoulder, and they end up bunking in another tent. Sledge meets up with old boyhood buddy Sid Phillips, who is about to rotate back to the United States. Also on the island is Bob Leckie(James Badge Dale), who in a theological discussion with Sledge tells of his doubts of the existence of God. Sledge asks Leckie what he believes in, Leckie answers "Ammunition".

Finally, the Marines are transported to Peleliu, and on September 15, 1944 they hit the beaches of the coral atoll which is heavily defended by Japanese. The Marines sustain heavy losses, and Sledge, in his first combat, experiences the horror of war for the first time. Among the casualties is Leckie's buddy Hoosier, who is badly wounded in the thigh. Peleliu has an airfield that must be taken from the enemy, and there are many more Japanese on the island than anticipated. Operations felt that the island could be taken in a couple of days; it took two months. Temperatures in the daytime regularly hit 110 degrees, and there was little potable water for drinking.

One of the more horrific scenes of the episode was when Snafu and Sledge begin to have some chow, and Snafu puts his can down and goes to a dead Japanese soldier a dozen yards away. Snafu then starts taking out the dead Japanese soldiers gold teeth with his knife.

The episode ends with the Marines contemplating the next day's action on Peleliu.

A couple of random notes.

When I first read that the Battle of Peleliu was going to be spread out over three episodes I thought..."You've got to be kidding".

But after seeing the episode twice, and reading up on the background of the action, it was entirely appropriate, and even necessary. Battles in the Pacific theater were unalike those in Europe and North Africa in that very often there was no retreat and no surrender, so the battles lasted weeks and months instead of days. By stretching Peleliu out over a two week three episode span the viewer gets a better sense of what these guys were up against.

And even though it was the second time I saw Episode Five, my heart was racing and thumping in the brilliant scene of the landing craft approaching the beach at Peleliu...I've seen many war movies over the years, but the recreation of the amphibious landing was brilliantly staged, and so realistic it was scary. Thank God it was not in 3D.

The chilly reception Sledge and his buddies got from the veterans was typical of what many experience in the service. I was on the receiving end during my tour, and I dished it out when I was one of the "old guys". Looking back on it now, it seems silly and if Airman Jones or Airman Babcock have dropped in and are reading this, I apologize for being such a boorish pain in the ass way back when.

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