Thursday, April 8, 2010

THE PACIFIC; Episode Four

James Badge Dale as Robert Leckie in HBO's "The Pacific"

So the boss yelled at you at work, your kid is screaming for a new cell phone, your wife is still ticked off about the cheap anniversary present you got her, and its April 8 and you haven't done your taxes.

And you think you've had a bad day?

The fourth episode of The Pacific will put it all into perspective for you.

It opens with Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazello) in training as part of a Marine mortar team in December, 1943, and shifts to a troop transport with Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) on its way to Cape Gloucester, New Britain to seize the island for its airstrip from the Japanese occupiers. This episode answered a question I always had about the men in the Pacific theater; how did they find the courage to keep on island hopping again, and again, and again. They had multiple D-Days, and when they landed in the Pacific they had two enemies- the Japanese and the savage tropical environment.

The answer to that question is that some just men just weren't emotionally capable to return to the hellish fighting and situation they were in. On New Britain the Marines wore the same clothes for months at a time, with mud up to their knees and an enemy trying to kill them in attacks that could happen at anytime. In this episode we saw fighting men descend into madness, with one Marine slowly manually strangling a wounded Japanese soldier and smiling about it, and another Marine taking his uniform off and blowing his brains out. At one point in a torrential storm Leckie cries out for someone to shoot him to end his misery.

Leckie contracts enuresis and his buddy "Runner" catches malaria. When both are shipped to the island of Pavuvu Runner asks Leckie to read his letters home to Vera. Leckie ends up in a hospital for his illness, but is sent to a psych ward because the regular hospital is overflowing. He questions his own sanity being in such a place after all he has endured, and sees some of the emotional damage done to other patients, among them his old platoon mate Gibson. Dr. Grant, a physician and psychiatrist, eventually gains Leckie's confidence. After a few days in the hospital Leckie decides he needs to return to his friends....he "bribes" Grant to sign his release papers by giving him a Japanese pistol he acquired in New Britain.

The final scene shows Bob Leckie leaving the relative normalcy of the hospital and the area behind the lines to join his company as they prepare for the bloody assault of Peleliu.

Some may see this episode as one where little happened....but I think this was an important bridge to the middle of the story, when in the summer of 1944 the Americans began a chain of successes on their way to the Japanese home islands, but with heavy costs. And as bad as Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester was, its going to get much, much worse as these Marines move on to Peleliu, then Iwo Jima, and finally Okinawa. The hostile environment is a constant, but the ferocity of the Japanese defense will be amped up to a level no American fighting man had ever seen before or since. And that's why this episode was as important as it was....the Bob Leckies might have been wounded, ill, or both but they managed to get back and do it again. This episode gave a glimpse of the stuff these children of the Great Depression were made out of, a toughness and resolve that just may have served them in that theater. But that is not to say there weren't heavy casualties, not just dead or wounded physically, but those scarred emotionally. There probably lots of Gibsons and "Captain Midnights" who were never truly able to cope again, during and after the war.

Like Dr, Grant said in the episode, his job was not to cure, but to access....and move on.

Thanks for waiting for this latest installment, several days late....I'll try to be more current with the posts now that my life is back in a more normal rhythm again.

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