Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The PACIFIC, Episode Six; The Fight For Peleliu Continues

Above- Joe Mazello as Eugene Sledge


Peleliu is sometimes called "the forgotten battle" of World War II's Pacific theater. Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa are part of our collective American historical psyche. But it was at the two months long battle from September to November, 1944 that the Japanese strategy had shifted from trying to overwhelm the Americans and the allies with "human wave" attacks to allowing them to land and then trying to inflict as many casualties as possible, even if it took the life of the last Imperial Japanese soldier.


With Part Six of The Pacific the character emphasis starts to shift away from Bob Leckie (James Badge Dale) and towards Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazello). The episode began in Mobile, Alabama. Its late at night in the aristocratic Sledge household, when a car pulled up- the butler told Mrs. Sledge that its a man in uniform. The dignified Southern lady's face instantly turned to one awaiting sorrow; she's sure that the man in uniform was coming there to tell her that her son had been killed in action.

All are relieved when the young Marine turned out to be Sid Phillips, who came for a visit. Sid told them that Eugene is in good hands with the First Marine Division- all are good men, and he thought Eugene would be in good company.

Eugene and his comrades were on Peleliu. After being fired on by artillery from the hillside, the Marines had to cross the airfield to get to higher ground. On the airfield hundreds of Japanese were waiting to cut them down. Water was scarce, and the temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. In a scene that resembled a kind of Holy Communion, Sledge, Snafu, Oswalt, and the other Marines shared what little water they have left by drinking from the same canteen before their run across the airfield....some of them would not get out of the situation alive.

The run across the airfield resulted in heavy casualties; among those killed was Oswalt. Leckie's pal Runner was seriously wounded. In order to save his buddy Leckie ran back across the airfield to find a corpsman and a radio. Leckie was knocked unconscious by a bomb blast. Hours later he awakens on a hospital ship (at the end of the episode he was reunited with Runner).

While spending the night in a secure area, Sledge admitted to Captain Haldane about how scared he was crossing the airfield. Haldane told the Sledge that the only Marines who weren't scared were either crazy or dead. Sledge had gained the trust of the combat veterans, including the battle hardened Snafu, who started calling Eugene "Sledgehammer". While approaching an entrenched Japanese mini-fortress, the Marines spend the night, trying to keep it quiet to avoid a Japanese bayonet attack while most of them are sleeping. One Marine started screaming and thrashing about, and wouldn't be quiet....in order to save the others a Marine hit the guy on the head with a shovel, a blow that kills him. Sledge rationalizes the next day that it had to be done...if the man wasn't silenced, all of them could have been killed.

Sledge and his comrades watched Captain Haldane ride off to attempt to get a change of orders; they didn't have sufficient numbers to overtake the Japanese stronghold, and an attack would have led to needless and unacceptable casualties.

On board the hospital ship we see Leckie and Runner, reunited and wounded, both sailing out of the South Pacific, and probably out of the war.

Notes

Once again for those who may be reading my comments for the first time, I always watch an episode of THE PACIFIC twice. On the second viewing I start to make notes on anything that stood out, and look for little things that I should have picked up on in the first look, but didn't.

John Basilone (Jon Seda) was no where to be found in Episode Six. But he will be back, probably in Episode Seven and almost certainly in Episode Eight.

And in closing....my Mom always told me that she had a cousin who died in the Pacific theater during World War II. I always thought he died at Iwo Jima, but that was wrong.

Mom told me he was with the Marines at Peilelu, and was killed by a sniper. So I had a cousin who died in combat in that little piece of hell, one who was killed years before I was born. I know he is buried somewhere in South Jersey.

I think I owe it to him to find out where.....and to pay him a visit this Memorial Day.

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