Tuesday, May 4, 2010

THE PACIFIC -Episode 8; Basilone and Iwo Jima

To preface this commentary on the latest episode of HBO's The Pacific I'll recall a line from James Bradley's Flags of Our Fathers.....

"The Japanese were not on Iwo Jima. They were in Iwo Jima"

For me, Episode 8 of The Pacific was the saddest. I knew what was going to happen; anybody who had grown up in post World War II New Jersey could tell you the story of John Basilone, the hero of Guadalcanal who re-upped after winning the Congressional Medal of Honor and was a national celebrity, only to die on the first day of the assault on Iwo Jima in February, 1945. Basilone died the warrior's death, and became a legend. And Episode 8 of "The Pacific" fills in some more of the gaps of Basilone's life between Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, including his romance and marriage to Marine Sgt Lena Riggi.

The episode begins on Pavuvu with Sledge (Joe Mazzello) and Snafu recovering from the hellish fighting on Peleliu, with Sledge increasingly agitated and embittered, a man who has aged beyond his years.

John Basilone (Jon Seda) was in New Jersey, visiting his family, becoming evermore annoyed at the celebrity thrust upon him. After trying again to return to the Corps he is finally granted his wish, and is reassigned to Camp Pendleton in California to train new troops, most of whom are learning the intricacies of machine gun warfare.

Basilone meets Sgt Lena Riggi (Annie Parisse, left) who he is attracted to. Lena rebuffs Basilone at first- she is unfazed by his celebrity, but John is persistent and continues to ask Lena out.

Eventually she warms to him...and he proposes to her, and Lena accepts.

Lena and John marry, and not long afterward John decides to re-enlist. He is sent to Iwo Jima. On February 19, 1945 the United States Marines landed on Iwo Jima, a 7.5 mile pile of volcanic rock and ash, the last major step before the Japanese home islands. The Japanese had built an intricate network of fortresses and tunnels on the island, and were ordered to fight until the last man; there would be no surrender from the Japanese defenders.

Basilone and his men hit the beach of Iwo Jima...he yells, screams, and curses his men to get off the beach and to advance before they are killed by Japanese fire. Basilone heroically leads the assault, but is cut down by enemy gunfire, and dies.

The final shot of the episode shows Lena Riggi Basilone in her uniform, staring out over the waves of the Pacific, knowing that out there was the place where the man she loved was taken from her. There is silence, and then the closing credits.

This episode was different from the ones preceding it in that it had to flashback more than a year to tell the story of the Riggi-Basilone romance and marriage. Once those gaps were filled the story of the Pacific war went back into sequence, with Iwo Jima following Peleliu.

For those interested about the battle of Iwo Jima, please check out the two films Clint Eastwood directed several years ago, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. They are companion pieces, and tell the story of the battle from the perspective of both the Americans and the Japanese. If you are a fan of THE PACIFIC, these two movies are MUST sees.

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