Here in the U.S., we’re celebrating Memorial Day this weekend. Over the years it’s gotten progressively more trivialized as the start of summer, or just a good weekend to have barbecues. More than a few people I know seem to confuse Memorial Day (meant to honor those who died in service to this country) with Veteran’s Day (a tribute to our living veterans who served in war and peace). I explain the history behind the holiday here, but this week, I decided to make What’cha Watchin’ a tribute to those who have served and haven’t returned, and those they left behind. I asked our What’cha Reading staff and friends and family on Facebook to tell me what they thought were the best movies and shows to watch for Memorial Day. This is what they came up with.
Stalag 17 (Film, 1953) was picked by Sue and Joe. This film tells the story of a group of American airmen held in a German World War II prisoner of war camp. It was adapted from a Broadway play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski which was based on their experiences as prisoners in Stalag 17B in Austria.
M*A*S*H (Film, 1970; TV 1972-1983). This got cited by Nancy, Grace, Jackie, Jeremy, and myself, and is something we all remember watching while growing up. It’s easy to forget because there was so much comedy in the film and the TV series, but both titles did a good job of showing the high cost of war for the soldiers dying and for the medical staff trying to save them.
Full Metal Jacket (Film, 1987). This classic Stanley Kubrick film was put forward by Chuck (who called it “a touchstone for our generation”) and Bob. As Bob says, “Most Vets I know, my Dad included believe [it]to be the most honest example of the Vietnam War. The brutality of not only the war, but the mindset developed in training, the psychological and physical breaking down and rebuilding a human being (Vincent D’Onfrio famously not making it through), the realism of the Viet Cong presence, and the coverage of the Tet Offensive, which my dad lived through, was so accurately portrayed. And no happy ending.”
Glory (Film, 1989). I originally watched this in high school during a chapter on the Civil War, fell in love with it, and have never stopped loving it since. Chuck, Roe, Grace, and Joe also recommended this one. It’s about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American unit (commanded by white officers) in the Union Army during the Civil War. In a scene that never fails to move me to tears, they led the charge against the defenses of Fort Wagner, and though unsuccessful and suffering heavy losses (nearly half the unit), the 54th Massachusetts’ bravery led to the Union African-American soldiers for combat, turning the tide of the war.
Band of Brothers (Miniseries, 2001). Roe’s son Will and Damon both picked this classic, the history of the “Easy” Company (part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division) based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose. All of the “characters” were based on the men of the Easy Company.
Red Tails (Film, 2012). Vanessa picked this film about the 332nd Fighter Group (the Tuskegee Airmen). Though the Airmen are famous now, it’s easy for those who have come since to forget that they were hamstrung for much of World War II by the white military bureaucracy who didn’t see African-American pilots as equals.
Going back to our comic book/sci-fi/fantasy roots, we’ve also picked a couple of less-traditional commentaries on war.
Battlestar Galactica (TV, 2004-2009). Bob says “It is without a doubt a military drama that just happens to take place in space” and Nancy concurs.
Agent Carter (TV, 2015). Grace and I chose this one as a depiction of the homefront, albeit after the war. Although she’s not exactly your typical woman, Peggy Carter symbolizes all the women who lost a loved one in World War II and their struggle to get on with life in the face of that loss. The show also does an excellent job at capturing the world that was changed and shaped by that war (and will do an even better job next season if show runners heed the call to #diversifyAgent Carter).
With so many TV shows and films to choose from, I’ve definitely left some out. What are you watching this weekend to celebrate Memorial Day? Tell us in the comments!