“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”
Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.
The upcoming Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, is a time of fun here in the US. However, it should also be a time of memory. Memorial day is derived from the Latin “memoria”, memory, and we are duty bound this weekend to remember those who died in our defense, and who left us with a debt which can never be repaid. One aid to memory can be films, and here are a few suggestions for films to watch this weekend.
10. 300-This may seem like an odd choice, not involving Americans, and a fairly bizarre retelling of the battle of Thermopylae. However, it celebrates the idea of never forgetting those who died for their country. “Go tell the Spartans passerby, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie”. So wrote Simonides, the greatest poet of his time, in tribute to the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae. The speech of Dilios at the end of the film, which may be viewed here, reminds us of our duty to remember those who laid down their lives for us, a message to be recalled this weekend.
9. They Were Expendable (1945) John Ford and John Wayne tell the story of the doomed PT Boat crews that fought against overwhelming odds during the invasion of the Philippines in 1941-42. The film has a gritty downbeat feel, appropriate to the subject matter, but an oddity for a film made during the War.
8. Hamburger Hill (1987)-Content advisory: very, very strong language in the video clip which may be viewed here. All the Vietnam veterans I’ve mentioned it to have nothing but praise for this film which depicts the assault on Hill 937 by elements of the 101rst Division, May 10-20, 1969. It is a fitting tribute to the valor of the American troops who served their country in an unpopular war a great deal better than their country served them.
7. Porkchop Hill (1959)-Korea has become to too many Americans The Forgotten War, lost between World War II and Vietnam. There is nothing forgotten about it by the Americans who served over there, including my Uncle Ralph McClarey who died recently, and gained a hard won victory for the US in one of the major hot conflicts of the Cold War. This film tells the story of the small American force on Porkchop Hill, who held it in the face of repeated assaults by superior forces of the Chinese and North Koreans. As the below clip indicates it also highlights the surreal element that accompanies every war and the grim humor that aspect often brings.
6. Glory (1989)-A long overdue salute to the black troops who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Robert Gould Shaw the white colonel who led the 54th Massachusetts died at Fort Wagner in the assault of the 54th. He was buried by the Confederates with his black troops. His parents were given an opportunity to have his body exhumed and returned to Boston for burial. Their reply was immortal: We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company – what a body-guard he has!