Veterans Day has always had personal meaning for me. Five uncles served in World War II. Another uncle served in Korea. My father-in-law was a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran. One brother-in-law served in both Desert Storm and the current war in Iraq; his brother also served in the current Iraq conflict.

And none of them – not one – ever talked about their wartime experiences. That, to me, speaks volumes about the stoic heroism that all veterans possess to maintain the freedoms that the rest of us tend to take for granted.

Since the birth of movies, Hollywood has tried to depict the realities of war, with varying degrees of success. Here are some examples focusing on major military conflicts of the past century that got it right:

World War I: “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930) – The first war movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture, this adaptation of the classic novel by Erich Maria Remarque remains the best. Urged on by their hawkish school teacher, young German boys enlist in the army searching for adventure and instead encounter a new kind of conflict born from the Industrial Revolution that would mark the turning point in the art of war.

World War II: “The Pacific” (2010) – There have been more films based on WWII than any other conflict, but this 10-part mini-series from the creators of the award-winning (and almost as good) “Band of Brothers” makes you feel every drop of blood and sweat spilled in the Pacific theater. Based on the true-life stories of three Marines, all the horrors of war, both physical and psychological, are laid bare with unflinching resolve.

Korean War: “M*A*S*H” (TV series, 1972-1983) – This dark comedy focusing on an Army medical hospital at times veered too far to the absurd and at other times tried too hard to beat viewers over the head with an anti-war message. But when it was at its best, this so-called “sitcom” truly revolutionized television and signaled that the days of inane wartime shows like “Hogan’s Heroes” and “McHale’s Navy” were gone forever.

Vietnam: “The Deer Hunter” (1978): I’ve seen this film multiple times, and I still have a hard time watching the Russian roulette scene in the POW camp. When Michael (Robert De Niro) fails to save longtime friend and brother-in-arms Nick (Christopher Walken), it’s horrifying, heartbreaking and shocking all at the same time. No heroic, happy endings here – but then, in war, there rarely are.

Desert Shield/Storm: “Jarhead” (2005) – It wasn’t until we were in another war with Iraq that the first conflict of the 1990s was given its proper due on the big screen. Jake Gyllenhaal plays real-life Marine Anthony Swofford from his enlistment in the late 1980s through the tense days of Desert Shield and finally the quick but brutal Desert Storm.

Somalia: “Black Hawk Down” (2001) – A single photo – that of Somali rebels dragging a dead U.S. soldier’s body through the streets of Mogadishu – turned public opinion against military intervention in this war-torn African country and spurred President Clinton to call for a quick withdrawal. “Black Hawk Down” is the story of that fateful mission.

Iraq War: “The Hurt Locker” (2008) – This Best Picture Oscar winner doesn’t take sides as to whether the current military action in Iraq is justified – it simply presents the harrowing day-to-day reality of a bomb squad as they try to do their jobs while dealing not only with the enemy but with locals who may or may not be against them. Riveting from start to finish.

 

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:

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