There are many things I detest about the way Memorial Day is observed, which is supposed to be a time for remembering the supreme sacrifices made by America’s brave military personnel — but many times is not.
Much of my disdain can be laid at the feet of the television industry. I always cringe when I hear a newscaster gleefully tell his audience “Happy Memorial Day,” while reminding everyone of all the cookouts they’re supposed to have to celebrate the unofficial start of summer.
Though nary a word about soldiers who died to make all this possible.
Then I’ll also hear some slick advertisement hawking the big Memorial Day auto or mattress sale, or some other attempt at commercial exploitation on the backs of our deceased service members.
Yet there is one area where TV does get it right this weekend, and that is its showing of war movies in honor of the holiday. I realize, of course, there is still some commercial motivation with the for-profit broadcasters involved, but at least the movies provide dramatizations giving viewers some idea of the hell our military has endured to keep us free.
In thinking about this, I came up with the notion of naming my favorite war movies of all time, among those I actually have seen either in theaters or on TV.
The ensuing list is presented in no particular order of which is number one and so forth, because they are all tops with me in some way or other.
Also, for the sake of having a manageable number, I’ve focused only on those depicting conflicts from World War I forward — the so-called modern era of warfare that still resonates with surviving veterans.
So here goes:
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
While this film tells a great story about a mission to rescue and return home a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action, one of the things I like about it is its graphic depiction of the D-Day Invasion.
In talking to veterans who were actually there, they have told me that this sequence is the closest recreation of the invasion that has been put to film. Yet it is not for the faint-hearted or those who are accustomed to combat footage being limited to a puff of smoke, guys grabbing their chest and falling to the ground with no sign of blood.
“Saving Private Ryan” instead pulls no punches in showing the horror of men being blown in half, etc., before reaching the Normandy beaches where the “fun” really began. Not a pretty sight, mind you, yet it does depict what our military members really went through.
Viewers who make it through the first part of the movie are treated to a fine tale of patriotism.
“The Dirty Dozen” (1967)
I included this production because of its all-star cast filled with fine actors (Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown and others) and action-packed story of a group of military prisoners sentenced to various crimes who are assigned to a special mission.
This array of misfits somehow is molded into an elite military unit that is sent behind German lines to kill Nazi generals attending a party.
It’s a story of redemption illustrating that when the chips are down, even the worst of society will give their lives to preserve America’s freedoms.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930)
Despite its age, this movie about World War I has really held up over time.
In addition to boasting great special effects for an early 1930s film, it describes the Great War from the German (rather than American) point of view.
It makes you realize that the guys in the trenches often are all in the same boat no matter what side they are fighting for, basically just pawns for the military goals of their respective governments.
“Apocalypse Now” (1979)
This is an epic production that focuses on the Vietnam War and its many disturbing aspects, not only for American soldiers but the innocent populace of that war-torn nation.
It details a young officer (Martin Sheen) being dispatched up the Mekong River to a distant Cambodian outpost to take out a rogue colonel played by Marlon Brando who is engaging in all kinds of bizarre acts.
“Sergeant York” (1941)
This is another movie about an unlikely hero, a real-life pacifist from Tennessee drafted into World War I whose skills as a sharpshooter lead him to become one of America’s greatest military figures of all time.
Despite its age, this production also contains some great battle scenes and a terrific performance by Gary Cooper in the title role.
For better or worse, that’s my top-five list and I also would include as honorable mentions “Patton,” “Das Boot” (The Boat), “Full Metal Jacket,” “Platoon” and “Wings” (1927).
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.