Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I'm writing Tom Hanks a letter

So I finished watching The Pacific--the ten-part fictionalized/factionalized story of the War in the Pacific theatre of WWII. It was full of problems, not the least of which being that most of the characters, particularly early, since they were usually covered with mud and sand, looked the same. So it was hard to build any real emotional identification with any of them, at least at first.

Plus there's the Saving Private Ryan Theorem which posits that any movie or television show that depicts storming a beach in WWII will be unfavorably compared to the Tom Hanks movie from which the theorem gets its name. So that's a problem.

(It should be noted that Tom Hanks is one of the executive producers of The Pacific.)

Actually the most compelling character in the whole thing was a relatively minor one--a guy from New Orleans nicknamed Snafu (I understand that it's an acronym, but I thought that, given its use as a nickname, I would go with just the initial cap) who was part of one of the main character's mortar team. Snafu had the habit of prying gold teeth out of the heads of dead Japanese soldiers with his K-bar, if they called it a K-bar back then.

I'm reminded of that Talking Heads song that goes:

I can't seem to face up to the facts
I'm tense and nervous and I
Can't relax
I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire
Don't touch me I'm a real live wire

Psycho Killer
Qu'est-ce Que C'est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer
Qu'est-ce Que C'est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

You start a conversation you can't even finish it.
You're talkin' a lot, but you're not sayin' anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?

Psycho Killer,
Qu'est-ce Que C'est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer
Qu'est-ce Que C'est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

Ce que j'ai fais, ce soir la
Ce qu'elle a dit, ce soir la
Realisant mon espoir
Je me lance, vers la gloire ... OK
We are vain and we are blind
I hate people when they're not polite

Psycho Killer,
Qu'est-ce Que C'est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer,
Qu'est-ce Que C'est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh....

Anyway, none of that is the point.

The point, dear reader, is that a character based on my Uncle Hugh (and bearing his name) was part of the first three episodes, which mostly dealt with Guadalcanal. And Hugh himself appeared at the beginning of those episodes as part of the montage of filmed, first-person reminiscences by old men who had been young men once, with the bullets flying.

I was fond of my uncle, who died in 2005, and was unprepared to see him talking to me in high definition; or at least the type of high definition that a $500 Magnavox television gives you. I should have bought the Sony, but didn't have the extra grand. Anyway, there he was ... and that, dear reader was something.

So I'm watching the closing credits where they, American Graffiti-style, put up photos of the dramatis personae and say what happened to them after the war. And up pops Uncle Hugh. Check him out:



His particular sequence featured three elements, this being the second. The first had his name and a photo of the character in the mini-series. This image then dissolved into what you see here--a photo of the actual Hugh Corrigan. Elizabeth Vincent is my Aunt Betty--my mother's sister. The third element is simply a change in copy. It goes on to say that after marrying Betty he went BACK to the Pacific and was wounded at Okinawa. He then, it says, survived and lived in Ithaca, New York, til he died.
Horrible typeface!
I know. Those Rs are a nightmare.
I can barely look at them. Who thinks that looks good?
Who knows.
Betty died some three years later--a fact that I discovered by accident some six months after the fact. Such is the disfunction of my extended family (a disfunction to which I readily acknowledge contributing), but that really pissed me off. I remain angry.

My last image of Betty was her sitting in a wheelchair on the grass of Arlington National Cemetary, shaking with age, exhaustion, grief, as a perfect young Marine in his dress blues handed her the flag from Hugh's casket and whispered something in her ear.

You can read an earlier post on the same topic by clicking here.

Anyway, the point of the story is that you look at these guys. Geezers like my father or Uncle Hugh, both now dead, and you can't imagine what they were like in harm's way at the age of twenty. I read a book a couple of years ago by that war historian--what's his name? Not Shelby Foote. The other guy--about flying B-17s and B-24s out of Italy and over Germany. It was titled "Wild Blue" or "Blue Yonder" or "Wide Blue Yonder" or something like that. I gave it to Dad and he said, "We shared the airfield with the bomber wing in the book." And until that moment I never really understood what it was like. Now I do, albeit in the profoundly inaccurate way that speaks to the fact that you couldn't possibly understand it unless you were there.

Same with Uncle Hugh on the beach at The Canal. Now I do, albeit in the profoundly inaccurate way that speaks to the fact that you couldn't possibly understand it unless you were there.

I am so writing Tom Hanks a letter.

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