With Veteran’s Day coming to a close I would just like to share a scene that encompasses the sort of people that make up the men and women of our military. While this scene is from Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan I think the sentiment shared by Capt. Miller to his squad works just as well today as we find more and more of our country’s civilians being called in to do their military duty as part of the nation’s Reserve Force.
Yes, the military now is an all-volunteer one, but it doesn’t count those men and women who make up the reservists force. These soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors have done their tour of active duty and decided to join the reserve force on a part-time basis. They do this knowing that when the time comes they might be called to answer the call from the country’s military to take up their uniform once again and deploy to a war zone as they have done so for the past decade in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These are doctors, police men and women, lawyers, teachers, construction workers and men and women from every walk of life.
I know that it’s not popular to venerate and admire these people in today’s day and age, because to do so means people like myself and others glorify war and against peace. People have become cynical to the point that they deride these people for getting themselves in the predicament of leaving behind their families and jobs to fight for a war they might not believe in. These people don’t understand the sacrifice and will to do their duty for their country even if its leaders might fail them in the end.
It’s not just soldiers of the US I speak to about celebrating but every man and woman brave and dedicated enough to do their job either as a volunteer or as part of their nation’s conscription call. It’s these very same people who understand the real cost of war and the first to wish for peace, but until the time comes when they’re not needed anymore they will always answer the call to do their duty.
I happened across one of my favorite films while channel surfing. The film in question is Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. This is the film which won him his second Best Director Oscar (I still think the film should’ve won Best Picture over Shakespeare In Love) and the film which helped redefine not just how war films were shot from 1998 on, but also de-glorify World War II on film.
My favorite scene from this film will always be the opening D-Day Landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy. It’s a scene that’s over 22-minutes in length and shows the utter chaos and destruction heaped on American troops as they attempted to land on the beach to take their objectives. While there have been war film before Saving Private Ryan that depicted war as the hell it truly is they were mostly about the Vietnam War. Rarely did we ever get a World War II-based war film which showed war in realistic fashion. Spielberg broke that taboo by making the battle scenes in his film — especially this extended opening sequence — done as realistic as possible without actually having people killed for real on-screen.
When this film first came out in the summer of 1998 no one knew what to make of it. This opening sequence became the talk of everyone who went to see the film. To say that they were shocked by what they saw was an understatement. Even now with over a decade since the film was released and people having seen this scene over and over again it still retain it’s impact. It’s not even the grand scale of the production required to film this action sequence which made this scene so memorable. It was little things. Like a mortally wounded American GI crying out to his mother while trying to keep his blown out insides from spilling out. Then there’s the scene of another young soldier praying furiously with his rosary beads as men around him die by the score.
This scene also showed what most World War II films of the past failed to do. It showed both sides behaving barbarically. In the past, only the Germans were shown in a bad light. In Saving Private Ryan we see that American soldiers were also prone for shooting surrendering troops and/or not mercy-killing enemy soldiers being burned alive (actions that have been well-documented by historians). This scene also showed just how courageous the young men of this generation which Tom Brokaw has called “The Greatest Generation”. Men who went off to war not for material gains, but for an idea that they had to stop evil (Nazi and Hitler) from taking all of Europe and, maybe, the world itself.
There’s a reason why Saving Private Ryan is in my list for greatest films of all-time and why this scene remains one of my all-time favorites.