Movies to Salute Our Armed Forces

Posted on May 26, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Reposting from 2008:
In honor of Memorial Day, take a break from picnics and sales and share one of these great films about American soldiers, sailors, and Marines. And be sure to take time thank the military and veterans in your life for all they have done to keep us safe and free.
1. Sergeant York Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of WWI hero Alvin York, the pacifist from the hills of Tennessee who carried out one of the most extraordinary missions in military history using lessons from his life on a farm. He captured 132 men by himself, still a record for a single soldier. In addition to the exciting story of his heroism in war, this is also the thoughtful story of his spiritual journey. He is a pacifist, opposed to fighting of any kind. By thinking of what he is doing as saving lives, he is able to find the inspiration and resolve for this historic achievement.
2. Saving Private Ryan Director Steven Spielberg salutes his father and the greatest generation with this story set in the D-Day invasion of Normandy. It frankly portrays the brutality and carnage of war and its wrenching losses, but it also portrays the honor, sacrifice, heroism, and meaning.
3. Mister Roberts There are battles — and heroes — of all kinds. Henry Fonda plays a Naval lieutenant assigned to a cargo ship during WWII who feels very far from the action. He learns that his defense of the crew against a petty and tyrannical captain (James Cagney), on behalf of “all the guys everywhere who sail from Tedium to Apathy…and back again, with an occasional side trip to Monotony,” is an important and meaningful contribution.
4. M*A*S*H Set during the Korean War but released in and very much a commentary on the Vietnam War, this is the story of surgeons stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. The emphasis is on war’s essential absurdity — these are doctors whose job is to heal soldiers to they can be sent back into battle — and on the ways that different people respond to those situations, responses that often escalate the absurdity. See also “Captain Newman, M.D.,” with Gregory Peck as a sympathetic Army psychiatrist during WWII as well as the long-running television series this film inspired.
5. Glory The Civil War 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, one of the first formal units of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of African American men, inspired his film. Led by abolitionist Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick), and based on his letters, this is a story of heart-breaking courage, as the men had to battle not only with the Confederacy but with the bigotry of most of the white officers on their own side.
6. The Longest Day An all-star cast shines in this sincere re-telling of the events of the invasion of Normandy D-Day, one of the transformational moments of WWII. Many of the military consultants and advisors who helped with the film’s production were actual participants (from both sides) in the action on D-Day, and are portrayed in the film.
7. Band of Brothers This 10-part miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg is based on the best-seller by Stephen Ambrose about the WWII experiences of E Company (“Easy Company”), the members of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, United States Army 101st Airborne Division and one of its officers, Richard Winters (played by Damian Lewis), from basic training through the American airborne landings in Normandy, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of Bastogne and the end of the war.
8. Patton George C. Scott won an Oscar for his portrayal of WWII General George S. Patton. The film also won six additional Oscars, including Best Picture. Its screenplay, co-written by Francis Ford Coppola, frankly portrays Patton’s mistakes and faults as well as his leadership in turning the tide of the war.
cain.jpg9. The Caine Mutiny/A Few Good Menyou-cant-handle-the-truth.jpg These two movies, one set in WWII and one contemporary, both center on court martial trials with similar themes — what price do we pay for the luxury of feeling safe?
10. Gardens of Stone This underrated gem from Francis Ford Coppola about the “Old Guard,” the regiment responsible for the funerals at Arlington National Cemetery has beautiful performances from James Caan, James Earl Jones, and D.B. Sweeney and subtly but powerfully explores some of the deepest and most troubling questions about the price we pay — and the price we call on others to pay — for our freedoms.

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10 Replies to “Movies to Salute Our Armed Forces”

  1. Happy Weekend! My dad will be turning 90 and is a WWII veteran. He even has his pea coat, eating utensils, canteen ,etc. One of my sons took his items to class when they were studying WWII and he got extra credit.
    I have seen most of these movies. I will not watch “Private Ryan” because I know it would upset me. Cindi

  2. I appreciate the list. We are about to start a Wednesday Afternoon Movie program at our church and I have been fooling around with some movies for our many veterans. These are great suggestions.

  3. So the transition from pacifist to warrior is a “spiritual journey”? I thought most Christians would see that as a kind of…degeneration. Also, (and I say this as a Christian and a veteran) I always saw “A Few Good Men” as a stinging indictment of military people, and the arrogant mindset like the one Jack Nicholson embodies with his belief that anyone who enjoys freedom owes it to him, and so must turn a blind eye to his crimes.
    And finally, aren’t Christians supposed to be all about, I don’t know, peace?
    In place of any and all of the above movies, I’d go with The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, in which a group of Catholic clergy are arrested for protesting against US involvement in Vietnam.
    Isn’t it interesting that there aren’t any well-known movies about conscientious objectors? In most of America’s more recent wars, they’ve been the real heroes.

  4. Peter, as Trotsky said, you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. No rational being wants war. But when faced with war, how do principled people respond? Where would we be if Sergeant York and all the people who landed on Omaha Beach were pacifists? When Pearl Harbor gets bombed and Hitler takes over countries and puts people in concentration camps, should Christians refuse to fight?
    One movie I thought of including but left out because I wanted to list only films focusing on the armed services was “Friendly Persuasion,” about a Quaker family that tries hard to stay out of the fighting during the Civil War. But the war comes to their very doorstep and kitchen, and they see their neighbors dying to protect their lives and property. Some of the members of the family remain pacifist, but some do not. I believe all of them made those decisions based on deep spiritual communion with God. Indeed, it is a rare Hollywood movie in which characters specifically say that they will pray to find guidance about a moral question.
    None of the films on this list are pro-war. None are blindly pro-soldier. But all of them tell very worthwhile stories about real-life (or inspired by real-life) principle and courage from those who are too often taken for granted or even treated with disrespect. “A Few Good Men” may be an indictment of some military people, but the people on the other side, the seekers of truth and justice are military, too. The reason it is on this list is that I think it is an indictment of us, the non-military, who, as Nicholson’s character, enable and benefit from the monster he has become and then seem shocked when he behaves like a monster.
    Movies like “Friendly Persuasion” and “Catonsville Nine” are very important films for families to watch and discuss. “Born on the 4th of July” is a very well-known film about a war protester, and it is worth seeing, too. But so are these others, in part because they remind us of the terrible price we pay in wars and how important it is to try to prevent them.

  5. I must say that I am extremely disappointed with this list. I was a Film teacher for several years, written film reviews and have researched military history so this is a bit of a big issue for me. This list is an extremely anti-war list. All The films on this list certainly have a place in the realm of great films however, they are not films which particularly salute the fighting soldier. The exception being Band of Brothers.
    Saving private Ryan is a great movie with a concept that is pure fantasy. No unit would ever have been sent to seek out one man. No way no how.
    I have put together a list that truly honors the supreme sacrifice in gritty and realistic terms….here you go.
    1. The Sands of Iwo Jima This film both shows the sacrifice and hardship involved in war but also the personal toll it takes on the men.
    2. Bataan… War costs lives to win and this one does so in a hauntingly morose way.
    3. The Guns of Naverone Perhaps the best behind the lines war film ever. The cast could never be duplicated.
    4. Battleground…Captures the suffering of the common soldier during the Battle of the Bulge.
    5. To Hell and Back….I love Sergeant York but Audie Murphy was even more extraordinary.
    6. From Here to Eternity …Captures the disorganization and problems the military had just prior to the onset of WW2.
    7. Flyboys…this extremely underrated WW1 film presents the American volunteer forces known as the Lafayette Escadrille who took to the skies early in WW1.
    8. We Were Soldiers…despite many who will argue against this statement this is possibly the best Vietnam War film ever made. It certainly captures the feel of the early days of the war when America still had faith that we were doing the right thing.
    9. Midway….Realistically captures the most important naval battle in history…fought entirely in the air.
    10. The court Marshall of Billy Mitchell….your list has c military court cases and here is one back at you but a better one and a real one. 16 years prior to WW2 Billy Mitchell realized what the Japanese plan of attack in the Pacific would be but nobody wanted to hear it…check this one out.

  6. I must be doing something right if one comment says my list is too pro-war and another says I am too anti-war! Thanks for your excellent list, Mr. Webster. I have seen and am a fan of almost every one, especially “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell” and “We Were Soldiers.” I am not as enthusiastic about Flyboys, though the aerial combat footage is very well done.
    One point I wanted to make with my list is that all who served in the armed forces deserve our recognition and gratitude, including officers, those who serve on cargo ships, medical personnel, men and women who stand guard at Arlington National cemetery, as well as those in combat. There are dozens of other films we both could have listed, and I hope to get a chance to recommend them all as I continue to write for Beliefnet.

  7. True. If any generated list or story can create three very different points of view it is surely doing something right. My compliments to you sir and thank you for taking the time to answer me. I wish to wish you as well as Peter and your family a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. Perhaps the most important thing is that we each took the time to reflect on war in film and hence the sacrifice so many have done to make the world a better place for each of us.
    All Best,

  8. “The reason it is on this list is that I think it is an indictment of us, the non-military, who, as Nicholson’s character, enable and benefit from the monster he has become and then seem shocked when he behaves like a monster.”
    The thing is, however accurate Jessup’s speech is, nothing he does in the film indicates that he’s the man of honour he says he is and probably believes himself to be. He allowed two men to be charged with murder. He does this even though the doctor found no trace of poison, and, when you read between the lines of his testimony, admitted that Santiago probably did have a coronary condition that was expedited by Dawson and Downey’s actions. He didn’t support the officers who followed his orders and told lie after lie to cover it up. I think that’s what the film is really condemning him for, not taking responsibility for what resulted from his order.

  9. I struggle with what war movies to show for our Wednesday matinees. Most of my congregation is from the WW2 generation so they are sensitive and aware of the films that address the many issues of that time. Your list is helpful, especially the inclusion of “Gardens of Stone”. The VA has just opened a new vets cemetery nearby and I expect I may doing some memorials there. This may be a movie that helps us all to deal with this next significant chapter in our life together.

  10. You are right of course, Toby, and for me it is exactly that which makes the movie and Jessup’s character so intriguing. Jessup himself acknowledges he is a monster, but a monster we enable and encourage until he becomes too distasteful. He does not behave like a man of honor but he thinks he is doing what he must to protect our country’s freedoms and we must ask ourselves what we must do to make sure that no one gets the wrong message about compromising honor in the name of expediency. This is not unrelated to our current debates about “enhanced interrogation techniques,” I think.
    Thanks, jestrfyl, and let me know what you think of “Gardens of Stone,” which I like very much.

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