Memorial Day - 2021

For many, Memorial Day weekend amounts to an extra-long weekend or some early summer travel. I encourage you to check out one of the following films, pick up a book, or speak with someone you know who's served in the United States Armed Forces.

While there are many great films that memorialize the Armed Forces, the following are five films/series I routinely gravitate towards this time each year.

Band of Brothers (Miniseries - 2001)
Created By: Steven Spielberg & Tom Hanks

From Producers, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, comes the story of "Easy Company," 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. From their initial training (1942) to the end of World War II, we follow the men of "Easy Company" as they navigate paratrooping behind enemy lines of D-Day, Operation Market Garden, liberating a Concentration Camp, and finding strength through brotherhood to push through these seemingly impossible missions.

The decision to tell "Band of Brothers" through the prism of a ten-episode miniseries allows the audience to feel and follow "Easy Company" through their physical and emotional battles. Observing their early chemistry building to liberating a concentration camp ("Why We Fight"), and seeing the physical and emotional exhaustion, makes for one hell of a ride.

First Blood (Feature - 1982)
Directed By:  Ted Kotcheff
Written By:    Michael Kozoll & William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone

Homecoming Vietnam War veteran, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), searches for his last remaining friend from the service. Upon learning his friend has past away due to "agent orange," Rambo is left friendless and adrift. When a local Sheriff (Brian Dennehy) refuses Rambo service based on his Vietnam service, and drifter appearance, Rambo reaches his breaking point.

Through the numerous sequels in the franchise, many have associated the character of John Rambo to headbands, machine-guns, knifes, and muscles. Some have gone as far to attach political affiliations to the character. At heart though, Rambo is neither Republican or Democrat. He's a Vietnam veteran wishing to be left alone. Riddled by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the news of his (last remaining) friend's death, Rambo reaches his breaking point when he’s harassed by a local sheriff, based on nothing but his appearance.

Ultimately, what makes "First Blood" shine is the opening and closing scenes. When we're introduced to Rambo, he's on a journey to find his friend. We even see Rambo crack a rare smile. Setting these small details up is pivotal for following Rambo through his PTSD journey, building towards the ultimate payoff in the end. We're given a touching scene (between Rambo and his old Colonel, Sam Trautman) in which Rambo completely unloads the deep emotional trauma he carries from Vietnam. Including the cold reception (in the states) he encounters when people learn of his service in Vietnam.

American Sniper (Feature - 2014)
Directed By:  Clint Eastwood
Written By:    Jason Hall

"American Sniper" follows Navy S.E.A.L. sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) through four tours in Iraq. Given his pinpoint accuracy and deep confidence in himself and the U.S. Armed Forces, Kyle becomes a legend. However, between tours, Kyle must learn to cope with marriage, children, PTSD, urban life, and the call of war.

What makes "American Sniper" such a gripping story is the way in which the film cuts from Kyle's tours in Iraq to his time home. With each new tour he embarks, Kyle finds it more and more difficult to be present for his wife and kids. After his final tour, Kyle struggles to leave the war behind. Re-learning how to be a husband & father, and finding new ways to serve. Without his rifle.

Zero Dark Thirty (Feature - 2012)
Directed By:  Kathryn Bigelow
Written By:    Mark Boal

For several years after the attack on the World Trade Center Buildings on September 11th, 2001, rookie CIA agent, Maya (Jessica Chastain), refuses to ease up on the search to find Osama Bin Laden. In 2011, Maya provides sound-enough evidence of Bin Laden's whereabouts, landing on the Presidents desk. However, she's the only one confident he's where she thinks he is.

The reason I include "Zero Dark Thirty" on this list is its portrayal of intelligence warfare. With the constant development of technology and strategies, we no longer are required to fight wars from the trenches. That's not to say zero hand-to-hand combat is required. But much like the final S.E.A.L. Team scene in "Zero Dark Thirty," it's short, concentrated, and calculated. Furthermore, "Zero Dark Thirty" highlights a new kind of military hero. Not one strapped with guns or ammunition, but one of dedication, intelligence, and composure.

Letters From Iwo Jima (Feature - 2006)
Directed By:  Clint Eastwood
Written By:    Iris Yamashita

Standing between the Japanese homeland and the United States Armed Forces is the small island of Iwo Jima. Desperate to prevent it from falling into American hands, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) is given command of the forces stationed on the island. "Letters From Iwo Jima" tells the story of the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective.

History is often told from the point of view of the "winners." "Letters from Iwo Jima" kicks that norm aside, giving the audience a point of view they (most likely) didn't learn in any American social studies class.

With no air or naval support, the Japanese were vastly outnumbered. The men on the island were often told they'd be meeting their end there, but assured this was of the highest honor. General Kuribayashi (who'd previously spent time with Americans before the war), created a plan calling for the creation of a network of five-thousand caves. Under his command, the Japanese (remarkably) held out for 35 days.


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