Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’


What is Memorial Day?


Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (May 30 in 2011). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates men and women who died while in military of the United States. First enacted to honor Union and Confederate soldiers following the American Civil War, it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars.

Memorial Day often marks the start of the summer vacation season, and Labor Day its end.

How do you Celebrate Memorial Day? 

Everybody celebrates this federal holiday differently. For some it is really a serious time of personal and social reflection. Some do visit the gravesites of family members who died during wartime, while others visit the gravesites of family members whether they served our country or not. Others take a more relaxed casual approach to Memorial Day by taking a family vacation, visiting their local shopping mall, or doing a home barbeque in order to stay off the freeways during the holiday. Others stay close at home and watch media events like the Indianapolis 500 (since 1911) and the Coca-Cola 600 (since 1960) auto races.

I have never lost any family member in wartime, but I did serve my country in the U.S. Navy. I naturally have a deep respect for all military personnel and their families. They really do know the meaning of sacrifice.  As a U.S. Navy veteran over the age of 68, how do I celebrate this holiday? Do I go shopping like so many others? No! Do I don an old uniform and march in some parade? No, I don’t do that either.

Instead, my approach, for better or worse, is to watch countless hours of war movies as a kind of marathon of appreciation for those
who died, but also in honor of those who served their country regardless of personal circumstances. Mentally, it is a kind of combined Memorial Day and Veterans Day all wrapped up into one. In fact, on Veterans day I do the same thing—watch war movies. This year I will extend my television-watching marathon of old war movies and TV documentaries beyond Memorial Day. Why? I just happen to enjoy old war movies. I don’t know if this approach to celebrating Memorial Day will appeal to you. But, if in some small measure it does, then here are some of my recommendations for choosing among Television Movie Series/documentaries, and among many truly outstanding classic war movies:


WWII: Combat Chronicles

2004 NR 6 discs

This in-depth series documents the events of WWII, from the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that launched America into the war, to the battle of Midway, the bloody devastation at Iwo Jima, Hiroshima and more.  The series also features revealing documentaries produced by Academy Award-winning director John Ford that detail the “day that will live in infamy,” the operations aboard the USS Yorktown, and more, all punctuated by actual newsreels.

On Common Ground: A World War II Reunion

2001 NR 88 minutes

Combat in the Huertgen Forest ranked among the most devastating of World War II, with American and German forces suffering casualties upwards of 60,000 troops. More than a half-century later, soldiers from both sides assemble at the site for an emotional reunion. The intense  feelings they experienced as young men are never far from the surface. Tom Brokaw, Walter Cronkite and John Kenneth Galbraith provide commentary.

Battle 360: The Complete Series

2008 NR 4 discs / 10 episodes

This series re-creates some of the hardest-fought sea battles of World War II through stunning computer-generated animation. This History Channel program centers on the brave men of the legendary aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Enterprise. The Enterprise played a key role in a long string of Allied victories, due in large part to the crew’s ability to successfully coordinate with aircraft flying above, submarines patrolling below and destroyers lurking at large. 

The Battle of the Bulge: World War II’s Deadliest Battle

1994 NR 90 minutes

A must-see for World War II history buffs, this documentary melds first-person narratives, historical footage and modern interpretation to tell the story of the Nazi army’s push through a thin line of American soldiers in the winter of 1944 and 1945. Army veterans and historians recount the Germans’ surprise attack through thick fog into Belgium, which created a bulge in Allied lines and left more than 70,000 casualties in its path.

 The Vietnam War

2007 NR 2 discs

Using rare footage from the CBS News archives along with interviews with historians and combatants, this extensive History Channel
presentation provides a thorough examination of one of the most controversial conflicts in U.S. history. From the arrival of U.S.
advisers to Vietnam in 1959 to the emergency airlift from the American embassy in 1975, the program shines a light on the people and events that shaped the war.

Inside the Vietnam War

2008 NR 150 minutes

See the Vietnam War through the eyes of those who lived through it in this compelling documentary from National Geographic. Archival film, audio recordings and personal photographs accompany veterans’ recollections of their own experiences.  The unflinching footage follows soldiers to the Battle of Ia Drang, the Battle of Dak To, the crucial stronghold of the Iron Triangle and other important conflicts in the 20th century’s most controversial war.

Dangerous Missions:  Assault On Iwo Jima

2007 NR 50 minutes

Find out why the battle for Iwo Jima lasted much longer than the expected three to four days, and why it was so crucial to winning the war in the Pacific. Surviving veterans and military historians recount the gruesome 36 days of carnage. Incorporating combat footage of the campaign, this program explores how three Marine divisions eventually took the island and planted the flag — an image permanently fixed in the collective mind of history.

Ken Burns: The War

2007 TV-PG 6 discs / 7 episodes

Documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick bring the harrowing history of World War II to life through the personal accounts of a handful of participants from four “typical” American towns — proving nothing was typical during this terrible time. Historical footage and photographs combine with realistic sound effects to create visceral scenes of the battles at Omaha Beach, Guadalcanal, Okinawa and more in this seven-part PBS presentation.

National Geographic:  The Battle for Midway

1999 TV-PG 83 minutes

It was here in 1942 where the U.S. and Japan fought one of the greatest naval battles of World War II that changed the course of history. Hear the stories of four remarkable men and how each survived the war despite incredible odds. 


 Pearl Harbor

Patton (1970)

Gone With the Wind

The Sands of Iwo
Jima (1949)

Tora!  Tora!
Tora! (1970)

Midway (1975)

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

The Halls of
Montezuma (1950)

Full Metal Jacket

Green Zone (2010)

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Sergeant York (1941)

They Were Expendable

12 O’Clock High (1949)

The Enemy Below (1957)

Battleground (1949)

U-571 (2000)

The Bridge Over the
River Kwai (1957)

The Longest Day

Kelly’s Heroes (1970)

We Were Soldiers (2002)

Belle (1990)

Black Hawk Down (2001)

Stalag 17 (1953)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Hamburger Hill (1987)

Pork Chop Hill (1959)

The Platoon (1986)

The Great Escape (1963)

Diary (1943)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Objective Burma

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Three Kings (1999)

Courage Under Fire (1996)

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