This is a 10-part miniseries on HBO produced by Tom Hanks. Unlike Band of Brothers, this series delves more into the personal lives of the Marines. This past SUN, 4/25, I watched the first 3 eps.
Christmas 1941: The Marines say goodbye to their families and head out to Guadalcanal- a litle known place in the South Pacific. They include Sgt. John Basilone (Jon Seda), a natural leader who fought in the Phillipines. He comes from a large/warm Italian-American family. Basilone invites his good friends J.P. Morgan and Manny Rodriguez home to share Christmas dinner.
PFC Robert Leckie (John Badge Dale) prays at his local Catholic church and shares a few words w/ his pretty neighbor, Vera, who he wishes to write to while away. He’s a new Marine and aspiring writer who wanted to bring along his typewriter. Leckie and his father have a strained relationship, and share a cold goodbye at the docks.
18 y.o. PFC Sidney Phillips (Ashton Holmes) hails from a wealthy Southern family, and leaves behind his disappointed friend Eugene (Joseph Mazzello), who can’t fight due to his lifelong heart murmur.
PFC Lew “Chuckler” Juergens (John Helman) is a jokester with a lot of bravado. He regales the company with humor.
Upon reaching Guadalcanal, the men of Able Company (led by Sgt. Briggs) find it a tropical paradise. They dig trenches and set up their machine guns after the ship leaves. They are told to destroy any letters or anything containing addresses by their CO.
At Alligator Creek, they face a barrage of shots from the Japanese soldiers. One man cowers in fear, unable to speak. The Marines are surprised at first, but they quickly take action. In the morning, many Japanese lie dead on the beach or floating in the water. Juergens is promoted for his skill w/ the machine gun.
One Japanese soldier is found alive. When two Marines take hold of him, he blows them all up with a grenade. A bunch of guys start messing with another Japanese guy, wounding him in several places. Finally, Leckie kills him to put him out of his misery. Later, Leckie goes through the knapsack of the dead Japanese soldier, seeing the photo of his family and a little cloth doll. In a letter to Vera, he writes that he’s fighting an enemy that he doesn’t understand.
On the way to Tokyo, Basilone’s company marches past this group, and realizes that these men have been through some tough fighting. “They look like they’ve been through the ringer.”
By September of 1942, the Marines have been left alone to fight the Japanese. Most of the food and supplies are gone. They must hide from the Japanese bombers and survive the jungle. “The malaria was vicious” and they went through periods of “starvation.” One vet said: “You would just pray and hold on.”
One of Basilone’s men is killed while they march through the jungle. “We’ve been swallowed by the jungle” Leckie comments as the men of Able Company eat rations from 1919 in the rain. Basilone’s guys are tired, sick, and lacking in (real) food. Tensions are high as they await the navy. But the army has landed, their battalion leader announces.
Marines take supplies from the Army’s crates, before running off into the jungle. The Army gets newer rifles, Phillips notices with bitterly. Leckie steals some moccasins and a box of cigars (for this guys). He becomes sick after eating some canned peaches. PFC Wilbur “Runner” Conley is sick with diarrhea.
At camp, Basilone’s men face fire at night from bombers. He must encourage the disheartened men, including young newbies. Several Marines lie dead in the morning; it was a direct hit. Col. Chesky says he needs Rodriguez to be a runner, and he and Basilone part ways.
Sgt. Briggs gives his men Lucky Strikes, the cigarettes that only officers get. He calls the camp and warns Col. Chesky that the enemy is headed right toward them. Amid fighting, both of Morgan’s machine guns goes out, and Basilone goes to assist him. On the way, he comes face-to-face with some Japanese soldiers. Basilone and few others have to fight close-up.
Basilone reaches Morgan’s side and quickly takes out many enemies with his machine gun. Then he jumps up and goes after remaining Japanese to “clear the field” for his friend, who looks on with shock.
In the morning, both Basilone and Morgan realize that they need new helmets. A medic notices that Basilone has 3rd degree burns. He wonders where Rodriguez is, as Morgan doesn’t know. “I puttin’ you in for a medal, John,” the Col. tells Basilone. Later, as Basilone walks through the quiet jungle, he finds the dead body of his close pal, Manny Rodriguez.
Back in Mobile, Alabama: though he still has the murmur, Eugene Sledge tells his father that he’s enlisting. His dad has heard about the cruelty of this war, and doesn’t want his son to “one day have to spark, no life, no heart.”
Leckie shares a poem he’s written about their victory at Guadalcanal. “We’re finally outta this s***hole,” another Marine says.
Basilone is noticeably upset about Manny’s death. “You know me, John, I try not to think,” Morgan tells Basilone when he ponders about possibly making a false move and ending up dead.
“Everyone knows about the Marines 1st Company. You’re on the front page of every newspaper. You’re heroes back home,” a young man serving coffee at a supply station tells a worn-out Leckie and his fellows.
Melbourne, Australia: The Marines sail in to crowds, banners, and calls of adulation for “our Yanks.” They are bemused at first, seeing that their camp is on a cricket field. They head out to the streets, ready for some R&R, though they are technically AWOL (w/o liberty passes).
Basilone and Morgan order a variety of booze and toast to Rodriquez. When a home guard insults the Yanks, Basilone punches him. A drunken Leckie chases a beautiful/exotic brunette onto a streetcar, to the surprise of his buddies. She asks him to call on her “at home” (properly). Phillips meets a gorgeous blonde girl (and her protective grandfather). He asks permission to date her, like a polite Southern gentleman. “Hands off the merchandise,” the grandfather warns. Basilone is given “the highest honor given to a Marine.”
Leckie goes to the house of his date, Estella, who is from a warm/welcoming Greek immigrant family. Her parents are proud to have a Yank for dinner, so they don’t go out. Estella’s mama came with her family to Australia after her homeland (Smyrna) was sacked by the Turks. She got married late and only has Estella for a child. “I fled the Leckie family. I was last- last is least.” Bob tells them, commenting about his large family. They invite him to stay w/ them in their home when they hear that the Marines sleep in the stadium.
At night, Estella sneaks into the guest room. “One of my brothers was too old (for the service) and another who died as a child,” Leckie tells her when she asks about his family. His father hasn’t been “right in the head” since then. Estella also had a brother who died as a baby, but “we don’t talk about it.” Leckie helps clear the vines from their roof in the morning to repay their hospitality.
Basilone looks disappointed when Col. Chesky tells him he’s going home to sell war bonds. Leckie gives silk stockings (to Estella) and a leg of lamb for the family. They learn that a family friend/neighbor, a young man named Alexie, has been killed in the war. “He and Estella were friends ever since they were children.” Bob goes to Alexie’s wake which is attended by the Greek immigrant community in the area.
Late at night, Bob sits w/ Estella’s mom, who is upset to hear about so many dead Greek boys. She says “we need prayer” at a time like this; Bob says he prays as well. Mama says that “we like having you in the house” and “Baba always wanted a son like you.” She kisses him, and says “I pray you come back to us.” Estella watches from the kitchen, her eyes full of concern for Bob’s uncertain future.
After a long and arduous march, Bob comes back to Estella. “I’m fairly crazy about you, Robert. But I don’t want to have a baby w/ you,” she tells him w/ tears in her eyes. “You’re dumping me b/c you think I’m going to get killed!?” She says that Mama has grown too close to him, and it would be too painful if they lost him. “She’s lost so much already,” Estella concludes. Leckie leaves in anger, saying the Mama “can save her breath” on prayers for him.
Leckie takes the place of another Marine to stand guard outside the barracks. But a superior officer gets very angry when he yells at him and then pulls a handgun. Leckie is put in the brig (jail) for his insubordination.
In the morning, Leckie learns that he’s been reassigned to the battalion intelligence section. Before shipping out, young Phillips and his Australian girlfriend finally share a night together. Morgan and Basilone say goodbye as John heads back home.