Copyright by John T. Reed

The HBO miniseries The Pacific, like many war movies before it, claims to be the most realistic. Those of us who were in the military are always hoping for a realistic war movie. We are always disappointed.

Platoon Leader, not Platoon, was the most realistic Vietnam movie.

I was not in Iraq, but Generation Kill was the most realistic war movie (TV miniseries actually) I ever saw.

I was not in World War II in the Pacific either. I was not born until that war ended. So I cannot say whether the series is an accurate depiction. But it certainly has some stuff to criticize.

It would surprise many to learn how much of what American soldiers do in war stems not from their training but from war movies they saw before they were in a war. So I need to undo some stuff in The Pacific lest it get some viewer killed when he actually gets into a real war.

Too bunched up

Maybe they are doing it for the camera angle, but the marines in The Pacific are constantly too bunched up when they move. And they constantly cross clearings. What the hell for?!

Don’t go out in a clearing unless you have to. If you do, assume there are bad guys covering it and move accordingly. Fast, change direction. Take turns moving and covering each other. But generally stay in the vegetation when you can.

Another general principle is that you expand and squeeze together according to the vegetation—like an accordion. You need to be able to see the guy to your front, back, and inside. You watch the outside for bad guys. In thick vegetation where you cannot see far, you have to stay closer together. When the vegetation thins out, find thicker vegetation. If you can’t, spread out to where you can still see the guy ahead, behind, and inside. You spread out so the enemy cannot kill a bunch of you with one RPG or grenade or machine gun burst. But you cannot spread out so much that you lose sight of your neighbor.

Where are the adjacent units?

In the first episode, a platoon (40 guys) or company (120) seemed to be going through the jungle by itself. That might be appropriate for a long range reconnaissance or hit and run patrol behind enemy lines, but the First Marine Division I would expect would move out in battalion- (400) or brigade- (1,600) size maneuver units. When you do that, you have to take care to keep the units together and make sure none gets ahead of the others where we might mistake them for enemy. You also need to prevent gaps that the enemy might deliberately or accidentally exploit.

The directors seemed to be trying to depict a poor lonely platoon or company out there all by themselves. I guess we are supposed to feel sorry or more afraid for them. Well, if you actually did that in a real war, those feelings would be appropriate. That would probably be incompetence. The correct movement would be more like an informal parade with large numbers of companies and battalions carefully maintaining relationship to each other as they moved. When they stopped, representatives of the top commander would be making sure there were no gaps between the units and that the seam personnel and adjacent small unit commanders were coordinating with each other.


The marines in The Pacific encounter an enemy camp. They peer mesmerized and motionless into the just vacated (half-eaten meals all over) enemy foxholes and bunkers shoulder-to-shoulder in groups of six or more.

Even though it appears the enemy left, maybe they just wanted the marines to think that. Even if they did leave in a rush, they can still plant booby traps. You just pull the pin off a grenade and put it under something before you run away. The weight of the object holds the spoon on. If and when it’s moved by the marines, the spoon pops and the fuse starts burning. In about four seconds, it explodes.

So you should be very wary of getting near anything left by the enemy who just fled. Generally, there is no need. If you must, get a long stick or “fishing” line to throw across it so you can move it from a safe distance.

When we swept over an objective at West Point and in ranger school, we always ignored the various enemy foxholes and bunkers. Job one at that point is to set up a perimeter around the objective after you take it. In my training, the “enemy” always counterattacked. That’s a wise script. So our habit crossing an objective was to go straight to the other side of the village or hilltop or whatever and find a position we could defend against the counterattack. The NCO's and officers would tidy up the line to make sure it had no gaps or indentations that would look like a removed pie slice. If anyone was to examine the enemy positions, it would be an NCO or officer and then only after they had made sure the perimeter was secured (ammo distributed evenly, good defendable line, etc.) and the wounded taken care of.

In The Pacific, any unusual sight like a body or enemy weapon or foxhole or bunker is an occasion for stopping and sightseeing and poking around. I doubt that happened on Guadalcanal. More likely, a rookie might do that, but he would quickly get yelled at by an NCO or officer to secure the perimeter and leave the inspections to the officers. After a day or two of such operations, most marines would know to set the defensive perimeter when they arrived at an objective. Their own peers would prevent stupidity like that after a day or two.

I do not know why Hollywood is compelled to teach the impressionable young men in their viewing audiences to behave in ways that will get them killed, but war movies do that all the time.


Tom Hanks, one of the producers, is apparently hell bent on showing both sides were racist in World War II in the Pacific. In one scene in the first episode, a wounded Japanese pretends to seek help. When two marines help him, he kills them and himself with a grenade. They really did that. But a marine watching that incident in The Pacific snarls “yellow monkey.” To use a Hollywood phrase, that did not work. Comically, The Pacific directors are trying to recreate 1942 political incorrectness, without being too politically incorrect by 2010 standards. Good luck with that.

During Vietnam, U.S. grunts used the words “slopes” and “gooks.” You could find some racism in that, but it was mostly short hand. GIs always want a one-syllable word for the enemy for fast communication. If a grunt saw the enemy attacking his camp, he would yell, “Gooks in the wire!” The King’s english translation would be “There are North Vietnamese Army soldiers coming at us and they have already reached the concertina barbed wire coils just outside our perimeter berm!”

For those who would criticize our forces for failure to use words that would not offend the enemy, that is not a consideration when you are talking about someone who tries to kill you every day and who does kill many of your fellow Americans. If you went to a front line unit and started scolding about political incorrectness, you would would be the target of a string of expletives and looked upon as an idiot. After an attack or two, you would get your priorities straight and be using the same language as the GIs.

In Mogadishu, U.S. called the enemy Somalis “skinnies.” The word in the real Pacific was “Japs.” I never figured out how that was bad. Seems like short for Japanese and soldiers are not going to use three-syllable words for the enemy in combat especially to avoid hurting the enemy’s feelings. The Pacific producers look foolish when they have some actor say “yellow monkey.” I wonder if the U.S. forces ever used the word “yellow” in World War II. It sounds like some 19th century newspaper word in an editorial about stopping immigration from the Far East.

I expect a real World War II marine seeing his first wounded Japanese grenade treachery would say something along the lines of, “Goddamn bastards! Don’t trust them! Even if they look wounded. Shoot the mother fuckers if you’re not absolutely sure they’re dead already!”

In newsreels from the later years of the war in the Pacific, you will note that surrendering Japanese soldiers are always wearing nothing but a loin cloth and have their arms high. That’s because the Americans had Japanese speaking soldiers who would order the Japanese to come out dressed that way with arms high to surrender. They learned not to trust them after the first few encounters at Guadalcanal.

Episode 3: extremely realistic in an unexpected way

Finally, The Pacific was so real to me that it brought back of flood of real world memories, not just Hollywood fantasy. The episode in question was totally unexpected.

After the Marines in the series fought in Guadalcanal, they went to Australia for R&R. I did the same from Vietnam. Most of us single officers did. (For women like those we remembered from back in America. The enlisted guys in Vietnam generally went to Taiwan and Thailand for the cheap prostitutes.) Married guys met their wives in Hawaii.

The fact that World War II Marines went to Australia for R&R like we did made me realize, “Hey! I am also a veteran of a war in ‘The Pacific’.” Our war had steamy jungles, Asian people, and the Pacific Ocean. About the only difference was Vietnam was not an island.

In episode 3 of The Pacific, Bob Leckie, a real World War II Marine, meets an Australian woman and ends up staying in her Greek immigrant parents home and having an affair with the woman. Another Greek immigrant boy they know is killed in World War II fighting the Japanese and they all go to the funeral. The affair ends when she concludes he is likely to get killed so there is no percentage in continuing. Leckie turned out to be a writer after the war. He is the author of the book Helmet for my Pillow, one of the books on which The Pacific miniseries is based. I have not read the book, but I assume that Leckie’s romantic adventure in Australia as depicted in The Pacific was a true incident he told of in the book.

Probably seems UNrealistic to non-veteran viewers

A non-veteran watching the miniseries probably thinks the battle scenes are realistic, but that the romantic affair was Hollywood nonsense. His ending up in bed with the girl seems too easy, too fast.

In fact, the opposite is true. The Marines in battle look a bit off as I explained above. If the romantic adventure seems unrealistic, it is because the viewer does not understand the dynamic of war and military personnel far from home and weary of the privations of war not to mention the presence of death.

When you survive near-death experiences like combat—in the presence of your fellows who did not survive it—you are more determined than ever to live, really live, and not waste a single moment.

From the perspective of the women, I surmise there is also a feeling that this is a special limited-time opportunity that will probably never come again, that the normal rules like the Third-Date Rule do not apply because of the extremely brief time available to the GIs. Normally, if a woman sees a good-looking guy, she acts coy and slowly encourage him. That does not work with a guy on a three-day pass. It’s now or never. War-time romances have been the subject of a zillion books, movies, and documentaries. (South Pacific, The Americanization of Emily, Casablanca) Not to mention the zillions of war-brides and post-war occupation brides brought home by American soldiers and Marines. There were a zillion fires under all that smoke.

The speed with which a U.S. soldier or marine goes from seeing an attractive woman in a war setting to sex can be astonishingly swift by non-war standards, but it makes perfect sense to those in and around the war. One of my insructors in radio officer school had parachuted into Normandy on D-Day in World War II. He landed in a farmer’s backyard at about 2AM. When the family realized he was an American soldier, their beautiful young daughter offered to have sex with him. He turned her down. (I guess you had to be there. I suspect I would have figured, “I may be dead in an hour. What the heck!”) ) But it makes sense when you realize the family had been under Nazi rule for four years. They were poor and had little else to offer to express their gratitude. The paratrooper at that moment was a sort of God, knight on a white horse. He literally came out of the sky to rescue them—and did. Plus she was French. C’est la guerre. C’est la vie. C’est l’amour.

Duing World War II, British men famously complained about four aspects of the Americans military personnel in England:

They’re over-paid, over-fed, over-sexed, and over here.

They did not say that for no reason.

American women in the U.S. during World War II

I have seen documentaries about American women in the U.S. who happened to live in parts of the U.S. where U.S. troops were assigned in large numbers during World War II. When they told of their affection for the USO and Hollywood canteen dances, they spoke as if they had hit the jackpot: a zillion handsome young men in uniforms all of whom were extremely eager to date them—ant a time when their local men had been sent off to war. There was also a “be nice to the men on their way to the war” feeling that started with the USO dances and not surprisingly went far beyond perhaps what the authorities intended, but not so far that they would dare interfere with it. “Let the boys have their fun.” was the mind set.

Endless Saturday nights

In 1966, the film Endless Summer was released. In it, two surfers travel the world seeking the best waves. It is called Endless Summer because they arranged their travels to be in the southern hemisphere during our winter and the northern hemisphere during our summer. Ironically for this article, I believe they finally found the perfect wave in Australia.

When you think about it, the Australian girls who made a habit of accepting dates with newly arrive R&R Yanks were experiencing a sort of “endless Saturday night.” Or maybe an endless prom night or an endless series of honeymoons. I believe the Americans who went on R&R in Australia were generally single officers. Most of them were college educated. Like the Yanks in England during World War II, we were overpaid by Australian standards. Being on a 7-day R&R after months of collecting normal plus combat pay with nowhere to spend it, and living in hooches and eating in mess halls, we were ready and able to spend more money than normal on our room and board and entertainment and dates in Sydney. The native Sydney men were probably lower paid on average, less educated on average, had to go to work weekdays and thus could not party every night financially, emotionally, or sleep-wise. We were tanned and fit if not rested. And we were determined to enjoy ourselves as much as possible—more than ever before in our lives if at all possible. You can see where although not every girl in Sydney would find a weekly week-long tryst with a new “Yank” an attractive lifestyle, some might. Enough did.

What happened to Leckie happened to me and my friends in Australia as well

This third episode of The Pacific brought back a flood of memories to me because I had a very similar experience to Leckie’s in Sydney. Before I went on R&R, I talked to a bunch of officers who had gone on R&R to Sydney before me. They all said when you got there, you could sign up for a date with an Australian woman. They all did and they all ended up seeing her every day for the rest of the week.

I was single and went to Australia on R&R. The first day there, a bunch of Australian matrons organized a party for us and a bunch of Australian girls. I hit it off with one that first night and we spent the week together. The plan that night was I was supposed to put her on the last commuter train to the suburb where she lived with her parents. We didn’t make it to the train station on time. We didn’t even try. It was Friday night. The next morning, we both went to her and her parents’ home. Like Leckie’s experience, the girl’s parents were very welcoming and had me join them for supper. Unlike Leckie’s experience, the parents were a bit wary of me. For one thing, I had just spent the whole night with their daughter on a first date—in 1970. The other reason seemed to be they saw me as possibly marrying her and taking her to the other side of the world—literally.

The experience I had, and the one Leckie has in the TV series, were both warm and wonderful and sweet.

Treated Australian girls like queens

My Australian girl raved about how great we Americans were, how we treated Australian girls like queens.

Have I treated you like a queen?

Oh, yes!

How so?

You open the cab door for me. You took me to a nice restaurant for dinner and talked to me for hours.

That’s pretty standard stuff on a first date in the states.

Oh, our Aussie men don’t do that kind of thing at all. They’re only interested in sheila's [girls] for one purpose.

We Americans are not uninterested in that one thing as I believe I have demonstrated tonight.

Oh, I know. You were quite keen on it! Even more than our Aussie men.

They haven’t been in Vietnam for nine months.

We also love your Yank accents.

Accent!? I don’t have an accent! You’re the one with the accent. And a very cute accent it is.

What was so special about the situation?

Except for the weekend, she had to work 9 to 5. I would roam the city like a regular tourist during the day. Even though we American Vietnam guys were in civvies, the Australians could spot us from about 50 yards away by our Vietnam tans, sun-bleached blond hair in my case, ages, fitness, and the way we dressed. They were very friendly and appreciative of our situation. Even in the 1970s, like the 1940s, Australians knew America and Americans as a place and as men they normally saw only in movies. So, to them, we Americans all had a bit of Hollywood glamor. We spoke wiht the same accent as those stars on the big screen.

Middle-aged men who had fought in World War II with our fathers would make friendly comments and buy us drinks. They sort of saw us as our fathers. One guy in a pub told me, “We fought with you bastards in the 40s.” He assured me the word “bastards” was a term of endearment in that context. Apparently, we looked just like our fathers’ generation had during World War II, and the Aussie vets had to stop and think to remember that were were the sons of those Americans, not those same American GIs returned to Australia in a time machine.

Now that I think about it, those cheery matrons who ran the Sydney mixer probably were reliving their own youths when they enjoyed the company of the American marines from Guadalanal. The one who helped me may have even been Bob Leckie’s Australian girlfriend for a week—or knew that girl! Actually, the Guadalcanal marines went to Melbourne for R&R. We went to Sydney, about 400 miles northeast of Melbourne.

I would pick my Australian girl up after work and we would do a restaurant then take a romantic walk. We saw each other all seven days of the R&R. One “school” night, we again decided to blow off the last commuter train again. When I took her to work the next morning, I apologized for the embarrassment of her wearing the same clothes to work two days in a row would probably cause. She sheepishly said it would cause comment and raised eyebrows, but kissed me and assured me it was “quite worth it.”

On our last night together, I ruminated out loud about what a great situation I was in.

Tomorrow, I have to go back to Vietnam, but I am due to rotate home to the states 48 hours later so that’s not as bad as going back to Vietnam is for most guys here on R&R. But I have heard that sometimes they have plane trouble and the R&R flight gets delayed a day. Can I see you if that happens?

Absolutely. Just ring me and I’ll pop right over.

My plane left on schedule. I never saw or heard from her again.

Thanks to Bob Leckie and the people who made The Pacific for bringing back those memories. Thanks to the people of Sydney and especially that one young lady for providing them.

One of the few things Hollywood gets right in its war movies are the love affairs. The three-day passes and one-week R&Rs and moving troops all around the country and the world create many, torrid, brief, romantic affairs because of the time pressure of shipping out to another continent and the urgency that possibly getting killed in combat creates in both parties. There is also the novelty of “Yanks” being in the company of British, French, Asian, and Australian women. My Succeeding book has a chapter titled “Make Yourself Scarce.” In 1970, I was unwittingly doing that by going to Australia and taking my “Yank accent” with me. Had my Australian girlfirend gone to the U.S. for a visit, her delightful Australian accent would have made her scarce.

Thanks to the Australian guys of 1970 for treating their women lousy and thereby making us look great just by behaving normally. They also added to my “scarce-ness.” My Australian friend and I had a mutual-appreciation society going to a large extent because of cultural differences between American and Australian men. Hell, the many war movies my Australian girl and I had previously seen may have “trained” us to handle that week the way we did.

C’est la guerre! Vive la difference! Put another prawn on the barbie!

Warning: I fear some impressionable teenager may read this discussion of R&R and conclude being in the military is a good way to “meet chicks.” It has long been said that war is months of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. The “lost weekend” war-time romances work the same way, if at all. There may be more lonely sailors and marines walking the street not getting lucky with amateurs—and soldiers hiring prostitutes—than the lucky-at-love ones.

Australia was nice for us because of the matrons and there was apparently an established assembly line sort of operation for pairing up us and the Australian girls. I also went to Hong Kong on leave with a West Point classmate and ran into another classmate there by accident. There were no matrons and other than being pounced on once by prostitutes whose services we declined, there was no social life worth mentioning for us in Hong Kong. We went there like most officers to buy cheap stereo stuff at the China Fleet Club. I still have some of it. The combination of being in a war, being on R&R in a foreign country or U.S. city during a big war like World War II does produce some hurried romances that probably sound extremly attractive to teenage boys. But I would rather never be in a war at all.

4th episode

This episode took place most in a quonset hut hospital complex on a rear island. I was in the quonset hut hospital twice in Long Binh during Vietnam. Gastroenteritis once and fever of unknown origin the other. I actually got medivacked in a chopper for the second. I told the chopper guys I thought they were being overdramatic to send a chopper. I wasn’t wounded in battle or anything. They said they had so much capacity of medivack choppers that is was easier for them to treat me like a battle casualty. OK. I sat in a jump seat in the chopper like the crew and got a ride at night from Phu Loi to the Long Binh Army hospital which had its own helipad. The Pacific hospital looked about the same as Long Binh although we had no looney bin that I was aware of.

In The Pacific, they had white painted fences around the hospital and nurses wearing pure white dresses and hats. I was not in World War II in the Pacific, but I doubt the white fences and the white dresses and hats. In Vietnam, our grounds and nurses and doctors looked like those in the MASH TV series. Functional buildings and nurses and doctors wearing olive drab fatigues just like us. South Pacific terrain is covered with a ubiquitous red dust. That’s the case in Hawaii and Vietnam and in the islands on which the World War II guys fought. You could try to wear white dresses and hats, but I expect they would be rust colored in a week. I am skeptical about that depiction. I think the director was trying to draw a big contrast between the gritty, marginal living conditions near the front lines with the more clean genteel conditions in the rear. That is a valid issue. But The Pacific director needed to find another more realistic way to show it. They also showed it with Lackie and a colonel drinking Cokes in bottles. We had Cokes everywhere I went in Vietnam including an isolated base at a place called Bunard. Our Cokes were in cans that required those triangular-shaped points. Pull-top cans had been invested, and replaced our kind back in the states when we went to Vietnam, but we had no pop tops there. I assume it was because in the heat of Vietnam, the Coke would explode through the weakened pop top portion of the can.

Otherwise, episode 4 seemed real.

Episode 5 Peleliu battle

This episode was mostly blood and guts. Not my area of expertise. Seemed realistic to me. Chaotic. Smoky. Random. Confused. Each marine dealing with his situation of the moment. New guys getting used to the shock of battle and the need to function in spite of extreme danger and noise and smoke. Vets reverting to their habits from past battles.

One part of the battle that seemed way off was the Americans firing a mortar at a Japanese tank. The tank seemed to be about 50 yards away from the mortar.

Firing a mortar at a target 50 yards away strikes me as incorrect. I do not know the minimum range for a light mortar, but mortars have a very high trajectory. To shoot one at a target 50 yards away, you would have to fire almost straight up .I’m guessing they have a minimum range of 100 yards.You can fire them at a target one yard away if you modify what’s propping up and determining the angle of the mortar tube. The bipod that comes with the mortar probably cannot be adjustedto be that vertical. But if the target is that close, you sure as hell do not need a lieutenant telling you how to aim the damned thing.

In the scene, an officer was directing the fire. Mortars are aimed by forward observers who direct the fire. But the mortar is typically so far back that they cannot see where the mortar rounds are landing. I was in charge of a mortar squad one summer when I was a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne Division. We were firing at targets miles away and we were in deep pine forest on level ground. We could neither hear nor see the explosions or even the smoke rising from them.

This is the second time I have criticized The Pacific for bunching marines together improperly and again I suspect the reason is the same: to fit it all into one photographic shot. With regard to firing mortars at targets 50 yads away: Don’t try this at home.

There were also scenes of Sergeant Basilone doing his war-bonds tour as a Medal of Honor winner. Also not anything I experienced. Nor did anyone else. World War II was supported by all the American people and was their main pre-occupation in the early 1940s. But during Vietnam, the American people were divided on the war. I doubt anyone did war bond tours. I don’t even think there were any war bonds. The Basilone of the Vietnam war would have been spit at and spit on and called a baby killer.

I would be interested in the thoughts of a 1st Marine World War II vet commenting on The Pacific.

Episodes 6 and 7: more Peleliu battle

I have never been in a firefight, but these looked realistic to me. One bit of realism is that when men are hit, a puff of pink mist appears momentarily. I read that is what happened when the people who jumped off the World Trade Center hit the sidewalk. Seems plausible as a combat effect, too.

In Episode 6, it seemed every time a mortar went off among the Americans charging across the airstrip an arm or a leg went flying. I guess that would be the way it would happen.

Random death

In Episode 7, you got an idea of the randomness of combat. In most Hollywood movies, guys get hit in the chest. In real combat, everyone gets hit in every part of their bodies. At one point in Episode 7, a stretcher bearer gets shot in the leg. Hollywood normally would not do that because it’s, well, unfair. But combat is unfair. A little later, a marine gets hit but is awake and seems likely to survive. Then, while he he is being taken out on the stretcher, he gets shot in he chest fatally. Again, Hollywood would normally not have done that. Real war doesn’t care.

Humor in combat

There was also a scene where a guy tried to take a crap then got attacked in mid crap by Japanese in a cave. The Japanese chased the pants-at-half-mast guy with a sword. His fellow marines let the guy get chased a little longer than necessary before they shot the Jap. Then they all laughed their asses off. Civilians might think there is no laughter in combat. Yes, there is on occasion. Laughter is a relief and necessity.

Friendly fire

In another scene, one of the Americans shoots a Jap at night, or so he thought. The next day, they figure out he shot a fellow American dead. The guy had been moving outside of his foxhole at night—a total no no. He also had his helmet off (making his silhouette look more Japanese), was making quick and furtive movements, and was making loud, unintelligible noises. In the dark, that’ll get you shot on the front lines of a combat situation. Many Americans have been shot by their own men because they moved around at night, including Civil War General Stonewall Jackson and Mickey Marcus, a West Pointer who served in the Israeli army and was the subject of a movie called Cast a Giant Shadow.

Kill their own man to shut him up

In Episode 6, another American woke up at night on the front line and started screaming and flailing around. The enemy started firing flares and the Americans were expecting a Jap attack in response. Four or five of them tried to stop the guy and shut him up to no avail. They finally bashed him in the head with an entrenching tool (shovel), killing him. Had to be done.

Bunker had not been cleared

In one scene, a mortar squad is told to set up next to a captured enemy bunker. They were told the bunker had been cleared of enemy, but as they were setting up the mortar, one marine heard faint movement in the bunker. To make a long story short, there were about eight more Japs in the bunker. They attacked the Americans, wounded one and were eventually all killed by a combination of grenades, tank gun, and flame thrower. What was wrong with the scene was that after they cleared the bunker, the Americans were commiserating with and consoling with each other and reflecting on the engagement. That’s bullshit! The C.O. said set your mortar up there. That means get it ready to fire. Presumably, any minute, the C.O. would be calling for fire from the mortar. They can be excused for not setting it up immediately because of the unexpected fight with the Japs, but once the damned fight with the Japs in the bunker is over, you need to get back to setting up the mortar.

Stopping the war to cry and console

In another Episode 7 scene, a little enemy infiltration takes place in the dark. Two marines peer into the darkness guns at the ready. Then one starts crying and puts his head down. The other puts his gun down and consoles the first guy.

Say what!? The Jap infiltration is still an imminent danger. The consoler, who only had a revolver, needed to yell at the other guy to focus on watching for the enemy or at least take his rifle and use it while he watched for the enemy.

Company commander walks point

In yet another scene, the company is walking all bunched up (tactially incorrect but good for a camera shot of a lot of guys) along a narrow trail amid boulders and coral rocks. The company commander seems to move up to the front to walk point. That’s generally not a good idea but he may have had an adequate reason. Anyway, word comes back he has been killed by a sniper. He is immediately brought back on a stretcher passing between the long line of men on each side of the narrow trail. Some are crying, one salutes, all seem to stand out of respect. Very moving. That might happen if the body was moved after the battle was totally over. But this was less than a minute after the snper shot him. You cannot have a funeral procession when you are still in contact with live enemy.

The C.O. was Mr. Nice Guy and a natural-born leader. I thought that was fine but you also have to be a hard ass at times when you are in command. He was a little, but I think the director was keeping him Mr. Nice Guy to increase the drama and pathos of his getting killed. A real combat company comander would have had to be more harsh at times than this guy ever was in The Pacific.

Also, he had too much interaction with privates. The director found the military chain of command uncinemagenic. In the real war, privates would have had little contact with the company commander. He would have worked through platoon leaers and platoon sergeants and squad leaders. The Pacific can’t be bothered with a real chain of command. Too many characters for the viewer to follow.

More careful

I was never an infantry officer, although I was the commo officer for a parachute infantry battalion in the 82nd. Seems to me troops moving toward the enemy need to be more careful especially when they come to an open area. Use cover. Stay low including crawling. If you have to move in the open, do it in random bursts. That would be a litle slower and more strenuous, but safer. Maybe it’s not practical in combat. Certainly it’s not if there is a time coordination with other units, that is, you have to bee somewhere by such and such time.

Dirty but not hagard

The Pacific takes care to keep the actors filthy dirty at all times in the combat scene. That’s correct. The actors also affect their best combat facial expression. Also OK. But neither the make-up nor for-the-sake-of-realism physical deprivation on the set took care of the required haggardness. The marines in combat look like they spent last night in the local Holiday Inn, which they probably did, then went to make-up for dirt and grime. But behind the grime, I see no sunken eyes, no wrinkled white skin (the way your finger tips get after too much time in water), no pocked marked palms (as if you were doing pushups on gravel). That is very much the way we looked at the end of U.S. Army Ranger School. If Hollywood wants to get that look, they should go to Ranger at the end of the current course and photograph those guys for reference.

Episode 8: Basilone marriage and Iwo Jima

In Episode 8, we see a typical war-time marriage. I felt that pressure when I was in the Army during Vietnam, but my reaction was alarm. I strongly resisted and that was the right thing. I got married in 1975 when I was five weeks from my 29th birthday and had been back from Vietnam for five years and out of the Army for three years. I met my wife about six months after I got out of the Army. We celebrate our 35th anniversary at the end of May, 2010. All around me, when I was a cadet at West Point and after West Point in the Army,I heard conversations and watched fellow soldiers succumb to war-time marriage pressure.

The basic problem is a now-or-never conviction. In a typical case, the two people are not really ready to get married by normal standards. But This is War—World War II in the Pacific, Vietnam War, Iraq and Afghanistan, whatever. They all work about the same. The normal rules don’t apply or so the people in question believe.

The genesis of the now-or-never pressure is that soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are isolated at rural bases or on ships or in foreign countries. So when they finally get around women, they are starved for it and less discriminating. Add to that a date or two that go well. Normally, that would merely be a so-far-so-good indicator. But in war time, you have the ship-out-date pressure coming from the other direction.

I am finally in the presence of a pretty girl. We are having a great time together. Maybe she’s the one. And I have to ship out in two weeks. This is it. It’s now or never. I guess the girl has a similar reaction in the other direction. Plus she sees herself as a romantic, noble, selfless woman to marry and wait for a man going off to war. Both the boy and the girl have seen this scene in many movies. They have heard about it. They may know couples who married during war time and it worked out. They fear loss if they do not marry before the ship-out date.

Statistically, these marriages probably have a higher than average divorce rate. You hear of the occasional 50th anniversary of a war-time marriage. Bottom line is they are not smart. You can watch The Pacific yourself to see how Basilone’s marriage worked out. Remember The Pacific is a true story.

Peleliu aftermath

I learned in Episode 8 that the subject of Episodes 6 and 7—the island of Peleliu—which was a very costly two-month battle for the U.S. Marines, was all for naught. Unlike most of the islands we took, we never used Peleliu as an air base stepping stone to Tokyo. We took it then abandoned it, for nothing. That battle had the highest per-capita casualty rate of any World War II battle. 1,794 Americans killed; 10,695 Japanese.

It seems to me that commanders ought to think hard before they get one guy killed. For 1,794, they ought to think 1,794 times as hard. If they did absolutely nothing with Peleliu after capturing it, they should not have ever gone there to begin with. The guy who made the decision—Admiral Nimitz—probably got a medal for it.

Iwo Jima

As depicted in The Pacific, Iwo Jima was hell. It was the only Pacific battle where the Japanese killed or wounded more Americans than there were Japanese.

Looking at World War II from the perspective of a Vietnam-era officer, I am appalled by the suicidal, frontal assault mentality of the commanders.Time after time, they bombarded a beach or island at length before landing, assumed no one there was left alive, then landed and got cut to pieces. Post-battle investigation always found the bombardment had been about 97% ineffective.

Why did the allies not develop bunker buster bombs, which are rather low tech (hardened nose and delayed fuse)? Why not develop big bombs like the daisy cutter we had in Vietnam or the MOAB used in Iraq. These have 15,000 or so pounds of TNT. When they go off, they form a mushroom cloud. They kill people in a wide radius without trauma: some sort of effect of taking the oxygen out of the air. They could have killed Japanese in caves I suspect without going inside the cave.

The enemy was so buttoned up inside their caves, it appeared we might have been able to sneak guys onto the islands at night from submarines or by parachute. They could have given us a far more detailed account of what we were up against. They might have located water supplies and destroyed or quietly poisoned them.

Then there is the whole issue of just preventing the enemy from being resupplied with water or food. A lot of these islands had no water supply. They would die of thirst within three days of running out of water. What was our big hurry?

Episode 9 Okinawa

This episode was all mud, friendly fire, stupidity, maggots, death, rain. As with Peleliu, it seemed realistic to me except for a couple of things.

Would it be too much trouble for Hollywood to remember that the clips and magazines in military small arms have a finite number of rounds. In the real war, combat consists of shooting your rifle about six to eight times, then pulling the magazine out and replacing it with a new one. If it’s an M-1, you empty a clip and put in another. There is nothing to pull out when you empty the first one. A tommy gun has a longer clip but again, it empties after 20 rounds or so and you have to take it out, put it in your ammo pouch, and replace it with a new one. You cannot discard the magazines. You have to put more bullets in them later when you get a chance.

In The Pacific, as in all other Hollywood war movies, soldiers and marines fire their weapons continuously as if they were fire hoses connected to bullet hydrants. I do not recall seeing a single marine reload his weapon in The Pacific series. I am probably mistaken about that, but for chrissake, Episode 9 was almost continuous combat and I cannot recall a single reload. In real combat, if you could see five guys shooting at once, probably at least one of them would be reloading his weapon at any given time. In The Pacific, as in virtually every other movie, they just shoot and shoot and shoot. In real combat, they do not keep count of bullets fired from a clip or magazine. Although after a time, I expect you subconsciously know when to reload if you fire enough. As a football coach, I could sense when we had too few or too many men on the field without counting. You just had a sense that the picture you were looking at was not right. Probably something similar happens if you empty magazines a lot in combat or on a shooting range.

Sometimes you go to shoot a bad guy and you find you are out of bullets. Then you have to reload or switch to hand-to-hand combat or use your sidearm or maybe just die because the enemy sees you and he does not have an empty magazine. Weapons also jam, especially when you are continuous mud. I do not recall any weapons jamming in Episode 9.

Not only do the clips and magazines run out, so do the ammo pouches on each soldier/marine. When that happens, they have to get more. Generally that would mean ammo bearers running back and forth from the rear area. You can also get some from wounded or dead Americans, although that often is not feasible because those guys are out in the open where the enemy can see you trying to get ammo.

True, they did mention ammo resupply in an episode. Sergeant Basilone got the Medal of Honor in part for going to get more ammo during the Guadalcanal battle. Episode 9 has a scene revolving around mortar rounds getting wet. I recall a weapon getting jammed in the Guadalcanal or Peleliu episodes. So yeah, they get their ticket puched on the issue. But they are supposedly realistic. If you want to be realistic, then you constantly reload, get more ammo, unwittingly pull the trigger when you are empty, and clear jammed weapons. Constantly.

The marines in The Pacific also lack tans and bleached hair. I am blond. I do not tan in the normal sense, but in Vietnam my skin color sure as heck reflected the fact that I had been 12 degrees above the equator for many months. And my hair was bleached white. Not the actors in The Pacific. Their skin and hair color look like they are on location in New York City where they have been living for the last year.

I noticed the lack of haggardness again in Episode 9. The faces were covered in mud. Occasionally they had red spots of unknown origin blood. But their skin was too thick. Their eyes were not sunken in their sockets. Their skin was not white and wrinkled from being wet continuously like your fingers get in the ocean or pool. They looked like well-fed, perfectly fit actors who were getting daily showers and sleeping between the sheets before someone applied mud and red makeup to their faces. I would not advocate subjecting them to prolonged misery. We went through that in ranger school and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But make-up artists can make the young look old and the old look young. They surely can make the fit look haggard. In The Pacific, they did not bother.

One scene in Episode 9 annoyed me. They staged much of the battle in a tiny rocky area that appeared to be about the size of half a football field. At one point, a lieutenant told the mortar guys to blow up a house in the middle of the battle area. I assumed it was there from more peaceful times and might be used as an enemy firing point.

The corporal very professionally called in a fire mission and blew it up with the second shot, which struck me as a bit lucky. They tried to make it look hyper competent and professional in the series.

The problem came later when they arrived at the house and discovered several dead or wounded non-combatants—maybe an old man and an old woman, a dying young woman, and a screaming but apparently unwounded infant. The directors made a big melodramatic deal out of the situation. I won’t spoil the details for you, but I thought it was ridiculous. Not that there was a house there. But that they were civilians in it during the firefight. It was about as likely as finding a similar family on the fifty yard line during the Super Bowl. Civilians do not sit around the living room of their home knitting when two or three hundred marines and Japanese soldiers engage in a multi-day firefight around their house.

I guess the producers were saving money on the number of sets they had to build, but Jesus H. Christ, make a little effort to bear some relation to the real world.

Episode 10

This was the return to the U.S. of the various combatants. It was anticlimactic, but probably had to be done for closure. It seemed realistic to me. I returned from Vietnam. I did not go through any of the traumatic firefights the guys in The Pacific experienced. But like everyone else in Vietnam, I was risking my life and got scared for it several times—enough to stop and contemplate that this might be it.

We also experienced the awful heat and humidity and a certain amount of deprivation of decent living conditions. Even at the best places I lived, I was awakened in the middle of the night by huge cockroaches crawling over me. In a forward bunker one night, I was awakened by two rats fighting right next to my cot. My defense was to tuck the mosquito net under the mattress on the cot. The rats were so big they knocked over a two-by-four during the fight.

Anyway, we were glad to go “back to the world” as we called it there. Each war had its popular songs. We had two: We gotta get out of this place and Leaving on a jet plane.

We wanted just to be home again where being shot at was rare and having a burger, fries, and a Coke at McDonald’s was routine. They have some U.S. fast food restaurants in the combat zones now. We had none.

In that regard, the U.S. totally lived up to what we remembered and hoped for.

But the transition from Vietnam was still unreal and made you blink and think, “Am I really here finally?”

On my next-to-last day in Vietnam, I was driven to the same replacement depot I had come through when I arrived in Vietnam—at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base near Saigon. We slept in a barracks and were awakened around 2 or 3 AM. Normally, we soldiers would grouse about that. Not that day. They could wake us any time they wanted.

We have left our rifles, helmets, bayonets, and flak jackets at our last unit, but in all other respects, we were dressed in the same clothes we had worn all year. And we had the ubiquitous duffel bag. After a quick breakfast, we were driven in a blue Air Force school bus to a civilian charter airliner complete with an all-female flight attendant crew. Tan Son Nhut was sometimes attacked by enemy rockets. Plus, there was always a danger we could be shot down by some sort of anti-aircraft gun or ground-to-air rocket. In short, we were not ready to celebrate getting on the plane.

Finally, we took off, gained altitude, and were told by announcement that we had left Vietnamese airspace. There was no cheer. Just a collective sigh of relief. We were tired. The stress of being in a combat zone had become ambient and we suddenly felt it begin to ease.

Today, and in wars before Vietnam, men went to war with their unit and came home with them. Not in Vietnam. We came alone and left alone. I knew no one in the plane going to Vietnam or returning from it. Officers and enlisted were mixed in the seats but the distance between them was still there so I as an officer had no nearby officer to talk to, nor much desire for one. I had some books I was reading. And we were rather fatigued from being in the war, being in the heat and humidity, and being awakened at 2AM.

Vietnam, like Okinawa and Iwo and all that are a long way from the U.S. First we flew to Tokyo to refuel. I remember seeing the cars and trucks on the wrong side of the street as we landed. Next stop was Anchorage, AK. We stopped there to refuel again, and got off the plane in the airport to buy candy and stuff. I remember going up to the lady in the circular information booth to ask directions. We were in Alaska but still in our jungle fatigues and jungle boots—rather incongruous. To make it more incongruous, the woman said, “Welcome home.” Home,” I thought. “Alaska’s not my home. Far from it.” I had never been to Alaska in my life. Then I remembered, “Oh, yeah. Alaska is a state now. I’m home in the United States. Thanks.”

From there we went to Travis AFB in Fairfield, CA—same base from which I and most Vietnam vets had departed enroute to Vietnam.We had some briefing where they warned us about being spit on or taunted about killing babies. The Pacific vets had none of that. When I entered the Army as a West Point cadet in 1964, we got half fare on planes and buses and trains, but we had to wear our uniform to get that deal. By the time we returned from Vietnam, they had changed the rule to say we did not have to wear our uniforms. We just had to show them our military ID card. Again, this was different from The Pacific where everyone wore their uniform for some time after they got back from the war, and were treated like heroes.

Must have been nice. We had to sneak back trying not to be recognized as Vietnam vets.

I then retraced my year-before steps further taking the bus from Travis to San Francisco Airport. I called my mom to tell her my flight number and arrival time in Philadelphia and got on my flight. I was not married and did not have a steady girl friend at the time.

For my mom, it was deja vu. She had waited for her husband, my father, and her brothers in a similar way back in 1945. I was born nine months to the day after she met my father getting off his troop ship she told me. My mom was glad to see me but her main relief had been when I left Vietnam earlier.

She drove me home, and I recall sitting on her front porch, in the house where I had lived in high school and college, in the evening with the sky still light. This all happened on September 6, 1970. Because I crossed the International Date Line, it was the longest day of my life—36 hours long as I recall. I had awakened in Vietnam in my jungle fatigues. In the course of that one day, I had been in Vietnam, Japan, Alaska, California, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. And it was still light in New Jersey.

The surreal part was on this monster day in my life, there was no sign of it. Everything was as it was before I went to Vietnam. It was as if it all never happened. It felt like a dream. Is this it? I don’t have to go back? I did not have any great need to talk about it, but on the other hand, no one asked. That seemed odd. I guess they had heard stories about combat zone vets being psychologically scarred and were afraid to stir up memories. I had no such problems, but I did not volunteer war stories and none were asked for. It seemed odd that I could go through such an odd year of my life and then it just slipped beneath the waves without a sound or celebration or ceremony.

There was a hint of that in the final episode of The Pacific, too. We were in the war zone. Then we weren’t. Now you see it. Now you don’t. “When you go out could you get the paper and some cinnamon buns?” “Sure, mom.”

As if it all never happened.

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.

John T. Reed