With Memorial Day weekend in full swing, many people have taken to the cemetery of their hometown to place flags on the graves of the soldiers who are no longer with us. Our little down did it last week with the cooperation of the local Veterans Council, VFW, American Legion, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, and local citizens who felt the calling to help out.

Our local Memorial Day Parade will kick off, (weather permitting) at 9:20 today. Once that is over, we’ll partake in the traditional Memorial Day activities by grilling some food outside while giving thanks to those who made this all possible.

One of the other traditional fares on Memorial Day is the War Film marathons that are always on television. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites in our household and they’re listed right here. They’re listed in no particular order, so no one film is ranked higher than any other. This list could easily have been tripled. I had no idea I had so many war films on DVD…although my wife would beg to differ.

Feel free to chime in with any of your favorites that may not have made the list.

Tears of the Sun (2003) Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser:
It doesn’t get much better than having a bunch of Navy SEALs laying waste to terrorists in Nigeria while rescuing an American doctor and leading refugees to safety. Bruce Willis is the SEAL Lt. who leads the mission and goes against orders when the see the refugees being raped and slaughtered by the terrorists.

Of course, having the beautiful Monica Bellucci as the doctor makes every scene she’s in a must-see. Eamonn Walker is outstanding as “Zee” Pettigrew the SEAL RTO and grenadier. Cole Hauser as the SEAL M-60 gunner “Red” Atkins is a total badass with a funky hairdo.

It’s an old-fashioned gung-ho film where the American guys are definitely wearing the white hats here and Willis, as the protagonist is shown quite often as the jaded combat vet opening his heart to the refugees. A bit over the top? Sure, but it was characterized as an Antoine Fuqua Navy SEAL shoot ‘em up and with Bellucci in the background…. Play it again Sam.

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) John Wayne, Forrest Tucker, John Agar:
Classic John Wayne action film, using the backdrop of World War II. Wayne is a battle-hardened tough sergeant, Stryker who has been in the Marine Corps for a decade and he must mold a bunch of recruits into a tough, rifle squad of Marines.

The action takes place first at Tarawa where Wayne’s best friend lies wounded, calling to him in front of the Marines’ positions in the dark. Wayne, won’t go to him for fear of giving away the unit’s position to the Japanese. Some of the men, Agar and Tucker hate Stryker for different reasons but grow to understand and appreciate the sergeant as the man who will lead them thru the tough times.

The film climaxes on Iwo Jima and the famous flag raising is recreated on film using three of the actual survivors of the Suribachi flag raising. The Marine Corps totally bought in on the making of the film, including giving a drill sergeant to the cast to get them ready to play Marines. It was totally filmed on Camp Pendleton.

Battleground (1949) James Whitmore, Van Johnson, John Hodiak:
Made just after the war and the same year as Sands of Iwo Jima, Battleground takes place during the Battle of the Bulge where a group of paratroopers from the 101st Airborne are rushed from a rest camp in France to the frozen encircled bastion at Bastogne in Belgium. The Germans must take the hub of a major road network and the 101st must hold at any cost.

This was one of the grittiest war films made up to that point.  The airborne troops are dirty, tired, and scared. They’re slugging it out with a determined, well-trained enemy in snow-draped forests where the enemy can be extremely close before they can be seen.

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James Whitmore who saw action in the Pacific as a Marine was outstanding as the troops’ Sergeant Kinnie. He’s a grizzled vet who looks like he’d been in combat for a decade. Van Johnson as the scrounger, and wise-cracking rifleman that every infantry platoon since the Roman Legions seems to have. Ricardo Montalban has a small role and Douglas Fowley as the griper and complainer with loose store-bought teeth steals many of the scenes he’s in.

Black Hawk Down (2001) Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana:
The film directed by Ridley Scott was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two and is based on the outstanding book of the same name by Mark Bowden. It stuck very close to the facts and shows the brutal nature of the war in Somalia and the depths of courage that the Delta Force operators had, especially SFC Randy Shughart and SFC Gary Gordon, both of who were decorated with the Medal of Honor posthumously after the battle.

During the early days of October 1992, Task Force Ranger with the Delta operators and the Ranger Bn. along with Task Force 160 aviation elements try to capture Omar Salad Elmi and Abdi Hassan Awale Qeybdiid, two of Mohamad Farah Aidid’s top advisers. That’s when all hell breaks loose. A Blackhawk helicopter is shot down and then another and the Rangers and Delta operators risk it all to get to the pilots and crew out.

The fast roping scenes early in the film were done by members of the 3/75 Ranger Regiment. Scott didn’t spend much time on character development as the action goes fast and furious. But the battle scenes are top notch and Eric Bana as “Hoot” Gibson is outstanding. The film’s score keeps the watcher on edge with a staccato, visceral sadness that permeates the film. Having lost a close friend from the Delta Force operators there, it was tough to watch at first, but it is a first-rate action film.

Gettysburg (1993) Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, Martin Sheen:
The film is based on the 1975 work of fiction “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara which won a Pulitzer. Since this is the American Civil War, neither side is presented as the “bad guys”. The Southerners are roundly portrayed as men of honor who widely respect and in some cases, love the men they’re fighting against. 5000 reenactors were used as extras in the battle scenes where 50,000 men fell.

Sam Elliot has an excellent cameo as Union Cavalry Brigadier John Buford who slows the Confederate advance just long enough to allow the Army to reach the high ground. Jeff Daniels steals the show as Joshua Chamberlain, the 20th Maine’s commander. He basically saved the Union’s bacon at Little Round Top. That battle sequence alone is worth watching the film for.

Tom Berenger as Longstreet and Richard Jordan were both outstanding as well. Sheen as Robert E. Lee however awfully wooden. George Lazenby, the former James Bond for one film, (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) had a brief cameo as NC Brigadier General J. Johnston Pettigrew

We Were Soldiers Once (2002) Mel Gibson, Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliot:
This is an intense film that graphically shows the nature of the close combat that the troops fought in Vietnam. Gibson portrays LTC Hal Moore the commander of the 7th Cavalry at LZ X-Ray in Ia Drang Valley early in 1965. This was based on the book of the same name by Hal Moore.

Sam Elliot steals every scene he’s in as CSM Plumley, a decorated WWII vet who has no tolerance for the typical Army BS. Plumley is a total badass whose men are more afraid of him than the enemy. Greg Kinnear is superb as the chopper pilot “Snake” Crandall. The clichés get a bit thick at times as with many war films but the filmmakers at least put a human face on the enemy. They’re not the mindless, savages from Tears of the Sun or Blackhawk Down.

This was the first major battle of the Vietnam war and shows the suffering and carnage that both sides will suffer for pieces of earth that mean nothing in the large scale of things.

A Bridge Too Far (1977) Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Anthony Hopkins:
A breathtaking, sweeping film with an all-star cast that gets a bit long at times but with the jump sequences and action scenes top notch. It covers the blunder by the Allied High Command to allocate all of their airborne forces to lay an  “Airborne Carpet” along a single highway seizing the key bridges from Holland into Germany. Even after they learn that the area is filled with German SS Panzer divisions.

Sean Connery and Robert Redford stand out…as usual with their performances. Anthony Hopkins is outstanding as Operation Market Garden’s final puzzle piece LTC John Frost. He’s the man tasked to take the final bridge at Arnhem.

The soundtrack was a bit hokey but it is a classic war film with several great cameos…especially James Caan, Elliot Gould and Liv Ullmann. Interestingly enough, the film was panned in the US for the audacity to show the blunder of the high command. Gene Hackman’s Polish accent was atrocious but the rest of the movie was a classic war film.

The Great Escape (1963) Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, James Garner:
Another All-Star cast, another must-see film. Based on a true story, this is a fictionalized account of the massive British escape from Luft Stalag III in Lower Silesia, Germany, now Zagan, Poland. The characters are based on real men and in a few cases, composites of several POWs. However, no Americans were present at the camp, that is a fabrication and an excuse to land McQueen on the cast.

The film for some odd reason omits the Canadians who in reality played a big part of the escape. In fact, it was the Canadians who were the “Tunnel King” characters played by Charles Bronson and John Leyton. The POWs are moved to an “escape-proof camp” where they quickly adapt to dig several tunnels where they hope to free 250 of their own men.

McQueen steals the show in every scene he’s in. The 4th of July moonshine scene was excellent but his motorcycle stunt riding scene where he’s being chased by the German military on bikes cemented him as an international film star.

The Longest Day (1962) All-Star Cast:
The film was an epic undertaking being almost a docudrama leading up to the D-Day Invasion of June 6, 1944, and thru the events of that very first, very long day. It shows the events from both sides and what entailed leading up to and during the invasion. The film was shot in black and white as to give an authentic look to the newsreels of WWII.

The cast is all top notch with British actor Richard Todd playing Major John Howard the man responsible for seizing “Pegasus Bridge”. Todd was actually on the assault during the war and lends a tremendous amount of realism to the production. The producers had military consultants from all of the countries involved and several of the consultants were officers who took part in the battle.

This would be the quintessential WWII film is they took the opening beach scene from Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”, converted it to black and white and placed it on the battle scenes here. The Rangers scene at Pointe du Hoc was well done but could have been better.

The Green Berets (1968) John Wayne, Aldo Ray, David Janssen:
John Wayne was concerned by the anti-war/anti-military movement in the United States and decided to portray the American involvement in a very positive light with the Green Berets which was loosely based on the book by Robin Moore.

The clichés are thick, as with most John Wayne war flicks but the Camp A-107 scene, filmed at Ft. Benning was based on the real battle of Nam Dong where Roger Donlon was awarded the Medal of Honor. Critics excoriated the film which they saw as a flag-waving pro-war film. But it was a box-office success.

The film was Wayne’s ode to the Special Forces troops, not the war which was lost in translation of the virulent anti-war sentiment at the time. Wayne was quoted as saying “what a magnificent job this still little-known branch of service is doing. … I wasn’t trying to send a message out to anybody,” he reasoned, “or debating whether it is right or wrong for the United States to be in this war.” He did, however, have a line which has become a classic. John Wayne’s character Col. Kirby tells David Janssen, “Out here, due process is a bullet.”

Honorable Mentions:
Some other favorites that didn’t make the cut but are very worthwhile films include:
Stalag 17, Twelve O’clock High, Downfall, Lawrence of Arabia, Defiance, The Battle of Britain, Tora, Tora, Tora, and Kelly’s Heroes.

Let’s turn on the DVD player, …. Which one goes on first?

Photos/videos courtesy of IMDB