It’s not a wild mania. Devouring regular amounts of World War II history, watching countless WWII programs, listening to big band hits from the era and reading old wartime columns by Rock County Star Herald’s Al McIntosh as we observe Memorial Day and remember those who gave up their lives for our country is not an excessive obsession.
Yet my wife thinks watching “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific,” two 10-part mini series about the conflicts in the European and Pacific theaters, in addition to the above, is extreme.
“It’s been 15 hours of gunfire and explosions every night before bed for months,” my wife said.
“No it hasn’t,” I responded. “It was more like 20 hours. There’s about 15 hours of the Ken Burns World War II documentary streaming on Netflix that I’m gonna watch next. But that’s nothing.”
Maybe my wife would be onto something if I got the America in WWII magazine I was thumbing through at the bookstore. Maybe she’d be onto something if I planned to go to that WWII air show or go to the recruiter I spotted at the northeast corner of the mall to enlist in the armed forces. But I didn’t do that.
OK, so I went back and got the magazine. You can hardly call that a mania, though.
On Veterans Day this November, I’ll be thanking our vets for all they’ve done for our country. On Memorial Day this Monday, I’ll be thinking of those who paid the ultimate price for our way of life. And that’s partly because I read dispatches from WWII war correspondent Ernie Pyle.
“When is this war gonna end?” my wife asked a couple weeks ago when I was firing up the Ken Burns WWII documentary series before bed. I told her it’d be all over on Memorial Day.
“When’s Memorial Day?” she asked.
Days later, on the night we were going through the grueling and costly battles of Anzio and Monte Cassino during the Italian campaign, my wife and I realized our exhaustion.
I thought I’d seen it all after the brutal stuff about the B-17 Flying Fortresses. Did you know bomber crews had to fly 25 missions in order to complete their tours of duty, but that the average crew was only expected to complete eight to 12 missions before being shot down or disabled? WWII may be known as “the good war,” but it was ugly.
“Yeah,” my wife said to me. “Every time I fall asleep, the TV assaults our room. Can’t you lower the volume? At least turn off the subwoofer.”
My wife didn’t understand why I was watching the series. Every time she looked up, she saw these horrific images of war—wasted bodies washing up onto Omaha Beach, emaciated people who were starving to death in concentration camps.
Why was I watching this stuff? It was awful. Yet I couldn’t take my eyes off it, and I’d justify my interest by saying it’s our responsibility as Americans to remember Pearl Harbor, remember our history.
Or maybe what made it so engaging was the inhumanities of war juxtaposed with the humanities of humanity, the brotherhood of those fighting the battles on the ground, in the air and upon the sea, of those back home going without supplies and saving cooking grease to provide resources for the war effort.
“I feel my backbone,” a survivor of a Manila concentration camp recalled a kid shouting to others who weren’t “as lucky” as she pushed her finger into her belly. The children in the camp tried to make the best of their situation, in spite of all the horrific things that’d been done to them.
I guess maybe my wife had a point—maybe this was no kind of viewing before bed.
Then again, I could just finish watching the series in the living room, a task I’d eventually accomplish before Memorial Day weekend. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to those who serve. My wife can’t tell you how thankful she is for the end of my WWII mania this Memorial Day season.
I still insist it isn’t a mania.
Beginning tonight, the Turner Classic Movies TV network will be presenting its 72-hour Memorial Day Marathon. That’s when my wife can legitimately accuse me of having a mania. Because I’ll be watching classic war movies all weekend long.
A version of this story originally appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, today and earlier this week. You can find other stories from Michael Picarella at MichaelPicarellaColumn.com.