Movies about WWII Returning Veterans

In my latest novel, Scarred Dreams, the hero’s significant combat injuries bring him back to a hospital in the U.S. As you can imagine his initial reaction to becoming a disabled veteran is anger, followed by a sense of uselessness. Today we would treat him for anxiety, depression, maybe even PTSD, as he deals with his new reality. For the hero’s character, I drew inspiration from many sources including movies about WWII returning veterans coping with the after effects of their combat experiences.

The most famous of these movies is “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) which tells the stories of three servicemen returning to their hometown after the war. One of the three, a sailor, has lost his hands and has learned to use hooks for replacements. Though the other two, a soldier and an airman, were not wounded, they struggle to adjust to civilian life after their combat experiences. Becoming friends, the men help each other get through the adjustment.

There are two other, lesser known films focused on veterans who were wounded in some way or had difficulty returning to civilian life.

Theatrical poster. Released by United Artists.

“The Men” (1950), starring Marlon Brando, takes place primarily in a paraplegic ward in a veteran’s hospital. One of many men who have lost the use of their legs, Brando’s character’s bitterness and anger prevent him from making the necessary changes to adapt to his new life. The physical therapists give him exercises to strengthen his upper body, yet he refuses to cooperate. He doesn’t want to go out into the world in a wheelchair and he refuses to see his pre-war girlfriend. Eventually, the other men in the ward bring him around. He allows his girlfriend to visit and even takes her out. Reality slams him hard and he must work his way back to acceptance of the permanence of his injuries. Only he can make the adjustments required to build a new life.

Theatrical Poster. Released by RKO Pictures

Another good film about returning servicemen is “Till the End of Time” (1946). The three main characters are portrayed by Robert Mitchum, Guy Madison and Bill Williams. Mitchum’s character received a head injury and as a result has a metal plate in his head and suffers headaches. Guy Madison was just out of school when he enlisted. He can’t return to being his parents teenage son. He has to find his way to a new life. Dorothy McGuire plays his love interest. Williams’ character, a former Marine, lost both his legs. Before the war he had been a boxer. Now he refuses to get out of bed and use his artificial legs. These three veterans try to help each other. As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help feeling for these men with their physical struggles and their struggles with memories of the horror of combat.

Even if you are not a history buff, if you have a person in your life who has returned from combat overseas, these movies will give you some insight into what they are going through. War is war, whether it is eighty years ago in World War II or thirty years ago in the Gulf War or more recently in Afghanistan. War takes a toll on the ones who fight and the ones who participate in other ways, such as treating the wounded.

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Combat Fatigue & PTSD

These days everyone has heard of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The symptoms have been around since ancient times but had never defined as a diagnosis until 1980 when the DSM-III first introduced the term and diagnosis derived from studies of Vietnam War veterans. Although the first diagnosis of PTSD was based on combat experiences, the disorder can come from any traumatic event. Yet the disorder occurs more often in combat veterans, whether officially diagnosed or not.

During World War I the military used the term “shell shock” to describe men who came off the battle field unable to function normally. These men had spent too much time in the trenches with artillery shells bursting around them and machine gun fire rattling their brains. The only treatment was rest and hope that the men would eventually return to normal. Many never did.

By the time World War II started, the medical field had advanced in all areas, including in treatment of mental health problems. The term for PTSD used in WWII was “Combat Fatigue” or “Battle Fatigue.” If a soldier, sailor, airman or marine showed symptoms, his commanding officer sent him off the battlefield to a medical facility close to the front lines, such as the battalion aid station or clearing station, like any other casualty. Treatment consisted of medication to knock the soldier out for a couple of days. Once the patient woke up from his medically induced sleep, he usually felt better, maybe not good enough to return to duty, but better. The thinking in the medical community was to keep the man in the field, close enough to the fighting that he could hear the artillery fire, rather than sending him far back to a Rest and Recreation Center. With time to rest in a safe place, most of the men could return to duty. Often they didn’t return to their combat unit but to some other type duty.

Servicemen whose Combat Fatigue was so bad that they didn’t bounce back were sent to a General Hospital in the Theater of Operations and assigned to a neuropsychiatric ward. There the men received psychiatric care and, eventually, returned to the states. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and the response to treatment, the servicemen might be kept in the hospital for a while and then discharged. Severe cases remained hospitalized for longer periods of time. Forty percent (40%) of all medial discharges during World War II were due to Combat Fatigue.

Many other servicemen who returned from the war showed symptoms of PTSD but were never diagnosed. Families noticed the changes in them but the military offered no help. Some untreated sufferers, unable to return to some form of normal life, turned to alcohol, drugs or violence. Many of these ended up in jail or, worse, committed suicide.

If you want more information about PTSD/Combat Fatigue during WWII, I have included some links to interesting articles below:

The Perilous Fight – A PBS article about the mental toll of combat.

Warfare History Network article about combat fatigue

Article from Patton’s Best Medics about Combat Exhaustion

The following links are to training films made during WWII.

Combat Fatigue Irritability Film 1945 – Starring Gene Kelly, the famous actor, dancer, producer and director.

Introduction to Combat Fatigue 1944 – A film intended for patients to explain their illness.

Combat Exhaustion 1943 A training film for military physicians.

Let There Be Light, a documentary film by John Huston about soldiers suffering from psychiatric wounds and their treatment. It was intended to help the public understand the men returning from war. This film was suppressed by the military until the 1980’s because it was deemed controversial and demoralizing.

Searching For Our WWII Veterans – Amazing What You Find

Dad’s Gun

I posted this picture in 2011 with an article about the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion that my father-in-law, Dewey Paul Whitaker, served in during WWII. This is the gun he served on named “Cry’N Room.” The group of men in the photo are from his battery, but my father-in-law is not in the picture.

The photo we have does not have any names on it so the men have always been unknown.

Recently while researching for information about his father, Donald Rotett found this picture on my website. He recognized the picture and his father, Edwin J. Rottet (front row second from the left). He had the same picture and his copy had the names listed on the back.

โ€œLeft to Right Front row: {Lennon or Sernon}, Rottet, Stover, Erly. 2nd row: Oโ€™Brien, Swank, Bruce โ€œHedge row,โ€ Clifford, {Peppers or Geppers}. (one name missing)

Per the roster in the History of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion

Lennon, William F., Pfc., Trfd to Valley Forge Gen Hosp., Phoenixville, Penn. 29 August 1945 – Battery A

Rottet, Edwin J., Sgt., 1342 Leopold St., Jasper, Ind. – Battery A

Stover, Russel J., Sgt., 229 Main St., Olyphant, Penn. – Battery A

Erby, Charles E., Tec 5, Rt. 2, Newport, Tenn. – Battery A

O’Brien, Joseph H., Pfc., 189 Grand Ave., Englewood, N. J. – Battery A

Schwank, Henry V., Pfc., Discharged 10 September 1945. – Battery A

? Arwine, Bruce C., Pfc., Rt. 1, Corryton, Tenn. – Only Bruce listed in Battery A

Clifford, Joseph T., Pfc., Box 72, Stevenson, Conn. – Battery A

Peppers, Henry W., Pfc., Trfd to 177th FA Gp June 1945 – Battery A

Later, Donald contacted me to tell me about a model kit he found that had “Cry’N Room” as the name of the gun. We went online and found the kit made by a company in Italy. We couldn’t order directly from the overseas company so we searched and found a U.S. distributer. Our grandson is putting it together for us. It will be so cool to have a model of the gun Paul Whitaker served on to display in our home.

The model maker must have Googled the M7 looking for pictures on the internet, because the above picture comes up in the search results. They selected “Cry’N Room” for the decal on the model. We are so grateful they did because it represents memories of our fathers’ service.

Thanks to Donald Rottet for the names of the men in the picture and thanks for the information on the model of the M7 Priest. And thanks to everyone who has contacted me via my website. I appreciate all the questions and comments. I may not be able to help you every time, but I will try to get back to you.

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Cover Reveal – Scarred Dreams

๐—–๐—ผ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐—ฅ๐—ฒ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—น ๐ŸŽ‰
๐™Ž๐™˜๐™–๐™ง๐™ง๐™š๐™™ ๐˜ฟ๐™ง๐™š๐™–๐™ข๐™จ
A new Historic Romance from author Barbara Whitaker releases December 12th!

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In 1944, a German artillery shell destroyed Milt Greenleeโ€™s future in professional baseball. His hideously scarred face and useless arm require him to relearn and recondition. But no amount of rehab will restore his looks or his self-confidence. Thereโ€™s no chance a โ€œcrippleโ€ like him could catch the eye of the stunning Nurse McEwen.
Army Nurse, Annie McEwen dreams her voice will take her far away from her hateful, overbearing father. She hopes Milt, a patient who fought in Sicily, might be the one who can help her find closure with the death of her cousin.
As their attraction grows, how can their relationship survive Annie’s fears and Milt’s secret? 

Treatment of the WWII Wounded

Having recently undergone knee replacement surgery, I got to thinking about what the soldiers, sailors and marines who were wounded during WWII went through. The latest technology and medical knowledge insured that my surgery was successful. The same was true of the wounded in WWII.

Thanks to the medical innovations, both in the organization of how the wounded were handled and the medical techniques utilized, survival rates during WWII were much better than in previous wars. Also the survivors enjoyed an improved quality of life.

Let’s walk through what happened to a soldier after being wounded.

Immediately after being wounded, a medic performed first aid. That might include bandages, a tourniquet, sulfa powder and morphine for the pain. Stretcher bearers or fellow soldiers took the wounded man to the nearest aid station just behind the lines. At the aid station patients were examined and separated by severity and type of injury. Seriously wounded were treated and prepared for evacuation to a field hospital. Minor wounds were treated at the aid station.

11th Field Hospital Europe

At the field hospital a team of doctors and nurses performed any necessary surgery. They splinted broken bones, treated burns, open wounds, etc. If called for, they performed amputations. Think of the TV show M.A.S.H. Although the TV show was set in Korea, the concept of a mobile field hospital originated during WWII.

From the field hospital the wounded soldier was transported by ambulance to an evacuation hospital or a general hospital even further back where he would recover or be sent home. If the patient could recover and return to the fight, he was kept in the Theatre of War. Very few wounds required that the soldier be sent back to the states. Depending on the time and place, the wounded soldier might be transported by airplane or by ship.

Wounded Sailors followed a different path. If wounded aboard ship, a corpsman (similar to a medic) would initially treat the wounds. Then the sailor went to sick bay which is the hospital aboard ship. The doctors in sick bay would perform surgery or provide whatever treatment was needed. If the sailor needed to be transported to a hospital, he had to wait until his ship made port. Sometimes, he would be transferred to a hospital ship, if one was nearby. In the Pacific, a hospital ships waited nearby during major battles or invasions such as Iwo Jima. The hospital ships would take the badly wounded back to Hawaii where the Navy had a large hospital complex. In the Atlantic, the more severely wounded went to a hospital on the U.S. eastern seaboard.

USS Hope Naval Hospital Ship

Marines fighting in the Pacific Theatre followed a similar path as the soldiers wounded on land and then were evacuated onto a ship.

These methods of moving the wounded from combat to medical facilities with increasing capabilities insured that the more severely wounded got the treatment they needed in a timely manner. This resulted in fewer deaths and better outcomes.

In my research I have read about some of the innovative medical techniques developed during WWII. One example was the use of plasma. Back in the states the Red Cross collected blood to be used in hospitals and overseas, but transporting it over long distances proved difficult. They developed a technique to extract the plasma from the whole blood and preserve it so that it could be transported overseas and given to the wounded in place of whole blood. This innovation saved many lives. Read about it here.

Surgical techniques, skin graphs, plastic surgery, improved artificial limbs, air transport and much more improved the lives of the surviving wounded.

When I look down at the scar on my knee, I can’t help but wonder how much I am benefiting from the medical lessons learned during WWII.

Life Magazine published a story in 1945 that followed a soldier from the time he was wounded until he reached a hospital in the United States. George Lott Casualty includes incredible photographs. Click this link to read more about this story.

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Netherlands American Cemetery

Near Margraten, a small town in The Netherlands, the 611th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company established the 9th Army Military Cemetery for the burial of American military personnel who died in battles nearby. This was in September, 1944, in time for the Battle of the Bulge, fighting in Belgium and many more battles as the Americans fought into Germany.

YouTube video of Netherlands American Cemetery

I became interested in the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten several years ago when I read about their program called “Faces of Margraten.”

The goal of “Faces of Margraten” has been to give a face to the 8,288 of the military dead who rest at Margraten. In addition, at Margraten the “Tablets of the Missing” display 1,722 names of those who are still missing. If the remains of someone listed on the “Tablets” have been recovered and identified, a rosette is placed by their name. Out of approximately 10,000 interred or listed as missing, only nineteen hundred do not have pictures. If you are interested in helping this project click here to go to the “Faces of Margraten” website.

Bi-annually during Dutch Memorial Day weekend, the Cemetery displays the photos at the individuals’ graves. Also narrative stories about some of military personnel buried at Margraten are on display. Thousands of visitors learn about those who gave their lives for our freedom and theirs. The photos make the experience more personal. Looking into the face of the young man who gave his life makes that sacrifice real.

Another fascinating detail about the Margraten cemetery is that since 1945 local Dutch families have adopted graves and there is a waiting list of families who want to adopt a grave when one becomes available. The Dutch families place flowers on the graves and research the individual so they know who they were, what they did and how they died. In this way the Dutch honor their liberators, young American men who gave their lives to secure the freedom of the Dutch people.

Joseph Shomon wrote a book about the establishment of the Netherlands American Cemetery titled “Crosses in the Wind.” The book tells the story of the 611th Graves Registration Company from its beginning until the cemetery at Margraten was finished and dedicated. It is very interesting if you want to know more details about the people and the process.

The American Battle Monuments Commission bears responsibility for all of the American Cemeteries overseas where our dead from WWI, WWII and Korea are buried. This includes the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten.

My Favorite Tear-jerker Movies in WWII

Who doesn’t love a good tear-jerker? These dramatic movies draw you into the plot and, when something terrible happens, you can’t help but cry. During the 40’s lots of these emotional movies were made. The few listed here are ones that I’ve watched over and over.

5. The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)

This one is a real tear-jerker and maybe a little too sentimental. Starring Irene Dunn the film begins during WWII, with Nurse Dunn at a British hospital waiting for the wounded to be brought in. While she waits, in a flashback, she remembers coming to England in 1914, falling in love with an English Baronet and marrying him. World War I breaks out and the Baronet goes off to war. He is killed leaving Dunn and their baby son. When the boy grows up, he stubbornly follows in his father’s footsteps and joins the Army. I won’t give away the ending but as I said, it’s a real tear-jerker.

4. Arch of Triumph (1948)

I recently watched this one. I hadn’t seen for years. You may not have heard of it, but it is definitely worth watching. Set in Paris before the German invasion, Charles Boyer plays a doctor who is a refugee with no papers. He meets Ingrid Bergman on a rainy night and helps her find a place to stay. As the movie progresses they fall in love, but when the French deport Boyer, the impatient, flighty Bergman takes up with someone else. Boyer manages to return to Paris. He and Bergman go back and forth. And, of course, the tear-jerker ending. Boyer and Bergman give excellent performances and you’ll love the doorman.

3. Desire Me (1947)

Desire Me is another movie many have never heard of. Greer Garson plays a Parisian who fell in love with a fisherman from Britany played by Robert Mitchum. Garson remains in their cottage by the sea when Mitchum goes off to war. Captured, Mitchum spends much of the war in a German prison camp where he makes friends with the Robert Hart character. When Hart shows up at the cottage and tells Garson that he saw Mitchum killed, the news devastates Garson. Hart wants to stay and help. His uncanny knowledge of her, the cottage and the area, unsettles Garson but he explains that to stay sane in the camps Mitchum talked constantly about his wife and home. As a viewer you will sympathize with Garson, the loss of her love and the loneliness she has endured. Hart’s peculiar words and actions will have you wondering about him. I won’t spoil the ending. I’ll just say you’ll get caught up in the story and characters and you’ll have to watch to the very end.

2. I’ll Be Seeing You (1944)

In another unusual story set during WWII, Ginger Rogers plays a young woman who is serving a prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter. She’s allowed to come home for Christmas. On the train, she meets Joseph Cotton, a war veteran suffering from shell shock (what we call PTSD today). He likes her and decides to get off the train when she does. Rogers’ aunt invites the soldier over for a meal. Rogers keeps her convict status from him but her cousin, played by Shirley Temple, doesn’t like her and ends up telling her secret. The revelation spoils the budding relationship between Rogers and Cotton. Rogers fears no one will ever get past her convict status as she returns to prison only to find Cotton waiting for her. Sorry to give away the happy but poignant ending. I really love this movie because it shows how two damaged people can fall in love. I couldn’t find it available to watch anywhere. You might catch it on TCM one day. Watch it if you can.

1. Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Mrs. Miniver is my all time favorite WWII tear-jerker movie. In fact, it’s one of my favorite WWII movies ever. Set on the English home front, at the beginning of the war, Greer Garson portrays Mrs. Miniver, a beloved English housewife carrying on for her family as life changes due to the war. Walter Pigeon is Mr. Miniver, Richard Ney is their son in the RAF and Teresa Wright is their daughter-in-law. Village life in England during the war, with its cast of characters, makes a beautiful contrast to the bombings, the dangerous rescue at Dunkirk, and the threats of invasion. If you haven’t seen this movie, you’ve really missed out on a great one.

If, like me, you love romance with a dose of heartache, you will enjoy all of these movies. If you’ve read my books, you know that’s what I write and it’s what I read, too.

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Top WWII Prisoner of War Movies

Continuing with my favorite WWII movies, today I am listing my favorite WWII POW movies, in reverse order, of course. Actually, there are four movies and one TV series. There weren’t many POW films made, probably due to the difficult subject matter. These are, in my opinion, the best.

5. Unbroken (2014)

Unbroken is the story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who served in the Army Air Corps during WWII. After being shot down over the Pacific and floating in a lifeboat for weeks, the Japanese rescued Zamperini and took him to Japan as a prisoner of war. The Japanese defied the Geneva Convention by torturing prisoners and using them as slave labor. This movie depicts the brutality of the Japanese toward prisoners. Based on what I have read, the depiction of the B-24 crashing into the ocean accurately portrays the bomber breaking in half when it hit the water. I prefer the book because it covers much more of Zamperini’s life. Still, this movie is definitely worth watching.

4. Hogan’s Heroes (TV Series 1965-1971)

It seems unlikely to have a sitcom set in a German POW camp, yet I loved Hogan’s Heroes. Both funny and intelligent, the show depicted the antics of the prisoners and the incompetence of the German commander. My favorite character was Sergeant Schultz, the good-hearted guard whose famous line was “I know nothing.” I have always believed that the idea for Hogan’s Heroes came from the bits of comedy in the movie “Stalag 17,” on the list below.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Bridge_on_the_River_Kwai_(1958_US_poster_-Style_A).jpg#/media/File:The_Bridge_on_the_River_Kwai(1958_US_poster_-_Style_A).jpg Fair Use

3. Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

In Bridge on the River Kwai, English POW’s were forced to build a railroad bridge in Burma by their Japanese captors. Alec Guinness, the English commander, insisted that the prisoners build a proper bridge as a moral builder. Others including William Holden’s character disagreed and preferred sabotage. The Japanese commander, desperate to complete the bridge, let Guinness take charge, realizing more got done than when he threatened and punished the prisoners. Holden escaped and then led a group back to destroy the bridge. Guinness was so proud of his bridge that he almost spoiled the plan. Bridge on the River Kwai has it all, action, intrigue, superb characters and a fascinating plot. Definitely a must see.

By Internet Movie Poster Awards., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7408622

2. Stalag 17 (1953)

Stalag 17, starring William Holden, depicts a German Prisoner of War camp where American airmen are being held. Holden played a cynical entrepreneur who spent his time organizing betting games, distilling alcohol and spying on the Russian women prisoners. The men suspected someone was spying for the Germans. They accused Holden. A new prisoner, who supposedly blew up a German munitions train, arrived. Eventually the spy was revealed and Holden became a hero when he helped the new prisoner escape. Conditions in the movie were not near as bad as the actual prison camps. Never the less, Stalag 17 is very entertaining. Holden received an Oscar for his performance. I definitely recommend this movie. It’s a classic.

1. The Great Escape (1963)

An exciting and entertaining movie, The Great Escape depicts a German Luftwaffe (Air Force) Prisoner of War camp. The Germans had separate POW camps for their Air Force, Army and Navy. The Luftwaffe also separated the officers from the enlisted men. In The Great Escape actors Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn and David McCallum portray prisoners who plan an escape, not of one or two prisoners, but of fifty to one hundred. In addition to escaping, the strategy was to keep German soldiers busy and away from the front. They dug three tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry to increase their odds of success. Steve McQueen’s character tried to escape several times with no luck. He was called the “Cooler King” because each time he tried to escape he was put in the “Cooler.” The POW leadership asked him to escape, find out all he can about the area surrounding the camp, then get caught and brought back. That’s when the famous scene where McQueen jumps the motorcycle happens. The Great Escape is a great movie that I’ve watched several times. It’s one of my favorite WWII movies. If you haven’t seen it, you should make a point to watch this one.

I am an old movie buff as you can tell from my “lists”. I hope you are enjoying these posts and that you have found some excellent movies to watch.

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The Lead Up To World War II – Is History Repeating Itself?

The events leading up to the Second World War is a timely topic. We can see similar patterns today. So I thought it would be a good time to remind all of us of past events to help us understand the present.

In January 1933 Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. He soon suspended the Constitution of Germany and, therefore, became their Dictator.

Rhineland, demonbug, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

March 7, 1936, Germany re-militarized the Rhineland. According to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, the Rhineland was to remain a demilitarized zone. The Rhineland, an area along the western border of Germany bordering on France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, remained a part of Germany after WWI but it was supposed to provide a buffer zone for their neighbors to the west. When Hitler marched his soldiers into the Rhineland, there were no significant objections from the former Allied countries. This was a small but important victory which embolden Hitler.

March 12, 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Hitler claimed that the German speaking people of Austria should be part of Germany. He had already made know his belief that all Germans should be within one nation or Reich. Also pro-Nazi groups had been trying to destabilize Austria by attempting to overthrow the Austrian Government in 1934. Hitler denied any involvement or desire to annex Austria in 1935. In February 1938 a new Austrian Chancellor was appointed after his predecessor was assassinated. Under pressure from Germany to do their bidding this new Chancellor resigned. Hitler demanded that the President appoint an Austrian Nazi as the new Chancellor. When he refused, Hitler ordered the invasion. Most Austrians welcomed the Germans thinking their life would be better as part of the Third Reich.

Sudetenland Occupation By Bundesarchiv, Bild 137-004055 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5418581

September 30, 1938, Germany, Britain, France and Italy signed the Munich Agreement. In it the Sudetenland, a large swath of Czechoslovakia, was ceded to Germany in return for a promise of peace from Hitler. Again Hitler’s explanation for taking the Sudetenland centered around Hitler’s belief that German Sudeten’s in the area should be part of Germany. He also wanted more “living space” for the growing German Reich. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier believed Hitler’s promise of peace, but Hitler did not.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s forces invaded Poland, knowing that Britain and France had treaties with Poland stating that they would come to Poland’s defense if she were attacked. At that point, both countries were obligated to honor their treaties. On September 3, 1939, France, Britain, Canada and other British Commonwealth nations declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.

Invasion of Poland 1939 en:User:Listowy, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

It soon became apparent to the world that Hitler’s ambitions went further that wanting Poland. After originally agreeing to split Poland with Russia (Soviet Union), Hitler had a change of heart and attacked Russia (Soviet Union) on June 22, 1941.

The United States stayed out of the “European” war until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A few days later, on December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States.

Does any of this step-by-step expansion make you think of what is going on today? Do you see the slow plotting, taking a little territory at a time, to unite people who speak the same language, share a culture and a history? Do these excuses justify one nation taking over another sovereign nation?

My Top Five WWII Navy Movies

Continuing with my WWII movie theme, here are my favorite Navy movies, (that is movies about the Navy on the water, not on land). Most of these are set in the Pacific Theatre because that’s where the larger naval battles took place fighting the Japanese. In the Atlantic, the U.S. Navy mostly fought the German U-boats attacking convoys headed for England.

5. The Enemy Below (1957)

Staring Robert Mitchum as Captain of an American destroyer escorting an Atlantic convoy and Curt Jurgens Captain of a German U-Boat. It’s a cat and mouse chase where the American Captain goes after the German Captain each gaining respect for the other. You’ll have to watch it to see how it ends. I’ll just say the end is exactly what you would expect – one sinks the other, but there’s more to it which makes the whole movie worthwhile.

4. Operation Pacific (1951)

John Wayne, Patricia Neal and Ward Bond star in the story of a submarine in the South Pacific dealing with torpedo’s that don’t explode when fired. After two encounters with the Japanese when their torpedo’s fail, the last ending in the death of the captain, Ward Bond, Executive Officer Wayne searches for a solution. My favorite aspect of this movie is the rekindled romance between Wayne and his ex-wife Patricia Neal, a Navy Nurse. There’s plenty of action to see in this movie, but the romance makes it one of my favorites.

3. PT-109 (1963)

The story of Pres. John Kennedy’s heroic actions during WWII. The film, made during Kennedy’s presidency, stars Cliff Robertson as Kennedy, Ty Hardin, Robert Culp, Robert Blake, and Norman Fell. After their small PT boat is rammed by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy rescues a wounded crew member by swimming him ashore. He leads the crew on another dangerous swim before they are finally rescued after many days stranded on an island. Kennedy is a favorite of mine and this true story proves he was a real hero.

2. Midway (1976)

The 1942 Battle of Midway Island proves to be turning point in the Pacific. An impressive cast, including Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, and Robert Wagner, depicts this epic battle at sea. This excellent war movie is one you should not miss.

1. In Harms Way (1965)

This epic naval war movie stars John Wayne, Patricia Neal, Kirk Douglas, and many more. The action starts on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor where Wayne, a determined Naval officer escapes with a small group of ships. Relieved from duty and put on a desk, he wants to get back in the fight. Again, the romance between Wayne and Patricia Neal, Navy Nurse. Other complications include Wayne meeting his estranged son, now in the Navy; the son’s romance; and Douglas’ drunken violence. Wayne gets himself reassigned to lead an important operation and the naval battles begin. As you can guess, I like the romance angle in this movie. It’s plot is complicated by complex characters, each with their own baggage. The acting is superb, as is the action, weaving an excellent movie I could watch over and over.