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.
“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.
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.
Sign up for my newsletter by clicking HERE.
Follow my blog by filling in your email in the right-hand column and clicking on the FOLLOW button.