After studying HBO’s “The Pacific,” and historical research on many of the Marines portrayed in this 2010 film, I’ve become an adherent to this miniseries. Let me say that I loved HBO’s “Band of Brothers.” The story behind their D-Day jump is remarkable history, as well as their push to Germany from Carentan, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. Dick Winters and the other men of the 506th PIR became legends as a result of Stephen Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers and subsequent HBO series. Naturally, comparisons have been made of the two HBO miniseries–many less favorable, and unfairly so–of “The Pacific” following its premier.
Writers of “The Pacific” had to tell their war story in a different manner from “Band of Brothers.” They were challenged with intertwining the story of three main characters: John Basilone, Robert Leckie, and Eugene Sledge, all who entered and left the war at different times. All three men served in different Marine Regiments. “Band of Brothers” benefitted from a more consistent storyline; Its larger cast of characters all served together in the same unit from their time at Toccoa, Georgia through the end of the war in 1945.
Extra: For an animated tour into the history on the War in the Pacific narrated by Tom Hanks, check out HBO’s Battle Map web page from its website “The Pacific” by clicking here.
For me, “The Pacific” was deeper and more of a psychological study than “Band of Brothers.” “The Pacific” benefits from the memoirs and books written by many of its veterans and published well before the HBO miniseries 2010 debut. The miniseries’ writers based “The Pacific” on history from the book on John Basilone, I’m Staying with My Boys: The Heroic Life of Sgt. John Basilone, USMC; and memoir from Chuck Tatum’s Red Blood, Black Sand: Fighting Alongside John Basilone from Boot Camp to Iwo Jima; Robert Leckie‘s Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific; Eugene Sledge‘s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, and China Marine: An Infantryman’s Life after World War II; R.V. Burgin‘s Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific; and Sidney Phillips‘ You’ll Be Sor-ree!: A Guadalcanal Marine Remembers the Pacific War.
Fairly well-read on war in the Pacific and its land and sea battles, I can appreciate the ferocity of fighting featured in “The Pacific.” I had read Leckie’s Helmet for my Pillow and Sledge’s With the Old Breed following the series premier—writers of the miniseries having referencing both books. The final episode was one of the more emotional and dramatic of the series. It was tough to hold back tears as Sgt. R.V. Burgin, Cpl. Merriell “Snafu” Shelton, and Cpl. Eugene Sledge went their separate ways from the train in the series’ finale.
The concluding installment focused on the end of the War in the Pacific for Sledge, Leckie, and Basilone’s widow, Lena, and what lie ahead upon their return home.
Sledge went on to become a popular biology professor at Montevallo College in his home state of Alabama. He passed away in 2001. In what is considered by many to be the greatest memoir of battle ever written, Sledge’s With the Old Breed was published in 1981 and is still in print today—proving Sledge as wonderful and engaging a writer as he was a professor. With the Old Breed is a fantastic book, available in both hard-copy and electronic format. There are few books that I have read more than once–this is one of them.
Leckie, a distinguished writer after the war, became an AP correspondent and wrote 40 books before his passing in 2001. One poignant scene from “The Pacific’s” final episode is worth mentioning: Leckie, portrayed by actor James Badge Dale, is sitting in his hospital bed—seemingly abandoned after his nurse had run off at hearing the news of Japan’s surrender. For the nurse, the war was over, but for Leckie, there was no end. According to Leckie’s wife Vera in 2009, he was haunted by memories of the fighting on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester and Peleliu.
U.S. Marine Sergeant Lena Basilone never remarried after her husband John’s death on Iwo Jima. She passed away in 1999.
By Scott Lyons