Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Learning something new from "WWII in HD"

B-17 Stratofortress, B-24 Liberator, M-1 rifle, dogface, Tarawa, D-Day, Kasserine Pass, Patton, Mt. Suribachi, panzer, blitz...

And so it goes.

Watching "WWII in HD" on the History Channel, I realized that all these terms -- and many more -- are etched permanently into my brain. Chris and I have been transfixed on the couch for the past three nights watching the personal WWII stories unfold in HD. Both of our fathers were WWII veterans. Chris's father was an Army lifer and also a veteran of Korea and Vietnam. It's not so much the HD but the new color footage that makes the difference. And I'm learning some new things in the process.

Baby Boomer boys devoured war stories. Those stories usually came from magazines and books and black-and-white TV and other boys. Fathers often didn't share the real stories about war. Maybe they thought it would damage our fragile sensibilities. Maybe they just wanted to forget.

I turned to books. In the fourth grade, I pulled Richard Tregaskis' "Guadalcanal Diary" from my dad's packed shelves and read it over the course of a couple days. It was more exciting than "Ivanhoe" and "Treasure Island," other books on my father's shelves. But Tragaskis' book was about recent history. It was also about my father and our neighbors and my Little League coach. I was pleased to see that the character of Tragaskis, the war correspondent, is being featured on the History Channel series.

After "Guadalcanal Diary," I turned to Bill Mauldin and Willie and Joe. I tried some of the war's "big books," such as "Berlin Diary" by William Shirer and Churchill's six-book series. Just couldn't get into it. Boring. Too much about politics. Too little action.

Not sure what makes "WWII in HD" so vivid. The only true HD is the film shot of living veterans. The old footage has been high-def'd, which may make it a bit more vivid. But most of the footage was shot from cockpit cameras or G.I. photographers dodging bullets. I credit story and editing. The twelve featured witnesses to that era have distinctive voices. Pilot Bert Stiles was obviously a talented writer and left behind some samples for the series. He was killed in action. There's an Army nurse and a Nisei soldier who wonders at the irony of being held behind barbed wire in a German prison camp while his family was being held behind barbed wire in an Idaho internment camp.

For me, it always comes down to story.

No comments: