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HBO is currently about three quarters of the way through presenting The Pacific, the story of young marines fighting in the Pacific Theater in World War II. Like Band of Brothers, this is a Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman production. And like Band of Brothers, just minutes into the program, you feel as if you’re right there with the First Marines.
A number of my relatives served in World War II. As a boy, I was able to thumb through their photo albums, and I was able, from a distance to look at what a boy sees: the glory of battle and the pride of service to country. Most of what I saw was from Europe, were my uncles served in the Army Air Force. But another, my uncle Frank, served in the Pacific… in 1944 and 1945. Unless someone told you he was there, you’d never know. He never talked about it.
My uncle Frank was single, lived with his parents, and from my youthful point of view, only cared about two things: golf and gin. Every evening, he’d walk up to the full bar my grandparents had in their house and tell nobody in particular, “it’s time for a drinkee-poo.” And he’s pour himself a full glass of gin. At the time, I hated it. I couldn’t understand why that old fashioned alcohol drink was such a part of him. He always seemed aloof, distant, and silly. He was my least-favorite uncle because I could never get to know him.
After watching the remarkable and horrifying episode on Guadalcanal, I thought of my uncle Frank, who passed away a number of years ago at a nice old age. I hadn’t thought of him in several years. And then, more recently, the even more graphic episode on Peleliu made me wonder where exactly my uncle had been in the Pacific. He was with the First Marines. No doubt, he witnessed in person what I watched safely from my couch, with my two dogs and wife for company, safe and secure. We cried in the safety of our home.
If I knew then what I know now, I’d have poured my uncle a glass of gin every day. He deserved it.
The Pacific is based loosely on the books “Helmet for My Pillow,” by Robert Leckie, and “With the Old Breed,” by Eugene B. Sledge. Additional material was used from “Red Blood, Black Sand,” by Chuck Tatum, and “China Marine,” By Eugene Sledge.