I’ve been slowly finishing the 15 hours of Ken Burns’ “The War” on PBS. Reviewers have described it as elegiac, which seems right in style and substance. Among the many arresting images, I found the one above from the National Archives particularly striking. The photo is of of a soldier inside a bombed out Catholic church in Acerno, Italy during September of 1943.
How well the narrative in “The War” works rests on those they interviewed. To the show’s benefit there are several powerful storytellers including Sam Hynes, Paul Fussell, and Sen. Daniel Inouye. But perhaps the most haunting words come from Eugene Sledge who died in 2001 (although he was interviewed earlier by Studs Terkel). A passage from his book With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa is read by Josh Lucas (and played at 16:30 in this interview):
"It was the darkest night I ever saw. The overcast sky was as black as the dripping mangroves that walled us in. I had the sentation of being in a great black hole and reaching out to touch the sides of the gunpit to orient myself. Slowly, the reality of it all formed in my mind. We were expendable. It was difficult to accept. We come from a nation and a culture that values life and the individual. To find oneself in a situation where your life seems of little value is the ultimate in loneliness."