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"The War"- Episode Four

alec vanderboom

I've really got to hand it to Ken Burns. The interweave of the stories of soldiers from four US towns seemed clumsy at first. It took me a while to get the hang of making the dramatic transitions between people and places in the massive theater of this war. Now that we're in the fourth episode, I find myself really appreciating the brilliance of this structure on its own terms. WWII is such a huge war to get you head around. Knowing how things interrelate, and returning again and again to individual families, helps the viewer gain perspective on the full scope of the war AND emotionally feel the human sacrifice involved. I really encourage anyone who missed this series to check it out on Netflix once it become available.

To wet your appetite, here are a few highlights from this episode:

A paper boy talks about the shock of seeing the blue service stars hung in the front windows of the houses in his home town suddenly turn to gold stars whenever a death in the family occurred.

The combat pilots over Germany faced such terrible odds, it makes Heller's Catch-22 seem rather Pollyannaish. One fighter pilot described how one mission was so awful that on his way back to the airstrip he suddenly lost control of his right hand. The right hand started involuntarily shaking so hard that he had to land his airplane using his left hand on the control stick. He continued to have terrible nightmares of this mission after the war, for over 50 years. Whenever he dreamed of this mission, when he woke up his right hand would be shaking and virtually useless. Those mornings he would go downstairs for breakfast, and his wife Jackie would see his right hand shaking. Without a word being said, she would always hand him a cup of coffee in his left hand. I can't quite explain it, but that silent communication of handing a cup of coffee sensitively to your husband's left hand seemed sort of the essence of a good marriage.

One more story, which actually comes from episode three. An American family with three children (the youngest being only 3 months old) is swept up in an internment camp after the Japanese invade their home on the Philippines. The parents do their best to provide a stable home life in the midst of this chaos. The mom said "for as long as possible, we are going to eat our dinner (a simple meal of rice & fish) at our good wooden table, with a table cloth and on our colored plates." Something to think about as we go about our common tasks of preparing & eating our daily bread with our families.