Five years after founding The Gratitude Campaign, I've received over 10,500 e-mails, and 1,500 comments on YouTube. It seems that there is a lot to talk about with regard to gratitude for those who serve; not the least of which is the ever present challenge of understanding how to keep the politics out of it. Hopefully this blog will give us an opportunity for some rational, reasonable, and respectful discussion. I hope you'll join us...

~Scott Truitt, FOUNDER


Thursday, March 31, 2011

On The Pacific

Continuing our conversation on movies that have informed and inspired our gratitude for those who serve, I suppose I could have chosen any number of the movies that people listed as their most inspiring. But for some reason, The Pacific is standing out to me right now as worthy of discussion.

Like many of the other movies listed, I think that Spielberg and Hanks’ HBO series The Pacific tells the full story of those who serve and have served, with sometimes brutal realism, shocking imagery, and very frank, to the point, but at the same time very human writing.

There is one scene in the whole series that is standing out to me right now, that I think illustrates an important point that was clearly relevant at the end of WWII and, unfortunately, is still relevant today.

In the final chapter of the movie series, one of the Soldiers that the series had followed through his combat experience in the Pacific campaign has returned home following the Japanese surrender, and is attending a job fair to transition back into civilian life. The clerk checking him in asks him if he has any experience in a long list of skills that might translate well to the private sector. After responding, “No. No. No. No.” again and again, she finally asks him what the Army did train him for. He responds, (and I’m paraphrasing here) “They trained me to kill Japs. And I got pretty goddamn good at it.”

This Soldier, like many others in the film, is clearly struggling with Post Traumatic Stress – although they didn’t call it that in 1945 – and completely lost as to how to transition back into his old life. He is a shell of the man who left home to defend his country. And he has no idea what to do, or who to be now. Unfortunately, it seems, not much has changed on that front. This is still a huge problem for those returning from combat zones today. They still feel lost. They still have PTS. And we’re still not supporting them as we should.

Sting said, “History will teach us nothing.” I hope we can prove him wrong. (I suspect he hopes so, too.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

On Saving Private Ryan

Continuing our discussion of movies that have inspired and informed our gratitude for our freedom and those who serve to defend it, it seemed appropriate to next tackle Saving Private Ryan. When we asked which films had informed and inspired you most, this was by far the most popular answer. Why is that?

I think there are several reasons:

For starters, Saving Private Ryan was probably the most accurate depiction of military conflict that we civilians had ever seen to that point in movie history. Saving Private Ryan was released in 1998, and up to that point most military combat in movies had been fairly glorified and Hollywood-ized. There had certainly been graphic movies before. But none to that point had quite managed to capture what combat felt like to the people who were in it. I remember hearing before I had gone to see it, people asking, “Have you seen Private Ryan yet? Man. The first 20 minutes will blow your mind.” I also remember seeing interviews with Veterans who were there at Omaha beach, and hearing them say that Private Ryan was the most realistic depiction they had ever seen of what it was really like.

In the opening 20 minutes, we see the Troops storming Omaha beach on D-Day. It’s absolute mayhem. The water is red with blood. Bodies are everywhere. We see limbs flying off, Soldiers lying with their internal organs spilling out around them, bullets and bombs flying everywhere, and the disorientation of Soldiers trying to navigate the beachhead to a place of cover. We see everything from brave focus and determination to mortally wounded men screaming for their mother as they lie dying. And we see the randomness of combat – that you might be talking to a guy right next to you, and a split second later he’s dead -- shot in the head while you turned yours away. We also see the great degrees to which people respond to combat – the heroism in the face of great danger; the crippling terror; the confusion; the barbarity; and even still, the humanity, and everything in between.

There were no glorified slow motion shots in Saving Private Ryan; no heroic advances, no infallible characters. The men in the movie were as real, and as fallible as they could be; just there to do their job, and try to make it home alive; caught between believing in what they were doing, and at the same time realizing the futility of war.

The mission to save Private Ryan is a metaphor for all of the sons, brothers, and fathers who were lost in WWII. It is a focused, powerful reminder that families everywhere lost, and still lose loved ones in war. And it reminds us of the terrible price that is paid by a relative few, so that the majority of us can live free and safe. Of the seven men assembled to find Private Ryan and return him to his family, only two survive the mission.

In the final scenes of the movie, as Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller lies dying at the edge of the bridge, his final words are to Private Ryan. He says, “Earn this.” In the final scene, as an elderly Ryan is visiting Miller’s grave some 54 years later, he says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me.”

This is Spielberg’s challenge to us all. To earn what these men and women have sacrificed so greatly to protect and defend for us.

Have we? Are we?