This week’s chapter begins with an epilogue on the American victory at Peleliu, and it ends with the invasion of Iwo Jima—twelve minutes of the most intense and emotional battle scenes of the series so far.
Tom Hanks explains how the 1st Marine Division lost a third of their men at Peleliu, all for naught because the island was never to be used. Most Americans know very little about the sacrifices made on Peleliu. While good to know, it’s unusual that HBO chose to include the Peleliu summary at the beginning of an episode about preparing for the invasion of Iwo Jima, instead of including it in last week’s show about Peleliu. Maybe I’m being picky but hey, they’re the ones that set the bar so high in the first place.
While Sledge and his fellow Marines wait for their next assignment, the war hero Sgt. Basilone is granted his request to be sent back to active duty, this time training new recruits at Camp Pendleton near Los Angeles. He meets Sgt. Lena, a lady Marine who’s playing hard to get because of Basilone’s ladies-man reputation. His persistence pays off, though, and they begin a romance. Soon, Basilone re-enlists and the two sergeants marry, just before he is shipped off with his raw recruits to Iwo Jima. Gunny (the nickname for Gunnery Sergeants) Basilone has only a short time to train his men but works them to the bone, knowing well the conditions they will have to endure.
Jon Seda, as Basilone, plays the ideal Marine. Not only does he want to be the best he can, he wants his men to be even more. I start thinking that there’s no way a guy that young could really be a troop commander, but that was how it was in WW II—kids leading kids, the same guys that won that war. Greatest generation, indeed.
Two notes about The Pacific’s production achievements: 1) The film’s musical score is superb. Not surprising since it comes from Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer (Batman Begins, The Lion King, Gladiator, Rain Man). 2) Spielberg and Hanks prevent the series from becoming stale or repetitive by assigning six different directors and six different writers on all ten episodes.
Part Eight makes a shocking segue from Lena and Basilone honeymooning on the California coast to Basilone leading his men to battle on Iwo Jima. The war hero outdoes himself by running from man to man, urging them to move and get off the beach while death and destruction surround them. (The Battle of Iwo Jima was the only one where there were more American casualties than Japanese.) It is, simply, one of the best filmed war sequences I have ever seen. The choreography of tanks, mortars, men and machine guns begin to overwhelm the senses. All the while, Basilone is at the center. We see his determined resolve to accomplish his task, but we also see the results of how well he has trained those around him. And it is the anguish on their faces that brings us to tears when their revered sergeant finally falls.