The Pacific spends so much time (in a good way) with dynamic special effects, gutsy dialogue and dramatic action that many of the details about the World War II campaign against Japan are omitted. Fortunately, HBO fills in the holes with its excellent website. It’s where I learned that by the time the Marines invaded Okinawa the Japanese had not only known that winning the war was impossible but they had also been ordered to stay and fight to the death. Surrender was not an option. This presented the Americans with one of the most difficult and deadly operations of the entire war.
Sledge and the rest of Division One have arrived at Okinawa in what would be the final battle before attacking Japan’s mainland. It will end with more casualties than any other Pacific battle, including hundreds of thousands of civilians. The conditions are horrendous. Continuous rain and mountains of mud make it impossible to recover the bodies of fallen soldiers. The foley work, the sets and the acting all make for a kinesthetic TV viewing experience.
The Japanese mostly have the high ground and the Marines are constantly being ambushed. The enemy resorts to using Okinawa residents as shields in their attacks, even attaching dynamite to young women with babies in their arms. After being there for two months, hopelessness begins to seep into the souls of the soldiers. They see no end to the misery.
I originally had my doubts about Joseph Mazello as Sledge at the beginning of the series. But now I love the guy—he and his commanding officer butt heads in this episode, contrasting his relationship with the late Capt. Haldane. Sledge becomes even more hardened, angry, resentful. But in a telling scene, he demonstrates a stunning acuity of mind when, just after sliding into a disgusting water hole, face to face with a rotting corpse and finding himself covered in maggots, he immediately follows an order and adeptly executes a mortar attack while also fending off attacking Japanese with a rifle and a sidearm. And when he’s scolded by his captain for not ceasing fire he retorts, “We’re all sent here to kill Japs, aren’t we?...I’d use my goddamn hands if I had to.” Mazello is wickedly talented. His transformation has shown some powerful acting.
At one point, Peck goes crazy and starts yelling at the enemy while in plain sight. Hamm saves him and gets killed himself. To explain it all Sledge simply says, “Hamm’s dead. And Peck’s ‘gone.’”
In a bombed hut, Sledge finds a woman with a mortal wound who motions him over and takes the barrel of his gun and puts it to her head. It’s a moving scene. No words are spoken. Sledge, in a completely realistic but still amazing change of emotion, sits beside the woman and cradles her head as she dies in his arms. It brings some humanity back to Sledge, something he had been missing.
The episode ends with being told about the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. Since that leads to the end of the war, next week’s last episode will focus on the Marines’ return home.