Memorial Day Favorite War Movies

Posted on May 25, 2009. Filed under: Movie Reviews |

Memorial Day, for a lot of Americans, has become trivialized. For many it is just a day off to go to the lake or enjoy a backyard barbecue. But for those of us who are true patriots, for those of us whose loved ones have fought in a war, for those of us who have served in the military and fought in a war, Memorial Day is a special day.

One way to remember the price paid by those who have fought to preserve our liberty is to watch a good military/war movie. For some, watching a war movie may trivialize the real sacrifices of those who gave their lives, limbs and blood in battle. That is not my intent here at all. I am a veteran myself. I served as an Infantryman during the Cold War. My grandfather was in the signal corps and came back from WW1 with a Purple Heart. My father was a Scout in an armored battalion in WW2 and fought in the Battle for Leipzig. My youngest son is a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne serving in Baghdad. So when I do a movie list for Memorial Day, I am doing it respectfully as one who has served and as one whose family has served for at least 4 generations.

Art is supposed to move us deeply, reveal the truths and problems of our human existence. War is a fundamental part of the fallen human race. War brings about incredible pain and suffering, wastage, and yet also brings out the best in humanity- honor, valor, courage, compassion. Yes it is all too easy to watch a war movie simply for the entertainment thrill of it all. We experience war vicariously through the actors who are but acting roles assigned to them. Not many actors were for real war veterans or heroes. Audie Murphy was one of the best. Jimmy Stewart another.

After Viet Nam, Hollywood turned against the American military for the most part, against America even. That hasn’t changed even after 9/11. But even some of the movies that are “anti-war”, “anti-military” raise good questions and deserve to be viewed intelligently.

In the partial list that I will give below, and in my survey questions, I will list my favorite war movies and discuss them briefly. I am not a good movie critic,  but I will point out what I liked and disliked about the movie and why it is important. If you join me in this discussion I would ask you to do the same.


1) We Were Soldiers Once, and Young- Mel Gibson is a rare guy in Hollywood, in that he has some conservative ideas that are rooted in reality; I am a huge fan. But this movie ranks as my favorite war movie of all time, not just because I like Mel Gibson, but because he got the historical situation right and he presented the facts with a high degree of art and reliability. Based upon the book by General Hal Moore and reporter Joey Galloway, the movie tells of the formation of the 1st Cav Division, their deployment to Viet Nam in 1965 and the first big battle between an American unit and the North Vietnamese. This movie about the Battle of LZ X-Ray in the Ia Drang valley at Ap Bia basically tells you everything about the war from start to finish. From its French roots to the technology and tactics of both sides to the almost inevitable outcome, the whole war can be seen in this first battle. Including the cost on the home front. One of the best parts of the movie is the juxtaposing of the scenes back home at Fort Benning with the wives and the men half a world away in the battle. That hard bit of reality reaches and grabs you and twists. When the yellow telegrams start showing up at the door it is very hard to not weep with those who weep.

I read the book before watching the movie as I usually try to do. Gibson did a GREAT job of keeping to the book. Even some of the conversations were the same. Gibson also included some of the racial issues of the day in the movie that were true to the times. And he even used some humor to do it. (The laundramat question with the ladies).

Every American ought to buy the book, read it, then buy this movie and watch it. For this reviewer, this is the best war movie of all time. Here is a link to the movie:

And here is the book:

Here is a website about the battle:

2) All Quiet on the Western Front(1930 edition)- placing this movie as second on the list was hard because the art of movie making was in its infancy when it was made and the modern movies are so much better technically. But the movie sticks closely to the original novel by Erich Maria Remarque and the book is the most important and best war novel of all time. The only reason I rated Gibson’s work above this film is that We Were Soldiers is about the American experience and the Viet Nam War changed us as a country in some fundamental ways. But WW1 changed the world. Every evil that is current in our world came about due to WW1. The Middle East problems, communism, the declining population of Europe, you name it, WW1 started it. All Quiet on the Western Front is a classic that will forever be around because it shows war from the High School classroom to the death in the trenches. When I was teaching High School Western Civ I required my honors students to read the book and write a report on it because in 2007 we were heavily engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. The horrors of war must never be forgotten and this movie will forever do that.

The movie shows the brutality of war, the waste of war, the hardening and coarsening that goes on in society with war and it shows the randomness of war. The ONE SCENE that makes the movie, is the scene of the machine guns firing continuously. That one scene shows the difference between WW1 and all the other wars fought prior. War is now mechanized, technology has wrought great devastation.

The 1930 movie is linked below:

The 1979 version is good too, but I much prefer the 1930 edition.

And of course here is the link to the classic novel:

3) Blackhawk Down- Why would I choose a movie about a very small action in a thirdworld country that we were not at war with, that on the scale of things like the D-Day invasion or Iwo Jima is virtually insignificant? Because it is the new reality of our post modern way of war. Small actions, third world countries, petty dictators and terrorists, politicians who do not understand a thing about the use of force , the military or warfare.This 1993 battle, the 1999 book by Mark Bowden and the 2001 movie by the great Ridley Scott depicts the perplexities and complexities of modern warfare.

In what started as a confused and misguided use of the US Military by Pres. George HW Bush to feed the hungry people of the failed state of Somalia, to the even more confused plan of Pres. Bill Clinton to try to snatch some Somali warlord only to pull back when the “surprising” cost of war became evident, this story shows the price paid by our finest soldiers to carry out policies of politicians who do not have a clue. Thinking that our army can be used piecemeal to help out starving third world people and build nations here and there without causing unintended consequences and mission creep is exposed in this book and movie.

The movie does an excellent job of portraying third world warlords for what they are, exposing what a failed state is, but also showing how professional and devastating our Rangers are. But it also shows how we can spend our soldiers’ blood in vain. Ultimately their battle was for naught as Clinton did not give them the support they needed and he pulled them out. Unfortunately, I think that perhaps our Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be Blackhawk Down on a much larger scale. Again, the movie and book are a must for every American. Here is the movie link:

Here is a link to the book:

Here is the whole story online:

Those are my top three War movies of all time. I will expand this list gradually to include up to, at least the top 10. But these will begin the discussion. In the comments section below, throw in your top 3 war movies of all time and discuss why they are your favorites.

Equality 7-2521


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2 Responses to “Memorial Day Favorite War Movies”

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I know technically “Band of Brothers” isn’t a movie, but I would consider the series way up the list.

If I had extended my list to the top 4 I think Band of Brothers would have been #4. It would be close between that and Saving Private Ryan. BAnd of Brothers is essential viewing because it takes you through training to the end of the war and it is based on the true stories in the book, and it is done with excellence. A true must see classic!

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