Iwo Jima veterans OK with 'Letters'
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    Exclamation Iwo Jima veterans OK with 'Letters'

    Iwo Jima veterans OK with 'Letters'
    By Dennis McCarthy, Columnist
    LA Daily News
    Article Last Updated:12/21/2006 11:26:31 PM PST

    The World War II Marines walked out of the theater Thursday, lost in their thoughts until a woman in the lobby asked them for their take on the movie they had just seen: Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima."

    It tells the story from the Japanese perspective of the bloody, 36-day battle for the capture of that tiny island in the Pacific that was key to the United States defeating Japan in World War II.

    The 2 1/2-hour movie comes on the heels of Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers," which depicted the lives of the six men who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi — in one of the most celebrated war photos ever taken.

    "I think this movie made them (the Japanese soldiers) more human," said 80-year-old Chan Bachtel of North Hills, who was there at Iwo Jima for the real thing as a 19-year-old Marine 61 years ago.

    John Welsh, 82, of Granada Hills and Dave Swerdlow, 86, of North Hills were also at Iwo Jima. The men agreed to see the movie with me and tell me what they thought.

    Old hatreds die slowly, especially in a battle like this where both sides often fought face to face. They weren't dropping bombs from 5,000 feet or firing Scud missiles.

    It was up close and very personal.

    Kill or be killed.

    If anything, the old Marines said, "Letters From Iwo Jima" could help old enemies from that era understand one another just a little better.

    The Japanese soldiers had mothers and fathers, wives and children, waiting for them to come home safely, just like they did, the men said.

    They felt the same fear, shed the same tears when a buddy died.

    "No side was lily white," Swerdlow said. "There was good and bad on both sides, just like there is in any war."

    It was a shame, though, Bachtel said.

    "If they had just surrendered, they could have saved 20,000 lives," he said.

    Still, it is a Hollywood movie, and not all the scenes resonated authentic, especially a part where the Marines are landing on the beach and quickly running across the black sand.

    "We sank in that sand; we didn't run.

    "We could hardly walk through it," Welsh said.

    At one point in the movie, he leaned forward in his seat and whispered to Swerdlow, who was a medic at Iwo Jima, that the attacking Marines weren't throwing enough grenades.

    "That battle was won with grenades and flamethrowers," he said later over lunch.

    "They needed more of both. But as far as acting and photography, I thought it was very good."

    Out of four stars, the old Iwo Jima Marines would give Eastwood's efforts 2 1/2, maybe three.

    But they all liked it better than "Flags of Our Fathers."

    "I tell you one thing," Swerdlow said over an iced tea and tuna melt. "Seeing these two Eastwood war movies, I'm not joining up anymore."

    The other guys laughed. At 86, he didn't have anything to worry about, they said.

    Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (81 713-3749 dennis.mccarthy@dailynews.com


  2. #2
    Dec 22 2006


    Alan Morrison

    CAN a photograph really define a war? There are those who argue that the image of a napalm-burned girl running down a road summed up Vietnam or that the crippled Argentinian ship General Belgrano was the lasting memory of the Falklands.

    For many Americans, World War Two was the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of six marines raising the Stars and Stripes on the island of Iwo Jima.

    The American government was quick to use this famous image to rally public support and raise morale. US citizens had been growing disillusioned by a war that had dragged on for too long but, after Iwo Jima, the Japanese army started to crumble. This photograph was victory itself. But there's more to it than meets the eye.

    The event shown was actually the second time a flag had been raised that day. It wasn't restaged for the camera, but some of the men involved were different from those who took part first time around.

    Knowing that admitting their error would cause major embarrassment, the American military swept the details under the carpet.

    They were more concerned with dragging the surviving soldiers around the country, dubbing them heroes and getting them to raise much-needed money through war bonds.

    Clint Eastwood's latest movie examines the gap between how that photograph was used and what it really cost the men caught by the camera lens.

    If you thought Flags Of Our Fathers was going to be a pro-war slab of patriotism, about turn and go straight to boot camp with John Wayne. The men in this movie might begin by fighting for their country, but they end up dying for their buddies. They certainly aren't doing it for the flag. This is a story of individuals, not armies or nations.

    It doesn't quite come off, however.

    The story jumps about from one timeframe to the next - perhaps seven or eight in all - without any clear progression. Sometimes we're on Iwo Jima for the initial assault, sometimes we're with the survivors on their war bonds tour, sometimes we're in training, sometimes later during the island battle.

    Then we're in the men's post-war future, but also further on from that, as the son of one of the heroes interviews veterans for a book about his father (which became the one on which this film is based).

    It's as if a time grenade has exploded in all directions. Perhaps that's the screenwriters' aim, but it makes it confusing for the audience.

    Characters, exact years and the links between them aren't clear enough. The battle scenes are extremely powerful, though, as Eastwood outdoes Spielberg and Saving Private Ryan.

    Bodies become chunks of flesh on an ash-covered beach as the big guns rumble and the snipers' bullets sting.

    After landing some big-time acting awards for his cast in Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood's ensemble approach here doesn't reap the same rewards. Ryan Phillippe makes most impact as one of the surviving marines, but Jesse Bradford and Adam Beach aren't up to scratch as his brothers-in-arms.

    No one has rewritten the history of American heroes better than Eastwood. Cops, cowboys, soldiers - he shoots down the myths. But there's something missing in this noble effort.

    Eastwood made Flags Of Our Fathers back-to-back with Letters From Iwo Jima, a look at the same war campaign from the Japanese perspective, due out in February.

    This film is good enough for the time being, but reports from the battlefront tell us that Eastwood's next one is even better. After all, there are two sides to every story.


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