Posts Tagged ‘United States Marine’

My Classic Movie Pick: Tell it to the Marines, For The Chaney Blogathon

My movie pick this week is an oldie, a silent film, but definitely a goodie.  1926’s Tell it to the Marines, stars Lon Chaney, in a role where he looks like himself, not playing a role with transforming make-up to hide his real face.    This post is for The Chaney Blogathon, hosted by Movies, Silently, and The Last Drive-In.    Be sure to visit these two blogs  to read other  great posts about actor Lon Chaney and his son, Lon Chaney Jr.  The Chaney Blogathon When our oldest enlisted with the USMC in 2010, I found myself  reading  all about the Marine Corps, any materials  that I could get my hands on.  I even bought a cd of Marine Corps music when I was at the Marine Corps Recruit  Depot in San Diego, when my son graduated from his boot camp.  I also began watching classic movies that featured Marines in the plot.  According to Thomas Rick’s excellent book, Making the Corps, the United States Marine Corps  had an uncanny ability to promote themselves with  the cooperation of Hollywood.  I believe that there are more movies about Marines and the USMC then the other military branches. After devouring Rick’s book, and another great one by Frank Schaeffer, Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story about Love and the United States  Marine Corps, I found that Turner Classic Movies would be airing their silent film, Tell it to the Marines, late on a Sunday night.  I tivoed it, watched it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.    Tell it to the Marines Poster 1

William Haines  plays Skeet Burns, a young man who decides to join the Marines to get a free train trip to San Diego, CA.  When the train arrives in San Diego, Skeet hops off of it and gets on a train bound for Tijuana, Mexico to go and see the horse races.  Sergeant O’Hara(Lon Chaney) arrives at the train station to collect the new recruits and he is irritated that one Skeet Burns isn’t present, as his name is on the list.  Days go by and Skeet arrives back in San Diego, hungry and out of money, so he reluctantly goes to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and is placed in Sergeant O’Hara’s capable hands for boot camp.

Greeting the previously awol Skeet

Greeting the previously awol Skeet

As Skeet learns the ropes of boot camp, we see him flirting with a Navy nurse(Eleanor Boardman) much to the dismay of Sergeant O’Hara.  We learn that he has feelings for Nurse Dale but because he has kept quiet as to how he feels about her, he might lose her to Skeet, an upstart who is full of himself.   Here’s a clip illustrating Skeet visiting Nurse Dale’s examination room claiming that he is sick, his attempts to flirt with her, and the Sergeant coming in to get him out of there.

Sgt. O'Hara talking with Nurse Dale

Sgt. O’Hara talking with Nurse Dale

Nurse Dale

Nurse Dale

As weeks go on, Skeet becomes a passable Marine, and Nurse Dale is smitten with him.  She asks Sergeant O’Hara if Skeet can be included in a Naval Training  exercise and reluctantly O’Hara allows Skeet to be a part of it.  Skeet, goofing off on the ship, angers a sailor and agrees to box with him not knowing that the sailor is the  Navy Heavyweight Champion!

Sgt. O'Hara scolding Skeet

Sgt. O’Hara scolding Skeet

About to say, "Drop and give me 20!"

About to say, “Drop and give me 20!”

Skeet becoming more of a Marine

Skeet becoming more of a Marine

Skeet in the ring

Skeet in the ring

Next up, the Marines are sent to the island of Tondo and a naval installation that is there.   The days are boring but there are island girls, especially one gal called Zaya(Carmel Myers) and she catches Skeet’s eye.  Before he  gets too serious with Zaya, Skeet breaks it off with her, which angers her and causes a fight between the islanders and the military men.   O’Hara has to rescue Skeet.  Rumors about Skeet and  Zaya get back to Nurse Dale and she breaks up with Skeet.

The Asiatic Squadron soon asks for our intrepid Marines, and coincidentally Nurse Dale is there, in China, working with a group of Navy nurses.  Will this being in close proximity of one another cause Skeet and Nurse Dale to patch things up?  Will Sergeant O’Hara make his feelings known to Nurse Dale?  An evil band of thugs is on the prowl and also have their eyes on the American nurses and their outpost.  Will the Marines rescue the nurses and their patients in time?  Will Skeet learn to follow orders and show respect to Sergeant O’Hara?  Will Sergeant O’Hara recognize the strong Marine that Skeet has developed into?

The answers to those questions can only be answered by watching this gem of a silent movie.  The movie has been put on dvd and it is available to purchase through and at  TCM.   The cast does a good job in their specific parts, but Chaney owns this film.  He does a great job portraying a stern, tough as nails, Marine sergeant, who has a secret, soft heart.  There is a touching scene where Sgt. O’Hara is all alone in his tent, looking over memorabilia he has collected through the years of his duty, and we can tell he is torn between telling Nurse Dale how much he loves her, but that would also  mean giving up the main life he knows, that of being a Unites States Marine.  With his well-worn face and expressive eyes, he conveys his emotions perfectly in every scene he is in.

Part of this film was filmed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and the shots of the place reminded me of my brief time there.  I don’t think the Depot has changed in its appearance that much from 1926!  The USMC were so pleased with Chaney’s performance of a Marine Sergeant that he was made an honorary Marine after the film was released.  It did great at the box office and I am sure that the Marine Corps hoped it would boost their  enlistment numbers.  I’ll close out my post with a few more shots from Tell it to the Marines.

Sgt. O'Hara quietly reflecting on his life in the Corps

Sgt. O’Hara quietly reflecting on his life in the Corps

Chaney singing for the crew during a break in filming

Chaney singing for the crew during a break in filming

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My Classic Movie Pick: Hail the Conquering Hero

Hail the Conquering Hero

Hail the Conquering Hero (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the Christmas holiday, I decided I had better watch some of the movies I had tivoed from the Turner Classic Movies cable channel.  During the month of December, the channel had decided to air several of director Preston Sturges‘s comedies.  Sullivan’s Travels aired, as did The Palm Beach Story and The Lady Eve.   My favorite of the batch that they showed was 1944’s  Hail the Conquering Hero.  The movie’s cast is headed by Eddie Bracken, with wonderful supporting cast members : William Demarest(Uncle Charlie from the My Three Sons tv show), Ella Raines, Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, Elizabeth Patterson, Georgia Caine, and Al Bridge.  Sturges’s films are predominately screwball comedies with a bit of drama thrown in and he often liked to hire the same actors and actresses to be in his films, many of the screenplays he wrote himself as well as doing the directing.  In fact, he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1945 for this movie’s screenplay.    Paramount, the studio where this movie was made, didn’t like that Sturges consistently hired the same actors and actresses for his movies and wanted to replace Ella Raines with a more well-known actress to play the girlfriend.  Sturges wouldn’t agree to that and got his way, hiring the cast he wanted.

The plot is as follows: Eddie Bracken is Woodrow Truesmith, and he loves the United States Marine Corps.  He knows their military history, and even recites all of their famous battles up to that point in history in a funny barroom scene.  His father was a decorated, yet fallen Marine, dying  in the  Battle of Amiens, in France during WWI.  His mother has a shrine to her late husband in the family home.   Despite Woodrow being an only child, with his mother’s blessing, as soon as he can, he enlists in the Marines.  Off to boot camp he goes, only to be discharged for chronic hayfever!  Woodrow is from a small California town, and after his discharge, he is too ashamed to face his mother so he finds employment at a factory in another California town and has been writing his mom letters as if he is really on a ship or on an island in the South Pacific.   One evening at a local bar, as Woodrow is having a beer and feeling sorry for himself, a group of Marines enters the place.  Woodrow buys them a round of beers and as they begin talking, he discovers that the sergeant of the group, Sgt. Heppelfinger, played by William Demarest, knew his father in WWI.  Woodrow’s dad was Heppelfinger’s commanding officer.  This coincidence  forms a bond between Woodrow, Heppelfinger, and the other Marines in the bar.   Woodrow explains his discharge to  the Marines and he also tells them about his  false letters to his mother.   The false letters  don’t sit well with this band of warriors, especially one Marine who was an orphan: it’s a pretty funny gag throughout the rest of the movie, the orphaned Marine always getting on Woodrow’s case about how he’s treated his mother!  Sgt. Heppelfinger, unbeknownst to Woodrow, goes to the bar’s payphone and finds out Woodrow’s home phone number, calls Mrs. Truesmith, and informs her that Woodrow was wounded, but is fine and will be coming home just for a few days in order to see her.  The sergeant’s plan is to get Woodrow home to see his mother, and  then get him back to his factory job, with mother none the wiser about his really being discharged for chronic hayfever.  Woodrow is horrified by the sneaky plan and  balks at wearing a Marine uniform as he is no longer active duty.  He  worries he’ll be found out as a faker and thrown into jail.   But the lively group of Marines, led by Sgt. Hepplefinger, resolve to protect Woodrow, to help him see his mother, and then  help get Woodrow back to his factory job.  What the sergeant and his band of Marines don’t know  is that Woodrow’s mother has  told her friends, who have told the entire town, and the mayor and the city council, and a huge “Welcome Home Woodrow” event has been planned, and the entire town is coming to greet him and his  new Marine buddies at the train station!

Sturges’s screenplay pokes fun at politics and politicians, at hero worship, and small towns.  The pokes are gentle, though, and the humor shines through in the dialogue and the acting.  As WWII was still being fought when this movie was being filmed, there are nods to patriotism throughout the film too.   Being a mom of an active duty Marine myself, all the bits in the movie about the Corps made the film even more fun for me to watch.  Eddie Bracken is great, as the increasingly frazzled Woodrow, who wants to stop this snowball of a “Welcome Home Woodrow You’re Our Hero!” movement, but he knows that the truth will hurt his mother the most.  He also has a former girlfriend, Libby, played by Ella Raines, to deal with as she is engaged to the mayor’s son, but isn’t really sure if she loves her fiance or still loves Woodrow.  Raymond Walburn and Al Bridge are great as the pompous Mayor and his political henchman, trying to get re-elected, and when the city council members who don’t like the current mayor want Woodrow to run for mayor, the situaton for poor Woodrow gets even crazier!

If you want to see a movie with wit, charm, and great humor, then this is an excellent movie to see!

When our son told us he wanted to become a United States Marine

United States Marine Corps seal

Image via Wikipedia

During the aftermath of 9/11, our  oldest  turned to me one day and  said,”You know, Mom, I might want to join the army instead of going to college.”  He said this very matter of factly, and as he was only in 5th grade at the time, I hurriedly told him something innocuous, like, “Is that so dear?”, and went on with our homeschool day.  In the back of my mind, his statement did trigger an immediate “NO!”, and I remembered cradling him in my arms when he was a newborn, thinking, “Lord, please don’t let me have given birth to this beautiful baby boy only to see him grow up and die in a war!”  I think all mothers of sons think that sentiment at least once in their son’s growing up years.  Flashing forward to 2009, my husband walked in the door at 1:30 p.m. on a weekday, and answered our questions as to why he was home so early.  He’d been layed off that day.  The next 16 months ensued, with my husband working 5 part-time jobs and searching for a new job in his engineering profession, myself dusting off my teaching certificate and subbing for area schools, cuts in activities such as eating out, going to movies, shopping at malls and well-known retailers; this led our son to decide that in order for him to pay for college, he would join the US military  and after his 4 years of service were over, he’d then go to college using  the GI Bill benefits.  When his plan was first broached, I immediately requested he look at the Coast Guard.   In my  mind, he’d be stationed nearby, at St. Louis, on the Mississippi River!  My husband correctly pointed out that today’s Coast Guard often has to deal with borders, drug dealers, illegals, and it’s not as safe as I was assuming.  Our son did mention looking into ROTC with some of the St. Louis area colleges, but he didn’t pursue it very much, and July 2009  was nearing it’s end.  Early August arrived, and he finally announced to us that he wanted to join the US Marines.  Oh no! That was my immediate reaction, but I kept it to myself.  I asked one more time about the Coast Guard and was met with a frustrated,”Mom! I don’t want to be a Coastie!!”  As soon as his Senior year of highschool began, our son met with the recruiter, who came to our house to discuss all of what becoming a Marine would mean for our son.  The recruiter was very polished, very polite, and answered all of our questions.  I have heard some parents complain that the recruiter lied to them and their son, and I can’t say that happened in our case.  The only surprise to happen to our son was his MOS being changed during the last few weeks of boot camp. (MOS stands for  the specific training one will do after graduating from boot camp.)  Our son turned 18 in early October, so once that happened, he signed his name to the dotted line and took the oath to become a member of The Few and The Proud.

Telling the grandparents, aunts, and uncles was the next challenge, as most of them assumed our son would immediately go to college after his 2010 gradutation.  All of the relatives were very surprised at our son’s decision.  All said they were proud of him, but one set of grandparents were not happy at all.  They told us, the parents, that our son shouldn’t be doing this, that he was too smart for this, that he should be going to college.  We replied that he is now 18, he had said he wanted to serve his country, and that when the 4 years were done, he’d go to college then.  We also said that due to his age, if this is what he really wanted to do, we were not going to stand in his way.  Telling friends also was a bit difficult, as they,too, were very surprised, also assuming our son would go on to college right away.  Many of our friends would pull my husband aside, to ask how I was accepting all our son’s decision.

When one’s child decides to join the US mililtary, all of the branches do the same thing:the recruiter comes to your front door and takes your child away to boot camp.  While most of our friends were getting ready to drive their kids to a college in mid-August, we knew the recruiter was going to appear at our front door on August 1, at 3:00p.m.  It was a beautiful, sunny day.  We went to church, as we always did on Sunday mornings.  Our son got to shake many of his friends and our friends’ hands, received many hugs from the ladies, as they knew he’d be leaving for boot camp in the morning.  He had requested a last family meal at a local Chinese restaurant that we all liked.  Then it was time to go home and just wait.  We went over our son’s gear, made sure he had the items he needed to take with him, which wasn’t very much, actually.  We made sure he left his cell phone with us because at Marine boot camp, the only way for a recruit to communicate with his or her family members and friends is through mail, snail mail.  3:00 p.m. arrived and the recruiter was there, at the door, very prompt.  Our family had gathered one last time minutes before and prayed for our son, and then as the recruiter watched, our son received 8 hugs, all of us trying hard to not cry outloud.  Then he was gone, into the recruiter’s vehicle, heading for downtown St. Louis for medical tests, taking an oath, and flying off to San Diego, CA for 13 weeks of boot camp.

For Marine recruits, if one lives east of the Mississippi River, or if one is a female, boot camp is held at Parris Island, off the coast of South Carolina.  If one lives west of the Mississippi River, or is in the metro east area in IL for St. Louis, than San Diego is the destination for boot camp.  The 13 weeks went by slowly, and we wrote letters to our son several times a week, as did relatives.  The recruiter had given us a book, Making The Corps, by Thomas E. Ricks, which was immensely helpful.  The book followed a platoon of new recruits through boot camp at Parris Island, detailing the training they’d be going through, as well as informing the reader about the history of the USMC.  Many comparisons were made between Marine boot camp and Army boot camp.  When my son would later complain how easy Army boot camp was compared to what he went through, I needed to only recall what I’d read in Mr. Ricks’s book, to understand the complaints our son leveled at the Army.  One of my cousins, who had a son serving in the USMC, also gave us a book, Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps, by Frank Schaeffer.  Mr. Schaeffer shared from the heart, what it had meant to he and his wife when their youngest child announced, much as our son did, that he was going to serve his country first, and then go to college.  Mr. Schaeffer, who lives in the Northeastern part of the United States, discussed how hard it was to tell their friends, who almost always send their children,private school graduates, to the Ivy League schools, and for one of their peers to have a child eschew all of that for the military! Well, that was unheard of!   Mr. Schaeffer also shared visiting his son’s boot camp graduation, and later visiting him at his MOS training school.  One of the main things he noticed, and we have also noticed it with our son, is that the Marines are a much more integrated bunch than the Ivy League campuses are.

As I mentioned earlier, our son’s MOS was changed during his last few weeks of boot camp.  He originally was going to be a legal clerk, but was told he was being moved to Aviations Operations.  This moved his MOS training to Naval Air Station, Meridian, MS.  We didn’t get to see him in MS, but he did get to come home for that Christmas of 2010, which was wonderful! In February of 2011, our son found out his new duty post, which he’d be at for two years, Marine Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan.  We were all so relieved that he was not being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, we didn’t foresee, nor could we have, the day he landed in Japan; the terrible earthquake hit only an hour or so after he landed! Fortunately, his side of Japan wasn’t adversely affected by the quake, but his assigned air station did receive flights in from Okinawa, and then sent those flights on their way to the north, to help with the needed humanitarian aid.

Our son keeps in contact with us weekly, via skype, and he did get to come stateside for Christmas again in 2011.  He has had many interesting stories to tell us about Japan, mostly about the stares he receives due to his height, 6’4″, as tall people of Japanese descent are very rare.  He has one more year to serve in Japan, and then one more year, stateside, he’s been told, but he doesn’t know where that will be yet.  He did tell us at Christmas he wants to take his college classes when he is discharged, at one of the St. Louis area colleges.  I am glad for that, because prior to boot camp, he was acting all tough, and telling me he’d probably want to live far from us, in CA.  After his graduation, he told us on the parade deck that CA was a nice place to visit, but too expensive.  He’d rather live in the Midwest!

If your son or daughter comes to you one day and says that they want to serve their country, listen to them, be very proud of them and let them know that.  A child choosing military service after highschool isn’t something to be ashamed of at all.