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WWII Veteran Dr. Sidney Phillips Reacts to HBO's 'The Pacific'

by Sandie Angulo Chen, posted Mar 19th 2010 1:30PM
'The Pacific,' HBO's monumental 10-part miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, chronicles four Marines as they serve in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II.

Unlike its companion miniseries, 'Band of Brothers,' which followed the legendary Easy Company throughout the war in Europe, 'The Pacific' focuses more on the individual perspectives of four Marines -- Pvts. Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) and Sidney Phillips (Ashton Holmes) in the 1st Marine Regiment; Sgt. John Basilone (Jon Seda) in the 7th Marine Regiment; and Phillips' best friend, Pvt. Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), in the 5th Marine Regiment -- as they struggle to keep their spirits high while fighting an unrelenting enemy -- the Japanese.

AOL TV had the honor of speaking to 85-year-old WWII veteran Dr. Sidney Phillips, the only one still with us (Basilone was fatally wounded at Iwo Jima, and Leckie and Sledge, both of whom wrote memoirs on which 'The Pacific' is based, both passed away in 2001). Phillips tells us what it felt like to see his war-time experiences and those of his best friend Sledge depicted on screen.

Read the interview after the jump
'The Pacific,' HBO's monumental 10-part miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, chronicles four Marines as they serve in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II.

Unlike its companion miniseries, 'Band of Brothers,' which followed the legendary Easy Company throughout the war in Europe, 'The Pacific' focuses more on the individual perspectives of four Marines -- Pvts. Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) and Sidney Phillips (Ashton Holmes) in the 1st Marine Regiment; Sgt. John Basilone (Jon Seda) in the 7th Marine Regiment; and Phillips' best friend, Pvt. Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), in the 5th Marine Regiment -- as they struggle to keep their spirits high while fighting an unrelenting enemy -- the Japanese.

AOL TV had the honor of speaking to 85-year-old WWII veteran Dr. Sidney Phillips, the only one still with us (Basilone was fatally wounded at Iwo Jima, and Leckie and Sledge, both of whom wrote memoirs on which 'The Pacific' is based, both passed away in 2001). Phillips tells us what it felt like to see his war-time experiences and those of his best friend Sledge depicted on screen.

Read the interview below.

What did you think of Ashton Holmes' performance as a much-younger version of yourself?
I thought he looked exactly like me. I tell everyone he was perfect for the part: handsome, young, witty, intelligent [laughs]. Very few people, I suppose, ever get to see themselves like that, and it is startling. You just can't believe that it's happening. There is somebody who's supposed to be me.

How much interaction did you have with Ashton to help him prepare for the role?
I had contact with him; he would call me on the telephone. He said he wanted to hear my accent. We'd have long, long conversations about my life. We didn't see each other until I went out to the West Coast, but we'd had many good phone conversations.

It must've been surreal to not only see yourself but also your late best friend, Eugene Sledge, in the miniseries.
Eugene died in 2001, so by the time they started working on 'The Pacific,' he had already passed on. I didn't speak to the actor who played him, but seeing him on the miniseries was very difficult for me. I had to keep telling myself, "Now that's Eugene, that's Eugene, that's Eugene."

And you also knew Pvt. Bob Leckie, since you were in the same company.
The part about it that's so startling to me is that when all of that occurred, these people were nothing. They were absolutely nothing. They were just privates in the Marine Corps. I was a private in the Marine Corps. They were not famous writers, they were not famous anything. They were just nobodies. The fact that all of this is taking place, involving not great generals but three privates, is the most interesting part of all. Never in your wildest dreams, would you have ever imagined that you would've been catapulted into all of this notoriety when you had been nothing more than a private.

The scenes in Guadalcanal are so violent and emotional to watch. It must have immediately taken you back to your time in the jungle.
You know, we had one boy in our squad who every morning would say, "If I had remembered to bring my 'Jesus Shoes,' I would've left this place last night." Marines always make fun of highly emotional things and all kinds of stress. They never would admit to being scared to death.

Tell me about Medal of Honor recipient John Basilone, and his war-hero status back home during the war. How much of a "legend" was he when you actually served in the war?
There were four regiments in the 1st Marine Division: the 1st, 5th, 7th and the 11th. And a regiment is about 3,500 men. I was in the 1st Regiment, and so was Leckie; we were in the same company. But Basilone was in the 7th Regiment. I only saw Basilone one time, and Leckie only saw him one time. That was when they awarded him the Medal of Honor. The occasion took place in the Melbourne cricket grounds, where we were billeted. The whole 1st Marine Regiment had to attend the ceremony. They had flagpoles, flags, a band and the whole thing. I saw Basilone from like 50 feet away. It wasn't like I spoke to him.

But was Basilone that famous among the privates in terms of what he had done, the way he seems in the miniseries?
No, not really, at least not in my company. They gave the Medal of Honor that day to General Vandegrift, Colonel Edson, Basilone and to Mitchell Paige. There were four recipients, and we had to attend whether we wanted to or not. We really just wanted to go out the gate on liberty into Melbourne, Australia. I remember the boy standing next to me kept mumbling, "Hurry it up. Hurry it up. Hurry it up. Get it over with." It was a very auspicious occasion, but we all wanted to go on liberty.

Speaking of Australia, I don't mean to intrude on your personal affairs, but you have a sweet first romance with a young Australian woman in one episode. Did that really happen?
That was mostly Hollywood. I'm just so glad they didn't show some of the other things that happened while we were there.

So you didn't romance a young Australian girl?
I was 18, and my girlfriend was 16, and her mother wouldn't let her go out without her sister. We had to double date.

Wait, so you did have a girlfriend in Australia!
Well, we had lots of girlfriends, but she was my special, nice girlfriend. I'd go and see her, and we'd go to the movies and things like that. You can spend the rest of your life studying all the tales from our Marine division's time on liberty in Melbourne.

Sounds like the premise for another 10-part miniseries.
Right. You got it.

In 'The Pacific,' it looks like you had an easier time returning home after the war, whereas Eugene looks almost haunted.
They would bring you home when you had more than two years overseas, and since I went overseas way before Eugene did, I came home first while he stayed on. There was some truth to Eugene being portrayed that way. The war seemed to haunt Eugene. He could not throw it off the way I tried to. I was determined the war would not ruin my life, and I kept telling him, "Forget it all, Eugene, forget it." Thank goodness he didn't because he wouldn't have written that book ['With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa'] if he had forgotten, and none of this would've happened. ... We remained close friends all our entire lives. He was best man at my wedding.


'The Pacific' was grittier, darker and more violent than 'Band of Brothers.' Is that an accurate reflection of the differences between the War in Europe and the War in the Pacific?
The war in Europe was against people who would basically surrender if the situation was hopeless. The Japanese culture worshiped the Emperor, and it was an honor to die for the Emperor. They would never, ever surrender. You had to kill them all. You had to kill them to the last one or they would kill you. That wasn't true in Europe. The war in the Pacific was very brutal.

There's a scene where Leckie arrives home and his taxi driver won't let him pay for the fare and says something along the lines of "I had to fight in Europe but I got to liberty in London and Paris, all you guys got was jungle rot and malaria. It's the least I can do."
The two different theaters were two very different theaters. There's nothing as miserable as a jungle. In the monsoon season, it rained 24 hours a day. Everything you have is ruined. Your clothes begin to rot. Your shoestrings all break. Your weapons have to be cleaned two or three times a day, or they'll rust. Snakes, insects, spiders with bodies as big as your fists. Rats everywhere. Half a dozen rats in sight everywhere you looked in the moonlight. You really don't ever want to live in a jungle if you can help it!

How did the war change your life specifically?
After Pearl Harbor, we were all furious and ran to enlist. Before Pearl Harbor, I was a high school graduate, but had no concept of what I wanted to do and no vocation in mind. The Marine Corps taught me discipline, made me want to accomplish something. I developed a great deal of interest in myself and came home and started to go to college and studied. I never studied before the Marines, but the Marines taught me how to be disciplined. It grabbed me and shook me and woke me up.

What do you hope younger generations who don't have grandparents who remember World War II will get out of 'The Pacific'?
The message I hope and pray that everyone will get is that war is tough and that freedom has to be fought for. More than anything, I'm hoping this will help revive patriotism in this country. Tom Brokaw wrote a book called 'The Greatest Generation,' but I tell people, I don't think he got the title right. We were a great generation, but the greatest generation will be the one that turns this nation around back to God. I hope it educates a lot of our young people.

Anything else you want to share with our readers about 'The Pacific'?
Really, this has been like winning the lottery. I was a private. Eugene was a private. Leckie was a private. We've been catapulted into all of this, and it's just amazing that it was about the privates and not the generals.

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Mike Langston

I think sid phillips and his men flew a confederate battle flag because it was not uncommon
for a marine from the south to fly one after all they were called rebs and they sang Dixie

In RV Burgins book they flew one after the battle of shuri castle and he was from TX
I would fly one to if I were them Im from Dixie.

March 31 2011 at 3:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike Langston

I read R V Burgins Islands of the Damed and Sidney Phikkips youll be sorry
I liked them a lot the books are more truthful then the minisereies .
there is no way to realy recreate combat. I hope to read EB Sledges book soon

mike

March 28 2011 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kaninboy41

"The war in Europe was against people who would basically surrender if the situation was hopeless. The Japanese culture worshiped the Emperor, and it was an honor to die for the Emperor. They would never, ever surrender. You had to kill them all. You had to kill them to the last one or they would kill you. That wasn't true in Europe. The war in the Pacific was very brutal."

marines really need to get over themselves and stop acting like they are god's gift to mankind. german/nazi army was the greatest fighting force the world had ever seen. better soldiers (not necessarily braver), better weapons, better army, better generals, WWAAAYY better tactics, and crazier leaders. 20,000 american soldier died in just a month of fighting in the battle of the bulge alone. that's more than peleliu, iwo jima, guadalcanal combined. i'd rather fight in mud, rain, rats than fight in below zero degrees temperture where you can't even feel your freakin fingers pulling the trigger. lastly, yes the japs barely surrendered, but it's a lot easier to fight an enemy who foolishly charges out there with bayonets and samurai swords yelling banzai while you easily mow them down with machine guns while sitting pretty in your fox holes.

January 12 2011 at 2:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jodycar

I am the daughter of a WWII Navy veteran whose ship was sunk by the Japanese during the Battle of Cape Gloucester. I watched Band of Brothers and The Pacific and am myself a WWII history buff. I also had a uncle who was with the lst Marines on Peleliu and was wounded on Okinawa. I cannot imagine the horror that any of these men lived through. It would be nice if we could just all "get along" but reality says that there have been wars and there will always be wars. I love the military and all those who have served our country. God help this country the day when noone wants to defend the freedom and liberty that has been given to us because young men & women shed their blood.

May 19 2010 at 3:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Yvonne


There is no excuse to continue with the fiction that African Americans were not everywhere in World War II. The French happily took blacks to fight with them whereas their fellow white Americans were angered about their presence and their good reception by the French and British. I bet you Sledge's black servants knew of black people who were serving and came home only to be told that they should continue to aspire no higher than to serve white people.

Pictures of African Americans During World War II
Select Audiovisual Records
http://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/ww2-pictures/


The 761st Tank Battalion (an all-African American tank unit), attached to the 71st Infantry Division, U.S. Third Army, under the command of General George Patton, participated in the liberation of Gunskirchen, a subcamp of the Mauthausen concentration camp, in May 1945.

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005479

See also, A Distant Shore: African Americans of D-Day
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mO__qae2DgI

May 17 2010 at 1:45 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Yvonne's comment
Mike Langston

hi y vonne My grandad was in charge of a all black unit of marines in world war 2
he passed away two years ago I agree with you.

take care
mike

March 28 2011 at 1:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Mike Langston

on second thought it is understanding to ask why no blacks were in the film
esp in the late parts. but the military was based on jim crow like everybody
at that time.

March 30 2011 at 10:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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