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November 1, 2014

'The Pacific' - 'Gloucester/Pavuvu/Banika' Recap

by Jason Hughes, posted Apr 5th 2010 1:38PM
James Badge Dale, 'The Pacific'(E04) While we were celebrating Easter, the boys in 'The Pacific' were ringing in Christmas and 1944 in somewhat less than optimal conditions. We got a brief glimpse of Eugene Sledge, finally in the marines and screwing up in training. But his story is yet to come.

With Basilone off selling war bonds and banging bar blondes, and Sledge learning the difference between "Bob" and "Tojo," it was Robert Leckie and the 1st Marines tours of duty that took center stage. And through these venues, and this Division, the writers and producers were able to showcase the psychological toll that war can have on battle-beaten soldiers.

Leckie was pretty strained already going into their tour on Gloucester, after his disastrous love affair on Melbourne. He was also on the outs with Lt. Larkin, which certainly didn't help matters on the ground.

The elevation of on of their friends to a position of authority is something that many soldiers see on the field of battle. As friends and fellow combatants fall, others must rise to take their positions, and suddenly you can have mere boys responsible for the lives of those around them. From such conditions, heroes are found, but it's also adding more stress and pressure onto already weakened psyches.

When we think of war, we think of the men on the battlefields wielding weapons and facing off against the enemy. And there were certainly Japanese soldiers in this episode, But the greater and more horrific enemy these young men faced was the toll of the war itself and the environment they were in.

On Gloucester during rainy season, they were sinking in the mud with nary a break between downpours. Their clothes and bodies were soaked through, and by the time they got to Pavuvu disease was running rampant among them. The contrast between these conditions, which were captured so authentically I was made uncomfortable watching them, and the medical facility on Banika was startling.

I was glad to see the doctors and aides there not trying to pretend that their war experience was anything like what Leckie and the others were facing on the lines. It was never made clear if Leckie was sent to a psychiatric hospital intentionally as a response to his urinary condition, or if it was as the doctor said: in response to overflow needs.

One could make an argument that every marine out there could probably use some time there, as we witnessed the cracking of once sound minds on more than one occasion. The Frenchman killed himself, and the grinning marine looking back at Leckie after he'd methodically strangled an injured Japanese soldier to death; presumably so he could experience killing one with his bare hands; was almost more frightening than the Japanese men skulking in the woods.

These were the boys on our side. These were the boys fighting for freedom; and for many it looked like they were fighting just as hard for their own sanity, and failing that death looked like a fair option as well. Private Gibson snapped and tried to make a run for it home. I got the feeling that had these men not been on an island halfway across the world, more of them would have had the same ambitions to just get away from it all.

Certainly not all of them, and even those who did weren't in their right minds at the time. There's only so much a person can take, and everyone's tolerance levels are different. Leckie held it together pretty well when Larkin stole his chest and Jap pistol, and even took his unwarranted punishment extremely well for taking back the pistol that was rightfully his.

After all that, it made an even more powerful statement when he gave up the pistol so he could return to the 1st Marines before they shipped off without him. He was essentially living a life of luxury with hamburgers, french fries, Coca-Cola and pretty nurses to ogle, but the guilt was eating him alive. There was a moment when he and the doctor were eating together that you could see the guilt on Leckie's face when he realized he was eating a french fry. You could see that he was thinking of the boys of the 1st and what they might be eating at that moment.

The medical facility was an oasis of serenity and beauty in the midst of the horrific Pacific front, and it's no wonder that boys would fake conditions to get some R&R there before heading back to the battle. One think 'The Pacific' is doing very well is giving us a well-rounded view of what the entire war was like on that front. We've seen the jungle warfare, the mental and physical exhaustion, the weather conditions, and even the lighter moments of relief the boys got between their stints in hell.

I'm certainly eager to see Sledge finally get into some action, as well as checking in with Basilone back in the states, but in watching these boys of the 1st Marines, I'm not looking forward to the next six installments because I know the fates of many of them will be grim indeed. War is a bastard, and it's regular people like you and me that find themselves in the middle of it. What you're made of inside determines how you fare in it, but it doesn't always determine if you get out.

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