Marines Find Little Juice in HBO's 'The Pacific'

We Marines — active, reserve, retired, and former — have been anticipating the epic HBO miniseries “The Pacific” like we would the Super Bowl. But frankly the preview movie-trailer was a bit more stirring than almost all of the first episode (which premiered this past Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern). The exception was the nocturnal firefight on Guadalcanal’s Alligator Creek (what the movie calls Alligator River).

Granted, we went into the kickoff for the miniseries aware that much of it would focus on the Guadalcanal landings, which took place largely unopposed, as well as building the characters and the storyline. But being that “The Pacific” was produced by the same dream team that turned out “Band of Brothers,” most of us were looking for episode-one to be the emotionally charged, somewhat spiritual experience (at least for Marines) the publicity has been suggesting for weeks.

We did however get to see a few scenes of “Manila John” Basilone and Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller whose names and heroics were drilled into us from almost day one of boot camp. And surely the remaining nine episodes will live up to the $200 million it cost to put the whole thing together.

But why didn’t Hanks and company lead with Marine boot camp just as “Band of Brothers” led with Airborne training? Episode-one at the famous (some say, infamous) Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C. would have been a lot more exciting than Bob Leckie’s chance meeting with a neighborhood girl or dinnertime toasts at the Basilones’.

As it was, the Sunday night kickoff left some Marines wondering, “Is that it?” Of course it’s not, and we all know the truly gripping stuff is yet to come.

But we Marines are a passionate lot and we demand excellence, particularly if you are telling our story. But don’t toy with our story. Don’t delay. Give us some juice. Don’t forget what it means to be a Marine. We are not ordinary soldiers, and that is a huge part of our story that has thus far been largely ignored.

“This initial episode was a letdown,” Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions as a rifle company commander in Vietnam, tells HUMAN EVENTS. “I appreciate the part where they were emphasizing the NCOs being the backbone of the Corps. That part was good. Then it goes downhill.”

Livingston is a former board chairman of the National D-Day Museum (today the National World War II Museum) in New Orleans, a post Livingston accepted at the request of Stephen E. Ambrose – the museum’s brainchild – but only after Livingston was assured that the Pacific theater of operations would get equal billing to the European theater. Ambrose, as we all know, wrote “Band of Brothers.” His son, Hugh, wrote the companion book to “The Pacific.” Executive producers for both miniseries – Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg – have been heavily involved in the museum from the beginning. And Livingston remains close to the Ambrose family.

“But for the amount of money that was spent on this miniseries, the quality did not reach a very high level,” Livingston says. “I hope they [subsequent episodes] get better. I’m sure they will, but I was very disappointed with the storylines after the introduction. The technical detail was not very good. The expectation — certainly of Marines — was a letdown.”

Robert W. “Bob” Hughes, a Marine corporal who landed in the second wave on Iwo Jima and was ultimately carried off the island with two shattered legs, agrees.

When asked if he enjoyed the movie, Hughes sighed and then said, “Well, it was nothing like anything I ever experienced as a Marine in the Pacific. The Marines portrayed in this movie all seem so nonchalant.”

And whether someone is shooting at them or not, Marines are never nonchalant.

The first episode of “Band of Brothers” left viewers wanting more. The first episode of “The Pacific” left viewers hoping there will be more. I’m reasonably confident the remaining nine will be far better. At least that’s what the trailers suggest.