Monday, March 8, 2010

Gung Ho!

For the past two weeks, I have searched for the title to a World War II movie that I saw in Pittsburgh, Pa in 1946. The summer of ‘46, Mom and Dad went to a Bible Convention of some sort..somewhere..which meant that we kids were farmed out to a few of Dad’s willing parishioners that would take us in for a week or so. I was excited that I would be staying with a farmer and his family that lived near our church in Beaver County, near Frankfort Springs. The hard work of running a small farm was a wonderful learning atmosphere for a young second grader.

It was a delightful adventure. I actually learned how to handle a team of horses as well as to start and drive an old Farmall Tractor. Bear in mind..there was no running water and the outhouse seemed to me just way too far away from the living quarters. A little spring about fifty feet from the house, on the uphill side of the 2-holer provided all the water that was required. This little family had a son that was 6 years older than me and Johnny took me under his wings and taught me how things get accomplished down on the farm. After five days of grueling hard farm work we were treated to a Friday night movie in downtown Pittsburgh, Pa.

I remember it like it was yesterday. That happens when you get older. The theatre marquees and the thousands of blinking lights extending out over the sidewalks announcing the latest feature films blew me away. What memories! Surely Las Vegas had nothing on downtown Pittsburgh’s theatre district in 1946. People were everywhere on their way to somewhere this evening in the big city. "Wow" all I could think to myself. I had never seen anything like this in all my seven long years. This was my very first movie experience in a big city.

Now, here are the four memorable scenes from this "mystery" movie that I have carried with me for 63 years. First memory: A select squadron of Marines was given the task of destroying enemy radar installations on a small island in the Pacific. The troops were transported by two submarines. As they were making their way from Honolulu they were forced by an incoming Japanese air attack to conduct an emergency dive. As the dive commenced, one member of the squadron was inadvertently left on deck, asleep. They discovered he was missing just in time to re-surface and rescue him. Next memory: As they came on shore at predawn hours, I remember the Japanese had secured positions in the tops of the palm trees and they opened fire as the Marines landed..killing several soldiers. This skirmish was graphically portrayed. Third memory: The Marine commander ordered several troops to paint an American flag on the tin roof of the captured Japanese headquarters. His intention was to let the Japanese re-take the building and then let the Japanese air corps, seeing the American flag, bomb their own troops while the Marines, after accomplishing their mission, retreated to the waiting submarines. It worked! Final memory: A group of Japanese soldiers faked surrender. As the Marines approached, the Japanese had a machine gun strapped to the back of one and he simply bent over forward and the others manned the machine gun and killed one of our soldiers before they were themselves killed.

That’s it. That’s all I remember. Certainly this is an "R" rated movie in this day and one that you wouldn’t take a seven-year-old to see...for sure. Did it warp my little mind? Some who know me well may point to this episode as the answer to their questions about me, but I think I’ve endured fairly well for these many years in spite of this fantastic and treacherous movie about a surprise attack on our World War II enemy in the Pacific. Now, what was the name of that movie? When was it made? And...who starred in this fantastic flick? Those were the questions I took up two weeks ago. I "googled" everything that I remembered about this movie with no good hits. Then I searched for World War II movies that would have been made after 1945. Two movies stood out: "Objective Burma", starring Errol Flynn and "Back to Bataan", starring John Wayne. I ordered both from Blockbuster. After a disappointing viewing, neither of these was the movie I had remembered.

So, back to "google" I went. This time when I found a likely candidate I read the "user reviews" for descriptions and highlights. Bingo! I found it. The movie was made in 1943 and evidently was not "first run" at the Pittsburgh theatre. Nevertheless, I had found my movie. It was entitled "Gung Ho!" and starred Randolph Scott, a super young Robert Mitchum and Noah Beery, Jr.... and was narrated by Chet Huntley. I have been attempting to relive my experience as a seven-year-old by playing this movie in our new theatre room. It does help make the experience more like the original...but after 63 years of movies that ever increase in violence and vivid imagery I suspect that my seven-year-old innocence has been slightly jaded. No has been fun to try to recreate the past by not only finding this movie, but also viewing once again the movie that I experienced in 1946 downtown Pittsburgh.

As a side note, this movie was based on a true story about "Carlson’s Marine Raiders" and can be viewed in its entirety HERE for free. Also you may find a quick bit of info from THIS Wikipedia article.

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