War films have come up with some of the most poignant and dramatic scenes in all of cinema.
Some moviescan boast more than one such scene that sticks in a person’s mind. Which of these scenes have been themost memorable? Here are 10 such scenes in no particular order. I have elected to limit thescenes to movies depicting actual wars, as opposed to a generic military thriller.
While this leaves thesuperb “Act of Valor” in the cold (which may be controversial, given it was inspired by the real War on Terror), I think the moments selected are well worth it.
- “Battleground” (1949) – Before “Band of Brothers,” there was “Battleground.” In this film covering the Battle of the Bulge, perhaps the most poignant scene is the chaplain’s sermon asking, “Was this trip necessary?” This not only strikes a tone that explained why the United States had to fight in World War II, but it also had words that relating to today’s War on Terror – and the chaplain’s comment about people forgetting as the years go by seems sadly prophetic as we look at the effects of Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq, and Obama’s disastrous apology-based foreign policy.
- “Gettysburg” (1993) – Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s briefing given to the officers of the 20th Maine. Here is a classic case of laying out a difficult mission for a unit to accomplish. In this one, the stakes of the Battle of Little Round Top are laid out clearly, but one also can get one of the moral foundations that underlie the Union’s cause in the Civil War.
- “The Longest Day” (1962) – Richard Burton, playing RAF pilot David Campbell, comments on how the problem with being one of the “few” is the way that they kept becoming “fewer.” In a very real sense, what he is saying is happening with the World War II veterans. Today, with the all-volunteer force, the “few” is in a much different context, but the basic lesson is the same.
- “The Gallant Hours” (1959) – Admiral Halsey’s speech to an officer who had requested relief from command after losing half his squadron explains how lonely command can be. For those who think that high-ranking commanders – or even a president – are somehow divorced from burdens of war, it should be a wake-up call.
- “We Were Soldiers” (2002) – The closing narration by Joseph Galloway lays out why soldiers have fought, as it is intermingled with the return of many soldiers from the battle.
- “Midway” (1976) – The attack by the dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown in the late morning of June 4. The film itself is worth notice as it is perhaps the only depiction of one of the decisive actions of the Pacific Theater. Even with the limitations of mid-1970s special effects, this is one of the better scenes showing a turning point in a war. What that scene would look like with today’s special effects is something one can only imagine.
- “The Battle of Britain” (1969) – A pair of scenes close together. The first has an officer taking over a section in an RAF Spitfire squadron – the two new pilots in his section have a total of 17 hours in the plane. If you wanted to know how desperate the fight against Nazi Germany was – you just need to see that scene. In the following scene, there is the discussion of the situation – the British, at the height of the battle, are leaving no reserves.
- “The Gallant Hours” (1959) – The second scene from the classic movie starring James Cagney as Admiral Halsey featured the admiral’s discussion with Admirals Scott and Callaghan before sending them to protect Henderson Field prior to a Japanese attempt to bombard Guadalcanal. While it did not happen historically, in this case, the dramatic license gives you at least a brief sense of the mindset of two commanders who would be killed when they placed their outmatched force athwart an oncoming assault, and who succeeded against all odds.
- “Gettysburg” (1993) – The second movie to have two mentions in the countdown. This time, it is General Hancock’s statement in the middle of the massive artillery bombardment preceding Pickett’s Charge, “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count” that really provides the punch – especially as the scene is witnessed by Colonel Chamberlain (which was probably a bit of dramatic license). Hancock would be wounded in the engagement.
- “Black Hawk Down” (2001) – Perhaps the most moving scene in the film was when Delta Force operators Randall Shughart and Gary Gordon volunteered to attempt the rescue of Michael Durant from the second crash scene. Even as they are told that they will likely be on their own, and there is no guarantee as to when help will come, they still volunteered to go down to the crash site. Their effort would result in posthumous Medals of Honor for both men, but Durant would survive – and eventually return to the United States.
In a real sense, many of these scenes have overshadowedfictional passages from novels or scenes in fictional movies set in contemporary wars.