For Veterans Day, Favorite Films From The Frontlines

By Jared Bowen

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A scene from Saving Private Ryan. Photo by Amblin Entertainment – © 1998


BEDFORD -- Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass. has a lot of what you might expect: Fighter jets, uniformed men and women bustling about and the requisite on-base hangout. At the back of Hansom’s MinuteMan Club sits 2nd. Lt. Patrick Gernert, who sits at a card table with two other servicemen, talking about their favorite war movies.
 
“Mine would probably be Forrest Gump,” says Gernert. “Even when he was miles from home he always thought about Jenny, and he always wanted to get back to her. He got bit in the butt, but he did definitely get home.”
 
Just like every football player has seen Rudy, and every filmmaker has studied Citizen Kane, for America’s men and women in uniform there are a go-to set of must-see movies that are often quoted, joked about and heavily relied on.

Must-See War Movies

Saving Private Ryan

Its first and last acts are among the most realistic and brutal depictions of war captured on film. In between is a timeless story of innocence facing the ultimate test.

Top Gun

One of a handful of movies granted full cooperation by U.S. Miltary, Top Gun defined heroics in the air for a generation with iconic star turns by Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer.

Forrest Gump

On one hand the story of a simple fan living an extraordinary life. Dig deeper and follow the baby boom generation as it grows up through Elvis, Vietnam, and the age of disco, drugs, and disease.

Stripes

Classic Bill Murrary comedy. "Don't leave. The flowers will die."

Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick's mix of surrealism and dark humor follows a Vietnam platoon's evolution from boyhood to war machine.

Gladiator

When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by a corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.

“I mean, you can’t go wrong with Full Metal Jacket,” chimes Staff Sgt. Andre Edgardo Olaciregui-Perez, who normally craves the comedy stylings of Bill Murray and company. “Stripes is good, too. ‘The name’s Francis Sawyer.  If I catch any of you guys in my stuff, I kill ya.’”

Olaciregui-Perez then wades into the danger zone with his next pick, Tony Scott’s 1986 melodramatic ode to military machismo Top Gun. He sums it up in one word: "Lame.”
 
Tech Sgt Khaliliah Velez is a little kinder. “All I gotta say is Take My Breathe Away. Every time I hear that song, that movie pops into my head, and I liked it," Velez said. "Now, it’s not Air Force, but I like the movie.”
 
The one movie they all agree is paramount is the untouchable Saving Private Ryan. “This movie, straight from the entrance, the Battle of Normandy” says Gernert. “It’s like—wow—boom—bomb—you know all this stuff going on, everybody ducking down, you hear the splash of the water—splush. It’s just intense, really intense.”

Capt. John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and the Allied
troops land on the beach of Normandy.

For the group assembled at this card table, there are a variety of different missions under their collective belts -- some of which include long deployments. To them, there is a different set of go-to comfort movies: The ones that take them home, when home is many miles and months away.
 
“They kind of helped me get through my time there,” says Velez. “You know, reminded me of my family and of things that I like to do in the States that I wasn’t afforded in Iraq. The Devil Wears Prada, The Breakup, Failure to Launch, Underworld 2, you always gotta switch it up a little bit. Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift was one that was close to home because it reminded me of son because he loves cars. And then, The DaVinci Code, just to kill time. I fell asleep most of the time, you know, it’s a long movie.”
 
Sergeant Olaciregui Perez has a shorter list of comfort movies. ”I was in Kuwait in 2007 and 2009, and my two favorite movies of all time, that I’ve watched repeatedly over when I was deployed, were Cast Away and Gladiator.”
 
Cast Away is really interesting cause you know, you have this guy that gets stranded, in the middle of nowhere and really has no hope. But because of his determination in wanting to go back to what was close to his heart, it kind of deals with the same thing as in deployment," Perez said. "You know, you’re ready to go back, but you understand that you have to do certain things at the location. It’s like a journey, or an adventure. That’s why Cast Away is close to me, I guess.”

 
Maximus (Russell Crowe) addresses the
Roman crowds.

As for Ridley Scott’s action-packed historical epic Gladiator -- that one is a little more obvious.
 
“Every guy, they all wanna be Russell Crowe in that movie,” says Perez. “You know, screaming out, ‘Are you not entertained?  Are you not entertained? Is this not what you want?’  You know, it’s just very thrilling—it’s amazing.”
 
It’s also an escape. So in wartime, amid the intensity, the brutality, the loneliness—it’s clear listening to these veterans that in the 21st century, movies are an integral part of the war experience.
 
“I guess I would tell someone that’s in the military with me, you know, whatever makes you laugh, smile, cry, because we all have different tastes,” says Velez. “Whatever takes you to your happy place—just watch it.”

 


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