HBO’s The Pacific is a companion piece to 2001’s World War II miniseries Band of Brothers. As with Band of Brothers, The Pacific was produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. The Pacific tells the story of three Marines, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie, and John Basilone, and their separate experiences during World War II on the Pacific front. The 10-part series was primarily based on the memoirs of Sledge (With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, China Marine) and Leckie (Helmet For My Pillow). Basilone was a highly decorated war hero, whose story in large part is a matter of historical record. Part of Basilone’s story was based on the memoir (Red Blood, Black Sand) by Chuck Tatum, a Marine who fought with Basilone at Iwo Jima.
The Pacific tells the story of several major battles including Guadalcanal, Tenaru, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The stories are told from the point of view of the Marines who fought on the front lines. What I found compelling about the mini-series was the lack of politics. The Pacific is a movie about World War II, but it is not an analysis of the war itself. We do not see the battles being planned, or any high level military brass discussing strategy. What we see is the brutality of the front lines and men whose job it was to complete their mission or die trying. From their point of view we see unbearable conditions such as endless rain, mud, lack of water, food, shelter, and even toilet paper.
Of course, there is also the immense loss of human life. Troops are mowed down as they come ashore, before their feet barely touch the sand. Japanese soldiers are killed by the hundreds. Except for the dead, there are very few Japanese soldiers shown in the mini-series. That's in line with the perspective of the Marines, many of whom didn't really see the enemy during entire battles. The Japanese were not only very skilled at remaining hidden during combat, but also clearing the dead before U.S. forces could see the bodies.
Basilone, Leckie, and Sledge did not serve in the same units. Their paths crossed incidentally; Basilone and Leckie were both at Guadalcanal, Sledge and Leckie both fought in the Battle at Peleiu. Each Marine has a unique vision of the war, and each story is carefully crafted and interwoven throughout the episodes of The Pacific. Jon Seda does an excellent job portraying John Basilone. Basilone was the consummate Marine. He was brave, willing to do whatever it took to win, and yet humble and unassuming when not in action. Seda captures the nuances of Basilone the war hero and Basilone the man.