They Were Expendable (1945) 135 Min. B&W. Based loosely on the exploits of John D. Bulkeley (Medal of Honor recipient) and Robert Kelly, John Ford directed Robert Montgomery, who had served in WWII, and John Wayne, who had not, and whom Ford derided throughout the production, in this heartfelt homage to service and duty. At the end, Motor Torpedo Boat Three and its men are left behind to defend against the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, something whose tragic outcome American audiences knew all too well.
Waiting and then more waiting. Eating
mosquitoes before they eat you. Grease
and lube. Become one with the gun.
Nobody blinks unless the whole platoon does.
In formation, the PT fleet surges, weaves
apart as if riding plywood surfboards,
mocked by top brass at the base who
consign the boats to relaying messages.
Waiting and more waiting. Waiting for orders,
officers drink and dance in their private club.
They have to convince the naval bureaucracy
to be allowed to fight the enemy.
Pearl Harbor ends all that.
Finally unleashed to prove their worth,
swarming hornets in a frenzy of cool rage,
these barge busters take Japanese takers down,
learn to lay mines and smoke screens.
In dock, Lewis machine gun on its pedestal mount,
forward chine guards ripped away, bottom framing
under bows broken, side planking cracked,
there was still a belly ready for Mark 8 torpedoes.
But when you lose that first man, there’s no repair
for the unique spirit that has blown out,
that feels like an amputation, the missing limb
tingling, the grief an unstaunched wound.
There was a time when service and honor
meant something to a whole generation.
Abandoned so the top brass could escape,
men glory in defeat and keep on fighting.
Civilians and soldiers alike make ready
for the long death march across Bataan
that will happen off-screen into history
because it is too unbearable to watch.
“The warrior provides for his grandfather and grandson at the cost, if necessary, of his life. But his sacrifice only makes sense within a time span of at least three generations. There can be no genuine soldier or army unless there is a past to hand on to the future after a war is over.” – Rosenstock-Huessy.
(Disposable Poem May 25. 2016) POSTED ON THE 4TH OF JULY, 2016