By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire May 25, 2009 at 4:38AM
Exactly 140 years ago next week, America observed its first Decoration Day, meant to commemorate the lives lost by Union soldiers in the Civil War. Not until after World War I did what we now call Memorial Day come into being, a remembrance of all of the warrior lives lost in American wars. SnagFilms is proud to present this special line-up of films this Memorial Day weekend that enable us all to honor the fallen, and to reflect on our own duties of remembrance and action.
Today, indieWIRE's colleagues at SnagFilms present a programs of free documentaries commemorating the United States' Memorial Day holiday.
Arlington: Field of Honor
National Geographic presents a portrait of one of America's most sacred places. Once little more than a potter's field, Arlington National Cemetery has become a national shrine and treasury of American history. Now, discover how this revered site came to be, and how it serves as the final resting place for both the famous and obscure, from John F. Kennedy to the Unknown Soldier. Through rare archival footage and captivating, true-life accounts, experience the moving stories of heroes and heroines and witness the daily activities and official rituals of the dedicated staff who strive to honor those who are laid to rest here. From fallen soldiers and daring explorers to political leaders and other honored Americans, the hallowed history of Arlington reveals a powerful portrait of this iconic and venerated landmark.
Baghdad Bound: Devil Dog Diaries
Experience the full force of coalition forces in Iraq and live life on the frontlines. "The Devil Dog Diaries" provides a rare, inside look at life in wartime from the perspective of the young men in a battalion of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force With veteran filmmaker Gary Scurka in tow, the marines encounter ambushes and fire fights, engage in dangerous missions in cities along the way, endure sniper fire and sandstorms and lead the charge into Baghdad. Yet despite their feats, most of these Marines are young cadets straight out of high school, shipped to a far off desert to engage in a war for reasons they may not fully understand.
Battle for Midway
One thousand miles from anywhere lay a lonely outpost of coral and sea called Midway. It was here in 1942 where the U.S. and Japan fought one of the greatest naval battles of World War II that changed the course of history. And it is here again where Titanic discoverer Dr. Robert Ballard now leads a team of experts and four World War II veterans on the voyage of their lives. They're on a race against time to do the impossible: find at least one of the five downed aircraft carriers. Join them as they pay their final respects to their fallen comrades.
East L.A. Marine
Guy Gabaldon died on August 31, 2006 and the world lost someone very special. During the bloody struggle for Saipan in July 1944, U.S. Marine PFC Guy Gabaldon is officially credited with capturing over 1500 Japanese soldiers and civilians - single-handedly, a record that is untouchable in the annals of American military history. For over sixty years, Guy talked about his exploits on that island, sharing his experience and using his celebrity to inspire new generations who valued bravery and bravado. However, war experience alone does not make a life, and Guy's didn't stop in 1944. He lived many different lives and most importantly he took it upon himself to help the less fortunate, particularly the wayward teenagers he encountered when he returned to the Mariana Islands in 1980, where he would live for twenty years.
A powerful, emotional and relevant reminder of the heartbreaking toll war takes on the innocent, Nanking tells the story of the Japanese invasion of Nanking, China, in the early days of World War II. As part of a campaign to conquer all of China, the Japanese subjected Nanking - which was then China's capital - to months of aerial bombardment, and when the city fell, the Japanese army unleashed murder and rape on a horrifying scale. In the midst of the rampage, a small group of Westerners banded together to establish a Safety Zone where over 200,000 Chinese found refuge. Unarmed, these missionaries, university professors, doctors and businessmen - including a Nazi named John Rabe - bore witness to the events, while risking their own lives to protect civilians from slaughter.
The story is told through deeply moving interviews with Chinese survivors, chilling archival footage and photos of the events, and testimonies of former Japanese soldiers. At the heart of Nanking is a filmed stage reading of the Westerners' letters and diaries, featuring Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway and Jurgen Prochnow. Through its interweave of archival images, testimonies of survivors, and readings of first hand accounts, the film puts the viewer on the streets of Nanking and brings the forgotten past to startling life.
Nanking is a testament to the courage and conviction of individuals who were determined to act in the face of evil and a powerful tribute to the resilience of the Chinese people - a gripping account of light in the darkest of times.
On Common Ground
The battle of the Huertgen Forest was one of the bloodiest of World War II. American and German forces suffered in excess of 60,000 casualties over a freezing six-month winter campaign. For the soldiers who survived, memories of the horror of that battle have continued to this day. This is the true story of a battlefield reunion of American and German soldiers nearly 55 years after they fought in the Huertgen forest. This time they meet in the spirit of reconciliation, but vivid memories from the war and unanswered questions are never far beneath the surface.
Pearl Harbor: Day Of Infamy
A three hour documentary about Pearl Harbor containing over 25 survivor interviews revealing eyewitness accounts from both American and Japanese veterans. Witness the events of December 7, 1941, as a Japanese carrier fleet launches a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the island of Oahu which ultimately demolished the United States Pacific Fleet in under one hour. Approximately 2,500 American lives were lost and numerous US military battleships and aircraft were destroyed.
Red, White, Black, and Blue
"Red, White, Black, and Blue" tells the story of Bill and Andy, the two toughest 85-year-olds you've ever met. Together, these life-long friends fought against 3000 Japanese soldiers in a secret Alaskan invasion during World War II. Now, 60 years later, these two forgotten heroes embark on an intense and emotional journey back to the remote Aleutian island of Attu, where they relive the brutal 19-day battle that America was never told about. The desolate, wind-swept island is not only one of the most dangerous places in the world, but also a living museum littered with crashed airplanes, unexploded bombs, and collapsed buildings from the war. As Bill and Andy retrace their steps over this untouched battlefield, the line between past and present begins to blur and long-forgotten memories resurface with moving force. Through intimate interviews with Bill and Andy, the film explores what it means to be a soldier then and now. And for Bill, that means continuing the battle--even at the cost of his own peace of mind.
Return to Tarawa
The story of Leon Cooper's -- WWII veteran and American original -- return to "Red Beach". Cooper, a veteran of the battle of "Bloody Tarawa," returned to Tarawa in February 2008 in order to learn more about reports he had read about garbage on the fabled "Red Beach."
In November 1943, Leon, a US Navy landing craft officer, helped launch the first major amphibious assault on a Central Pacific Japanese stronghold. Leon is dismayed to discover that this hallowed ground is strewn with garbage rotting in the sun, a painful insult to the sacrifice his fellow marines made for their country, during one of the bloodiest three-day battles in American war history.
Cooper's trip is full of wonder, anger, amazement and divine providence as he and film maker Steven C. Barber visit what Leon suspects to be the graves of hundreds of Marines still buried on Tarawa. Follow Leon Cooper's trip back in time, as narrated by Oscar-nominated actor, Ed Harris. A story of redemption and passion that will move you to tears.
So Very Far From Home
"So Very Far From Home" tells the stories of American, British and Australian children sent to brutal, overcrowded prison camps in Japanese-occupied China during World War II. While the war eventually ended, China still lives in their hearts today.
For Patricia Dunn Silver, it's the memory of July 4, 1943 when a group of imprisoned parents and children defiantly sang the one song their Japanese captors had forbidden--The Star-Spangled Banner. Shanghai was once seven year-old Ronald Morris' playground, but during the war years hunger was his constant companion. For Pamela Masters, a brash British teenager, months of imprisonment brought her within seconds of taking her own life. The war meant it would be years before Mary Taylor Previte would see her parents again.
What happens when the only world you ever knew is gone, and "home" is a place you've never seen?
Vietnam, Long Time Coming
In 1998, World T.E.A.M. Sports (The Exceptional Athlete Matters) organized a 16-day, 1,200 mile bicycle ride through once war-torn Vietnam. Able-bodied and disabled veterans, from the U.S. and Vietnam, travel across a landscape where they once killed to stay alive. The former enemies ride as one team, joined by well-known rider Greg LaMonde and Senator John Kerry, in an emotional journey of peace, reconciliation, and athletic achievement. The biggest handicaps turn out to be the ghosts of the past, with their nagging reminders of conflict, injury and loss.