Memorial Day weekend tends to be the first big party weekend to launch summer festivities, but for the military community, the true significance of the holiday cuts deep. Memorial Day is the official holiday to commemorate the servicemembers who have given their lives in military service.
It is different from Veterans Day in November, which honors the service of all military vets. For those of us who have lost a friend or loved one in the line of duty, the distinction is all too clear.
We share the stories of heroism and valor to celebrate courage, to learn about the horrors of war that we may prevent them, and to honor those who sacrificed for the ideals we hold dear.
Here are three powerful films based on true stories of valor.
THE LAST FULL MEASURE
THE LAST FULL MEASURE, written and directed by Todd Robinson, tells the story of Vietnam War Veterans as they fought to see the Medal of Honor awarded to the man who helped save their lives.
William H. Pitsenbarger, a U.S. Air Force Pararescueman, personally saved over sixty men when he left the relative safety of his helicopter to save and defend the lives of soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division. His heroic efforts cost him his life.
Thirty-two years later, Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman investigates a request made by William’s parents and battle buddy, Tom Tulley, to award William with the Medal of Honor — the highest military honor. Huffman interviews men who served with William in Vietnam, revealing their struggles and demons from the terrible war.
The film was made with the inclusion of real military veterans, including Senior Master Sergeant John Pighini, an Air Force Pararescueman — or PJ — like William. I had the opportunity to talk with Pighini about the film and his service as a PJ and I’ve never forgotten what he said:
“Pararescuemen…it’s in your blood. Like nurses and doctors — when people want to help people, it’s a calling. To me, it was always about saving a life. I didn’t feel like I was being a hero. The guys that gave the last full measure…they’re the heroes.”
HACKSAW RIDGE tells the tale of Army medic Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who refused to hold a weapon but was determined to be of service. He served as a combat medic during World War II where, during the Battle of Okinawa, he saved the lives of over fifty men, despite his own critical wounds.
The film tells the harrowing tale of that battle, depicting Doss’s “outstanding gallantry far and above the call of duty,” for which he received the Medal of Honor.
LONE SURVIVOR is a film based on the book by U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell with novelist Patrick Robinson. Set during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, it tells the true story of the unsuccessful counter-insurgent mission Operation Red Wings to track down the Taliban leader Ahmad Shah.
Of his four-man infiltration team, Luttrell was the only man to survive the brutal mission, where his surprising rescue came at the hands of local Pashtun villagers.
This film is a reminder of the continued conflict in Afghanistan and the dangers threatening and haunting our military service members today as well as the global impact of U.S. wars.
Hero epics are among the oldest stories in human history. We honor the bravery of heroes and we grieve for them when they have fallen. These are important stories to tell — especially when filmmakers involve military veterans to capture truth and authenticity in their stories.
I would hope that these stories can also serve as a warning, rather than a clarion call. It can be easy to glorify war and combat — for that is where heroes are too often found — but it is critical to remember that those moments, those battles, those acts of valor all come from a place of violence and suffering.
This Memorial Day, may we honor the fallen. May we remember their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their loved ones. And may we learn a new way toward peace.
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Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!