Wednesday, November 15, 2006

CAC member Donn Lewin

CAC member Donn Lewin reviews Clint Eastwood's, "Flags of Our Fathers".

‘A Hell of a Job’
A Hawaii vet who took part in the Iwo Jima battle praises the film for its realism....

There was some question at the time whether the battle for Iwo Jima needed to be fought at all. But in the lull between the battle of Leyte Gulf and the planned invasion of Okinawa, the Army Air Force's B-29 bombers were operating at the extreme edge of their flight envelope, without fighter cover. A mid-ocean airfield was the answer and Iwo Jima fit the bill. The Navy and the Marines were sent to capture the island for the Army. The assault was expected to be vicious but short.It instead became a horrifically drawn-out slugfest: nearly 20,000 Japanese troops killed, only a few hundred captured. The Allies had 26,000 casualties, with more than 6,000 killed. It was the only time the Marines suffered more casualties than the Japanese.Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines for the invasion of Iwo Jima, the most ever given in a single battle. The rest of the Marines never forgot the experience.

Pro wrestling legend Donn Lewin, one of the few Iwo vets living in the islands, saw Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" last week at a viewing hosted by the Pacific War Memorial. A feisty old guy -- a professional wrestler in his postwar career -- he began the movie by chattering, but within a few minutes of the combat scenes, he quieted, eventually making a single shout-out. "Pull the damn trigger!" he yelled at one harrowing moment."I went expecting to see a Hollywood movie, but it was so real, it was like I was there," he said afterward. "They did a hell of a job, one hell of a job."Private Donn Lewin, 18 years old, L Company, 3rd Division, 9th Marines, went ashore with the fourth wave, which was delayed until dawn, the second day of the landing. The Japanese defenders had allowed the initial waves to pool ashore before opening up on them with hidden artillery. The result was chaos and slaughter as the Marines hung on to a fragile toehold in the black sand. Within a few hours, only Lewin and one other from his squad were still uninjured."The movie likes to show people having nightmares about their combat experiences, but I've never had one, not one," he said. "But that doesn't mean I don't remember every detail. And I think every day about the boys we lost."

Lewin also praised the film's dramatic construction, although he isn't sympathetic to Adam Beach's (possibly Oscar-nominated) portrayal of Ira Hayes. "Look, I'm sure he had problems. Not because of his experience or because he was an Indian, but because he was a ... drunk. Never saw but one of my guys become a crybaby. Threw down his rifle and ran away screaming he wanted to go home. Had to chase him down and pound some sense into his head. Crybaby!"Eastwood has filmed a companion film, "Letters From Iwo Jima," showing the Japanese point of view, and Lewin wonders "how cleaned-up it will be.""We didn't see many live Japanese," he said. "They were underground. Every once in a while, they'd pull one of their idiotic banzai charges and the next morning there would be nothing but dead Japanese as far as you could see. They wouldn't surrender. Sometimes I think the human race is out to destroy itself."Iwo Jima, in the North Pacific, was cold at night and warm during the day, said Lewin, and the movie accurately shows that. "I think old Clint looked at all the footage of the battle and did his best to reflect that. I think some of it was real newsreel footage, but I'm not sure.

"What he got dead right was the behavior of the Marines. I guarantee you Eastwood had a brass Marine or two there to make sure they did it right. The battles were -- it was like I was there again. My god. Not Hollywood at all."

Marines today are no different than those who stormed Suribachi, said Lewin, who was wounded three times in a half-dozen Pacific campaigns. "It's a different mindset. We know there's a battle going on and our buddies are in it, we want to be there. That's why you see our guys going back to Iraq, back to Afghanistan. Wish I could go, too. There are no ex-Marines, only Marines."