Archive for November 11th, 2021

The-Best-Years-of-Our-Lives-  Dana Winter

Today is Veteran’s Day and I thought I might have an image that somewhat represents the experience of some vets on their return home.  There are a lot of  really powerful images  in the great 1946 movie, The Best Years of Our Lives, which shows tonight on TCM. It gives a credible depiction of the veterans’ experiences, telling the story of three veterans of varying economic classes as they return to their shared hometown and the challenges each faces.

In the film, Dana Andrews‘ character, who had been an Air Force bombardier, struggles on his return to his hometown. After losing his job as a soda jerk for punching out an obnoxious America First customer and breaking up with his wife, he decides to leave his hometown and find a new life somewhere elsewhere. While waiting for a flight, he comes across a local airfield where they are junking old war planes from the recently ended World War II. He crawls into an old B-17 bomber and takes a seat in the nose cone of a plane just as he had in his many bombing runs,  peering through his bombsight for his appointed target.

best years of our livesIn a brief moment of PTSD, he vividly relives the terror from his experiences that still haunted him, tainting every moment of his life. Though still alive, his life was a casualty of war. The harrowing image of Andrews appearing ghost-like in the nose of that B-17 is a powerful one in a movie filled with powerful scenes, one that doesn’t sugarcoat the experiences and hardships of the returning vets. It remains relevant to this very day.

For this day that honors those who served in our military services, I would like to play something in the spirit of this upcoming holiday. It would be easy enough to play something patriotic but this isn’t really a holiday of nationalism and a call to arms. No, this is a holiday that celebrates an end to war, namely World War I when the holiday was originated as Armistice Day, and honors the service of all soldiers with the hope that they will soon return home and resume their lives there.

This holiday honors those who have served and sacrificed so much, not the wars to which they are sent.

The song is Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya which is the original tune on which the Civil War era song When Johnny Comes Marching Home is based. While When Johnny Comes Marching Home is more celebratory and martial in tone, the original Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya is pointedly antiwar and mournful. It was supposedly written in the 1790′s as a protest to the British imperialist invasion of Ceylon, present day Sri Lanka. It tells of a young woman seeing her lover, who left her after their illegitimate child was born to join the army, as he returns home from the war. He is much changed in appearance and she mourns for his loss.

This is a very emotional version of the song from British opera and folk singer Benjamin Luxon accompanied by American Bill Crofut on banjo. On this Veteran’s Day, give some thought to the men and women who have given their time and their selves to serving their countries.

Let’s honor them by creating a world in which their lives do not have to be sacrificed.

This post is derived from an earlier post that ran back in 2014.

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