The Army during World War II had training films for everything including demobilization. This one, Returning Soldiers: It’s Your America, stars actor Arthur Kennedy who spent his war making training films for the Army Air Corps. This film told the returning troops an essential truth: they were coming back different men. It also reminded them why they had gone through this life changing experience: America. Unusually well done for a training film, and I appreciated the device of using a Lincoln penny to convey the meaning of America to the soldier in the film.
At the end of his harrowing combat memoir, aptly entitled To Hell and Back, Audie Murphy, the most decorated US soldier in World War II, I think spoke for a lot of combat veterans when he ended with these lines (They are made more poignant because Murphy would continue to have nightmares about the War for the rest of his life.):
Like a horror film run backwards, images of the war flicker through my brain. The tank in the snow with smoldering bodies on top. The smell of burning flesh. Of rotting flesh too. Novak rotting in a grave on Anzio. Horse-Face. Knowed an old girl once. The girl, red-eyed and shivering, in the Naples dawn. And Kerrigan. Kerrigan shuffling cards with half a hand. He was far luckier than Antonio. Yes, Antonio, trying to stand on the stumps of his legs with the machine gun ripping his body. And Brandon dead under the cork tree. Deer daddy, I’m in school. “I’ll never enter another schoolroom,” says Elleridge.
He was right. It is as though a fire had roared through this human house, leaving only the charred hulk of something that once was green.
Within a couple of hours, I have had enough. I return to my room. But I cannot sleep. My mind still whirls. When I was a child, I was told that men were branded by war. Has the brand been put on me? Have the years of blood and ruin stripped me of all decency? Of all belief?
Not of all belief. I believe in the force of a hand grenade, the power of artillery, the accuracy of a Garand. I believe in hitting before you get hit, and that dead men do not look noble.
But I also believe in men like Brandon and Novak and Swope and Kerrigan; and all the men who stood up against the enemy, taking their beatings without whimper and their triumphs without boasting. The men who went and would go again to hell and back to preserve what our country thinks right and decent.