By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
A black and white, and sometimes Technicolor, Memorial Day: Classic movies to remember the sacrifice
Spencer Tracy in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo." - photo by Elizabeth Reid
Five stories, focusing on each of the four major branches of the armed forces as well as the folks who persevered along the home front, are told in these classic films from the 1940s and 1950s. Made during and after World War II, these movies are entertaining and give viewers a glimpse into life during this historic time.

Air Force*: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

A few months after the devastating bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States decided to strike back in what would be known as the Doolittle Raid. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is a Hollywood production of that historic event. Although not entirely accurate, this movie gives a pretty good re-enactment of what happened and even uses some actual World War II wartime footage. The film follows the stories of the man in charge of the raid, Jimmy Doolittle, and a few of his men.

Before even thinking of bombing Japan, the Doolittle group first has to figure out a way to get their Army bombers to take off on the short Navy aircraft carrier decks. Then they need to complete extensive training in just a few weeks. They know the mission is dangerous and many of them might not come home, but these men are committed. Just when their plan seems plausible, Doolittles group is discovered by a Japanese boat and they are forced to start the raid early.

A huge morale boost for the American public, this 1944 movie is still a great war action film. Starring Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson and Robert Walker, it can be seen on Amazon Instant video, Netflix, iTunes, and Google Play.

*Until 1947, what is now the U.S. Air Force was the Army Air Force.

Army: Homecoming

Doctor Ulysses Johnson is upset when one of his friends accuses him of joining the war effort for less than altruistic reasons. But after he leaves his comfortable home and loving wife, he soon realizes that his friend was correct. Ulysses is being morally changed by his work on the battlefront.

While serving as an Army surgeon, he meets a competent yet sassy nurse who goes by the nickname Snapshot. Although the two clash at first, they soon develop a respectful rapport and then their relationship becomes more romantic. With the war raging, Ulysses must fight his own battle when he considers his feelings for Snapshot and the wife he left at home. At the same time, he also has to fight for his life as bombs fall and bullets whiz in the thick of battle.

This 1948 movie stars Clark Gable and Lana Turner and shows how serving in the Army affected one man for better and worse. "Homecoming" can be seen on iTunes.

Marines: Flying Leathernecks

When the Marines in the Wildcat unit realize their beloved Capt. Griffin has been passed by as their new leader, they are disappointed. But after a few hours with newcomer Major Kirby, they became angry. Kirby is tough to please and seems to expect the impossible.

Facing few resources and continual attacks from the Japanese, Kirby knows the only way to keep his men alive is to toughen them up. He also understands that if the war is to be won, the success of the mission has to come before the safety of his men. After several successful skirmishes, it eventually looks like the Wildcat unit is shaping up and becoming the men their commander has envisioned. Then, during the Battle of Okinawa, Kirbys unit faces several difficulties and the dynamics of their group are forever changed.

Although Flying Leathernecks is actually a Technicolor movie, it is a flick full of action, suspense and a bit of comedy. This 1951 movie stars John Wayne and Robert Ryan. It can be seen on Amazon Instant video, Netflix, and Google Play.

Navy: Destination Tokyo

Capt. Cassidy, the commander of the submarine USS Copperfin, is under orders to perform a secret mission. He and his men must make their way through the Pacific Ocean and sneak into Tokyo Bay. Once there, they need to obtain vital information to help the Air Force with the Doolittle Raid.

But first, these submariners will need to live through attacking Japanese planes, a burial at sea and the navigation of mine-infested waters. Through all the drama, both above and within his ship, Cassidy never seems to lose his cool and can always be counted upon by his men.

Hollywood did such an excellent job replicating an actual submarine that this film was used by the government as a training film during World War II. This 1943 movie can be seen on Amazon Instant video, Netflix, iTunes, Google Play and on Turner Classic Movies.

Home front: Waterloo Bridge

An air raid during World War I forces British Army Capt. Roy Cronin and ballerina Myra Lester into a shelter together. Their friendship quickly turns into romance and soon the two are engaged but not without consequences. Myras ballet mistress has strict rules disallowing her ballerinas any kind of romantic attachments and, in retaliation for her disobedience, fires her and Kitty, Myras best friend. But Myra and Roy dont worry about her lack of employment; theyll have Roys Army salary once they are married. But Roy is sent to the front before they are able to be married.

With Roy gone and a dearth of available employment, the two women struggle to survive. Then, when Myra believes Roy is dead, she joins a business she would never have considered before.

This 1940 tear-jerker has beautiful acting and touches on how difficult the war was for women. Starring Vivien Leigh, Robert Taylor and Virginia Field, it can be viewed on Amazon Instant video, Netflix and iTunes.
Sign up for our E-Newsletters