The War

Quentin C. Aanenson

One of my goals for the summer was to finish watching Ken Burns’ World War II documentary, The War. Last night, I reached that goal. I DVR’ed the film this past fall when it premiered. I was able to watch the first 3 or 4 parts (out of 7) over Christmas break. Then the new semester started and my time was shot out of the sky. So, after our trip down under, I started over. While I remembered much, it was still a good refresher and would help me with the through lines into the remaining parts.

SO good.

I’ve had a slight obsession of late with WWII. My family’s always been particularly interested in history. My brother, Steve, was a history major, and is a bit of a Civil War nerd (while others wrote song lyrics in their notebooks while bored in high school, he wrote out the battles of the Civil War. In order. And I think circled who won. :-) ) A few years ago, borrowed Burns’ Civil War documentary from my brother, which he has on VHS. I also borrowed his DVD’s of the amazing Band of Brothers film, which I adore. Watching that inspired me to purchase David Kenyon Webster’s Parachute Infantry memoir, which I read last summer. I realize it’s nothing that extraordinary to be interested in WWII. There are some hardcore–I don’t think “fans” is quite the right word. Hardcore enthusiasts–there, that’s better. And everyone has their reasons and niche interests.

One of my works-in-progress, the Creative Nonfiction/Solo Performance piece, Playing Guns, addresses this obsession as I try to figure it all out and make personal connections. In it, I write about my childhood friend, Danny, whose dad was in Viet Nam, about his attitude about playing guns, a staple of kids’ play. I write about my dad and his dad and their involvements (however indirect). I’ve written extensively about this piece in my post, Workshopping “Guns”, so I’ll not repeat myself too much here, and refer you to that entry.

Watching the film has gotten me thinking about the piece again, and I may even pull up the file once I post this. Lots of “family projects” to think about. Listening to the interviewees made me think about my own grandparents, especially my grandfather who’s no longer with us, and how I do regret not talking to him more about things. All is not totally lost, though. So I just need to work with what I have.

The film totally achieves what it set out to do–take a look at the war from the “bottom up,” focusing on the people who fought it along with their families. The bigger picture was a part of it, but not the main focus. The nitty-gritty political nuances and controversies and all that were not part of it. Those things are for other works. Burns and his right-hand-woman, Lynn Novick, found amazing people you just fall in love with. Especially Katharine Phillips, who’s kind of like a southern version of my grandmother. A segment with her brother, Sidney, is the only one where we hear the interviewer (Lynn herself perhaps?) ask a question. Sidney talked about returning home and re-learning how to speak with people, because in the middle of things, they mostly kept to verbs and nouns–and few adjectives. When (Lynn) asks her what adjectives, he smiles and says something like “Oh, I can’t say. My wife would reach down from Heaven and twap me on the head.” So funny! :-) Quentin Aanenson as pictured above is very eloquent and soft spoken in a way you’d expect someone from a Norwegian gentleman from Luverne, Minnesota to be. Such chilling and amazing insights. And dare I say, I had a little crush on him.

Which hopefully doesn’t make me sound pervy, or anything. But there’s something so romantic–in all the word’s various connotations–of the old pictures of the guys in their uniforms and all. Makes me think of Evan Bachner’s At Ease photography books, which depict (mostly Navy) men of the time being natural, peaceful, and innocent. I remember reading one review (maybe it was even on the display card at UnAbridged bookstore) which talked about how the photos remind us that our fathers and grandfathers were once young, good-looking guys at time when they probably didn’t really think about how good looking they were, which gives them that innocence. Especially in their interaction with their friends. I think it’s also that these guys are men becoming men and we are witness to it with these photographs and stories. And we think about when we became men and how the generation gap presents similarities and differences. Which is a “whole nother” level I could incorporate into my piece. Or not. Or at least let it influence it indirectly. Now I’m overwhelming myself. :-P

So now, I need to burn the film onto DVD’s, though I did lose a few minutes of a couple episodes when the DVR “burped” for some reason. I can always check them out from the library to see if I missed anything major, and to check out the bonus features–though PBS did air a couple behind-the-scenes bits which were cool. I have both soundtracks already. And if I can get a discounted copy of the book, that’d be good too.

I’ve learned, I’m inspired, and so we’ll see what happens….

Katherine and Sidney Phillops

Katharine and Sidney Phillips

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