Returning war heroes are met with indifference, disrespect and hostility in two Hollywood movies, one from 1946, “The Best Years of Our LIves,” and more recently -- “Home of the Brave”.
In “Best Years,” they work menial jobs before the war but in conflict they are given heavy responsibilities to carry out missions that lead to victory in Word War II. How incredibly grim to return home to that menial job or to be unemployed with no direction to the future. At least in war, they were defeating evil regimes and enjoying buddy camaraderie.
Some returning veterans, like my Uncle Sam Zarkin, used the GI Bill to get a college education and pursued a career in business management. Returning with the occupation troops in what was left of Japan, my father, Phil Zarkin, became a scrap metal junk dealer much like the hero aviator Fred (played by Dana Andrews), in “Best Years”. The similarities are daunting between fiction and real life.
In 1946 when “Best Years” was released it was quite topical with soldiers and sailors having been wrenched from their families and now finding themselves in a strange world where they needed to reinvent themselves to survive. Imagine their anger and frustration upon realizing that the best years of your life may be wasting away.
I don’t know if my dad, somewhat of an isolationist when it came to wars, was proud of his work in Japan with the occupation forces as a telephone lineman, but he should have been because he helped desperate people build a future for themselves from the rubble of a horrendous war. Incredibly uncanny is the fact that the soldiers and sailors in “Home of the Brave” return from Iraq to Spokane, Wash. So it was with my dad who came back to Spokane and how incredibly stressful it must have been for him working in low paying retail sales before he found his future in the junk business.
Both movies touch on the nightmares of shell shock or post traumatic stress syndrome. In “Best Years,” one character advises her husband to “forget the war --- put it behind you”. But how can you ever forget the horrors of war?