The above quote represents my favorite line from the movie The Sands of Iwo Jima. Those eight words, spoken by the character of Sgt Stryker as played by John Wayne, not only describe an inescapable truth about life they also accurately portray the no-non-sense, all business, blunt attitude of the ideal Marine NCO. That tuff attitude is what makes Marine Sergeants the backbone of the Marine Corps.

In the Spirit of full disclosure I must confess that The Sands of Iwo Jima has been one of my favorite movies since I first watched it as a little boy with my dad and my appreciation of the film has only increased over time. It is the classic 1940-50 American war movie. It is the story of a group of vastly different individuals that come together and learn to work as a team in order to accomplish a greater goal. Along the way they have to overcome obstacles both internal and external. They have to resolve personal conflicts both within themselves and with other members of the unit. All of this makes for a more dramatically fulfilling war movie than just about anything Hollywood has produced lately.

The story is narrated by PFC Peter Conway, played by John Agar. As the story progresses you learn that PFC Conway is the son of a senior Marine officer killed in combat. Furthermore, you find out that Conway and his father had a stormy relationship. This creates tension between him and Sgt Stryker who served with the elder Conway and thought he was one of the finest officers he had ever known. PFC Conway’s pretentious, no-it-all college attitude does not help matters.

Additional tension within the unit comes from the character of PFC Al Thomas, played by Forrest Tucker. PFC Thomas served with Sgt Stryker before in China. Sgt Stryker turned in him for an undisclosed infraction and kept him from getting promoted. Furthermore, Thomas lost the Marine Corps heavy-weight division boxing title match to Sgt Stryker. It is clear from the beginning that these two men do not like each other.

All of these tensions look as though they are going to come to head and end tragically. It doesn’t help that Sgt Stryker himself is struggling with a serious drinking problem and remorse over a failed marriage. However, through training and the crucible of combat the men overcome these problems and come together as a unit. They don’t initially understand Sgt Stryker’s uncompromising standards and demanding attitude until they realize that is exactly what was needed to teach them how to survive on the battlefield.

All of the above was often standard fare for war movies of that period. However, there are other things that make this movie more complex and superior to similar films. For instance, there is a persistent redemption theme throughout the movie. PFC Conway learns to get over his resentment of his father. Sgt Stryker stops wallowing in self pity and alcohol abuse. PFC Thomas, whose negligence in combat leads to the death and wounding of fellow Marines in the unit, overcomes his guilt and grief to ultimately become a strong Marine leader. All of this leaves the audience with a real uplifting feeling and demonstrates dramatically that while all of us fail it is the winners among us who don’t let those past failures prevent them from getting back up and trying again until they ultimately succeed.

I wish they still made movies like this.

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