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Burma Bridge Busters (2003)

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28 November 2003 (USA)  »

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The Greatest Generation....
1 November 2016 | by See all my reviews

1942, few months after Pearl Harbor. The Allies have agreed to concentrate on Europe but the China-Burma-India Theater of the war still needs men and machines after some of the war's most humiliating defeats for the British, Dutch, and Americans in Southeast Asia. A number of men are recruited as bomber crews, mostly college graduates but also others who have passed the demanding qualifications tests. They're sent by transport ships to South Asia and formed into the 490th Bomb Group, which will fly ten B-25 medium bombers. The airplanes were the early models of the B-25s, the same that the Doolittle Raid used.

Most of the film is made up of newsreel and combat footage and a considerable number of interviews with the men who were members of the 490. They have some unpretentious and sometimes colorful anecdotes. Not everyone knows that in India the monkey invade your tent, tear the mosquito netting to ribbons, and peeing all over everything. There are no Japanese, Indians, or historians It's more like a collective memoir than a dispassionate analysis.

The first few bombing missions were relatively easy because evidently the commanders realized that the men were not veterans but until recently just civilians. Their first casualties occurred at their own field, a bomber exploded on take off. The others had to dig out and bury the remains of the crew. That's the sort of tragic event -- more were to follow -- that binds people together without an oath in sight. The survivors have regularly scheduled meetings in Salt Lake City, where they visit the Air Museum and pat the impeccably preserved B-25 on display. Their missions were strategic. Japan is an island nation with no natural resources, one of the reasons for their attempted expansion into Asia. All their raw material had to be brought in from China and Southeast Asia, including iron ore and oil. The 409th bombed the bridges that were necessary to shipment over land, but they bombed from 10,000 feet and hit nothing of importance.

Then, by accident, they discovered that skip bombing from low altitudes worked fine. They flew against bridges for the rest of the war and then were sent home to be welcomed in diverse ways by their families. It took ten years for the men to realize that nothing they would ever experience would be as important and exhilarating as their days as air crew. It took that long for the survivors of the unit to begin annual meetings, which are apparently very successful. Many of the attendees are eighty years old or more. What Tom Brokaw called "the greatest generations -- with good reason -- is disappearing.


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