They Were Expendable is the final screening in the 2023 CIFF Student Classic Film Series. This screening will take place on Sunday, May 28 from 1pm to 3:30pm in the Winn Room at the Coronado Public Library. Unlike past screenings, this one is free for the Coronado Community, and parents/grandparents/guardians are strongly encouraged to invite the young people in their lives to join them in screening this historic film to reflect upon the sacrifices of those who have given their lives in service to our nation.
ABOUT THEY WERE EXPENDABLE – Directed by John Ford (CAPT USN) – MGM 1945
Legendary Director John Ford (then serving as Captain John Ford USNR) made this movie based on a bestselling book of the same name recounting the heroism of Navy Sailors assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three during the disastrous fall of the Philippines at the outset of WWII. The movie is a fictionalized account of a character based on Medal of Honor recipient John C. Bulkeley (played by Robert Montgomery), then a lieutenant in command of Squadron Three. Bulkeley was a courageous combat commander who proved his mettle in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Just before the fall of Corregidor, it was LT Bulkeley and his crew who embarked General Douglas MacArthur, his wife and children, aboard PT 41, a 77-foot motor torpedo boat, and safely transported them 600 miles over open ocean to Mindanao, from where they were flown to Australia. As MacArthur put it, “You have taken me out of the jaws of death. I shall never forget it.”
MacArthur left behind over 36,000 Army, Navy and Marine forces, few of whom escaped the dreadful consequences of a military debacle that stunned the nation. The dogged resistance of the doomed defenders of the Philippines delayed the Japanese; buying, with their lives and blood, desperately needed time for the Pacific Fleet to regroup and rebuild in order to take the fight to the enemy. More than 60,000 Filipino and 15,000 American prisoners of war suffered through the infamous Bataan Death March.
As its credits reveal, Ford’s film is notable for being written, shot and directed by men who served in and were devoted to the US Navy. Star Robert Montgomery (CDR USNR) served as a PT Boat Skipper and was Bulkeley’s executive officer during the D-Day invasion of Europe. The cast also features John Wayne and Donna Reed, a favorite “girl next door” star of men fighting overseas. Reed kept over 300 letters she received from servicemen during WWII for her entire life; letters discovered by her family after her passing in 1986. In one of the many letters she wrote in reply are two sentences that reveal her heart for servicemen fighting overseas, “Dear private Davidson, you say that I am the kind of girl you’d like to come home to. That is the finest compliment I’ve ever been paid.”
Ford’s team crafted a deeply moving cinematic story of the honor, courage, commitment and sacrifice of regular blue jacket sailors perhaps better than any motion picture in Hollywood history. It is a story very much worth retelling today to America’s young people as we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day more than 80 years later. Every single American who loves the Navy should see this motion picture.
They Were Expendable is the seventh and final screening in the 2023 CIFF Student Classic Film Series. All screenings are free. As this is an open screening, reservations are strongly recommended. For information and reservations go to coronadofilmfest.com, select the “Year-Round” drop-down menu and “Student Classic Program.”