Turner Classic Movies has made a tradition of devoting its Veterans Day and Memorial Day programming to military movies, and this year, it has renewed its tradition of inviting veterans to choose a favorite movie and present it to the TCM audience.
Unfortunately, we're still in pandemic protocols and the two veterans appear remotely with host Eddie Muller, but it's nice to see this tradition coming back on air after a two-year break. TCM took a break from this tradition in 2019 after it devoted extensive programming in May and June to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and last year’s plans were canceled by the pandemic.
U.S. Army Major (Ret.) Jeremy Haynes and U.S. Army Capt. Leslie Smith will each present a movie starting at 8 p.m. ET on Nov. 11. Haynes chose "The Best Years of Our Lives," while Smith lightens things up with "G.I. Blues" at 11 p.m.
Haynes joined the Army after 9/11 and served in Afghanistan. On Aug. 5, 2014, Haynes was shot four times in the attack that killed his mentor, Maj. Gen. Harold Greene.
Even though his injuries left him paralyzed below the waist, Haynes has learned to stand and walk short distances with the aid of leg braces and a cane. The Gary Sinise Foundation provided Haynes and his family with a custom-built home in Fairfax, Virginia, designed to accommodate his injuries, including extra-wide doorways that give him access to every room in the house.
Haynes chose to present "The Best Years of Our Lives," the 1947 Oscar Best Picture winner about veterans returning home from World War II. The movie reminded Americans that even victory in war leaves scars on those who fight.
Muller is a great scholar of this era and writes and talks a lot about WWII veterans as he discusses movies in the film noir genre on TCM and elsewhere. Even if you've seen the movie more than once, Haynes and Muller's conversation about "The Best Years of Our Lives" will be worth watching.
A week after the 9/11 attacks, Smith volunteered to go to Bosnia as part of Operation Joint Forge. While serving there, she was exposed to toxic gas from the mass graves and developed a blood clot in her left leg.
Sent home for treatment at Walter Reed hospital, she eventually had that leg amputated and also lost much of her vision.
During her eight-month stay at the hospital, she met Sinise and worked with him to raise funds for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, D.C. Smith and her service dog Isaac, a yellow Labrador, are now ambassadors for the Gary Sinise Foundation.
Smith will present "G.I. Blues," the first movie fellow Army veteran Elvis Presley made after he completed his service. Even though Paramount filmed some scenes on location in Germany, Elvis did all his work on a soundstage at a studio in Los Angeles. There's plenty of singing and dancing and a barroom brawl, just like real-life Army service.
"G.I. Blues" was quite a change from Elvis' pre-Army films, "Jailhouse Rock" and "King Creole." The Army must've taught the boy some manners, because all those surly rough edges have been sanded off by Uncle Sam and he'd never seem dangerous in a movie again.
The rest of the evening includes Gary Cooper's World War I classic, "Sergeant York," at 1 a.m. ET and winds up with Henry Fonda in "Mister Roberts" at 3:30 a.m. Cooper won a Best Actor Oscar for the role, and Jack Lemmon won a Best Supporting Actor award for "Mister Roberts."
TCM is filling out the rest of Veterans Day with a full slate of movies starting at 6 a.m. The daytime is full of some interesting lesser-known movies before "The Dirty Dozen" airs at 3:30 p.m.
Here's the full schedule of Veterans Day movies (all times Eastern):
6 a.m.: "The Rack" (starring Paul Newman)
8 a.m.: "Action in the North Atlantic" (starring Humphrey Bogart)
10:15 a.m.: "Bombardier" (starring Randolph Scott)
Noon: "Torpedo Run" (starring Glenn Ford)
1:45 p.m.: "Fighter Squadron" (starring Robert Stack)
3:30 p.m.: "The Dirty Dozen" (starring Lee Marvin)
6:15 p.m.: "Paths of Glory" (starring Kirk Douglas)
8 p.m.: "The Best Years of Our Lives" (starring Dana Andrews)
11 p.m.: "G.I. Blues" (starring Elvis Presley)
1 a.m.: "Sergeant York" (starring Gary Cooper)
3:30 a.m.: "Mister Roberts" (starring Henry Fonda)
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