Dec 2, 2010

Pride of the Marines

Al Schmid, the pride of the Marines

Dot's diary, Saturday, Dec. 1, 1945:

“Went down 63rd and bought a dress. Then Sis and I met Sunny and went to the Stratford and saw Pride of the Marines.

Looks as though there's no chance for me to see Pride of the Marines (trailer) via Netflix or TCM right now. There are these items concerning the film's subject, Marine Private Al Schmid, however, that I wanted to share.

This is from the February 1, 1943 issue of Time magazine, :

Private Al Schmid of the Marine Corps was facing life, and he was blind. In San Diego Naval Hospital he began his biggest readjustment.

"Dear Ruth . . ." he said. The Red Cross girl, Virginia Pfeiffer, wrote it down. She did not hesitate when he came to the part about breaking his engagement to Ruth "because I don't want to be a drag on anybody." She signed his name, "Al." The Jap bullet that blinded Al Schmid after his machine gun killed 200 Japs had struck far from Guadalcanal.

When she left the room Virginia reread the letter. Then she added a postscript asking Ruth to go on writing: "With his intelligence, personality and humor there is no reason why you can't build something pretty fine out of life."

Last week Al Schmid, Marine cap perched jauntily, stepped off a train on to the windswept Philadelphia station platform. His mother and father were there to meet him. So was Ruth Hartley. He could not see the tears in their eyes, but he heard their voices. He laughed when he felt the shape of Ruth's hat pressing against him.

Said Ruth, bursting with wedding plans: "He'll never be a drag on anyone. Not that one!" Other welcome home news for Al Schmid was the doctors' verdict: that after more months of hospital care he possibly might regain partial vision in his one remaining eye.

More--from the Arlington National Cemetery's Web site:

Al Schmid was born on 20 October 1920, as Albert Andrew Schmid in Burholme, Pennsylvania. Schmid was a United States Marine who was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions at the Battle of the Tenaru during the Battle of Guadalcanal. His life story appeared in the American news magazines of the time, the book Al Schmid, Marine by Roger Butterfield, and the 1945 film Pride of the Marines in which he was played by John Garfield.

Schmid worked a variety of jobs before becoming an apprentice steel burner at the Dodge Steel Company in Philadelphia in 1940.

After hearing of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Schmid enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on 9 December 1941, being trained at Parris Island South Carolina and New River North Carolina where he was assigned to the 11th Machine Gun Squad, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division. He used a bonus from his employer to purchase an engagement ring for his girlfriend Ruth Hartley.

Schmid landed with his Regiment at Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942. On the night of 21 August 1942, Schmid was manning a M1917 Browning machine gun along with Corporal LeRoy Diamond and PFC Johnny Rivers. Though having a serious foot infection, Schmid refused medical treatment in order to stay with his weapon.

Japanese Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki and 800 of his men attacked the perimeter held by the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment during the night with the goal of breaking through to destroy the American airstrip of Henderson Field that would conclude the campaign in the favour of Japan.

During the night, Rivers the gunner was killed by a bullet through the head, Diamond, the gun commander, was wounded and several bullets hit and shredded the water jacket of their machine gun which kept on firing. A Japanese soldier threw a grenade in the machine gun pit blinding Schmid, but Schmid kept his weapon firing with instructions from Diamond. The next morning over 200 dead Japanese were counted in front of their machine gun.

Schmid was awarded the Navy Cross on 18 February 1943. He married Ruth Hartley in April 1943. They had a son, Al Schmid, Jr. in June 1944. Diamond and Rivers were also awarded the Navy Cross. He spoke at war bond rallies across the nation and was in the public's eye through Roger Butterfield's book and the Warner Brothers film. The Democratic Party nominated Schmid for the Pennsylvania Secretary of Internal Affairs but he lost the election.

Schmid eventually recovered partial sight in one eye, but problems with his leg led him to retire in 1957 and move to Florida. Al Schmid died of bone cancer [on] 1 December 1982. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Finally, here is Time's September 3, 1945 review of the film my mother saw on December 1, 1945:

Pride of the Marines (Warner), adapted from Roger Butterfield's true story, Al Schmid, Marine, is Hollywood's most serious attempt yet to picture some of the problems of returning servicemen.
Hero Al Schmid (John Garfield), a 21-year-old Philadelphia machinist, joined the Corps shortly after Pearl Harbor and became a machine-gunner. One night on Guadalcanal, defending a river crossing, he killed some 200 Japanese. Toward morning, a grenade went off in his face and ended the war, for him, in blindness.
For months, doctors worked on Al's eyes without much result and without much hope, while friends, without much result or much hope either, worked to renew his will to live. Pride, bitterness, fury, self-pity, despair engulfed him.
Without letting her know what was wrong with him, he did his best to break off with his sweetheart, Ruth Hartley (Eleanor Parker). But thanks to her love and patience, the pep talks of his fellow marine Lee Diamond (Dane Clark) and the kindliness of a Red Cross worker (Rosemary De Camp), he was finally won back into human circulation.
Even when it drags, the screen story of Al Schmid has a compelling doggedness and honesty. The cast, especially Messrs. Garfield and Clark, put it over with a notable absence of affectation. The picture's single, sustained combat sequence is keenly written and filmed, fiercely exciting, with its shrilling obbligato of the enemy's "Mreen yoo dyee (Marine, you die!) Mreen tonight yoo dyee!" set against the jabbing technical chatter of the frantically overworked machine-gun crew.

It is also exciting—because the screen is so unaccustomed to plain talk—to see and hear the angry discussion of postwar prospects which Scripter Albert Maltz has written for the hospitalized marines. Effectively outspoken, too, is Lee Diamond's reminder, to Al, that blindness gives him no monopoly on job handicaps—that Diamond himself has been plentifully handicapped all his life because he is a Jew.
But Pride of the Marines is more than a rostrum for liberal polemics. It is a good hard-hitting movie.

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