I was coming downstairs from Admiral "Bull" Halsey's office. I would have to pass right by Admiral Nimitz. Was he waiting for me? Would be renege on the all-important Special Film Coverage directive I had written for him, and he had signed? Had MacArthur nixed the order to integrate all combat photography? Had the Air Force? The Marines?
I hesitated, then saluted, and walked by him.
"Oh, Capra! Can you spare a moment?"
I went limp. "Of course, Admiral."
Behind his desk, his back to me he faced a window that looked out over our sunken warships. "Sit down, please," he said, huskily. "I apologize for calling you in here. It"s just this --this --goddam sonofabitch of a war!".
His hands clasped and unclasped behind him as he rocked slowly back and forth on his heels. Then, out of the depths of an overwhelming hurt, he cried out: "They cheered me... Three thousand of them... Eighteen-year-olds... Legs gone, faces gone... They cheered me... I sent them there .... They cheered me....".
Then he turned, sat heavily on his chair, and with tears streaming down his face, he beat the table with both fists: "GODDAM SONOFABITCH OF A WAR! GODDAM SONOFABITCH OF A WAR! What am I going to write to their parents? What can anybody write to their parents?..." He grabbed his wet face in both his hands. He was sobbing now. A father weeping for all the sons in the world. "Eighteen-year-olds... kids... boys... three thousand of them... They cheered me... I sent them there... they cheered me... GODDAM SONOFABITCH OF A WAR! goddam sonofa--" His handkerchief was out now. Not once had he looked at me, directly.
I sat as if transfixed. Tears had started down my cheeks. The white-thatched adminral blew his nose, composed himself, then looking at me with a shy little smile, he said pleasantly: "Thank you, Capra, Thank you."
He had wanted to share his great pain with another human being -- someone that was not Navy. I rose to my feet, try to mumble something. I couldn't. So I smiled back and walked out. I had witnessed something rare. Something awesome -- the inside of a tormented human soul.
"In Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris turned the story of the five movies nominated for Best Picture in 1967 into a landmark work of cultural history, a book about the transformation of an art form and the larger social shift it signified. In Five Came Back, he achieves something larger and even more remarkable, giving us the untold story of how Hollywood changed World War II, and how World War II changed Hollywood, through the prism of five film directors caught up in the war: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens."
Also made into an excellent, 3-part documentary:
There was no Air Force in WW2. This is probably an editing error, Capra or biographer likely referring to the USAAF (Army Air Force).
Pedantry Officer concludes report.
My father was in the Army Air Force during WWII - and he always said he was in the Army Air Force and not the Army. They were also nick named the Air Corps during the war.
What an amazing passage. Thanks for sharing.