I have to admit to some lack of impartiality in regards to this film because my father was one of the U.S. Navy combat cameramen who helped film it. He was on board the USS Hornet until that ship was damaged and sent home for repairs, at which juncture he was transferred ashore, to serve with Marine and Army ground troops. He was wounded twice during the Okinawa campaign, and was finally repatriated home from an Army Field Hospital.
A year earlier he had contributed film to the production of another documentary, "The Fighting Lady". Filmed in color and produced by 20th Century Fox, that documentary has a much more optimistic tone than "The Fleet that Came to Stay". The latter, which was produced by the Navy, is shorter, done in black-and-white, and takes a much grimmer attitude. That is not surprising, since the makers were clearly preparing the viewing public for the heavy losses expected to be incurred during the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands; an invasion that, thankfully, never occurred.
Nevertheless, while the documentary mentions Japanese losses, it glosses over the Allied ones. It does not mention the 28 Allied ships that were sunk, the 368 ships that were damaged, nor the 768 U.S. planes that were lost in the battle. It also makes no mention of the over 80,000 Allied casualties, of whom more than 12,500 were killed.
In addition, the film makes no mention the 100,000 casualties among the Okinawan civilians. Although part of Japan, Okinawa occupies a status with Japan roughly equivalent to that of Puerto Rico with the United States. Consequently, the Okinawans do not consider themselves to be Japanese, nor do the Japanese consider them to be Japanese. The Okinawan have never completely forgiven the Japanese for using their home as a battlefield, while subsequently sparing their own country from the same fate.
This documentary was edited together, and the sound effects and narration added, in a film studio. However, the film from which it was produced was shot in combat by Navy combat cameramen. No special effects were utilized, no blue screens or CGI. 16mm motion picture cameras were used because, under the circumstances, the normal 35mm cameras utilized for movie production were too large to be practical. A 16mm image has to be enlarged 4 times in order to translate into the 35mm format normally normally used for motion pictures, which is why the film sometimes appears slightly grainy.
Filming stunts in a Hollywood action movie is one thing, but filming in combat is quite another matter. That is especially the case when the photographer's subject is bent upon killing himself as well as the cameraman, as was the case at Okinawa. The phenomenon of "suicide bombing" has become news these days, but it was an everyday occurrence at Okinawa. In one of the most extraordinary battles ever fought, airborne suicide bombers came every by the hundred, continuously, and they came for months.
Finally, some explanation must also be addressed to the very brief allusion in the film to Ernie Pyle. A man whose name has been virtually forgotten today, he was probably the most famous war correspondent of all time. By 1945, when this film was produced, his name had become such a household word that, clearly, no explanation was required. I tried to think of who would be a present-day counterpart to Ernie Pyle but I drew a complete blank because there simply isn't one. Having been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his intimate coverage of the war in Europe among the ordinary infantrymen, he could easily have rested on his well-earned laurels. Instead, he insisted upon going to the Pacific, and he too was killed during the Battle for Okinawa.
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