Commemorating the end of major fighting in World War I in 1918, November 11 will always be known as a day to honor the men and women who devoted, and at times sacrificed, themselves for our country.
Even with best intentions and meticulous research, Hollywood can only get the stories of war and battles so accurate before acquiescing to the rigidities of conventional film structure. That's why the following documentaries, presented by our partners at SnagFilms, are so vital: They present raw, real emotions that even the best actor who's never been to battle couldn't replicate.
In honor of Veterans Day, we present 10 must-see docs that remove themselves from the intense political feelings stirred up by each respective war in favor of focusing on war's effects on the human condition.
'Arlington: Field of Honor' (2004)
This National Geographic film spotlights Arlington National Cemetery, one of the most sacred U.S. locations. The film explores the history of the land and how it became a vital part of U.S. military history. Combining interviews with archival footage, this fascinating doc is a groundbreaking, in-depth look at a national landmark.
'Baghdad Bound: Devil Dog Diaries' (2003)
Join veteran filmmaker Gary Scurka and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force as the group goes up against ambushes, fire fights, sniper fire and sandstorms in the titular city. Contrasting those on both sides who wish to ascribe political motivations for the men and women actually fighting the war, the film shows many of the soldiers fresh out of high school still trying to understand the complexities of war.
'Battle For Midway' (1999)
Known as the most important naval battle in WWII, the Battle of Midway has been immortalized in film time and again, but never like this. In 1999, Dr. Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the Titanic, brings four WWII veterans back to the island in an attempt to recover at least one of five downed aircraft carriers.
'East L.A. Marine' (2008)
During 1944's Battle of Saipan, Private Guy Gabaldon singlehandedly captured over 1,500 Japanese soldiers. Hailed a hero by many, Gabaldon shared his experiences back home with anyone who would listen. In 1980, he returned to the Mariana Islands to help the less fortunate and stayed for nearly two decades. After his death in 2006, those who knew him fondly look back on a unique individual.
'Occupation: Dreamland' (2005)
Embedded reporters usually must submit to compromises or certain coverage restrictions in exchange for the opportunity to shadow an U.S. military unit. Filmmakers Garrett Scott and Ian Olds, on patrol with the squad that would eventually engage in the Battle of Fallujah, only had cameras and a huge set of ... credentials. Living with the unit 24 hours a day, the film details the nitty-gritty details of life as a soldier.
'On Common Ground' (2004)
In one of the most striking and uplifting war docs, 'On Common Ground' reunites U.S. and German soldiers 55 years after the bloody Battle of Hürtgen Forest in Germany. Hürtgen would become the longest single battle the U.S. would ever fight, but in this film, reconciliation replaces death and destruction as both sides meet with still-fresh memories of the battle.
'Red, White, Black, and Blue' (2007)
Ask someone about Alaska's role in WWII and you'll probably be met with vacuous stares. But during WWII, two soldiers named Bill and Andy took part in a 19-day battle on the remote island of Attu, the site of a secret Japanese invasion. Destroyed buildings and crashed airplanes still litter the island, and when the two veterans return to the site, it's proof that certain battles are never really over.
'Return to Tarawa' (2009)
Today, the Battle of Tarawa, one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history, may not be the first thing Americans remember about WWII, but to Leon Cooper, a WWII veteran who helped launch the first amphibious assault on the Japanese, it's an indelible mark on his life. When he returns to the site 50 years later, he finds the island strewn with rotting trash, an insult, for him, to those that gave their lives there. The actor Ed Harris narrates this intense documentary.
'Vietnam, Long Time Coming' (1998)
When it's time to come home, most soldiers have fears -- or at least no desire -- of returning to their respective warzones. But in this powerful doc, disabled and able-bodied veterans from both sides of the Vietnam War bike a 16-day, 1,200-mile trek across Vietnam to revisit their demons. Joined by professional cyclist Greg LeMond and professional politician John Kerry, the trip is as much a grueling mental exercise as it is physical.
'When I Came Home' (2006)
As the 2007 Walter Reed debacle highlighted, the U.S. government's treatment of veterans upon returning home has had mixed reviews at best. This film documents the story of Iraq War veteran Herold Noel, a post-traumatic stress disorder sufferer who returned from Iraq only to become homeless and live out of his car. Noel is one of thousands that have turned to their government for help, only to be met with indifference, skepticism and condemnation.