Back in the fall of 1941, John Ford, who had, in just three years, directed Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, and How Green Was My Valley, walked away from Hollywood and, at 47, gave himself to the Navy. For the next few years he filmed nothing but the Second World War. He was in North Africa when the Allies moved in. He boarded the U.S. aircraft carrier Hornet to film the Doolittle raid on Japan. He was on the beaches of Normandy for D-Day. And in the opening moments of Midway, he stood on the roof of a power station, filming enemy planes until a piece of flying concrete knocked him cold, then recovering and shooting some more. Many of the documentary shorts that came out of those years seem like crude propaganda now, but there is a moment in Ford’s 18-minute film The Battle of Midway – the first major movie to show Americans in combat during World War II — that explains in four words why Ford did what he did. As his camera captures U.S. sailors raising the American flag above a field of smoke and debris, the movie’s narrator says quietly, “Yes, this really happened.”
I thought of Ford last week with the arrival of the terrible news of the death of Tim Hetherington (pictured, left), who was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade along with the exceptional photojournalist Chris Hondros (pictured, right) in Misrata, Libya, on April 20.
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