• Film

Memorial Day – Fact and Fiction

Memorial Day, the public holiday which falls on the last Monday of May each year, honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. In tribute to their memories, here are some documentaries available this month on American Public Television as well as the Hollywood movie versions of those same unforgettable stories from the Civil War and World War II.

Documentary: The Seabees on Iwo Jima

The documentary focuses on the real men of the United States Naval Construction Battalions of WWII, or ‘Seabees’ who were recruited from the construction trades to join special battalions that built the airfields and bases needed to stage a successful war effort.


Film: The Fighting Seabees (1944)

Directed by Edward Ludwig and starring John Wayne and Susan Hayward, the film also follows the construction workers recruited for that battalion who wound up also becoming a fighting unit in Japan during WWII.


Documentary: The Tuskegee Airmen: Return to Ramitelli

The documentary tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of

African American military pilots who broke stereotypes and helped win WWII with their daring fighter escorts of American bombers.



Film: The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

Directed by Robert Markowitz and starring Laurence Fishburne and Malcolm Jamal-Warner, the film follows a group of African American pilots loosely based on the real soldiers who overcame racist opposition while fighting during WWII.


Documentary: The Gettysburg Story (2013)

The iconic Civil War battle immortalized in Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’ is depicted with cutting-edge cinematography techniques revealing the grand scale of the 6,000-acre battlefield, including the legendary sites where soldiers met to decide the fate of the nation in the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil.


Film: Gettysburg (1993)

Ron Maxwell helms the epic war film starring Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels and Martin Sheen playing pivotal historical figures in this depiction of the 1863 battle in Pennsylvania where Union and Confederate forces clashed in the worst man-made disaster in American history.


Documentary: Memphis Belle: Her Final Mission

This one-hour documentary tells the story of two teams: the crew who flew the plane called the Memphis Belle into WWII combat, and the restoration team that took 13 years to return her to her former glory. Separated by more than six decades, the two teams are bound together by their love of this remarkable and historic plane.


Film: Memphis Belle (1990)

Michael Caton-Jones directed this war drama starring Matthew Modine, Harry Connick Jr., Billy Zane, Tate Donovan and Eric Stolz who play members of the crew of a B-17 based in the UK in 1943 as they prepare for their 25th and final bombing mission over Germany before returning home to the U.S.


Documentary: Remember Pearl Harbor (2016)

Narrated by Tom Selleck, Remember Pearl Harbor uses archival footage, photos and graphics to detail the personal stories of those who witnessed the surprise attack by the Japanese on the American Pacific Fleet on December 7, 1941, launching the United States into World War II. First-person accounts are included from: Lou Conter (USS Arizona), James Downing (USS Virginia), Vernon Carter (US Army Air Corps, Hickam Field) and Barbara Kotinek, who was just six years old and lived within eyesight of Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.


Film: Pearl Harbor (2001)

The epic three-hour drama directed by Michael Bay had an all-star cast including Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett as combats pilots and friends who both fall for the same nurse (Kate Beckinsale) before being caught up in the horror of that infamous Sunday morning in 1941.


For American Public Television documentaries, check local listings for broadcast dates/times and also find them available to stream with Passport on pbs.org and the PBS App.