I once saw Tom Hanks give an interview about his role in Saving Private Ryan. He described himself and the others on his team as “Marines who just want to go home.” I wonder if anyone else caught Mr. Hanks’ gaffe.
In the film, Hanks plays Captain Miller, the commanding officer of a small group of Army Rangers who are on a mission to inform a Private Ryan of the 101st Airborne division that he has a ticket home. Both Rangers and paratroopers are extremely fine fighting men, both in 1944 and in the present day. My only small gripe with that film was that the unit’s translator is a complete wimp who is, by comparison, rather weak. He is wearing the blue and gray shoulder patch of the 29th Infantry Division. If I seem a bit touchy about that, it’s because I wore that patch myself for a brief time.
I think the reason Tom Hanks made that mistake is that, in preparing for the role, he and the other actors involved went to a mini boot camp put on by a retired Marine Captain named Dale Dye. Dye served in Vietnam as an enlisted man, picked up a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. He’s mentioned Michael Herr’s famous memoir, Dispatches. As a young man, he had enough braggadocio to wear a flower in his helmet liner, as if daring the enemy to shoot him. Dye advanced to the rank of Master Sergeant and became a warrant officer and then was commissioned as a Captain.
From everything I’ve heard, Dale Dye has is one hell of a Marine. By the time he was done with those actors, they very much wanted to go home. So in Tom Hanks’ conversation, apparently “Marine” is a synonym for “great fighting man.” That may be a gaffe, but I can only imagine that bit of news will make a certain retired Marine of my acquaintance laugh heartily up his XXXL sleeve.