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Gung Ho – The facts behind the movie

Movie stats:

Title: Gung Ho

Released 1943

Starring: Randolph Scott, Alan Curtis, Noah Berry, J. Carrol Naish, Sam Levene, and a small part played by Robert Mitchum

Produced by Walter Wanger

Directed by Ray Enright

Book by Lt. W. S. LeFrancois, USMC

Screenplay by Lucien Hubbard

Technical Advisor: Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson, USMCR

Service/Regiment: Carlson’s Makin Island Raiders, 2nd Marine Raider Battalion

Plot: The establishment (7 weeks after Pearl Harbor) of a specialized Marine force by training them in guerilla techniques of combat, beginning with making their bodies weapons and instilling a “Gung Ho” attitude based on self-discipline and team work. Once trained, this elite force successfully -- although with tremendous losses – took the island of Makin from Japanese control.

Themes: camaraderie of men in battle, even the toughest outcasts of society can be honed into a weapon under the right commander

Negatives: blatantly prejudiced against the Japanese. The “Japs” were often described as untrustworthy, devious, evil, mean-spirited, dishonorable and automatons. The main reason the men gave (in the movie) to join this newly formed battalion was to “kill the Japs”. I understand the timing of the release of the movie and the necessary vilification of “the enemy”, but in my opinion, it was excessive, especially in light of Carlson’s statement in the movie that the Raiders were to be formed without prejudice.

The Facts Behind the Movie

The term Gung Ho is a contraction of two Mandarin words Gongye and Hezuoshe, which literally means the name of the organization: Chinese Industrial Cooperative. However, Carlson took the meaning as Gung – to work and Ho – to work in harmony, and applied it as the battle cry of his Raiders, to the extent that it took on a life of its own in Americanism.

Designated on Feb. 19, 1942 and commanded by Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson, the Raiders were specially designed with a three-fold mission: 1. To spearhead amphibious – and generally inaccessible – beachhead landings, 2. To conduct swift and surprise raids, and 3. To operate behind enemy lines as guerrillas for long periods of time.

There were four raider battalions, notably the 1st, known as Edson Raiders, and the 2nd, as Carlson’s Raiders, as well as the 3rd and 4th. The 2nd operated June 4 – 6, 1942 at Midway Island; Aug. 17 – 18 on Butaritari Island, the Makin Atoll (on which the movie is based), Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands Nov. 4 – Dec. 17, 1942 which is heroically known as “Thirty Days Behind the Lines”, and Bougainville, Solomon Islands Nov. 1, 1943 – Jan. 12, 1944.

Beginning Nov. 1999 and stretching over two years), the remains of nineteen Raiders killed on Makin (listed as MIA since August 1942) were identified and returned to their families for burial.

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