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Directed by John Ealer. 270 minutes. Aired on History Channel; also on DVD/Blu-Ray, 2014. $26.98/29.99.


330 minutes. Aired on History Channel; also on DVD, 2014. $14.98.

In its three discs to explain an era through its political The World Wars seeks leaders and generals, using actors to portray the iconic men, generally to convincing effect. With gorgeous cinematography and epic reenactments, the producers perhaps relied more on Hollywood advisers than military. The pulsating music and actor Jeremy Renner’s narration deepen the hagiography. Retired General Stanley McCrystal does offer thoughtful insight, especially about Patton. “People respected what he did, but there was always a second half to the sentence,” says McCrystal. “‘Patton is brilliant, but…he’s egotistical. He can’t control running his mouth.’”

75 Years Of WWII, a collection of History Channel fare, tells its story through the grunts who did the fighting. One disc includes documentaries about the Battle of Santa Cruz, the USS Enterprise, and the war’s ultimate weapons. The most compelling segment, “D-Day in HD,” takes up another disc. Using rich graphics and newly restored footage—including films from the German archives— the producers offer a visceral account of the landing at Omaha Beach and the push inland.

Speaking directly to the camera, veterans of the 29th Infantry Division, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and other units tell their stories, sometimes for the first time. The 29th Infantry’s Harold Baumgarten (subject of the May/June 2014 issue’s “Conversation”) talks matter-of-factly about his four battlefield wounds, and a fifth inflicted by a German sniper as a medic attended him. German soldiers of the 352nd Division contribute first-person accounts that often echo those of the Americans they fought. A heartwarming coda covers each soldier’s return from the war.

—Dave Nuttycombe is an Emmy-nominated documentarian in the Washington, D.C., area.


Originally published in the December 2014 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.