Memorial Day Special: Pictorial Tribute to U.S. Soldiers in the Movies


The final Monday of May is a Memorial Day holiday here, which is a day to remember the fallen men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. As a U.S. resident, I’m definitely grateful of the service of Military men and women. Freedom is definitely NOT free and the people serving in the various U.S. military branches – Navy, Army, Air Force and the Marines – risk their lives to protect their country and its citizens.

So today, as I reflect on their bravery and dedication, I thought I’d do a pictorial tribute to memorable portrayal of American soldiers in the movies from various era and genres. Obviously I have not seen too many war/military-themed movies so these are meant to only be a sampling of military roles represented.

So here are (roughly) 27 of them, simply to coincide with today’s date of May 27:

Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) – ‘Independence Day’
Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) & Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) – ‘The Hurt Locker’
Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) & Capt. Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) – ‘Crimson Tide’
Major "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – 'Predator'
Major “Dutch” Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – ‘Predator’
Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) & Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) – ‘Captain America’
U.S. Army Private Witt (Jim Caviezel) – ‘The Thin Red Line’
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) & Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) – ‘Forrest Gump’
Marine Sergeant Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) – ‘Born on the Fourth of July’
John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) – ‘Rambo’
Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) & Lt. Colonel Serling (Denzel Washington) – ‘Courage Under Fire’
Gen. ‘Buck’ Turgidson (George C. Scott) – ‘Dr. Strangelove’
US Army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) – ‘Source Code’
LT Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson), Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) – ‘A Few Good Men’
Navy Commander Shears (William Holden) – ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’
Major Archie Gate (George Clooney), Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) – ‘Three Kings’
Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) – ‘Twelve O’Clock High’
Sgt. Emil Foley (Louis Gossett Jr.) & Officer Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) – ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’

Now, I made an exception with this last pick. Even though I have not seen Saving Private Ryan yet, but everything I’ve read (including this fine review by good friend Mark) about this Steven Spielberg masterpiece suggests that Tom Hanks as Captain Miller is more than worthy to be included.


Happy Memorial Day to my fellow Americans!

Now, which other U.S. military movie characters would YOU add to the list? Let me know in the comments!

42 thoughts on “Memorial Day Special: Pictorial Tribute to U.S. Soldiers in the Movies

  1. Ted S.

    Here are the names I was going to send you:
    -Martin Sheen as Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now
    -William Defoe as Sgt. Elias in Platoon
    -Lee Marvin as Major Reisman in The Dirty Dozen
    -Mel Gibson as Lt. Moore in We Were Soldiers
    -Larenz Tate as Private Curtis in Dead Presidents – the whole film wasn’t about the war but how the war effected these characters.

    I agree that Tom Hanks’ character from Saving Private Ryan should be on the list.

    1. Great selection, Ted! No worries about the list, I figure it should be more about MY list and movies I have seen anyway. Well except for Hanks in SPR but I’ve read quite a lot about that film.

      1. Ted S.

        You know I think you should see Saving Private Ryan because the performances were great, especially Hanks. BUT the film was so violent that I think you’ll cover your eyes the first 30 minutes or so since the film open with a very violent battle. Then it ended with another big and intense battle sequence. Unlike most war/action films, Spielberg wanted the violence to look real and boy there were intense, so just a warning if you’re going to watch it someday.

  2. Fabulous idea for tribute. I loved it. I think I’ve seen every film that you included. I grew up seeing a lot of war films from the 40s, 50s, and so on. My dad loved them.

    As for some I would add. Eric Bana as Hoot in “Black Hawk Down”, Mel Gibson in “We Were Soldiers”, Willem Dafoe in “Platoon”, Lee Marvin in “The Dirty Dozen”, Humphrey Bogart in “Sahara”… I could keep rambling on. 🙂

    Oh, and I have to rib you just a little. The photo of Dutch from the movie “Predator” is actually a shot of Schwarzenegger as John Matrix from “Commando”. Not a big deal at all but I had to have a little fun with ya! 😉

    1. Ahah, I just realized how similar Arnie looked in both Predator & Commando!! Thanks for correcting me Keith, I have seen both movies but I remember Commando was about him saving his daughter. Great picks on those soldiers. I’m curious to see We Were Soldiers, but I know Black Hawk Down might be too violent for me, just like Saving Private Ryan.

  3. This was such a great post!

    You need to see Saving Private Ryan! Definitely worth the watch.

    Loving Forrest and Lieutenant Dan on the list!

    1. Thanks Zoë! I will try to get around to SPR eventually, but will probably close my eyes for the first half hour. Y’know what’s weird, I actually have read about what happened in the opening sequence so I knew what happened but it also made me even more terrified to see it!

      I LOVE Gary Sinise as Lt. Dan!

  4. Nice piece Ruth. Hope you’ve been having a great Memorial Day weekend. It seems you guys celebrate the armed forces much more than we do in the UK. We have Remembrance Sunday in November but it’s always a much more somber event.

    My favourite war film is Full Metal Jacket but it doesn’t paint the best picture of the military so probably not appropriate for this list! 🙂

    1. Hi Chris! Thanks, it’s nice to have a 3-day weekend! Well it’s kind of a somber day here as it’s so darn cold and dreary for a late Spring day. Usually we’d have BBQ/picnic on Memorial Wknd but not this year 😦

      I haven’t seen Full Metal Jacket but yeah, sounds like it’s not appropriate to celebrate the military.

  5. Fine little collection here Ruth. Can’t argue with most of them. There’s lots of great characters and film’s here.

    Thanks for the linkage as well, my friend. Much appreciated. 🙂

    1. Thanks Sati! Oh Caviezel is actually the FIRST one that came to mind when I made the list. I love that guy and he’s amazing indeed in The Thin Red Line.

  6. Hi, Ruth:

    Great catch on Jim Caviezel. Some of his best work is in ‘Rescue Dawn’. Also makes a great “Guy in a Suit’ in ‘Person of Interest’.

    Gary Sinise is a given in ‘Forrest Gump’. Would also include Marshall Thompson, Robert Montgomery and John Wayne in ‘They Were Expendable’. And Richard Jaeckel in just about any WWII film.

    1. Hi Jack! I don’t believe Caviezel is in Rescue Dawn actually, but yeah, I quite like him in Person of Interest though I’ve only watched a couple of episodes. He’s such an underrated actor.

      I knew you’d have some great choices from Classic Hollywood. Thanks Jack!

  7. I’ve seen most of these, some twice, but to this day, I’ve only seen SAVING PRIVATE RYAN once. It’s so vivid and scary to me. It is excellent though. Great list Ruth.

    1. Hi Paula! You’ve seen SPR? Well you’re a lot braver than me! I’m gonna give it a shot though like Ted said above, probably cover my eyes for the first 30 min of the opening sequence at Normandy!

      1. I won’t lie doll, it was difficult for me to watch that part. Other movies about Normandy don’t show you that stuff, and i hadn’t read much about it then. But it is worth your time.

        1. Ok, I think I will give it a shot, but I’d have to watch it w/ my hubby so I can hide behind his arm, ahah. Yeah, I actually did read about the Normandy attack and that made me even scarier to watch it!

  8. I was just wondering will you put Captain Miller or not….and glad you did.
    Why haven’t you seen it yet, Ruth? for me SPR is still the best war movie I have ever seen. Great effect and full of heart kind of story.

    Happy memorial day 🙂

    1. Well you surely know I don’t do well with violent scenes Nov and based on what I’ve read, SPR’s opening scene is one of the most violent scenes ever filmed that shows the brutality of war. That said, I’d give it a shot at some point w/ my eyes covered for the first 30 min 🙂

  9. Awesome post, Ruth! Just goes to show how many war movies are classics. I would have put in there Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and John Wayne and anyone from Apocalypse Now.
    Ha! My age is showing….

    1. Thanks Cindy! Hey, we’re only as old as we think we are 😉 Great picks but unfortunately I haven’t seen too many war films, classics or otherwise.

    1. Hi Niels! I’ve actually seen pars of Platoon but not yet seen Apocalypse Now. I might give that a shot though as I caught an interview w/ Francis Ford Coppola describing Brando’s performance that got me curious!

    1. I’ve never been recommended to something so much like SPR so yeah, I’ll muster up the courage to see it one of these days 😉

    1. Thanks Alex! Apparently there are still tons of war films I hadn’t seen, but I think it’s safe to say US soldiers are pretty well-represented in the movies 😀

    1. Thanks Eric! Yeah, I had to include him, though Keith caught me confusing the role in Predator w/ one from Commando, ahah. I suppose he’s a GI in both 😀

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