Tim McGraw, The Tug McGraw Foundation and the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) hosted a red-carpet film screening of Midway on Saturday, February 15, 2020, in collaboration with Lionsgate Pictures and The Lincoln Theater. Held at the Veterans Home of California-Yountville, nestled in the Napa Valley, the screening featured resident veterans as guests of honor, as well as a Q&A session, with three of the filmmakers, moderated by Admiral James A. Winnefeld.
Admiral Winnefeld previously served as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the Obama Administration and is a former Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) Instructor. While an instructor at TOPGUN, he worked with crew from Paramount Pictures on the production of the movie Top Gun. During one portion of the Q&A, Admiral Winnefeld recalled how gratifying it was to work with filmmakers and joked how his wife, Mary, especially enjoyed watching the filming of the infamous volleyball scene in the 1986 release Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise.
Midway retells the story of the men and women who served in the opening stages of the Pacific War following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It follows the trials and tribulations of all involved, detailing the sacrifices and hardships endured by the sailors and others involved in that struggle. Long regarded as a pivotal battle of World War 2, the “Battle of Midway” commenced on June 4, 1942, as the Japanese Navy once again planned a strike against American ships in the Pacific. Over the next three days, the U.S. Navy and a squad of brave fighter pilots engaged the enemy in one of the most important and decisive battles of World War 2. Midway examines the preparations the Japanese made for the battle, as well as the process the Americans developed of breaking Japan’s codes and preparing to defend the island.
Joining Admiral Winnefeld, for the Q&A session after the screening, was Wes Tooke (screenwriter), Kirk Petruccelli (production designer), and Chuck Myers (U.S. Navy Advisor). Several topics discussed included how the historiography of the “Battle of Midway” has developed over the last couple decades. Tooke explained, “American authors had all resources talking to people who had fought there and being able to go through American records. But we kind of had to take the word of a very few Japanese survivors who decided to speak about this. … there’s been forty-five years of Japanese historians going through and looking at their logbooks and started to ask questions about the narratives around the battle- some were true, others were propaganda. All of this new information has come out and I hope our perspective is a little bit different than those who have come before…”. Indeed, that perspective was reflected throughout the film. Unlike many other war films, Midway presented the perspectives of Japanese officers and sailors as well as the American side. It exhibited some of the tensions going on within the Japanese military leading up to the war, as well as their thought processes going into Midway. This film offers a more detailed and balanced understanding of the conflict than many similar films that have come out of Hollywood.
Because the event was hosted at the Lincoln Theater at Calvet’s Veterans Home in Yountville, many of the audience members in attendance were veterans, including several who served in World War 2. It was clear from the veterans’ reactions, during the screening, that many of them were touched by the developments on screen. Audible gasps could be heard when a bomber just missed its target, or a torpedo malfunctioned, and cheers rang out when sailors and pilots finally achieved success. During the aforementioned Q&A, Tooke spoke of U.S. bomber pilot Dick Best (played by Ed Skrein), “There’s this one line that says…he never flew again. And that was so resonant. In a way, he was emblematic of the sacrifices of these people. Obviously, there were so many lives lost, but also how many lives were changed. And his life was so irrevocably changed. This is someone who only wanted to fly, arguably the best pilot in the world at the time. He did his absolute best in one twenty-four-hour period, and that was it. … this chapter of his life closed after that day.” In real life, Midway was the last battle Dick Best served in, and the last time he flew, as he soon came down with Tuberculosis, which he developed as a consequence of relying on a faulty oxygen bottle in his bomber, causing permanent damage to his lungs. Tooke’s comments ring true about the sacrifices made by many veterans, both during World War 2, and every other conflict the United States has been involved in ever since. There is little doubt that seeing such a case of self-sacrifice resonated with experiences of at least some of the veterans in attendance.
Ultimately, the screening of Midway was quite a moving and powerful experience. Midway is not without problems as a film. However, in this time and place, Tooke and Midway Director, Roland Emmerich, as well as the rest of the crew and cast, did an excellent job of providing an impressive spectacle that brought to life a major milestone in military history using modern day movie magic. It was evident that many of the retired veterans in attendance were emotional and others were, in some way, touched by the experience. It was a very nice way of the Tug McGraw Foundation and Lionsgate to honor those who have served and sacrificed.