The Best Years of Our Lives

best years

The Best Years of Our Lives. The film starring Harold Russell, Frederic March, Dana Andrews and Myrna Loy portrays the lives of three returning veterans from World War II, the “Good War,” who have not seen their families for several years. The film does not describe real people or actual events, but the stories in the film are nevertheless quite real. They were played out thousands of times in varying degrees by returning veterans after World War II. Whether uninjured or badly wounded, they faced challenges for which they were often unprepared. They came back very different men compared with the boys they were when they left. As joyous as their return  to the United States and their loved ones was, the readjustment was often traumatic for the veterans and their families.

(If you have seen "Saving Private Ryan," you have some insight into the problem, as when Captain Miller wonders aloud to his men how he is ever going to explain "a day like this" to his wife. All the combat veterans had "days like this.")

The film won numerous awards, including Oscars for best picture, best actor and best director. One part of the film does have an element of reality.  That is the story of Harold Russell, who portrays the returning sailor, Homer Parish. Cathy O'Donnell plays his Harole Russellgirlfriend, Wilma Cameron. Homer lost his hands during the war, and although he had become proficient with the hook-like “hands” attached to his arms, he was afraid that people—especially his girlfriend Wilma—would not be able to accept him. He played the character based on his situation—essentially himself—in the film and won a special academy award for his performance. To the left is a scene from the movie.

Harold John Russell was born in Nova Scotia in 1914. His family moved to Cambridge Massachusetts when his father died in 1919. He was training paratroopers at Camp MacKall, NC, on June 6, 1944 when some TNT he was using exploded in his hands. He lost both hands. After receiving his hooks and training on them, he was chosen to make an Army training film called “Diary Of A Sergeant.”

Director William Wyler saw the film and decided to change a character in the film to a double amputee. For his role in the film Harold Russell received 2 Oscars, a Best Supporting Actor and a special award for being an inspiration to all returning veterans, the only actor ever to receive 2 Oscars for the same role. He later went on to help establish AMVETS. He lived with his wife on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and remained an inspiration to injured men and women for the rest of his life. He later wrote a biography, “The Best Years Of My Life.”

The film is still worth seeing and is available for streaming in various places.

Post world War 2 Home | Updated May 8, 2021