We see one of the heroic men return to America, doing publicity so that his brothers-in-arms will get the equipment they need in order to fight & die. The luxury awarded to celebrities is awarded to him. His family prides in him. The man is too decent to speak his mind, but we sense the animal fear rising in him, the longing to return among his own.
He becomes a gunnery sergeant, training men for the fight. He reenlists & will ship out with his men. More men are needed as the war continues; strange as it may seem, wars do not stop when the men fighting are no longer able to continue the fight. But other men must replace them & they must be trained. Necessity leads generals to send troops into war who have not been properly trained, because there is no time to train them.
We see this hero trying to make men of simple people like the ones you see looking around you. He is unrelentingly harsh as he forces them to endure & to execute orders, movements, combat, & maneuvers. Training improves when those who know the war being fought do the shouting. But is harshness any less harsh in the mouth of a hero?
He argues from necessity. – He tells the boys, in effect, that they are too stupid to survive. We must ponder the implications of military training for freedom. – He tells them never to despise their enemy, never to forget to fear the Japanese: They have been fighting longer than anyone, they are professionals, & they do not surrender. He might add that they are now fighting defense actions. He does not expect his boys to share the Japanese opinion about fighting to the death, to the last man, regardless of hope.
We see the battle of Iwo Jima afterward, the one battle where Americans sustained more casualties than the Japanese. We see how the landing troops ran & fought to get off the beach. It is as confusing as all battles must be & we can barely tell where the sea awaits behind the troops. The men die in a haphazard manner, as they must under heavy artillery & machine gun fire.
This strange man soon begins to show how he has married knowledge to his courage, for he is completely self-possessed, his mind firm against the chaos. He orders soldiers & gets them to execute. He organizes the destruction of a bunker dominating a line of advance. He then saves a squad of infantry advancing with tanks against enemy artillery. We are shocked to see his confidence as he moves across unknown terrain: He is at home with war.