Tom Murphy to present film, lecture on war veterans in the United States

BEMIDJI, Minn. (October 28, 2009) — At the end of every war the United States has waged, at its conclusion military veterans return home to uncertain futures. How will they readjust to civilian life? How will society receive them? And what scars will they bear, emotionally and physically? Bemidji State University history professor Tom Murphy will be exploring these principle questions faced by America’s war veterans during a pair of presentations as part of Bemidji State’s Honors Council Lecture Series.

Murphy’s two-part presentation begins Tuesday, Nov. 10, with a presentation of the 1946 film, “The Best Years of Our Lives.” The film chronicles the experiences of three World War II veterans — a soldier, a sailor and an airman — returning home to Boone City and the difficulties they face in reacquainting themselves with a society they left behind years earlier. Murphy will introduce the film, then be available to answer questions afterward.

On Thursday, Nov. 12, Murphy will deliver a lecture on the issues veterans face when returning home after combat. He will focus on American veterans, including recent veterans of current military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also include stories from other veterans, including those of German soliders following each of the first two World Wars.

Both presentations will be held in Hagg-Sauer 112 on the BSU campus. The Nov. 10 film presentation begins at 6 p.m. while the Nov. 12 lecture will begin at 7 p.m.

Film: “The Best Years of Our Lives”
“The Best Years of Our Lives” focuses on the post-war experiences of three World War II combatants as they attempt to re-enter civilian life. Al Stephenson returns home after serving in the Army and finds difficulty meshing his loyalties to other veterans with his responsibilities to his banking business. Airman and bombardier Fred Derry returns home with no marketable skills and finds it difficult to hold down a steady job or manage a marriage to a wife he barely knew before being shipped out. Navy veteran Homer Parrish lost both hands during a fire on his ship, and despite his skillful use of the prosthetic hands supplied to him by the Navy finds himself unwilling to burden others with his handicap.

“The Best Years of Our Lives” stars Myrna Loy and was directed by William Wyler. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1947 and won seven, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Fredric Marsh, Best Supporting Actor for Harold Russell, and Best Director for Wyler.

Lecture: The Experiences of Military Veterans Returning Home From Combat
For Americans, World War II stands as the benchmark for appreciating military service because society seemed most supportive, recognizing the sacrifice of veterans, welcoming them home, and providing meaningful benefits, such as the GI Bill. Veterans of the Vietnam War, in contrast, felt unappreciated and often described being spit upon by protesters. Ever mindful of this past, the public and various agencies from veterans’ group to campus communities like Bemidji State have tried to assist recent veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

This presentation will address the principle questions veterans have faced. It will focus on the United States but include the stories of other veterans, such as those in Germany after both world wars.

Tom Murphy is an associate professor of history in his ninth year at Bemidji State. He received his doctorate from the University of Illinois and served as an assistant editor on four volumes of the papers of Ulysses S. Grant. At Bemidji State, Murphy teaches courses in 19th and 20th century United States history, including a history of the Vietnam War and a course on veterans in history.

• “The Best Years of Our Lives” at IMDB:

2009 Fall Honors Council Lecture Series
• Nov. 10: Film, “The Best Years Of Our Lives.”
• Nov. 12: Tom Murphy, “Coming Home: Veterans in History.”
• Dec. 2: Carla Norris-Raynbird, “When the Wolf Is At the Door: Exploring Issues of Vulnerability and Capacity In Louisiana’s Coastal Zone Parishes.”
• TBA: Dan Siems, topic to be announced

For more information about the Honors Council Lecture Series, please contact the honors program at (218) 755-3984.