Black Veteran Takes Issue with Eastwood's Films

Correction July 21, 2008

The introduction to this story says the 85-year-old former Marine sergeant was 40 in 1945. He was actually 22.

Film director Spike Lee has publicly criticized director Clint Eastwood for not in including African-Americans in his World War II movies "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima." Thomas McPhatter, an African-American veteran of World War II who served at Iwo Jima, explains why he share's Lee's frustration.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

Well, we've been able to address our technical issues that we've been having, and we want to resume our conversation with Thomas McPhatter, the former Marine who served in World War II at Iwo Jima. Before the recent dust up between filmmakers Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee, McPhatter wrote a letter to Eastwood. He took issue with the exclusion of African-American servicemen in Eastman's World War II films, and I asked him how the inclusion of those stories would have changed the film.

Mr. THOMAS MCPHATTER (African-American World War II Veteran): Well, just speaking offhand, if we had been given the opportunity to have participated as I feel we should have, I can see nothing more than a greater illustrious performance of black troopers. Wherever that happened and wherever they were allowed, the tide came out in all of their involvement in battles during World War II. They didn't get in the Marine Corps to get on a plantation. They got into fight for rights that they did not have back home, and hoped that it would make a different world for them once they came back home.

CORLEY: Do you think it made a difference?

Mr. MCPHATTER: It made a difference because enough time had passed where men could see, who were together, the stupidity of basing certain assumptions on color, and in fact I had a very enlightening experience at the side of Suribachi, a Japanese clawing his way out of the sides of the mountains from under the ground being swamped by napalm which was being shot up in the area, and he came out with napalm all over him, his head, his body, and exploding stuff. And the American Marines saw him like that, and they were locking down on him like flies on sugar trying to give him American blood plasma and keep him alive.

Well, it struck me, why would we be so anxious to give this man American blood to keep him alive if he were so different than we were? We had been told that he was a monkey, he was a gook, every way to make you hate him so you kill him, and I said, can't be that much different. When I get back to the station I am going to look up the differences in blood. And when I got back to Hawaii I looked it up, I found that there were only four major differences in blood type in the world. Well, you're black, brown, red, slant eyes, big eyes, regardless to how you look or where you come from or what your diet is, God has made all of us, made of all of us one flesh.

CORLEY: Mr. McPhatter, you said that you had written to Mr. Eastwood about your experience.

Mr. MCPHATTER: Yes. When I learned that Mr. Eastwood was going to write a movie screen on "The Flags of our Fathers," because I had read the book, I wrote Clint Eastwood an email asking him not to commit the offense so many others had. There are five major movies already about Iwo Jima and none of them reflected the black participation in a favorable way on any part of Iwo Jima. And I felt it was un-American and a discredit to black people, and really a thing which you should not be repeating.

CORLEY: Did you get a response from Mr. Eastwood?

Mr. MCPHATTER: I received a response that they were making the movie and that my letter would be taken into consideration. That's all I heard, and that's all the response I've had until today.

CORLEY: Thomas McPhatter is a former Marine Corps sergeant who fought the battle at Iwo Jima and he joined us from El Cajon, California. Thank you so much, sir.

Mr. MCPHATTER: Thank you.

CORLEY: That's our program for today. I'm Cheryl Corley and this Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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