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Regular GI Joes become heroes in 'The Pacific'

We are but warriors for the working-day; our gayness and our gilt are all besmirch'd, with rainy marching in the painful field." ("Henry V," Act 4, Scene 3)

Among the portrayals of World War II, "The Pacific," a 10-part miniseries premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO, and airing successive Sundays through May 16, takes Shakespeare's description of the drudgery and misery of war, adds a heaping portion of sheer horror, and renders an unflinching, shattering portrait of hell on Earth.

The production team behind HBO's 2001 World War II miniseries "Band of Brothers," led by executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, shifts its focus from the fields and towns of Europe to scattered islands and atolls.

Writer and director Graham Yost worked on "Band" and "The Pacific" and says, "I've seen 'The Pacific' maybe half a dozen times all the way through, and there are certain scenes where I just lose it."

Filmed on location in Australia and Los Angeles during 2007 and '08, "The Pacific" is based on the true stories of three U.S. Marines - New Jersey-raised sportswriter Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) and John Basilone (Jon Seda), who boxed and drove a truck; and Alabama doctor's son Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazzello).

Leckie and Sledge wrote memoirs that were among the miniseries' source materials, along with "Red Blood, Black Sand" by Marine Chuck Tatum.

The project takes the Marines from Guadalcanal through Cape Gloucester and Peleliu, across Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and eventually to V-J Day.

In January, during the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Dale, Mazzello and Seda gathered for a round-table discussion.

Asked how they think real vets will react, Mazzello said, "We have a lot to live up to. Speaking for all of us, we appreciate them, and we hope we can be a part of giving them some sort of closure on it. Just being able to honor them is a wonderful thing."

"They're the real heroes," said Seda (who, like Basilone, was a boxer). "For us, it's just such a privilege and honor to have had the opportunity to portray these men. I've said this before - I only wish and hope that I had an ounce of the same courage that these guys had."

"These guys were just painters and plumbers and electricians," Dale said. "These were just regular guys, car salesmen, who would go and do these things. They're not career warriors. To imagine what they were asked to go through is just unfathomable."

To prepare for filming, the actors underwent a boot camp with Capt. Dale Dye, USMC (Ret.), who also advised on "Band of Brothers."

"When we found out we were going to boot camp," Mazzello said, "I'm like, 'Oh, man, we're going to get ripped. We're going to get huge, down five egg yolks a morning.' And it's like, 'Wait a minute, I lost 12 pounds in nine days.' They just sucked us dry."

Urged to continue talking about boot camp, Seda observed, "The beauty, the genius, of Capt. Dale Dye's boot camp is it teaches you the camaraderie among the men, and it gave us just enough of an insight as to what these guys went through, from the good times to the tough times. There are times now where I'll see a palm tree, and it'll bring me right back to boot camp."

"It's got to be tough being in L.A., man," Dale quipped.

"Just the other day," Seda continued, "I found myself thinking about a time at boot camp, thinking about the guys and stuff that we went through. I can't imagine what our vets go through when they see something that brings that back to the hell they were in, or even just the whole camaraderie that they had."

As to what they'd like people to know about "The Pacific," Mazzello replied, "You get the full spectrum of who these men were before the war, what made them decide to join, what their experiences were while they were there, and how they came out, if they did at all.

"You get a thorough examination of what it's like to transition from private citizen to Marine to citizen again. There's no stone unturned in that regard."

Added Seda: "Nobody should miss out on this opportunity to do their part by helping honor that generation, just by watching, just by paying attention."

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