"Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq

Sunday, Sept. 9, 10:30 p.m.

HBO

Everyone should see Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, James Gandolfini’s exceptional and deeply upsetting series of interviews with Iraq war veterans. And I do mean everyone — those who abhor the war, so they can appreciate the immense courage and sacrifice of those who fight; those who advocated for the war and “the surge,” so they can understand the horror they’ve supported; and even the terrorists, who should be forced to view this with their eyes pried open until they’re willing to acknowledge that no God would allow anyone into heaven who would participate in such despicable acts.

Gandolfini spoke with 10 Iraq war veterans who came home with amputated limbs, brain injuries and horror stories to tell. Like Crystal Davis, who found her leg underneath the seat of the truck she was in when a bomb went off underneath, and Jay Wilkerson, who now struggles to remember his own son’s name. Then there’s Eddie Ryan, whose mother has to tell his story because his brain was so severely injured. He’s strapped into a wheelchair.

The man who made his name playing Tony Soprano also shows us something few of us have ever seen: what it’s like when a roadside bomb suddenly explodes underneath a moving vehicle. (The credit reads “insurgent-released video.”) The flash, smoke and resulting fire is probably the first time many of us have witnessed what this war really looks like. For most of us, Iraq has been an abstraction of numbers and policy debates. Between the explosions and the up-close looks at missing limbs, eyes and hunks of skin, this hour brings the fight home in a way nothing else has.

Alive Day Memories — the title refers to the day a soldier narrowly escapes death; it’s almost like a second birthday — is apolitical. George W. Bush isn’t mentioned, and the politics are ignored. This is strictly an outlet for the soldiers to tell their stories.

The interviews take place on the starkest of stages. You maybe see Gandolfini’s face once. He wanted to make sure this wasn’t about him, and he succeeded.

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