Memorial Day weekend edition: Victory at Sea

Many students of history will recognize this iconic opening theme of Victory at Sea, the celebrated 1952 television documentary series about naval warfare during the Second World War. The 26-part series first aired on NBC, and it garnered Emmy and Peabody Awards. With extensive archival film footage of WWII naval operations, the steady, serious narration by Leonard Graves, and the beautiful score by Richard Rodgers, Victory at Sea was a television milestone that has held up to this day.

VAS has been part of three distinct chapters of my life. The first was as a grade schooler in the late 60s, when a local television station would rerun episodes every week. These years marked the beginning of my lifelong enjoyment of history, and I couldn’t get enough of the series.

The second was when I bought a cassette tape of the VAS soundtrack at the Barnes & Noble on 5th Avenue and 18th Street in Manhattan during law school. While others may have walked the city streets grooving to the latest creations from East Village bands on their Walkman portable cassette players, I bopped around town listening to the soundtrack from a 1952 documentary. Geekdom, indeed.

More recently, I’ve enjoyed watching VAS episodes when visiting one of my dear friends, retired naval officer and fellow history buff Brian McCrane. Brian grew up during the WWII era and later entered the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, followed by a distinguished career as an officer and captain on destroyers during the Cold War. It’s fun to watch these episodes with someone whose own career contributed to the making of history.

When first available on VHS and then DVD formats, the complete set of Victory at Sea was somewhat pricey. But now, a full DVD edition, re-released in 2012, lists at $9.98, well within the budgets of most viewers. It remains a stirring, impressive work of documentary filmmaking on a vitally important chapter of history.

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