Memory Lane: ‘McHale’s Navy’

When I was a boy, there were a lot of military service comedies on TV, along with World War II dramas. Most of us had fathers and/or uncles who’d been in World War II.

The Phil Silvers Show, starring Phil Silvers as the immortal slick-talking chiseler, Sgt. Bilko, was a huge hit in the 1950s. Then the 60s came along, and some of the same producers who made Sgt. Bilko came up with McHale’s Navy, starring front-rank movie actor Ernest Borgnine in the title role. The show ran from 1962-66.

Now that I come to think of it, The War was a gigantic presence in our lives, even though it ended four years before I was born. The history, images, stories, and legends of World War II shaped our lives. I wonder if that’s what made my generation such easy prey for Sixties radicals.

But I was too young to think of that in 1962. I watched McHale’s Navy every week and thought it was funny. Hogan’s Heroes came along when I was in high school, and for some reason I didn’t find that very funny at all.

The movies, the TV shows, the toys! Plus we had a peacetime draft: the government owned two years of your life and that was that. Unless you had a college student deferment, of course: kept a lot of us out of Viet Nam. We were up to our eyeballs in war, even though, between Korea and Viet Nam, we were at peace. If you want to call it peace when you’ve got the Cuban Missile Crisis and Khrushchev banging his shoe at the UN and saying, “We will bury you!”

He also said, “Your grandchildren will live under communism.”

Bernie Sanders surging in the polls…


13 comments on “Memory Lane: ‘McHale’s Navy’

  1. It was a good show which made much more sense if you had seen the very first episode. McHale knew the waters of the South Pacific intimately as a merchant seaman before the war. Captain Binghamton’s nautical experience was as the president of the Long Island Yacht Club. In that context, the series made a great deal more sense. It was the classic struggle; a competent working class person struggling under the authority of someone from the upper class who was fundamentally incompetent.

    1. I bought the first season in DVD and saw the first episode. Once I saw that, it made sense. It wasn’t just some rebellious crew of sailors that defied authority, it was a competent crew under the leadership of a seasoned Commander. Unfortunately, that Commander was under the command of a buffoon. Classic comedy, set in an unusual setting (the South Pacific) during extraordinary times.

    1. My father was in the Navy in WWII, and he watched tons of Navy movies. But I don’t think he ever watched McHale’s Navy. I wish I could ask him about it.

  2. You covered a lot of time and material in this post. I also didn’t care for Hogan’s Heroes. I’ve only enjoyed a few sit-coms like Beverly Hillbillies, Seinfeld, Barney Miller, Home Improvement, and Last Man Standing. The rest haven’t done much for me – mostly sexual innuendo jokes that belong in the toilet.

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