The veterans hail from the same mid-sized Midwestern city. Upon their return they discover that they and their families have changed dramatically since the nation marched off to war.
I "connected" with the film when I first viewed it in 1966 as a G.I. stationed in Seoul, South Korea. I was 20 at the time, and the film was screened like a first-run feature in a Seoul theater.
It was screened in English with Korean subtitles. The theater was packed, and I was the only American in the audience.
The film's title, "The Best Years of Our Lives," is intentionally ironic. Throughout the past two centuries U.S. servicemen have discovered in retrospect that their best years were actually spent with their mates in foxholes and barracks, rather than in peacetime America. Their country hasn't always treated veterans fairly.
While watching the film on the "big screen" in Seoul I was transported back to 1945 America — the year of my birth. I remember looking at the Korean audience and wondering what they thought of my homeland.
As the only American in the audience — and wearing my U.S. Army uniform — I felt slightly conspicuous. Fortunately, others around me did nothing to make me feel ill at ease. In light of the film's subject matter, I wasn't interested in being noticed. We weren't watching me on that screen; we were watching my father's generation.
I'm not certain that the Koreans were able to differentiate between America, circa 1945 — as portrayed in the film — and the America I'd sailed away from on a troop ship in 1965. I detected huge differences. My country had changed significantly.
As the film unfolded, I felt proud of the "good ol' U.S.A." The three military men were portrayed as thoughtful, sensitive human beings trying to readjust to civilian life. The U.S. was seen as a vigorous and decent country.