Left: Vernon Steele and Donna Reed as army medical personnel operating under an air attack
Right: John Wayne, Donna Reed, and Robert Montgomery stare into an uncertain future

They Were Expendable

This is considered one of director John Ford's career landmark films. Film critics like Leonard Maltin praise it as one of the best WWII films of the era.

They Were Expendable is based upon some of the wartime experiences of Navy Lt. John Bulkeley who was also a friend of John Ford. It follows the story of a motor torpedo (PT) squadron during the early months of the war following Pearl Harbor in 1942. Two navy lieutenants (one played by real-life naval officer Montgomery) differ on the effectiveness of the small, nimble, plywood boats against the growing enemy threat. After one dangerous sortie, Lt. Rusty Ryan is injured and placed in the care of no-nonsense army nurse, Sandy Davyss, played by Donna Reed. Sparks fly at first, a natural precursor to an intense but brief romance between the two characters. The drama of war, which initially brought them together, sends them apart again on uncertain journeys as Bataan and Corregidor fall to enemy occupation.

The picture flows very well, especially aided by Joseph August's photography and Ford's distinctive direction. The confidence of Donna's character is convincingly portrayed and consistent, winning her a memorable spot in WWII cinema's history.


  • Lt. John Brickley - Robert Montgomery, Comdr., USNR
  • Lt. (J.G.) "Rusty" Ryan - John Wayne
  • 2nd Lt. Sandy Davyss - Donna Reed
  • Gen. Martin - Jack Holt
  • "Boats" Mulcahey C.B.M. - Ward Bond
  • Ens. "Snake" Gardner - Marshall Thompson
  • Ens. "Andy" Andrews - Paul Langton
  • Maj. James Morton - Leon Ames
  • Seaman Jones - Arthur Walsh
  • Lt. (J.G.) "Shorty" Long - Donald Curtis
  • Ens. George Cross - Cameron Mitchell
  • Ens. Tony Aiken - Jeff York
  • "Slug" Mahan T.M. 1c - Murray Alper
  • "Squarehead" Larsen SC 2c - Harry Tenbrook
  • "Doc" - Jack Pennick
  • "Benny" Lecoco St 3c - Alex Havier
  • Adm. Blackwell - Charles Trowbridge
  • The General - Robert Barrat
  • Elder Tompkins M.M. 2c - Bruce Kellogg
  • Ens. Brant - Tim Murdock
  • "Ohio" - Louis Jean Heydt
  • "Dad" Knowland - Russell Simpson
  • Army Doctor - Vernon Steele

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Today is 26 January 2021.