PHYLLIS Wright has been a Navy wife for the better part of 45 years, and she's all too aware of how one is supposed to behave under stress. Wright's not at all pleased with Rhoda Henry's comportment in the "Winds of War," the 18-hour television adaptation of Herman Wouk's novel being aired this week.
Nonetheless, she has watched every minute of it.
"She's simply not a very good Navy wife--the good ones never groused like that," Wright said yesterday, after viewing the third part of the mini-series. "And she's having that affair. It's good for a novel. But the wives didn't behave like that . . ."
Wright--whose husband, retired admiral Jerauld Wright, served in the Pacific in World War II-- said the film also brought back another kind of memory.
"Tuesday night I was particularly touched when the young son went off to flight school. Then you realize all the times you said goodbye. Oh yes, you said a lot of goodbyes during that war."
ABC is estimating that 100 million viewers will watch at least part of Wouk's World War II tale about naval officer Pug Henry, his family and their experiences in Europe in 1939. But for a segment of the Washington population-- those who served in the Navy at the time--the series has a special relevance. It has provoked emotional remembrances of a tragic and trying time in their careers. Many have even persuaded friends to videotape the episodes they miss.
Despite mediocre reviews from the critics, Part I alone attracted an above-average 53 percent of those watching television at the time.
Among those who were a part of the real thing, the viewing audience may be higher. Wouk consulted with many retired Navy officers in Washington as part of his research for the $4 million epic. "I read all the manuscripts while he was writing them and I think the parts on Navy participation are very accurate," said Adm. Arleigh Burke, former chief of naval operations, who was among several retired officers recalling their experiences in the war.
"I wouldn't miss it," said Rear Adm. Tazewell Shepard, naval attache' under John F. Kennedy. "I think it's great in so many ways because it portrays a very important part of history that later generations don't understand.
"The thing really hit home for me because it's showing the reality of the terrible struggle we had. Things looked very bleak. Not that we didn't have hope. We always did. But it was an uphill battle in the early days of 1943. It's just a marvelous thing to have recorded for future generations to show what we fought for. I'm having a friend tape the episodes I'll miss."
"A lot of things about the movie ring a bell--mostly about our stupidity," said Adm. Phillip H. Fitzgerald.
"It made me angry all over again," said Adm. William Mack, who was stationed in Manila during the war. "We all knew there was going to be a war and the government was not doing enough to get ready, and neither did Congress. We were not as ready as we could have been . . . I also wish Robert Mitchum was a better actor. He doesn't change expression through the whole thing. Any naval officer would at least change expression when going through a war."
Former CIA director Adm. Stansfield Turner was still at the Naval Academy when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. He, too, has arranged for his friends to tape the shows he'll miss this week.
"I was overwhelmed by the demonstration of the horrors that came out of Germany invading Poland," said Turner. "I think the show is a good way to remind people how silly it is to think we can endure a nuclear war. Did you see all those people being shot up at that roadside . . . Some people refuse to see how horrible war can actually be."
"Well, all my experiences were in the Pacific, but I've watched every show," said Vice Adm. L.P. Ramage. "I've been trying to liken Pug Henry to someone I might have known during the war, but I haven't been able to yet. It's so familiar . . . [Pug Henry's] young son going into Warsaw, that could have been any of us."
Of course, there is always a dissenter. But still a disciple.
"Well, I've watched it all, but it's a little draggy," said Navy Capt. Vince Cassani. "Too much Ali MacGraw."