A&E, which occasionally seems to have purchased all video rights to World War II, gets outgunned here by CBS, which calls Charles Kuralt and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf out of the trenches to profile some generals -- complex men all -- from that era.

A&E, which occasionally seems to have purchased all video rights to World War II, gets outgunned here by CBS, which calls Charles Kuralt and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf out of the trenches to profile some generals — complex men all — from that era.

It is a rewarding two hours: Nostalgia for those who experienced the time, revelation for those who know it only from popular culture, family history or A&E’s unending festival of period footage.

Combining history, biography and military science, Kuralt and Schwarzkopf place the commanders in context and allow those who knew them, or served with them, or studied them, to provide personal–some of it candid, some delightfully biased–insights.

These are men who even today evoke powerful emotion–Eisenhower, MacArthur, Patton, Marshall, Nimitz, Montgomery, even German general Erwin Rommel. These were unique men who seized a remarkable moment in history and altered the destiny of great nations.

The personal stories are revealing, but also at times haunting. One veteran recalled Dec. 24, 1941, in the Philippines. He paints a gripping word picture of American soldiers about to engage the enemy, sitting on duffel bags, singing “Silent Night,” knowing that for many of them this would be their last Christmas.

Of that squadron of 209 men, only 39 returned. There is great drama here, brought to life by marvelous film, fine interviews and two hosts who fully appreciate the epic scope of it all.

The Year of the Generals

(Thurs. (4), 9-11 p.m., CBS)

Production

Executive producer, Andy Lack; producer, Peter Schweitzer.

Cast

Hosts: Charles Kuralt, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
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