I remember seeing this film as a child and wondering if combat looked as antiseptic as it does in Sands of Iwo Jima, then the Japanese soldiers dropped into a foxhole of Marines and started bayoneting them. The scene still frightens me, regardless of how many times I've seen Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.
The great William Manchester wrote about being a Marine in the Pacific in his memoir Goodbye, Darkness. He talked about how phony the movie was, how John Wayne-ish and Hollywoodized it portrayed the sort of in-your-face combat he experienced. He and a friend were thrown out of a theater for laughing so hard at the histrionics and the clichés.
Yet, the average viewer would be hard-pressed not to feel for John Wayne's broken, alcoholic Marine non-com, and the squad he commands. The best moment of the film isn't the tragic, inevitable ending, but Wayne's discovery that his love interest is just as damaged and as hurt as he is.
With that in mind--and William Manchester notwithstanding--this is more than just a war movie, and that's why it's so good.