Addressing his Third Army troops before the Battle of France in World War II, General George S. Patton spoke these now-famous blunt words: "Boys, we all want to go home. We want to get this over with. But the quickest way to get it over with is to go get those bastards. The quicker they're whipped, the quicker we go home."

Mainstream history has painted the soldiers of World War II - some 16 million of them - as the so-called Greatest Generation. They came of age in an era of unblemished national solidarity and goodwill - in stark contrast to the Viet Nam War or the ongoing war in Iraq.

But in their upcoming seven-part PBS documentary series The War, award-winning filmmakers Ken Burns and seasonal Island resident Lynn Novick offer a more intimate and unsettling portrait of the so-called Good War, using personal accounts from men and women from four American towns.

The first chapter of The War airs on PBS on Sept. 23. Early reviews of the 15-hour film indicate the documentary will take its place alongside other landmark Burns works, including The Civil War and Baseball.

Ms. Novick began her long collaboration with Mr. Burns in l989 when she served as an associate producer on the Civil War series. She then spent four and a half years as producer alongside Mr. Burns on the nine-part baseball documentary, the most watched series in the history of public television, for which she won an Emmy Award.

On Sunday evening Ms. Novick will attend a special advance screening of the first segment of The War at the Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven.

In an interview this week at her Chilmark home overlooking Quitsa Pond, she spoke about her experience making the film. She said she learned to respect, even more, the men and women who fought for their country, and learned about the bond that forms among men who go to combat together and about the resiliency and determination of the American people

But she also learned about a darker, more savage side of the war.

Arrogant and incompetent military leaders made poor decisions that cost soldiers' lives. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were killed by bombs and stray bullets. Deep-seated prejudice denied many African Americans and other minorities the right to serve their country.

Lynn Novick learned there is no such thing as a Good War.

"Nobody can argue the cause wasn't just, because it was. But this was a brutal and dehumanizing war. I think some people tend to romanticize World War II, but there is a deeper story below the surface, one of loss and pain . . . of families torn apart and men who came home with scars that weren't always visible," she said.

Her work on the film included six years of exhaustive research and interviews with World War II veterans, many of whom recounted horrific tales of loss and carnage.

"Many of the veterans said they were just doing their jobs. They saved a lot of the praise and talk about being a hero for their fellow soldiers and those who didn't come back," she said.

But for some, talking about the war proved cathartic.

"Sometimes these soldiers would tell their story and they would get tears in their eyes, and then I would start to cry, and it would become this big scene. Oftentimes they revealed things they had never told anyone else - not even their family. They would talk about things they had locked away for years," she said.

The documentary is reminiscent of the The Civil War series, although it takes a different narrative tack, she said. While the earlier film focused on political or military leaders such as President Abraham Lincoln and Gen. Robert E. Lee, the new work focuses on the stories of ordinary citizens from four geographically distributed American towns: Waterbury, Conn., Mobile, Ala., Sacramento, Calif., and the tiny farming town of Luverne, Minn.

Ms. Novick said the four communities could easily represent any town in the United States that went through the war. "Every town in America still has scars from that war," she said.

The filmmakers behind The Civil War and Baseball often had discussed making a film about World War II, she said. But when the subject came up again six years ago, 60 years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, they knew time was short.

"We realized that there weren't many of these veterans around anymore. At the time, we were losing an average of 1,000 World War II veterans a day. We knew we had to start talking to these people so we could get their stories before it was too late," she said.

There are risks that accompany taking on lofty subjects as World War II or the national pastime. After Baseball first aired in 1994, aficionados of the game picked apart its shortcomings.

"We heard it from a lot of people: why didn't you spend more time on Stan Musial? What about Harmon Killebrew? In the end we took it in stride . . . we knew couldn't tell every story there ever was in baseball. We instead tried to focus on the human stories that people could connect with - the stories of Jackie Robinson, the Black Sox scandal, the Negro Leagues," she said, adding:

"It's a 19-hour film, so if people are criticizing us because we left some stuff out, then we will take that as a compliment. It's better than people saying it was too long."

Ms. Novick said she "just kind of fell into" documentary filmmaking. After graduating from Yale in 1983, she worked as a research assistant at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. She began her career in documentary film as a production assistant at a New York television station, and served as a researcher and associate producer for Bill Moyers on two major PBS series.

With Mr. Burns, she also has codirected and coproduced a two-part documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright and coproduced the acclaimed ten-part series, Jazz, which premiered in 2001 and was nominated for five Emmy Awards.

She contrasts documentary film work with making a Hollywood movie.

"Believe me, it's not that glamorous . . . I may have gotten to meet Mickey Mantle, which was great, but I also spent hundreds of hours in libraries and going through boxes of photos and newspaper clippings. It's something you almost have to love to do," she said.

She sees the work as vital.

"I think to our own peril, we as Americans don't know as much about our own history as we should. What we try to do [in these films] is present the human side of things, stories that people can relate to. We never pretend to give people the whole story, we just want to serve as a starting point. If we get people to the point where they want to learn more about these subjects, then we've done our job," she said.

Lynn Novick appears at the Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday for a special screening of selected segments of The War. Tickets are available at the door.