The Green Berets (1968)
Directors: Ray Kellogg, John Wayne.
Starring: John Wayne (Colonel Mike Kirby), David Janssen (George Beckworth), Jim Hutton (Sergeant Petersen), Aldo Ray (Master Sergeant Muldoon), Raymond St. Jacques (Sergeant Doc McGee), Bruce Cabot (Colonel Morgan), Jack Soo (Colonel Cai), George Takei (Captain Nim), Patrick Wayne (Lieutenant Jamison), Luke Askew (Sergeant Provo), Irene Tsu (Lin), Edward Faulkner (Captain MacDaniel), Jason Evers (Captain Coleman), Mike Henry (Sergeant Kowalski), Craig Jue (Hamchunk).
early film in support of the Vietnam War by ultra-conservative John Wayne
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
An officer uses a pointer to summarize conditions in Vietnam for Col. Mike Kirby and others. In the central area, Col. Franks is the C detachment commander. In the southern area there has been a 30% percent increase in operational detachments in the past year. The real problem is in the northern area. Kirby is set to go over to Vietnam and take over command in his area.
Master Sergeant Muldoon and Sergeant McGee brief the crowd at a press conference dealing with the Green Berets. The two sergeants will answer questions the audience has about Vietnam. George Beckworth of the Chronicle-Herald is very skeptical of the undeclared war in Vietnam, but Sgt. McGee is critical of the enemy killing and torturing the civilians of south Vietnam, especially the political officials of the south. He says the people of south Vietnam both need and want the American military advisors in south Vietnam. Beckworth says the government in south Vietnam has no free elections and no constitution. Muldoon compares the struggle in south Vietnam to that of the American Revolutionary War and he says that what's involved in Vietnam is resistance to the communist domination of the world.
Beckworth tells Col. Kirby that Muldoon did not convince him of the need to be in Vietnam. Kirby asks him if he has ever been in southeast Asia and Beckworth says no. Kirby says uh-huh, as if to say, since he's never been there, he can not know what is really going on there.
Sgt. Provo asks Col. Kirby if he will take him as a member of one of the two "A" teams being selected for duty in Vietnam. Kirby will probably take him. Kirby gets another fellow from another unit who has been sneaking supplies from the Fifth Group almost everyday. They catch the thief and brow-beat him into joining the Fifth Group. He will be promoted to sergeant. And his first assignment is to return all the supplies he stole from Fifth Group.
Sgt. Muldoon awakens his squad at 3:30 a.m. They are heading out to Da Nang, south Vietnam. When the men arrive, Col. Frank Morgan greets Col. Kirby and then Captain MacDaniel. The two colonels walk over to Col. Cai's office. Kirby is to relieve Morgan and Morgan says he's glad of it. This is especially true now, because he has a bad back.
The three colonels talk together. Cai says they have two new camps. One is in good shape. The other, Camp A-107, is in the heart of Viet Cong country. The enemy hits the camp three or four times a week with mortar fire. Kirby says he can leave one A team here in Da Nang and take the other one up to Camp A-107.
Kirby is ready to move out with one of his A teams. Beckworth is coming along with Kirby's group. He tells Kirby that he decided to come see for himself what's going on in Vietnam. They get to the camp via helicopters. The camp has 150 feet of cleared vegetation around it. Kirby says he wants the area to be 450 feet in all. He has sent for some Seabees.
Beckworth meets Captain Coleman of the camp. Sgt. Petersen meets a young boy, an orphan, that stays at the camp. The boy, Hamchunk, trips Petersen with a raised wire across an opening. Hamchunk thinks it's funny, but Petersen doesn't. Kirby puts Petersen to work stealing supplies from other units. He steals corrugated tin from the Seabees.
Captain Nim and his patrol that just recently got zapped return to base. They took several casualties and those are taken to the dispensary. Later Kirby comes to meet Captain Nim. Nim tells Kirby that his patrol was out for eleven days.
The base is hit by several mortar shells. The captain that was going home tomorrow is hit and killed. Helicopters go out searching for the enemy. They find regular troops building a boat bridge over a river. The helicopters fire on the bridge, destroying it. Lt. Jamison, 91st Navy Seabee detachment, arrives by helicopter. Almost immediately after the men and equipment arrive, the Seabees start clearing 300 more feet of vegetation from around the camp.
Muldoon spots a south Vietnamese soldier slowly determining distances in the camp. The master sergeant rushes over and knocks the man down. They question the man and search him. They find an engraved lighter that once belonged to a now deceased solider of the 5th Group. They rough up the suspected VC soldier. Beckworth later complains to Kirby about the brutality inflicted on the enemy combatant. Kirby says they had their reasons for the rough treatment. He gives Beckworth the lighter. The dead man was just coming back from delivering a baby for a village woman when he was captured, mutilated and beheaded. And, says Kirby, that man they captured was the one who did it.
A chief of the local Montagnards comes in with a girl whose left foot is badly damaged. She stepped on a punji stick. It turns out that it's the chief's granddaughter. The chief tells Kirby that he hates the Viet Cong, because they take so much of their food and they force their young men to fight for the Viet Cong. When the chief gets his granddaughter back, he is very pleased to see her foot all bandaged up. Kirby wants to work with the chief to discover the hide-outs of the Viet Cong.
Kirby and a patrol go out along the river. They come upon a small cluster of buildings. It's the Montagnard village. Many of the people have been killed there and some of the huts are burning. The Cong came at night and killed the chief and then they killed a number of villagers. Five Viet Cong took the chief's granddaughter into the jungle and didn't bring her back. This bothers Beckworth a lot as he liked the little girl. Sgt. McGee finds the little girl's body. Kirby tells Beckworth that it is hard to talk about Vietnam with anyone until they have seen the brutality of the Viet Cong against the villagers.
The patrol returns back to base. Beckworth learns that if the Viet Cong take the camp, everyone will be killed, including Hamchunk.
Captain Kirby attends a dinner at a night club by the water. There is a beautiful Vietnamese model there, who catches Kirby's attention. He name is Lin. The government wants to recruit her, because they think she can be of great use to them. Kirby, however, is called away to take a look at the worsening situation at his camp.
At the camp, Captain Nim says there is a heavy concentration of Viet Cong headed toward them. With his night vision lens, Captain MacDaniel sees the Viet Cong approaching. He fortifies the north side. Petersen makes sure that Hamchunk is put in a safe place. The mortar shells start landing. Beckworth is almost killed, but is saved by Sgt. Provo, who is badly wounded in the process. The Americans answer back with mortars shells of their own.
Sgt. Petersen asks Beckworth for help and Beckworth starts helping. The Viet Cong are storming the wires right now around the camp perimeter. Kirby is about to land when his copter is hit and goes down. They send out a patrol to save Kirby and Muldoon. They rescue the two men. The civilians within the camp are moved to a safer place. It's a tough fight to keep the camp safe. Hamchunk's dog runs from the safe place and Hamchunk runs after him. He finds his dog killed by shrapnel or a bullet. He starts digging a grave for the dog.
Petersen is distraught when he can't find Hamchunk in the place where he left him. He tries to find the boy. He does find him very much alive. Hamchunk puts the cross over the dog's grave. Petersen grabs him and takes him to a safer location. The perimeter of defense keeps shrinking as the Viet Cong make hard-won advancements. The defenders keep having to move back to stay alive. Several copters arrive and set down. The troops jump out of the copters. Kirby, still outside the perimeter, gathers the forces together and starts moving with them toward the base camp. Two jets arrive to drop bombs around the perimeter in the northern area.
With the bombing, Kirby and his men reach the camp. Kirby gets up into the look-out tower, but soon it comes falling down. The civilians have to be moved again. Now it's light outside. Kirby keeps telling his men to fall back. The Viet Cong raise their flag over the camp. Captain Nim is dead. Kirby and his men and the civilians have now completely abandoned the base. An airplane flies low over the base and mows down most of the Viet Cong with two Gatling guns. Kirby says they probably will be able to move back to the camp soon.
The Americans and south Vietnamese troops move back into the camp. Beckworth asks Kirby what is he going to do now. He's going to keep doing his job. Kirby asks Beckworth what he is going to do. He says if he prints what he wants to say, he might be out of a job. The two men shake hands and Beckworth heads out back to civilization. Kirby goes to see the mortally wounded Sgt. Provo. The sergeant dies after having a drink of whiskey with Kirby.
Kirby is back to safety. To honor a request of Sgt. Provo's, Kirby has a privy named in honor of Sgt. Albert C. Provo, Green Beret. The name of the Privy is the Provo Privy.
And now Kirby is given the assignment involving the Vietnamese model named Lin. She and Kirby with a hand-picked team will capture the head man of the Viet Cong forces in the south. That man is General Pham Son Ti. Col. Cai goes with Col. Kirby to talk with the model. Her father and little brother were killed by the Viet Cong. She has by now found the man who ordered this: General Ti. She says she can deliver Ti to Kirby one week from tonight at the old Costeau Plantation. Cai vouches for Lin. She is the wife of Cai's brother.
Kirby, Cai and their troops are going to parachute into the target area. When they get on the ground, they bury their parachutes. One of the Green Berets is jumped by enemy troops. He kills them all, but he is also killed. Kirby and his men soon find the dead man. They bury him.
The men find a bridge. Muldoon and four other men will blow the bridge if Kirby and his team don't make it back by 1100 hours tomorrow. Kirby and his men move out and come to the Costeau Plantation mansion house held by the Viet Cong. At night a car pulls up at the mansion. Out pops General Ti and Lin. The sentries around the place are taken out by crossbows and knives. The general decides to have dinner with champagne in the bedroom. Lin turns out the light. This is the signal for the special forces to move up. They take out the guards in front of the mansion. Now Kirby and his men walk into the mansion. They sneak past the soldiers who are playing cards and go upstairs to the bedroom. They grab the general. Cai throws a shirt to Lin so she can put it on. He doesn't like what he sees. They drug the general. They repel from the porch on the second floor down to the ground. As they are about to make a clean get-away, they are spotted. The soldier who spotted them is shot and kill. This notifies the soldiers in the house and out they race to fire at the special forces. The enemy soldiers are taken out when they trigger the trip wire across the driveway setting off the Claymore mines planted there. They put the general in the trunk of a car and off they go. There is more fighting at the mansion as the car drives off.
Muldoon and his men have the bridge all wired up. Col. Kirby calls Muldoon to tell him they will be traveling over the bridge in about seven minutes. The car gets over the bridge and then the bridge is blown up. Muldoon suddenly notices that McGee has been wounded in the back. He wants to fix the man up, but McGee tells him to get going because soon the whole area will be swarming with the enemy.
A plane flies over the designated pick-up zone and grabs the wire attached to Gen. Ti's body. In the air, Gen. Ti is reeled onto the plane. Cai is mad because he caught Lin naked in the bed with the General. He has an expression of moral contempt on his face and this was immediately communicated to Lin. So Cai and Lin do not speak to each other. Kirby tells Cai that his sister-in-law's whole future with her family depends on what Cai says about what happened between Lin and the general. Cai gets the message and goes over to assure Lin that she did nothing wrong. Lin is very relieved and hugs her brother-in-law. The special forces traipse over to the landing zone. As they proceed ,Petersen is caught in a booby-trap and killed. They have to leave his body behind.
At the airfield, Hamchunk waits for the arrival of Sgt. Petersen. Beckworth is there and goes with another unit to get more information about the undeclared war in Vietnam. When the choppers land, there is no Petersen with them. Kirby sees Hamchunk running from chopper to chopper asking for Petersen. The boy starts crying and desperately calls for Petersen. Kirby goes over to the boy to tell him that Petersen was killed on the mission. He puts Petersen's beret on top of the boy's head. The boy asks what will happen to him now and Kirby tells Hamchunk to let him worry about that.
Gun-ho John Wayne in Vietnam making a statement for continued intervention in that country, treating the action like it was a World War II battle. The Americans are fighting the just war against the vicious, evil Viet Cong with the usual trite statements of American goodness: protecting civilians, befriending orphans, defending freedom. He even convinces a liberal newspaperman that he has been misguided in his views of the war.
The movie is a good one to watch because of the justifications providef for fighting the war in Vietnam. Since we supposedly only get involved in good wars, all the reasons for war must be highly moral ones (even if the war is not really necessary or justified). And in the end the USA lost anyway. The war was the fourth most costly war in terms of men killed in US history (after the Civil War and World Wars I and II).
If you disregard all the justifications for the war, the movie was not all that bad. It lagged in the beginning, but the battle scenes at the forward camp were good and the raid to grab a Viet Cong general was also entertaining. I, however, would never have watched this movie if it hadn't been for this historical movies website I have been working on. But I bit the bullet and watched it. I was pretty upset when I realized that the film was more than two hours long. I thought the film could have ended nicely at the end of the battle for the forward camp.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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