We Were Soldiers (2002)

 

 

Director:     Randall Wallace.

Starring:     Mel Gibson (Lt. Col. Hal Moore), Madeleine Stowe (Julie Moore),  Greg Kinnear (Major Bruce "Snake" Crandall),  Sam Elliott (Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley), Chris Klein (2nd Lt. Jack Geoghegan),  Keri Russell (Barbara Geoghegan),  Barry Pepper (Joe Galloway),  Don Duong (Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An), Ryan Hurst (Sgt. Ernie Savage), Robert Bagnell (1st Lt. Charlie Hastings), Marc Blucas (2nd Lt. Henry Herrick), Josh Daugherty (Sp4 Robert Ouellette), Jsu Garcia (Capt. Tony Nadal), Jon Hamm (Capt. Matt Dillon), Clark Gregg (Capt. Tom Metsker).

Based on the true story of Lt. Col. Hal Moore, who led 395 American soldiers into the first major battle between the Americans and North Vietnamese regular troops.

 

 

 Good movie.  1964.  Fort Benning, Georgia.  The 1st battalion of the 7th cavalry receives a new commander, Lt. Col. Hal Moore.  He arrives with his wife, Julie, and his five children.  Soon after their arrival, President Lyndon Baines Johnson announces that he is increasing the troop strength in South Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000 men.  And the air cavalry is one of the units heading over to Vietnam. 

Moore has a lot of training to do because his unit has a lot of green troops, including green officers.  Just before leaving for Vietnam, Lt. Col. Moore gives a very moving speech to his troops.

The unit arrives in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.  There is enemy action in the area with a recent hit at camp Plaei Me.  At this point in time, the American soldiers and the North Vietnamese troops have never met each other in a major battle.  This was about to change.

The air cavalry naturally uses the helicopter as the means of troop delivery and removal.  One problem, however, is that the US army does not know much about the enemy's strength in the area. 

November 14, 1964 a little before 11 o'clock in the morning, the helicopters deliver the troops into the Ia Drang Valley in an area that turns out to be the base camp of a whole division, 2,000 men.  Shortly after their arrival, they learn that they are completely surrounded by the North Vietnamese. 

As the number of American deaths increases, more and more women in on-base housing are discovering that they are widows.  The movie prides itself on being the only war movie that shows the impact of the war on the families of the men who are killed in action.  There are several moving scenes covering this aspect of the war. 

Once the troops land on what becomes the battlefield, it is non-stop action for the troops.  They are literally fighting for their lives for the next 56 hours.  No one had expected this battle. 

The real and now Lt. Gen. Moore said that the message of the film is to hate war, but to honor the American warrior.  The only difficulty with this is that conservatives obfuscate support of the troops with support of the war; they politicize the soldiers.  This use of the troops for political purposes does them no real good, because it makes it difficult for those who oppose any given war to share in this respect for the warriors.  So whose fault is this failure to honor the American warrior?  Colonel Moore should realize that things are more complicated than just a sympathy for the troops.  Is it the liberals' fault?  Yes, it was true that some liberals were down right nasty to the American troops, but I think this was a minority.  Is it the fault of the conservatives?  Yes, because many of them equated and still equate troop support for war support and this makes it almost impossible for those who oppose a certain war to join in the cheerleading.  So both groups have unclean hands and the result is that the troops suffer. The solution is to stop politicizing the American soldier.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

1922  --  birth of Harold G. Moore in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Moved to Washington, D.C. where he finished high school.

He studied for two years at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

1942  -- even though he had never even been to Georgia, a congressman from that state approved his appointment to West Point.

1945  --  he graduated from West Point and commissioned a second lieutenant.. 

He attended graduate school at both George Washington University and Harvard. 

1963  -- assassination of President John F. Kennedy. 

1964  --  escalation by President Johnson of the conflict in Vietnam to the Vietnam War. 

1965 (late September)  --  Lt. Col. Moore's men settled in at An Khe in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.

1965 (November 14-16)  -- the Battle of Ia Drang, Central Highlands, South Vietnam.  Ia Drang had long been a sanctuary for North Vietnamese troops.  It was remote and inaccessible by road.  The Americans met the 9th Bn of the 66th Regiment of the Peoples Army of Vietnam - North Vietnamese Regulars.

The history of the battle is marked as an American victory, but the battle illustrates the difficulty of the fighting in Vietnam.  What was a victory in Vietnam?  Usually the victor is the one who holds the ground at the end of the day, but here this was the North Vietnamese.  The North Vietnamese paid a high price for the victory, 2,000 dead compared to only 80 American dead, but they still held the ground, illustrating the difficulty of assigning "victory" to one side or the other. 

The problem is that the battle lines were often non-existent in Vietnam.  The Americans would fight over a piece of land and might hold it for awhile, just to leave it later.  The ground itself was not that important.  It could have been virtually any place in the highlands.  Yes, the Americans inflicted terrible damages on the enemy:  more than 2 million Vietnamese died in the war compared to more than 58,000 Americans. But at the end of the day, the enemy was always still there.  It is very difficult to deal with guerilla wars (plus fights with regular troops).  In the end, the war was just too costly for the Americans and they realized it was in their interests to leave.  Surprise, surprise, not all of southeast Asia collapsed into the hands of the communists following the war. 

1977  --  Lt. Gen. Moore retires.

He became the Executive Vice President of the Crested Butte Ski Area, Colorado. 

1992  --  publication of  We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young by Moore and war journalist Joseph L. Galloway (present at the battle of Ia Drang) about the Vietnam War. 

Good website about the battle:  http://www.lzxray.com/

 

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