Tuesday, November 11, 2014

HOLLYWOOD or HISTORY: We Were Soldiers


 

                I earlier reviewed “We Were Soldiers” and then reread We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway.  The director and screenwriter of the movie, Randall Wallace, claimed the movie was as accurate as you could get.  But given his track record of “Braveheart” and “Pearl Harbor”, I was skeptical.  Here are some things that happened in the movie.  Which are true and which are Wallaceisms?

1.  The French Group Mobile 100 was ambushed in the Ia Drang Valley in 1954 and wiped out by a unit of Vietminh led by Nguyen Huu An
2.  During boot camp at Fort Bragg, a radio operator picked up a fire fight in Vietnam.
3.  Moore was a devout Catholic.
4.  Moore and Geogehegan had a heart to heart in a chapel after the birth of Geogehagen’s baby.
5.  Moore told his daughter that war was when some people in another country try to take the lives of other people and then soldiers like daddy have to go over and stop them.
6.  Moore’s unit was the 7th Cavalry – Custer’s old unit.

7.  Sgt. Plumley was a crusty veteran of WWII with a gruff personality and leadership style.
8.  The Lost Platoon got “lost” because Herrick chased after an enemy scout as soon as they landed.
9.  Herrick’s last words were:  “If I have to die. I’m glad to give my life for my country.”
10.  They blew up trees to create a new landing zone.
11.  Metzker was killed when he gave up his place on a medevac helicopter.
12.  Galloway arrived on the night of the first day.
13.  Mrs. Moore and Mrs. Geogehagen delivered the telegrams to the other wives.
14.  Moore prayed over the dead bodies.
15.  Geogehagen and a black soldier were killed out in front of the American lines.
16.  They peed on the mortar tubes to cool them down.
17.  Plumely told Galloway he could not take pictures lying down and soon after he told the wounded “Prepare to defend yourselves”.
18.  A soldier jumped on a grenade to save some of the woundeds lives.
19.  When the position was about to be overrun, Moore called for Broken Arrow.
20.  Jimmy Nakayama was mortally wounded by friendly napalm and never saw his new-born baby.  Some of his flesh came off in Galloway’s hands.
21.  The Lost Platoon was finally rescued when Nadal’s platoon fought its way to them.

22.  Westmoreland ordered Moore to leave the battlefield to brief him, but Moore refused.
23.  Moore went into no man’s land at night to recover Geogehagen’s body.
24.  Moore led a bayonet charge that forced the enemy to retreat and then helicopter gunships decimated the enemy before Moore’s men walked into a trap.
25.  Crandall took over medevacing the wounded because the assigned unit refused to come in under fire. 

 

 THE ANSWERS
 1.  The French Group Mobile 100 was ambushed in the Ia Drang Valley in 1954 and wiped out by a unit of Vietminh led by Nguyen Huu An.  HISTYWOOD  The French Mobile 100 was ambushed several times during the war but never was wiped out.  It is unclear whether An participated in any of these attacks.  An is a significant figure in Vietnamese history.  He ably commanded units in the siege of Dien Bien Phu and was in command in the Battle of Ia Drang.  He rose to generalship and was highly regarded by Giap.  His forces were instrumental in the capture of Saigon at the end of the war.
2.  During boot camp at Fort Bragg, a radio operator picked up a fire fight in Vietnam.  HISTYWOOD  They actually picked up a forward air controller directing an air strike.  This was apparently not omenous enough for Wallace.
3.  Moore was a devout Catholic.  HISTORY
4.  Moore and Geogehegan had a heart to heart in a chapel after the birth of Geogehagen’s baby.  HOLLYWOOD
5.  Moore told his daughter that war was when some people in another country try to take the lives of other people and then soldiers like daddy have to go over and stop them.  HISTORY
6.  Moore’s unit was the 7th Cavalry – Custer’s old unit.  HISTORY
7.  Sgt. Plumley was a crusty veteran of WWII with a gruff personality and leadership style.  HISTORY  “Old Iron Jaw” (which he is not called in the movie) served in WWII and made four combat jumps with the 82nd Airborne and another in the Korean War.  As far as I could tell, his personality is accurately depicted.
8.  The Lost Platoon got “lost” because Herrick chased after an enemy scout as soon as they landed.  HISTYWOOD  Fighting was already taking place when Herrick was sent into a support position and proceeded to chase several enemy.  Herrick was not killed as quickly as the movie indicates.  Sgt. Savage did take over leadership.
9.  Herrick’s last words were:  “If I have to die. I’m glad to give my life for my country.”  HISTORY  Most of the “cheesy” soldier lines were accurate.
10.  They blew up trees to create a new landing zone.  HISTORY
11.  Metzker was killed when he gave up his place on a medevac helicopter.  HOLLYWOOD  Metzker was killed as he was about to board Crandall’s ship.
12.  Galloway arrived on the night of the first day.  HISTORY  However, Moore had already met Galloway and had given him permission to come.
13.  Mrs. Moore and Mrs. Geogehagen delivered the telegrams to the other wives.  HISTORY  At least according to Wallace.
14.  Moore prayed over the dead bodies.  HISTORY  It’s unclear whether An did any praying.
15.  Geogehagen and a black soldier were killed out in front of the American lines.  HISTYWOOD  Geogehagen was not making a two man attack.  He was killed instantly when he got out of his fox hole to rescue a dead black soldier.
16.  They peed on the mortar tubes to cool them down.  HISTYWOOD  These types of things happened in warfare, but this incident was not mentioned in the book.
17.  Plumley told Galloway he could not take pictures lying down and soon after he told the wounded “Prepare to defend yourselves”.  HISTORY
18.  A soldier jumped on a grenade to save some of the wounded’s lives.  HISTORY  Sgt. Charlie McManus won the Medal of Honor for this act. 
19.  When the position was about to be overrun, Moore called for Broken Arrow.  HISTORY
20.  Jimmy Nakayama was mortally wounded by friendly napalm and never saw his new-born baby.  Some of his flesh came off in Galloway’s hands.  HISTORY
21.  The Lost Platoon was finally rescued when Nadal’s platoon fought its way to them.  HOLLYWOOD  The unit was actually reached by a reinforcing unit and there were no shots exchanged in getting to Savage and his men. 
22.  Westmoreland ordered Moore to leave the battlefield to brief him, but Moore refused.  HISTORY
23.  Moore went into no man’s land at night to recover Geogehagen’s body.  HISTYWOOD  Moore did find the body, but it was in daytime.
24.  Moore led a bayonet charge that forced the enemy to retreat and then helicopter gunships decimated the enemy before Moore’s men walked into a trap.  BULL CRAP  Moore did have the men fix bayonets before pushing the perimeter out after the battle was over and he did lead the movement, but there was no contact.  The whole movie charge and the intervention of Crandall is a painfully obvious attempt at a happy ending.  Keep in mind that a true ending would have included the ambushing of 2/7 as it marched to LZ Albany for egress after the fighting was seemingly over.  People who insist we never lost a battle in Vietnam conveniently overlook this disaster (which is covered in the book).  I do not insist that this downer of an ending should have finished the movie, but don’t substitute fantasy that is the total opposite.
25.  Crandall took over medevacing the wounded because the assigned unit refused to come in under fire.  HISTORY  Crandall started out bringing in troops, but switched to medevacing because of the circumstances.  He made a total of 14 trips and was awarded the DFC which was upgraded to the Congressional Medal Of Honor by Pres. G.W. Bush in 2007.  It is highly unlikely he pulled a pistol on another pilot like in the movie and he could not have led the counterattack because his chopper was unarmed.
RATING =   .72


 CONCLUSION:  ''We Were Soldiers" is above average in accuracy and surprisingly factual for a Randall Wallace and Mel Gibson.  This does not completely make up for their historical malpractice in "Braveheart", but at least shows they have some sense of shame.  However, it is most likely that what accuracy manages to sneak in is due to Moore and Galloway watching over their shoulders.  Unfortunately, nothing could stop Mel and Randall from tacking on the egregious happy ending that has John Wayne written all over it.  Hadn't we gotten past this type of jingoistic, crowd-sating trope by the 21st Century?   

6 comments:

  1. Was just talking with this movie about my dad (a Vietnam vet, FWIW) the other day. He likes it more than say, Platoon or Apocalypse Now, but still criticized a lot of things. The opening scene with the French Army seems to annoy him, for whatever reason.

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  2. I have much more problems with the closing combat scene than the opening combat scene. My Dad was a Vietnam War vet also, but he flew fighter-bombers so he had no opinion on most of the Vietnam War movies. I think he was glad that he was above it all.

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  3. Thanks for the analysis. I figured it was more accurate than Braveheart, although it would be hard to beat it.

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  4. Still, after being a Hollywood movie, it's my favorite for showing what soldiers during that time went through.
    Sgt. Fountain 71-78

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  5. If they'd only cut out that stupid charge up San Juan Hill...uh...Mt. Suribachi...uh...whatever that hill was named, this would probably be my favorite war movie. That stupid charge just ruins the whole movie!!!

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    1. Totally agree. The movie jumped the shark with that "happy ending". Another example of catering to the perceived wishes of the audience and believing we can't handle an unsatisfactory ending.

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