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We Were Soldiers is a 2002 American war film that dramatized the Battle of Ia Drangmarker in November 1965, the first major engagement of United Statesmarker military forces in the Vietnam War. The film was directed by Randall Wallace and stars Mel Gibson. It is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lieutenant General Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, both of whom were at the battle.


A French Army unit in Vietnammarker in July 1954 during the First Indochina War is ambushed by soldiers of the Viet Minh. The French fiercly resist and kill many Viet Minh, but most French soldiers are killed and the unit eventually overrun by the Viet Minh. The Viet Minh Senior Lieutenant Nguyễn Hữu An (Don Duong), believing that France will eventually stop sending troops if there are many casualties, orders the execution of all surviving French soldiers.

Eleven years later, Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson), a dedicated United States Army officer, is deeply committed to training his troops, who are preparing to be sent to Vietnam. The night before their departure, the unit's officers hold a party to celebrate. Moore learns from a superior officer that his unit will be known as the 1st Battalion / 7th Cavalry regiment.

He is disquieted because the 7th Cavalry regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, who were slaughtered at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighornmarker. Moore is also dismayed because President Lyndon B. Johnson has decreed that the war would be fought "on the cheap," without declaring it a national emergency. As a result, Moore believes he will be deprived of his oldest, best-trained soldiers (a formal declaration of war would have meant mobilization and extension of the terms of enlistment for volunteer soldiers) - about 25% of his battalion - just prior to shipping out for Vietnam. Before leaving for Vietnam, Moore delivers a poignant speech to his unit:
"Look around you. In the 7th Cavalry, we got a captain from the Ukraine, another from Puerto Rico. We got Japanese, Chinese, blacks, Hispanics, Cherokee Indians, Jews and Gentiles—all American. Now here in the States, some men in this unit may experience discrimination because of race or creed, but for you and me now, all that is gone. We're moving into the valley of the shadow of death, where you will watch the back of the man next to you, as he will watch yours, and you won't care what color he is or by what name he calls God. They say we're leaving Home. We're going to what home was always supposed to be. Let us understand the situation. We're going into battle against a tough and determined enemy. I can't promise you that I will bring you all home alive, but this I swear, before you and before almighty God: that when we go into battle, I will be the first one to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me God."

After arriving in Vietnam, he learns that an American base at Plei Memarker has been attacked and Moore is ordered to take his 395 men after the enemy and eliminate them, despite the fact that intelligence has no idea of the number of enemy troops. He leads a newly created air cavalry unit into the Ia Drang Valley against over 4,000 well equipped enemy soldiers.

An emotional toll is taken back home, where Moore's wife Julie (Madeleine Stowe) and another soldier's wife (Keri Russell) take over the job of delivering telegrams that inform families (mainly wives like themselves) living at Fort Benningmarker, Georgiamarker, the unit's base of operation, of soldiers' deaths.

After landing in the "Valley of Death" on November 14, 1965, the soldiers capture a Vietnamese lookout who informs them that the nearby Chu Pong Mountain where they have landed is the location of the headquarters of an entire North Vietnamese division. An American platoon is isolated some distance from the battalion's main position, after 2nd Lieutenant Henry Herrick (Marc Blucas) sees a scout and rashly runs after him, ordering his reluctant soldiers to follow. The scout leads the Americans into an ambush, resulting in some of the platoon members, including Herrick, getting killed and several wounded. Sergeant Savage assumes command of the platoon by default, and by calling in artillery and using the cover of darkness, holds off the Vietnamese from their position. The story switches between the Vietnamese and American points of view several times. Despite being trapped near the landing zone, and desperately outnumbered, the main force manages to hold off the North Vietnamese attacks with artillery, close air support, and even calling a last-resort Broken Arrow just before being overrun, killing some of their own soldiers but eliminating most of the Vietnamese offensive force. The American troop secure the area and, shortly after the attack on the second day, rescue Lieutenant Herrick's trapped platoon.

On the third day, Moore and his men charge up the mountain where the North Vietnamese division headquarters is located. The North Vietnamese have set up heavy machine gun emplacements near the hidden entrance of the underground headquarters spoken of by the scout. Hal and his men charge right at them, into a seemingly impending massacre, but before the Vietnamese can fire, Major Bruce "Snakeshit" Crandall and wingman Captain Ed W. "Too Tall" Freeman fly in with their helicopters and kill the Vietnamese guards with their side-mounted mini-guns. The North Vietnamese commander is alerted that the Americans have broken through the lines, and the headquarters has no troops between them and the Americans. He orders the headquarters evacuated. Moore, having completed his objective, returns to the L.Z. to be picked up, and, after all of his men, dead or alive, are removed from the battlefield (plus six prisoners of war), steps on to a helicopter and flies out of the valley. Strong visual emphasis is placed on Moore's being the last American to set foot off the field of battle.

At the end of the movie it is revealed that Moore (having been promoted to Colonel) returned home safely after 235 more days of fighting.


The movie received mixed to fairly positive reviews. Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times gave the movie 3.5 stars out of 4 and praised the movie's battle scenes and how the movie follows the characters. "Black Hawk Down" was criticized because the characters seemed hard to tell apart. "We Were Soldiers" doesn't have that problem; in the Hollywood tradition it identifies a few key players, casts them with stars, and follows their stories.

David Sterritt from the Christian Science Monitor gave a harsh review and criticized the movie for giving a more positive image of the Vietnam War that didn't concur with reality. "The films about Vietnam that most Americans remember are positively soaked in physical and emotional torment - from "Platoon," with its grunt's-eye view of combat, to "Apocalypse Now," with its exploration of war's dehumanizing insanity. Today, the pendulum has swung back again. If filmmakers with politically twisted knives once sliced away guts-and-glory clichés, their current equivalents hack away all meaningful concern with moral and political questions. We Were Soldiers" is shameless in this regard, filling the screen with square-jawed officers who weep at carnage and fresh-faced GIs who use their last breaths to intone things like, "I'm glad I died for my country."

Lisa Schwarzbaum from Entertainment Weekly gave the movie a B and noted the film's fair treatment of both sides.
"The writer-director bestows honor -- generously, apolitically -- not only on the dead and still living American veterans who fought in Ia Drang, but also on their families, on their Vietnamese adversaries, and on the families of their adversaries too.
Rarely has a foe been portrayed with such measured respect for a separate reality, which should come as a relief to critics (I'm one) of the enemy's facelessness in Black Hawk Down; vignettes of gallantry among Vietnamese soldiers and such humanizing visual details as a Vietnamese sweetheart's photograph left behind in no way interfere with the primary, rousing saga of a fine American leader who kept his promise to his men to "leave no one behind dead or alive."

Hal Moore, who had long been critical of many Vietnam War films for their negative portrayals of American servicemen, publicly expressed approval of the film and is featured in segments of the DVD. Some soldiers were less pleased: Retired Col Rick Rescorla, who plays an important role in the book, and whose photo is on the cover, was disappointed after reading the script to learn that he and his unit had been written out of the movie. In one key incident, the finding of a vintage French bugle on a dying Vietnamese soldier, Rescorla is replaced by a nameless Welsh—not Cornish—platoon leader.

Notable musical elements

The mournful song heard during some of the battle sequences and the aftermath is called Sgt. MacKenzie. An account of a Scottish soldier who fought and died in similar carnage, it was written by his descendant, Joseph Kilna MacKenzie. It was chosen for the film by Mel Gibson and Randall Wallace due to its haunting, desolate sound, of men prepared to stand their ground in battle for family and friends.

The U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment's nickname "Garry Owen" is mentioned several times in the film. The nickname was derived from Irish dance tune Garryowen, the official Air of the 7th Cavalry Regiment during the 1800s. "Garry Owen" became the official nickname, a battle cry, a watchword, and a personal greeting in the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry in modern times.

The song sung during the end credits (along with "Sgt. MacKenzie") is "Mansions of the Lord", performed by the United States Military Academymarker Glee Club. Since its appearance in this film, the song garnered much praise and has since become the unofficial funeral song of the United States Army. It was most notably featured as the recessional hymn at former President Ronald Reagan's funeral.


See also


  4. Stewart, James B. Heart of a Soldier. Simon & Schuster: New York, 2002, p. 236.
  5. [1]

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