Vietnam. A war that many Americans have tried to forget. It was a war in a place that most Americans had never heard of and didn’t really care to. But there were some people who DID know about Vietnam. They were the soldiers that fought there and families that prayed for their sons safe return. Back then, it was hard for these families to get their stories to the public at large. The American media seemed only interested in the more sensational stories coming out of Southeast Asia. Only now, almost 20 years after the Vietnam War ended do we really start to hear the actual tales of those soldiers and their families.
When We Were Soldiers is the true story of Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson), Commander of the 1st regiment, 7th US cavalry. In a time when new technology was changing the way we fight wars, Moore takes command of the 1st Reg. 7th Cav.; and we follow him right through to the Battle of Ia Drang several months later. Ia Drang was the first time American troop met with North Vietnamese Regulars during the war.
Mel Gibson does a wonderful job displaying the many sides of Lt. Col. Moore. He’s a man who knows his job, and knows it well. He cannot help but believe that he is leading his men into a massacre, yet he leads them anyway. Not because he craves glory or medals, but because his country told him to.
Sam Elliot is Sgt Maj. Plumley, Moore’s senior enlisted man. Plumley has seen it all, having fought in WWII and Korea; he brings strength to the rest of the troops; the strength of experience. He’s also really the only source of comic relief in the entire film. Most of these humorous moments occur early in the film, before the dramatic battle scenes begin.
What about those left at home?? The infamous telegrams, normally delivered by a military Chaplin, were sent by taxi. How can a wife and family expect to cope with out some type of support? They gain their support from each other. Lt. Col. Moore’ wife, Julie (Madeleine Stowe), takes command herself, instructing that all telegrams be delivered to her home for delivery to the families. Military families support each other, especially when the military isn’t going to be there for them.
Writer, Producer, and Director Randall Wallace did some things that others might have shirked away from, lest they offend the fickle emotions of moviegoers. Just because someone was a good solider and a good person, that doesn’t make him immune to a grizzly face of death on the battlefield. War doesn’t choose its victims, and neither did Wallace.
Dedicated to the men who gave their lives at Ia Drang and other nameless places in Vietnam, We Were Soldiers is more than worth the time. It’s not going to be a timeless classic or an epic for the ages, but it is a good film that serves a purpose: To tell a story that needs to be told.