We Were Soldiers
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Steve Grandall

We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Sam Elliott, Greg Kinnear and Chris Klein, depicts a very unique battle during the Vietnam War. Based on a true story, the three-day battle in the Ia Drang Valley in Nov. 1965 was the first major engagement between U.S. and North Vietnamese forces. Because this battle was so early in the war, the Americans that fought in it, members of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, trained in the United States as a unit, shipped to Vietnam as a unit and fought as a unit. Though everyone who fought in Vietnam experienced a special comradeship with the soldiers, sailors and airmen they fought with, bonds of comradeship, felt by the 7th Cavalry, developed over a period of time and included the men’s wives and families.

One of the best parts of this film is how much time it takes to show those developing comradeships before the unit ever deploys to Vietnam. Lt. Col. Hal Moore’s talk to his troops before deployment echoes this closeness when he says we’re “going to what home is suppose to be.” When the unit helicopters in to a hot landing zone in the Ia Drang Valley and men begin to fall from enemy fire, we feel how hard each death is on the other men in the unit. Because this film continues to switch back and forth between the battlefront and the homefront, we also see how each man’s death tears at the hearts of all the families in the States. If anyone has ever doubted the sacrifices our military men and women and their spouses make for their country, We Were Soldiers will make believers out of them.

But this film, like Black Hawk Down, is not without humor. In the face of extreme danger and the chaos of war, a good sense of humor can be a saving grace. Gibson as Lt. Col. Hal Moore and Elliott as Sgt. Maj. Plumley bring a great deal of humor under fire to their roles. When Moore talks to Plumley, comparing their battle with Custer’s last stand, he says: “I wonder what Custer was thinking when he realized he’d moved his men into slaughter.” Plumley answers in his deep voice: “Sir, Custer was a p----. You’re not.”

Though there is a certain amount of Hollywood in both We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down, these two films represent a positive turn in depicting the reality of war and the great sacrifices made by military men and women.

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