Kenneth Turan’s review of ‘We Were Soldiers’ on March 1, had the courage to pan the film as simple-minded and devoid of historical context. He was right on both counts, but I must add the movie also lies massively about the historical event itself. The book on which this stinker of a movie was based, ‘We Were Soldiers Once…And Young’, was written by one of the battalion commanders, and a journalist who was on hand for most of the LZ X-Ray battle. While the book itself was simple minded and devoid of historical context, it is, at least, brutally clear on what went down.
The movie, on the other hand, completely changes the end of the story. In the movie, after Mel (The Patriot) Gibson and his men of the First Battalion/Seventh Cavalry (1/7) kill all the North Vietnamese in the neighborhood, they left the field of battle as battered but victorious heroes, leaving nothing behind but a pile of dead Vietnamese. In reality, 1/7 was relieved by a column of troops from Second Battalion/Seventh Cavalry (2/7), who two days later were decimated in an intense ambush while moving to LZ Albany. The official count of American casualties from 1/7 was 49 dead and 124 wounded, and from 2/7 was 155 dead and 123 wounded. Thus, the movie has the temerity to end on a victorious note after only one quarter of the American fatalities had been inflicted.
Why did they do this? Randall (Pearl Harbor) Wallace–producer, director and screen writer–could have easily ended the movie as he began it. The movie began with a short segment of a deadly ambush on a French column in the same valley ten years earlier; it should have ended with at least a passing reference to the dying that happened after Mel Gibson’s character left the battlefield. The audience would have perhaps left the theater with a much different taste in their mouths, and a much more accurate understanding of the historical truth. However, apparently Mr. Wallace was more interested in a little flag waving, and wanted to send the audience home with a patriotic buzz.
This film should have been named ‘Big Fat Liar’, but I understand that name has already been taken.
Paul Cox served in Vietnam from 1969-1970 as a USMC grunt. He is a member of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 69 San Francisco, CA.