We Were Soldiers

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We Were Soldiers
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRandall Wallace
Screenplay byRandall Wallace
Based onWe Were Soldiers Once… and Young
by Hal Moore
and Joseph L. Galloway
Produced byBruce Davey
Stephen McEveety
Randall Wallace
StarringMel Gibson
Madeleine Stowe
Greg Kinnear
Sam Elliott
Chris Klein
Keri Russell
Barry Pepper
Đơn Dương
CinematographyDean Semler
Edited byWilliam Hoy
Music byNick Glennie-Smith
Icon Productions
Wheelhouse Entertainment
Distributed byParamount Pictures (United States)
Concorde Filmverleih (Germany)[1]
Release date
  • March 1, 2002 (2002-03-01)
Running time
138 minutes[2]
CountriesUnited States
Budget$75 million
Box office$115.4 million

We Were Soldiers is a 2002 war film written and directed by Randall Wallace and starring Mel Gibson. Based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… and Young (1992) by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, it dramatizes the Battle of Ia Drang on November 14, 1965.


In 1954, the French Army's Group Mobile 100, on patrol during the First Indochina War, is ambushed by Viet Minh forces. Viet Minh commander Nguyen Huu An orders his soldiers to "kill all they send, and they will stop coming".

Eleven years later, the United States is fighting the Vietnam War. US Army Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore is chosen to train and lead a battalion. After arriving in Vietnam, he learns that an American base has been attacked and is ordered to take his 400 men after the enemy and eliminate the North Vietnamese attackers; intelligence has no idea of the number of enemy troops. Moore leads a newly-created air cavalry unit into the Ia Drang Valley. After landing, the soldiers capture a North Vietnamese scout and learn from him that the location they were sent to is the base camp for a veteran North Vietnamese army division of 4,000 men.

Upon arrival in the area with a platoon of soldiers, 2nd Lt. Henry Herrick spots another enemy scout and runs after him, ordering his reluctant soldiers to follow. The scout lures them into an ambush, which results in several men being killed, including Herrick and his subordinates. The surviving platoon members are surrounded and cut off from the rest of the battalion. Sgt. Savage assumes command, calls in the artillery, and uses the cover of night to keep the Vietnamese from overrunning their defensive position.

Meanwhile, with helicopters constantly dropping off units, Moore manages to secure weak points before the North Vietnamese can take advantage of them. Despite being trapped and desperately outnumbered, the main US force manages to hold off the North Vietnamese with artillery, mortars, and helicopter airlifts of supplies and reinforcements. Eventually, Nguyen Huu An, the commander of the North Vietnamese division, orders a large-scale attack on the American position.

Back in the United States, Julia Moore has become the leader of the American wives who live on the base. When the Army begins using taxi drivers to deliver telegrams that notify the next of kin of the soldiers' deaths, Julia takes over that responsibility.

At the point of being overrun by the enemy, Moore orders 1st Lt. Charlie Hastings, his forward air controller, to call in "Broken Arrow", a call for all available combat aircraft to attack enemy positions, even those close to the US troops' position, because they are being overrun. The aircraft attacked with bombs, napalm, and machine guns, killing many PAVN and Viet Cong troops, but a friendly fire incident also results in American deaths. The North Vietnamese attack is repelled, and the surviving soldiers of Herrick's cut-off platoon, including Savage, are rescued.

Moore's troops regroup and secure the area. Nguyen Huu An plans a final assault on the Americans and sends most of his forces to carry out the attack, but Moore and his men overrun them and approach the enemy command center. Before the base camp guards can open fire, Major Bruce "Snake" Crandall and other helicopter gunships attack and destroy the remnant of the enemy force. With no more troops to call on, Huu An quickly orders the headquarters evacuated.

Having achieved his objective, Moore returns to the helicopter landing zone to be picked up. Only after everyone (including the dead and wounded) is removed from the battlefield does he fly out of the valley. Sometime later, Nguyen Huu An and his men arrive on the battlefield to collect their dead. He claims that the Americans will "think this was their victory. So this will become an American war".

At the end of the film, it is revealed that the landing zone immediately reverted to North Vietnamese hands after the American troops were airlifted out. Hal Moore continued the battle in a different landing zone, and after nearly a year, he returned home safely to Julia and his family. His superiors congratulate him for killing over 1,800 North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong soldiers. An older Moore visits the Vietnam War memorial and looks at the names of the soldiers who fell at Ia Drang.


Adaptation from source material[edit]

In the source book, We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, Hal Moore complains, "Every damn Hollywood movie got [the Vietnam war] wrong." The director, Randall Wallace, said that he was inspired by that comment and became "determined to get it right this time."

The film's final version got many of the facts of the book presented onto film but is not entirely a historically accurate portrayal of the battle or entirely faithful to the book. For instance, the film depicts a heroic charge under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore at the end of the battle that destroys the Vietnamese reserve, ending the battle in an American victory (a fact that the director noted in his commentary).[3] In fact, there was no heroic final charge in the book, and the North Vietnamese forces were not destroyed, although Moore did report 834 enemy bodies and 1215 estimated KIA (one-third of the enemy force).[4] The US forces were reduced by 72 out of 395, with 18% fatal casualties. The Vietnamese commander, Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An, did not see the conclusion at LZ X-Ray as the end of combat, and the battle continued the next day with combat action at LZ Albany, where the 2/7th, with A Company 1/5th, found themselves in a fight for their lives against Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An's reserve.

Despite the differences from the book and departures from historical accuracy, Moore stated in a documentary, included in the video versions, that the film was the first one "to get [the war] right."[5]


Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 64% of 146 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The website's consensus reads: "The war cliches are laid on a bit thick, but the movie succeeds at putting a human face on soldiers of both sides in the Vietnam War."[6] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 65 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews.[7]

Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, gave We Were Soldiers 3.5 stars out of 4, and praised its truthful and realistic battle scenes and how it 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."[8] Lisa Schwarzbaum, from Entertainment Weekly, gave the film a B and noted its 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.'"[9]

David Sterritt, from the Christian Science Monitor, criticized the film for giving a more positive image of the Vietnam War that, in his opinion, did not 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 the carnage and fresh-faced GIs who use their last breaths to intone things like, 'I'm glad I died for my country.'"[10]

Todd McCarthy, from Variety, wrote the film "presents the fighting realistically, violently and relatively coherently given the chaotic circumstances..." McCarthy further wrote, "Mel Gibson has the closest thing to a John Wayne part that anyone's played since the Duke himself rode into the sunset, and he plays it damn well." He summarized, "Gibson's performance anchors the film with commanding star power to burn. This officer truly loves his men, and the credibility with which the actor can express Moore's leadership qualities, as well as his sensitive side, is genuinely impressive."[11]

Involved combatant's response[edit]

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.

Retired Colonel Rick Rescorla, who played an important role in the book (and was pictured on the book's cover), was disappointed – after reading the script – to learn that he and his unit had been left out of the film.[citation needed] In one key incident, the finding of a vintage French bugle on a dying Vietnamese soldier, the English-born Rescorla is replaced by a nameless Welsh platoon leader.[12][13][14][15][16]

Box office[edit]

We Were Soldiers grossed $78.1 million in the United States and Canada, and $37.3 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $115.4 million, against a budget of $75 million.[17]

Further reading[edit]

  • Fitzgerald, John J. (2004). "The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley: A Comparative Analysis of Generals, the Media, and the Soldiers". OAH Magazine of History. 18 (5): 37–43. doi:10.1093/maghis/18.5.37. JSTOR 25163721.
  • Wetta, Frank J.; Novelli, Martin A. (2003). ""Now a Major Motion Picture": War Films and Hollywood's New Patriotism". The Journal of Military History. 67 (3): 861–882. doi:10.1353/jmh.2003.0263. JSTOR 3397330. S2CID 159476108.
  • Doherty, Thomas (2002). "THE NEW WAR MOVIES AS MORAL REARMAMENT: Black Hawk Down & We Were Soldiers". Cinéaste. 27 (3): 4–8. JSTOR 41690152.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Film #18714: We Were Soldiers". Lumiere. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  2. ^ "WE WERE SOLDIERS (15)". British Board of Film Classification. February 12, 2002. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
  3. ^ "We Were Soldiers Once - Director's commentary". ASIN B000K7UG34.
  4. ^ "Colonel Hieu and LTC Hal Moore re: LZ X-Ray After Action Report (m)". General Hieu.com. Archived from the original on November 11, 2013. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  5. ^ "Getting It Right: Behind the scenes of We Were Soldiers, Bonus Feature". We Were Soldiers (Blu-Ray ed.). ASIN B000K7UG34.
  6. ^ "We Were Soldiers". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved January 23, 2023. Edit this at Wikidata
  7. ^ "We Were Soldiers". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  8. ^ "We Were Soldiers movie review".
  9. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (February 28, 2002). "We Were Soldiers". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved August 3, 2009.
  10. ^ Sterritt, David (March 1, 2002). "A fake picture of war's stark reality". Christian Science Monitor.
  11. ^ McCarthy, Todd (February 22, 2002). "We Were Soldiers". Variety. Archived from the original on June 22, 2008. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  12. ^ Stewart, James B. (2002). Heart of a Soldier. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 236. ISBN 0743244591.
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (November 20, 2002). "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; One Last Act of Bravery For an Intrepid Adventurer". The New York Times.
  14. ^ "Rick Rescorla Memorial".
  15. ^ "ranger25.com". www.ranger25.com.
  16. ^ "DHS names citizen resilience award in memory of Rick Rescorla". Government Security News.
  17. ^ "We Were Soldiers". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved January 23, 2023.Edit this at Wikidata

External links[edit]