Skip to comments.What Freepers Think of "We Were Soldiers"
Posted on 03/15/2002 12:26:03 PM PST by onedoug
I think I may accompany my daughter to see We Were Soldiers, this weekend. Though a search didn't reveal any Freeper feedback on this film, despite all that preceded it. I'm very surprised. Anyone?...
I can think of no place more appropriate than the Air War College to share the following bit of personal data which was left out of the very kind introductory remarks by the General: I want you to know that I have personally been bombed, rocketed, strafed and napalmed by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marines, U.S. Army Aviation and the air forces of sovereign states of South Vietnam, India and Pakistan, and maybe a couple more I don't even remember now.
You will note that I am not an inconsiderable target and yet I am here today, unscathed, unscratched and ready to talk. I hold no grudges; I'm just eternally grateful that in those few instances some guys couldn't shoot worth a s--t. I hasten to add that in literally hundreds of other instances, when the chips were really down, close air support kept me and a lot of other more deserving guys alive.
My one enduring image of what air power really means is one that I have carried in my mind and in my heart for more than 30 years. In the Ia Drang Valley in November of 1965 1 found myself with a battalion of the lst Cavalry Division, surrounded by two regiments of North Vietnamese regulars, 400 Americans versus 2,000 enemy. We were clinging desperately to a small clearing called Landing Zone X-Ray. On the morning of the second day we were under attack from three sides. Wave upon wave of enemy soldiers seemed to be literally growing out of the elephant grass. On the southeast perimeter, no more than 50 meters from where I lay, two platoons had been overrun and the line was wavering and cracking. The sergeant major came over, kicked me in the ribs and invited me to get up, make use of my M-16 and defend myself. Our forward air controller, Air Force Lieutenant Charlie Hastings, set aside his rifle and spoke into his radio the code word Broken Arrow. It signaled: "American unit in danger of being overrun."
With that, every available air resource in South Vietnam was diverted to our control. They came by the dozens and scores: Air Force, Navy, Marines. Old Spads, F-100's, F-4s, A-6,s. Charlie Hastings stacked them up over our heads in layers a thousand feet apart from 7,000 to 35,000 feet and they literally built a wall of steel and napalm around us. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.
In the middle of all this dust, smoke and confusion a tragic friendly fire incident occurred: A Supersabre unloaded two cans of napalm right into the command post area. They burst no more than 15 meters to the right of the command group and one scared reporter. Several American GI's were engulfed in the flames. I helped carry one of them out of the burning grass and I can still hear his screams and feel the bare bones of his ankles where the flesh had cooked off rubbing in the palms of my hands to this day. Then I witnessed something very important; something that placed it all in perspective: Lieutenant Charlie Hastings stood, heartstricken and trembling, before the battalion commander and tried to apologize for the terrible error. The commander looked him in the eyes and said: "Don't worry about that one, Charlie. Just keep 'em coming."
Charlie Hastings kept them coming and that air support was the difference between life and death for the rest of us. That day, just one day past my 24th birthday, I learned that war is a hard and terrible business. Mistakes are made, but you must put them behind you and deal with the job at hand. By the way, Charlie Hastings served 30 years with the Air Force and retired a colonel three years ago. He's living the good life down in Arizona, trying hard to catch up on a list of Honey Do's that somehow accumulated over about 30 years. Charlie never forgot what it's like down there in the mud with the foot soldiers; and none of us ever forgot what it's like to holler HELP and have it rain down from the skies. Nobody ever won a battle or a war all by himself. It demands teamwork. If they teach you nothing else here and at the Army and Navy War Colleges, I pray to God they teach you that.
I was asked to give you my reflections on the Military-Media Relationship. That's awfully high-toned for someone who got his start covering Marine platoons in Vietnam in early 1965, worked his way up to Infantry companies and the occasional battalion-size operation and has always felt slightly uncomfortable with anything larger than that. I will confess, right up front, that I am partial to the Infantry; always have been. Some might find that puzzling if not perverse; that a civilian reporter, given a choice, would choose the hardest and least glamorous part of any war as the part he wishes to cover.
But there is method in that madness, and I would recommend it to my younger colleagues who may one day be called on to cover war. There, in the mud, is where war is most visible and easiest understood. There no one will lie to you; no one will try to put a spin on the truth. Those for whom death waits around the next bend or across the next rice paddy have no time and little taste for the games that are played with such relish in the rear. No one ever lied to me within the sound of the guns.
There, at the cutting edge of war, you find yourself welcomed and needed -- welcomed by the soldier as a token that someone in the outside world cares about him and how he lives and dies; Needed for the simple reason that an Infantry company or platoon in combat always needs another set of hands to carry ammo or haul water to the wounded or to pick up a rifle when the chips are really down. There you earn the sort of friendship that cannot be acquired in any other field of human endeavor -- there you forge bonds that will endure for a lifetime.
A few years ago I shook hands with one such battlefield friend and brother, agreeing on the terms by which we would jointly author a book. The lawyer who was negotiating the deal with the publisher asked to see the contract between us. We explained that there was no written contract; just that handshake. He looked horrified; we looked at him with pity. "You see," my buddy explained, "We have trusted each other with our lives; this is just a little matter of some money."
There is no secret in all of this. In every war there are always correspondents who walk this road; men and women whose fear of death is overcome by a fear of never having known the truth of war. The numbers are always disproportionate and they grow more so as rules and pools and fools proliferate.
When I look back at the military/media experience in the Gulf war it is with sadness for lost opportunities on both sides of the equation. Because of poor planning, paranoia and over-control, the details of a great victory of American arms were virtually lost to history. The crucial Army tank battles took place far from the lens of any camera; the Navy was over the horizon, out of sight and out of mind; and although the Air Force contributed all that nifty smart bomb film the vital human element of the Air Force story was largely missing, and we were left with the false image of a Nintendo War. The only thing the Pentagon had to hide in the Gulf was the finest military force this country has ever put into the field, and it did that very efficiently.
I am here to argue for more openness, more contact, more freedom between your profession and mine. In this one instance I believe familiarity would breed not contempt but trust and respect. My knowledge of and respect for you was born on the battlefields of Vietnam, learned alongside men like Lt. Charlie Hastings. That respect was reinforced by my experience in the Gulf, where I was the exception that proved the rule. There were around 1,000 correspondents accredited in the Gulf; 140 were permitted into the combat pools. There was precisely one reporter who went to war with a personal recommendation from General H. Norman Schwarzkopf in his hip pocket, and you're looking at him.
How this came to pass is just another war story. In 1965 in Vietnam I marched along some bad roads in the Central Highlands with a Vietnamese Airborne battalion and made the acquaintance of a young Army adviser, Major Norm Schwarzkopf. The battalion commander who taught Charlie Hastings and me some important lessons in the Ia Drang Valley in November, 1965, was a splendid combat commander named Hal Moore. Long before that, Hal Moore taught infantry tactics to hundreds of young cadets at West Point, including one named Norm Schwarzkopf. He even persuaded young Schwarzkopf to choose the Infantry as his branch, against the best advice of his father who warned him that he would be forever giving up any hope of making the rank of general as a mud-foot Infantry officer.
I dealt fairly and honestly with both those men, as I have always tried to do with all men, and what goes around comes around. Life may be short but memories are long.
Thanks to that trust, I was sent down to the 24th Mech two weeks before G-Day. On my first night there the Division CG called me to his TOC and pulled the cover off the battle map. What he said, as my eyes followed the arrows and the hair stood up on the back of my neck was this: I trust you because Schwarzkopf trusts you; but more than that, I trust you because you're coming with me. I never heard a more compelling argument for operational security in my life.
During the days before G-Day I visited every brigade and battalion in the division; saw the preparations; checked on the OR rates of the equipment; ate a lot of really bad chow; got lost traveling at night in the desert about fourteen times. Did a lot of listening and looking. And then we rode to battle together. I emerged from that experience with a damned good story of an American armored division at war .... and with something far more important: A whole new crop of comrades-in-arms and friends-for-life. We had trusted each other with our lives.
My regret, and one that I believe is now shared by the more thoughtful military leaders today, is that there was not an experienced team of reporters, photographers and cameramen traveling with every Brigade which crossed the berm into Kuwait and Iraq; stationed with every Air Force squadron which saw action; and on the bridge of every Navy ship offshore. Too much of the war either went uncovered, or the pooled dispatches and film took so long to reach the rear that the war was over and the stories never saw the light of day. More importantly, I think we will all have cause to regret the fact that a new generation of correspondents was not free to accompany a new generation of captains and majors of all the services to war -- to learn the ropes, earn the trust and build the bonds that last a lifetime.
Some of you seated here today -- the best and brightest of our nation's defenders -- are convinced that the press is your enemy. In any similar gathering of reporters there would, no doubt, be some who believe the same thing of you. This is a national tragedy.... and one that each of us has an obligation and a duty to do everything we can to repair and heal. There is more than enough blame and fault to go around, but that is not the point. Somehow my mind keeps going back to what my old friend Hal Moore tried to explain to that lawyer: once we have trusted each other with our lives .... everything else is small change.
Since Vietnam, I've thought long and hard about the relationship between your profession and mine -- professions that the founding fathers of this nation thought so important that they included specific definitions of our duties and responsibilities and rights in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
A generation of officers emerged from that searing, bitter, orphaned war looking for someone to blame for the failures manifest in our nation's defeat in Vietnam. Many chose to blame the media: Walter Cronkite lost the war; Dan Rather lost the war; Peter Arnett lost the war. By choosing the easy way out they obviated the painful need to carefully examine the root causes of our failure to win. By placing full blame and responsibility on the press they could avoid delving deeper, peeling to the underlying layers of the onion and exposing the more important failures of political leadership at home and military leadership right down the chain of command from the Joint Chiefs to the commander, U.S. Forces Vietnam and on down to Corps and Division.
How much easier it was to simply shoot the messengers. This red herring was dragged through the 0 Club bars of a thousand posts for a decade and more after the end of the Vietnam war. It became an article of faith for a generation of officers, and that led directly to the over-control and the spin control that allowed the Gulf War to be fought in a near-vacuum. Note that I say NEAR VACUUM, because nature abhors a vacuum.
For all the faultless planning and flawless execution of the plan, for all the success at locking the media out of the loop, locking them up in hotel briefing rooms far to the rear, in the end it was two very public television events that had much more to do with shaping the end of that war than all of the actions on or above the battlefield.
Those two events both occurred three days into the war. One was Gen. Schwartzkopf's Mother of All Briefings, a masterful exposition of what had occurred and why. Near the end of that briefing, flush with the feeling that he had knocked the ball over the fence, the general was asked a simple question: Have you achieved your objectives? He sang beautifully about how he had not wanted this war, had hoped to avoid fighting it, didn't like seeing people dying in combat, and, yes, he supposed that his prime objective, the liberation of Kuwait, had been achieved. In short, my old friend allowed his bullfrog mouth to overload his tadpole ass. An hour later his phone began ringing with calls from the White House: Wasn't it time to begin working out the cease fire? No, said the general, he was still 48 or more hours away from completion of the plan; his tanks were still engaged heavily with units of the Republican Guard; the 24th Mech was only now pulling into place to close the sack behind the enemy in the Euphrates Valley. The voice on the phone responded, "General, that's not what you just told a worldwide TV audience of more than two billion people."
In the field, the commander of the 7th Corps armored phalanx had not heard Schwarzkopf's briefing. Gen. Fred Franks now knows that he should have had his TOC wired to receive CNN and he should have had a smart iron major sitting there monitoring it minute by minute. If he had done that, he would have known that the war plan he was following had just accelerated from late middle game to end game. When he supervised the rewriting of Field Manual 100-5, the successor to Air-Land Battle, Gen. Franks was careful to include that recommendation for the benefit of the next generation of commanders.
The second very public event was the broadcast of film of the so-called Highway of Death and its scenes of miles and miles of shattered and burning wreckage strewn along Highway 8. With the help of J-STARS imagery and the on-the-ground firsthand knowledge of a young Army major who months before had driven that highway and made careful note of the natural choke points, the Air Force had hit those choke points at the head and tail of the long retreating column of Iraqis fleeing Kuwait City. The film of the Highway of Death, unanalyzed, gave the impression that thousands and thousands of Iraqis, innocent and guilty alike, had been slaughtered. Even General Colin Powell believed that what had happened was a turkey shoot, and, in his words, Americans don't indulge in turkey shoots. He increased the pressure on General Schwarzkopf to conclude arrangements for an immediate cease fire.
Had there been even one or two reporters and cameramen on the ground, to take a firsthand look at that highway, we would have known then and there that the Highway of Death was, in fact, a Highway of Dead Toyotas. That when the choke points were closed and the column ceased movement all the drivers and passengers instantly knew what was coming, and instantly got out of their vehicles and beat feet out into the desert. That the casualties in the great turkey shoot were perhaps no more than 150 or 200 killed.
By locking out the media, by cutting them off from timely communication of their reports to the rear, the commanders in Riyadh and Washington had perhaps taken a certain amount of revenge for perceived sins of the media in covering Vietnam, but they had without doubt outsmarted themselves. A perfect example of what our British cousins call: Too clever by half.
I've since made a couple of other deployments, including Korea and Haiti, and closely watched the deployments to Somalia and Bosnia. Some of the lessons learned in the Gulf seem to be being applied with a good deal more foresight and planning by the new generation of commanders. There have been bobbles and missteps on both sides but nothing that I consider fatal.
But there is still that underlying suspicion: Your peers tell you that I, and people like me, are YOUR enemy. My peers tell me that you, and people like you, are MY enemy. The correct answer to both groups is: Bullshit! I much prefer to MAKE my own friends and enemies the old-fashioned way. I EARN them, and I am proud of them. I stubbornly refuse to inherit them. And I recommend that course to you as well.
What I am telling you is that familiarity far more often a breeds respect and friendship. Because of my experience in battle in Vietnam, when I was younger and skinnier and much dumber, I have been given the honor and privilege of open access to your tightly guarded world. When I boarded a Huey and flew away from Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley on 16 November 1965, 1 left knowing that I was alive to tell this story only because 79 young Americans had given their lives to save mine, and in that same effort 130 others had been shattered by terrible wounds. I knew that I owed them, and those like them, a lifelong obligation to try to understand their world and to tell the their story to a country that too easily forgets the true cost of war.
Someday, some of you in this room will wear stars and carry the heavy responsibility of high command. Inevitably the day will come when you must lead your young lieutenants and captains into the horror that is war. When that day comes, or in the days before it comes, the phone will likely ring and some public affairs puke will be on the line asking you how many media pukes you want to take with you. When that day comes, the right answer is: yes sir, yes sir, I'll take three bags full, but send me the brightest and best ones you have. Then farm them out with your lieutenants and captains and let them go to war together. The experience of war will create bonds between them that cannot be broken; the young reporters will learn to love the soldiers and airmen just as you and your lieutenants have learned; and in the end 99 percent of the coverage that flows from this experience will be entirely positive.
I want you to do this because it is right, and I ask you to do this so that there will be others like me thirty years down the road who know and love your profession and can translate it for the American public. I ask this because my time as a combat correspondent has, sadly, come to an end. All these years I have been free to go to wars, to do the .really dumb stuff that I always tried to conceal from my mother and my insurance agent, because I had a strong, loving wife at home to take care of our young sons if anything ever happened to me. She had all the ticket punches of a military wife, 11 moves in 22 years, sudden disappearances of her husband for long periods of time, living with the knowledge that a phone call or a knock on the door could bring news that she was a widow. She handled it all perfectly. Last January, after a brief, brutal battle with cancer, my wife, Theresa died. I am now trying to be father and mother to two boys, 16 and 18, and I find I am no longer free to grab my rucksack and my helmet and instinctively head for the sound of the guns. My obligation and promise to her and to our sons must take precedence.
I thank you and all those like you for sharing your world with me. You have shared the last two sips of water in your canteen on a hot jungle trail; you've shared the only cup of hot coffee in a hundred miles on a cold desert morning in the Euphrates Valley; and always you have shared what is in your hearts. Your world, your profession, has given me the best friends of my life and both the greatest happiness and greatest sorrow I have ever known.
I would leave you with these lines from Rudyard Kipling in which he tried to explain his relationship with the British Army. They explain something of what I feel:
I've eaten your bread and salt,
I've drunk your water and wine;
The deaths ye've died I've watched beside,
And the lives that ye've led were mine.
God bless you and God bless our country.
Assuming she's mature enough to understand it, is she able to handle some pretty gory, violent scenes?
If she is, then I highly recommend it. I took my two sons last weekend (19 and 15). I insisted that they both read the book first. It helped them absorb the movie better and understand the underlying themes. Great movie. Great story. I cried.
It's an excellent movie, the guys that actually fought in that battle gave it very high points for historical accuracy pretty much across the board (I love History vs. Hollywood, very handy show when picking movies). But it could be far too much for some one under the age of 13 or 14. There were a few scenes that were maybe too much for this person of the age of 32, and I'm a big mob movie fan. I think it's the extremely high level of realism that made it possibly too much.
I prefer to view the media as my friend or enemy the old fashioned way too. I can judge on a case by case basis, but that's getting harder to do.
The problem with what Galloway wrote is that not all reporters are like him. In fact, his article pretty much proves that. He admits he was the only reporter given that kind of access in the Gulf War. Why? I suspect it was because his attitude towards and respect for the military was different from that of other reporters. When he says that the military would benefit by giving reporters more access, I think he may be erroneously assuming that other members of the profession share his class and integrity.
He said at the outset of the speech that he could think of no more appropriate place to give that speech than at the Air War College. I think the National Press Club might be equally appropriate.
In my estimation, as a father of three grown boys, all of who like intense fiction/science fiction movies, 15 or 16 is as young I'd take to see it. Even then I'd consider carefully. It's VERY intense, very real.
RetiredArmy (Nam 70, 4th Infantry Division, An Khe, RVN)
We Were Soldiers -- The New Mel Gibson Epic
Source: Quicktime Movie Trailers;
We Were Soldiers (A Movie Must See)
We Were Soldiers
Source: The American Partisan
Reviews: We Were Soldiers
Source: Chicago Suntimes;Chicago Tribune;New York Times
I took my wife and 28 year old daughter to see it Wednesday. It was a matinee and the theatre was nearly empty, except for what seemed to be a handful of other old vets and their wives. Everyone stayed put, all the way through the credits. Everyone was obviously moved. I found myself reliving my own Vietnam experiences of 33 of so years ago as well as the world as it was then, as I suspect the others were. Where has the time gone?
My wife cried almost all the way through it. She related to the military wives especially, as she has sat in the same seats as those wives portrayed in the movie, and waited for not only me to come home, but perhaps "the worst".
The final scene at The Wall was beautifully done. I once again had the same deep, heartache feeling I got the time I visited it, for those who never came back, and are now mostly forgotten - except in the greying, sad memories of their family and comrades-in-arms.
It was a superb movie. Wonderfully done. Technically excellent. Humanly moving. Especially to those who were a part of that unfortunate pageant in history.
Link to opening night reviews on FR: