Friday, April 24, 2020

Review of "We Were Soldiers," DVD version

Review of

We Were Soldiers, DVD version

Five out of five stars

The start of Americanization of the Vietnam War

 This is a powerful movie in many aspects. The first is the dramatic war action where the combat deaths of thousands of men are depicted. It is brutal, savage and unforgiving, just as close quarter combat is. The second is the undercurrent of how the U. S. military made some colossal mistakes in its prosecution of the war. The battle being depicted is one where the new style of American cavalry, flying into combat on helicopters, is being developed. The third aspect is the home front, where the wives of the men in the unit are being notified of their deaths in combat by telegram delivered by a cabdriver.

 Mel Gibson plays U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, the leader of a battalion being trained for air cavalry operations. He is also an academic and has studied the massacre of a French unit by the Viet Minh in 1954. He is determined to avoid the mistakes of the French, where they did not know the terrain and had no intelligence regarding the strength of the opposing forces.

 When Moore’s 400 man unit is dropped into an area where an American base has been attacked, the American commanders have no idea regarding the number of enemy forces in the area. When a soldier of the North Vietnamese Army is captured, he reveals that the immediate area is the base for a unit of over 4,000 men. Immediately understanding their predicament, Moore prepares his men for a major battle. The action is fierce, yet the Americans hold on, largely due to the American aerial firepower. Orders come down that make no sense to Moore and he ignores them.

 This movie is based on the battle of Ia Trang Valley, the first major engagement between U. S. forces and those of North Vietnam. In terms of casualties, it was an American victory, as nearly 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed. Yet, it was a learning experience for the North Vietnamese commanders, from that point they realized that they must proceed with caution in engaging in a major battle with U. S. forces. The ability of American commanders to call in devastating air strikes meant that anything approaching a siege was suicide.

 This movie also depicts what was one of the primary U. S. tactics. Occupy a region, engage in a firefight, hold it for awhile and then pull out. It was not a war where both sides moved forces along a front in order to expand the territory that they controlled. The ending is powerful as it shows Moore walking up to the section of the Vietnam Memorial wall where the names of the fallen of his unit are etched in stone.

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