We Were Soldiers is a 2002 American war film that dramatized the Battle of Ia Drang on November 14, 1965 — the first major engagement of the United States Army in the Vietnam War. The film was directed by Randall Wallace and stars Mel Gibson. It is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, both of whom were at the battle.
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A French Foreign Legion unit is on patrol in Vietnam in 1954 during the First Indochina War. The captain of the patrol curses the land when they see nothing going on. The unit is suddenly ambushed by Vietminh forces who kill the Foreign Legion officers. Alhough the FFL unit kills many Vietminh, the unit is soon overrun. Nguyen Huu An (Don Duong) hypothesizes that if they take no prisoners the French will at some point stop sending troops to Vietnam; he then orders the execution of all surviving French soldiers.
Eleven years later, U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) is depicted as dedicated and deeply committed to training troops under his command (the 7th Cavalry Regiment) who are preparing for deployment to Vietnam. He is disquieted because the 7th Cavalry regiment was the unit commanded by General George Custer in the 19th Century when he and his men were slaughtered at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Moore is also dismayed because President Lyndon B. Johnson has decreed that the war would be fought "on the cheap," without declaring it a national emergency. As a result, Moore believes he will be deprived of his oldest, best-trained soldiers (a formal declaration of war would have meant mobilization and extension of the terms of enlistment for volunteer soldiers) - about 25% of his battalion - just prior to shipping out for Vietnam. Before leaving for Vietnam, Moore delivers a touching speech to his unit:
"Look around you. In the 7th Cavalry, we got a Captain from the Ukraine. Another from Puerto Rico. We got Japanese, Chinese, Blacks, Hispanics, Cherokee Indian, Jews and Gentiles -- all American. Now here in the States some men in this unit may experience discrimination because of race or creed, but for you and me now, all that is gone. We're moving into the valley of the shadow of death, where you will watch the back of the man next to you, as he will watch yours, and you won't care what color he is or by what name he calls God. Let us understand the situation; we're going into battle against a tough and determined enemy. I can't promise you that I will bring you all home alive, but this I swear, before you and before Almighty God: when we go into battle, I will be the first one to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me God."
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 Vietnamese attackers, despite the fact that intelligence has no idea of the number of enemy troops. He leads a newly created air cavalry unit into the Ia Drang Valley. After landing in the "Valley of Death", the soldiers capture a North Vietnamese Army lookout who informs them that the location they were sent to is actually the base camp for a North Vietnamese Army division of more than 4,000 men.
Upon arrival in the area with a platoon of soldiers 2nd Lt. Henry Herrick spots a scout, runs after him, and orders reluctant soldiers to follow. The Vietnamese scout lures them into an ambush resulting in much of the platoon being killed, including Lt. Herrick. The surviving platoon members are surrounded with no chance of retreat. Sgt. Savage assumes command. He calls in artillery and uses the cover of darkness to hold off the Vietnamese from overtaking their small defensive position. Meanwhile, with helicopters constantly dropping off the Calvary units, Lt. Col. Moore manages to secure weak points before the Vietnamese can take advantage of such.
The casulaties in Vietnam are shown taking an emotional toll at Fort Benning, Georgia, the unit's base of operation. Lt. Col. Moore's wife Julie (Madeleine Stowe) and a lieutenant's wife, Barbara Geoghegan (Keri Russell) assume the task of delivering telegrams to inform families (mostly soldiers' wives like themselves) about the
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