In the initial battle of 1965 when the first helicopter “cavalry” soldiers entered the Vietnam war, the casualties on both sides were horrific.  Led by Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson), this new method of deployment soon became standard procedure and thousands of young Americans, as well as Viet Cong, were killed.  Moore’s memoirs record the event in his book We Were Soldiers, Once...and Young.

       The power of the film version of these events is in the ability of Director Randall Wallace to not only present authentic battles in all their brutality, but also in his ability to present the soldiers in all their authentic humanity.

       Focused primarily on Lt. Col. Moore, his Christian faith as a Roman Catholic married to a Methodist wife is presented in such a natural way that we begin to understand his strength.  Believing himself to be a moral man on a moral mission, his answer to a young lieutenant struggling with his new responsibilities as a father is revealing.   Kneeling in the base’s chapel in front of a stained-glass depiction of Mary holding her infant Son, he asks Moore if he believes he can be both a father and a soldier.  Moore responds that he believes being good at one makes him better at the other.

       This melding of personal responsibility with military leadership is what makes Lt. Col. Moore likable as well as understandable.  As a father who prays with his children, Moore is also a Lt. Colonel who prays with and over his men.  Not seeing himself as an aggressor for political or economic gain, Moore is simply a soldier who is doing what his country asks him to do.

       Though this simplistic answer does not address the larger issues of international relations, the message of “We Were Soldiers” is that the people who fought and died in Vietnam were not the ones who were making the decisions.  They were simply doing what their country required them to do.

       This acceptance of responsibility was multiplied throughout the leaders of Lt. Col. Moore's 7th Calvary.  Surrounded by young soldiers who had never seen combat, Moore called on them both by example and by moral strength to be responsible.  The first to put his foot on the battlefield and the last to leave, Moore exemplified the courageous leader that soldiers are not only willing to fight for, but die for as well.

       Though “We Were Soldiers” does not glorify war or the purposes for which wars are waged, it does help to restore honor to those who were simply being responsible as soldiers.  Their courage and their faithfulness is an image that will long remain in the minds of those who view their sacrifice.

Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, THOUGHT-PROVOKING.