Mike Kueber's Blog

October 12, 2012

The Battle of Ia Drang

Filed under: Military,Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:45 am
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The Battle of Ia Drang in 1965 was America’s first large-unit battle in Vietnam.  It was memorialized in a 1992 book titled We Were Soldiers Once…. and Young by the battle’s commanding officer Hal Moore and a war reporter Joe Galloway, and then the book was made into a 2002 movie called We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson.

Earlier today, I had a couple of unfilled hours before the vice-presidential debate, so I decided to watch the movie.  As a huge fan of Gibson in The Patriot and Braveheart, I consider him to be the closest thing to John Wayne’s all-American patriotism.  The movie co-stars Sam Elliott, who is the next closest thing to John Wayne, as Gibson’s Sergeant-Major Basil Plumley.

As I was about halfway through the movie, I decided to watch the evening news, a habit that I just started a few weeks ago on the recommendation of Kent Cochran, who suggested that the mainstream media may not be credible, but it is worth knowing what many millions of Americans are being told every night.  Usually, I watch either Brian Williams or Scott Pelley.  Tonight, I watched Williams, and 15 minutes into the show he reported on the death of war hero Basil Plumley.  What a coincidence!  Biggest surprise – this ultimate patriot was not a Texan.  He was born and bred in West Virginia before spending 32 years in military service and then 15 more in civil service at Fort Benning, where he died of cancer at the age of 82.  Plumley’s boss, Hal Moore, was a colonel at the time of Ia Drang, and eventually became a three-star general.  He is still living 

Gibson starred in and directed Braveheart in 1995.  Aside from Gibson’s inspiration fight for freedom, my most searing memory about the movie is its graphic fighting scenes.  It surprises me that the graphic fighting scenes seven years later in We Were Soldiers do not seem as realistic or shocking.  Perhaps I have become jaded over the years.  But I have not become jaded to Gibson’s inspirational acting.  Like no other, he is able to be both sensitive and hard. 

For example, early in the film he is asked by one of his most promising officers how he reconciles being a soldier and a father, to which Gibson responds that he thinks each helps him be better at the other.  Then late in the movie, when his troops are about to be massacred, he makes some comment to his Sergeant-Major about coming to a George Custer ending, to which Sam Elliott says, as only he can, George Custer was a pussy and you ain’t.

Custer is referred to earlier in the movie because Moore’s battalion was part of the 7th Cavalry, which was Custer’s unit, and military units like to build on tradition.  And, although Moore was able to avoid a massacre, his battalion of 395 men suffered 72 fatalities.  The North Vietnamese were not so fortunate – they suffered 1,800 fatalities out of 4,000 soldier.  Sounds like the Alamo, with Moore securing a better outcome than did Travis, Crockett, Bowie et al. 

The major theme throughout the movie relates to a speech Moore gave to his men early in the movie, kind of like Patton in his movie.  Moore promises to his men at a graduation ceremony that he will be the first one on the ground with them and he will be the last one to leave.  And although he won’t promise to keep them all alive, he does promise to bring them all home, dead or alive.  I can’t count the number of people who were killed in the movie because they slowed to retrieve a fallen comrade. 

I will never leave a fallen comrade” is a part of the U.S. soldier creed.  As a lawyer, I wonder how the military feels about the concept today.  Surely, the statement is not as simple as it appears.  I will ask my soldier-son to elaborate.



  1. […] Were Soldiers. Because I remembered enjoying the movie a couple of years ago when I saw it for the first time, I gave it another viewing.  This time I enjoyed it so much that I recommended it to several […]

    Pingback by Saturday Night at the Movies #128 – Platoon | Mike Kueber's Blog — October 6, 2014 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  2. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    Comment by Gerald — March 8, 2015 @ 9:51 pm | Reply

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