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Story Notes for We Were Soldiers

Monday through Thursday, at 8PM | 7C, AMC presents Story Notes — real-time on-air trivia about your favorite movies. Tonight’s movie was We Were Soldiers.

Biography Notes
Director Randall Wallace worked with Mel Gibson before, on another movie about men at war. He wrote the Oscar-nominated script for 1995’s Braveheart, which starred and was directed by Gibson.

Many of the women are soldiers’ wives in real life too.

In real life, both Gibson and Wallace are known for their Christian faith.

Ryan Hurst has played soldiers before, in Saving Private Ryan and Rules of Engagement.

Soldiers cinematographer Dean Semler has been called the “Michelangelo of cinematographers.” He won an Oscar for 1990’s Dances With Wolves.

Casting Notes
In 2002, Gibson was one of the top five most bankable stars in the world.

Greg Kinnear was nominated for an Oscar in 1998, for his role in As Good As It Gets. But he first made his name hosting TV shows Talk Soup and Later, in the early nineties.

Sam Elliott’s best known for his tough characters in Road House and Tombstone.

Actress Madeleine Stowe’s breakout role was Cora in The Last of the Mohicans.

Keri Russell won a Golden Globe in 1999, for her title role on the WB’s Felicity.

Simbi Khali played Nina Campbell on 3rd Rock From the Sun.

Actor Chris Klein is best known for his role in the American Pie movies. Wallace wanted to cast him because of his warmth and authenticity.

Actor Barry Pepper (The Green Mile, 61*) is reporter Joe Galloway.

Actor Jon Hamm is from AMC’s Mad Men.

History Notes
The Vietminh fought a guerrilla war against the French from 1945 to 1954. In 1954, they claimed victory, and the French left the region.

Hal Moore is considered a true scholar of the battlefield. In addition to leading thousands of men, he also taught at West Point.

The U.S. cavalry rode mounted horses until 1942. Vietnam was the first time they used helicopters as their new “horses.”

The real Jack Geoghegan had his platoon help build a hospital in Vietnam as soon as he arrived.

Moore could take only two-thirds of his men with him because Vietnam wasn’t an official “war.”

Custer is most famous for leading a disastrous military defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

This isn’t official Army policy, but it was the real Moore’s personal doctrine. In two wars, he did indeed bring all his men home.

The real Moore flew over the battlefield to scout it the day before they were dropped off.

The bullets were the first shots fired in the Battle of la Drang. The area was eventually nicknamed the Valley of Death.

Vietnamese tunnels contained supplies, hospitals, command posts, and even a small movie theater.

The North Vietnamese Army regulars were the most experienced and hardened Vietnamese soldiers.

Some of the medevac choppers refused to go into the battle because it was so dangerous.

Captain Tom Metsker really did die giving up his seat to a soldier who was more wounded.

Over 55,000 American soldiers died in the Vietnam War as well as 70 journalists. Gathland State Park, in Maryland, has one of the only monuments for fallen war correspondents.

The military wasn’t prepared to inform families that their husbands and fathers had died.

Julie Moore really did deliver the yellow envelopes to the other soldiers’ wives.

Galloway has covered many wars and conflicts, from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf.

Staff Sergeant Charles V. McManus saved several other lives by jumping on the grenade.

The whole battlefield was only about the size of a football field. Vietnam is only about the size of Texas.

Of the 29 men cut off in Charlie Company, 9 were killed and 13 wounded.

In real life, Moore was asked to leave his troops three times. He refused three times.

Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu An had experience fighting the French, Americans, Chinese, and Japanese. Moore says he “fought wars all of his life.”

Vietnam was the first televised war. Americans watched footage in their living rooms back home.

The real Moore was known to weep over the loss of his soldiers.

The Army awarded Galloway a belated Bronze Star in 1998, for his actions in La Drang. It was the only medal of valor awarded to a civilian for the Vietnam War.

The real Moore says he admired and respected the Vietnamese army, especially their leader. Years later, the two would meet face-to-face as peers and discuss the battle.

The La Drang campaign lasted for 300 more days than the 3 shown in the movie. It was the bloodiest U.S. battle in Vietnam and symbolized the war as a whole.

Location Note
The party was filmed at the actual general’s mansion in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Music Notes
“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” originally by Karen Chandler, 1952. Mel Carter and Gloria Estefan also recorded popular versions.

“Sgt. MacKenzie,” by Joseph Kilna MacKenzie, 2001. The Scottish MacKenzie wrote this song about his grandfather’s death in World War I.

The composer says the score represents the heart of the American and Vietnamese soldiers.

Plot Notes
By studying history, Moore hopes he can avoid repeating it.

Remember that phrase: “Garry Owen.”

Remember: Moore has only 395 men with him. Exactly.

Moore has sworn to “leave no man behind.” The “two unaccounted for” must be found.

Don’t forget that the Army used cabs to deliver news of soldiers’ deaths.

Pop-Culture Note
Entertainment Weekly says the “unflinching violence” owes a debt to Saving Private Ryan. Both the production designer and art director on Soldiers worked on Saving Private Ryan too.

Prop Notes
That’s the UH-1 series Huey helicopter — one of the most rugged choppers ever made. By the war’s end, there were over 5,000 Hueys operating in Southeast Asia.

Mortars fire at low velocities, short ranges, and high trajectories.

Quotation Notes
Moore says We Were Soldiers captures the “love of the American soldiers for each other.” It’s no coincidence that Wallace says he’s making love stories, not war stories.

Gibson calls his character’s relationship with Basil Plumley “good cop, bad cop.”

Wallace: “Soldiers are human beings. They have families.”

Editor William Hoy says the “emotional scenes are what make the action work.”

Wallace: “We didn’t use wind machines to fake helicopters landing; we used helicopters.”

Moore says the American soldier is the “best fighting man” he’s ever seen.

The real Bruce “Snake” Crandall is “larger-than-life,” says Kinnear. “But he told me he was petrified.”

The cinematographer says cuing the lighting was “like conducting a little orchestra.”

Gibson says he’s never seen a war movie that shows the “war back home: the hell of being the wives and families of these guys.”

The real Julie Moore: “Nobody expected this. The Army was as stunned as everybody.”

General Norman Schwarzkopf calls Galloway the “finest combat correspondent of our generation.”

The real Galloway: “Going into battle was my job. At the time, I thought I was immortal.”

Pepper says that “no one in the film dies gratuitously.” What’s onscreen is what happened.

Galloway says he stepped out of the movie theater during a scene. “That was my nightmare for 36 years. I don’t want to see it again.”

Wallace: “Jack Geoghegan could have been president of the United States.” Geoghegan’s death affected Moore so much that he personally carried his body off the battlefield.

Gibson calls the real Moore an “old knight in shining armor.”

The MPAA chief says, “Young people ought to see [war films], and parents ought to take them.”

The editor says the “challenge was to do honor to the men who actually fought this battle.”

Wallace says boots are the “footwear where you killed or you died.”

Moore: “American soldiers don’t fight for what some president says on TV. They don’t fight for Mom, apple pie, or the American flag. They fight for one another.”

Random Note
Wallace wanted the transition to Vietnam to be jarring.

Script Notes
There are members of the French Foreign Legion, an elite unit in the French army.

Both Wallace and the real Moore wanted the movie to focus on family as well as war.

The voice-over is Galloway. He’s the co-author of the book this movie is based on.

Wallace: “There are no villains in the picture. War is the villain.”

Wallace: “Silent exchanges here are better than any words I could have written.”

Wallace’s goal was to show the courage of those who fought, not the politics.

Set Notes
The first day of filming, Wallace says, the excitement was “tangible.”

Gibson has a big family, so he was completely comfortable around all the kids.

Hurst improvised the trip. Wallace calls him a “star in the making.”

Most movies don’t film in chronological order, but Soldiers was filmed “in sequence.” When the soldiers leave for battle so do the actors.

Before filming, the actors went to a two-week boot camp. Gibson said it was the “celebrity-wimp version” but he “thought it was hard anyway.”

The movie’s six Huey helicopters were rented from private donors, not the military.

Some Vietnamese actors in the movie had actually been in the North Vietnamese Army.

Stowe spent time with the real Julie Moore to learn “what it was to be a service wife.”

Sound designer Lon Bender says the movie has around 10,000 gunshots.

Makeup artists made the soldiers look dirty by covering their faces in clay and wiping it off.

When visiting the set, Galloway says he couldn’t even shake the hand of the actor playing Jimmy Nakayama.

The photos are production stills from the movie. The real Galloway says he wishes they’d used his actual photos from the battle.

Symbolism Notes
A fallen trumpet is a symbol of defeat throughout the film.

Notice Moore’s boots. Once shiny, they’re beaten and worn.

Technology Notes
Some of the helicopters were added to the screen digitally in editing.

They’re supposed to be napalm, but the explosions were actually made with vaporized gas. Napalm is gasoline that’s been thickened into a sticky jelly.

The bright flashes are from a burning powder called lycopodium, not an electrical light source.

The production tried to make most of the effects “practical.” That means the explosions were real, not computer generated.

Those are computer-generated planes and napalm cylinders.

Trivia Notes
We Were Soldiers came out in 2002, less than one year after 9/11. It aimed to portray Vietnam veterans heroically, like The Greatest Generation.

A “hot LZ” means that the landing zone is under fire.

During the battle, Moore is faced with two difficult tasks: hold onto the clearing so that the Hueys can come and go with supplies and men. And carry the fight as far into the jungle as possible to control the edges of the clearing.

In addition to the water problem, temperatures were climbing up to 100 degrees during the fight.

Those are Vietcong soldiers in the black, not the regular soldiers they’ve been fighting. The Vietcong was a South Vietnamese political group that fought the U.S. with guerrilla tactics.

“Garryowen” is an old Irish quickstep adopted by the 7th Cavalry in Custer’s day.

One review describes Elliott’s Plumley as a man “who eats bullets for breakfast.”

War movies almost never get an NC-17 rating because their violence is considered “instructive.”

Actor Duong Don was branded a “national traitor” in Vietnam for appearing in Soldiers. The movie was banned in Vietnam but became widely available on bootleg DVDs.

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