Wednesday, February 24, 2016

We Were Soldiers




The Mel Gibson movie, We Were Soldiers, is one of my favourite movies of all-time, with strong themes of leadership and courage. An example is Colonel Hal Moore’s stunning speech just before the young soldiers ship out under his command?
I can't promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God, that when we go into battle, I will be the first 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.[1]

Then there is his prayer with a soldier who is a new dad and is questioning how he can be a soldier and a father at the same time.
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: Our Father in Heaven, before we go into battle, every soldier among us will approach you each in his own way. Our enemies too, according to their own understanding, will ask for protection and for victory. And so, we bow before your infinite wisdom. We offer our prayers as best we can. I pray you watch over the young men, like Jack Geoghegan, that I lead into battle. You use me as your instrument in this awful hell of war to watch over them. Especially if they're men like this one beside me, deserving of a future in your blessing and goodwill. Amen.
2nd Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan: Amen.
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: Oh, yes, and one more thing, dear Lord, about our enemies, ignore their heathen prayers and help us blow those little bastards straight to Hell. Amen.[2]

Yet, some of the most touching scenes, that continue to bring tears to my eyes, are delivered by Madeline Stowe who plays Hal Moore’s wife, Julie. The scenes give insight into the method of delivery of news of the deaths of soldiers and the impact on the wives who live on the army base. Mrs. Moore is both critical of how the army communicates the news and sympathetic to those who must do this task. Regarding the preparation of the bureaucrats, for the sheer volume of death telegrams that had to be delivered, she says, “Nobody expected this. The Army was as stunned as everybody.”

In one of the scenes we see Moore’s wife at the Fort Benning base watching a Yellow Taxi arrive at the home of her neighbour. She finds the new widow sobbing and angry that the news had been delivered by taxi – no chaplain, no officer - just a cab driver who didn’t want to be there, but had to do his job.[3] Next, Julie Moore sees a taxi arrive at her own door, and fears that it is news of her own husband’s death, only to learn that the driver is lost and needs an address. The following dialogue recounts the emotion of the moment.

Driver[removes his hat] Mrs. Moore? Colonel Moore's wife?
Julie Moore: Yes.
Driver: I need help finding an address. I'm looking for —
Julie: You JACKASS! Do you know what this is?! Do you know what you just did to me?!
[The driver sheepishly walks toward his cab, but stops at the curb.]
Driver: I-I don't like this job, Ma'am. I'm just trying to do it. [continues toward cab]
Julie: Wait. Wait! [runs to the cab] I'll take it to her. [she takes the telegram] And tell the cab company if there are any others, just bring them to me.[4]

Following this, many more telegrams arrive and Moore and another soldier’s wife walk each one to the designated wife. With tears in their eyes and arms that shakily reach out to console, the two do the best they can to remain strong and help the women understand their losses.

The movie pulls no punches as it shows the horror of the battle that occurred at Ia Drang, Central Highlands, Vietnam on November 14 and 18, 1965. For several terrifying hours the U.S. Helicopter Cavalry was seriously outgunned and over-run by the enemy. At least 559 Americans were killed and more than 1000 Vietnamese soldiers died. The movie tells the story in a way that is gripping and at points humorous.

There is a touching and comedic scene in which Colonel Hal Moore is encouraging his children to say a liturgical, Catholic prayer while one of his little charges resists the familiar prayer in preference for “praying whatever she wants to pray.” She tells her father, "I don’t wanna be Catholic. I wanna be nefodist (Methodist) like Mommy so I can pray whatever I want." Moore responds by telling her “that’s alright, that just means that God made you hard-headed.”

If anyone is “hard-headed” it is certainly Colonel Moore. He is true to his word and, as he promised, he is the “first to set foot on the field, and . . . the last to step off.” May God grant us real leaders who live up to this larger than life soldier and commander.



[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0277434/quotes
[2] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0277434/quotes?item=qt0408924
[3] http://www.lehigh.edu/~ineng/ceb3/ceb3-scenelog.htm
[4] https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/We_Were_Soldiers

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