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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Books into Movies: We Were Soldiers

Yesterday I shared my thoughts on the book WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE ... AND YOUNG, by Col. Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway.  Prior to listening to the audiobook I had re-watched the movie.  Here's the official trailer, in case you haven't seen it before - though it is worth watching even if you've seen the movie.  (You may have to click through to my blog to see it if you're reading this via subscription service.)

Below are my random thoughts on the movie and how it compares to the book.
    We Were Soldiers (Widescreen Edition)
  • The movie only deals with the events at Landing Zone (LZ) XRay; the book follows this with the action at LZ Albany that occurred a few days later.
  • The movie does a wonderful job showing the juxtaposition of military order and battle deaths versus family life and children back home.
  • The movie did an excellent job portraying the experiences of Joe Galloway, the only reporter on the ground during the battle at LZ XRay.  His confusion during the early part of the battle, his interaction with the troops, his decision to keep photographing what he saw, and his emotions after the battle ended matched the way his experiences were described in the book.
  • One of the scenes in the movie that had an enormous emotional impact for me was the image of Col. Moore's boots leaving the ground as he climbed on to a helicopter after the battle ended.  This happens only after he is certain that all his men - living and dead - are off the field; he wanted to be sure not to leave a single one behind.
  • The movie presents Moore as a man of faith and shows him praying with and for his men.  The book doesn't show this side of him. 
  • I don't want to give too much away here so I'll be a bit vague.  The scenes in the movie where Moore's wife helps deliver death notice telegrams have always been some of the hardest to watch yet the most moving at the same time.  After listening to the book it is apparent that the movie combined some things and simplified others to give this section more emotional impact.  However this is one of those situations where the "truth" of the story was conveyed successfully by the movie despite not sticking exactly to the "facts."
  • There is a scene near the end of the movie depicting American troops charging up a hill and the dramatic appearance of a helicopter at just the right moment providing air support and literally mowing down the Vietnamese troops.  It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming to watch, the horror of bloody death in battle mixed with the knowledge that many of the Americans survive due to the helicopter's efforts.  Not understanding military terms (as I explained in my review yesterday) I'm not sure from the book if this ever happened or if it was simply added to the movie for effect.  I'd like to know either way, although it doesn't really matter because the story contains enough of the "truth" of the book regardless.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested in the Vietnam War, or anyone who simply enjoys war films.  There is a lot of action but there is also a lot of heart, both in the movie and in the book.


Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This was a really well done movie -- I went through this phase as a kid around 13 where all I read for a year were Vietnam biographies, stories, etc. I haven't read a book set in this time for quite a while -- thanks for reminding me on a good film, too!

Anonymous said...

FYI, the last scene in the movie was total fiction-Hollywood has to go out with a bang.

There are many documentaries made about this battle-the history channel does a very good job. Also, Day One with Forest Sawyer years ago actually went back to Vietnam to the battlefield with the General and Joe Galloway. Great show.

Bybee said...

I caught this movie on TV quite by accident a few months ago and was pleasantly surprised at how good it is.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the film too. If I remember correctly it begins with an ill-fated French patrol in Indo-Chine. I found that an encouraging sign as to the quality of the rest of the film.
If you're looking for other books on Vietnam - and there are so many - I found A Bright Shining Lie very insightful on many levels. It's the story of John Paul Vann - a US special military adviser. Heroic in some ways, and in other ways, decidedly not. It's a fascinating biography and overview of the conflict.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Coffee and a Book Chick - This isn't a time period I usually read myself, but I'm really trying to focus on it for a reading challenge this year.

Anonymous - Thanks for clarifying! I thought that was the case but I wasn't sure. And I'll definitely look into the other shows you mentioned.

Bybee - Glad to see you agree! :)

blackwatertown - Yes, that is the first scene of the movie - it made quite an impact on me as well, starting where it did. Thanks for the other book suggestion - I'm always looking for well-written, informative books.

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