Tomorrow, a new movie starring Mel Gibson will debut in theatres across the country. The name of the movie is We Were Soldiers, and I fully intend to go see it tomorrow evening. I am, however, a little nervous that it will be another case of Hollywood taking one of my favorite books and ruining it.
For those of you who do not know, the original novel is titled We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, written by General Harold G. Moore and his lifelong friend, reporter Joseph L. Galloway. The book was a gift to me from my mother in Christmas 1993, and it was and is the most disturbing description of battle in Vietnam that I have ever read. It made me physically disturbed and weak in the stomach, yet I could not put it down. Perhaps the most moving aspect of the novel was the prologue, which contained this paragraph:
We were the children of the 1950s and John F. Kennedy’s young stalwarts of the early 1960s. He told the world that Americans would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship” in the defense of freedom. We were the down payment on that costly contract, but the man who signed it was not there when we fulfilled his promise. John F. Kennedy waited for us on a hill in Arlington National Cemetary, and in time we came by the thousands to fill those slopes with our white marble markers and to ask on the murmur of the wind if that was truly the future he had envisioned for us.
Several paragraphs later, they write about the individual leaders who fought that war, the young Lieutenants whose horrible yet noble job it was to lead terrified young men into that hell:
The Class of 1965 came out of the old America, a nation that disappeared forever in the smoke that billowed off the jungle battlegrounds where we fought and bled. The country that sent us off to war was not there to welcome us home. It no longer existed. We answered the call of one President who was now dead; we followed the orders of another who would be hounded from office, and haunted, by the war he mismanaged so badly.
Many of our countrymen came to hate the war we fought. Those who hated it the most-the professionally sensitive-were not, in the end, sensitive enough to differentiate between the war and the soldiers who had been ordered to fight it. They hated us as well, and we went to ground in the cross fire, as we had learned in the jungle.
In times our battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and our suitability in polite American society were publicly questioned. Our young-old faces, chiseled and gaunt from the fever and the heat and the sleepless nights, now stare back at us, lost and damned strangers, frozen in yellowing snapshots packed away in cardboard boxes with our medals and our ribbons.
If you are going to see this movie, I would ask that you at first take a week and read this book. You will not be the same again, you will not view Vietnam Veterans the same way again, and you will finally understand why after the Liberation of Kuwait it made Gulf War veterans both proud and slightly embarassed to march side by side in parades with Vietnam Veterans. We were proud because we were able, with our antiseptic little war that the public favored, to finally bring some measure of respect to those who sacrificed so much in Vietnam. Embarassed because of the sheer enormity in the disparity of our sacrifices as compared to those who fought in that jungle hell and were spit on upon their return.