Where Does It Begin?
Joe Galloway’s voice (Vietnam reporter and author of book on which the film is based) narrates tale of French battle with Vietcong eleven years earlier.The bloody four-minute scene ends in a total massacre of the French army.
The New “Air Cavalry”
Head generals walk down the halls of a war planning office in Ft. Benning, GA, discussing the introduction of the new “Air Cavalry” branch to be headed by LTC Hal Moore, who formerly tested experimental parachutes for the infantry. This new branch will use helicopters as their "chariots" and drop right into the heart of the battle.
Meet the Moore Family
LTC Moore (Mel Gibson), his wife Julia (Madeline Stowe), and their five children sing together in the car as they approach their new home, Ft. Benning, Georgia. When they reach their new house, LTC Moore’s youngest daughter, Cecille, hangs her dad’s name and rank on the front door. Two male neighbors, his soon-to-be-fellow officers, discuss Moore’s arrival, and from this discussion we discover Moore’s graduate-level education in International Affairs from Harvard and undergraduate education from West Point.
Moore Reflects on French Massacre
Moore sits at the kitchen table and takes notes on history books, military manuals, and flight manuals for further understanding of the enemy he will soon attempt to conquer. He wonders what techniques he will need to employ to beat the enemy to which the French lost so horrifically.
Meet the Pilots
Moore goes to meet the pilots who will fly his men into battle. He stumbles upon them playing a game of baseball at the airfield. We meet MAJ Crandall (Greg Kinnear), the head pilot. Moore pulls two beers out of his back pocket, hands one to Crandall, and cracks the other himself. Moore explains the concept of the “Air Cavalry” to Crandall, one of the best pilots in the Army.
Sergeant Major Plumley
We meet Sergeant Major Plumley (Moore’s right-hand man) and his unforgettable personality for the first time.
Moore introduces himself to all of his officers, the men who will soon lead the troops into Vietnam.
The Training Begins
We begin to see LTC Moore train the 400 men who will fight alongside him in the Ia Drang Valley. We see them simulating actions that will take place during the battles: helicopter jumps, landings, takeoffs, jungle fights, etc…
We see Moore praying with his five children. We learn that he is a devout Catholic as he and his youngest daughter kneel right next to each other, their size difference making for a remarkable picture.
Little Bit o’ Lovin’
Love scene with Moore and his wife – “When I pray I thank God for you.”
Plumley’s at It Again
Sergeant Major Plumley comes across Sergeant Savage talking about the weather again…has a few choice words to say.
New Platoon Leaders Arrive
Moore and Plumley walk down the street discussing how quickly the Army is moving in new platoon leaders for the upcoming battle. We see five or six Lieutenants and their families moving in.
During a break in training, LTC Moore tells his new platoon leaders the story of how Crazy Horse nursed from the breast of every woman in his tribe when he was born. He discusses how important it is for the soldiers to be like a family to each other and how truly important it is for a platoon leader to take care of every single one of his soldiers.
1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry is still training for the upcoming battle. This scene focuses on two platoon leaders, 2LT. Geoghegan (Chris Klein) and 1LT Hastings, as they train their troops. We see that Geoghegan is a very sensitive and intuitive leader, while Hastings is more aggressive.
Julia Moore holds a "coffee" at her house to bring together all of the officer’s wives from 1st Battalion. They talk about the best and worst things about Ft. Benning and give each other tips on grocery shopping, laundry, etc. We discover that there are still some race hostilities in the South when one wife discovers naively that "colored" laundry isn't allowed in the laundromat. Julia Moore is portrayed as a powerful and assertive leader in her own right. 2LT Jack Geoghegan’s wife’s (Keri Russell) water breaks while at the meeting.
Baby “Camille” is born to the Geoghegans. Moore and Geoghegan are shown in the hospital chapel praying together and talking about the role of a father and an officer. Moore explains that being good at one thing (father or officer) inherently makes you good at the other. Moore prays to God to "use him as an instrument of war to protect his men.”
“What is War, Daddy?”
Moore’s youngest daughter, Cecille, asks her dad what “war” is while he is reading her a bedtime story. He tells her that war is “something that shouldn’t happen -- when some people in another country or any country try to take the lives of other people, and then soldiers like your daddy have to, you know it's my job to go over there and stop them."
Moore cannot sleep and tosses and turns over the prospects of this upcoming battle. He goes to his living room to take more notes on tactics; he tells Julia he is so afraid for “his boys.”
Here We Go…
At another “coffee” we see the wives watching President Johnson’s television announcement of the 7th cavalry being called into battle…”Get out your best dresses, ladies, they are going to want to celebrate.”
The Farewell Party
Husbands and wives embrace, sing, dance…and say goodbye to each other. There is a side conversation taking place between LTC Moore and an unidentified General. Moore learns that the Army did not require reenlistments for that year. Therefore, 1/3 of Moore’s men, many of them his most experienced, are retiring right before they go into battle.
Moore signs his will upon his return from the farewell party. He continues to research his military history books, focusing especially on General Custer. He is apprehensive about the upcoming battle and does not want to lead his men into a massacre as Custer did.
The Big Speech
LTC Moore gives a formal farewell speech to all 400 men, their families, and many of the Army’s top Generals on a Ft. Benning parade field. He speaks of the importance of camaraderie and cohesion among the troops, how each of them, no matter what race, is an American. He also tells them that no matter what happens he will be the “first to set foot on the field, and last to step off.” And that "we will all come home together.”
We see flashes between the Moore family and the Geoghegan family. Moore tucks in his kids, lays with Julia while they stare into each other’s eyes silently, just holding hands. Jack and Barbara do the same, with the baby between them. We then flash to a series of husbands saying goodbye to their wives.
“I Love You”
Julia realizes that Moore has left after she fell asleep. She runs outside to find him, but he is already gone. She whispers, “I Love You.”
And They’re Off
All of the men arrive at the staging field and load busses in preparation for takeoff.
Central Highlands, South Vietnam
Overview of base camp in Vietnam, home of the 7th Camp, the “Garry Owen” Battalion.
Moore and Plumley walk into the headquarters tent in hopes of finding out detailed information about the enemy they are about to fight. Instead, they are given only “simple orders” by the generals. They are to find the enemy (number unknown) and destroy them.
“Smells Like an Ambush”
Moore and Plumley discuss battle strategies: “let’s do what we came here to do.”
November 14, 1965
As loud and powerful music plays in the background, the men of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry begin to board helicopters. Joe Galloway narrates in the background that this is the first day American and Vietcong soldiers had ever met in a major battle.
The helicopters fly over some of the most beautiful landscape in the world; soon it will all burn.
The first explosion occurs -- shows the Vietnamese soldiers in their bunker shouting the helicopter soldiers are here.
Landing Zone X-Ray
First round of troops from 1st Bat, 7th Cav land at LZ X-Ray. Moore’s feet are the first to hit the ground. Helicopters take off and fly back across the landscape to pick up the next round of troops. The ones on the ground take their positions and begin firing into the woods where the Vietcong allegedly are.
1LT Hastings spots a scout and shouts for his entire platoon to follow him into the woods to capture the scout. Moore and Plumley begin interrogating another scout who tells them that this mountain on which they have just landed is the base camp of an entire four-thousand person Vietcong Division who "want to kill Americans very badly.”
Lost Platoon Surrounded
The scout-chasing platoon soon comes into contact with hundreds of enemy soldiers. The commotion is so loud that they don’t hear Moore’s call over the radio to come back and regroup. Several American soldiers are killed.
Medics begin to take care of wounded soldiers.
Moore radios to helicopter pilots that they will be landing in a "hot" LZ. Troops take fire as soon as they step off helicopters.
We see two soldiers from the lost platoon dying. One utters, “I’m glad I could die for my country,” as his last dying words, while the other tells the medic to "tell my wife I love her.”
The Vietcong commander proclaims that they will attack the Americans at their weakest and calls to finish off that surrounded platoon. Hundreds of soldiers begin filing out of bunker, running down the mountain toward the lost platoon.
More Troops Land
Another round of 1st Battalion troops land. Moore updates them on the situation, tells them to reinforce the attacking platoons; the fighting continues.
The Men in Charge
Quick flashes between Vietcong commander and Moore. Both are informing their soldiers to use the terrain of the creekbed to their advantage in this battle. We see that these two leaders have very similar battle tactics.
Moore calls for air support, and we see planes and helicopters swoop over the mountain, dropping hundreds of rounds of ammunition and bombs.
MAJ Crandall tells Medevac pilots to follow his route into the hot LZ to pick up the critically injured soldiers. One chopper crashes. The fighting on the ground continues.
Will it Ever Stop?
A flash to hundreds of more Vietcong soldiers running down the mountain; it seems as if they have an endless supply of men.
Ten generals stand around a large table at the headquarters in Saigon contemplating the outcome of this battle. One thinks this will turn into a bloody American massacre. The other thinks the Americans will soon be able to overrun this heavily populated enemy.
Moore realizes that Landing Zone X-Ray is becoming increasingly dangerous for landing and evacuating troops. He decides to make a new one by blowing up a hundred-yard radius of trees for choppers to land in. This new LZ serves as a better camouflaged option than the old.
“We Needa Briefing”
Saigon headquarters calls Moore over the radio asking him to fly to Saigon to update the strategists at the headquarters. He replies with a blunt, “Hell no, I am staying with my men.”
Choppers fly in more ammo and attempt to evacuate more casualties. One soldier is running the body of his buddy to the chopper for evacuation and is shot while saying a quick goodbye. His body dangles half out of the chopper as it quickly flies out of the chaos.
American soldiers begin consolidating equipment of dead soldiers. It starts to become apparent the number of men who have already died.
Lost Platoon in More Trouble
The lost platoon now has almost no ammunition left and no water. One American gets hit full force with a grenade, and we see his body go up in flames. His buddy tries to cut the fire off of his face to stop the pain. The Vietcong begins to run over this platoon.
Last Round of Men
The choppers bring in the last round of men from 1st Bat. With them is 2LT. Geoghegan’s platoon. Moore tells them to occupy the ridge.
Break on Through
Moore commands the platoon currently occupying the knoll with him to go to find the lost platoon and bring them back to safety.
As night falls MAJ Crandall is making one of his last runs from the base camp into the battle. An adventurous reporter asks if he has room for one more. Crandall lets him on, and Galloway rides into battle only to be utterly surprised when wounded bodies start being loaded onto the chopper as he is getting off.
Galloway and Moore
Joe Galloway introduces himself to LTC Moore who informs him that he may stay with 1st Bat. But he can’t guarantee him his safety. Galloway decides to stay anyway.
The field hospital is dark and full of many screaming, wounded men. The doctors scramble to take care of all the patients. Crandall gets into a heated argument with the head Medevac pilot, who yells at him for flying his men into hostile territory. Crandall becomes extremely upset and threatens to kill him if he ever says anything like that again.
It is now completely dark in the woods. The survivors from the lost platoon are hidden in the brush waiting for enemy soldiers. They can’t see them but can smell them and call into Air Support for illumination. As the night sky lights up, they see hundreds of enemy directly in front of them. A battle ensues. The platoon that was sent out to find the lost platoon realizes they will not be able to make it to them until morning.
The Ridge, 2:23AM
Flashes of men staring down the aiming holes of their gun barrels, awaiting the next enemy fire. Moore walks around patting soldiers on the back, telling them they are doing a “hell of a job.”
The film now takes us back to Ft. Benning where Moore’s wife, Julie, watches a Yellow Cab taxi deliver something to a wife next door. She then goes over to find out what the commotion is all about and hears the wife sobbing. The taxi had delivered a death notice from the Department of the Army.
The Telegrams Keep on Coming
Julie Moore goes back to her house and stares at a picture of Hal as she ponders the terrible news she just heard. As she looks out of her window, she sees another taxi pull up, only this time it is in front of her house. She falls to the ground, anticipating the news of her husband’s death. When she answers the door, the driver asks if she could help him locate a few addresses and that he was not, in fact, serving her with a telegram. She shouts at him, telling him how horrible he is for delivering these death notices. He reminds her that this is just "his job" and that he, in fact, hates it. She asks him to deliver all of the telegrams to her from now on, and she will personally deliver them to all of the wives.
The Wives Deliver
Mrs. Geoghegan comes over and walks with Mrs. Moore to deliver the telegram to another stunned wife. When they arrive back to the Moore house, they see a huge stack of telegrams sitting on the doorstep. They decide not to look through the stack but to go through them one by one.
The film flashes to each wife and her individual reaction to the telegram. We see wives and children sobbing, hugging, sobbing, hugging…
Back at the Ridge
Moore walks around, praying next to each of his soldier’s dead bodies. Galloway follows him, taking pictures along the way.
Moore begins asking Galloway why he is there: “Do you have a death wish, Son?” Galloway tells Moore a touching story that explains that his relatives have served in every major war in which our country has been involved. He then tells Moore, “I didn't think I could stop the war, I just thought maybe I might try n' understand one, maybe help the folks back home understand. I just figured I could do that better shootin' a camera than I could shootin' a rifle."
We see the Vietcong commanders discussing strategies for the next battle. “We will beat them” flashes in subtitles across the bottom of the screen.
Back to the Lost Platoon
It is now apparent that the lost platoon has lost the majority of their men. They are fighting with bayonets and knives now. They have run out of ammunition.
Vietcong Commander Prays While the Sun Comes Up
”For the courage of those who have died, for those who are about to die, I am grateful.”
Creek Bed, 9:08AM
The American soldiers begin to prepare for the enemy’s arrival. The battle quickly resumes. Galloway continues to take pictures.
Geoghegan’s Platoon at the Ridge
The battle continues to rage at the Ridge also. 2LT Jack Geoghegan’s platoon violently fights with the enemy. One of his men goes down. As Geoghegan scoops him off to rush him to the Medevac helicopter, he is shot. A lot of other men continue to be killed.
Escapes Death Once Again
The Vietcong soldier who was shown earlier writing in his diary begins charging towards Moore with his bayonet fixed. The film is now in slow motion as we see Moore narrowly escape his death as the soldier gets shot, seconds before bayoneting Moore through the heart. Galloway is taking pictures this entire time. He is focused on one man, Jimmy Yakiama, who tells Moore that his baby is due that day. Galloway almost gets shot. Sergeant Major Plumley gives Galloway a M-16, telling him, ‘there ain’t no such thing [as a non-combatant] today, sonny.”
The cannons are too hot to fire. Moore suggests that all of the men begin peeing on them to cool them off since they are out of water. It works.
More and more Vietcong emerge from the bunkers. Galloway beings to fight.
Vietcong Surround 1st Battalion
The Vietcong Commander gets a radio message: “We are through their lines on all sides.”
Moore Realizes They Are Surrounded
Moore surveys the state of his men and takes a long look around at his surroundings. He realizes they have no lines to hold.
This means they are surrounded and have no way out.
We see the reactions of the planners and strategists as Moore’s Broken Arrow message comes over the radio’s loudspeakers. One strategist proclaims, “America’s been overrun . . . there is no hiding it now."
The Battle Rages
Moore calls in for all of the air support he can possibly have to make one final blast at the enemy. The mountain begins to burn. Soldiers run around being burned alive by the blasts from the air.
Maj. Crandall Can’t Believe It
Maj Crandall cannot believe the destruction that has taken place and is utterly surprised by how many Americans have died.
Artillery Gets Too Close
The artillery is being called in too close to the Americans: some begin to get burned by the friendly fire. Galloway can’t believe his eyes.
Jimmy Yakiama Burns
Galloway finds Jimmy Yakiama burning from the artillery. His entire body is on fire. Galloway goes to pick him up to carry him to the chopper, and all of the skin from his leg comes off. Galloway carries him to the chopper. Yakiama screams in utter pain. The music begins to play, and the sounds of the battle disappear. Yakiama screams to Galloway to tell his wife that he loves her and his little baby too. MAJ Crandall airlifts him out.
No More M-16
Galloway picks up his camera from the tree he left it hanging from. He sets the M-16 down.
Real Life Pictures
Photographs of the actual 1st Battalion being to flash across the screen as music plays in the background.
Lost Platoon Is Finally Found
Geoghegan’s platoon finally finds the lost platoon. Only three of them are found alive.
Many bodies are being airlifted. Reinforcements are flown in.
Commanders Think Alike
Moore and the Vietcong commander are seen contemplating the future of their men while staring at the full moon above.
I Will Stay With My Men
General Westmoreland radios in for Moore to report to Saigon to brief him on the status of his men. Moore tells him that he will absolutely not leave his men. Plumley and Moore walk around searching for the bodies of their own men, scattered among the enemies. The illumination from the night’s bombings light up the night sky. Moore stumbles upon a tarp with an arm sticking out from under it. He crouches down and realizes that it is the body of Jack Geoghegan, and his arm has a pink bracelet with his daughter’s name inscripted on it. He shakes his head in disbelief and begins to tear up.
Telegram to Mrs. Geoghegan
Julie Moore delivers the telegram to Diane. Diane can’t believe it is actually hers.
“He died keeping my promise.”
Moore takes the bracelet from Jack’s hand. He prays next to him and begins to cry: “He died keeping my promise.”
A Brave Soul Reemerges
The platoon leader who commanded the lost platoon asks Moore if he can return to the battle.
Moore asks Plumley, “I wonder what was going through Custer’s mind when he realized he led his men into a slaughter.” Plumley replies, “Sir, Custer was a pussy, you ain’t.”
Darkness for the Enemy
The Vietcong decide to advance the rest of their men to the American territory during the night so that in the morning they can kill the rest of the Americans.
Day Break, Third Day
Both the enemy and the Americans lay in the grass awaiting the arrival of each other. The Americans attach their bayonets. The fighting erupts, this time more gruesome than ever before. The music begins to play again. MAJ Crandall and “Too Tall” begin flying over, shooting helicopter rounds. It looks as if the end of the battle is in sight.
Battle Draws to a Close
The Americans walk around surveying the damage and carnage that has been done over the past three days.
The Battle Did Turn Around
The Vietcong realize that the Americans did, in fact, win the battle, after that last rush of ferocity.
An American soldier finds the diary of the Vietcong soldier who tried to bayonet Moore. Galloway continues to take pictures. The Americans pile up the bodies of the Vietcong dead.
We Are Going Back to Base Camp
The choppers come in and begin to fly out the survivors as well as the dead bodies. MAJ Crandall salutes Moore.
A Chinook (large helicopter) arrives, and thirty reporters emerge. They are scared to death as they hear the sounds of battle and look at the sight around them. They begin bombarding Moore and Galloway with questions. Neither of them can say a word.
Moore and Galloway Conversation
Moore:“Glad you made it, son.” Galloway:“Thank you, sir, you too.” Moore:“I’ll never forgive myself.” Galloway: “For what, sir?” Moore:“That my men, that my men died, and I didn’t.” Galloway and Moore both begin to cry. Galloway: “Sir, I don’t know how to tell this story.”Moore: “Well, you’ve got to, Joe, you tell the American people what those men did here, you tell them how my troopers died.” Galloway: “Yes Sir.”
The last men are air lifted off of the battlefield. As promised, Moore is the last one off.
The Vietcong commander finds an American flag sticking out of a tree stump. He takes it out, glances over it, and then puts it back.
There Were More Battles
Galloway narrates and tells us that LTC Hal Moore led the 7th Calvary for 235 more days in even more gruesome battles and fought beside them the entire time.
Home Sweet Home
The doorbell rings at the Moore household. Julie assumes it is another telegram and screams for the children to go up to bed. Instead, Moore is standing there. He and Julie embrace and cry, embrace and cry. The kids run downstairs and are reunited with their dad.
As Galloway narrates, we see Mrs. Geoghegan receive the bracelet and a letter in an envelope from LTC Moore. We also see that Moore sent the diary to the wife of the Vietcong soldier that attempted to kill him.
Moore walks along the Vietnam Memorial as Galloway narrates through stifled cries in the background. He stares at the names of the men who died at LZ X-Ray.
"These are the names of those who died at L-Z X-Ray."
Copyright (c) 2003 by Catherine Elizabeth Breckenridge, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.
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