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Film / The Siege of Firebase Gloria

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The Siege of Firebase Gloria is a 1989 film starring R. Lee Ermey and Wings Hauser about US Marines and Soldiers trying to hold a tiny, insignificant outpost in South Vietnam against a massed assault by the Viet Cong during the 1968 Tet Offensive.


This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: This definitely isn't the first time R. Lee Ermey was a foul-mouthed Large Ham Sergeant berating his men during The Vietnam War.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted. Jones survives unscathed while Shortwave is one of the last to be killed.
  • Blood Knight:
    1SGT Jones: You're fuckin' crazy, you know that? You're really diggin' this shit! Man, what were you back home, a rapist?
    CPL DiNardo: Nah, I was just another dumbass like you.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor Private Murphy is horribly affected by what the VC left of the friendly village. He toughens up afterwards, almost too much, but is clearly not all there. He dies wistfully repeating his girlfriend's name.
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  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Warrant Officer "Bugs" Moran generally doesn't give a shit about the Army's rules, but he's an exceptional Huey driver who is utterly fearless when he knows somebody is counting on him.
  • Casual Danger Dialog: Upon landing for the first time, Moran cheerfully asks Hafner, "Can I take your order?" Hafner obliges him with a list of ammo, medical supplies, a replacement radio, and air support. Moran chuckles "Got it. You want fries with that?" Hafner gets in on it by telling him to shave, because he looks like a goddamn hippie.
    • Which becomes a Brick Joke when Moran comes back with the whole list, then hands Hafner a razor. Hafner is puzzled for a second, then seems to think "Dammit, you got me!"
  • The Cavalry: The firebase receives help from, fittingly enough, members of the First Cavalry Division—specifically the Air Cav—as the battle rages.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Murphy hands his M16 assault rifle to the head nurse and tells her to use it in case the VC attack the aid station. She uses it on a squad of VC slaughtering both wounded and nurses inside the aid station towards the end.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Basic cable reruns have to heavily edit the dialog.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: DiNardo tortures a wounded VC prisoner to death. He succeeds in getting the intel he needs, though.
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    • The American POW rescued from a cave early on, wearing the dog tags of the men from his massacred patrol, is so traumatized that he can’t remember who he is.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: When Hafner's Marines arrive at Gloria, they discover that the Army lieutenant in charge of the titular firebase spends his days in his hootch, stripped naked, surrounded by porn magazines, and getting high as a kite. According to one Soldier, "He's probably jacked off three times already today."
  • Death from Above: The Army's Air Cavalry, whose Hueys are credited by Hafner as "the only thing keeping us alive."
Wingman: I got some rockets left.
WO Moran: We don’t get paid to bring 'em home. Leave me some widows behind!
  • Death of a Child: DiNardo's young son died under unspecified circumstances some time before his tour began. His grief has left him borderline suicidal, and quickly grows attached to the boy found in An Lap village.
  • Decapitation Presentation: VC infiltrators behead the HMG crew on the third night, leaving their heads on spikes and taking the .50-cal. In an unusual variation, Hafner marches around showing the severed heads to the other Americans on the firebase as a reminder of the severity of the situation.
SGM Hafner: Anyone know who these belong to? This was Corporal Miller! He’s dead! Hell, the whole damn gun crew is dead! And to add insult to injury, Charlie took the fifty-fucking caliber machine gun with him! I don’t have any respect for Corporal Miller anymore, because he allowed his troops to relax! They let their guard down for five fucking minutes, and Charlie took advantage of it! LOOK AT 'EM, GODDAMNIT! Pay attention! Stay alert, stay alive, it’s as simple as that!
  • The Dog Bites Back: "The Ghost," a wounded and tortured US Soldier rescued from a VC hideout by the Marines, goes from whimpering and shell-shocked when he's found to fighting like a madman when the VC overrun the aid station. Using a knife, whatever rifles he can pick up, and his bare hands, he slaughters the VC in the aid station and pushes their assault back almost singlehandedly.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: DiNardo, Murphy, and Shortwave disguise themselves as Viet Cong, weapons, pajamas and all, and infiltrate their lines in order to perform sabotage.
  • Drugs Are Bad: If you’re manning a firebase surrounded on all sides by VC who want you dead, maybe getting stoned out of your skull all the time is not the smartest idea...
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: The Americans are horrified and disgusted at the brutality the Vietnamese communists inflict on their own people. Later, they make a point of executing every wounded Charlie they can find around Gloria's perimeter (except one poor bastard who gets to spend his final hours on the receiving end of DiNardo's full attention). The VC find this appalling. At the end, the Vietnamese toddler rescued by DiNardo is saved from the chaos by the same VC commander who ordered his village butchered in the first place, with the implication that he will try to see to it that the boy is well taken care of.
  • Heartbroken Badass: DiNardo's young son died some time prior to the events of the movie. He is not over it, and adopts a 1-year-old Vietnamese boy who's the sole survivor of a massacre by Charlie.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The VC's marksmanship generally sucks, with only a handful of exceptions (Truth in Television, by the way). After seeing some of his own men in action, Colonel Cao Van mutters, "Well, that was another perfect example of how to waste ammunition."
  • Impersonating an Officer: How does Warrant Officer Moran deal with a REMF lieutenant refusing to authorize his choppers to launch a relief mission to Gloria? By pulling a set of Captain's bars out of his pocket, pinning them on, and chewing the LT's ass. Given the reaction of the other Huey crews, it's definitely not the first time he's done this.
  • Infant Immortality: Tragically averted. Among the villagers executed en masse by the Viet Cong are dozens of children, whose corpses are discovered by the Marines at the start of the film. They were lined up and executed.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Hafner and his LRRP team are Marines, and are focused and well-disciplined. Firebase Gloria is an Army outpost in what has previously been a quiet area and, thanks to its idiot commander, most of the men manning it have become lazy drug-addicted slackers. Hafner and his Marines quickly realize that these guys will be wiped out if somebody doesn't do something about it.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: DiNardo may be a Blood Knight who is arguably just as horrible as the Viet Cong he's fighting, but he's proven right several times throughout the film, such as saying that the VC are using women as sappers (two wannabe female sappers blow up after Nard himself shoots them), how the original commander of the firebase would get all the Americans killed if he isn't relieved of his duties (Hafner once he's in command manages to hold the base and motivate the Army troops to fight well), and that the VC would just slaughter all the nurses and wounded (and rape the nurses first) without second thought should they overrun the base (which indeed does happen towards the end).
  • Not So Different: As the final assault degenerates into a brutal hand-to-hand melee, DiNardo and Cao Van both see the little boy running around in a panic. Both men forget everything else and focus on protecting the boy. Unfortunately, neither man recognizes that they are both trying to do the same thing.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: A number of these happen throughout the movie.
    • The movie opens with Hafner's LRRP team returning to a friendly village to find that the Cong have slaughtered everyone and left their heads on stakes. The next village they visit has heard about what happened to the first and cast their lot with the VC to avoid sharing their fate. When they open fire, the Marines cut everybody down. It doesn't get better from there.
    • The Viet Cong attack and slaughter everyone they find in the US embassy in Saigon, including several American civilians working there.
    • US Marines and Army soldiers kill several wounded VC in cold blood after the end of the first assault.
    • As the base is overrun during the final assault, the VC ruthlessly slaughter both wounded soldiers and unarmed nurses when they attack the aid station.
  • Old Soldier: Sergeant Major Hafner (actually an old Marine) and First Sergeant Jones bond over this shared trait.
1SG Jones: I care. I don’t care about a lot of it. But what I do care about, I care about a lot.
  • Only Sane Man: Amongst the Army personnel at Gloria, Hafner's patrol finds an officer who's far more interested in his bong and his porn collection than what's going on around him, a bunch of troops who have lost any semblance of discipline (though they at least shape when properly led and motivated), and a dozen nurses on a field exercise whose commander needs a pep talk to recognize that the exercise is about to get way too real. The only soldier on the firebase without his head up his ass is First Sergeant Jones, who has been conducting one-man reconnaissance patrols and knows the situation is bad and about to get worse. When he shows up, Hafner's demeanor is "Finally, somebody who knows what the hell he's doing!"
  • Properly Paranoid: DiNardo is proven right about the VC using women as sappers when he guns down two such women trying to enter the firebase. The explosives they were carrying detonate when DiNardo shoots the satchels they were carrying them in.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: For both sides. The Americans successfully hold Firebase Gloria, albeit with heavy losses, but are ordered to abandon the firebase because the dynamic situation of the Tet Offensive has made it untenable. The VC hold the field after the American withdrawal, but Cao Van's regiment has been effectively annihilated.
  • Sergeant Rock: Sergeant Major Hafner is a brilliantly snarky example. He actually yells a lot less than one would expect of R. Lee Ermey (though he’s just as foul-mouthed as expected) and projects a calm, confident demeanor even as he tells the firebase’s defenders that they “are in a deep-shit situation” and should definitely pray to any and all deities they might know of.
    Reporter: You can’t do this, man! I’m a fucking civilian!
    Hafner: (smiling) Yeah, well, you just got fucking drafted, sweetheart.
  • The Siege: The titular firebase is surrounded and being attacked by an entire Viet Cong regiment, and it's up to Hafner, DiNardo, and the other Marines and Army soldiers to prevent them from capturing this important point.
  • Sink the Lifeboats: After the initial assault, DiNardo details three men to go outside the wire and execute any wounded VC they find, because "I don't want any surprises tonight."
  • Sociopathic Marine:
    • Corporal DiNardo is not sociopathic by any means, but he is definitely unstable. Combine the death of his own son with the horrible things he's seen in Vietnam and his obsession with protecting the Vietnamese child found in the massacred village, and you get a guy that would probably make Colonel Kurtz a little nervous. DiNardo is often reckless, will shoot Vietnamese women without a second thought if he thinks they might be enemy sappers (turns out he was right about that one...this time, anyway), executes enemy wounded, brutally tortures a wounded VC for intelligence, and openly admits that he's crazy.
    • Murphy is stripped of much of his humanity as the battle goes on, though he manages to hold on to a few small shreds.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: DiNardo's reaction the the An Lap massacre.
    Hafner: This is effective. Charlie's got this whole valley by the balls now. Won't nobody step outta line around here.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Hafner and DiNardo quickly realize that the Army officer in charge of Gloria is dangerously incompetent and will get everyone killed, and decide to take him out of the equation. However, Hafner draws the line at murdering Americans, and stresses that he doesn’t want him killed. To avoid any issues with their decision, they use M79 grenade launchers to fake a late-night mortar attack. The officer is nonfatally wounded and evacuated, leaving Hafner in command.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Sgt. Maj. Hafner appears to throw up in his mouth when he sees the villagers' heads on spikes. Murphy loses his lunch altogether when he finds the bodies of the village children.
  • War Is Hell: Dear God...The opening shot alone establishes this by showing us an entire village of Pro-American South Vietnamese villagers massacred by the Viet Cong. And it only gets worse from there...
  • We Have Reserves: Discussed and subverted by VC Colonel Cao Van and his staff. They really can't afford their losses, but their tactics are dictated by their poor logistics and their troops' lack of training and heavy weapons. At the same time, they are aware that the NVA considers them disposable and is deliberately using them as cannon fodder.
  • Worthy Opponent: The VC commander says, "The courage of your enemies does you honor."
  • Would Hurt a Child: The VC massacre everyone in An Lap, including their children.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Upon hearing about the nurses assigned to Gloria, Hafner quips, “Really? So, are there any nuns or Girl Scouts on the firebase I should know about?” First Sergeant Jones chuckles, “That’s what happens when you inherit wealth!”
  • Zerg Rush: The Cong's only tactic is the "human wave" assault which, while almost successfull, still results in the Americans mowing them down at the cyclic rate.

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