Follow TV Tropes


Film / We Were Soldiers

Go To

A 2002 war drama directed by Randall Wallace, set in the The Vietnam War and focusing on the Real Life campaign of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry (cavalry with helicopters, not horses, that is) in the Ia Drang valley in 1965, the first major battle between the United States and North Vietnam.

Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) has to lead a battalion of 400 American soldiers against a force of 2,000 North Vietnamese troops.

Adapted from the 1992 nonfiction book We Were Soldiers Once... and Young, the film is notable in that, unlike most works about the Vietnam War, it portrays both sides sympathetically and nobly.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Major Bruce "Snake Shit" Crandall and his right-hand man, Warrant Officer Ed "Too Tall" Freeman, are UH-1 Huey pilots, who fly in and out of heavily contested landing zones to drop off troops and supplies, and to collect the wounded. In Real Life, both men received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the battle.
  • Acrophobic Bird: Some of the American planes seem to be flying in a lot lower than is strictly necessary for delivering air support. Air-dropped bombs typically have a blast radius measured in hundreds of feet, which especially includes the area directly above where the bomb lands.
    • In Real Life, at least one of the American pilots met his end this way: fragmentation from a bomb dropped below the minimum safe altitude flew back up and hit his plane, causing it to crash.
    • Evidently, his practice of invoking this trope in a transport helicopter is what earned Major Bruce Crandall the nickname "Snake Shit" (“Because I fly lower than snake shit”). Justified in this case, as flying at low altitude and high speed is a popular method of avoiding anti-aircraft fire (known as "Nap-Of-The-Earth").
  • Action Prologue: The beginning of the film shows a French military unit being ambushed by the Viet Minh in 1954 (based on the real-life Battle of Mang Yang Pass, the last official battle of the First Indochina War). One of the Viet Minh soldiers spots a wounded French soldier and asks his commander what to do about it. His commander simply states "Kill all that they send, and they will send no more." The French soldier is then shot offscreen.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The bayonet charge in the finale never happened in Real Life. Moore's troops were reinforced by two other battalions and then evacuated before a B-52 carpet bombing strike moved in to finish off the enemy headquarters. Moore's men did actually carry out a bayonet charge towards then end of battle with Plumley and Moore himself participating but it was more of a mopping up operation than a decisive blow.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Plumley, believe it or not. Everyone who knew the man said that while Sam Elliott did a wonderful job of capturing his essence, the movie severely downplayed just how much of a hardass he really was.
  • Adaptation Distillation: From book to movie, there are noted historical differences between the two, supposedly to make a more condensed product for the movie.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The title shortened from the book's We Were Soldiers Once...and Young.
  • Agony of the Feet: Private Godbolt ends up with some nasty blisters on his feet during training. LT Geoghegan orders his men to check each other for foot injuries regularly after seeing Godbolt's injuries.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The NVA soldiers nearly overrun the Americans, at one point fighting against Moore and his staff inside the Americans' field HQ. This necessitates the Trial by Friendly Fire to push them back.
  • Anti-Villain: The Vietnamese are humanized and shown as Fighting for a Homeland and Worthy Opponents and not villified as Dirty Communists.
  • Apron Matron: Julia Moore, who is a very queenly Team Mom to all the Girls back home at the base.
  • Artistic License – Military: The prologue of the French troops in the First Indochina War.
    • Berets are worn the correct way with the insignia over the left eye, with infantry cap badges instead of paratrooper badges. The French are unique in wearing the insignia over the right eye, for whatever reason. At least one officer wears the Foreign Legion's iconic kepi blanc. The soldiers involved in the ambush were not Legionnaires and were able to push back the ambush and withdraw, albeit suffering severe casualties in the process.
    • Only enlisted men wear the white kepis, NC Os and officers wear black ones.
    • An officer uses a Browning Hi Power, rather than a Mle. 1935 or Mle. 1950 pistol, due to the film's armourer having Hi Powers on hand but not the correct French pistols. Forgivable however as Brownings had been used as far back as World War 2 and this could have been his personal weapon.
  • Artistic License – History: While the French Groupe Mobile 100 was involved in several ambushes, none led to the unit being wiped out to the last man.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: When Joe Galloway tells Hal Moore that he's from Refugio, Texas, he pronounces it "Re-fuge-ee-oh", with a soft front-of-the-tongue G, the same way most English speakers not from Refugio do. The town's name is pronounced more like "Re-fury-oh". It's a long story, involving Spanish settlements and Irish colonists who couldn't pronounce Spanish-style back-of-the-tongue soft-Gs.
  • Badass Boast: A particularly chilling one from Lt. An, after the bloody ambush that starts the movie.
    Viet Minh soldier: Do we take prisoners?
    Lt. Nguyen Huu An: No. Kill all they send, and they will stop coming.
  • Bash Brothers: Lieutenant Geoghegan and Private Godbolt end up becoming quite the team on the battlefield. They both die after Geoghegan tries to carry mortally wounded Godbolt to safety.
  • Bearer of Bad News: The taxi driver, and later, Julia Moore.
  • Benevolent Boss: Lieutenant Geoghegan, a young platoon leader who makes a point of making a soldier take off his boots so he can inspect his feet for blisters when he sees him wincing while marching, and reminding the other men to do the same.
  • Body Horror: The film shows the horrifying effects of napalm when a canister is accidentally dropped on a group of American troops.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The NVA soldier who attempts to bayonet Colonel Moore with his bayonet suffers this fate after the latter turns around to shoot him in the head.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The men of Major Crandall's helicopter squadron, in Colonel Moore's words, "look like shit", and address each other by various unusual nicknames rather than ranks and names, but he notes that their equipment is immaculately maintained, and that they voluntarily show up to train even on their days off.
  • Camera Abuse: Dirt, soot, and blood frequently splatter on the lens.
  • The Captain: LTC Moore.
  • Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: Moore, as noted above, is the father to his men type. Plumley is there to kick them in the ass whenever they need it. (And sometimes just because). The Colonel’s and Command Sergeant Major’s opposing styles complement each other quite well, maximizing the advantages of both methods, and each holds the other in high regard.
  • Call-Back: Early in the film Sgt. Savage attempts to greet Sgt Major Plumley when passing by him, but is brushed off harshly each time. At the end of the film, Sgt Major Plumley greets Sgt Savage in a similar manner after the battle is over and the latter is rescued after having kept his men alive while cut off and surrounded.
  • Call to Agriculture: Galloway ends up having to take a rifle and help defend the wounded troops when the battalion's HQ is overrun. As soon as the crisis has passed, he hangs up the rifle in disgust and picks up his camera to photograph the troops and chronicle their struggle. In Real Life, Galloway landed in Vietnam with a rifle.
  • Cannon Fodder: Discussed. The brass try to recall just Moore when the scale of the enemy forces becomes clear on the grounds that losing a few hundred grunts is unremarkable, but the loss of a full Colonel is a major blow.
    • Averted with the general portrayal of the NVA, whose commander appreciates and cares for the welfare of his soldiers, but also knows that the only way he can effectively engage the 7th Cavalry is to charge them through walls of air strikes, artillery support, machine gun fire, and rifle fusillades, and fight them so close the first two advantages are denied to them.
  • The Cavalry:
    • Strictly speaking, when the Lost Platoon is rescued by the troopers late in the film, they were being rescued by The Cavalry (even if it was their own unit, and even if everybody was on foot and moving slowly to avoid ambushes).
    • The ending plays it more straight with a helicopter gunship curb stomping a large portion of the NVA defenses just before Moore's bayonet charge is about to get slaughtered.
  • Cavalry Officer: We're presented with two modern flavors of this: The helicopter pilots, led by Major Bruce "Snake Shit" Crandall go so far as to wear Custom Uniforms complete with the classic western Stetson hats. Meanwhile, the "Air Cav" ground troops are lead by Lt. Colonel Hal Moore, a paratrooper who believes that an officer's place in battle is at the front of his men, "where the metal meets the meat." Both of course, were Real Life military officers.
  • The Chains of Commanding: After the battle, Moore suffers a brief Heroic BSoD over the fact that so many of his men have died yet he is still alive.
  • Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey: A notable subversion, the French patrol at the start of the movie fights as best as they can but are wiped out to the last men due to being caught by surprise by overwhelming numbers, not as a failure of courage.
    • Though two officers crack a joke about it anyway:
    General in Hallway: We wouldn't be there if they hadn't already beaten the French Army.
    Maj. General Henry Kinnard: French Army? What's that?
  • Chekhov's Gun: Before the training sequence, the officers of the soon-to-be 7th Cavalry are seen standing around an M134 minigun on a table. The minigun makes its appearance later during the aforementioned Gunship Rescue.
  • *Click* Hello: A group of NVA troops are trying to find Savage's lost platoon in the jungle at night. Due to the thick foliage and tall grass, the Americans end up Hidden in Plain Sight (thanks to the near-total darkness, and they don’t know the NVA are right there, either, until one of Savage’s troopers whispers that he can smell them), even with the Vietnamese troops almost right on top of them. The NVA troopers realize this when Savage switches his safety selector from "Semi" to "Auto.” It turns into a Mass "Oh, Crap!" when an illumination round reveals that the two sides are just a couple of feet apart, resulting in a Blast Out.
  • Colonel Badass: Hal Moore
  • Combat Breakdown: One engagement between the Lost Platoon and a group of North Vietnamese soldiers devolves to a desperate brawl, with one American soldier beating a Vietnamese trooper to death with a helmet.
    • Another, less extreme example is when the North Vietnamese overrun the Americans' lines and briefly end up fighting Moore and his officers in their own command post (a couple of radios next to a termite mound), with the wounded American soldiers that had been awaiting medevac now fighting the enemy soldiers at point blank range. The Americans end up having to call an air strike on their own position to force the North Vietnamese off (granted, they didn't mean for the strike to land quite as close as it ended up - the American jets end up killing several of their own troops by mistake.)
  • Comically Missing the Point: When the officers and their wives dance and sing along to "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die" while celebrating getting to go off and fight in Vietnam.
  • Communications Officer: On both sides, we see radiomen with backpack radios passing information back and forth. Several end up getting killed throughout the movie.
    • Of particular note is Colonel Moore's personal radioman, who got that job during training after he managed to tune in on a radio transmission from a firefight happening in Vietnam, on the far side of the world. This scene was Truth in Television, due to a quirk of certain bandwidths of radio signals. The signals can bounce off of the upper atmosphere under the right conditions, effectively bank-shotting the signal around the Earth.
    • Another radioman had the primary responsibility of calling in artillery strikes and air support. According to the book the film was based on, he was a fighter pilot who was trained to serve specifically in this role. If you look closely, you can see that his uniform's branch insignia says "U.S. Air Force" rather than "U.S. Army".
  • Cool Guns: Discussed and subverted. Colonel Moore seems to like the new M16 rifle. Sergeant Major Plumley thinks it feels too much like a toy compared to the weapons he's accustomed to. So instead he decides to play the trope straight with his Colt Model 1911A1 (in real life, he also carried an M14 for a rifle, as a lot of older soldiers did at the beginning of the war, as well as those not yet equipped with the M16). He picks up an M16 only once in the entire movie to hand to the photojournalist to defend himself with during a fierce NVA attack.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The French patrol at the beginning of the movie is ambushed in the open and attacked from multiple directions, and ends up mercilessly slaughtered. However, they do fight back bravely despite their hopeless situation and manage to gun down quite a few attackers before they are killed.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Sgt. Major Plumley to Joe Galloway, who he finds trying to take pictures of the battle while also lying flat in the grass to avoid getting shot. Of note is that Plumley is standing upright, completely unconcerned with the incoming fire.
    You ain't gonna get any pictures down there, boy.
  • Death from Above: The American forces invoke it with artillery, helicopters, and attack planes. Mostly used against the North Vietnamese troops, but a mis-aimed napalm bomb leads to Body Horror.
  • Death Notification: Due to the Rule of Drama, we see the notices being delivered as each soldier dies in combat, although in reality there was likely several weeks of delay. Also subverted; the notices are delivered by a taxi cab driver, who really isn't enjoying the experience.
    • Julia Moore and Barbara Geoghegan take it upon themselves to deliver the letters themselves, both to save the taxi driver from some of the anguish and out of a sense of responsibility to their neighbors.
    • Subverted again in the film's climax, when a car with two men in uniform stop in front of Julia's house... and one of them is Hal Moore, home from the war.
  • Disconnected by Death: Implied. An RTO (radio telephone operator) manages to tune in on frantic radio transmissions from an ARVN unit and their American special forces advisers heavily engaged in combat with the enemy in Vietnam. The signal is lost abruptly, but it is unclear if it was because the special forces troops were killed, or due to more mundane reasons, given the extreme range they picked up the transmission from. Colonel Moore uses this signal to further explain to his officers that they need to watch each other's back, because when the shooting starts, each other is all they'll have.
  • Due to the Dead: After the battle, the Americans collect the fallen, retrieving the bodies of their own comrades, and collecting the NVA's fallen so that they can retrieve them once the Americans depart, which the North Vietnamese soldiers do later on.
  • Eagleland: The American troops are shown in a positive and heroic light to the point of being cheesy, but the Vietnamese are also humanized and shown as Anti-Villains and Worthy Opponents. Though flaws of the USA, such as the racism, are brought up, and the war is ultimately shown to be hopeless and futile as the Vietnamese will simply not back down against what they consider invaders in their country.
  • Ensign Newbie: One of the platoon commanders, LT Herrick, carelessly leads his men into the woods in pursuit of some fleeing NVA scouts, and end up cut off from the rest of the American troops. He is very quickly killed attempting to lead his men back to safety, along with his platoon sergeant, who tried to rein him in, leaving Sergeant Savage, a young squad leader, in charge of the cut-off platoon.
    • A deleted scene features a 2nd Lieutenant fresh out of ROTC trying to boss around a seasoned veteran sergeant. Said sergeant manages to put the LT back in his coming out just wearing his boots and two Medals of Honor on a sash across his chest. The LT salutes him immediately. The fact a double awarding of the Medal of Honor has not occurred since 1918 might explain why the scene was deleted (it's also stated he worked for Sgt. Maj. Plumley and was scared shitless of him).
  • Falling into the Cockpit: Galloway, who has spent most of his time on the battlefield laying low and talking to people, is handed a blood-soaked rifle and tasked with helping defend the wounded (and himself). As soon as the enemy has been pushed back, he hangs the rifle from a tree and picks up his camera again (in Real Life, his noncombatant status was discussed a week prior to the battle, and he arrived there with a rifle).
  • Fatal Family Photo: One per side.
  • A Father to His Men:
    • Colonel Hal Moore. In one example, he watches helicopters flying overhead when he first moves into his new post. He later goes to talk to the pilots while they're playing an impromptu baseball game. He first compliments them for flying on a weekend even though they didn't have to, and states that since pilots won't fly into an area for anyone they don't know, he goes to introduce himself to them. This pays off in spades later, as Major Crandall and the other pilots fly continuously to Colonel Moore's position to help ferry troops and supplies, and evacuate the wounded, all while under heavy fire from the NVA and Vietcong, no less. This is after the medevac helicopters refuse to land because of how dangerous the situation is.
    • Moore's North Vietnamese counterpart, Colonel Nguyen Huu An, is also this to an extent, though unlike Moore he's a little more willing to use We Have Reserves. It’s clear that he doesn’t take their deaths lightly, though. He's not callous about their lives, but simply has few other options than a Zerg Rush against the American's military superiority.
    • Lt. Geoghegan attempts to do this for the men under his platoon as well. Unfortunately this ends up costing him his life when he later attempts to carry back one of his wounded men and gets shot in the process.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Sergeant Major Basil Plumley. Discussed in a deleted scene, no less.
  • Foreshadowing: During their training, Moore, wanting to make a point, declares that one of the platoon commanders, Lieutenant Herrick, is now "dead", and that the platoon sergeant next to him is now in command. He then declares the platoon sergeant dead, because he hesitated. A squad leader, Sergeant Savage takes charge and orders the men to get off the chopper. Once the fighting starts, two of the first men to be killed are Lieutenant Herrick and his platoon sergeant, leaving Sergeant Savage in command of the platoon.
    • While in training, Moore notices the arrival of a lot of new officers. He wonders if maybe the Army is starting a new unit. It turns out his superiors sent him these officers because they foresaw the White House trying to fight the war on the cheap and letting his best troops leave just before they deploy.
  • A Friend in Need: Discussed Trope: Colonel Moore makes a point of visiting Major Crandall's squadron and introducing himself, reasoning that pilots won't fly into a dangerous situation for someone they don't know. As discussed above, Crandall and his men later on tenaciously support Moore and his troops when they are fighting for their lives at LZ X-Ray
  • Friendly Fire: Category D example, when a radioman accidentally gives coordinates for a fighter plane to drop bombs that are much too close to American soldiers fighting in that area. They manage to abort the bombing, but not before at least one is dropped, which does end up killing several US soldiers in the process.
    • Also explained by the Air Force radioman, who warns the RTOs that the Air Cav troopers need to mark their positions because everyone looks the same from the air.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Lt. Colonel Moore holds an advanced degree from Harvard and is an astute student of military history, but both the testimony of his fellow officers and his subsequent conduct on the field prove that he is not an out-of-touch "intellectual" (as one officer contemptuously puts it). True to form, he is an excellent father and husband.
    • While Moore had indeed undertaken graduate studies at Harvard, he had also graduated beforehand from West Point (where he got his Bachelor's Degree). As well, Moore had served in combat during the Korean War and won the Bronze Star Medal there.
  • Glory Hound: While observing their troops during a training exercise, Moore makes note that Lt. Geoghegan is a great leader, while Plumely points out another lieutenant, Herrick who's yelling at his men, and says that that LT just wants to win medals. Also serves as a bit of foreshadowing, as Herrick’s Leeroy Jenkins tendencies quickly get himself and several others killed at LZ X-Ray.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Colonel Moore declaring "Broken Arrow" over the radio when the NVA start showing up en masse around their position. An officer then explains to another one after hearing it that the code word means an American unit is being overrun by enemy forces. Therefore they send every single aircraft they have to the area to prevent the enemy troops from wiping out the American unit. The next scene shows exactly that, many US combat planes taking off and dropping bombs on enemy units near the Americans.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Averted for the most part. The film makes sure to show off soldiers who have suffered combat injuries, including one whose skin sloughs off after getting horribly burned by napalm.
  • Greater Need Than Mine: A wounded soldier gives up his spot on a chopper to a more seriously wounded soldier saying he'll get on the next one. While patting the other soldier as the chopper is about to leave, he's shot and killed. The wounded men aboard pull him into the helicopter in a futile attempt to save him, and the overloaded Huey is barely able to claw its way into the sky.
  • Gunship Rescue: The American forces use liberal amounts of air support to fight off the NVA offensive. Also plays a key role in the final battle, when an actual gunship saves the American troops from a prepared ambush.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Moore starts to unravel as the battle drags on and begins making comments about Custer and Little Big Horn. Plumley snaps him out of it with one salty comment.
    • Lt. Hastings, the forward air controller, freezes after accidentally ordering a napalm strike on American troops. Moore keeps him functioning by reminding him that the Vietnamese are still coming and he's the only one who can keep vital air support coming.
  • Hold the Line: Done many times throughout the film.
  • Hopeless War: Even though the US troops win the battle, Moore foreshadows a few times during the film the real life issues the US will end up facing in Vietnam and ultimately prevent them from achieving victory. Lt. Col. An also says something at the end of the movie along the lines that a lot of people will die to land both sides in the same place they were in before (although that could be extrapolated to saying that this is the end-result of all wars ultimately).
  • Iconic Item: Galloway's camera and rifle, Sergeant Major Plumley's M1911, the French bugle, the NVA trooper's diary, and Lieutenant Geoghegan's bracelet with his newborn daughter’s name on it.
  • Imminent Danger Clue: When the North Vietnamese troops are looking for Savage's platoon in the thick foliage and end up standing right in the middle of them without realizing it, their first and last clue before the bullets start flying is when Sgt Savage thumbs his fire selector to "Auto" with an audible click.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
    • A Vietcong soldier with a bayonet on his rifle attempts this on Colonel Moore when he manages to get almost within range of the man, who also appears to be distracted talking on the radio. It's ultimately averted when Colonel Moore suddenly turns into his direction, and fires at him with his pistol, killing the enemy soldier in the process. He later mails the man's journal back to his wife.
    • Some soldiers suffer this fate in the final battle, including an NVA soldier attempting to radio for help.
    • This happens to a French lieutenant in the ambush in the prologue, when he is bayoneted from behind by a Viet Minh soldier while trying to rally his unit.
  • Improvised Weapon: At one point, a helmet, during a particularly desperate fight.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Joe Galloway, hitches a ride in a Huey headed to the battle so he can get a first-hand look at what's going on.
    Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: Where you from, son?
    Joseph Galloway: Refugio, Texas, sir.
    Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: Well, that's the first thing I've heard today that makes any sense.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet / Properly Paranoid: At one point there's a lull in the fighting, when the Americans are expecting another big attack.
    Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: Nothing's wrong, except there's nothing wrong.
  • Jungle Warfare: Averted for a The Vietnam War movie. The battle took place in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and the movie mostly looks like it with hills and open woodland.
  • Keep the Home Fires Burning: Julie has a few scenes of this trope.
  • Kill It with Fire: Napalm dropped from attack planes, as well as what appears to be a white phosphorus grenade at one point.
  • Last Stand: Averted but discussed several times. Everyone remembers that this is Custer's unit but they manage to Screw Destiny, thanks to advancements in technology allowing The Cavalry to come to their rescue, in the form of Gunship Rescue.
  • Leave No Survivors: During the film's prologue.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Seen on both sides of the fight, as some of the soldiers seem a bit too eager to rush headlong into combat. Like the trope implies, it doesn't go well for them, particularly as said battle involves guns and ranged combat.
    • Lieutenant Herrick does this with his entire platoon while sending all of them to chase after one Vietnamese scout. Unsurprisingly this leads them to get ambushed and surrounded for a good portion of the battle.
  • Meaningful Echo: Sergeant Savage's greeting to Sergeant Major Plumley early in the film: "Good Morning, Sergeant Major!" When he first uses it, Plumley's response is less than friendly. Later variations on the greeting result in heavier doses of spite (and profanity). Finally, towards the end of the film, Sgt. Savage is standing and looking around at the battlefield, surrounded by dead and wounded, himself covered in dirt and blood after having spent the night with his platoon cut off and fighting for their lives, but having also kept them alive. Sgt. Major Plumley looks him in the eye and says "Now it's a nice day, Sergeant Savage."
  • The Men First: Moore refuses an order from his superiors to evacuate just him, telling them that he will not abandon his men. Also, just as he promised earlier in the movie, he is the first man to set foot on the battlefield and the last one to leave at the end.
    • Similarly, Lt. Colonel An, though prone to We Have Reserves, is the last to evacuate the Vietnamese bunker.
  • Mirror Character: Several scenes emphasize this: both Lt. Col. Moore and Lt. Col. An look up at the same moon; Moore predicts the pattern of the NVA attack because it was how he would do it, and in the climactic bayonet charge An's radioman is killed by his American counterpart. Also Jack Geoghegan's wife reading the letter that Moore sends her is played alongside the woman whose photograph is in the journal of the Vietnamese soldier who tries to bayonet Moore as she reads his journal.
  • Mirroring Factions: Both factions get plenty of shots associated with war heroism, such as the commanders of each nation motivating their troops and awe-inspiring shots of the American and Vietnamese flag.
  • Missing Back Blast: Averted. A North Vietnamese trooper is shown wearing a protective mask and goggles while firing a rocket launcher.
  • Mood Whiplash: See Prayer of Malice
  • More Dakka: The point of the "Mad Minute,". If you suspect the enemy is hiding somewhere, perforate that somewhere with sustained automatic fire. It also serves as "Recon by Fire", find the enemy by shooting where you think they might be hiding to see if they shoot back.
  • The Neidermeyer: Sgt. Savage's platoon leader, who is seen aggressively yelling at his troops while in training. Plumley isn't too pleased, muttering that he's the type of officer that ends up a Glory Hound. Later he orders his men to chase after a Vietcong scout, and they end up Trapped Behind Enemy Lines when they run too far away from their own forces.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Sgt Savage's platoon ends up Trapped Behind Enemy Lines after his platoon leader orders them to chase after a Vietcong scout. They end up running after the man, only to then find themselves surrounded by NVA troops. Many more US troops end up getting killed when they attempt to rescue the trapped platoon, and the leader gets killed for his idiocy.
    • The radioman calling in air support shortly after Colonel Moore declares "Broken Arrow". Unfortunately in the confusion he accidentally gives the wrong position to one aircraft, which ends up dropping a bomb too close to US troops, and ends up killing several of them. Despite that, Colonel Moore attempts to snap him out of his funk, telling him to ignore that bad call, and to keep the bombs coming, as he's the only one keeping them alive at this crucial moment.
  • Nom de Guerre: Amongst the Air Cavalry pilots, we have Too Tall and Snake Shitnote .
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Moore promises his men that "Dead or alive, we will all come home together."
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Used by Moore when he is praying to God for protection for his troops, acknowledging that the North Vietnamese troops were no doubt making similar prayers.
  • Not With the Safety On, You Won't: A sharp-eyed viewer at the Internet Movie Firearms Database noticed that one of the North Vietnamese troopers killed in the final battle still has the safety on his AK-47 when the Americans overrun his position.
  • Now You Tell Me: Colonel Moore's radio operator calls Crandall's helicopters to tell them they have a hot LZ. Crandall receives this message as his Hueys are being peppered with small arms fire. Crandall throws his cigar out the window and growls, “No shit.”
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Moore laments about the actions of US President Lyndon Johnson prior to being sent to Vietnam, which will leave his battalion understrength and without some of its most experienced men.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When the American brass hear Moore calling out "Broken Arrow", they realize that the situation is much much worse than they thought.
      • When Moore declares "Broken Arrow", his radioman looks at him in horror as he knows exactly what the risk is. He still relays the call when Moore nods to confirm he means it-and all but screams it in the radio multiple times.
    • Happens also at night-time with a North Vietnamese soldier, who lets out a terrified gasp as he hears Sgt Savage set his fire selector to "Auto".
  • Old Soldier: Sergeant Major Plumley, in spades. He has one of the page quotes.
  • Prayer of Malice: Providing some Mood Whiplash immediately after a "Not So Different" Remark:
    "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."
  • Raised Hand of Survival: When friendly reinforcements finally reach the Lost Platoon, SGT Savage raises his hand so the American troopers could see where he was (they had previously been covered by dirt and foliage after calling artillery strikes down near their own position to fend off NVA attack).
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Everyone who saw the film and had met the real Sergeant Major Plumley said that while Sam Elliott's performance was excellent, it severely undersold just how much of a stone cold hardass Plumley actually was.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Lt.Col. Moore and 2nd LT. Jack Geoghegan.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Moore and Geoghegan again. The young lieutenant has just become a father and is wearing a string of pink and white beads with his daughter's name, something one would expect to see on a teenage girl's wrist, at least if not for this trope. When Moore notices it, the lieutenant tries to take it off, but Moore (a proud and doting father himself) orders him to keep it there.
  • Recruiters Always Lie: Discussed, in a half-joking fashion, by Sgt. Major Plumley.
    Kinda makes you wish you'd signed up for Submarines, don't it?
  • Retirony: PFC Jimmy Nakayama, though he wasn’t leaving the Army. He had actually just found out that his pregnant wife had gone into labor that morning.
  • Rousing Speech: Sergeant Major Plumley gives his commander one of the shortest and most effective ones on record.
    Sgt. Major Plumley: Sir, Custer was a pussy. You ain't.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: The enlisted men and the NCOs (and most of the officers) are rightfully terrified of Sergeant Major Plumley.
  • Sergeant Rock: Sgt. Major Plumley
    • A deleted scene has a soldier telling his buddies a story about Plumley, whom he knew from his old unit. He describes his old platoon sergeant. Big scary dude, with scars on his face. When their new platoon leader, a 2nd lieutenant fresh out of ROTC, gets in his face about not wearing all his decorations, he goes back to the barracks, and comes back wearing only his boots, and not one but two Medals Of Honor. (The LT then promptly salutes him per military custom.note ) The soldier telling the story then reveals this sergeant is not Sgt. Major Plumley (as the last double Medal of Honor award was in 1918), but works for Sgt. Maj. Plumley and is terrified of him.
  • The Seventh Cavalry: The characters lampshade the fact that the 1st Battallion is part of the same cavalry unit that Custer infamously led at Little Big Horn. Colonel Moore, a history enthusiast, can't help but dwell on the similarities between his unit's situation and that of Custer's men, although Sergeant Major Plumley rather bluntly points out their differences as well.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Sgt. MacKenzie, a mournful Scottish dirge, plays over some of the more intense action sequences, including the Big Damn Gunship blasting the NVA base camp just before Moore's battalion overruns it, to emphasize the horror and sadness of the war even in victory.
  • The Strategist: Some officers joke that Colonel Moore is a bookworm officer when they first see him moving into his quarters with his family. The next scene then shows him carrying a lot of books in. Luckily for them Colonel Moore studied said books, and used what he learned in them to help his unit to survive when battling the NVA.
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: The NVA gets their scenes as well, and they are portrayed as normal people fighting for their own country, and not as Dirty Communists.
  • Tagalong Reporter: Galloway. The first time we see him, he is finishing his drink before he impulsively jumps onto a chopper heading to Landing Zone X-Ray. Spends most of the rest of the movie talking to the soldiers and staying alive.
  • Team Mom: Julia and a group of the other army wives take it upon themselves to deliver the Death Notification telegrams to each other, preferring to become a hated bearer of bad news than to let their friends' hearts be broken by an anonymous courier in a taxi cab.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: In the climax, the Huey pilots are shown watching in silent shock at the bloody effectiveness of their gunship's machine guns and rockets on the NVA troops.
  • Trap Is the Only Option: Discussed. Moore and Plumley have both been around the block enough times to recognize an obvious Defensive Feint Trap when presented with one. That said, their entire mission is to seek out the NVA and engage them in open combat, so this is as good an opportunity as they expect to get.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: Sgt Savage's platoon suffers this fate after their platoon leader gets a little too zealous chasing after an NVA scout. His platoon leader gets shot for his efforts, and they're quickly surrounded. At one point the NVA even attempt to capture them at night, but the remaining US soldiers manage to successfully repel their attack.
  • Trial by Friendly Fire: The Americans are forced to call in air strikes on their own positions when they are nearly overrun by the North Vietnamese. While the strike swings the balance of power back their way, several American troops die or are horribly wounded when two of their own planes accidentally drop bombs on top of them.
    Get small! Get small! It’s dropping right on top of you!
    • While the radio soldier is obviously distraught at this mistake, the commander tells him to not worry about that and keep going calling in the airstrikes since the entire unit's survival is at stake.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Major Bruce Crandall is addressed by his subordinates with the less-than-dignified nickname of "Snake Shit". He refers to it as an "Affectionate Appellation" when asked about it by Colonel Moore. It is actually a compliment referencing his skill at nap-of-the-Earth flight.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: A true story from a book of Similar Name that the movie was made from. Mediated though by the fact that some of the actual people involved were on set to make sure the filmmakers were getting the spirit if not the details right (although some scenes/lines were ripped straight from reality apparently). See Adaptation Distillation above.
    • Specifically, the bayonet charge at the end didn't happen (they were reinforced by two battalions and withdrew, and a B-52 bombed the NVA positions), and Joe Galloway's noncombatant status was discussed over a week prior — he arrived at the battle with an M16 (he was also at the Plei Mei Special Forces camp, and fed an M60 with Chargin' Charlie Beckwith). His discussion on his status was also with Colonel Beckwith.
    • The French Groupe Mobile 100 was not wiped out completely as shown in the movie, but did suffer heavy casualties.
  • Villainous Valor: To no surprise. Special mention goes to the PAVN soldier who breaks through, if only for a moment, to the American command post. Moore recovers the man's diary in a Tear Jerker near the end, and has it sent to the man’s widow.
  • War Is Hell: Particularly for Lt. Herrick's platoon, who spend most of the battle cut off from the rest of the battalion and pinned down by the enemy. Nevermind poor Jimmy.
    • Also the napalm: fire which sticks to you.
    • Another scene that reinforces this is when the helicopter full of reporters arrive after the battle. Moore and Joe are deluged with incredibly insensitive questions from the reporters, and the men can only stay silent and turn away in disgust.
    • The French patrol is utterly wiped out despite a brave defense, and the wounded are executed. The young Vietnamese soldier shown shooting the wounded French soldier is implied to find this act extremely distasteful.
  • We Have Reserves: The NVA leadership's attitude towards their soldiers. In real life, not entirely willingly so; much of the local PAVN elements' crew-served weapons were knocked out or unavailable. This trope is not so much a result of callousness as it is pragmatism, the NVA didn't have the advantage of jungle cover or tunnels to reach the American troops, and didn't have anywhere near the same level of hardware (artillery, air support, etc...) meaning that overruning the American position with overwhelming numbers was their only real option.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: An officer from the Medevac squadron angrily confronts Major Crandall about his pilots being ordered to fly into a hot zone where there was still enemy activity with their helicopters being continually shot at. Major Crandall, having just survived many of those said ordeals, including witnessing one helicopter getting shot down attempting to airlift wounded soldiers out, doesn't take too kindly to any of the man's criticisms, and promptly knocks him away, while also pulling his pistol on the man. Fortunately other men around them help to defuse the situation, though one could hardly blame the Major considering what he just lived through.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: A deleted scene has Moore meeting with General William Westmoreland and US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara after the battle and explaining, as history showed, that this will inevitably prevent the US victory in Vietnam.
  • Worthy Opponent: The North Vietnamese Army.
    • Lt. Col. An, Hal Moore's NVA counterpart, even makes it a point to be the last to leave his bunker when Americans threaten it, just as Moore himself promised to be the last off the battlefield. When the battle's over and the NVA are policing the battlefield An notices a miniature American flag stuck in a broken tree. He holds it briefly before putting it back.
    • A DeletedScene also has Moore meet up with Robert McNamara and General Westmoreland after the battle, and outright tell them that an enemy who would charge through napalm, air strikes, artillery, M60-and-M16-fire, and still be willing to fight is not an enemy they are currently equipped to beat. He also notes that they are the invaders here, and a people galvanized to liberate their homeland will always fight harder than the foreign army invading it, no matter what the intentions of the latter are.
      "We won't "run the little bastards back home", sir. They are home."
      • In Real Life, Moore and An held each other in very high esteem, and, along with Joe Galloway, visited the Ia Drang Valley in 1993—at a time when the U.S. and Vietnam had yet to normalize diplomatic relations. On this occasion, An wept openly at the shocking loss of life both sides suffered in that remote valley. On learning of his death, Moore and Galloway went to his widow's house in Hanoi, where they found a copy of their book in a glass display cabinet along with his uniform and decorations.
  • You Are in Command Now: Sergeant Savage
    • In Real Life, something of a subversion. He was not the highest ranking man still alive amongst the platoonnote  and also was not who Lt. Herrick gave command responsibilities tonote  but he was the only NCO near the platoon's radio operator, and he was the man who took command when the platoon's senior leadership was killed.
    • Happens briefly with the French patrol at the start of the movie. The commanding officer is the first killed by the ambushers, and his junior officer tries his best to galvanize his unit, but they get overrun and wiped out.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: At one point, the NVA soldiers are fighting the American troopers inside the field HQ. Plumley is standing square in the middle of the Casualty Collection Point with his M1911 one-shotting charging enemy soldiers to protect the wounded.
  • Zerg Rush: The NVA and later the Vietcong attempt to do this repeatedly. Unfortunately, other than against the French unit in the beginning of the film, it doesn't work very well due to the intervention of American artillery and air support. It is, however, pretty much the only way they can attack the 7th Cavalry's positions, since they have to approach across open ground without tunnels or jungle to get them any closer. Basically, their main advantage is having more men than the Americans have bullets, and their commander knows it will take a lot of dead NVA to win that way.