We Were Soldiers is a 2002 Vietnam War film based on the book We Were Soldiers Once... And Young by Lieutenant General Hal Moore, US Army (ret.) and former UPI reporter Joe Galloway that chronicled the first major battle between the United States Army and the People's Army of Vietnam in the Ia Drang Valley in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Gen. Moore, in the documentary seen on the DVD, states that this film is the only one which gets "[the Vietnam War] right". The film was directed by Randall Wallace (The Man in the Iron Mask) and stars Mel Gibson, Barry Pepper, and Sam Elliott.
The following weapons were used in the film We Were Soldiers:
Rifles / Carbines
The XM16E1 assault rifles are used by the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, including Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson), First Lieutenant Charlie Hastings (Robert Bagnell), Second Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein), Sergeant Ernie Savage (Ryan Hurst) and most US Army soldiers. Later on the film during the Battle of Landing Zone X-Ray, Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper) uses one as well. Many rifles used in this film were not actual XM16E1s. The historical XM16E1s had only a partial magazine fence. Many rifles were actually M16A1s mocked up to look like XM16E1s, modified with chromed bolt carriers and three-prong flash-hiders. Apparently there were a few original receiver marked XM16E1s in the mix.
Screen-used XM16E1 rifle (Hero Gun) carried and used by Mel Gibson
in the film - 5.56x45mm. This rifle was built from an M16A1 and modified with a chromed bolt carrier and 2nd pattern three prong flash-hider.
LTC Hal Moore (Mel Gibson
) lands on LZ X-Ray while carrying his XM16E1.
Hal Moore and another soldier can be seen carrying XM16E1s during the Battle of LZ X-Ray.
SGT Ernie Savage (Ryan Hurst
) and his men engage the enemy with their XM16E1s.
Specialist Robert Ouellette (Josh Daugherty) holds his XM16E1.
A US Army Private fires his XM16E1 from Crandall's Huey helicopter.
Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper
) with his XM16E1 at the ready. Note that Galloway actually landed in the LZ with a rifle, as opposed to being handed one in the heat of battle.
Two wounded US Army Specialists with their XM16E1s at the ready.
Moore (Mel Gibson
) opens fire with his XM16E1 during the final bayonet charge. In reality, this last-ditch assault on the Vietnamese reserve at LZ X-Ray did not happen; there was no heroic final charge in the battle, nor were the North Vietnamese Forces destroyed as in the film. In fact, combat continued at a neighboring landing zone where an entire US battalion was ambushed and virtually annihilated. Director Randall Wallace mentions this inaccuracy in the DVD commentary.
Supplementing the large number of XM16E1 rifles built for the production by Cinema Weaponry are some slab side M16 rifles (or unaltered Colt SP1 rifles, which look the same). On the left of the stack (in the image) is a slab sided rifle with no forward assist on the upper receiver or magazine fencing on the lower receiver.
A stack of XM16s from the battle. Visible are unaltered M16/SP1 slab sided rifles.
A Korean War-era M1 Carbine is carried by the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the formal title of South Vietnam) interpreter dressed in tiger stripe fatigues. He appears in the scene in which the NVA scout is captured and interrogated. Viet Minh soldiers also use M1 Carbines against the French army during the intro.
M1 Carbine with bayonet lug and adjustable rear sight - .30 Carbine
A Viet Minh soldier points an M1 Carbine at a French soldier.
The South Vietnamese interpreter lands on the Ia Drang Valley with his M1 Carbine.
An NVA scout is apprehended. The ARVN translator points his M1 Carbine at the enemy soldier.
The South Vietnamese interpreter wielding an M1 Carbine interrogates the NVA soldier. Note that it is not an M2 Carbine due to the lack of a selector switch.
The South Vietnamese interpreter points his M1 Carbine at the captured NVA soldier. Note the bayonet lug.
In the film, the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) aka the PAVN (People's Army of Vietnam) used AK-47s with milled receivers. As per the actual battle, we also see several Viet Cong units carrying the same rifle. Real Soviet AK-47s were impossible to get in the U.S. for many years. After the fall of communism, milled receiver AK-47 parts kits were available on the market, and authentic AK-47s were built for the film (using American-made milled receivers by using the proper markings) and the original Soviet built parts. The AK-47s used in the film were built by legendary film armorer Mike Papac.
Actual screen-used AK-47 from the film We Were Soldiers
(built by Cinema Weaponry) - 7.62x39mm. The armorers ran out of time before they could fully finish the finish on the wood forearm, pistol grips and stocks for the film.
NVA soldiers fire their AK-47s.
An NVA soldier moves in the dark with an AK-47.
A PAVN (People's Army of Vietnam) soldier reloads his AK-47.
The same scared PAVN soldier rushes through the jungle and tries to bayonet LTC Moore.
The same PAVN soldier gets hit in the head by a single round from Moore's XM16E1. Note the milled receiver.
A close-up of the receiver of the AK-47 carried by an NVA soldier who gets killed by the charging Americans. Note how the safety is on.
An NVA soldier aims his AK-47 at the US Army soldiers when they charge on the NVA position.
An NVA soldier gets killed by the Huey helicopters and their M134 Miniguns.
The same NVA soldier from the above image gets thrown across a wagon.
In the opening scene where a French convoy is ambushed during the First Indochina War, various French soldiers use MAS-36 rifles.
The French convoy gets ambushed.
Two French soldiers armed with MAS-36 rifles.
Two French soldiers fire their MAS-36 rifles.
A French soldier gets shot while reloading his MAS-36 rifle.
Several Viet Minh soldiers and NVA soldiers use SKS rifles during the intro sequence and during the Battle of Ia Drang.
The Viet Minh soldiers rush the French army in the intro of the film. Note how you can see a Kar98k in the background.
A Viet Minh soldier rushes the French army with his SKS rifle.
A Viet Minh soldier with his SKS.
A Viet Minh soldier before being blown up by a French grenade.
A Viet Minh soldier is armed with an SKS rifle.
A Viet Minh soldier rushes the French army during the intro.
A Viet Minh soldier points his SKS at a French soldier.
The Viet Minh officer picks up a French trumpet during the intro.
An NVA soldier comes out of an underground base armed with an SKS rifle.
An NVA or Viet Cong soldier runs around with his SKS while the Ia Drang Valley burns in the background by the napalm bombs dropped by U.S. Air Force planes.
An NVA soldier armed with an SKS creeps through the dark.
Two NVA soldiers tending after their DShK, which is in reality an American Browning M2HB. The soldier on the left has an SKS. The one on the right has an AK-47 like the rest of the NVA soldiers in the background.
Mosin Nagant M44
During the intro sequence, a Viet Minh soldier can be seen with a Mosin Nagant M44 Carbine.
Mosin Nagant M44 Carbine - 7.62x54mmR
The Viet Minh soldier in the center has a Mosin Nagant M44 Carbine while another soldier has a Kar98k.
A Viet Minh soldier during the intro sequence and a Viet Cong soldier later on can be seen using Karabiner 98k rifles. It should be noted that according to one of the armorers of the film, Steve Karnes, the Kar98ks used in the film came from Israel and were chambered to 7.62x51mm NATO.
Karabiner 98k - 7.92x57mm Mauser
A Kar98k is carried by one of Viet Minh soldiers.
On the right, a Viet Cong soldier has a Kar98k.
The M60 machine gun is used by several US soldiers. Various door gunners of Huey helicopters use them as well. Specialist 4 Russell Adams (Erik MacArthur) and his assistant gunner Specialist 4 Bill Beck (Desmond Harrington) also use an M60 in a deleted scene.
M60 machine gun - 7.62x51mm NATO
An M60 team lays down fire.
US soldiers train with their M60s.
A close-up of the M60 during the training. The filmmakers cleverly lay real 7.62x51mm casings in the foreground, which is a testament for their eye to detail. During filming, however, brass from the expended 'star crimped' blanks unavoidably flies out of the weapon.
An FPS view of an M60 firing in training.
A US soldier can be seen holding an M60 on the left.
An M60 is seen with the bipod down as the platoon spots an enemy scout.
A door gunner gets shot inside the helicopter while holding an M60 machine gun.
A door gunner fires the M60.
Two Browning M1919A4s are mounted on two French jeeps during the intro sequence.
Browning M1919A4 on an M31C pedestal mount - .30-06
The Browning M1919A4 is mounted on the French jeep.
A French soldier fires the Browning M1919A4 at Viet Minh soldiers.
GE M134 Minigun
A pair of GE M134 Miniguns are seen as part of the M21 Armament Subsystem mounted on the Huey helicopter gunships that rip apart PAVN soldiers in the climax of the film, and another one is also on display on a table near the beginning of the film.
GE M134 Minigun - 7.62x51mm NATO
The AirCav officers admire the M134 Minigun before Moore briefs them on their mission.
M134 Minigun mounted on M21 Armament Subsystem (which also includes huge M158 rocket launcher) used on Huey gunships.
The Huey helicopter fires its mounted M134 Minigun.
A close-up of an M134 Minigun mounted on an UH-1 helicopter, showing the complete M21 Armament Subsystem which includes the aforementioned Minigun as well as pod of 2.75-inch unguided rockets.
In the scene where the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division perform a bayonet charge against the NVA position (an event which actually didn't happen in real life), a small crew of PAVN soldiers man a DP-28, a variant of the Soviet Degtyaryov light machine gun.
Degtyaryov DP-28 - 7.62x54mmR
The Degtyaryov DP-28 light machine gun is glimpsed as Moore's troops advance.
A DP-28 is seen among the fallen NVA soldiers as the Huey gunship continues to fire.
During the Battle of Ia Drang, one PAVN soldier can be seen carrying an RPD light machine gun.
An NVA soldier carries an RPD.
A ZB26 Machine Gun is used by a Viet Minh machine gunner during the opening sequence of the film set during the Indochina War. According to Steve Karnes, the film's armorer, the ZB26 used in the film was sold to the Chinese and converted to 7.62x39mm later in its life. It also has Chinese characters on the side of the receiver.
A close-up of the ZB26 in the hands of a Viet Minh soldier.
Another shot of the same scene.
When the American soldiers charge the NVA position, a two man crew of NVA soldiers man an MG34 machine gun before being killed by the Huey helicopters. One NVA soldier also mans another MG34 in the same scene.
MG34 with front and rear sights folded down - 7.92x57mm Mauser
Two NVA soldiers with an MG34 machine gun.
A different NVA machine gunner with the MG34, awaiting the oncoming American forces.
A fake DShK heavy machine gun is manned by an NVA machine gun team in the final sequence before being wasted by the Huey helicopters. The DShK in the film is actually a Browning M2HB heavy machine gun mocked up to look like a DShK.
DShK on tripod - 12.7x108mm
Browning M2HB on M3 tripod - .50 BMG
A PAVN soldier cocks the fake DShK in the final sequence of the film. Note the M2 charging handle on the right side of the receiver, showing that the DShK is actually a Browning M2HB.
The NVA machine gun team from the above image aims the fake DShK.
The fake DShK after the machine gun team gets killed by the UH-1 Iroquois helicopters.
A Colt M1911 is used by Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley (Sam Elliott) as his main weapon since he prefers the .45 over the M16. When Moore praises the latter, Plumley says: "Bah, it's plastic... feels like a bb gun to me. I think I'll stick with my pistol". It is not common to see the first model of the M1911 being used by Plumley, since the M1911 was replaced in 1924 by the improved Colt M1911A1 which was the sidearm of the US Military in the Vietnam War, World War II and the Korean War, however they did appear on occasion, usually under special circumstances. Of note is that in real life, Plumley also carried an M14.
Screen-used Colt M1911 pistol (Hero Gun) carried and used by Sam Elliott
in the film - .45 ACP
"Gentlemen, prepare to defend yourselves!"
- Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley (Sam Elliott
) cocks his M1911.
Plumley reloads his M1911.
A Colt M1911A1 is seen in the holster of LTC Hal Moore and most of the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division. Some US soldiers use M1911A1s.
Screen-used Colt M1911A1 pistol (Hero Gun) carried and used by Mel Gibson
in the film - .45 ACP. Weapons provided by Cinema Weaponry.
A US soldier with his M1911A1.
Smith & Wesson Model 15 Snub Nose
The .38 caliber revolver pulled out by Major Bruce "Snake Shit" Crandall (Greg Kinnear) appears to be a Smith & Wesson Model 15 Snub. In 2007, the real Crandall was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley.
Smith & Wesson Model 15 with 2" barrel - .38 Special
The Model 15 in Snake Shit's holster when he gets out of his Huey helicopter at Regiment Headquarters.
"You have the balls to face me and not the balls to face the enemy?!"
- Crandall pulls his Model 15 after he gets reprimanded by a medevac pilot.
The .38 caliber revolver pulled out by MAJ Bruce "Snake Shit" Crandall (Greg Kinnear
Another shot of the same scene.
During the intro of the film set in the Indochina War (1946-1954), a French officer (Foreign Legionnaire) uses his sidearm, a Browning Hi-Power, to kill several Viet Minh soldiers before being killed. The use of a Browning Hi-Power pistol by a member of the French Army at the time of the battle (1954) was not common, as either the Mle 1935 or MAC Mle 1950 were the official French military sidearms used during that period. The armorers couldn't get an appropriate French military pistol and since Hi-Powers were in the region, they opted for those instead.
Browning Hi-Power - 9x19mm Parabellum
A French Army (Foreign Legionnaire) officer fires his Browning Hi-Power at a Viet Minh soldier.
The French officer (Foreign Legionnaire) gets stabbed by a Viet Minh soldier while holding his Browning Hi-Power. Note in the actual ambush(es), they were not Legionnaires, and successfully withdrew from the area, though suffering severe casualties.
As the American soldiers are heading off for battle, you can see an ARVN soldier holding up an M1928A1 Thompson with a 20-round magazine.
M1928A1 Thompson with 30-round magazine - .45 ACP
- An ARVN soldier with an M1928A1 Thompson as well as other U.S. soldiers cheer the rest of the 1st Cavalry Division as they prepare to enter the Ia Drang Valley.
The NVA and the Viet Cong use PPSh-41 submachine guns during the intro sequence and the rest of the film, with both the standard 71-round drum magazines and 35-round magazines.
PPSh-41 - 7.62x25mm Tokarev
A Viet Minh soldier gets shot by the French officer while holding a PPSh-41.
A Viet Minh soldier gets shot while holding a PPSh-41.
PPSh-41 with 35-round magazine - 7.62x25mm Tokarev
A Viet Minh soldier holds a PPSh-41 with a 35-round magazine.
Viet Minh soldiers use PPS-43 submachine guns alongside their SKS rifles and PPSh-41s to kill the French soldiers in the intro sequence that takes place in 1954 in the Indochina War. During the rest of the film, the PAVN (People's Army of Vietnam, the formal name of the PAVN. Also known as the North Vietnamese Army or NVA.) and Viet Cong (Informal name for the National Liberation Front or NLF.) also use PPS-43 submachine guns against US Army soldiers in the Battle of Ia Drang.
PPS-43 submachine gun - 7.62x25mm Tokarev
A Viet Minh soldier carrying a PPS-43 during the opening scene.
A Viet Minh soldier carrying a PPS-43 gets shot during the opening scene.
A Viet Minh soldier gets blown up by a French grenade while his PPS-43 falls to the ground.
Various French soldiers use MAT-49 submachine guns during the opening scene. Various NVA and Viet Cong soldiers also use them during the rest of the film, surely captured from the French army during the Indochina War.
Screen-used MAT-49 submachine gun from the film (provided by Cinema Weaponry) - 9x19mm Parabellum
A French soldier in the center is seen with a MAT-49.
A Viet Cong fighter gets shot while holding his MAT-49.
A MAT-49 lies on the top of the pile of guns while US soldiers pile up dead NVA soldiers in the background.
Winchester Model 1912 Field Gun
In a deleted scene, Specialist Galen Bungum (Blake Heron) and his wife are seen using a Winchester Model 1912 Field Gun to shoot skeet.
Winchester Model 1912 Field Gun (last production model) - 12 Gauge
Specialist Galen Bungum (Blake Heron
) is seen firing the Winchester Model 1912 Field Gun.
Specialist Bungum's wife firing the Winchester Model 1912 Field Gun.
M26 Hand Grenade
In several scenes, U.S. soldiers are seen with M26 hand grenades strapped to their pouches.
M26 High-Explosive Fragmentation hand grenade
A production image of Captain Tony Nadal (Jsu Garcia
) and his RTO patrol the battlefield with M16s in hand and M26 hand grenades strapped to their pouches. Note the trigger discipline - fingers resting alongside the trigger guard.
Members of Sgt. Savage's squad drag a wounded soldier to cover. Four M26 grenades can be seen attached to webbing.
M79 Grenade Launcher
Various US soldiers can be seen carrying M79 grenade launchers in a few scenes. Specialist Galen Bungum (Blake Heron) uses one since he is the grenadier of Sergeant Savage's squad.
M79 grenade launcher - 40x46mm
A US soldier jumps from a chopper during the training while carrying an M79 grenade launcher.
An American soldier fires his M79 grenade launcher.
An American grenadier gets shot while holding his M79.
Bungum's M79 slung over his back.
An NVA soldier is seen firing an RPG-2 (Vietnamese-made model was known as the B-40) against the American forces.
RPG-2 with PG-2 rocket - 40mm
An NVA soldier carrying the RPG-2 prepares to engage the American forces. He is wearing a protective hood and goggles worn to protect himself from the blast when firing the rocket.
A Viet Minh soldier uses an M1A1 "Bazooka" with a modified rear sight to destroy a French jeep during the intro sequence. While it seems that a Viet Minh soldier using a Bazooka could be an anachronism, the French army widely used the M1A1, M9A1 "Bazooka" and M20 "Super Bazooka" during the Indochina War. The Viet Minh widely used captured French weapons during the Indochina War, and the PAVN and Viet Cong also widely used them during the Vietnam War.
M1A1 "Bazooka" - 2.36 inch
A Viet Minh soldier fires an M1A1 "Bazooka" at a French jeep. Note the modified rear sight and how it has only one grip.
Hispano-Suiza HS.404 (M2 Autocannon)
The M2 autocannon, the American license-built model of the Hispano-Suiza HS.404 appears in the film as the gun armament of US Air Force A-1H "Sandy" ground-attack planes that respond to the "Broken Arrow" call, making strafing runs on advancing Vietnamese infantry.
Hispano-Suiza HS.404 with ammo drum - 20x110mm USN
The M2 autocannon, the American license-built model of the Hispano-Suiza HS.404 appears in the film as the gun armament of US Air Force A-1H "Sandy" ground-attack plane.
Colt Mk 12 Cannon
The Colt Mk 12 cannon can be seen as the gun armament of a US Navy A-4 Skyhawk responding to the "Broken Arrow" call, strafing Vietnamese infantry during low-level passes.
Colt Mk 12 cannon with ammo belt - 20x110mm USN
A US Navy A-4 Skyhawk strafes the NVA soldiers with its twin Colt Mk 12 cannons.
M34 White Phosphorous Grenade
A wounded NVA soldier is seen throwing an M34 White Phosphorous grenade (known as "Willie Pete" during the war) at Sergeant Forrester, severely wounding him.
M34 White Phosphorous grenade
The NVA soldier, covered in blood and burn marks, prepares to toss the M34 grenade.
Type 67 Stick Grenade
Chinese Type 67 stick grenades (aka Chinese Type II grenades) are seen in chest pouches on NVA soldiers. In one scene, one grenade is thrown near wounded American soldiers, and a brave soldier jumps on it to save his comrades.
Type 67 High-Explosive Fragmentation stick grenade
Seen on the dead NVA soldier is a chest pouch with Type 67 stick grenades.
A US soldier sees a Type 67 stick grenade as it hits the ground nearby.
French Uniform Errors
There are several errors also in the uniforms of French troops:
- No lieutenant from "troupes de Marine" (2 golden horizontal stripes on bleu) would have a white kepi (Kepi blanc for Foreign Legion soldiers only, excluding NCOs and officers)
- The red berets are worn the wrong way (Insignia on the right in France for all the Army. Only exception French Navy Commando green berets)
- Insignia on the red berets are wrong (infantry instead of paratroopers)
The actual battle and its effect on the war
Although the battle would last more than 300 days, the film covers only the initial engagement, the first time the US used the Air Mobile Infantry (called "the helicopter soldiers" by a Vietnamese officer) in combat. Over three days, Moore's regiment suffered the loss of 72 out of his 395 men and were responsible for over 1800 enemy soldiers KIA out of 4,000. The utterly lop-sided casualty figures helped to convince Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Vietnam theater commander General William Westmoreland that the communist North Vietnamese could be persuaded to give up their attempt to conquer the South using attrition tactics. Events, of course, would prove this strategy disastrous.