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"A Walk in the Sun" Student Film

By Dan Reed 
Originally published on Published Online: November 09, 2012 
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Veterans of the Battle of LZ Albany worked closely with students to help them re-create the chaos of combat that occurred during the final two days of fighting in the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. (Courtesy of Rob Crossley)
Veterans of the Battle of LZ Albany worked closely with students to help them re-create the chaos of combat that occurred during the final two days of fighting in the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. (Courtesy of Rob Crossley)

"This film shows the horror of war to the next generation"…Lt. Jim Lawrence, XO, Delta Co., 2-7 Cav.

During the long, hot walk to Landing Zone Albany in the Ia Drang Valley, Specialist 4 Bob Towles of Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry's Anti-Tank Platoon, in about the middle of a 550-yard-long column of more than 350 men, gets word that it's time to take a break. Sweating in the hot sun, he drops his three LAW rockets and reaches for some water. One of the men alongside him points into the jungle and asks, "Are those our flankers out there?" Towles glances over. "I think so," he replies.

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Suddenly, the men hear a shot ring out from the head of the column, then several more, followed by automatic weapons fire and mortar rounds. The company is ordered to form up and wait. The troops peer into the jungle toward the gunfire and watch for the flankers to retreat back to them, but they never do. Instead, seconds later, enemy fire pours through the bush—zeroed in on them and so thick it seems like a swarm of bees—followed by North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers running through the jungle right into them. Knocked off his feet by an exploding rocket propelled grenade (RPG), a stunned and bleeding Towles gets up, fires his M-16 rifle at the onrushing enemy. He fires at another, then another. But Delta is being flanked and overrun on all sides.

"Cut!" I shout. "Great shot. Excellent job." The real Bob Towles, standing beside me, nods in agreement.

Student Matt Schmidt, left, portrayed Spc. 4 Bob Towles, right, in the movie. (Courtesy of Rob Crossley)
Student Matt Schmidt, left, portrayed Spc. 4 Bob Towles, right, in the movie. (Courtesy of Rob Crossley)
The actor "Bob Towles" was one of my Lorain County Joint Vocational School (LCJVS) students, Matt Schmidt. He and others in my high school American Military History class were in northern Ohio in the spring of 2009, portraying a day of the Vietnam War that had long fascinated me—the rest of the story in the film We Were Soldiers about the cavalry troopers who stayed on after the fight at LZ X-Ray. In the book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, on which the movie was based, authors Lt. Gen. Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway gave a full accounting of the battle that followed X-Ray—Albany. I had decided to re-create some of the scenes from the book for my own documentary, A Walk in the Sun, and to make it part of my students' learning experience. As a reenactor, I had always wanted to involve my students in living history. When one student suggested that we film scenes of the history they were learning, so began a series of films my classes have worked on, ranging from the Colonial Rogers' Rangers to the Marines on Iwo Jima.

A Walk in the Sun tells the story of 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and two companies of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry at LZ Albany during the final two days of heavy fighting in the Ia Drang Valley. Outnumbered by the enemy and cut off from reinforcements on Nov. 17, 1965, the exhausted soldiers wondered if they would make it out alive. About 350 U.S. soldiers marched into the fight, where they faced an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 NVA. Of those 350 Americans, 155 died in the battle.

To tell this story accurately, we had to make contact with the men who fought there. I was acquainted with war reporter Joe Galloway and he put me in touch with Captain George Forrest, commanding officer, Alpha Company, 1-5 Cav; 1st Lt. Larry Gwin, executive officer, Alpha Company, 2-7 Cav; and Towles of Delta Company, 2-7 Cav, who had written his doctoral thesis on the battle. They were to be the main characters portrayed in the movie, but when word got out about the project, more than 20 veterans of the battle wanted to be interviewed.

Larry Gwin sent me pictures of the Ia Drang Valley and, surprisingly, it was a pretty close match to terrain in northern Ohio, where my parents had several acres of property we could use for location filming. My consulting vets said it would work for the Central Highlands.

From the interviews, I drafted the screenplay, which included dialogue, narration and camera shots for all the scenes. I had the veterans edit it and made their corrections. To set the stage for the battle, each soldier's storyline had to be introduced as well as their unit and fellow troopers. The screenplay provided the basis for our filming schedule, which ran spring through fall 2008 and spring through fall 2009 and included days for close-up shots and days for long, landscape scenes. Bob Towles, who lived nearby, was with us every day of filming except one. Specialist 4 Dick Ackerman, of Recon Platoon, Delta 2-7, was able to attend one day of filming as well. The movie was shot on mini-digital videotape and featured an original sound track written and
performed by Oberlin College Conservatory students.

Rescue of Ghost 4-6, Kluge talks to Jeannette. (Courtesy Rob Crossley)
Rescue of Ghost 4-6, Kluge talks to Jeannette. (Courtesy Rob Crossley)
One of the most valuable aspects of this kind of interdisciplinary teaching approach is its ability to create energy and enthusiasm for learning history. It's not just about relating facts; it's about remembering stories of courage and sacrifice. Students not initially involved became curious and wanted to learn more about the Vietnam battle; in all, more than 100 students participated from classes as diverse as history, carpentry, electricity and cosmetology. We also had input and support from our community. Newspaper, radio and television interviews during filming told the story of how LCJVS students were re-creating the fight at LZ Albany. The movie was shown on local cable television throughout the county.

As A Walk in the Sun opens, 2nd Platoon of Alpha Company, 7th Cavalry, under Lieutenant Gordon Grove, leaves the LZ X-Ray perimeter on the morning of November 17, bound for LZ Albany after three sleepless nights of missions and patrols in the area. Tension grows among the troops as they wonder what happened to the numerous dead NVA soldiers they had seen the previous day while scouting the same area. If the dead men had been picked up by their comrades during the night, could the North Vietnamese still be in the valley, waiting somewhere ahead of them in the jungle?

With his platoon halted, Sergeant John Eade realizes that the typical air cover of gunships is no longer overhead. Uneasy about that, he asks his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Megdelio Caraballo-Garcia, "Where are the gunships that are supposed to be covering us?" Caraballo-Garcia says, "I don't know, maybe they're keeping out of sight so they don't give our position away."

Tense marching music plays as the column is halted in the open, in tall grass surrounded by jungle. Recon Platoon's 2nd Lt. Pat Payne and Staff Sgt. Ron Benton have captured two NVA soldiers.

With the battalion halted, its commander, Lt. Col. Robert McDade, moves to the head of the column to personally interrogate the prisoners and then calls all of his company commanders to come forward at once. As he and his command group move to an island of trees in the center of the Albany clearing, the film's narrator announces, "The stage has been set for one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War."

McDade briefs his company commanders, and Delta's Recon Platoon moves across a clearing on the other side of the island of trees when the first shots ring out. Payne, Benton and Ackerman hit the ground in a hail of bullets. Ackerman and three others dart to the tree line.

Payne rushes back to the command post in the copse of trees and requests to pull his platoon back across the clearing and set up positions in the trees for a better field of fire. Given the OK, he hurries to Recon Platoon, finds his radioman and yells into the radio: "All recon squads, this is Recon 6! Listen up! On the count of 3, move back across the LZ to the tree line…. All recon, here we go, 1, 2, 3, go, go go!"

To give my students a sense of the chaos and cacophony of battle, our Interactive Media teacher, Rob Crossley, hauled a sound system into the field. We couldn't re-create the bullets whizzing by their heads, but I wanted to envelope the actors with the sound of combat.

Matt Schmidt portraying Spc. 4 Bob Towles in action. (Courtesy Rob Crossley)
Matt Schmidt portraying Spc. 4 Bob Towles in action. (Courtesy Rob Crossley)

Crossley's class created animated maps that show the soldiers' positions and troop movement, so viewers could make sense of the unfolding battle. We also spliced in actual U.S. Army combat footage for its historic impact. I wanted more special effects than our previous films had, so Crossley's students devised explosions, muzzle flashes, bullet strikes, an RPG launch and helicopters in flight, most added scene by scene during post-production.

For one night shot, filmed in daytime, we simulated the flight and landing of a helo at 2230 hours on November 17, when the cavalry came to the rescue under heavy fire. That night, flight leader Major Will Bennett led 12 helicopters of Alpha, Bravo and Charlie companies of the 229th Helicopter Assault Battalion to evacuate the wounded and bring Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry reinforcements.

Filming the fight. (Courtesy Rob Crossley)
Filming the fight. (Courtesy Rob Crossley)
We filmed the sequences using a Vietnam-era Huey at an American Legion post in Holmesville. For the interior shots of Bravo Company Chief Warrant Officer Lee Komich's night flight into Albany, we covered the helo's windows with blankets and in post-production added special effects to re-create tracers and the aircraft's movement. With "whup whup" sound effects, the helicopter appears to be flying as it approaches the landing zone.

"Look for red light over LZ," Captain Ken Weitzel, the 229th's liaison on the ground, radios to Bennett's helos. Guided in by the flashlight's beacon, Komich lands the chopper while the narrator describes the scene:

"Komich's crew chief, Spc. 5 Richard 'Smitty' Smith, watching out the door as the helicopter came closer to the ground, was guiding Komich to a safe touchdown when he saw a stump sticking out of the grass that they were about to land on. Smitty yelled in the intercom, 'Go forward, go forward!' Komich did exactly as he had trained and put the Huey down. Immediately there were men running up to the helo with wounded while the crew began dumping ammo, medical and ration crates out the other side. Five to eight men were loaded on board and then the chopper lifted off."

Animation shows the waves of helicopters that landed in groups of two throughout the night under heavy fire, with only one pilot being hit. In the action sequence, troops jump off under fire while tracers, smoke and chaos surround them.

Leading one of the platoons, 2nd Lt. Rick Rescorla yells, "Come on, let's let them have it!" when he and others jump from the helicopter and run to the U.S. lines, as men in the trees cheer. Lieutenant Gwin would remember years later that this was the most heroic and boldest air assault he'd ever witnessed.

Teacher Dan Reed, left, conferring with Spc. 4 Bob Towles. (Courtesy Rob Crossley)
Teacher Dan Reed, left, conferring with Spc. 4 Bob Towles. (Courtesy Rob Crossley)
The film is not sugar coated. I wanted my students to understand what it means to be a soldier, and the book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young conveys that. Weeks in advance of filming, students learned about the battle through lectures, films and veterans' recollections. Joining the student cast were some school staff, reenactors and military recruiters.

The temperatures during shooting reached into the 90s, about 15 degrees cooler than the Ia Drang battle, but still hot for those not used to it. We had period items to give us the look of an actual 1965 Cavalry unit in the Central Highlands. Army Navy stores and the Internet were my "quartermaster depots" for authentic uniforms and equipment, with funding help from the local VFW, American Legion and AMVET posts. Reenactors and collectors donated items for props to help with authenticity as well. We used the OG-107 cotton twill uniform issued at the beginning of the war, not the jungle fatigues that were just coming out, along with all-leather black boots and the 1956 webgear, not the 1967 nylon. We did the best we could with period haircuts and makeup, provided by some of the school's cosmetology students.

Actors were issued their uniforms, helmets, load-bearing equipment and M-16 rifles (airsoft), as well as their food for the day—canned "C rations" donated by a local grocer. They carried water for the day in two plastic canteens—the only items the actors were required to purchase from a local Army Navy store. Students acting as squad leaders had to make sure their canteens were filled. Some were detailed with extra duty such as keeping track of an 81mm mortar and a PRC 25 radio and other items built as props.

I made dog tags for all of the students that included their parents' phone numbers, just in case. They carried individual first-aid kits in painted Altoid tins, and were to take care of themselves as best they could in the field. One adult served as a "medic" to see that no one was dehydrating or having any other problems. The two veterans of the battle on location gave actors encouragement and advice, showed them how to carry a pack or rifle, and gave them firsthand descriptions of how the action unfolded. Students learned what it means to be tired, hot and thirsty while carrying a heavy pack, and about the loyalty soldiers have for each other and the sacrifices they make.

I had explained to students that we were re-creating a traumatic event in real people's lives and we needed to do it with the utmost respect and authenticity possible. Everyone behaved admirably, and, I believe, gained important insights. As one of my students told me: "When I'm now tempted to think how miserable the summer heat can be, I remember that it's not 105 degrees, I'm not thousands of miles from home, I'm not carrying 60 pounds of gear and no one is trying to kill me. These guys went through a lot, and many still are. The brief experience of doing this film made me more aware of our soldier's trials."

In the movie's final scene, a soldier picks up a lone U.S. flag from an anthill and attaches it the butt of his bayoneted M-16. (Courtesy Rob Crossley)
In the movie's final scene, a soldier picks up a lone U.S. flag from an anthill and attaches it the butt of his bayoneted M-16. (Courtesy Rob Crossley)
In the movie's final scene, soldiers killed in action lie on the ground while men are cleaning up the landing zone. There's a lone U.S. flag on an anthill, and a soldier picks it up. He walks to where the bodies are lined up for evacuation and sticks his bayoneted M-16 into the ground. He wraps a rubber band around the gun's butt and places the flag there, while the camera pans from it to the row of KIA, most covered in ponchos. The film's narrator intones:

"The men of Albany fought hand to hand, with rifles, bayonets, grenades, at close quarters with little cover from air and artillery due to the closeness of the enemy….Today, anyone wishing to visit and remember the brave men who gave their lives in the 'Valley of the Screaming Souls' can see their names at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Panel 3 East."

A Walk in the Sun debuted at the 2-7 Cavalry reunion in September 2010. Following the screening for the veterans, I asked all the LZ Albany survivors to stand. When they stood, with a lump in my throat I told them: "This film is now yours. It is your story, your history and it is for you and your families and your comrades who didn't come home with you." The ovation I received was humbling and one of the greatest honors of my life. Some of their feedback is included below.

Dan Reed teaches history at Lorain County Joint Vocational School in Oberlin, Ohio.




Capt. Joel Sugdinis, left, with Dan Reed at 2-7 Cav Reunion.
Capt. Joel Sugdinis, left, with Dan Reed at 2-7 Cav Reunion.

"This film showed our wives and families what real combat is like" — Capt. Joel Sugdinis, Commander, Alpha Co., 2-7 Cav


"There are certain things that you could never have
portrayed: the horrendous din of battle all around us;
the deafening noise of hundreds of weapons being fired
at close range; the shouting of orders and the screaming of
brothers warning each other of danger; the utter chaos of the
battlefield….That's the nature of combat.'"
—Lt. Larry Gwin, executive officer, Alpha Co., 2-7 Cav


"Thank you for all the intellectual and physical effort that went into recording history for all of us. If all of America's classrooms performed at the level found at your school, we would be blessed as a nation" — Lt. Col. Ken Weitzel (ret.) LNO on LZ Albany for 229th Helicopter Assault Bn.


"What a great way to bring history alive to the younger generation" — Lt. Bud Alley, Communications Platoon, HQ Co., 2-7 Cav



13 Responses to “"A Walk in the Sun" Student Film”

  1. 1
    Pat Payne says:

    Dan, a terrific article. Thanks for remembering us by making the firm. All the best to you and your students.

    Pat Payne

  2. 2
    Bill McClure says:

    I was in 2nd Bn 7th Cav, but had evacuated from Viet Nam three weeks before this battle with malaria. I watched it unfold on TV in Walter Reed Hospital and then greeted the wounded as they came into the hospital few days later. I've always read all I could get my hands on about this battle and talked to many of those involved, but I can never get enough. You have done an admiral job with this story and the kids involved will never forget it. They will also have a different take on Veteran's Day in the future.
    Thanks again for all you've done.
    Bill McClure 1st Lt Inf. 095673

  3. 3
    SSG Keith O. Maynard,USARET says:

    Thanks for the story of the grunts, but the 229th Avn. bn . made trip after trip into Albany, as we did to X-ray. I did day and night missions to Albany and picked the guys up off the LZ I could find.Our Aircraft held , even with milion rounds around us, and at us, till we got the guys aboard. As we took off every green tracer in the world was after us. You get to the field hospital off load your guys, then the shakes begin, but you must do it over, and over, if your ship will fly, but thats Cav! Gary Owen

  4. 4
    peter tapia says:


  5. 5
    Dan Reed says:

    SSG Maynard,

    In the film we covered the 229th a lot. We interviewed a number of pilots and crew members and they stories are told in the film. Send me an address and I'll send you a copy.
    Dan Reed

  6. 6
    Russell L. Ross says:

    Russell L. Ross

    3rd squad RTO reconpltoon

    question. during the time the skyraider made its first pass firing it 20mm, I

    called in that I was in the recon platoon and were holding down the far side

    of the lz, and were receiving m-60 and m79 fire from our rear.

    someone ordered me to bring everyone back to our rear. was it you?

    I got every one back, the rest the company to our right came in after

    the sgtmajor got naplamed. again was it you? that ordered me to bring

    everyone back?

    • 6.1
      Dan Reed says:

      Mr. Ross,

      According To Pat Payne (not sure if he will read this comment page), but he said he ran back to the copse of trees, talked to Capt. Spiers (S-3) and suggested that he move your group back into the trees for a better field of fire. He got permission and then called "all recon platoons to pull back to the trees on the count of 3". So yes, I believe that was Lt. Payne.
      Dan Reed

  7. 7
    Russell L. Ross says:

    question is to Pat Payne, Russell L. Ross

    • 7.1
      Dan Reed says:

      if you'd like a copy, please send me an email and I'll forward one to you.
      thanks for your service.
      Dan Reed

      • 7.1.1
        Ken Maloon says:

        Hello Dan,

        My name is Ken Maloon; an avid historian who is currently working at Aberdeen Md. I would love a copy of "Walk in the Sun". I just finished the book "We Were Soldiers" and am very intrigued about the LZ Albany fight. I would love to visit both the LZ X-ray and Albany locations one day just to stand on the hallowed ground. It would be an honor.

        My mailing address:
        Ken Maloon
        305F Forsythia Court
        Abingdon MD 21009
        or phone: 732-693-2578

        (I would pay up front for a copy).

        Best now and in the future:

  8. 8
    Russell L. Ross says:

    Sorry it wasent Pat then. The voice didnt say that. it said bring everyone

    back. and I had to go and tell the company to our right to pull back.

  9. 9
    Russell l. Ross says:

    its commander, Lt. Col. Robert McDade, moves to the head of the column to personally interrogate the prisoners <true

    this isnt true.
    With the battalion halted,<false

    there was no order to halt the battalion.

    and then calls all of his company commanders to come forward at once.< false

    Mc Dade had called the company commanders foward befor, the call came that the recon platoon had captured two prisorners. only company commanders were called to come, leaving the xos in charge of the companys

    as this web page belongs to the Weider group, after I post this I' be erased as I have been from all the other wilder magazines.

    Mcdade was using my radio he pulled me out of line and had me move with him, he kept his RTOs on the freq the were on. he changed my freq 5 times, thats why i ask pat if he was the one that
    had ordered me to bring ever one back, so mister Gwin can thank me for bringing his company back from the far side of the lz as he wasent supposed to be away from his company, he was about 50 yards away with battalion hq, he never made it back to them.

    What is the penality for writing a false after action report?

    Moore left dead at LZ X-Ray, Using LZ Albany as an excuse, Moore goes to back

    to LZ X-Ray to retrive his dead.

    Hardback We Were Soldiers Once and Young. Page 320-321.

    Moore "the 2/7 Battalion was still missing 4 troops, The 1/5, 1 troop."

    Moore "I would personally lead a search for them."

    In April 6, 1966 Moore goes back to the Ia Drang to LZ Albany. So He Said.

    Moore only takes troops from the 1/7 1 Platoon aprox 44 troops,

    Sergeant Major Plumley, Matt Dillion.

    No One in the 1/7 had seen the battle field at LZ Albany over estamated 600 yards

    long,estamated over 100 yards wide.

    Moore takes no troops from the 2/7!

    In a matter of minutes after landing, They find the missing troops!

    Fact Moore flew back to LZ X-Ray not LZ Albany.
    Steve Hansen
    +Didn’t you go back to the Ia Drang in March for Operation LINCOLN?

    Hansen "Yes, we did return to the Ia Drang".

    "In fact, we air assaulted back into XRay."

    It was quiet.

    "The mission was to search for and retrieve the remains of some MIAs.( Missing in


    We found them.

    The battlefield had been cleaned up pretty good by both sides. We found a scattering

    of stuff and I noticed the remains of one NVA soldier near the "Ant Hill" that sheltered

    the command post during the battle.


    Moore said he wouldn't leave any troop behind on the Battlefield dead or alive.

    Memories of Vietnam

    Submitted by Stephane Moutin-Luyat

    Steve Hansen

    Memories of Vietnam

    Tuesday, July 18, 2006 by Stephane Moutin-Luyat

    Steve Hansen, two-tour veteran of the Vietnam war, shares his thoughts and

    experiences in this fascinating interview.

    ArmChair General Lt. Col Hal Moore: "I will leave no one behind" [DIGITALLY


    Moore didn't know what he was doing in Nam, Killed his men.


    Moore said he wouldn't leave any troop behind on the Battlefield dead or alive.

    Galloway is using Ernie pyle's books (which he has the whole collection as a

    blueprint) to write,hes just changing the ww2 to Iraq,Vietnam, other present day wars.

    Russell L. Ross
    1741 Maysong court
    San Jose Ca 95131 PH 1-408-926-9336

  10. 10
    Russell L. Ross says:,_Chapelle.jpg,_Chapelle.jpgHenri Huet's poignant photograph of Chapelle receiving the last rites in Vietnam.
    Despite early support for Fidel Castro [1], Dickey was an outspoken anti-Communist, and loudly expressed these views at the beginning of the Vietnam War. Her stories in the early 1960s extolled the American military advisors who were already fighting and dying in South Vietnam, and the Sea Swallows, the anticommunist militia led by Father Nguyen Lac Hoa. Chapelle was killed by a tripwire landmine in Vietnam, on November 4, 1965; her last moments were captured in a photograph by Henri Huet. She became the first female war correspondent killed in Vietnam, as well as the first American female reporter to be killed during battle.

    Galloway and poo's wasent even there when she died, but yet galloway writes.

    She got her jump wings in vietnam


    There was Dickie Chapelle, with her horn-rimmed glasses and a boonie hat decorated with

    the jump wings she’d earned in some other war long before.

    She told me that the first rule of war corresponding was that you must survive in order to write the story and

    ship your film.

    ++A Marine walking in front of her set off a booby-trapped mortar shell and a tiny fragment nicked her carotid


    +She bled to death, her head in the lap of another reporter, Bob Poos, while a Catholic chaplain gave her the

    last rites.

    Knight Ridder Newspapers

    HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – Never mind that dateline. It will always be Saigon to me, the place where I landed 40 years ago to cover a war that would eventually consume much of my youth and much of my country’s innocence before it ended in bitter, bloody chaos three decades ago.

    The old familiar streets are still here, but now they’re lined with chic shops and boutiques instead of the seedy bars where delicate Vietnamese women once wheedled overpriced “Saigon Teas” out of big American GIs.

    The traffic is, at once, both denser and calmer as motorcycles have replaced bicycles and the man-powered cyclo taxis have been banned from the center of town. Pedestrians seem to risk death just crossing a street full of speeding motorbikes, but it’s a carefully choreographed dance. There are rules for the walker: Don’t run. Don’t try to dodge. Just walk slowly straight ahead and let the motorbikes adjust for you.

    The Vietnamese are still the hardest-working people I have ever known, hustling and bustling and chasing a buck and a living with determination. The majority of them, 60-plus percent, are under the age of 30, and for them the war is something in the history books.

    The country and the people are far different than they were when we came and when we left. In the cities, the old shabby yellow colonial buildings that survived have been spruced up and modernized. Office towers and high-rise hotels tower over their older neighbors. Cranes are everywhere in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as new construction sprouts on every available scrap of land.

    Communists may still rule here, but business is still business, and business is good in Vietnam. The country’s economy grew at a rate of 7.7 percent in 2004.

    Two-way trade between Vietnam and the United States has reached $6 billion annually. Trade with neighboring China is also at $6 billion a year. A local Honda plant cranks out millions of the ubiquitous motorbikes that sell for the equivalent of $1,000 to $2,000.

    On the outskirts of Hanoi, a huge gate modeled after the Brandenburg in Berlin, complete with sculpted horses, marks the entrance of a new subdivision for the very affluent. A planned but still unbuilt house there sold six months ago for $250,000. The same non-existent home has already changed hands twice. The last buyer paid $450,000 for it.

    Yet in poorer rural areas such as Quang Tri province, the per capita income is still around $200.

    What we call the Vietnam War the Vietnamese call the American War. “You see, we have fought so many wars over a thousand years that we could never call yours `the Vietnam War’ – it would be meaningless to us,” explained an earnest young guide in Hanoi.

    The American War takes up only one paragraph in the history book taught in grade schools in Vietnam today. But a big, busy bookstore on what once was Tu Do Street in old Saigon carries shelves full of books about the war and biographies of some of the great North Vietnamese Army commanders, such as Gen. Nguyen Huu An, who did his best to kill all of us in the Ia Drang Valley during some terrible November days in 1965.

    A friend and fellow scribbler, Phil Caputo, inscribed a copy of his book “A Rumor of War” to me: “As an old French general once told another, `The war, old boy, is our youth – secret and uninterred.’” By then, in the late 1970s, both of us knew exactly what that old French general meant.

    It seemed so simple and straightforward when we began that march 40 years ago with the landing of the first American Marine battalion at the port city of Danang. We were a modern superpower blocking the spread of communism to a Third World country.

    War has a way of looking simple going in – and generally turns out to be far more complex and costly than the architects ever thought possible. This one sure was.

    The Vietnam War consumed the presidency of the brash Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, who sent the first combat troops there. It brought young American protesters into the streets and helped topple Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon. A third president, Gerald Ford, inherited an orphaned war that ended in chaos and defeat on his watch.

    To those who fought it, mostly young draftees on both sides, the war was unavoidable, a duty their country demanded of them. To those caught in the middle, the peasant farm families, it was an unending and deadly disruption to their lives. One and a half million Vietnamese perished in those 10 years. On the black granite wall in Washington, D.C., the names of 58,249 Americans who died in Vietnam are engraved.

    The war gave me the best friends of my life and took some of them away almost immediately. I can still see their faces as they were then.

    There was Dickie Chapelle, with her horn-rimmed glasses and a boonie hat decorated with the jump wings she’d earned in some other war long before. She told me that the first rule of war corresponding was that you must survive in order to write the story and ship your film. A Marine walking in front of her set off a booby-trapped mortar shell and a tiny fragment nicked her carotid artery. She bled to death, her head in the lap of another reporter, Bob Poos, while a Catholic chaplain gave her the last rites.

    And Henri Huet, half French, half Vietnamese, all heart, all smiles. He took me on my first combat operation, teaching me every step of the way how to do this insane work and stay alive. He went down in a South Vietnamese Huey helicopter inside Laos in 1971 with the finest photographer of the war, Larry Burrows of Life magazine, and another who might have inherited Burrows’ mantle had he lived, Kent Potter of UPI.

    I think of them all, all 66 who died in our war giving everything they had, telling the truth and showing the real face of war to America and the world.

    I think, too, of the young American soldiers who died all around me in the Ia Drang Valley and elsewhere in a war that seemed like it would never end – and never really has in my memory and in my heart.

    >>There were men such as Jim Nakayama of Rigby, Idaho,

    >>who had so much to live for.

    >>His wife,


    >>gave birth to their baby girl, Nikki,

    >>a couple of days before he died on Nov. 15, 1965.

    Then there were those on the other side, such as Gen. An who did his best to wipe us out in the Ia Drang and came damned close to it. Years later, in 1993, he and some of his officers went back to our old battlefield with us, walked that blood-stained ground and shed tears with us for all who died there, American and Vietnamese.

    Gen. An died of a heart attack a year later.

    In 1995 my good friend Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and I visited Gen. An’s home in Hanoi to pay our respects to his widow and children. There, in a glass case of his most precious possessions, along with his uniform and medals and photographs of the young warrior, was a copy of our book, “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” which told the story of the battle.

    I think, too, of Col. Vu Dinh Thuoc, who started his career as a private storming the French positions at Dienbienphu and progressed to lieutenant commanding a company at the Ia Drang and on to colonel commanding a division in the final attack on Saigon.

    As we later walked the battlefield together, Thuoc tapped me on the chest and said:

    “You have the heart of a soldier. It is the same as mine. I am glad I did not kill you.”

    So am I, colonel. So am I.

    And I am glad that peace and a measure of prosperity have at last come to Vietnam and its people after a thousand years of war. There’s no room left for anger or bitterness, only memories, and they, too, will vanish soon enough.


    Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers. He spent 22 years as a foreign and war correspondent and bureau chief for United Press International, and nearly 20 years as a senior editor and senior writer for U.S. News & World Report magazine. His overseas postings included four tours as a war correspondent in Vietnam.

    On May 1, 1998, Galloway was decorated with the Bronze Star with V for valor for rescuing wounded soldiers under fire in the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. His is the only medal of valor the U.S. Army awarded to a civilian for actions during the Vietnam War. He is the co-author, with retired Lt. Gen. Hal G. Moore, of the national bestseller “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” which was made into the movie “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson.

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