Last Sunday afternoon we watched We Were Soldiers. By “we” I mean me since my husband fell asleep before the Seventh Cavalry left for Vietnam. And by “watched” I mean I bawled like a baby throughout most of the movie.
It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it, I cry every time I watch this film. In fact, I teared up in anticipation of emotional scenes: the second lieutenant/new father praying in the hospital chapel that he won’t create orphans; the colonel’s wife delivering telegrams to widows; the commanding officer, surveying the destruction at Ia Drang and confessing his survivor’s guilt. It wasn’t a question of Will I cry? but How much?
Barry Pepper, who plays writer Joe Galloway in the film, gives the following voice-over near the end:
Some had families waiting. For others, their only family would be the men they bled beside. There were no bands, no flags, no Honor Guards to welcome them home. They went to war because their country ordered them to. But in the end, they fought not for their country or their flag, they fought for each other.
As the closing credits rolled, so did more tears. I’m a sucker for a beautiful hymn, but I was also reflecting on the movie. I thought about how Lt. Col. Hal Moore trained his men to watch out for and take care of each other. He promised to be both the first soldier on and the last soldier off the battlefield. Remembering his words, inspired by the music, I decided to live my life with both compassion and valor. I vowed to take care of my fellow human beings, to lift them up instead of putting them down.
Hours later I had forgotten. I was making snarky comments in an online chat. The next day at work I was complaining about and to my coworkers. The lesson hadn’t stuck at all.
Do I need bullets whizzing by my head to be a better person? Is it only under the threat of death that I will let go of petty concerns? Must I experience war first-hand to replace my mean spirit with one of generosity?
There’s a moment of levity early in the film where a sergeant greets the battalion’s second in command:
Sgt. Savage: Good morning, Sergeant Major.
Sgt. Major Plumley: How do you know what kind of goddamn day it is?
Do I know what kind of goddamn day is it? I think it’s the kind of day to realize how good I have it since I’ll spend eight hours at my safe office job before driving home to my family. It’s the perfect day to not only cry over a movie, but to shed a few tears for my fellow human beings.