They were soldiers once and I’m still a horrible person.

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.

Hopefully it’s the kind of day where my resolve to stop being a horrible person will last more than a few hours.

13 thoughts on “They were soldiers once and I’m still a horrible person.

  1. Just this post is enough to show that you’re not a horrible person. Do you know how many people are perfectly Content being exactly the way they are? I can’t keep track. And do you know how many are willing to let their experiences change them? Those, I can count. In my book, you’re one of the best.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think this is my favorite post you’ve ever written. I love that movie, I loved all the scenes you described and the premise behind the story. The fact that you blogged about it and are sharing this with your audience means that you learned the lesson, and you’re sharing it. Thanks for the reminder.

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  3. What a wonderful post. I typically avoid any type of sad movie unless it involves a battlefield. When we were Soldiers, Lone Survivor, Saying Private Ryan…I’ve seen them all and they are all very good. I make myself watch them so that I’m reminded about how very good I have it. Thank you for the little bitty kick in the pants that I needed today.
    So perfectly stated:
    “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.”

    Hurrah!

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  4. It’s things like this – the bigger picture – that are always excellent reminders that we could all stand to be better people. Possibly Mother Theresa and Maya Angelou got a pass though. 😉

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  5. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with blowing off steam and bonding with people who get you by talking about people who don’t. If people were perfect always, we’d be living in the beginning of Pleasantville or Edward Scissorhands; and nobody wants that. The fact that these kinds of movies affect you so strongly makes me sure you are.

    Liked by 1 person

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