Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Irvine, Christopher Plummer, Bradley Whitford, Ed Harris, Michael Imperioli, Diane Ladd, Linus Peters, William Hurt, Alison Sudol, Peter Fonda, Amy Madigan, and John Savage.
This is based on a real-life event during the Vietnam War. William H. Pitsenbarger was a member of the U.S. Air Force Pararescue (aka PJ) involved in a rescue mission on April 11, 1966. He personally saves sixty men before being shot and killed in one of the bloodiest battles during the Vietnam War.
Fact or Fiction:
2-The Battle of Xa Cam My occurred April 11-12, 1966. The objective of the mission was to lure the Viet Cong out of hiding by sending in the Charlie Company alone. They were to be the bait while two other companies advanced forward to surround and destroy the Viet Cong. As they marched forward, the Charlie Company drifted off course. They ran into Viet Cong snipers who encircled them. The other two U.S. Army companies were too far away to help them during the battle.
3-The helicopter they used in the movie was not the same model in real life. The actual helicopter Pitsenbarger and his crew flew on was a Kaman HH-43F Huskie (nickname Pedro). The one used in the film was a Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey). The film makers went with the Huey because Pedros are hard to find.
4-Pitsenbarger was a well accomplished soldier. He had flown over 250 missions. He was actually on his day off when the call came in for help. He volunteered to go on the mission. He was lowered through the trees and helped get 9 wounded soldiers hoisted up into 2 helicopters. He stayed on the ground with the remaining wounded soldiers while the helicopters flew the men to an aid station and then returned to pick up more.
5-When the helicopter returned, it was hit and had to evacuate the area. The basket was down but Pitsenbarger refused to get in it. He chose to stay on the ground with the other soldiers. The witnesses said he splinted soldiers with vines and made stretchers out of saplings. He also picked up ammunition from the deceased and gave it to the soldiers still fighting. He then picked up a gun and started fighting with the remaining soldiers.
6-The soldiers who survived said that he ran outside the perimeter several times to bring back wounded soldiers. He was wounded at least twice but continued to fight. When he was too wounded to fight and assist the injured, he yelled instructions to the other soldiers.
7-In the movie, Pitsenbarger pulled two dead soldiers over a wounded man to hide him from the Viet Cong. This really did happen. He covered Fred Navarro and told him to stay underneath them. Navarro then watched Pitsenbarger get shot.
8-The U.S. Army found his body the following day when they returned to extract any surviving soldiers and the bodies of the dead. Pitsenbarger was killed by a gunshot to the head. He still had a rifle in one hand and his medical kit in the other hand.
9-There was a friendly-fire component to the battle but not like it was portrayed in the film. The Charlie Company was indeed attacked and surrounded by the Viet Cong. They formed a circular perimeter to hold off them off. The perimeter was being breached by the Viet Cong and an American Artillery unit mistakenly fired on them. Some of the artillery fire splintered some of the trees causing sharp spear-like pieces to fall on them. There were deaths because of this but the absolute number is not known. In the film, Samuel L. Jackson’s character admits to radioing in the wrong coordinates. No one is sure who was responsible for this in real life.
10-It is correct that Pitsenbarger’s commanding officer in the Air Force did nominate him for the Medal of Honor. He was given the next highest honor for valor which was the Air Force Cross. The Air Force Cross is the highest honor that is awarded by the Air Force. The conspiracy theory that the government blocked the honor because of friendly fire is not thought to be accurate. It is estimated that up to 8,000 battles in the Vietnam War had a component of friendly fire. The Battle at Xa Cam My was not one of the worst friendly fire incidents. An Army General did recommend that the honor be downgraded stating there was not enough documentation supporting Pitsenbarger’s heroic measures. There are several theories on why-
- This was an Army battle and Pitsenbarger was Air Force. He wasn’t even supposed to be involved in the operation. The Army helicopter refused to fly into the area because of the danger involved. Pitsenbarger and his team decided to go anyway. They were concerned it made the Army look bad.
- The Army was embarrassed that they lead their team into a “dead end” without appropriate support causing a large number of casualties with at least a small portion being from friendly fire.
- They did have difficulty getting eye-witness statements. The surviving soldiers scattered when they returned. The did not keep in touch until they reconnected when the internet was launched.
11-The Pentagon staffer, Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan), was not real. This character was loosely based on Parker Hayes. Mr. Hayes was a curator of a museum and a historical writer. At the time he was working for the Airmen Memorial Museum in Maryland. He wrote a piece about Pitsenbarger. After the piece was published, several of the soldiers who witnessed Pitsenbarger’s heroic actions contacted Hayes and asked him to request a formal reconsideration for the Medal of Honor to be given to Pitsenbarger. Hayes interviewed 12 of the soldiers and then sent a formal request to the Pentagon. This was a lengthy process, but it is believed that it was not secondary to government pushback but more of a standard process length of time. Pitsenbarger was awarded the Medal of Honor on December 8, 2000.
12-Almost every veteran in the movie was fictional. The soldiers who fought with Pitsenbarger did push and petition for the Medal of Honor to be given but the ones in the movie are mostly fictional. The statements made by the fictional veterans in the movie regarding Pitsenbarger was taken from the actual transcripts from the soldiers at the Battle of Xa Cam My.
13-Pitsenbarger was awarded the Medal of Honor on December 8, 2000. 3,000 people attended the award ceremony. His father, Frank Pitsenbarger, received the honor on his son’s behalf. Parker Hayes was also in attendance. Frank Pitsenbarger was indeed dying of cancer during this time. He died on February 8, 2002.
14-Pitsenbarger has received many honors since his death:
- Congressional Medal of Honor
- Air Force Cross
- Promoted to staff sergeant (posthumously)
- U.S. Navy container ship was named after him
- Multiple government buildings are named after him in California, Texas, and Germany
- Pitsenbarger Sports Complex in Piqua, Ohio
- Pitsenbarger Scholarship at Edison Community College
15-The title of the movie comes from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. He talks about people who made the ultimate sacrifice. He said “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion”.
Wow… What to say about this movie? I had not heard of this movie. No movie trailers, no social media discussions, nothing. My schedule is very tight, so I have to see movies on certain days and at certain times. This was one of the two movies that fit into my schedule. I noticed that there are a lot of excellent and really famous actors in this movie, so I watched the trailer. I figured that this would be a really good movie. I was not wrong. I really enjoy movies based off true stories. They are almost always about people who were selfless and made significant sacrifices to help others. This was definitely true in this case. This type of movie makes me feel like a complete loser and they make me want to do more for others. For some crazy reason I love these types of films and I certainly loved this one.
Well done. It was structured well. There were current day scenes interspersed with flash backs as the characters told the story. The transitions back and forth were smooth. My only complaint was it was a times difficult to figure out which older and younger characters matched.
The script really hits you where it hurts. I am glad that I did not know the actual facts before seeing it. The script really took some liberties in the emotion department. That being said, Pitsenbarger did an incredible thing and absolutely deserved the honor and the respect from his country.
Well done. Be prepared if you have war related PTSD.
Should You Go See This Movie?
I thought it was great. This man and all of his fellow soldiers were true heroes. They deserved the honor and recognition for their sacrifices for their country and for each and every one of us. Every adult should see this movie.