"We Were Soldiers" is based on the best-selling book which details the events of the battle of LZ X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, written by Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore (Retired) and civilian war correspondent Joseph L. Galloway, both of whom endured the brutal battle and vowed to tell the story of the men who fought and died there.
"Many of our countrymen came to hate the war we fought," Moore and Galloway write in their prologue. "Those who hated it the most - the professionally sensitive - were not, in the end, sensitive enough to differentiate between the war and the soldiers who were ordered to fight it. We knew what Vietnam had been like, and how we looked and acted and talked and smelled. No one in America did. Hollywood got it wrong every damned time, whetting politically twisted knives on the bones of our dead brothers. When it was over, the dead did not get up, dust themselves off and walk away. The wounded did not wash away the red and go on with life, unhurt. Those who were miraculously unscratched were by no means untouched. Not one of us left Vietnam the same young man he was when he arrived. This story stands as tribute to the hundreds of young men of the 320th, 33rd and 66th Regiments of the People's Army of North Vietnam who died by our hand in that place. They, too, fought and died bravely. They were a worthy enemy. We who killed them pray that their bones were recovered from that wild, desolate place where we left them, and taken home for decent and honorable burial. This is our story and theirs. "
It was a story that moved people, and for director/writer Randall Wallace, it inspired him to recreate Moore and Galloway's stirring memorial to heroism on film.
"I came across the book in 1993 or '94," recalls Wallace. "I was getting ready to take a plane trip, and I went into the bookstore and saw a book with a cover and title that attracted me. The title had a kind of literary majesty to it that made me think it might be something interesting to read. I opened it on the flight, and by the time I got off the plane I knew I had to be involved in the project in some way. I called my agent immediately and said, 'There's this book and I know someone owns the movie rights to it. Find out who does and tell them I want to write the screenplay adaptation. ' He let me know the next day that the authors had never sold the movie rights and that they weren't particularly interested in that. "
Wallace was undeterred. He got Moore and Galloway's contact information and called them directly.
"I reached Joe Galloway first because he's a reporter," remembers Wallace. "I talked with Joe a little and then sent them both a letter that said, 'Look, anything I say will make me sound like one more Hollywood razzmatazz artist, so I'm not going to give you a pitch. You don't know who I am. You've never heard of me. You've never heard of any of my work. But I'd like to send you a couple of screenplays and let you read them, and if you like what you read, then call me and we'll talk about how to make the film. ' I sent them 'Braveheart' and another screenplay, which was about American patriotism in a different period of history. They read my scripts and called back and said, "'OK, let's talk. '"
Mel Gibson, who has the challenge of portraying the real-life hero of the story, recalls that Wallace did have to do a little talking to convince Moore and Galloway because they were adamant that the film be true to the sentiment of the book. In the end, however, it was Wallace's personality and integrity that convinced the two men to lend their story to the filmmaker.
"Randall is a man of his word," says Gibson. "He just got down and talked with Hal and Joe and won them over. In the end, they were confident that he'd do right by them."
"I met Randy and immediately liked the man," admits Moore. "He's very sensitized to everything going on around him, and he was obviously deeply sincere about making the best movie he could, one that reflects our book and shows what great soldiers there were in Vietnam. There\'s no nonsense in this movie. "
Galloway agrees, adding that after hearing what others had proposed about turning the book into a film, he and Moore were not impressed. "We thought, 'Maybe it'll be after we're dead before this movie ever becomes reality,'" says Galloway. "So when Wallace called up, I said, 'I've got one question for you, whether we talk any more or not. Do you believe in heroes?' And he said, 'I do. I just finished a film called 'Braveheart. ' And if you look at that movie when it comes out this summer, you'll see what I mean. ' He sent the script. I read it, and decided he was the one for this project. He's really a remarkable individual. "
Wallace, a onetime seminary student, with a black belt in karate, is as idiosyncratic and iconoclastic as Galloway, a journalist who ended up fighting alongside his subjects, and Moore, who repeatedly refused direct orders that would have airlifted him out of the battle to safety. Also like Galloway and Moore, Wallace has an independent streak and unadulterated honesty that clearly appealed to the authors and manifested itself in a promise.
"I optioned the rights to the book with my own money," says Wallace. "I didn't have a studio behind me, or an actor attached to the project, and I told them, 'If I finance this project, then I will be responsible. But you also have to take a risk. You have to bet on me. Then if you don't like it, you will know who to come and shoot. ' They said that sounded good, especially that part about shooting me. So, that's how it started and we made a deal. I was just setting up my own production company and it became my first project. "
Wallace's passion for the book, and ultimately the movie, came from the underlying themes, not necessarily the idea of making "a Vietnam movie. "
"In an overall sense, the book had the same dimensions and characteristics of every story that intrigues me," says Wallace. "The struggle of an individual to do the right thing when that individual can't control the entire world. Still, he's responsible for a piece of it, and in being faithful to himself and those around him, he actually shapes a broader world than he ever dreamed he could influence."
Wallace compares some aspects of "We Were Soldiers" to "[Braveheart (1996)," adding that the two films depict a similar philosophy: "If you are faithful to your heart, even if they cut it out of you, then you will prevail. " That is the essence of the story he wanted to tell.
"Lt. Colonel Moore couldn't control whether or not the United States was going to go to war, but it was Moore\'s job to lead his men and how he did that was up to him," says Wallace. "When his world got reduced to a battleground the size of a football field, there were constant choices that he had to make, choices that affected his own life, and what happened to those around him. So, I don\'t think of this as a Vietnam story. I don\'t even think of it really as a war story. It's a story about love and sacrifice and leadership. "
"It's a story about the human spirit," sums up Gibson, "and what it\'s capable of is, in many cases, quite surprising. "
Because the book is a collection of individual tales that describes each soldier's experience and that of their loved ones, Wallace had to first creatively shape the film, weaving individual lives into a collective whole.
"That\'s what makes the book so gripping, so real," says Wallace. "You can smell and taste fear and death, and you can feel the love of friends. I really wanted to capture that but I had to put the story into a framework. I had to take the book and put it into a chronology. Since there are so many heroes in this story, I couldn\'t tell all of their experiences. Ultimately, that was liberating because I'm not really telling the story of any individual character, or even this individual battle. I'm telling the story of soldiers, on both sides, and not just in Vietnam, soldiers in all wars. "