We Were Soldiers

As most of you know I am not a person that watches TV or movies at all and when I do it is along the lines of Golden Girl’s and What About Bob. I don’t like to be sad and I don’t like to cry.  Never have.  I dislike it so much, I don’t do it.  After my brother died, I let myself be a little more emotional, but mostly I am a I don’t like this, so lets not think about it and move on kind of person. This past year, I have not cried much, but I have been trying to let myself feel pain.  To think about things that are not pleasant or are down right tough and to feel them.

War makes me sad. I hate it.  I hate what we ask these men and women to do and I have never wanted to know the full extent of the sacrifices.  I know very little about war for a woman who’s husband served 20 years in the Marines.  When he was in Somalia with HMLA 369, he sent me a picture of himself standing in front of a building that had recently been shelled.  He was in his green PT shorts, shirtless and bone skinny.  He had a rifle flung over his back and those images so terrified me, I never watched a single piece of news on the the events taking place over there.

This is about as much as I knew…

On November 28, 1992, HMLA-369 began planning for Operation Restore Hope, the international United Nations humanitarian relief effort in Somalia. On December 3, 1992, the Gunfighters were assigned as the force in readiness and by January 1, 1993, the entire squadron was deployed to Baledogle, Somalia, as the sole light attack helicopter squadron in theater operating under Marine Aircraft Group 16[2] HMLA -369 flew a variety of missions including Close In Fire Support, Command and Control, MEDEVAC, Escort, Visual and Photo Reconnaissance, Logistical Supply, VIP, and Non Governmental Organization (NGO) support. HMLA-369 logged 1,098 flight hours during January. The Gunfighters returned to Camp Pendleton in April 1993.

November 1993 saw the Gunfighters depart for Okinawa in support of the UDP deployment Program. Additionally, the Gunfighters provided detachments for the 11th and 31st Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable) (MEU(SOC)). The Gunfighter 11th MEU(SOC) Detachment supported Operation Continue Hope and Operation Distant Runner, aiding in the evacuation of Americans from war torn Rwanda.

My husband was there in 1992 and 1994.

I had no idea how dangerous and out of control that country was.  I really didn’t understand the nature of it until the movie Blackhawk Down came out. I assumed my husband would want to see it.  He did not. When I asked him why, he said  “It’s to close to home.” We still have not seen it.

I have been trying to understand more about combat mindset, self defense, strength, courage and sacrifice.  I have always known the qualities of my husband’s character. I know why he was such a good Marine, such a good man, but I have never had the courage to face what he faced.  I dealt with life as a Marine wife, by doing.  I volunteered for every organization on the base and I worked at helping families.  I kept busy doing and I rarely stopped.  Stopping meant thinking and I did not want to think.

Yesterday we watched “We Were Soldiers”.  I understand it is not the most graphic movie that was ever made, but for me it was tough to watch.  My husband has seen a good deal of combat.  He was not a tip of the spear kind of Marine.  He was not a sniper, he was not special forces, he was not infantry and so I think that made it easier for me to believe that he was off  on some USO Tour and not really fighting. Of course, there were times throughout his career where pretending was not possible.  There were times when I had to face the realities of a life in service to your country.  We lost friends, I attended services for the fallen, I cooked meals for their families, I watched their children, I stayed up nights wondering if I would get a knock on the door, I comforted those who did, but mostly, I just kept my head down and did everything I could not to feel, not to know.

My husband saw combat both as a young Lance Corporal and later as a company commander leading a truck company of 400 Marines across the line of departure into Iraq, so for him watching these movies is also tough.   The first time he watched We Were Soldiers, it was before he deployed to Iraq.  He found it motivating.  He has not seen it since, but he said yesterday he watched it from a different perspective.  He saw it more from the leadership position, from the loss of my men side and that just kind of always sucks.

I was struck by the part of the movie where the men are getting ready to leave to join the war.  There are long dramatic silences just before they head out.  I don’t know if that was in the book, if that is what happened for these families or if it was added for dramatic effect, but for us, that is exactly what it was like.  We barely spoke, for days, weeks before my husband left for Somalia. Mostly because the work ups were so time consuming, I just never saw him. Before he left for Iraq he was involved in war plans and could not speak of what he was doing.  His mind was heavy with the burden of leading his Marines forward and leaving his family behind.  I didn’t have any idea what to say, so I didn’t try. Mostly we just touched, but almost never spoke. Those days leading up to a deployment there is a distance that is hard to explain.  We didn’t fight or argue, but there was a separation, a heaviness, a numbness. Having his skin on mine was the only thing I could feel and it said more than any words could.

I had no real idea of what happened in Vietnam. I knew the school book accounts and the public perception, but I didn’t really know. My family didn’t like to talk about the war. My cousin Billy’s helicopter went down over there and he died. I never knew him, but the pain and torture of his death on my family left such an ache in me it was like he is a part of me.  The only thing I know of his life was his death and even that was mostly about the agony. It’s been 45 years since my cousin’s death and it is still the central part his parents days. Ironically, my family has spent so much of their life trying to avoid the pain of Billy’s death that it is actually the only thing they feel. That is not a judgement. It’s an observation.

Today I wanted to know more about his life and about his death, so I did some research.  How strange that I miss him so much.  How strange that I have an overwhelming desire to know him.  I don’t know what I would say, but more than anything, I want to wrap my arms around him.  I want to feel the person and not his ghost. I want to feel the flesh of man who’s memory I have carried with me and who I have loved all of my life. How strange it is that not feeling hurts so much.

34 thoughts on “We Were Soldiers

  1. I arrived at Ahn Khe about 6 years after Gen. Moore’s actions in the Ia Drang valley. In fact, I arrived as we were beginning to leave – about where we are in Afghanistan today in my opinion.

    It is a powerful story. If you can find the interviews of Gen. Moore, watch them. He strikes me as a man passionate about his profession, and one who truly loved his men and his country. Joe Galloway’s interview is certainly worth watching as well. These two men met at the beginning of America’s fight to free a nation. The level of our success I leave to each individual’s own judgment.

    The movie tells only half of the story – only about half of the company was extracted by helicopter. The rest attempted to walk out to LZ Albany – they were truly decimated in the firefights that ensued. The book is worth the time to read. It was probably 20 years before I could fully look at my time in Vietnam and to read and study that conflict. It still catches me unawares at odd times – a sound, a smell, a sound. Yet, it is a part of who I am.

    Read the book, these men deserve to remembered and embraced. They did as their country asked – and then some.

    And please, thank your husband for his service for me.

    • I took your suggestions and watched several videos of General Moore and Joe Galloway also. Very moving.

      I will tell my husband and THANK YOU for your service.

  2. One thing I’ve learned, “history” taught in schools usually only brushes up against portions of actual history…at best. At worst, it completely misses what actually happened. Especially when the Vietnam war comes up. Our country demanded that our young men go overseas and fight, yet could not give them the dignity of some basic respect/courtesy when they came home, if they came home. Media played a BIG part in that, pushing agendas and twisting stories and cut/pasting interviews so that their version of “truth” was reported. Its sad. I’ve known quite a few Vietnam vets (Dad included), and they’re great guys. I know from my own brief years in the Navy that after I got out, I wanted nothing to do with the military for quite some time…I still don’t read or study all that much of anything Naval-related…and I was nowhere near the pointy end of the stick. Your husband, and all those up in the mud, have my utmost respect.

    • ETA: Yes, definitely read the book. I was looking at it at a book store when a vet walked up and said that that was probably the most accurate book he’d ever picked up. I put another book back and got this one instead. He also mentioned that its still on the required reading list at West Point, with the first half of the book a study on how to conduct yourself in a hot LZ/ambush position, and the second half of the book how NOT to conduct yourself. Book, movie, either one…they’re excellent. And that movie is one of a very small list (count em on one hand…with fingers to spare) of movies that get my allergies acting up (watery eyes, ya know).

    • Kirk, we have the book. My husband read it and I will always. Thank you for your service and for your comments. I decided to watch the movie after a comment you made on another post. Thanks again.

    • No prob. We culled our DVD collection (dropped em at HalfPriceBooks, made about $45) awhile back, and that was one of the movies I had to keep.

  3. I thank each and every one, that has, or is serving. For I also have those “allergies”, that act up quite often.

  4. I was in the Marines at the tail end of Viet Nam, I help relocate refugees after Saigon fell. I never was in Combat. I did know a lot of guys that were and I had (and still do) a deep respect for them. I spent a few months with a Seargent as a room mate and sometimes he would wake me up, first with the screams and then wanting to talk. He was a tunnel rat ans saw some of the worst. I just found out recently that one of my cousins (Army, we can’t all be perfect, J/K) earned a Bronze Star. They just don’t pass those out. All of our Warriors deserve our respect, from the front line troops all the way to the guys that pass out the bullets.

    I am the second in 4 generations of Marines. My Uncle served in WWII, our youngest son was a Marine in Iraq and now our oldest Grandson is a Marine. Looks like a family tradition.

    Another good book to read is Chickenhawk. The guys last name is Mason. It’s a great book on the use of Helicopters. The last paragraph surprised me.

    • Thank you for all you have done for our country. I appreciate your service. Sounds like you have a fine family lineage. I will check out the book. Thanks again!

    • My Dad was an Air Force SP in…I believe…Saigon. He had a few stories he told about his time, but didn’t say much at all. He transferred into the medical field after that, and spent the remainder of his 22 years as a lab tech. I have a grandfather who was with the Army Air Corps in Italy (propeller tech on B24’s), another grandfather (recently passed away) who failed the Navy physical 4 times (passed on his 5th try, but Japan surrendered before he was made active, so the Navy said “thanks, bye”….still…5 tries? GOTTA respect that!), a great-uncle who was in WW2, another who was Army infantry in Korea (pointy end of the stick), Dad, who was in Vietnam, then myself (Navy) and my brother (Army). One of my uncles is tracing back our family tree, and has photos of tombstones from ancestors who fought in the Civil War (Confederates, I believe…not as current on my CW history as I should be), and all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Military service, I guess you could say, runs in our family too. I try to thank every vet I see (or read!) whenever I’m out and about. Many thanks to you and your family for their service and sacrifices, Mr. Fowler.

  5. I’ve tried to watch Blackhawk Down on two different occasions, and have never made it to the end. My wife rented Saving Private Ryan right after it was available and I couldn’t even make it through the opening scenes of the D-Day invasion.

    Movies like Apocolypse Now and Full Metal Jacket are so full of BS that they are sometimes even entertaining to watch.

    We Were Soldiers. . . it struck a nerve. We actually made it through the entire movie.

    From one vet to another, please pass along my respect, admiration and gratitude for you and your husband’s service and sacrifices. Too many non-military citizens have no idea what spouses and families go through.

    Thank you again.


    • AOA, I will pass on your respect and please accept ours. I appreciate your perspective on the movies. It’s nice to be in good company:)

  6. I also have Blackhawk Down, Private Ryan, and We Were Soldiers, and I’ve only been able to get through them once apiece. I’ve never been in combat, but I can look at the young actors and see people I have known in them.

    I agree with reading the book by General Moore. Also look up the biography of one of his men, Rick Rescorla. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Rescorla His story is one that should be taught to every schoolchild in the United States.

  7. I stumbled upon your blog by following your profile from a comment you left on another blog… i think it might have been Excels At Nothing… anyway, i have been a gun guy my whole life, and the title of your blog piqued my interest.

    Your story about how you came in to gun ownership is inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story here. As soon as i get to a real computer next weekend, instead of my phone, you will be added to my blogroll.

    From one gun lover to another, thanks, and stay safe.

  8. AGirl, one thing that made it ‘easier’ for us, was that we knew what we were facing, and we could (and did) compartmentalize that and keep it separate from the ‘family’ compartment. Another part was that we knew the training BS was finally over, and we mentally ‘shifted’ gears into the ‘now it’s for real’ mode, and focused on our people we were going to war with, be it in a squad, company, aircrew or whomever. Y’all on the other hand, had no one to really reach out to, and never know from day to day what your Hubby was facing. Trust me, we had it MUCH easier than y’all did…

  9. Very good post, Agirl. I get emotional when I watch these kind of movies but “We Were Soldiers” just floored me. I ended up reading the book and was almost overwhelmed.

    On a less serious note, if you like stuff like “What About Bob,” I have a couple of suggestions for you. You need to see “The Man Who Knew Too Little” (Bill Murray) and “Big Trouble” (Tim Allen). They aren’t really alike in the comedy, but both are relatively unknown great comedies.

  10. I know what it’s like to research a Vietnam casualty you never knew. A few years ago I found my own name on “The Wall” and the servicemember was killed the day I was born. That has always haunted me and I recently found out more about him.

    Here’s what I know:


    As for your cousin, just wanted to make sure you found this page with his picture and a link to more info on the helicopter accident:


    You can also fill out a FOIA request with the National Archives for his service record. It will be somewhat redacted since you are not the “surviving relative” but may have more ifno.

    Rob Reed

    • Oh my gosh Rob, I had not seen that picture of Billy. Thank you!!!

      Your story is amazing. Thank you for sharing it with me. Life is crazy. Thank you for all the information to help me find out more on my cousin. Really, thank you!

  11. Glad to help.

    I had one more thought: You might be able to contact the librarian at his hometown paper and see if they have any articles on him in their archives. You can also check out the paper closest to where the Marine helicopter units trained. Have them check starting a couple days after his death or you may get lucky and they may have a file with his name.

    I ran across a fragment of a newspaper article on Robert W Reed online and was able to get the paper’s librarian to send me a copy. There was info there I hadn’t seen before.


  12. Thank you for this post. I watched We Were Soldiers once, and I really can’t watch it again. Although, for some reason, when he’s deployed I always get the urge to watch those sorts of movies… yeah, doesn’t end well.

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