A French unit is on patrol in Vietnam in 1954, during the final year of the First Indochina War. The unit is suddenly ambushed by North Vietnamese Army forces, who kill the officers. Although the French soldiers kill many Viet Minh, the unit is soon overrun. Nguyen Huu An (Don Duong) orders the execution of all surviving French soldiers, to discourage further French involvement in Vietnam.
Eleven years later, the United States had entered the Vietnam War. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) is depicted as dedicated and deeply committed to training troops under his command (the 7th Cavalry Regiment), who are preparing for deployment to Vietnam. He is disquieted because the 7th Cavalry regiment was the unit commanded by General George Custer in the 19th Century when he and his men were slaughtered at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Moore is also dismayed because President Lyndon B. Johnson has decreed that the war will be fought "on the cheap", without declaring it a national emergency. As a result, Moore believes he will be deprived of his oldest, best-trained soldiers (a formal declaration of war would have meant mobilization and extension of the terms of enlistment for volunteer soldiers) - about 25% of his battalion - just prior to shipping out for Vietnam.
After arriving in Vietnam, he learns that an American base has been attacked and is ordered to take his 400 men after the enemy and eliminate the Vietnamese attackers, despite the fact that intelligence has no idea of the number of enemy troops. He leads a newly-created air cavalry unit into the Ia Drang Valley. After landing in the "Valley of Death", the soldiers capture a North Vietnamese Army lookout who informs them that the location they were sent to is actually the base camp for a veteran North Vietnamese Army division of more than 4,000 men.
Upon arrival in the area with a platoon of soldiers, 2nd Lt. Henry Herrick spots a scout, runs after him, and orders reluctant soldiers to follow. The Vietnamese scout lures them into an ambush, resulting in several men of the platoon being killed, including Lt. Herrick and his subordinates. The surviving platoon members are surrounded with no chance of retreat. Sgt. Savage assumes command. He calls in artillery and uses the cover of darkness to hold off the Vietnamese from overunning their small defensive position. Meanwhile, with helicopters constantly dropping off the Cavalry units, Lt. Col. Moore manages to secure weak points before the Vietnamese can take advantage of such.
The casualties in Vietnam are shown taking an emotional toll at Fort Benning, Georgia, the unit's base of operation. Lt. Col. Moore's wife Julie (Madeleine Stowe) and Lt. John Geoghegan's wife, Barbara Geoghegan (Keri Russell), assume the task of delivering telegrams to inform families (mostly soldiers' wives like themselves) about the soldiers being killed in action.
On the second day, despite still being trapped near the landing zone, and desperately outnumbered, the main U.S. force manages to hold off the Vietnamese with artillery, mortars, and helicopter lifts of supplies and reinforcements. Eventually, enemy Vietnamese commander Nguyen Huu An orders a large scale attack to completely overrun the American position.
At the point of breaking and being completely overrun by the enemy and with no option left, Moore orders his radioman to call in "Broken Arrow" (indicating that Moore's position is being overrun and can no longer be defended, and requesting all available combat aircraft to attack the enemy, even those close to the U.S. tro
We Were Soldiers is a 2002 American war film that dramatizes the Battle of Ia Drang on November 14, 1965. The film was directed by Randall Wallace and stars Mel Gibson. It is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, both of whom were at the battle.