This color documentary, titled “I Am a Soldier,” was part of a series called “The Saga of Western Man” shown on ABC. Filmed in 1965 during the Vietnam War, the program captures the mesmerizing aesthetic of war.
The documentary opens with nearly two dozen helicopters in flight, and a voiceover that remarks: “It is a different kind of war than we’ve ever fought. Even the weapons are new. Only the names of the fighting units are old: the 7th Cavalry, the 8th Cavalry, the 5th, the 12th, and the 9th … It is a different kind of country than we’ve ever fought in … it is no man’s land. In Vietnam today, you hold only the ground you stand upon.”
At mark 01:30, the viewer is taken to a valley along the Song Bo River, where the 1st Cavalry Division is headquartered. Although it is a “different” kind of war, it still relies heavily on riflemen, such as “A” Company 1st Battalion 8th Cavalry. The camera pans the fresh faces of the enlisted men who have only recently arrived to replace soldiers who have been shipped home at the end of their deployment or rotated out due to injury. Captain Theodore Danielsen (a recipient of three Bronze Stars with Valor) addresses his men and tells them of their objectives and operations such as “search and destroy,” “search and clear,” and “seize and hold.” “We’ve got to find the enemy before we can do battle with them,” Danielsen explains at mark 03:55, adding that his men also undergoing training in advance techniques, such as repelling or climbing a rope ladder back to a helicopter in full gear, to help prepare them for combat. An air mobile assault to search and clear an area is described at 7:45.
“The Viet Cong will not stay pinned to one spot long once they know they have been spotted,” the narrator says at mark 10:15. “In this war, speed is the greatest potential.” Helicopters take flight and when they reach the landing zone at mark 11:20, “Charlie” is waiting for them. Under sniper fire, the troops rush into the tall grass and return fire. The VC retreat only to be pursued by “A” Company at mark 13:00 as they cut and slash through the jungle, all the while still being met by sporadic sniper fire. By mark 17:00 the soldiers find the Viet Cong’s base camp … abandoned. After recovering artillery shells and other supplies, the infantrymen burn the camp to the ground. “How many Viet Cong base camps are there in South Vietnam?,” asks the narrator at mark 18:43. “If one knew the answer to that then one might hazard to predict the eventual end of the war.”
The search continues the next morning, as more troops are shown making their way through the jungle at mark 20:20, eventually trading that terrain for meadows. On occasion, the men get a break while scouts move ahead before resuming their patrol. One of the men quietly sings the Brothers Four “Blue Water Line” while others catch a smoke before moving out, back into the thick jungle, where they must watch for grenades, punji sticks, and other booby traps. At mark 25:00, the lead platoon makes contact with the Viet Cong, as the sound of gunfire can be heard in the background orders to set up mortars are given.
Six young Viet Cong soldiers are taken prisoner at the 26 minute mark. In the process, two American soldiers are injured, and are shown writhing in pain at mark 27:00.
Back at base camp, the men rest up and wait for nightfall, when the Viet Cong will undoubtedly probe the perimeter … as they do almost every night. Meanwhile, crews work on preparing weapons and helicopters for the next mission. For some, passes to the nearby village of An Tuc is granted, as the camera pans small business selling “pizza pie” and “buns burger” while children wander the dirt roads. The camera crew also visits the local hospital at mark 30:00, a joint South Vietnamese and American venture. At mark 31:10, the men are back to the war as they lead a convoy to the nearby city of Pleiku. At mark 34:00, the convoy stops to investigate an overturned truck, knowing that it could be a trap laid out by the VC. This time, the villagers were also the victims of a Viet Cong ambush. As in any war, there are always casualties. That point is driven home at mark 37:00, as the men gather for a memorial service for servicemen killed in action, including an acting sergeant and a lieutenant. The men are honored with a 21-gun salute, as the sound of Taps fills the air, and the sun sinks behind a cloud.
This film is part of the Periscope Film LLC archive, one of the largest historic military, transportation, and aviation stock footage collections in the USA. Entirely film backed, this material is available for licensing in 24p HD and 2k. For more information visit http://www.PeriscopeFilm.com