On wed, May 9 we headed over to Camp Roberts, Ca. They are filming a movie in the area about the book ("WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE.......AND YOUNG" website: www.lzxray.com) that was written about Ia Drang valley in Vietnam. Since I am a survivor of the Ia Drang I wanted to see what was going on. We didn't know if we would be able to get on the set but we were willing to try it. We arrived at Camp Roberts and signed up for a campsite on post and then had to drive to the campground. We were extremely disappointed in the condition of the area. It didn't look like anyone cared about how it looked. I had my voltmeter out and was checking the voltage at the site and it wouldn't check out right. Meanwhile Kay came over and said she would not feel comfortable staying there.
So we headed back north to King City and found a state campground that was great. We got everything hooked up and decided to head over to Fort Hunter-Liggett where the actual filming was taking place. It was dark when we got there and we were hungry and went to the restaurant on post. As we were entering we met up with Gen. Hal Moore and his lovely wife Julie. He was the commander at LZXRAY. He said they were doing some night filming and to come on out. If they stopped us from entering just tell them I was one of Gen. Moore’s men and they would let us in. After a quick bite we headed out to the set. It was out in the 'boonies' but they had everything there that they could possibly need. No one stopped us upon entering so we parked and started asking where to go. They had about 10 vans that they were using to constantly shuttle people back and forth from the 'base camp' to the actual shooting area. We got to a van and were stopped. We told them what Gen. Moore had said and the lady got on the radio to call to the shooting area. After a couple of minutes we got the OK to go up there. Remember that it is nighttime but they had the back area lit up like daylight. Up on the knoll where they were shooting a scene about the 'Lost Patrol' it was darker. As we walked towards the knoll someone came up to us, saw my hat (for those that don't know me too well, I always wear a hat that says Ia Drang Valley on it to help other Vets recognize me. Sometimes they want to talk but don't want to talk to someone that might not understand what's going on in their mind. When they see my hat they feel comfortable talking to me and I am always ready to let them talk it out) and asked if I was an Ia Drang Valley vet. Told him yes and he said "come on" and led us up to the shooting site, introduced us to the director, Randall Wallace. Randall won an Academy Award for screenwriting BRAVEHEART, and he also did the screenwriting for PEARL HARBOR, and this movie. He talked to us for a little bit and then had to get back to directing as they had everything set up to shoot. We stepped back and watched the whole thing which lasted about 30 seconds. Then they set everything back up again and reshot the scene about 4 times til he thought it was right. Meanwhile people had been coming up to me, shaking my hand and talking about the movie. Evidently the crew and cast were telling each other that another valley vet was there. They treated us like kings (and queens--Kay). I felt like I was a celebrity. I could feel that all the people involved in making this movie were dedicated to getting it right and accurate. They were emotionally involved. They asked me what I thought about the accuracy of the set, uniforms etc. They wanted it right. One of the producers told us to follow him and took us to a trailer where they would play the scenes as they were shot and do replays to check them out. This whole setup was very impressive. We watched this whole process for a couple of hours and then headed back to our MH. They had told us to come back the next day in daylight to see the set in daylight and watch them shooting some daylight scenes.
Next day we headed out there around noon. This time they had a security guard right at the entrance. We told him who we were and he told us to drive right out to the shoot. They were shooting scenes of the LZ at the base of the mountain. I was overwhelmed at the accuracy of the LZ area. They had brought in trees, plants, anthills, etc. The anthills were foam and the dirt was glued on. They stand about 6 feet high and in Nam they had to blast them to move them. They were as hard as rock. They were shooting a scene of choppers entering the LZ. Had a little deja vu as the shooting and chopper noise was going on but it wasn't bad. The only time I really had to regroup myself was when I turned around and there was a group of 10 actors dressed in NVA (North Vietnamese regular Army) uniforms. It gave me quite a start for a couple of minutes. Good thing I wasn't 'locked & loaded' (armed). We walked around looking at all the props and such and were constantly being approached and they introduced themselves and wanted to shake my hand. Some had copies of the book that they asked me to autograph. Some asked if we would be back the next day and they would bring their books for me to sign. Again I was feeling like a celebrity. This went on all afternoon. We left about 6 pm and were told that they were shooting again that night. We drove back to the MH and took care of the dog and then headed back out to the set. This night they were shooting Joe Galloway's (coauthor of the book) arrival at the LZ and his first meeting with then Col. Moore and battalion Sgt Major Plumley.
The actors: Gen. Moore---Mel Gibson, Plumley---Sam Elliott, Joe---Barry Pepper, Bruce Crandell---Greg Kinnear. While they were setting up this shoot we were talking to Julie Moore and Mel Gibson came over to greet her and she introduced us to him. Later they were taking a break and we were by the trailer that had all the monitors in it. Kay has been a Sam Elliot fan since she saw his first picture and here he was coming by us. I stopped him and introduced myself and Kay to him explaining who I was and why we were able to be there. He grabbed my hand, shook it, then Kay's and talked to us for awhile. Kay was eating this up. I asked him to sign my copy of the book and he said he would be glad to do it. He is a very nice and personable man. A pleasure to talk with. He went on about his business and then we remembered about trying to get his picture. I saw him coming back and asked him if we could take his pic and he said OK. I grabbed the camera and told Kay to stand by him. She was startled and then went over by him. He grabbed her with both arms, hugged her and put his head up against hers and I got the pic. She is sailing high over that. Then I got a pic with him and he talked with us some more. He told us if we had any problems getting on the set to have them call him and we would get on. That was great! As I said, he is a very nice man. Very likeable.
We walked backed to the monitor trailer and Mel Gibson was in there talking to the Gen & Julie. I caught his eye and asked if he would sign my book and let us take a pic. He came out of the trailer and did just that. We each had our pic taken with him. He didn't talk much but he was gracious.
I will post some of these pics on this site after the movie comes out as the head people (one of the producers explained this to me) didn't want any on the internet until then. This is a multi-million production and I can understand their concern. And I will comply with this and not even email the pics to friends until then.
I went up to watch some more shooting and got to talking to Sam again for awhile. He said they were going to break for supper (1 am) pretty quick and we could eat at their caterers. We went on down and had some great food. Sam was eating at that time and when he was done he came over to our table and talked to us some more. A lot of the crew and extras commented that he is always like that.
After we ate we went back to the MH as it was getting cold out and we were tired and dirty. The chopper bringing in Joe Galloway's character was really kicking up a storm just like I remembered they do. It was a treat for Kay as she had never been that close to an operating chopper before. Before every take they would spread leaves around the area as the previous bunch of leaves had been blown away in the previous take.
Next day we headed out again and it was a repeat of the day before as far as people coming up to us and introducing themselves. And signing more books. One of the crew people came up and told us about an LZALBANY vet that lived just down the road. He ran a restaurant there. So when we left the set we drove down there and met him. Talked to him for a bit, told him about our banquets for Ia Drang survivors that we have every Veterans Day and invited him to come meet the others.