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Page 38
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The Last Full Measure

By Allen Meece (reviewer)

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The Last Full Measure
written and directed by Todd Robinson
(Lionsgate, 2020)

The oddball title of this incredibly good little movie is from US President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address of 1863 and it means giving your life away to a cause, even if it's a bad one.

It stars Sebastian Stan as the deceased and belated Medal of Honor winner Airman First Class William Pitsenbarger. It was directed and realistically written by Tod Robinson.

Wikipedia.org, the peoples' online encyclopedia, says that Tod and his producer, Sidney Sherman, tried for twenty years to find a studio that would film this important untold story and they finally had to write and produce it themselves. Perhaps the poor title is partly why it grossed only 3 million dollars after costing 20 million dollars to make. It is a pity it wasn't more popular as it portrays a terrific lesson in the absurdity of war, especially of THAT war.

The crux of the story is that It took 31 years for a Vietnam veteran to receive his well-deserved Medal of Honor, (MoH), because the Army brass did not want the publicity that an MoH would bring to the shoddy conduct of Operation Abilene in April of 1966 in Vietnam, Republic of. Protecting the brass's asses was more important than fully rewarding Pitsenbarger's awesome bravery during his helicopter's rescue mission for an undermanned and over-run company of the Army's Big Red One (1st) Division.

The second crucial point the movie made was that the Air Force brass liked to give itself many more MoHs than it gave its enlisted worker class. They gave their fellow officers 11 MoHs during the time of the Vietnam-American War, (as the Vietnamese properly call that "military conflict") and gave only one MoH to an enlisted person, even though there were 4 times as many Air Force enlisted people as officers in the war. (Two Vietnam era heroic airmen were tardily awarded MoHs in the following century. One of them was Airman Pitsenbarger in December of 2000, and the other was Sergeant Etchberger, way later, in September of 2010.) Do you get a sense of reluctance there? All the officers got their Vietnam MoHs DURING the war.

The third and fourth cruxes of the story are the tragic errors that were made at the battle of Xa Cam My village in Vung Tau Province, southeast of Saigon.

Third crux; the 1st Army Division's goofy tactician, Major General Bill DePuy, hero of the Normandy Landings in WWII, proudly thought he could ambush a superior Viet Cong force that had been hiding near the village if he could only lure them into his modern Army clutches by sending Charlie Company on an optimistic "Search and Destroy" mission into their stronghold. Wrong. It was the Americans who got ambushed.

Fourth crux; While Charlie Company was being overrun, it radioed incorrect coordinates for artillery fire support and brought the first barrage down on its head, demoralizing itself with friendly fire and killing a number of soldiers. See why the Army brass didn't want any MoH publicity attracting newspapers' attention to DePuy's pathetic Abilene scene?

Then, Alpha and Bravo Companies, who were supposed to be the crushing claws of Depuy's High Tech Modern Army Ambush were too far away and too slow cutting through the dense jungle to reach the firefight that day or night.

Charley Company lost its medics. The injured lay bleeding and dying. What this battle needed was an angel of mercy and into the fray dropped an Air Force medic in clean fatigues, gung ho and ready to go! Airman "Pits" lowered down and dressed wounds and loaded stretchers until the helicopters were damaged too badly to come back. He shot snipers in the trees until he was shot in the head. Charley Company's 134 men took 80% casualties.

Then came the long night of horror, waiting, along with the dead and the wounded, to be relieved or shot.

This movie indicates that medals, while ostensibly honoring outstanding warriors, are propaganda shows glorifying war and multiple-killing. That is why Vietnam Veterans Against the War threw their medals onto the steps of the US Capitol in 1971 for the Dewey Canyon III demonstration. They were showing that fighting well for a bad cause is a nonsensical waste of life and resources.

The Last Full Measure is quite a story, so typical of all the insane horror of the ten-year Vietnam War.

Allen "Somerset" Meece served aboard the USS Edwards, DD950, in the Tonkin Gulf in 1964-66. He wrote the naval novel "TIN CAN" which is available at Amazon.com.

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