The new National Geographic Channel documentary Brothers in War (premiering Wednesday, March 26th at 8pm ET) takes a look at the conflict through Charlie Company's experiences during the men's training and year-long tour in 1967.
Based on new interviews with the veterans, archival film footage from both training and field service (including a surprising amount of the troops' own home movies) and even some recordings sent home as audio letters during the tour, the documentary's narrow focus (the 160 men of Charlie Company instead of the 485,000 troops in Vietnam in 1967) gives an honor and weight to the men's experiences that's missing from most military documentaries that try to explain the conflict from a 10,000 ft. overview.
Based loosely on Andrew Wiest's The Boys of '67: Charlie Company's War in Vietnam and mostly lets the men speak for themselves. There's a minimal amount of narration from a raspy Charlie Sheen, trying to conjure up that Platoon spirit after a couple of decades of being Charlie in Hollywood.
In this clip, Charlie Company Commander Herb Lind talks about down time at the Dong Tam Base Camp and the amenities the men enjoyed. 1st Platoon Squad Leader talks about the Med Camp operations and the troops’ interaction with Vietnamese civilians.
The tour was brutal and Charlie Company suffered a casualty rate of over 80%, with 26 killed and 105 wounded. The film captures the camaraderie the men developed before going into explicit detail about their major engagements with the Viet Cong. Brothers in War follows the men through their return home in January 1968 and their company reunions that began in 1989.
The "war at home" stuff is there to provide context but none of the men featured in the film seem interested in focusing much on that conflict. Maybe it's just the perspective of 45 years gone by or the fact that American civilians have since learned to respect men and women who serve even if they disagree with the military decisions made in Washington, but that standard hippies screaming about Vietnam footage doesn't seem that crucial a part of this one.
Another striking thing about the film is just how much of the included footage is taken from network news reporting. Anyone too young to remember seeing the Vietnam War on the evening news might be shocked at how much access the media had to the day-to-day operation of the war. One small reservation: the music score sounds like instrumental outtakes from a 1993 alternative hard rock album. Faked Stones, Motown, Hendrix or Doors sounds would better fit the footage.
I'm not the only one who likes this documentary. Military historian Dr. Erik B. Villard saw the film at a screening last week and offered up the following quote:
Having spent the last two decades researching and writing about the Vietnam War, I must say ‘Brothers in War’ is one of the finest documentaries about that conflict ever produced, featuring razor-sharp editing, masterfully restored archival footage, and a powerful yet understated musical score. The narration by Charlie Sheen is first-rate, as are the interviews conducted with members of Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry, who offer compelling testimony about the harsh realities of combat and the bonds of brotherhood forged in war. A must-see.Nat Geo TV will probably show this a few dozen times over the next year or so and it's worth checking out, especially if you have a family member who served during this era.