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Soldier says Vietnam movie true to the real thing

March 06, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Dick Cline was a soldier.

He led a platoon of 7th Cavalry helicopter pilots who dropped men and supplies into LZ X-Ray, the first major battle of the Vietnam War between American and North Vietnamese troops in November 1965 - the battle depicted in the new Hollywood movie "We Were Soldiers."

Cline saw the movie Tuesday. "It was fairly accurate, especially the helicopter assaults into the battle area," he said.

Cline, 68, retired from the Army in 1973 after 20 years of service, including two combat tours in Vietnam, in 1965 and 1968, as a helicopter pilot.

Today he's adjutant of the Waynesboro American Legion Post.

He said seeing the movie brought back memories of Nov. 14-16, 1965, when American soldiers jumped into battle from helicopters for the first time.

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"I was 32 years old then, but most of the soldiers on the ground and the pilots in my platoon were 19- and 20-year-old kids," the Waynesboro resident said.

During the battle, Cline flew troops and supplies into the battle zone and flew out with dead and wounded men, many times a day and always under fire.

"You got in and out in a hurry," he said.

All of the choppers, including his own, were hit by enemy ground fire, he said. None was shot down, but several were destroyed close to the ground while landing and taking off.

Cline said he got to know Maj. Bruce Crandall, the lead chopper pilot played by Greg Kinnear in the movie. He said he saw Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore, the commanding officer played by actor Mel Gibson, but didn't know him.

He said everyone was frightened during the fighting that left 234 Americans and about 2,000 North Vietnamese dead.

"There were some who rose up better than others and some of my pilots were better than others, but there were no cowards. The younger pilots and soldiers were more frightened than the older guys. For us career guys the battle was like a final exam after all the training."

He said he also believed that flying helicopters was safer than being on the ground.

The outfit left Fort Benning, Ga., Aug. 15, 1965, pretty much in the way it was depicted in the movie, at night by bus, he said. Many soldiers left their families at the base. Cline sent his wife and two young children to her family's home in South Dakota.

The troops left by ship from Charleston, S.C., sailed through the Panama Canal and arrived in Vietnam 28 days later, he said. Within two months, the fighting at LZ X-Ray began. The 12 choppers in Cline's platoon were flying in troops and supplies from the first day.

Cline grew up in upper New York State. He was drafted in 1953, the year he graduated from high school, and decided to make the best of Army life.

"I volunteered for anything I could," he said.

He went to officers training school and volunteered for airborne school. The Army taught him to fly planes, then helicopters, assigned him to bases all over the country and sent him to Korea and Germany. He earned college degrees and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel 20 years and nine days after he was drafted.

He worked for the federal government for another 20 years after leaving the service. He and his wife came to Waynesboro to take jobs at Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa. He later worked at what was then the Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base.

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