Craig Latham, and the movie, We Were Soldiers
Updated: Apr 23
"Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death." - Omar Bradley (1893-1981) U.S. Army General
Craig Latham, a 20 year old from Ohio, carried a 35 mm camera and an M-16 rifle plus a 60-80 lb. ruck-sack on his back into the thick of Vietnam battle at firebases, in the jungles and on the mountains, during the weekdays. On the weekends, he retreated to his base in Phu Bai, where he would develop film and write up the combat stories to be published in the "Screaming Eagle" newspaper of the 101st Airborne Division. Some of his photographs went on to the public newspapers - the AP and UPI. Two of his war photographs are posted below, as well as a current picture of himself with a Lt. he was in battle with.
Craig was drafted at 19, then received a reprieve, but when the lottery started and his number was not so good, he decided to enlist for two years, hoping to avoid the draft. He ended up being sent to Vietnam anyway, after basic training in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and journalism and photography training in Fort Benjamin in Harrison, Indiana, and finally a week of Vietnam training at Fort Riley, Kansas. He arrived in Vietnam in August 1970 and completed his tour of duty the following August. He was one of the lucky ones. Or was he? For those who died in Vietnam, their nightmare ended. For those who came home, their nightmare became their shadow for the rest of their days.
Over thirty years after Craig returned home from the war in 1971, a movie called We Were Soldiers came out in 2002 about the first major battle between the U.S. Army and the North Vietnamese Army, starring Mel Gibson and Sam Elliott. That battle took place at Landing Zone X-Ray in la Drang in 1965. Craig attended the movie in New Philadelphia, Ohio with his wife at the time, who would squeeze his hand to show her empathy with how he must be feeling. He sat spellbound through the entire movie, never glancing around at anyone. Craig recently wrote about his experience in that theatre that night over a decade ago.
"After the movie was over, the lights came up. You could hear people around us talking about where they were going to go to get something to eat and then they left -- all but seven people. All were men. Most were with someone, but one was seated by himself. They just sat there, staring at an empty movie screen. Each was lost in his own thought(s). I, too, was one of them. My wife didn't move, she just sat there and rubbed her fingers across my hand. She was also in no hurry to leave, as the others were. I heard a couple of sobs, and then I heard one person say, "Are you ok, Dad?"
I looked around at the men sitting there and I knew. Like me, they were all Vietnam Vets. They might have been there during those days of the Ia Drang Valley or, maybe after that, at some other little known place some 10,000 miles from home. But for a year or so, for us, that place was 'home'.
We probably sat there for fifteen minutes or so and when I got up to leave, I didn't go directly to the back of the theatre to the exit. I went down the isle to the man who was sitting by himself. I walked up to him, shook his hand and said, 'Welcome Home.' He just smiled through his tears. He didn't need to say a thing. He knew. I knew. I gave each of the other men a 'Nod' or said 'Welcome Home.' They smiled back and, for a moment, We Were Soldiers again. There we were in an empty movie theater thinking about a place where we didn't want to be, a place we couldn't completely leave.
Although she is now my ex-wife, I couldn't have made it without her."