The Battle of Hamburger Hill was an infantry operation, there was no need for heavy vehicles in the movie. With simpler organization, there’s less room for mistakes.
The scope of Vietnam War movies varies from some that are quite lame to the epic ones. Hamburger Hill definitely belongs in the latter category, being one of the most realistic movies about the Vietnam conflict. Despite the opinion that it is among the goriest and most brutal war movies, it is actually very accurate about the events it portrays.
The movie follows the 14-man platoon of B Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division in its fight for Hill 937 in the A Shau Valley. A ten-day battle that lasted from May 11-20, 1969, it was one of the most horrifying in the entire Vietnam War.
Fighting against the well-fortified units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the Americans and South Vietnamese suffered tremendous casualties. North Vietnamese fire from the hill was so devastating for American and Vietnamese soldiers that it tore them into “pieces of meat,” hence the nickname “Hamburger Hill.”
The movie Hamburger Hill strips down the Vietnam War to the bone. Besides giving an accurate picture of the battle, it also highlighted the poor psychological state of soldiers trying to fight against all odds. It shows how morale decreases after each attack in combination with racial tensions and anti-war sentiment. The film is a drama as much as it’s a war movie.
To a certain extent the movie went by unnoticed because of Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which were made at the same time and had much bigger budgets. Hamburger Hill, on the other hand, was much more realistic in portraying all the horrors of jungle warfare in Vietnam. Many veterans rated it as quite accurate and authentic.
Truly, Hamburger Hill is one of the rare war movies that has a small number of mistakes and inaccuracies. This was not only owing to the excellent work of the crew, but also to the nature of the movie. Since the Battle of Hamburger Hill was an infantry operation, there was no need for heavy vehicles in the movie. With simpler organization, there’s less room for mistakes.
Shoulder patches. On June 9, 1966 the US Army introduced subdued insignia for all combat uniforms. The process of subduing insignias to black and green colors was gradually implemented until December 1967. Soldiers in Hamburger Hill can be seen with them on their shoulders.
The thing is that they shouldn’t have them. The 101st Airborne Division was the only unit in Vietnam that blatantly ignored the rule. They proudly used their full color patches. They did so until the early 1980’s and the introduction of the Battle Dress Uniform.
M16 rifle. Soldiers in the movie are armed with M16 rifles, which was a standard rifle at the time. However, what can be seen in their hands is the first version, the XM16E1. This model was notorious for many drawbacks and was replaced in 1967 with the new model M16A1.
By May of 1969 and the Battle of Hamburger Hill most of the US Army units were armed with this rifle, which can be recognized by a distinctive bird-cage flash suppressor. The 101st Airborne Division was certainly one of them.
Calling in artillery. Sergeant Adam Frantz can be heard yelling “Rounds out” every time he heard an artillery gun shooting a round. The proper communication procedure was a bit different.
When a set of rounds were shot, an artillery radioman would call with a message: “Rounds over.” Only then should Sergeant Frantz respond with “Rounds out.” A few seconds before the impact, the artillery radio would call with the message “Splash over.” This however, as well as the proper response “Splash out,” was omitted from the movie.
To go even deeper, Sergeant Frantz shouldn’t have used the phrase “Rounds out” at all. In Vietnam, in 1969 US Army used phrases “Shot over” and “Shot out.” The term “Rounds” was used by Marines.
Armless planes. Even though the movie lacks heavy stuff, there are some F-4 fighter jets engaged. F-4s were used for frequent bombing of North Vietnamese positions up on the hill, as shown in the movie. However, the jets in the movie have no visible bombs. Probably due to organization problems, the planes were depicted without ordnance attached.
Song release. During the base camp scene showing soldiers playing in the water, a song can be heard in the background. It’s one of the most popular anti-Vietnam songs, “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” played by the band Country Joe and the Fish.
The song was first released in October 1965 and then once again on the band’s second album in 1967. However, the version of the song heard in the background in the movie was recorded at the Woodstock festival that took place in August 1969, four months after the battle.
Soft helmet. In one of the final scenes, an American soldier is hitting a North Vietnamese with his helmet, after which he falls down. As he falls, his hand crushes the helmet, made probably of foam or some other similar material.
Because of the overall combat atmosphere, and with only a few minor mistakes, Hamburger Hill is regarded as a really accurate movie. Despite the fact that it can be overshadowed by the bigger movies with greater budgets, hardly any of those show the Vietnam War in its true nature as well as Hamburger Hill does.