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The personal experiences that influenced oliver stone’s vietnam war trilogy.

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Photo Credit: 1. Zayne / MovieStillsDB 2. MovieStillsDB 3. Francois G. Durand / Getty Images

Oliver Stone is arguably one of the best directors and screenwriters in Hollywood, known for his ability to bring blockbuster and award-winning stories to the big screen, including an epic Vietnam War trilogy. Prior to making his directorial debut, he served in the conflict, volunteering for combat duty. It was his experiences during this time that went on to influence the events depicted in Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven & Earth (1993).

Oliver Stone requested combat duty in Vietnam

Oliver Stone standing in front of a body of water

Oliver Stone enlisted in the US Army in April 1967, and requested a combat tour in Vietnam . He was deployed to South Vietnam that September and assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division along the Cambodian border. During this time, he was wounded twice – in the neck and legs/buttocks – and awarded the Bronze Star.

Once he’d recovered from his injuries, Stone was transferred to the 1st Cavalry Division, with whom he conducted long-range reconnaissance. During one patrol, he and his platoon fell victim to an attack by the North Vietnamese. Despite being greatly outnumbered, they survived the fight with just 175 casualties – the enemy force had lost around 400 soldiers .

Stone was later transferred to a motorized infantry unit, before being discharged in November 1968. For his service, he received a number of decorations. On top of his Bronze Start with “V” Device for valor, he was awarded the Air Medal, the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Unit Citation with Palm, among many other honors.

Speaking about why he’d volunteered for service in Vietnam, Stone later said , “I thought war was it; it was the most difficult thing a young man could go through… It was a rite of passage. And I knew it would be the only war of my generation, so I said, ‘I’ve gotta get over there fast, because it’s going to be over.’ There was also a heavy streak of rebelliousness in the face of my father, and I think I was trying to prove to him that I was a man, not a boy.”

Oliver Stone’s decades-spanning Hollywood career

Portrait of Oliver Stone

Following his honorable discharge from the US Army, Oliver Stone used the Vietnam GI Bill to pay for his education at New York University, during which time he studied under Martin Scorsese . Among his first original works was a 12-minute short-film titled Last Year in Viet Nam .

Stone’s big break came with the release of Midnight Express (1978), for which he won an Academy Award. He continued to see success into the 1980s, with his top films being his remake of Scarface (1983), Year of the Dragon (1985), Wall Street (1987) and the first two movies in his Vietnam War trilogy. He’s continued to release top-performing features over the subsequent decades, albeit with a few flops here and there.

In 1991, Stone released his most successful – and controversial – film, JFK , about the assassination of John F. Kennedy . His second presidential-themed release, the Oscar-nominated Nixon , premiered in 1995, while the third, a biopic about George W. Bush, debuted in theaters in 2008.

In 2020, Stone released his memoir, Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game . Along with covering his service in Vietnam, the book details the trials, triumphs and tribulations of the entertainment industry.

Platoon (1986)

Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger as Sgt. Elias, Chris Taylor and Staff Sgt. Bob Barnes in 'Platoon'

The first film in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War trilogy was Platoon , starring Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Forest Whitaker and Johnny Depp . Stone wrote the movie around his experiences as an infantryman during the conflict, in a sort-of rebuttal to John Wayne ‘s The Green Berets (1968).

Platoon follows Chris Taylor, who volunteers to serve in Vietnam and finds himself in the middle of two head-butting superiors, Sgt. Elias and Staff Sgt. Bob Barnes, following the massacre of innocent villagers by the platoon. As the movie progresses, viewers are given a no-holds-barred view of what the conflict entailed and just how brutal the jungle warfare was. On top of this, it presents the moral dilemmas faced by those who served, and how war, in general, can change a person.

Arguably one of the best Vietnam-era films ever released, Platoon has received critical acclaim, with veterans, in particular, able to identify with its characters and what they faced. Earning an impressive $138 million at the domestic box office, it went on to receive a number of accolades, including the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Director.

In 2019, the Library of Congress added Platoon to the US National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic in 'Born on the Fourth of July'

The second film in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War trilogy, Born on the Fourth of July , came at a time when Tom Cruise was on a career high. Still relatively new to Hollywood, the actor already had a number of big-name movies under his belt, including Top Gun (1986), Rain Man (1988) and The Outsiders (1983).

Born on the Fourth of July is based on the autobiography by US Marine Corps veteran Ron Kovic, who was injured and paralyzed while serving in Vietnam. The film was years in the making, with producer Martin Bregman acquiring the rights to book in 1976, and follows Kovic’s journey from naïve recruit to an outspoken critic of the war. All the while, he battles with personal demons that resulted from his life-altering injuries.

Willem Dafoe and Kyra Sedgwick star alongside Cruise in the movie, with Stone and veteran Dale Dye making cameos. Earning over $162 million at the worldwide box office, Born on the Fourth of July became the 10th highest-grossing film of 1989 – and its accolades reflect this success. Stone, again, won the Academy Award for Best Director, and the movie overall was the recipient of many Golden Globes.

Heaven & Earth (1993)

Hiep Thi Le and Tommy Lee Jones as Le Ly and Steve Butler in 'Heaven & Earth'

The third and final film in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War trilogy is also the one that received the least attention. Heaven & Earth , starring Tommy Lee Jones and newcomer Hiep Thi Le, garnered mixed reviews, and, compared to its predecessors, was a major box office flop.

Based on Le Ly Hayslip’s books, Child of War, Woman of Peace and When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey from War to Peace , the film follows Le Ly as she struggles to survive during the Vietnam War.

Accused on being a spy by the South and a traitor by the Viet Cong , she and her family are forced to flee their village for Saigon, only to return when Le Ly falls pregnant by a married man. She subsequently meets US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Steve Butler. The two move to the United States, where their relationship dissolves.

More from us: Stanley Kubrick Was the Mastermind Behind These War Movie Classics

Earning just $5.9 million at the box office, Heaven & Earth fell short of making back its $33 million budget. While many praised Stone for depicting a side of the Vietnam War not many Americans likely considered, this wasn’t enough to bring the film more than an average rating, with its only accolade being a Golden Globe for Best Original Score.

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A Private’s Perspective: Oliver Stone & Vietnam

Ten years, one career as a cab driver, seven screenplays, two directorial efforts, and one screenwriting Oscar later, Stone had accumulated enough clout and enough money ($6 million) to bring Platoon to the big screen.

It was a full-fledged, if minor, Hollywood production, initially opening in only six theaters on December 19, 1986. Over the course of two months, the film gained enough attention for distributors to grant it a wide release on February 6, 1987. By the 59 th Annual Academy Awards on March 30, 1987, Stone’s autobiographical film had swept the country, was tied for the most Oscar nominations (eight) that night, and took home four awards (best editing, sound, director, and picture).

Prior to Platoon ’s success, Stone had been a hardworking screenwriter who was glad to use his talents on gripping, gratifying action movies and horror flicks. Audiences had no reason to expect that, as a director, the writer of films like Midnight Express,   The Hand,  Conan the Barbarian,   Scarface,  and Year of the Dragon would be relentlessly political, polemical, and shockingly direct—that he would achieve mastery in the art of controversial films. Between 1986 and 1995, Stone wrote and directed 10 films (eight of which would get a wide release) that confronted corruption on Wall Street, drug use in the 1960s, government conspiracies to assassinate J.F.K., the glorification of murder by mass media coverage, and Richard Nixon’s provocative presidency. In those nine years, his films would collect a total of 33 Oscar nominations and 10 trophies, along with a flood of festival and critical awards. And it was during this same period that Stone created three films that arguably lie at the heart of his entire 47-year career: the Vietnam War trilogy.

It opens with Platoon . The film follows Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen)—a young, passionate patriot who dropped out of Yale to join the Army—as he treks miserably through the Vietnamese jungle with his fellow grunts. During the film, he wrestles with his private doubts about the morality of his two commanding officers and the messy war he volunteered for. After taking a short break from war stories to direct Wall Street , Stone ventured back into Vietnam with Born on the Fourth of July . It is, more or less, a biopic that dramatizes the true story of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise). It tracks Kovic’s life from an inspired all-American boy, born on the Fourth of July, to an impassioned Marine sergeant in Vietnam, to a disabled veteran imploring his country to oppose the war.

Stone followed this second installment with films about The Doors and JFK  (itself a kind of background document on Vietnam), before capping off the trilogy with Heaven & Earth in 1993. Heaven & Earth represents a drastic shift away from the perspective of American military men, focusing instead on the true story of Vietnamese village girl Le Ly (Hiep Thi Le). Unable to escape the violence, brutality, and chaos that the war wreaks on her family in the Central Vietnam countryside, Ly moves to Saigon in search of a peaceful life, only to fall in love with a troubled U.S. Marine.

Every main character in the trilogy experiences the war in a different way. Taylor’s entire experience is in combat, wrapped up in the ethics and morality of his American platoon’s war-time decisions. Kovic’s experience builds on Taylor’s by honing in on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the dimension of America’s ignorance of the war, and the concomitant maltreatment and exploitation of veterans. Ly’s experience is that of a somewhat neutral victim living in a village in central Vietnam, caught in the middle of warfare, periodically tortured by both the Vi ệ t C ộ ng and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) as well as the U.S. and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), depending on who was passing through. Taken together, these stories present a relatively comprehensive portrait of the atrocity that was the Vietnam War.

But what many don’t know is that Oliver Stone made a Vietnam film before he ever put pen to paper on Platoon . Toward the end of his time at NYU film school, he made a short film called Last Year in Viet Nam, a neglected, nearly lost, and intriguingly early attempt to tell the story of Vietnam from a veteran’s perspective. Perhaps his most personal Vietnam film, it is an essential piece for understanding Stone’s thoughts on the war. His experimental short film is proof in subject alone that Stone had a strong undergirding motivation to bring his personal stories of the Vietnam War to the big screen from the beginning.

It should come as no surprise that some of film history’s most honest, significant Vietnam films were directed by a Vietnam veteran, but it might strike some as strange to learn that that veteran is the same Oliver Stone that directed the belligerently controversial JFK and Natural Born Killers .  Stone doesn’t typically get the benefit of the doubt these days. He is often misinterpreted due to his strong political stances, which are complex and idiosyncratic, but are often misread as a kind of blind and dogmatic leftism. He laments , “To be misunderstood constantly is hurtful to me. I’ve been characterized as an angry Vietnam veteran. I’ve been characterized as a conspiracy nut, a buff, which is insulting. I’ve been characterized constantly as a man who can’t get his head out of the ‘60s. These are simplifications, and they hurt me because it’s not me. I live in 3D and I’m passionate about so much. I hate to be simplified.” Matt Zoller Seitz, who repeatedly interviewed Stone for his book The Oliver Stone Experience , vouches for his openness and complexity: “Stone is more willing to listen to you than you are to listen to him.”

Stone takes such characterizations personally because his films are so personal to him—none more so than the Vietnam trilogy. Each film is a personal testament, not just a political statement; with each film, Stone set out to “complete what [he] had to say about Vietnam.” Each work captures certain aspects of his own horrific experience in the war, an experience that plunged him to the “bottom of the barrel,” as he says, in less than two years—an experience he actively sought out.

In 1964, Stone enrolled in Yale University, alongside sons of the American aristocracy and future dignitaries like John Kerry and George W. Bush. He disdained the preppy, privileged lifestyle of his classmates and felt a call to country rattling in his soul. Within a year, he dropped out and moved to Saigon, where he says he got a job “teaching Chinese students in high school” at the Catholic Free Pacific Institute. After nearly a year of teaching, he joined the Merchant Marines as a boiler wiper and returned home in 1966. He re-enrolled at Yale only to drop out a second time—like his on-screen equivalent Chris Taylor—this time with a self-described suicidal ambition to join his generation’s war in Vietnam. Stone gives a translucent explanation in an interview with Bill Moyers :

“I was going to go back to my given birth name of William Oliver. And I went back into the Army, and I joined as Bill Stone, William Stone. I wanted to be anonymous. I wanted to be, as I said in Platoon , I wanted to be like every other person. I didn’t want any special breaks. I wanted to be just infantry. I didn’t want to be an officer. I didn’t want to be a lieutenant. I wanted to be just a P.F.C. and get it from the bottom. And if God, at that time, if God had a meaning for my life, he’d sort it out. Otherwise, I’d be dead. That’s my approach in 1967…I had fantasies of war when I was young. A lot of them bred by movies and television and books. Hemingway had been—war defined a man. So, I was an adventurer and I desperately wanted to seek adventure, but I hadn’t experienced it, a war. And that was the last frontier for me…I went when I was 21, the second time. I went to find out what the bottom line was. To see how bad life could be…And [suicide] was much on my mind. And I had reached a place where I was burned out, as a young man, I suppose. And I said, “This is it. I have to go back and see the bottom—” in Platoon I said, “See the bottom of the barrel.”…I found the bottom, if you know what I’m trying to say. I’m tumbling out of Yale and I end up in an infantry unit as a nobody. P.F.C.—walking point on my first day. Nobody cares if I live or die. That’s kind of like the bottom, you know?”

Platoon ’s Chris Taylor shares Stone’s privileged background, earnest patriotism, and exact age—like Taylor, Stone was 20 when he arrived in Vietnam in 1967. The life of Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July is based on Kovic’s autobiography of the same name, but in the film, Kovic’s childhood and teenage experiences have been altered to reflect Stone’s own adolescent development. He, like the fictionalized Kovic, grew up fantasizing about the glory of World War II veterans’ victories. He, like Kovic, valiantly accepted the torch that Kennedy passed to his generation “to ensure the survival and success of liberty.” He, like Kovic, criticized his contemporaries who avoided the draft by enrolling in college: “You don’t think you need to serve your country?”

To write and direct the combat scenes in the Vietnam trilogy, Stone referred back to his own experiences on long range patrols. Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July obviously contain more autobiographical material than Heaven & Earth— but Stone’s own memories inform the scenes where U.S. soldiers grossly mistreat Vietnamese civilians. Stone claims he never participated in the most heinous war crimes, but he does not let himself off the hook when it comes to the violent mistreatment of villagers, stating , “I certainly saw American soldiers abuse villagers. Hit them, torture them, in some cases rape them, burn down their hooches. I mean, we [italics mine] treated them badly.” Stone has admitted that a scene in Platoon , where an enraged Taylor fires at villagers’ feet, directly mirrors one of his own more manic moments: “I got angry. These people could be very obtuse. I felt like I wanted to kill someone, but I shot at the feet instead. I lost my mind. But I didn’t kill anyone in cold blood.”

The friendly fire scene in Born on the Fourth of July —in which Kovic accidentally shoots his own comrade in a confused flurry of crossfire—was a situation that Stone says was incredibly common around him. “I think 20 percent of our casualties were killed by ourselves because mistakes happen…It happened all the time. It was very dangerous in combat, ‘cause you don’t know where [gunfire]’s coming from. Sometimes it would be the guy behind you would lose it and fire off,” he explains. The fragging (the intentional killing of a fellow soldier) that takes place in Platoon —in which Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) kills Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe), and Taylor kills Sgt. Barnes—also echoes Stone’s traumatic experience, though he never fragged anyone himself.

Kovic’s PTSD narrative has even more similarities to Stone’s life story. Though Stone did not lose the use of his legs like Kovic, both men were awarded Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts for their valor and injuries on the battlefield. Of course, military medals were not enough to heal the veterans’ sequestered psyches. As we see in Kovic’s disastrous attempt to reintegrate into family life, there was no simple way for soldiers to return to civil society after such a cruel, violent, and corrupt tour of duty.

Not only were they stricken by their experience, but they were abandoned by government assistance and treated like pariahs by their fellow citizens. In a bone-chilling speech to the National Press Club in 1987, Stone capped off his brief summary of his Vietnam experience with a reference to his struggle to reintegrate into society: “Well I walked away from that war, 21 and benumbed and something of an anarchist in my thinking. It took me several years to recover some form of social identification.”

Last Year in Viet Nam offers an ephemeral glance into a day in the life of the rocky recovery he references. The avant-garde student short film—itself a product of Stone’s time spent studying under Martin Scorsese at NYU—follows Stone as a Vietnam veteran (presumably himself) as he limps and lingers around New York City, unable to hold onto any semblance of reality without drifting back to the war in his mind. He lives in a hotel, clearly depicting the soldier’s lack of grounding and community. He drinks and smokes heavily. He cannot sleep. He is inundated with visions of the Vietnamese jungle. Throughout the film, he sheds some of his Vietnam War memorabilia—a medal, some photos. He takes a ferry trip to throw his military duffel bag into the sea, only to have flashbacks of arriving at or departing from the coast of Vietnam. The last we see of him, he is slowly ascending the steps of a highway overpass bridge.

Given the context, we might assume that he has decided to kill himself. But perhaps it is a signal that he will try to cross the bridge instead, now that he has jettisoned his mementos. Whatever the intention, Stone eventually crossed the treacherous bridge of social reintegration in his real life. And Last Year in Viet Nam foreshadowed the next years of Stone’s career, years driven by the churning desire to push audiences toward a grave reckoning with the memory of the Vietnam War.

The trilogy carries a tone of genuine disappointment and abandonment, like that of a child let down by a lifelong hero. In this, Stone is trying to help us understand the plight of the soldiers in Vietnam, whether they were drafted because they lived in poverty or volunteered because they still believed in the lore of a morally upright America. Regardless of how or why they ended up in the jungles of Vietnam, they were brutalized, dehumanized, and traumatized, and the country was wrong to neglect them and ignore what they had learned.

Stone condemns the government and the military, but he certainly does not condemn the soldier. On the contrary, he forgivingly embraces the soldier who went to Vietnam drunk on the myth of honorable jingoism—just like he had—and tries to redirect blame for the war from the soldier to the government. Dr. D. Melissa Hilbish claims that “if anything, Platoon ’s presentation obfuscated any real historical/political perspective, and the personal cloaked the political.” Hilbish is dead-on. Platoon has a strong political stance, but the overt focus on the personal aspect of the soldiers keeps it from coming across that way. It invites the attention of those who would normally be deterred by its politics and strategically delivers the political message under the surface.

The trilogy also has an angry, retributive tone, as if it seeks reparations for all 58,000 American deaths and 2 million Vietnamese civilian deaths. Unlike the divisive and fantastical tone of JFK , the tone in the Vietnam War trilogy is grounded in an austere anger that the general public was able to relate to and wrestle with. Moreover, Stone’s conspiracy thriller does not claim the same degree of historicity as his Vietnam War trilogy. Stone has the well-documented history of anti-Vietnam protests, the five congressional movements against the war (e.g. McGovern-Hatfield amendment, Cooper-Church amendment, etc.), and the Pentagon Papers, among other things, on his side.

The combination of Stone’s accusatory tone and disappointed tone culminates in a mode of self-reflection—one that begs its viewers to interrogate the circumstances of America’s involvement in Vietnam with unrelenting honesty. In an interview with Dan Rather, he explains that he wants viewers to “really see [Vietnam] and believe and remember it because it is forgotten and it will be forgotten again.” Ultimately, he seeks to recount Vietnam publicly, to call film viewers to witness, so that none of us will allow its atrocities to be repeated in any fashion—so that no one is ever again sent to die as a worthless, warring pawn for, in his words, a “government run by people with gangster morals who have totally forgotten truth, who have totally forgotten the meaning of our own revolution.” In his final courtroom diatribe at the end of JFK , district attorney Jim Garrison quotes, “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against its government.”

As Dr. Robert Brent Toplin suggests , Stone’s approach to filmmaking makes him a kind of honorary “historian.” In the same interview with Rather, Stone rejects the historian label, but he does not reject the historical significance of his films. He identifies himself as a “dramatist.” He believes storytellers have an important role in collecting, remembering, and mining the tough questions of history, and he sees his work as parallel to the kind of work done by dramatists in Ancient Greek society. But in the same interview , he seems to implicitly embrace the title of historian, saying, “I’m so in disagreement with the way the media and the government tells our history in America. So in disagreement with it…I think we’re so distorted.”

In Born on the Fourth of July , at the end of the sequence showing Kovic’s childhood, right before Stone propels us into the teenage Tom Cruise phase, Mrs. Kovic (Caroline Kava) prophesies over her son while they watch JFK’s Inaugural Address in the living room. “I had a dream, Ronnie. The other night. And you were speaking to a large crowd, just like him. Just like him. And you were saying great things.” Little Ronnie marvels at her words, mouth agape, just as Kennedy chimes in with the crest of his speech, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

As viewers know, Mrs. Kovic’s dream comes true. The film ends four years after an angry, disheveled Kovic and company storm the 1972 Republican National Convention in protest of the war. In the final scene, a glowing and tidy Kovic sits backstage in preparation of his address to the 1976 Democratic National Convention. By November of the same year, Kovic would be featured on the front page of the New York Times book section as the author of a national bestseller. It’s important not just because Mrs. Kovic’s prophesy came true about her son—the prophesy came true, in an important way, for Stone as well, in the very making of the film.

It is safe to assume that both Kovic and Stone internalized Kennedy’s words as young patriots. They needed not ask what they could do for their country, because it was already spelled out for them: by socially-constructed gender roles, childhood fantasies of gallantry, and nationalistic Republican parents. Join the military. Go to war. Defend your country. But Born on the Fourth of July flips Kennedy’s famous exhortation on its head. Stone and Kovic’s impassioned enlistments in the military were attempts to live into the meaning they felt they were born into. In joining, they were asking their country to validate their bravery and patriotism. After their awful experiences in Vietnam, both would come home lost, mortified, and bitter, only to reconsider Kennedy’s words. What they had to offer their country was the true memory of Vietnam.

Stone’s Vietnam War trilogy shaped America’s collective memory of the Vietnam War at a crucial moment. If we understand Mrs. Kovic’s words as a forecast about Stone himself, the film becomes a meta-narrative experience. The same fearlessness that drove Stone to volunteer for the service landed him a career in which he can call out the government for their lack of transparency and integrity on an international stage. Stone wraps it up neatly : “America has, somewhere in this Vietnamese conflict, lost its compassion. It’s lost its ability to make up, to forgive, to reach across this gulf and shake the hand of an enemy and say, ‘Let’s be friends again.’ If we could do that, it would be great for America’s soul. This would be a better country.”

Perhaps it’s time we offer Stone the same hand.

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Film Director Oliver Stone Was a Soldier in Vietnam

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Acclaimed screenwriter and director Oliver Stone, whose work includes "Wall Street" (1987), "The Doors" (1991), "JFK" (1991) and "Nixon" (1995), served in the Army and deployed to Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. His wartime experiences would shape some of his later films.

A man in a scarf poses for a photo.

Stone enlisted in April 1967. He requested combat duty and that's exactly what he got. He arrived in South Vietnam Sept. 16, 1967, assigned to 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Infantry, stationed near the Cambodian border. 

Spotlight: Commemorating the Vietnam War

He was wounded twice in combat and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for valor. His wounds were either a bullet or shrapnel to the neck and the other was shrapnel to the legs and buttocks.

Regarding the Bronze Star, Stone wrote about it in his rather long-titled book: "Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game."

Soldiers walk through tall grass while aiming their rifles.

"We had run into a mean little ambush which had cost us a lieutenant and a sergeant, as well as our scout dog, a German shepherd I'd taken a liking to. It was one of those strange firefights that grew from a few random shots into a disorganized raging storm of bullets," he wrote.

"Maybe I was just cold and angry about the dog's death or the futility of it all. Or maybe I just had a headache, and the sun was burning too hot in my eyes. ... All I knew was that this was my moment to act," he said.

"Exposing myself to the enemy, I moved up quickly on a one-man spider hole between our two platoons — from which I sensed someone had just fired. On instinct, from 15 yards out, I pulled the pin on my grenade and hurled it. It was a crazy risk. If I'd overthrown the grenade, it probably would've wounded or killed some of our own men crouched beyond the hole." 

Soldiers move through jungle terrain.

"But it was a perfect pitch, and the grenade sailed into the tiny hole like a long throw from an outfielder into a catcher's mitt, followed quickly by the concussed thump of the explosion. Wow. I'd done it!" he said.

After recovering from his wounds, he transferred to the 1st Cavalry Division and was assigned to a long-range reconnaissance platoon. 

On Jan. 1, 1968, Stone's platoon, part of two battalions, was patrolling along the Cambodian border. That night, they came under a massive attack from a North Vietnamese regiment which outnumbered them.

Soldiers walk through a jungle.

The battle would last 'till nearly dawn. "The sound of small-arms fire, heavy artillery and bombs hardly let up all night, bigger than any fireworks I'd ever seen. Stunningly beautiful, in its way," he wrote.

"And now there was an enormous roar, like I suppose the end of the world sounds. Like a shark cutting through water, an F-4 Phantom jet fighter was coming in very low over our perimeter out of the night sky. So low, that doomsday sound. They were going to drop their payload on us and we were all going to die."

"I jumped into the closest foxhole and buried myself as deep as I could in the earth, which trembled and shook as a 500-pound bomb dropped somewhere close," he recalled.

"Full daylight revealed charred bodies, dusty napalm and gray trees. Men who died grimacing, in frozen positions, some of them still standing or kneeling in rigor mortis, white chemical death on their faces. Dead, so dead. Some covered in white ash, some burned black. Their expressions, if they could be seen, were overtaken with anguish and horror."

A man poses for a photo in front of a body of water.

"In the next hours I grasped the extent of what had happened. Most of the dead were fully uniformed, well-armed North Vietnamese regulars. Those who were relatively intact we brought in on stretchers, walking out to find them, or pieces of them. A bulldozer had been airlifted in to dig burial pits. I helped throw the bloating bodies into the giant pits late into that day."

"There were maybe 400 of their dead. We'd lost some 25 men, with more than 150 wounded, yet I hadn’t fired a single shot or even seen one enemy soldier. It was bizarre," he wrote.

"We worked in rotating shifts, two men, three men, swinging the corpses like a haul of fish from the sea. Later we poured fuel on them, and then the bulldozers rolled mounds of dirt over them, so they'd be forever extinct. I was too young to understand. No person should ever have to witness so much death," he said.

Stone was honorably discharged in November 1968, the same month he arrived stateside from Vietnam.

The Vietnam GI Bill helped pay for his enrollment in New York University, where he studied filmmaking under Martin Scorsese. 

He broke into Hollywood as a screenwriting notable, with his Oscar-winning screenplay for "Midnight Express" (1978). A string of other screenplays he wrote followed, including "Conan the Barbarian" (1982), "Scarface" (1983), and "Year of the Dragon" (1985). 

A woman and a family are shown on the movie poster for "Heaven & Earth."

Stone's Vietnam experience can be seen in three films he wrote and directed: "Platoon" (1986), "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989), and "Heaven and Earth" (1993).

"Platoon" was always Stone's story and he worked 10 years to get it on screen, said retired Marine Capt. Dale Dye, who played Army Capt. Harris, the commander of Company B. Dye, who was also the film's technical advisor, was the only Vietnam combat veteran on the set beside Stone. He shared some of his thoughts on the filming.

Tom Cruise is shown on the movie poster for "Born on the Fourth of July."

"Oliver and I often had intimate and unspoken moments sparked by something we were staging or filming. I recall both of us having to walk away for a few minutes while we were filming the scene that involved interrogating some villagers. We had employed actual Vietnamese refugees that we'd found in the Philippines and being surrounded by extras shrieking and conversing in Vietnamese brought us both right back to Nam," he said in a Dec. 29, 2021, interview with this journalist.

"Most people don't know it, but the patrol scene that runs during the opening credits was actually the last day of my training for the cast. Oliver observed the patrol I was leading along a riverbed and loved the look of it, so he changed what he originally had planned and filmed the patrol instead," Dye recalled. 

"He was always doing things like that, shooting targets of opportunity, whenever he saw something that jogged his memories of his own experiences. And, it was really valuable to me personally as an aspiring filmmaker. I learned a ton just watching Oliver and Bob Richardson work," he said. Richardson was the film's cinematographer.

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Oliver stone’s experience in vietnam influenced his film career.

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Oliver Stone is among the most critically-acclaimed filmmakers, with his resume boasting the likes of Conan the Barbarian (1982), Scarface (1983), Platoon (1986) and Wall Street (1987). He’s also a veteran of the Vietnam War, and his experience overseas greatly influenced his most popular films.

Combat during the Vietnam War

Oliver Stone enlisted in the US Army in 1967 and requested to be put on combat duty. He felt it was his responsibility as an American to serve in Vietnam , and saw it as a rite of passage. Speaking about his decision, he said:

“I thought war was it; it was the most difficult thing a young man could go through… It was a rite of passage. And I knew it would be the only war of my generation, so I said, ‘I’ve gotta get over there fast, because it’s going to be over.’ There was also a heavy streak of rebelliousness in the face of my father, and I think I was trying to prove to him that I was a man, not a boy.”

Oliver Stone standing in tall grass with his fellow servicemen

Stone, assigned to 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Infantry, arrived in South Vietnam on September 16, 1967. He was stationed near the Cambodian border, and during his year of service was injured twice. For his efforts, he received numerous honors, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for valor.

Two instances have stuck with him. The first was during an ambush, during which a lieutenant, sergeant and his platoon’s scout dog were killed. In his memoir, Chasing the Light , he wrote about how he took “a crazy risk” that ended up working in his favor:

“On instinct, from 15 yards out, I pulled the pin on my grenade and hurled it. It was a crazy risk. If I’d overthrown the grenade, it probably would have wounded or killed some of our own men crouched beyond the hole. But it was a perfect pitch, and the grenade sailed into the tiny hole like a long throw from an outfielder into a catcher’s mitt, followed quickly by the concussed thump of the explosion. Wow. I’d done it!”

Four members of the 25th Infantry Division aiming guns through tall grass

After recovering from his wounds, Stone was transferred to the long-range reconnaissance platoon of the 21st Cavalry Division. On June 1, 1968, he was patrolling the Cambodian border when he and his fellow servicemen came under attack by a large North Vietnamese regiment.

According to Stone, the battle – featuring heavy artillery, small-arms fire and bombs – lasted until dawn and almost ended in his death. When an F-4 Phantom began flying low overhead, he knew his life was at risk and jumped into the nearest foxhole and covered himself with dirt. He then felt the ground shake as the jet dropped its 500-pound bomb nearby. As he emerged from the ground, he found the area covered in napalm and charred bodies.

Oliver Stone standing in front of a body of water

In November 1968, Stone was honorably discharged from the Army. With the help of the Vietnam GI Bill , he enrolled in New York University, where he studied filmmaking under Martin Scorsese. In 1971, he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in film.

Stone’s Vietnam trilogy

Following his return from Vietnam, Oliver Stone said he felt “very mixed up, very paranoid and very alienated.” Filmmaking afforded him a new focus in life, and it didn’t take long for Hollywood to recognize his talent. At the 1979 Academy Awards, he won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for his film, Midnight Express (1978).

Among his most notable movies include what’s become known as the Vietnam trilogy. Comprised of Platoon , Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and Heaven & Earth (1993), each shows a different perspective of the Vietnam War, from the naïve worldview of a young adult forced to grow up in the face of armed conflict, to how it impacted the civilians living through it.

Chris Taylor standing with Sgt. Elias and Staff Sgt. Bob Barnes

Platoon , starring Charlie Sheen, is a semi-autobiographical film about Stone’s own experience in Vietnam. It follows a young man who enlists because he’s upset over the notion that only the poor should be fighting. Once in Vietnam, he’s forced to undergo a quick transition into adulthood and change his overall mentality into one of survival.

According to Stone, he wanted to depict the lasting legacy of the war as one of “brutality and distress,” and wrote the movie as a way of showing future generations and those who didn’t serve the realities of the conflict. To achieve this, he used a mixture of historical information and his own experience.

Ron Kovic leaning into a reporter's microphone

Born on the Fourth of July is based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic , a US Marine who became a paraplegic after being injured in Vietnam, which spurred him to become an anti-war activist. It stars Tom Cruise , and details Kovic’s life over a 20-year period, from childhood and his entry into the US Military , to his service in Vietnam and his shift to activism.

The final film in the trilogy, Heaven & Earth , performed poorly at the box office. It tells the story of Vietnam from the point of view of a young Vietnamese girl who lived in a village invaded by insurgents fighting against the French and American forces. Based on the memoir of Le Ly Hayslip, it portrays the harrowing events of her life, including her abduction and rape by the Viet Cong  and moving to the US with a Marine gunnery sergeant

Le Ly speaking with Steve Butler

“ Platoon would be more of the character I was, just shaken up,” Stone said of the films. “ Born on the Fourth of July would be the character I was a few years later. I became more radical because I learned more and my perception of what we were doing in the world was changing.”

He added that what he experienced in Vietnam will always stay with him:

“No matter how much I deny it, Vietnam will stay with me until the day I die. It was the central event of my adolescence; I was nineteen to twenty-one then, I came of age in Vietnam, so I will always feel associated with that generation of young men, and if it were forgotten, then those men would have died for nothing.”

Oliver Stone smiling

More from us:   Martin Luther King Jr. was Awarded a Grammy for His Speech Denouncing the Vietnam War

He definitely succeeded in ensuring the conflict will never be forgotten.

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  • Oliver W. Stone
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  • Trivia Was taught by Martin Scorsese at New York University Film School.
  • Quotes I consider my films first and foremost to be dramas about individuals in personal struggles and I consider myself to be a dramatist before I am a political filmmaker. I'm interested in alternative points of view. I think ultimately the problems of the planet are universal and that nationalism is a very destructive force. I also like anarchy in films. My heroes were Luis Buñuel and Jean-Luc Godard . Breathless (1960) was one of the first pictures I really remember being marked by, because of the speed and energy. They say I'm unsubtle. But we need above all, a theatre that wakes us up: nerves and heart.
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Famous Veteran: Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone shook the nation's conscience with ‘Platoon,’ the 1986 Oscar-winning film that drew on his own experiences as a young soldier in Vietnam.

It may not come as a surprise that Oliver Stone, the rabble-rousing film director and writer behind Oscar-winning war movies such as "Platoon" (1986) and "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989) was once a grunt in the  U.S. Army . What may surprise you is that he received the Bronze Star and  Purple Heart for his services in the  Vietnam War .

Born in New York City to a conservative family, Stone spent one year at Yale University before dropping out in 1965 and living the rootless life many of the "Easy Rider" generation lived during that era. He taught English in Vietnam and lived briefly in Mexico while wrestling with a novel that would go unpublished until 1997 ("A Child's Night's Dream").

Unable to find a publisher, and without direction in life, Stone joined the U.S. Army in April 1967, specifically requesting combat duty. Of his decision to join the military, he said: "I thought war was it; it was the most difficult thing a young man could go through. ... It was a rite of passage. And I knew it would be the only war of my generation, so I said, 'I've gotta get over there fast, because it's going to be over.'

"There was also a heavy streak of rebelliousness in the face of my father, and I think I was trying to prove to him that I was a man, not a boy."

After  basic training , Stone landed in Vietnam on Sept. 16, 1967, and was assigned to the 2nd Platoon of Bravo Company,  3rd Battalion, 25th infantry , stationed near the Cambodian border. He was wounded twice in action and later transferred to  1st Cavalry and assigned to a Long Range Reconnaissance Platoon in April 1968.

It was during this time that Stone met Juan Angel Elias, who would become the inspiration for Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) in "Platoon," which drew heavily on Stone's Vietnam experiences. Stone was discharged in November 1968 after 15 months of duty and received two personal awards: the Bronze Star with "V" device, which he received after conducting "extraordinary acts of courage under fire," and a Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster.

Related: To create a personalized transition plan for yourself, and for transition guides and checklists, visit the Military.com Transition Center.

Emotionally scarred by his experiences in Vietnam, Stone returned to the U.S. "very mixed up, very paranoid and very alienated," in his words. Fortunately, the GI Bill helped him enroll in New York University, where he studied under master filmmaker Martin Scorcese and gained a new focus in life.

Stone broke into Hollywood as a screenwriter, with his Oscar-winning screenplay for "Midnight Express" (1978) establishing him as a tough-minded scribe who pulled no punches. He brought this same intensity to his scripts for "Conan the Barbarian" (1982) and "Scarface" (1983) and his career-changing directorial job on "Platoon," which earned him an Academy Award for best director.

Always opinionated (he has been celebrated and criticized for his liberal views) and willing to push boundaries, Stone followed "Platoon" with acclaimed films such as "Wall Street" (1987) and "Born on the Fourth of July," as well as controversial ones such as "JFK" (1991) and "Natural Born Killers" (1994).

Comparing his films to his life, Stone said: "'Platoon' would be more of the character I was, just shaken up. 'Born on the Fourth of July' would be the character I was a few years later. I became more radical because I learned more and my perception of what we were doing in the world was changing."

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Movie Reviews

Tv/streaming, collections, great movies, chaz's journal, contributors, oliver stone concludes his vietnam trilogy.

LOS ANGELES -- "Here is a woman," Oliver Stone said, "who goes through the entire roulette wheel of experience. She hits every ticket on the wheel. She's a rich man's mistress, she's a peasant, she's a traitor, she's a spy, she's a beggar on the street, she's a Vietnamese prostitute, she's an American housewife, she's a businesswoman, she has three different children with three different men."

And she is the heroine of Stone's new movie, " Heaven and Earth " (at 900 N. Michigan and Rolling Meadows). Her name is Le Ly Hayslip. She was born in the central highlands of Vietnam, in the last years of peace before the bombs began to fall. She came to the United States with a military adviser who married her and brought her to San Diego. And when Stone read the two books she wrote about her life, he felt he had found the story to conclude his trilogy about Vietnam.

It is well known that Stone, the patriotic son of a Republican stockbroker, volunteered to serve in Vietnam. That he was a combat infantryman. That he returned from the experience seriously disillusioned about the proper American role in Vietnam and elsewhere, and that he has spent his career making the kinds of movies that do not bring smiles to the faces of Republican stockbrokers.

" Platoon " (1986) was based on Stone's experiences as a kid discovering under fire that the reality of the war did not match the publicity campaign. It won Oscars for best picture and best director. " Born on the Fourth of July " (1989) was based on the life of Ron Kovic , who was paralyzed in Vietnam and found, on being shipped home, that America didn't much care. It won Stone another Oscar for directing.

Now here is "Heaven and Earth," told through the eyes of a woman. The role of Le Ly is played by a first-time actress, Hiep Thi Le , who was born in DaNang, came to America as a boat person at age 9, and now lives with her parents and six siblings in San Pablo, Calif. She got the role after her friends dragged her to an audition in San Jose.

The role of her American husband is played by Tommy Lee Jones , and there are supporting roles for Haing S. Ngor (the Oscar winner for " The Killing Fields ") as her father and Joan Chen (from " The Last Emperor ") as her mother.

The story begins in her family's rice fields. Le Ly is born into a tradition-bound society that has not changed for many generations. But her family's ancestral land is claimed by the Viet Cong and then by the South Vietnamese and their American advisers. For both sides, the attractive young girl is a prize of war, and rape is an acceptable weapon. She is swept up with a tide of refugees and carried to Saigon, where she works as a maid, a bar girl and even as a prostitute, before the gentle GI says he wants to marry her. If she had looked more closely, she might have realized he was not as gentle as he seemed.

What did it take, I asked Stone, to trust your entire film to a woman who has never acted before?

"There was no point in making the movie unless we could find a young Vietnamese woman, so we had a problem," he said. "There was no known actress who we could choose. We searched in six or seven American cities, and in Hong Kong and Bangkok. More than 16,000 Vietnamese came in to read for 30 different roles. When Hiep Thi Le came in, she didn't even take it seriously; she was with her friend, and the friend dragged her in.

"Our people saw her, put her on video, thought she was electric, and flew her down to Los Angeles. I thought she was charismatic. We worked with her, put her on video with other actors, introduced her to Tommy Lee Jones and Joan Chen and Haing Ngor , and then we put her on film. We tested her out for about five months, continuously, and she won the role. I didn't send her to any acting school. I didn't feel that it was necessary; she was a natural." An intense person

Stone talks like he directs, with big gestures. He is in his 40s now, with clout and fame, but he sees the world as a minefield, and himself as a rebel determined to prevail. Sometimes that orientation is central to his art; " JFK ," the ultimate conspiracy movie, could never have been made by a man who felt serene and secure. Stone is more political than most of his contemporaries, more left in his opinions, and yet his films don't play like ideological harangues; they have an energy and intensity that sweep the audience along. You may have questions afterward, but while Stone is telling his story, there is room for nothing else. Audiences like the feeling. His films are usually box-office hits. That's why he can find the backing for projects like "Heaven and Earth."

Stone was able to find financing from Warner Bros. for the big-budget epic because the studio trusted him after "JFK" (1991): "It was a big investment Warners was making, on a 4-foot-11-inch woman they'd never heard of. I'm amazed they did it. They had their doubts about Tommy Lee Jones, too. At the time we were casting, he wasn't as big as he is now (after "Under Siege" and "The Fugitive"). They wanted me to go with a bigger star, but I felt very strongly that Tommy was the right military presence; he looks like a military man, he feels like it, and I wanted someone very big to go with her 4-foot-11. In some scenes, his face is two times the size of hers. I just thought there was a chemistry between them."

Tommy Lee Jones seems to belong in an Oliver Stone movie. But the idea that it's entirely told from a woman's viewpoint is not so likely. Your films have always been about men.

"Sometimes you're guided to your destiny; you don't pick it. After finishing `Born on the Fourth of July,' Le Ly Hayslip's first book came to my attention. I loved what it said and I realized that this story would complete what I had to say about Vietnam. I thought, not only is it raw and naive emotion, but there is a great truth in this story. Unlike a man, a woman can be more fluid and change roles and wear different masks. Through her eyes, I could see many different aspects of the story."

Now that you've finished this Vietnam trilogy, what have you discovered through the artistic process that you didn't learn in Vietnam?

"Maybe a concept about suffering. I was in touch with my own suffering on `Platoon' as a soldier. After that experience, I was able to live through the experience of Ron Kovic in a wheelchair and empathize with what he went through. And after that, I was able to empathize with the experience of a Vietnamese peasant girl. I got a larger idea of what it was about. We passed these girls in the villages. We distrusted them because we thought they were sympathetic to the Viet Cong. And we were right; they were.

"But I didn't understand why they were until 20 years later when I was able to go back to the village with Le Ly and understand that from the beginning, we alienated them because we relocated their villages into strategic military hamlets, which was a huge mistake. We separated the peasant from the ancestors who were buried in the soil. We separated them from their rice, from their shrines, from their spiritualism. We lost their hearts and minds from that point on."

Do you have a sort of interior list of issues, of grievances, which you work through one film at a time? Is that, more or less, a conscious decision on your part?

Stone smiled and opened his hands helplessly. "Yes and no. I don't necessarily go into a subject just because America is upset about it, because America changes every six weeks. We live in a society where issues are thrown up by the media and then they go away and there's another issue, so by the time you make a movie, the issue is gone.

"Something like Vietnam doesn't go away. Vietnam has haunted America. It's been its bastard stepchild since the '60s, and the people that try to deny it or ignore it are covering up America's soul. They're repressing the things that we did there, and as a result, we're going to make the same mistakes over and over again, whether it's in Panama or Iraq or any Third World intervention. People are going to get killed, mothers are going to lose their sons, unless we can come to terms with what we did there."

Stone leaned forward, speaking more quickly. "Between a million and 2 million Vietnamese died," he said. "Their suffering in comparison to 60,000 Americans who were killed is enormous. We have never, ever, given them the credit of that suffering. Mr. Clinton has renewed the sanctions against Vietnam; we continue to hate them, even though we rebuilt Germany and Japan after World War II, and those countries committed atrocities on an enormous scale. America has, somewhere in this Vietnamese conflict, lost its compassion. It's lost its ability to make up, to forgive, to reach across this gulf and shake the hand of an enemy and say, 'Let's be friends again.' If we could do that, it would be great for America's soul. This would be a better country." A society's concerns

Stone has been over this ground before. In a sense, what he's saying is like a political speech. In another sense, of course, there is truth in it. He has put his movies where his mouth is, avoiding the obvious commercial formula plots to work on the demons that haunt him and, he believes, his country.

"There's a great line in 'Wall Street,' " he said. "You look in the abyss and that's where you find your character. I think that a lot of my character has come from defiance and rebellion, from the get-go, as a kid, in school. Whatever formed me was coming out of that. I did my homework, but I was a quiet rebel and I blew up and went to Vietnam twice and I became another person. So defiance has worked for me. That's my character.

"But to be misunderstood constantly is hurtful to me. I've been characterized as an angry Vietnam veteran. I've been characterized as a conspiracy nut, a buff, which is insulting. I've been characterized constantly as a man who can't get his head out of the '60s. These are simplifications, and they hurt me because it's not me. I live in 3-D and I'm passionate about so much. I hate to be simplified."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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Platoon is widely acclaimed as one of the best war films in cinema history, but how true to life is Oliver Stone’s incendiary movie? Released in 1986, Platoon was a massive hit with audiences and critics, winning both Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards. It was a well-earned victory, with critics still to this day naming director Oliver Stone’s intense drama as one of war cinema’s finest, and most realistic, couple of hours.

The famously outspoken Stone, who would go on to revisit the subject of Vietnam with the later hit Born on the Fourth of July , made the film from a place of personal experience. The director/writer served a tour of duty in Vietnam from 1967-8, and much like the later Jarhead relied on the same first-hand experience, this unique perspective of the horrors of war would go on to shape the action of Platoon .

Related: Da 5 Bloods: Every Movie Reference and Influence In Spike Lee's Movie

Despite its initial acclaim, however, Platoon has proven divisive in the years since its release, with some critics claiming the movie offers an inaccurate depiction of the Vietnam invasion. There’s no denying that Stone’s movie had an impressive claim to verisimilitude when compared to its competitors, as Platoon ’s unsparingly brutal story is less psychedelic than the more surreal Apocalypse Now and less sugar-coated than pro-war propaganda like the jingoistic  First Blood Part II or the embarrassing late-career John Wayne vehicle The Green Berets . But since it was this unflinchingly harsh look at the war’s dark reality that earned Platoon a lot of its considerable critical adoration in the first place, where - if anywhere - does the movie falter in terms of accuracy?

Platoon is Based On Oliver Stone's Own Vietnam War Experiences

One thing that no commentator could fault is the genuine experience that Stone had in the theatre of war well before he became a writer and director. The director and staunch anti-war activist was only 21 years old when he enlisted for combat duty in Vietnam. The American invasion of the nation was entering its second decade when Stone served a tour of duty in the 25th Infantry Division from September 1967 to April 1968. He was later transferred to the 1st Cavalry Division and was injured twice in action, with the future director being awarded a slew of military honors for his service such as the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Army Commendation Medal among others. Stone's Platoon was promoted as the first Vietnam film made by a real-life veteran of the war, and more than lives up to that promise.

The Real 25th Infantry Division In The Vietnam War

Known often by their nickname "Tropic Lightning", the 25th Infantry Division were instrumental in the 1968 Tet offensive, a maneuver so effective that at the time many commentators thought it would put an end to America's occupation of Vietnam (in reality, fighting would continue for another 8 years). The division began their involvement in Vietnam 8 years after the initial invasion, with their 1963 contribution of 100 helicopter door-gunners ballooning until eventually, the 25th Infantry had 2,200 men joining the fighting by 1965. The infantry’s involvement mirrored a trend in many divisions of the time, as increased public opposition to the war (recently fictionalized in Netflix's  The Trial of the Chicago 7 ) and considerable victories by the Viet Cong against American forces led the US government to flood the small nation with further troops in the hopes of winning by force.

Was Drug Use Common Among U.S. Soldiers In Vietnam?

Drug use abounds in Platoon , where recreational narcotics are frequently utilized by the eponymous troop to numb themselves to the horrific conditions surrounding them and the amoral conduct of their colleagues. According to an Oklahoma State University professor (also a Vietnam veteran), Platoon ’s depiction of rampant drinking and drug abuse by infantrymen on the front lines is inaccurate and a case of “Hollywood history”. However, it’s worth noting that the same professor also objected to Stone’s characterization of the US military as an incompetent, uncaring force in Vietnam and  Platoon 's depiction of unarmed civilians being murdered by American troops, both broadly agreed to have their basis in fact (and later seen in real-life footage featured in Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods ). It looks likely that this particular professor simply objected to the reality of the Vietnam war’s drug problem, as the facts are very much in favor of Platoon .

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According to a 1971 Department of Defence report, over half of the US troops stationed in Vietnam smoked marijuana, while a third used psychedelic drugs like magic mushrooms, acid, and mescaline. 28% of troops also used more serious drugs such as cocaine and heroin to cope with their conditions, leading Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Egil Krogh to famously inform Nixon “you don’t have a drug problem in Vietnam—Problems are things we can get right on and solve.”

U.S. Soldiers Killing Vietnamese Villagers During The War

One of Platoon ’s most controversial elements was the depiction of US soldiers meting out wanton violence on native populations and often murdering innocent Vietnamese civilians. Of the primary cast Bunny and Barnes commit the most heinous war crimes during Platoon ’s action, with Barnes killing a village chief’s wife and allowing his men to commit vicious gang rape, as well as murdering one of his colleagues. Where other Vietnam movies like Stanley Kubrick 's Full Metal Jacket  focused on the internal turmoil of US soldiers,  Platoon  unflinchingly depicted the human cost of the Vietnam invasion, and unfortunately, the depiction of these war crimes is accurate to reality. War crimes such as the Incident on Hill 192 (dramatized in the equally harrowing Casualties of War ), the My Lai Massacre, the Shelling of Highway 1, the Phoenix Program, and many more all involved the torture, rape, and mass murder of unarmed Vietnamese civilians. These crimes were committed by US military operatives ranging in rank from infantrymen to high command.

How Accurate Platoon's Battle Sequences Are

Platoon ’s battle sequences were also praised for their believability. A former Marine and technical adviser to military movies, James Dever, claimed that Stone’s movie is unerringly accurate in its depictions of real-life Vietnam battle sequences. The adviser notes that not only are weapons and equipment carried correctly by the actors, but the tactics that the titular platoon utilizes are also believable for the time. Most importantly, the filth and grime worn by the characters during these sequences and their beleaguered demeanors make for a more believable platoon of Vietnam troops than most movies offer, with Dever praising Platoon ’s stars and their commitment to realism by noting that “they’re sweaty, they’re dirty, the way they talk, the way the act…. You believe they’re out there in Vietnam.” While Platoon ’s unvarnished depictions may not be flattering, they can’t be faulted for accuracy.

Platoon's Biggest Changes From The Vietnam War

However, for all of the film’s critical acclaim, there are places where Platoon falls. The movie has been criticized for featuring only a small handful of black characters despite the fact, as Da 5 Bloods depicted, that the draft meant Vietnam’s young soldiers were more diverse than those of earlier wars. Critics have also noted that no black characters occupy high command in Platoon and that the few black characters present are depicted as cowards, an unflattering and unfair stereotype. That being said, the racial makeup of infantry units varied throughout the war, and the fact that Platoon ’s trio of black characters is portrayed less than favorably does have to be considered alongside the fact that many of the movie’s white characters are equally, if not more, morally rotten or hopelessly broken by their experiences. Platoon portrays war as psychological and physical hell from which no one can escape unscathed, and in that regard, it stands alongside Full Metal Jacket and Jarhead in terms of accurately depicting the everyday reality of an inhuman atrocity.

More: The Devil All The Time: The Hidden Meaning Behind Carl and Sandy's Photographs

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Oliver Stone's 'Untold' U.S. History

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States is the hyped-up title of a new, ten-part documentary series that begins tonight, Monday, November 12, on Showtime. In it, Stone—the often hyperbolic Hollywood director and screen writer who served as an infantryman in the Vietnam War—trains his penetrating lens on big historical events beginning with World War II.

The series is based on the just-published door stopper (784 page) of a  book of the same  name Stone wrote with Peter Kuznick, an American University history professor. In the book and TV series Kuznick and Stone ( Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, et al .) concern themselves primarily with what they firmly believe the United States has done wrong on the world and domestic stages, rather than noting what America has done right.

In her mixed  review of the series in The New York Times , Alessandra Stanley calls Stone “a dramatist of truth who tramples facts to spin alternative histories that may be grandiose and grotesque but can sometimes have a hint of grandeur.”

On the other hand, she says, “it’s too easy to focus on what Mr. Stone does wrong; it’s also useful to focus a spotlight on what he gets right. ” Still, Stanley notes, “in all the overblown rhetoric and self-righteous hyperbole (Mr. Stone is his own narrator) accuracy is sometimes hard to find.”

Mary McNamara, the Los Angeles Times TV critic, had a similar assessment. The series, she wrote , “is a hodgepodge of terrific if often disturbing historical footage and bizarre theatrical asides.

“It seems, more than anything, a response to the notion of ‘American exceptionalism, ‘ though it’s difficult to imagine that those Americans who do believe, as Stone puts it, that America is the center of the universe and always the good guy, will be swayed by him.”

The series “narrative, ” she says, “is too often just as one-note as the versions Stone seeks to replace.” Stone, McNamara concludes, “presents his case with little recognition of the social, political and psychological complexities that dominate much of human development, turning it, intentionally or not, into an alternative mythology that relies far more on broad-stroke storytelling than rigorous analysis.”

The new 40-minute documentary, In My Living Room , consists of reflections about the Vietnam War by Pat…

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The lead item in the "Books in Review" column in the September/October 2012 issue of The VVA Veteran was…

USS Kirk 's crew and a Vietnamese baby, April 29, 1975. The Kirk , a U.S. Navy destroyer…

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Movie Interviews

Oliver stone, 'south of the border' tour guide.

oliver stone tour

Director Oliver Stone and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez greeted by the press. Jose Ibanez hide caption

Director Oliver Stone and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez greeted by the press.

Oliver Stone won Oscars for blockbuster films like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July . He has also been a controversial political commentator and documentary film maker.

His latest film, South of the Border , explores Latin America's shift toward socialism led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Stone tells NPR's Neal Conan what it was like to meet and film with Chavez, in addition to the leaders of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Cuba's current leader, Fidel Castro's brother, Raul.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Oliver Stone Takes His Film on Tour in South America

By Michael Cieply

  • May 2, 2010

“Hope to see you in Cochabamba!” a notably chipper Oliver Stone said at the end of a phone conversation last week. Mr. Stone will be in Cochabamba, in central Bolivia, on June 1 to screen his documentary “South of the Border” for an outdoor crowd that is expected to include thousands of indigenous people being gathered by Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales.

The screening is part of a South American road trip intended to find what most documentaries lack: an audience.

Last September, Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, showed up at the Venice Film Festival in support of the film, which explores social transformation under Mr. Chávez and his influence elsewhere in South America. Mr. Chávez and Mr. Morales, who is also featured in the film, were later on hand, along with Susan Sarandon and Courtney Love, for a screening at Lincoln Center in New York.

Now, Mr. Stone is planning to introduce the movie in a series of South American countries, including at least four in which “South of the Border” is set to receive presidential attention.

On May 28, the movie will have a Caracas premiere, with Mr. Chávez, who is apparently quite a fan, on hand. On May 30 Mr. Stone will be in Ecuador with President Rafael Correa; on June 2 in Paraguay, with President Fernando Lugo.

“If Lula is around, he’ll show up,” Mr. Stone predicted. That would be the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who might attend a May 31 premiere in São Paulo.

In all, “South of the Border” is set for release in three dozen countries, including the United States, where Cinema Libre Studios expects to open the film in New York on June 25, and elsewhere later.

Promotional plans for “South of the Border” have firmed up while Mr. Stone finishes “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” to be released in September by 20th Century Fox.

In filming Mr. Chávez, Mr. Stone said, the idea was “to get face time, which we don’t get here without the filters.” MICHAEL CIEPLY

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What Happened to Oliver Stone's Unmade Fourth Vietnam War Movie?

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The Big Picture

  • The My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War was one of the most horrific war crimes in history, resulting in the deaths of approximately 500 Vietnamese civilians.
  • Filmmaker Oliver Stone planned to depict the massacre in his film Pinkville , which would have starred Bruce Willis, Woody Harrelson, and Channing Tatum, but the project was abandoned due to the 2007 writer's strike.
  • It is uncertain whether Pinkville will ever be made, as securing financing for challenging material can be difficult, but Stone's commitment to depicting inhumane acts in his films highlights the importance of remembering and addressing such events.

On March 16, 1968, as the Vietnam War raged, U.S. troops entered the village of My Lai or, as they referred to it, "Pinkville." What followed was one of the most horrific series of war crimes in documented military history, generating further outrage and disapproval among an already polarized United States public over the nation's involvement in the Southeast Asian conflict. Nearly 40 years later, having directed three films about the Vietnam War, filmmaker and veteran Oliver Ston e geared up yet again to explore the conflict with a cinematic depiction of the massacre and its aftermath. Having courted stars Bruce Willis , Woody Harrelson , and Channing Tatum , Stone was nearing production on what would be titled Pinkville. At the 11th hour, however, Pinkville was abandoned. What happened to what likely would've been one of the most horrifying war films ever made?

'All Quiet on the Western Front': 13 Most Unflinching Anti-War Movies of All Time

"Fight war, not wars."

What Happened in My Lai?

Two months after the North Vietnamese launched its devastating Tet Offensive on the South Vietnamese and American military, the latter's Charlie Company was determined to destroy the enemy's 48th Battalion. Zeroing in on the area surrounding My Lai, U.S. forces dispatched with orders to engage enemy fighters alleged to be in the vicinity. But when they arrived in the early hours of March 16, they encountered hundreds of civilians seeking safety from artillery attacks. Over the next several hours, U.S. troops indiscriminately slaughtered Vietnamese men, women, and children . Despite the heroic efforts of helicopter crew members Hugh Thompson , Lawrence Colburn , and Glenn Andreotta to protect civilians, an estimated 500 civilians were killed by 11:00 A.M.

Initially reported by Charlie Company officers as a successful operation, the truth regarding what happened at My Lai wouldn't be fully known until November 1969, when reporter Seymour Hersh wrote about the massacre. The event shook the American public to its core and catalyzed the anti-war movement. Several military officers were charged with war crimes, including Lt. William Calley , whose orders reportedly led to the deaths of roughly 150 civilians. Aside from Calley, however, all the officers charged were either acquitted or had their charges dismissed, while Calley was court-martialed and sentenced to life in prison, only to be paroled in 1974. After further investigation by Lt. Gen. William Peers , which exposed attempts by the military to cover up what had happened, 14 officers were charged. But because of a lack of evidence, all but one of the cases were dismissed. Eight years after the massacre, a memorial for the victims of My Lai was built, and three decades later, filmmaker Oliver Stone sought to bring the tragic story to the screen .

What Happened to Oliver Stone's 'Pinkville'?

Having directed Platoon , Born on the Fourth of July , and Heaven & Earth , Oliver Stone delivered an unofficial trilogy of Vietnam War films exploring multiple perspectives. In 2007, he was eyeing a return to the subject with Pinkville , a planned film about the My Lai massacre and, presumably, its aftermath. Set to star A-listers Bruce Willis, Woody Harrelson, and Channing Tatum in undisclosed roles, Pinkville was written by Mikko Alanne and set to begin production with the backing of United Artists. But as principal photography approached, the 2007 writers' strike put a halt to Stone's film .

Three years later, after working with Shia LaBeouf on Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps , news broke regarding Pinkville 's possible revival and the actor's involvement. According to Indiewire , Stone remained enthusiastic about the project. " Pinkville is not dead," he acknowledged. "I own it. I could activate it again. I don’t know if the time is right now with the Iraq War still going on, but I love that project and it’s an important one. My Lai is a forgotten piece of history that’s crucial to remember. You never know, these things come alive." As of 2023, however, there are no updates on whether Pinkville will ever re-enter development .

Will 'Pinkville' Ever Get Made?

Though he's produced and directed documentaries in recent years, Oliver Stone hasn't helmed a feature film since 2016's Snowden , and the filmmaker has been on record regarding the increasing difficulties inherent to securing financing for challenging material not tied to existing IP or franchise filmmaking. Given the terrifying and gut-wrenching nature of the My Lai massacre , the notion of a major studio hesitating or outright balking over tackling such a story as a commercial endeavor seems likely . Additionally, there's no getting around the fact that an honest, faithful cinematic recreation of what happened in My Lai would make for uncomfortable and challenging viewing that audiences may similarly balk at.

Regardless of whether Stone revisits Pinkville and gets it off the ground, however, he managed to commit some semblance of the planned film's shocking subject matter to the screen on a microcosmic level. One of the most harrowing sequences in his Oscar-winning and semi-autobiographical Platoon sees American soldiers take their rage and exhaustion out on civilians in the countryside, killing, capturing, and razing an entire village. Having served as an infantryman in the Vietnam War, Stone has undoubtedly witnessed his share of inhumane acts, and the importance of cementing the memories of such events in the public's mind has never been lost on the filmmaker.

You can rent Snowden via Amazon Prime Video in the U.S.

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John oliver mocks fox news reporter for asking “dumbest question ever” on tv.

The 'Last Week Tonight' host opened Sunday night's show by talk about the "hard crackdown" on college students protesting the war in Gaza.

By Kimberly Nordyke

Kimberly Nordyke

Managing Editor, Digital

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'Last Week Tonight With John Oliver'

John Oliver used his opening segment on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight to talk about the “hard crackdown” on college students in the U.S. protesting the Israel-Hamas war.

He showed clips from a live Fox News report at Columbia University in New York.

“Police swarmed campuses in numbers so extreme; this student summed it up pretty well,” he said.

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The reporter then asked: “What are you gonna do if you get arrested?”

The student replied: “I can’t really do much.”

The reporter pressed on: “Will you go with the police if they make an arrest?”

Shrugged the student: “I guess so.”

Cut back to Oliver: “Did that reporter just ask, ‘Are you going to go with the police if they arrest you?’ Kudos to that student for giving the calmest possible answer to what might be the dumbest question ever asked on TV. ‘If the guys with guns put you in handcuffs and drag you to the jail, will you go with them?’ ‘Yeah, I guess so.'”

He continued: “Also thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of the one boomer who was killed by hearing that student say ‘fuck’ on Fox News. Somewhere, a family’s writing [his] obituary. ‘Paul John Roberts passed away in his home when his eyeballs, heart and butthole exploded. At the same time, he’s survived by his wife and three adult children, who no longer speak to him.'”

Incidentally, Sunday night’s episode marked the 300th installment of Last Week Tonight. The show noted the milestone with an image of a cake topped with candles reading “300” at the end of the opening credits.

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Bonnie hammer is calling bullsh**, ‘house of the dragon’ renewed for season 3, new york bakery makes john oliver cake bear after ‘last week tonight’ plea, hunter schafer cast in ‘blade runner 2099’ amid ‘euphoria’ delay, ‘bridgerton’ season 3 boss on polin’s bumpy road to that ending and future plans for the series, fox gets indianapolis 500 rights in deal with indycar.

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oliver stone tour

Watch the Rolling Stones Debut Two More Songs on U.S. Tour

The Rolling Stones debuted two more songs on their Hackney Diamonds tour last night (June 3).

“She’s a Rainbow,” from 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request , has been a rarity for most of this century, having been played only nine times after being absent until 2016. It was the fan’s choice song at the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, chosen by the band from a shortlist of four which also included “Bite My Head Off,” “Out of Control” and “Rocks Off.”

“A few of them are banned in Florida,” Mick Jagger joked as he revealed the song that had been shortlisted. “Oh dear… I don’t know if I remember it,” he said of “She’s a Rainbow,” adding: “I’ll give it a go!”

READ MORE: 32 Songs the Rolling Stones Have Rarely Played Live

It was followed by “Dead Flowers,” which featured a guest appearance by country musician Tyler Childers . Taken from 1971 album Sticky Fingers , has only been played a handful of times in recent years. It last made a single appearance on the band’s 2022 tour. Videos and the full set list can be seen below.

The Stones’ U.S. tour continues in Atlanta, GA on June 7 and ends in Ridgedale, MO on July 21.

Watch the Rolling Stones Perform ‘She’s a Rainbow’

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Watch the Rolling Stones Perform ‘Dead Flowers’ with Tyler Childers

Rolling Stones – Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL, 6/03/24 – Set List

1. “Start Me Up”

2. “Get Off of My Cloud”

3. “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It)”

5. “She’s a Rainbow”

6. “Dead Flowers” (with Tyler Childers)

7. “Tumbling Dice”

8. “Whole Wide World”

9. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

10. “Tell Me Straight”

11. “Little T&A”

12. “Sympathy for the Devil”

13. “Honky Tonk Women”

14. “Miss You”

15. “Gimme Shelter”

16. “Paint It Black”

17. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”

18. “Sweet Sounds of Heaven”

19. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

Next: The Women of Mick Jagger: 64 Ladies Linked With the Rolling Stones Singer

Mike Coppola / Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

IMAGES

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  4. The Personal Experiences That Influenced Oliver Stone's Vietnam War

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  5. Oliver Stone's America

    oliver stone tour

  6. An Evening with Oliver Stone at Vogue Theatre

    oliver stone tour

VIDEO

  1. Oliver Stone Interviews Putin

COMMENTS

  1. The Putin Interviews

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    Published June 24, 2022. Oliver Stone is one of Hollywood's most accomplished filmmakers, writing, directing and producing more than 32 films and television shows over a career spanning some 50 ...

  3. The Personal Experiences That Influenced Oliver Stone's Vietnam War

    Oliver Stone enlisted in the US Army in April 1967, and requested a combat tour in Vietnam. He was deployed to South Vietnam that September and assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division along the Cambodian border. During this time, he was wounded twice - in the neck and legs ...

  4. The Oliver Stone Experience

    Official Oliver Stone site with the latest news and blog posts, as well as biography, detailed filmography, articles, books and screenplays.

  5. A Private's Perspective: Oliver Stone and Vietnam

    A Private's Perspective: Oliver Stone & Vietnam. In 1976—eight years after returning home from his tour in the Vietnam War, five years after graduating from film school at New York University, and two years before Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978) would catapult the Vietnam War back into the spotlight of collective memory—Oliver ...

  6. Film Director Oliver Stone Was a Soldier in Vietnam

    Acclaimed screenwriter and director Oliver Stone served in the Army and deployed to Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, earning the Bronze Star for valor. His wartime experiences would shape some of his ...

  7. The Putin Interviews

    Over the course of two years, Oscar®-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone conducted intimate interviews with Russian president Vladimir Putin -- with no topic off-limits. On this SHOWTIME® Original four-part docuseries, Stone provides insight into Putin's childhood under communism, rise to power, relations with four U.S. presidents and his takes on ...

  8. Oliver Stone's Experience In Vietnam Influenced His Film Career

    Oliver Stone is among the most critically-acclaimed filmmakers, with his resume boasting the likes of Conan the Barbarian (1982), Scarface (1983), Platoon (1986) and Wall Street (1987). He's also a veteran of the Vietnam War, and his experience overseas greatly influenced his most popular films.

  9. Oliver Stone

    Oliver Stone. Director: JFK. Oliver Stone has become known as a master of controversial subjects and a legendary film maker. His films are filled with a variety of film angles and styles, he pushes his actors to give Oscar-worthy performances, and despite his failures, has always returned to success. William Oliver Stone was born in New York City, to Jacqueline (Goddet) and Louis Stone, a ...

  10. Oliver Stone on the Vietnam War

    Oliver Stone's critically acclaimed film Platoon is based on his own actions and experiences as a soldier in Vietnam.From: THE REAL STORY: Platoonhttp://bit....

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    Oliver Stone, shown during an interview in Los Angeles on Jan. 8, 1990, shook the nation's conscience with 'Platoon,' the 1986 Oscar-winning film that drew on his own experiences as a young ...

  12. Oliver Stone, Tour Guide

    Oliver Stone shares his excellent adventure through Latin America. ... with Mr. Chávez is the movie's longest interview with a Latin American statesman during what feels like a whirlwind tour ...

  13. Oliver Stone concludes his Vietnam trilogy

    LOS ANGELES -- "Here is a woman," Oliver Stone said, "who goes through the entire roulette wheel of experience. She hits every ticket on the wheel. She's a rich man's mistress, she's a peasant, she's a traitor, she's a spy, she's a beggar on the street, she's a Vietnamese prostitute, she's an American housewife, she's a businesswoman, she has three different children with three different men."

  14. Oliver Stone

    Oliver Stone - "Master of Cinema" Stone in Boulder . Oliver Stone, the former Vietnam War infantryman-and the first Vietnam veteran to have written or directed (he did both) a Vietnam War film (Platoon , 1986)-was the guest of honor at the recently completed Boulder International Film Festival in Colorado.The honored guest received the Master of Cinema Award on Sunday, Feburary, 20, the ...

  15. Oliver Stone

    William Oliver Stone (born September 15, 1946) is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. Stone is known as a controversial but acclaimed director, tackling subjects ranging from the Vietnam War, and American politics to musical biopics and crime dramas.He has received numerous accolades including four Academy Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and five Golden Globe ...

  16. Platoon True Story: How Accurate Is The Vietnam War Movie

    Platoon is widely acclaimed as one of the best war films in cinema history, but how true to life is Oliver Stone's incendiary movie? Released in 1986, Platoon was a massive hit with audiences and critics, winning both Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards. It was a well-earned victory, with critics still to this day naming director Oliver Stone's intense drama as one of war ...

  17. Oliver Stone's 'Untold' U.S. History

    Oliver Stone's 'Untold' U.S. History. Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States is the hyped-up title of a new, ten-part documentary series that begins tonight, Monday, November 12, on Showtime. In it, Stone—the often hyperbolic Hollywood director and screen writer who served as an infantryman in the Vietnam War—trains his penetrating lens on big historical events beginning with ...

  18. The Oliver Stone Experience

    Official Oliver Stone site with the latest news and blog posts, as well as biography, detailed filmography, articles, books and screenplays.

  19. Oliver Stone, 'South Of The Border' Tour Guide : NPR

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  21. What Happened to Oliver Stone's Unmade Fourth Vietnam War Movie?

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    Oliver Stone enlisted in the US Army in April 1967, and requested a combat tour in Vietnam. He was deployed to South Vietnam that September and assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd ...

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    John Oliver on 'Last Week Tonight' talked about college student protests of the Israel-Hamas war and mocked Fox News reporter for "dumbest question ever.

  24. Watch the Rolling Stones Debut Two More Songs on U.S. Tour

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