Sgt. Barnes finally found

18 01 2019

Well, while I was away doing other things some information about the real life Sgt. Barnes surfaced on the internet. Didn’t expect this as I didn’t expect Stone was using the real name in this case.

Platoon depicts two soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Company E, 52nd Infantry (LRP), specifically, S/Sgt. John Barnes portrayed by Tom Berenger and Sgt. Juan Angel Elias portrayed by Willem Dafoe. Stone melds his experience as an infantryman and the characters of Barnes and Elias through the eyes of a green young soldier, Charlie Sheen. The film shows troops of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment in 1967/1968.

Sgt. Barnes honorably retired from the US Army as a Sergeant Major. Sgt. Elias was killed in action in Quang Tri Province on May 29, 1968, when a grenade he and his team were rigging as a booby trap on an enemy trail accidentally exploded causing the loss of his life and that of Cpl. Donald Robert Miller, and fellow team member, Sgt. Larry Curtis, to lose an eye.

from Wikipedia

It’s also mentioned in a newsletter here

And there is an alleged photo posted at (found via Pinterest)


From the Newsletter found under this link

I understand that when Barnes was recruiting for our unit, his line was;
“We prefer men with no wife, no girl friend, no kids, and who have suicidal tendencies.”

From Ken White
I remember one mission in particular. We were working the eastern side of the Da Dan Mountains, approximately 10 kilometers northwest of Bong Son, in the vicinity of Cu Nghi, when we spotted an NVA rice-carrying detail about 200 meters east of our position parallel to our northward movement. They had just emerged from the village and were moving northward balancing bags of rice across their shoulders. We called in the sighting and were directed by brigade to get a prisoner.
Suddenly, the enemy soldiers spotted us, dropped what they were carrying, broke formation and bee-lined it back to the village. Well, our team leader, Sgt. John Barnes (Barney), Clarksville, TN, just as suddenly ripped off his rucksack, dropped it in the elephant grass, reached into the pocket of his fatigues and pulled out a big fat cigar, and lit it. Then with a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson in one hand and a CAR-15 automatic rifle in the other, he bolted down the hill towards the village right after them.
Spanky Seymour, the team’s RTO, and Sgt. Burt Penkunis, assistant team leader, Elk City, Idaho, decided that they better go after him if we ever hoped to see him again, so off they went down the hill towards the village. Jim Dempsey, Laredo, TX, and I stayed behind taking cover in a cluster of trees on the hillside.
Several hours later, who do we see coming up the hill but Sgt. Barnes with two enemy prisoners in tow. The prisoners were wearing khaki pants rolled up above the knees, black pajama tops, and scandals. Spanky and Sgt. Penkunis were right behind them.
By then it was dark and the nightly monsoon rain had started. The summer monsoon was petering out by this time but it still had some punch left to it. We knew that because of the rain we would likely have to hang on to the prisoners until daybreak before a 1st Cav helicopter would be able to come out and get them.
By midnight, however, we started hearing movement around our position, but because of the rain, which was now heavy, it was difficult to determine if in fact it was enemy movement that we were hearing or if our minds were simply playing head games with us.
By about 3:00am or so, we were getting anxious about the prisoner situation. We knew that we would have to move from our position to a more defendable one before dawn as a precautionary measure, but taking the prisoners with us could be a fatal mistake – both for us and for them.
If there were enemy soldiers nearby, the prisoners might try to hinder our movement or make noise to give away our position, and we knew that we couldn’t just leave them there to fight another day. By about 5:00 am, the rain started to let up and Sgt. Barnes was able to convince brigade to come get the prisoners.
Shortly afterwards, a helicopter arrived on site, picked up the two of them, and off it went to LZ English or An Khe, or wherever they took prisoners for interrogation.
I can assure you that we wasted no time in getting off that hillside and into a tree line at the base of the hill that offered some protection from approaching enemy soldiers.
I never really heard the story of what happened in that village anyway.

Company E in film
Oliver Stones’ movie Platoon (1986) was based on two soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Company E, 52nd Infantry (LRP). Specifically, S/Sgt, John Barnes portrayed by Tom Berenger and Sgt. Juan Angel Elias portrayed by Willem Dafoe.
Oliver Stone served as a rifleman in both the 25th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division. In April 1968 Oliver Stone volunteered for the 1st Cavalry Division’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol training, but was dropped from the course because “he was too aggressive and was not a team player.” Nevertheless, Stone melds his line experience as an infantryman and the characters of Barnes and Elias through the eyes of a green young soldier, Charlie Sheen. The film depicts troops of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment in 1967, who are often drug-induced and undisciplined, and divided between Sgt. Elias’ integrity and the battle hardened, but heartless Sgt. Barnes—a dark portrayal of American servicemen and exaggeration of facts (the drug epidemic did not reach the battlefield till near the end of the Vietnam War).
Sgt. Barnes honorably retired from the U.S. Army as a Sergeant Major and Sgt. Elias was killed in action in Quang Tri Province on May 29, 1968, when a grenade he and his team were rigging as a booby trap on an enemy trail accidentally exploded causing the loss of his life and that of Pfc. Donald Robert Miller, and fellow team member, Sgt. Larry Curtis, to lose an eye.




19 responses

19 01 2019

Terrific find. I too had comes across Barnes’ real name in that newsletter whereas I always seen mention that Oliver withheld Barnes’ true surname. I’m guessing that he used the name and thought better of it later, after it was too late to change it. (He also used some of the real nicknames and hometowns of other soldiers; for example in Soller Zeitz’s book he identifies James Dana as Rhah.)

Do you think Barnes and Elias were really in the same platoon? According to FIndaGrave, Juan Angel Elias “was a Tactical Wire Operations Specialist with E Company (LRRP) of the 52nd Infantry in the 1st Cavalry Division.” Riordan’s Stone bio has Oliver joining the 1s Cav LRRP in April 1968 where Elias was his sergeant. This is backed up by Riordan’s interviews with Ben Fitzgerald (the basis for King) who said Stone was already there in Elias’ unit when he (Fitzgerald) arrived. Stone would’ve at least been there until the end of August 1968, as the incident for which he earned his Bronze Star occurred on August 21, 1968 (according to the citation) and Fitzgerald was there and describes the three day firefight in South China Beach in which Stone’s killing of the sniper occurred. Stone, Elias and Fitzgerald then all seem to have been in the same unit for at least a few months (which would be enough time for Stone and Fitzgerald to have bonded closely).

Stone told Riordan that the higher-ups and rear echelon people disliked Elias, and eventually Stone had a conflict with some other unnamed “lifer sergeant” in the LRRP and was transferred to a motorized unit, also in the 1st Cav, where he drove APCs, Jeeps, and did helicopter work. It was there he met Barnes, who was his sergeant, and Stone even became Barnes’ radio man for awhile.

19 01 2019

I would go with Stone’s statement, because he keeps saying this on and on. Interviews are a tricky things, you never know how accurate they are, so if a statement occurs in only one of them, I’m a bit cautious.

Actually I was thinking about looking closer at those new infos and try to find out where and when Stone and the other guys served, to determine the possibility of Barnes and Elias actually meeting. But I’m not obsessed enough right now to dive into it. 😉

Until I’ve got internet I never thought Stone would use real names. Which isn’t a very good thing tbh, and I know that Elias’ daughter isn’t happy about it at all.
Have you had a look at “Break”? – because he didn’t use real names in this script. Would like to know why he decided to use them in the end. One of the reasons why I would like to read “The Platoon” is to see which names he used until the script became “Platoon”.

26 06 2019

My understanding of Barnes unit is the same as the person above. My understanding is that Barnes was a sgt in one of the units after the LRRPS. The chronology goes like this…

1) LRRPS course – meets elias. Fails course

2) sent to some shit kicking unit where he fell out with his sgt who was ripping off the beer supply

3) ends up in a new unit where he meets Barnes and becomes radio man.

I dont quite know why people believe Barnes and Elias were in the same unit. Stone has made it clear on several occassions they weren’t in the same unit. This problem occurs because too mahy people have tried to put two and two together and somehow now Barnes and Elias have mythologised into the same unit. Maybe someone got confused. How that happened I dont know, but I listen to Stone on the matter and Stone only, and he says they were in different units.

1 08 2019

JM, do you have the books or any other materials about the other “real guys” from Platoon? Links or screenshots/photos would be very appreciated.

20 01 2019

Yeah, Stone has been consistent that Elias and Barnes were NOT in the same unit (at least at the same time). I am 100% that Elias was 2nd Platoon/E Company/52nd Infantry/1st Cav because all the records are consistent on that, but that website you found is the first mention I’ve seen of Barnes also being in Echo Company. I haven’t been able to find any definite mention of Barnes’ unit in my searches, probably because he survived the war. (I’m assuming he died in the 20 years between the end of the war and Platoon because no one ever came forward claiming to be the real Barnes).

As for Break, I think it was so surrealistic and about abstract imagery that Stone fell in love with the idea of using the Biblical/symbolic names for the characters. By the time he sat down to write The Platoon in 1976, he said it was the “least writing” he’d ever done because he tried to get it out largely as realistic as possible. So I’m guessing that’s why used the real nicknames and the real surnames for Barnes and Elias.

Frrom my understanding Anni Whitehaven Elias was fine with the use of the name. I know she met Oliver Stone and he also introduced her to Willem Dafoe. According to this site, she gave Willem Dafoe her father’s dog tags:

According to this site, she is adamant that it be known her dad was 100% Native American and not Hispanic/Native American as Stone believed:

You know, I actually did start a timeline. You may have inspired me to dig it out and finish it. 🙂

20 01 2019

Do it 😀
I’m quite sure Stone knew about Elias being Native American. (if I remember right it was directly in the script and in the Platoon book) I suppose people were misled by the name Juan Angel and assumed he was Hispanic. It’s also hard to tell from the available photographs.

As for John Barnes – if I was him, I wouldn’t be too eager to reveal being a basis for that character. Imagine all those vile comments about the character aimed at a real person. People are chronically unable to tell the facts and fiction apart.

23 01 2019

Hey I was looking around the LRP Rangers site and I found a couple of other photos identified as having a “John Barnes” in them, but he doesn’t look like the same Barnes in the above photo you found (who is wearing a 1st Cav patch and appears to have a scar on his face):

(On the “Photos from 1967” page.)

24 01 2019

Well, good find. Such a pity that those pictures are so small… TBH It’s like there are two different people, but maybe it’s the camouflage on his face.

BTW, it was also the place I’ve found the first picture of Elias.

24 01 2019

It looks like a different guy to me, but you’re right, it’s hard to tell. Could it be possible there were two John Barnes in the 1st Cav, one in the LRRP and the other in some other unit? It would be a coincidence, but the name is not uncommon, so I guess it could be possible. Unfortunately the “John Barnes” is shirtless in those 1967 pix so we can’t see any clues, like maybe his rank.

I just can’t get around neither OS or anyone else who served with Elias having memories of Barnes in the same unit. Even though it would have made a better background for Platoon, too, rather than “I had these two sergeants and imagined what it would’ve been like had they been in the same unit.”

What I wouldn’t give to see OS’s records to answer which units he was in after E Company!

25 01 2019

If you look for OS’s records online don’t forget to look after Willam O Stone. 😉

25 01 2019

Now this is getting interesting!

I randomly looked at a memoir called Lurps: A Ranger’s Diary of Te, Khe Sanh, A Shua and Quan Tri by Robert Ankony and I hit the jackpot! This guy claims to have served in the LRRP with both Barnes and Elias…at the same time! He even has them interacting!

Here he is after graduating from LRRP training and arriving at his new base on Jan 11, 1968, where he reads the roster for his new platoon (which includes both John Barnes and Juan Elias):

Here is an incident where Barnes kills the base dog with a shovel (after a new prohibition against keeping pets). Elias, observing the incident and being disturbed, states, “I don’t get that guy.”

Ankony leaves for a couple of months and returns to the unit on June 3, 1968, which is when he is told the details of Elias’ death (he doesn’t appear to mention Barnes at all during his second stint with the unit). This leads me to believe that MAYBE…..Elias and Barnes were once in the same LRRP platoon, but no longer by the time Stone (and Fitzgerald) came along. When Ankony arrived, Stone was still with the 25th ID. Then after his hospitalization, he was a MP in Saigon for about a month before going to the 1st Cav LRRP, and this is right around the time Ankony left, so their paths must not have crossed, and by the time Ankony returned in June Elias was dead and Barnes was gone (I’m assuming).

I was excited that Ankony had an active web presence (including many beautiful photos) and thought about asking him about all this, but unfortunately he’s passed away. He doesn’t mention Platoon or OS in his book and doesn’t have appeared to on his website, so I don’t know if he ever saw it or was aware of the connection.

25 01 2019

Well, that’s really a jackpot! I will take a look at it later. Thanks!

26 06 2019

Went through all pics on the LRRP site with a fine tooth comb. There are something like 12 photo’s of John Barnes, none of them have him bearing scars (he’s actually quite handsome in a few shots).

Was always under the impression that Elias and Barnes were from different units. Elias was definitely a LRRP and so was John Barnes and John Barnes doesn;t have scars. I believe John is not the Barnes we seek.

It’s either that, or Stone used John’s name, but someone else’s face, and if thats the case then we’re looking for someone called Bob. He definitely won’t have the surname Barnes I have a feeling Bob ? had massive facial scars. and for the film, was given Bob;s face and John’s name.

Thats my story and I’m sticking to it. Cos for sure, I’ve wasted too many hours looking for John Barnes a man with scars or any Barnes with scars, and the man doesn’t exist. Not in the LRRPS he doesn’t. We’re looking for someone else. I’ve entertained the idea that the scars were metaphorical but Stone has gone into detail about them so they were real. but they definitely weren’t on the face of John Barnes (LRRP). All of the pictures I’ve seen of him were taken 67/68 and he had no scars at all at that time.

I really think we’re looking for a dude called Bob, who may or may not have been a LRRP (I’m thinking not). So the needle just got buried a little deeper into the stack for me and unless Bob exists in those photo’s back on the LRRP site, I’m just about at the point where I’m ready to dip out on it.

29 06 2019

Steve, that’s a very interesting theory and one I’d never thought of. It certainly seems possible that Stone (either inadvertently or because he heard of John Barnes at some point and the name stuck in his mind) used the name Barnes, not realizing there was also a John Barnes. It is not an uncommon name (like Elias).

However, I still think it’s possible – based on the Robert Ankony evidence – that Stone was totally unaware Elias and Barnes were ever in the same unit in the LRRPs, since it was before his time.

According to a recent report in Page Six of the New York Post, Oliver has written a memoir. Since he’s apparently a meticulous record keeper (daily journals since the mid-70s but also, according to Matt Seitz, a large archive of practically every scrap of paper he ever touched) I’m hoping it has additional stuff about Vietnam.

1 08 2019

Actually, if I think about it, the only “evidence” I can remember is the line: “Guys like Sergeant Barnes — and there really was a sergeant as scarred and obsessed as Barnes — were in this group. ” in the Corliss article from Time. From my experience, interviewers assume A LOT in their texts. We might just get the (wrong) impression that if Barnes was a real person, he had to have a scar.
If we add the – quite obvious, but rarely mentioned – Moby Dick connection, Barnes-Ahab having a scar would make sense, no matter if it was real (but taken from someone else) or pure fantasy. Actually, can you ever have Ahab without the scar?

As for the guys being in the same unit earlier – I’ve very soon got that impression, from (over)analysing the story. That Barnes and Elias were old enemies, but maybe nobody in the present unit knows anything about it.

1 03 2021
Jon Barnes

My name is Jon Barnes and my uncle is Sgt. John Barnes from Clarksville, TN. I don’t know how active this site is but if anyone is still researching this subject, please feel free to contact me with any info you may have.

As far as I know, my uncle never spoke about this movie character possibly being linked to him. We are trying to find anything we can that may confirm or deny that. The only thing I can say is that he did not have a scar on his face and the picture above of the solider with a cigar is in fact my uncle.

2 03 2021

Oh, wow, that’s a surprise!
Unfortunately I don’t have anything more than the comments here. But I still get some traffic on this blog, maybe someone else could help?

Have you tried to contact O.Stone (e.g. via Facebook or his website (I’m getting an error message on the last though). Other people that come to my mind are Dale Dye via – he’s a great guy btw, or Paul “Doc” Sanchez

Is your uncle still alive? Did he ever spoke about his tour?

15 03 2021
Jon Barnes

Thank you for the links, I’ll have to check them out. I’ve tried to contact Stone once but never got a response.

Unfortunately my uncle passed away in 2014. I’ve heard stories through my dad (Johns brother) about his service but none that would be of interest to this topic. John was pretty tight lipped about what went on during his time in Vietnam. My dad served late in the war and John wouldn’t even share with him a lot of the things that went on over there. I know my dad has been told a few things that he won’t repeat but I can’t say with any certainty what those stories are even about. I’ve always gotten the impression that the guy was just a flat out, badass soldier. I don’t want that to come off like I’m confirming anything that happened in the movie. Like I said before, we’re still trying to find hard evidence that this character was based off of him or not. It’s an odd situation since on one hand it would be really neat to know a family member was inspiration for such an iconic movie role but on the other hand, we may not want to know how much of that character was based on real life.

I really wish I had more to share and I plan to keep searching to hopefully figure this all out. I appreciate all the work people have done on the topic and maybe something will pop up one of these days that can finally put it to rest. If I do find some info, I’ll be sure to share since there seems to be some fairly strong interest in John and his possible involvement. Thanks again for the links and looking forward to hearing from you guys.

21 03 2021

It might be disappointing news for you, Jon. I just read the part of Stone’s Chasing The Light book, where he describes how he met the two men who became Barnes and Elias in Platoon.
But Stone also writes “Barnes as I renamed him”, so actually when he writes “Barnes” in his book he means someone with a different name. Would you agree as a native speaker?

Anyway, depending on the unit your uncle was with, he still might be a source of the surname, because – as described in the book based on the movie script- the full character’s name was Robert E Lee Barnes from Tennessee(!)

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