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.


Photos at

10 04 2013

Photos made by OS himself.

One of them was used in the Discovery Channel Documentary I just mentioned. It snowballs again!

Discovery Channel Documentary

10 04 2013

The True Story – Platoon

Well, something really new. The film brings some facts together, Stone’s career in Vietnam, and also the background information like the battle of Firebase Burt.

For me the most “important” statement of the movie is that Stone never revealed the identity of the Barnes prototype. But there is more about Juan Elias, interviews and a never before seen photo of Young Stone from his time in the Air Cavalry.

Video on YouTube

Video on Smithsonian Channel

Sidetracks: Heroes of My Lai honoured

14 09 2008

Was looking what MSN Live Search has to offer about OS and Platoon and found an excerpts from “Napalm am Morgen” (Napalm in the Morning), a German book about Vietnam War Movies which mentioned this:

From BBC News website, Saturday, March 7, 1998: 
Heroes of My Lai honoured

cudz.jpg image by alveniTwo soldiers [Hugh Thompson Jr and Lawrence Colburn] who stopped their comrades from slaughtering innocent civilians during the Vietnam War 30 years ago have been awarded the Soldier’s Medal. The family of a third, who was later killed in the conflict, will also receive the honour, the highest the US Army can award for bravery not involving direct conflict with the enemy.

I cannot believe it took 30 years! Sadly, Hugh Thompson died on cancer in 2006 and Ronald Ridenhour, who sputted the investigation in May 1998.

However on Thompson’s Wikipedia page there is a quotation of a dialogue between Thompson and Calley:

Calley: [I am] Just following [orders]…
Thompson: But, these are human beings, unarmed civilians, sir.
Calley: Look Thompson, this is my show. I’m in charge here. It ain’t your concern. 

I wonder if Stone intentionally gave a similar line to Barnes.


Further links: 

Well, what a way to spend 3 hours of a Sunday afternoon…

Calley: Look Thompson, this is my show. I’m in charge here. It ain’t your concern.

Spotted: Ace of Spades

7 09 2008

Ace and Morehouse carrying Ace Of Spades Cards

From Wikipedia:

Ace of Spades was used by American soldiers — as a psychological weapon in the Vietnam War. US troops erroneously believed that Vietnamese ancient traditions held the symbolism of the spade to mean death and ill-fortune and in a bid to scare awayNLF soldiers without firefight, it was common practice to leave an Ace of Spades on the bodies of killed Vietnamese and even to litter the forested grounds and fields with the card. This custom was erroneously believed to be so effective, that the Bicycle Playing Cards company was asked to supply crates of that single card in bulk. The crates were often marked with “Bicycle Secret Weapon”.

The Ace of Spades, while not a symbol of superstitious fear to the NLF, did help the morale of American soldiers. It was not unheard of for US soldiers and Marines to stick this card in their helmet band as a sort of anti-peace sign. 


From THE DEATH CARD  by SGM Herb Friedman (Ret.)

Did [the card] truly terrify the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army regulars and leave them trembling in fear? Did American military units all throughout Vietnam use it? The answers would seem to be a resounding “no.” In fact, some intelligence studies indicate that the Vietnamese had no concept that the ace of spades represented death. Many units never used the cards and the majority of troops I met never even saw one used in-country.(…)

So why was the ace of spades so popular that some individuals or units actually ordered them from playing card manufacturers to place on the bodies of dead Viet Cong and NVA? The answer seems to be, because the American troops just loved them. Although the cards were allegedly anti-Communist PSYOP, in fact they were really pro-American PSYOP. U.S. troops got a kick out of them and loved the idea of leaving them on bodies. Like wolves, it was a way to mark their territory. It proclaimed them the biggest and “baddest” varmints in the valley of death. The cards motivated and encouraged American troops far more than they terrified the enemy.

Spotted: A Safe Conduct Pass

5 09 2008

When Manny was found dead, he has a piece of printed paper nailed to his chest:


From Wikipedia: Safe Conduct Pass

The Chiêu Hồi Program (pronounced ‘Choo Hoy’, literally translated as “Open Arms” was an initiative by the South Vietnamese to encourage defection by the Viet Cong and their supporters to the side of the Government during the Vietnam War. Defection was urged by means of a propaganda campaign, usually leaflets delivered by artillery shell or dropped over enemy-controlled areas by aircraft, or messages broadcast over areas of South Vietnam, and a number of incentives were offered to those who chose to cooperate, along with psychological warfare to break enemy morale.

To further this aim, invitations to defect, which also acted as safe conduct passes, were printed on clear plastic waterproof bags used to carry ammunition for the US soldier’s M16 assault rifle. Each bag held one magazine, and was sealed up to prevent moisture from the jungle’s humid climate from damaging the contents. When the magazine was needed during a firefight with the enemy, the bag would be torn open and discarded, in the hope that it would be discovered by enemy troops who would read the text and consider defection.

However, in practice this method was of little value as littering the jungle with these bags would signpost the movement of US troops to the enemy, and Viet Cong would not be keen to retain them as it would indicate their intentions and indict them as traitors; and according to the testimony of Sergeant Scott Camil during the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation, the passes were sometimes rejected anyway, and their holders shot.

Overall, the Chieu Hoi program was considered to be successful. Those who surrendered were known as “Hoi Chanh”, and were often integrated into allied units as Kit Carson Scouts, operating in the same area where they had been captured. Many made great contributions to the effectiveness of U.S. units, and often distinguished themselves, earning decorations as high as the Silver Star. The program was relatively inexpensive, and removed over 100,000 combatants from the field. 


A detailed background of the leaflet and the whole operation, from a PSYOP expert.

Charlie, Come Home! an article from TIME MAGAZINE, Feb. 10, 1967

Of course in the movie we could clearly see what the VC thought of the programm…

ARCHIVE FILE | The Bracelets

5 09 2008

It was a dialog from Charlie MoPic where the Montagnard bracelets were introduced (from the German translation):

“Why do you wear those bracelets?” “Because we are brothers.” “Is it all?” “Is it not enough?”

You can see them in Vietnam War movies, in Platoon everyone (except Lt. Wolfe) wears them. But there is surprisingly few information about them online.  It seem that in the early phase of the war they were given to the Special Forces advisors who worked with the Vietnamese Montagnards and were often integrated into tribes.

QUOTE: Many, if not most [Special Forces trainers], wore the brass or bronze “Yard” [=Montagnard] bracelet, even in uniform. This was a gift from a Montagnard tribe or individual signifying a special bond of brotherhood and friendship, and was very highly regarded by all recipients. (source)

QUOTE: Advisors to indigenous partisans were often assimilated into the particular subculture in their area of operations. The symbol of this adoption was the unique circlet (kong), bearing the identifying tribe’s stylized markings, handcrafted for intrasocial rites. These mountain peoples would rework available metals, so the bracelets not only varied between tribes, but within a tribe from year to year … sometimes brass or copper, sometimes tin or aluminum. This loop-bracelet was presented in a solemn animistic ceremony of public affirmation. Several advisors thought enough of their filial bonding to adopt their own stateside wives into the tribe by uttering mutual vows and exchanging bracelets for wedding bands. As time passed, and events changed circumstances, the Montagnard refugees needed a livelihood, so beautiful bronze and sterling silver reproductions were offered commercially, with a pamphlet explaining the significance of the object, the meaning of the symbolic signs, and the plight of these dislocated peoples. These handsome facsimiles weren’t made in the old way, and their quality is much improved by the marketing, but they lack the power (yang) that gave them meaning, so these artifacts have become just another trinket. (source)

  Some samples:
Sampan Import Company

John Wayne’s Montagnard Bracelet 

Montagnards today


There is another kind of bracelets worn by black soldiers. Only Big Harold seems to have none. Here are some examples:

And that’s what I found out about them:

Soul Soldiers: Exhibit Reveals Story of Blacks in Vietnam

QUOTE: Some soldiers began demanding Black-only hootches, or barracks, which some called “hekula,” the Swahili word for temple. In another show of solidarity, they created these elaborate boot-lace bracelets, which some called slave shackles. They sang songs by the Temptations as they charged through the jungle. (read the whole article)

Fighting on Two Fronts: African Americans and the Vietnam War

QUOTE: Those who wore slave bracelets, a small bracelet woven out of bootlaces and worn by African Americans to show solidarity were considered militant (…)  (read the whole article)  

HERE is a gallery with some paracord bracelets and a tutorial how to make them, HERE a tutorial how to attach a button. But I think, according to the shape of King’s bracelet… (Photo from the Pioneer Laserdisc booklet)

    …the braid itself is rather like THIS.


After Elias’ death Chris — together with a CIB — apparently gets his own Montagnard bracelet (or did he “inherited” this one from Elias’?) and another one, similar to the bootlace bracelet. Does it mean he was adopted by the black soldiers? It’s hard to say, anyway the braid looks a little bit different.

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