Photos of Juan Elias (2)

4 07 2013

Found two other photographs of Juan Angel Elias on the web. HERE and HERE.

HERE is his name etched on The Wall. It’s a pity I didn’t know it all while visiting the Memorial in 2000.

And HERE you can find him on the Virtual Wall Veterans Memorial.


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

Foreword to Platoon Script by Oliver Stone

28 08 2008

So I bought the book edition of Platoon’s and Salvador’s scripts for a good price, the first edition costs up to $100. 😯

The book looks slightly used and someone obviously worked with the Platoon script, comparing it to the movie, as the scenes are numbered and changes marked. There are also one or two small notes scribbled on the pages, but I haven’t deciphered them yet. 

I think I somehow hoped to find the initial version of the script, but it’s still the same version as the one that can be found online. Some new information can be found in the foreword written by Stone.


SCAN 1   SCAN 2   SCAN 3   SCAN 4


Still there was nothing about Break, or THE Platoon, or the development of the script as I hoped. 😦 Nor any details about the first run of scouting and casting… But there is more about the real sergeants than I expected.

Some of the lines were quoted in different reviews, now I can read them inside the right context, and from OS himself, so indeed I saw what Barnes was meant to be — a wounded human being, not a “cardboard satan” as many saw him. 

Tom Berenger is Sergeant Barnes, the Captain Ahab of the platoon. (…) Here I want him to play someone with evil in his heart, but play him with an understanding that will shed light on Melville’s line, ‘O this lovely light that shineth not on me…’ (read the whole piece) and from watching his coiled performance, I think many people at the end of the film will think he has been wronged by Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, and destiny.

This sadly didn’t come true, maybe it’s some flaw to the story that makes it visible only to few viewers as it seems. Or maybe it is hard to accept the humanity of the ultimate means, the humanity within a murderer…  

Sergeant Barnes was (…) Achilles, a warrior king in his own time. And I – this modern New York City boy who’d never really believed all that Homer stuff in school – was actually hauling his radio, the equivalent, I suppose, of driving his chariot. (…)

He never yelled at me but his cold, quiet stare withered and terrified me as no man has ever done since. He was the best soldier I ever saw, except, possibly, for Elias. One day he snuck up on two ‘gooks’ having breakfast and killed them, quick, before the fish heads hit their lips: they died surprised. But, unlike Elias, there was a sickness in him, he wanted to kill too much. (…)

The gooks had shot him right above his left eye in ’66, and the bullet somehow lodged in there and he spent a year in a hospital in Japan. The resulting scar ran the whole left side of his face in a large, sickle-shaped pattern, layered with grafted skin from the indentation above his eye to his lower jaw. It was a massive job, indicative of equally massive damage to the nerves and possibly the brain. 

Does it mean they ruined Barnes’ face in the hospital trying to extract the bullet? Jesus….
But why the grafted skin then? And I wonder why they decided to change the side in the movie, in script the scar is still on the left. Then there is that discrepance between the book and the script: in the book it was 1964 (which actually must have been a goof as the war hadn’t really started until 1965)

I like the way the tidbits appear “out of nowhere” once we’ve had discussed them. Like the possible Barnes’ brain damage, that stayed below my radar for 20 years, until recently.

When Barnes looked you in the eye, you felt it all the way down to your balls. But there was a tenderness and sensuality in the man’s quietude that made him fascinating, equally handsome in a snub-nosed way as Elias, and I found out in time he was married to a Japanese girl he’d met in the hospital. He’d been wounded some six or seven times, though he never talked about it, or the woman, or himself. He’d get drunk at poker and occasionally crack a country smile, but never let you in. The only vulnerability in the man was the scar, and such a massive thing it was that it provoked the deepest empathy. 

It sounds so much like the quotation from Moby Dick posted yesterday, doesn’t it? “And somehow, at the time, I felt a sympathy and a sorrow for him, but for I don’t know what(…)”

About Elias

The real Elias was about twenty-three In 1968 when I met him during a brief stint in the First Cavalry’s Long Range Reconnaissance patrol (…) Dashingly handsome, with thick black hair, a flashing white smile, and Apache blood, Elias was everything we were later going to recognize in Jim Morrison and Joplin and Hendrix, he was a rock star but played it out as a soldier; real danger turned him on. Everybody seemed to love him except the ‘lifers’ and the juicers, with their six and seven stripes(…)

I heard Elias died on some hill in the Ashau when one of our grenades went off and killed him. It was unlike Elias; he was too smart to get wasted like that, yet how symbolic of this frustrating war – many of our best troops killed by our own side in accidents. There was even the whispered thought that Elias had been done in by one of our lifers.

Stone uses the names Barnes and Elias, not the Barnes/Elias character as he often does in the commentary — does this indicate Barnes was the man’s real name?

There is also a nice piece about Charlie Sheen, unluckily Stone’s prediction about him becoming a big star didn’t really came true.

[Sheen] arrived a bit of a nerd from the teen films he’d done – Malibu in his soul, hot wings at Hamburger Hamlet, tightly cut hair, with a hundred pounds of provisions his mother sent that he would never use. Over the weeks, he’s become tougher, sharper, a jungle vet who can hump sixty pounds and walk right up on a deer in the bush without being heard. The changes exactly mirror those in his character in the script

An interesting behind-the-scenes tidbit: they actually built the church ruins, which later were used for For the Boys in 1990 or 1991, so it was a solid construction. And I wonder if Stone, more or less consciously copies the church from Apocalypse Now from the scene where Willard meets Kilgore for the first time.

The other thing we’ve discussed already is that the movie is a result of…

…just plain luck and the coming together of so many live elements in the proper framework.

There are some words about editing that I liked:

Editing always seems to me like a calculated rout from my grand plan of attack, but in the end the essence seems to survive in a reduced form, like amoebae in a dish ready to grow again with the audience.

And those lines that are filled with a certain sadness about the impossibility of putting the vision on screen completely.

I know that although I finished the film, a part of it will never be there, any more than the faces of the gawky boys we left behind in the dust. As close as I came to Charlie Sheen, he would never be me and Platoon would never be what I saw in my mind when I wrote it and which was just a fragment, really, of what happened years ago.

I wonder how Platoon would look like if Stone had more time and money, how his vision actually looked like. Reading the script now one automatically see the movie and the actors… Although since reading Break, I started to see Elias in a different light, as if the image of a rebellious Indian kid blended into the final form of Dafoe’s performance.

From OS’s deleted scenes commentary

11 05 2008

OS: “Barnes truly was a sergeant, I was his radio operator, and one of his people for a while… and he was scary, he was really into a strong, hard place inside of self, and he hated the Vietnamese very much, and he was like a Capt Ahab type in that regard, and he was my sergeant… so Elias and Barnes very much motivated me, and I wanted to write about the man in the middle, the boy who grew into some version of myself”

The Real Platoon(4)

2 03 2008

A follow-up from Archive File | The Real Platoon (1)

Went through all AirCav websites I could find, looked at all photos I could find. I don’t know what what exactly I was looking for. Some hint, maybe a photo of Oliver Stone or at least his name on a roster or in a memoir… Of course, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. 

So far I’ve only found out that one of the units had a monkey — Mr. Monk. Made me think of script-Elias and his monkey. Unfortunately Elias’ name couldn’t be found on any available list. Nor Stone’s. The monkey could be something Stone just heard of, or imagined, or there was a pet-monkey in every second unit in Vietnam.

The Bookshelf: Platoon. Bravo Company by R. Hemphill

15 02 2008

Finally I took a plunge and re-read the book. To my surprise it was a much better read than my first attempt in 1997. Which is good indicator for my increasing English skills. *proudly tapping myself on the shoulder* I still get lost in the military and radio lingo though, so it is nothing I will read again just for fun. 

There is a striking dissonance between the moods in the book and in Platoon. It felt as if Bravo Company belonged to a completely different universe, to another, cleaner, more logical war than that described by Stone. Hemphill’s war is like a strategy game: there were some bloody moments, but recalling it I have an impression of observing everything from a bird’s eye view. Probably it’s because Hemphill did have a different perspective. He knew the tactics, the “bigger picture” of what’s going on, but it was not a grunt’s POV.

There are two particular moments echoing the movie. The first is the attack at the Firebase Burt near the Cambodian border, on the New Years Day 1968 when the 9th VC Main Force Division overran the perimeter and the air support had to drop napalm dangerously close to American positions. There was some hand to hand fighting that night, and in the morning bulldozers were digging mass graves for the dead Vietcong — the enemy body count was about 500, against surprisingly low american casualties (unlike in the movie, where it was like a final extermination of the platoon’s leftovers).

Another incident reminds of the church battle: the point man was killed as the unit entered a bunker complex masked by ant hills (remember Chris hiding behind an anthill?) There is a piece of dialog surprisingly similar to the radio talk between capt Harris and a panicked soldier, and a glimpse of bodies uncovered by wind blow.

And I think that capt Harris is based on Hemphill himself. 


The book was clearly written as an answer and a counterbalance to Platoon. But if people see it as “denouncing Oliver Stone’s lies” it’s because of a misunderstanding. IMO the problem is caused by Stone showing the unit’s name so prominently at the beginning of the film. Is suggests that all what happened took place in that one unit. Stone explained, over and over again, that the movie’s story is a compilation of his experience in four different units, but that statement is easy to overlook. 

Stone was in Vietnam from September 67 to November 68. Hemphill — from October 67 to February 68, which means he left before things started to worsen. And to state accidents like drug use, fragging etc., didn’t happen at all only because they didn’t happen in Hemphill’s company during Hemphill’s tour, make as much sense as stating that Platoon is the only true movie about the Vietnam war. To me both, the movie and the book, are parts of a bigger picture.

Archive File | The Real Platoon(1)

1 02 2008

There is only one known picture showing Oliver Stone together with other soldiers. Each time I look at it I wonder if some of them is described in the movie. There is never a caption giving any details, no place, no time, no names.

Guys, who are you?


Even behind the Iron Curtain the first thing one got to know about Platoon was that it was a work of a Vietnam veteran, and that the movie was based on his experiences. But it was also the only thing you’d got to know. Oh, there were reviews, good and thoughtful ones, but any background information was rare, so in the end I haven’t known much more beside basic biographical facts about Stone (college dropout, worked in Saigon as teacher, tried to write a book, was rejected, so he threw the manuscript into the East River and enlisted, spent a year in Vietnam, was wounded, decorated, came home, was arrested for drug possession, studied film in N.Y. under Scorsese) and his political shift from someone who believed in the political goals of the Vietnam war into a disillusioned radical who wanted to bring down the government.

I always thought that “being based on experiences” shouldn’t be taken too exactly. I was wrong. The first hint proving it was in Richard Corliss’ article in Time Magazine I read after I moved to Germany.

Platoon: Viet Nam, the way it Really was, on film,9171,963314,00.html

Each of the three combat units he served in was divided into antagonistic groups, as in the film: “On one side were the lifers, the juicers (heavy drinkers) and the moron white element. Guys like Sergeant Barnes — and there really was a sergeant as scarred and obsessed as Barnes — were in this group. On the other side was a progressive, hippie, dope- smoking group: some blacks, some urban whites, Indians, random characters from odd places. Guys like Elias — and there really was an Elias, handsome, electric, the Cary Grant of the trenches. They were out to survive this bummer with some integrity and a sense of humor. I fell in with the progressives — a Yale boy who heard soul music and smoked dope for the first time in his life.” 

But it was the small remark on The 80s Movies Rewind website, that made me believe that Stone could mean it literally:

With most of the characters based on reality and actual individuals, Willem Dafoe was chosen as the basis for Juan Angel Elias, a black haired White Mountain Apache* who befriended Stone. Dafoe was perfect for the man… and after seeing To Live and Die…, the director thought he was right for the role owith his rugged features that presented a beauty emanating trought ugliness.

We were very privileged to have Anni Whitewolf Elias write to us herself to correct some information about her father, the real Juan Angel Elias: “I am writing this letter to you to correct a mistake that you have on your page. Yes, it is true that my father had black hair, green eyes and one hell of a temper to match. I take after him as well. Please correct your facts, my father was full blooded White Mountain Apache! He was not Hispanic!

So Elias was a real name, and the man was an Indian (like in the script). I was still sceptical, until I found his name at the Virtual Wall website

There were too many details which were the same. Name (and it finally set clear that Elias was his second name), the time frame of his service. And he served in the Air Cavalry which explained why he was wearing the unit’s patch.


In Barnes’ case I wasn’t so lucky.

First: I doubt Stone uses the right name. Even if it was — the name is so popular, that looking for it makes no sense at all. There is plenty of Robert Barnes-es or even Robert Lee Barnes-es (as Dale Dye calls him in his book). 

It’s hard to say why I always thought Stone met the Barnes prototype in the 25th Infantry Division. Probably because Stone always stated that “real Barnes” and “real Elias” never met. Elias was in the Air Cavalry, and because I’d never read about any other unit, I assumed the other one must be the Infantry unit described in the movie.

I took the book Platoon: Bravo Company by Robert Hemphill out of the box. (I’ve almost sold it on Ebay in a period when my interest in the whole Platoon thing grew weaker, thanks goodness nobody wanted it.) Reading it, I think, about 1997, I had massive problems to understand all that military talk and actually I thought I wouldn’t ever come back to it. Anyway, there is a kind of list with names and the company structure. In the command of 1. platoon were three lieutenants but 2. Platoon (Stone’s) had two lieutenants and a staff sergeant, which somehow seemed to confirm the theory.

But then, I came upon an interview from Playboy and read:

STONE: (…) I was in the 25th Infantry First, which was where I saw most of my combat. [this must be the time between September 67, when Stone flew to Nam, to some time in February 68, as the final battle in the movie is based on the actual battle for the fire base Burt which took place  during the Tet Offensive.]

Then, when I got wounded the second time, they shipped me to another unit, because if you had two wounds, you could get out. I went to a rear-echelon unit in Saigon. Auxiliary military police. But I was gonna get an Article 15, insubordination, because I had a fight with a sergeant. So I made a deal, essentially. I said, “Send me back to the field and drop the charges.” I couldn’t stand this rear echelon bullshit. They put me in this long range recon patrol, and that’s where I met the basis for the Elias character in Platoon.

PLAYBOY: What was Elias’ real name?

STONE: Elias. I don’t know if it was his last name or his first name, but it was always Elias. A sergeant. Apache. A black-haired kid, very handsome. He looked like Jimmy Morrison; he truly was a jimmy Morrison of the soldiers. Very charismatic. The leader of the group. He was killed.

PLAYBOY: What happened to you there?

STONE: I got this horrible grease-bag lifer sergeant, one of these guys who were raking off the beer concession. He had a waxed mustache; I’ll never forget that. He didn’t like my attitude, and I told him to go fuck himself. Laughs So they sent me across the road to a regular combat unit, which was the First or the Ninth Armored Cav, or whatever the f*** they called it. Basically, it was infantry. And there was the Sergeant Barnes character. My squad sergeant.

Uh-huh. So the “Barnes character” was in the third combat unit Stone was with. For some reason I cannot find anything about 9th Armored Cavalry which would make sense. Is “Armored Cavalry” the same as “Air Cavalry”? I think the “whatever the f*** they called it” might be the problem — it was some other unit… 


Another snippets describing the “real Barnes”:

David M. Hars’s Guide To War Films: (Barnes was) Also based an real soldier OS knew in VN. OS carried his radio for him. OS feared and respected him as best soldier he ever knew. Feared him because B sick inside because he wanted to kill too much. Received multiple wounds (6-7 times) including bulletin right eye which caused horrible scar.

From some place I cannot track back: It is interesting to note that, in Oliver Stone’s experience of the war, there really was a platoon sergeant as scarred and bloodthirsty as Barnes, a sergeant as noble and caring as Elias…

This kind of statements circulate in the net, it’s hard to say who is copying from whom…


From the Platoon Commentary (which it much more trustworthy): “Barnes was based on a guy I knew from (???), Montana in one of my units and he actually has been shot. (pause) Barnes was shot in the head and had miraculous recovery. Went to Japan for several months for face surgery, married a japanese girl and came to the Nam. Been wounded 6-7 times and he volunteered again, wanted to get out there – killing.”

Stone was his radio man, but he didn’t say in which unit. Beside, with Stone’s mumbling it’s hard to tell what he means with the first “shot”: does it mean “was killed”, or was it the shot Barnes recovered from later? Again, you often wonder if he speaks of the real person or the character… which makes the impression of real people existing in the characters even stronger.

In the book and the script he Barnes from Tennessee not Montana… hmmm. The place Stone mentioned sounded like Tahoo, but it’s a name on the lake and it’s in Nevada, so I surely misheard it.


If you ask me for opinion about Barnes:

– He existed, he was a real person, not an idea, even if some of his features might be borrowed from other people. 

– I also think that very likely was shot in the face

– He was wounded several times, came back for more (I think it was mentioned in the DVD commentary) 

– He was in the same squad as Stone, maybe Stone was his RTO. 

– It’s arguable if he survived, but he must have been still alive in the first months of 1968.

– He was a staff sergeant (SSGT, or E-6)


At least one thing is obvious — Chris Taylor is Stone’s alter ego. It starts from the background (even if Stone was probably more right-wing than his film counterpart) and ends with letters to his grandmother. Sometimes in the commentary Stone talks about Chris in first person and I think it says it all. 

There are also hints to other character prototypes. One day I will deal with them too.