Casualties of War

Casualties of War Information

Casualties of War is a 1989 war drama directed by Brian De Palma, with a screenplay by David Rabe, based on the actual events of the incident on Hill 192 in 1966 during the Vietnam War. It starred Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn.

An article written by Daniel Lang for The New Yorker in 1969, and a subsequent book were the movie's primary sources.

This film was, in a way, Fox's third major dramatic role. He had previously starred in the dramas Light of Day and Bright Lights, Big City. John C. Reilly and John Leguizamo make their screen debuts in the film, and the latter would again star with Penn in another picture by De Palma, 1993's Carlito's Way.


The story is presented as a flashback of Max Eriksson (Michael J. Fox), a Vietnam veteran.

In November 1966, a squad of American soldiers is on patrol when they are suddenly attacked by the Viet Cong. The ground cracks under Eriksson while he walks above a Viet Cong tunnel, and he is stuck in the hole while enemy mortar shells land near him. Unknown to him, a Viet Cong soldier in the tunnel below him prepares to silently kill him with a knife. Sergeant Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) hears Eriksson, pulls him out of the hole, and shoots the Viet Cong soldier dead. Eventually, the Americans stave off the attack.

The squad takes a break outside a river village in the Central Highlands. While relaxing and joking around, one of the squad members SPC 4 "Brownie" Brown (Erik King) who is a close friend of Meserve, is shot in the neck by Viet Cong across the river. The squad kills several enemies until they realize there's Viet Cong running through a flooded field behind them. One throws a grenade at Eriksson, but in a miraculous shot he blows up the grenade in mid-air with his M-79 grenade launcher. Brownie is evacuated but Meserve later informs the squad that he died at the hospital. Shortly afterward, Private Antonio Diaz (John Leguizamo) arrives as Brownie's replacement.

The unit is then re-deployed to a nearby village, which is believed to be an ally to the Viet Cong. Because of their reassignment, the unit has their leave time cut short. Frustrated because his squad has been denied leave for an extended period, Meserve orders the squad to kidnap a Vietnamese girl, Than Thi Oanh (Thuy Thu Le), to be their sex slave. Eriksson strenuously objects, but Meserve silences him and ostracizes him from the rest of the squad. The girl is forcibly taken to the squad's next command outpost and is repeatedly beaten and raped by all the men but Eriksson. Oanh grows ill and develops a persistent cough.

The squad is later ordered to take up a position near a railroad bridge overlooking a Viet Cong river supply depot. Meserve and Corporal Thomas E. Clark (Don Harvey) realize Oanh's coughing might give them away. Meserve has Diaz order air support for an assault on the depot, then orders Eriksson to kill Oanh. Eriksson staunchly refuses despite Meserve's death threats. Clark looks out in the sky and sees a unit of Huey helicopters passing a mountain and then turning towards their position. Fearing the helicopters will somehow see their rape victim, Meserve first orders PFC Herbert Hatcher (John C. Reilly) to kill Oanh, but Hatcher begs Meserve not to, so then Meserve orders Diaz. Before Diaz can kill her, Eriksson fires his M-16 rifle into the air, exposing them to the nearby Viet Cong.

As the battle rages, Eriksson, who is carefully picking off Viet Cong hiding behind a supply sampan on the river bank, doesn't realize that Clark has brutally stabbed Oanh more than twice with his knife. Things become desperate when the Viet Cong move mortars up to the river and begin lobbing shells onto the bridge trapping the squad. Fortunately, Meserve is able to kill many of the enemy with his M-60 machine gun. In the midst of the firefight Oanh, whose wounds were not immediately fatal, walks onto the bridge to try to escape. Eriksson charges at her, trying to catch her but is stopped by Meserve, who knocks Eriksson down with the butt of his M-60. Eriksson watches helplessly as the entire squad shoots Oanh numerous times until she falls off the bridge, dead. The helicopter gunships then strafe the supply depot with rockets blowing it up but accidentally setting a passing U.S. Navy River Patrol Boat (PBR) on fire when the sampan explodes, killing all the crewmen.

After the battle, Eriksson wakes up in a hospital. Meserve and the squad cover up the murder but Eriksson refuses to let the secret die. He jeopardizes both his life and military career (thanks in large part to indifferent superiors, who prefer to bury the matter) to expose the crime. Eventually, an attempt on Eriksson's life is made by Clark, who tries to kill Eriksson while he is using the latrine. Eriksson takes action by confronting Meserve and his men, and using a shovel, strikes Clark across the face, scaring the rest of the men and informing Meserve that he "told everyone and they don't care", Meserve calls him "dinky dow" (an Americanized Vietnamese phrase derived from the Vietnamese phrase ""?iên cái "??u" meaning crazy head) before Eriksson exits the tent. Eriksson meets a chaplain at the bar and tells him the story of the girl. There is an investigation and the four men who participated in the rape and murder are court martialed: Meserve receives ten years hard labor and a dishonorable discharge, Clark is sentenced to life in prison, Private Herbert Hatcher receives fifteen years hard labor, Diaz receives eight years hard labor. As the four exit the court room, Meserve whispers something in Eriksson's ear, most likely a threat suggesting what Meserve might do to Eriksson once he is free from the stockade.

At the end of the film, Eriksson wakens from a nightmare (apparently a flashback of all the audience has just seen) to find himself on a MUNI J-Church in San Francisco, just a few seats from a Vietnamese-American student (also played by Thuy Thu Le) who resembles the murdered girl. She disembarks at Dolores Park and forgets her scarf, and Eriksson runs after her to return it. As she thanks him and turns away, he calls after her in Vietnamese. She surmises that she reminds him of someone, and adds, "You had a bad dream, didn't you? It's over now, I think. Chào "?ng [as a response to his greeting to her 'Chào Cô' in Vietnamese]". They go their separate ways, Eriksson somewhat comforted.

Aftermath for the real soldiers

In March 1967, the UPI revealed the real names of the members of the squad as Staff Sgt. David E. Gervase, age 20 from Erie NY (Meserve); Pfc. Steven Cabbot Thomas, age 21 from Brooklyn NY (Clark); Pfc. Robert M. Storeby, age 22 from St. Paul Minn. (Eriksson); Pfc. Joseph C. Garcia, age 20 from Albuquerque NM (Hatcher) and his brother Cipriano Schultz Garcia, age 21 from San Antonio, TX (Diaz).

Of the real sentenced soldiers their characters were based on, Joseph Garcia (Private Herbert Hatcher) was acquitted on appeal after it was determined that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated, and his confession was ruled as inadmissible. His brother, Cipriano's sentence (Private Antonio Diaz) was shortened to 22 months. Sergeant Gervase (Meserve) and Pfc. Thomas's (Clark) sentences were reduced to eight years, with the possibility of parole after 4 years. In 1992, former Pfc Steven Cabbot Thomas (CPL. Thomas E. Clark) received further notoriety when he was charged with being an accessory after the fact in the murder of Harold Mansfield Jr., an African-American Gulf War veteran. Thomas served the minimum 4 years in prison for the rape and murder of the girl in 1966, and had since become a leader in the white-supremacist Church of the Creator. The identity of the girl was revealed by her sister as Phan Thi Mao during the court-martial. The girl's ordeal began on November 18, 1966 and ended the next day with her death on November 19.


  • Michael J. Fox as Private Max Eriksson
  • Sean Penn as Sergeant Tony Meserve
  • John C. Reilly as Private Herbert Hatcher
  • Dale Dye as Captain Hill
  • Don Patrick Harvey as Corporal Thomas E. Clark
  • John Leguizamo as Private Antonio Diaz
  • Thuy Thu Le as Oanh
  • Erik King as Specialist 4th Class "Brownie" Brown
  • Jack Gwaltney as Rowan
  • Ving Rhames as Lieutenant Reilly
  • Dan Martin as Hawthorne
  • Steve Larson as First Agent
  • John Linton as Second Agent
  • Vyto Ruginis as Prosecutor
  • Al Shannon as Wilkins
  • Wendell Pierce as MacIntire
  • Sam Robards as Chaplain Kirk
  • Maris Valainis as Streibig
  • Darren E. Burrows as Cherry
  • Sherman Howard as Court Martial President
  • John Marshall Jones as M.P.
  • Holt McCallany as Lieutenant Kramer
  • Kady Tran as Yen
  • Scott Gregory as First Soldier Charlie
  • Ennalls Berl as Second Soldier Charlie
  • Vinh Tran as V.C. Interpreter
  • Somsak as ARVN Interpreter
  • Hataya Sarmount as Girl Villager
  • Ba Thuan T. Le as Oahn's Mother
  • Nootch as Child Villager
  • Kwan as Child Villager
  • J. Chalerm as Old Farmer
  • Sigma as Female Villager
  • Po Powpi as Old Villager
  • Shaun Shea as Soldier
  • Kristopher Dunn as Soldier
  • Donal Gibson as Soldier
  • Shane Kerwin as Soldier
  • Niran as V.C. In Tunnel
  • Stephen Baldwin as Soldier
  • Stefan Ehlers as Sergeant Fuller
  • Michael D. Jones as Passenger On Train
  • Jonathan MacLeod as Soldier
  • Amy Irving as voice of girl on the train (uncredited)


  • The bridge location was filmed in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. This was the same location where the famous Bridge on the River Kwai is located.


Box office

Casualties of War opened in 1,487 theatres, ranking at No. 4 calculating over $5,201,261 on its opening week. The film went to gross over $18,671,317.



  • Political Film Society: PFS Award; Peace; 1990.

  • Golden Globes: Golden Globe; Best Original Score - Motion Picture Ennio Morricone; 1990.
  • Motion Picture Sound Editors: Golden Reel Award; Best Sound Editing - Sound Effects; Maurice Schell; 1990.

Extended version

A longer version was released on DVD, that contains 2 new scenes, one has Eriksson being interrogated by the two investigators, the other is the defense attorney trying to discredit Eriksson during the trial.

See also

  • Incident on Hill 192
  • O.k.
  • The Visitors

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Casualties_of_War" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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