Honor in the Valley of Tears is a well-produced, well-told documentary that looks at the men of A Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry of the 4th Infantry Division. The unit, which was made up primarily of draftees from the East and West coasts, came together at Fort Lewis in 1965 where they had basic and AIT.
Unlike most of those who fought in Vietnam, the men of A Company 1st of the 8th trained together and went to Vietnam as a unit. The men shipped out (literally) in September of 1966 when they boarded a troop ship and began a rocky, 21-day sea voyage to Vietnam. They landed on the beach at Nha Trang to the sounds of an Army band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
A Company was then trucked up to Tuy Hoa where they set up a base camp. After getting into a fracas with a bunch of 101st Airborne troopers near Tuy Hoa, A Company saw the last of base-camp duties. They spent the next nine months humping the boonies almost non-stop in the Central Highlands near the Cambodian border.
It was a rough nine months. The roughest part, by far, came on March 22, 1967, when A Company took part in a vicious jungle fight with the NVA.
Surprised in the dense jungle by a large NVA force, the men of A Company were cut to ribbons by heavy machine gun fire. During that fight, the company’s first sergeant, David McNerney—who had served two tours in Vietnam and had led their training from the day they started basic —rallied the beleaguered troops.
After establishing order, McNerney assaulted an enemy machine gun bunker, called in artillery fire to within twenty meters of the perimeter, and single handedly (and in full view of the enemy) guided friendly aircraft toward the NVA positions. In the process he was hit by an NVA grenade.
For his actions that day McNerney (above, from the film ) received the Medal of Honor (not the “Congressional Medal of Honor” as the film’s narrator says) from President Johnson at the White House on September 19, 1968.
The film tells this compelling story mainly through the recollections of a good number of men from A Company, including McNerney. Director Eric S. Dow and Executive Producer John A. Ponsoll (whose father served with A Company and is featured in the film) put to use a good selection of old photos, video and stock war footage to tell their story.
The heart of the film is made up of interviews with the men filmed at a 2007 A Company reunion. Every one of the men praises Sgt. McNerney to the skies for what he did for them in training and on the field of battle. “He was a feisty cuss, ” one of his former trainees says.
You can see a ten-minute trailer on the film’s website .