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Ex-Marine Captain Helped Give Reality to Platoon

by Jack Murphy
Star-News, Wilmington NC
March 8, 1987

JACKSONVILLE—Nighttime and the sounds of war are everywhere in the dark, steaming stinking jungle of Vietnam, a jungle alive with enemy troops and other forms of deadly vermin.

Bravo Company’s 2nd Platoon is falling back to the company command post after having had friendly artillery drop shells on its position in the middle of a fire fight—an error by a green lieutenant.

Small arms fire slices the air in all directions. Rockets slam into foxholes. Enemy troops with explosives strapped to their backs detonate the deadly packages to take Americans with them.

Shadowy figures fire at each other, not knowing if they hit friend or foe.

Overhead an American strike flight (codenamed “Snakebite”) circles, armed with rockets and napalm, unable to pick its target in the confusion below and running low on fuel. Decision time.

A radio crackles: “Snakebite leader, this is Bravo Six. For the record, it’s my call as senior man on the ground. Dump everything you’ve got on my position. I say again, I want everything you’re holding inside the perimeter! It’s a lovely (expletive) war . . . Bravo Six out.”

The gent on the radio is an Army captain named Harris, Bravo Company’s commander in the Oscar-nominated movie Platoon. That captain was played by retired Marine captain, Dale Dye who was also the film’s technical adviser.

Harris’ character—particularly the sentiments expressed in those last five words before “Bravo Six Out”—was something Dye said could equate to his own Vietnam experiences.

Dye was in good spirits recently during a telephone conversation from his office/home in Hollywood, California.

Today, he heads up Warriors Inc., a business which provides professional military technical advice to filmmakers. He had just walked through his door from a stint on Oprah Winfrey’s television talk show in Chicago.

Platoon is news. The movie, which opened in New York and Los Angeles last December to qualify for this year’s Academy Awards, promptly snagged eight nominations.

Besides Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay for Oliver Stone and two Best Supporting Actors (Tom Berenger and Willem DaFoe) it got nominations for film editing, sound and cinematography.

Dye’s expertise contributed a great deal to many of those nominations.

“Fortunately, for me, Oliver knows that and has mentioned it and that means an awful lot,” he said.

Besides assuming the role of Capt. Harris, it was one of Dye’s responsibilities to transform the fresh-faced, youthful faces in the cast, to give them that “thousand-yard stare,” the hollow, tired look of bone-fide “bush rats” that veterans would find credible.

“It was an absolute delight to work and train the actors associated with the film,” Dye said. “I had no idea initially whether they’d gripe or cry so I sent them a warning letter telling ‘em it wouldn’t be easy. But they’re intelligent and were easy to motivate.”

Under Dye’s leadership, the cast spent a few weeks in the Philippines, in the bush, training on location prior to actual shooting.

That realism—such as showing a number of experiences the Department of Defense (DOD) would rather have left unsaid—resulted in a hands-off posture by defense officials in the area of cooperation.

“Oliver submitted the script to DOD twice but they wanted nothing to do with it,” Dye said. “It didn’t present the proper image, their proper image of course, so there was no support.”

Time constraints necessitated “telescoping down” many experiences into the time allotted, Dye admitted. That’s something which those associated with the film are trying to show in post publicity appearances.

It is not the life of every man, every day, in every way, Dye said, “but there will be those who don’t understand, unfortunately . . .”

While Platoon has its detractors—and some of them are veterans—many critics have given it wide acclaim.

Gene Siskel called it “something closer to the truth” and gave it four stars on a four-star scale.

Navy Times calls it a “tragedy of heroic dimensions” with critic Pat Dowell awarding it 3 stars. Desmond Ryan of Knight-Ridders Newspapers ranks it among the top 10 pictures of 1986.

As technical adviser, Dye knew what he was talking about.

He entered the Marine Corps on January 3, 1964 and went to Vietnam as a corporal in 1965, serving with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, first as an infantryman, later as a mortarman.

Dye changed his specialty and returned to Vietnam in 1967 as combat correspondent. There, as a sergeant and a staff sergeant, he remained for four years, with a total of 31 combat operations and three Purple Hearts.

He was commissioned in February 1976 serving at a number of posts including the Joint Public Affairs Office at Camp Lejeune. From there, he was temporarily detached for a number of months with the Marine contingent in Beirut, Lebanon.

Dye retired as a captain in June 1984, then spent a short stint with Soldier of Fortune magazine, an experience which afforded a number of overseas trips including one to Central America. Then he left for the Hollywood scene to go into business for himself.

Grass doesn’t grow under the former “skippers” feet. He’s already sold a film script titled Outrage, to be produced by Falcon Productions under Ralph Serpe and Joe Vecchio.

“It’s partly my experience (in Beirut) and that of many others,” Dye said. “Again, it’s a telescoped-down view of 18 months and it’s fiction, not a documentary.”

How about the cast?

“Oh, no,” Dye chuckled, ‘there’s a lot of negotiating in that area so I’d rather not say anything just yet. However, we’ll announce the film publicly in about a week and hope to go into production in November or December of this year.”

But Platoon has clearly meant the most for him.

“Vietnam did not have a declared status. We had to carry the burden of what we did personally as opposed to having the country share it with us. They didn’t share it,” said Dye. “There was no chance to cough it up as our fathers and grandfathers did. We simply had to let it sit in our bellies and eat for 18 years and that’s rough on anyone.”

And Dye said he has already got the film honors he cared about.

“When veterans tell me they understand why it was made, when they attest to its authenticity and approve of it by saying so—hey, that’s my Oscar!” he said.

-- donated by Theresa

-- photos added by Zone editors