“Full Metal Jacket” (1987) somewhat captures the world of Vietnam-era mandatory military service


There have not been many films that really present the Vietnam era military draft, with the controversial student deferment system (and subsequent lottery), but one that comes somewhat close is Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket“, from Warner Brothers. As I recall, I saw this film at Northpark in Dallas shortly after release. The large film is based on Gustav Hasford’s novel “The Short-Timers” (1979).

The plot is in two parts.  The first section deals with basic training in the Marine Corps in 1967.  (It was possible to be drafted into the Marines at times, but not on the day in February 1968 when I was inducted.) There are three main characters:  The misfit Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio),  Joker (Michale Moldine), and Sgt. Hartmen (R. Lee Emrey), and some others such as Cowboy (Arliss Howard), Sgt. “Animal Mother” (Adam Baldwin) and Eightball (Dorian Harewood).

Pyle’s problems would have put him in Special Training Company in the environment I experienced at Fort Jackson in 1968, but they come to a head at the end of part 1 when he commits suicide (after shooting Hartmann).

Joker gets journalism as an MOS, and that does sound like an odd idea for a military occupational specialty — given today’s ideas about journalistic objectivity. Most of the other grunts get infantry (as had Pyle).  The second half of the film happens in Vietnam and covers the Tet Offensive, which had been launched Jan. 30, 1968, just before I went into the Army myself.

(Published Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT)


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