By the time the Americans departed in 1972, the war shown in The Anderson Platoon was over. The powerful and aggressive units, large air assaults, the immediate availability of artillery, tactical air, and B-52 support had vanished. With the departure of the Koreans in 1973, the security of the An Khe Pass reverted to a Vietnamese responsibility. The biggest change was that the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese were no longer hard to find, they were close everywhere in the Central Highlands. When their next push came, they would be near enough to close the An Khe Pass and strong enough to hold it. The end came in 1975.
With a major Ken Burns documentary now having considered the whole of Vietnam from a historical perspective, it is not a bad thing to look back at an attempt to show what was happening in the moment with much of the war still in the future. Schoendoerffer showed what he saw, told no lies that I can detect, and made no predictions or generalizations. He did give texture and background so a viewer could read news reports with a sense of what was happening at the level of a platoon. When Schoendoerffer died in 2012 at the age of eighty-three, his many services to France merited a funeral at the Invalides in Paris with French paratroopers to carry the flag-draped coffin. The Anderson Platoon was a service to America, it deserves our respect as an honest effort to show us the American war while it was still young.
James T. Quinlivan is an adjunct senior operations research analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He served with the U.S. Army in the Central Highlands.