The Last Full Measure, rated R
This film is inspired (some of the characters and plotline are fictionalized), by the true story of a Vietnam War hero, and the years long quest to get him the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor decoration for his actions, which saved as many as sixty lives, during what was known as “Operation Abilene”. The film, rated “R” for war violence and adult language, and featuring an all-star cast, was written and directed by Emmy winner Todd Robinson (The Legend of Billy the Kid). The film’s title is taken from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where Lincoln talks about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion.”
William Pitsenbarger, known as “Pits”, is played by Jeremy Irvine (War Horse). “Pits” was a U.S. Air Force pararescue medic. He flew more than 250 rescue missions during the Vietnam War. On April 11, 1966, his day off, he volunteered to board one of two Kaman HH-43F Huskie helicopters dispatched to extract a half-dozen or so wounded soldiers pinned down in a firefight near Cam My, a rural area of Vietnam located 35 miles east of Saigon. When his helicopter arrived over the battle during “Operation Abilene”, he was lowered through the trees to treat the men injured during the brutal attack on the ground. But rather than returning to the helicopter to leave the scene, he chose to stay, and was subsequently killed in the battle.
The film picks up in 1999, but has frequent flashbacks to the battle. Scott Huffman, a fictional Pentagon lawyer, played by Sebastian Stan (Captain America, Avengers films), meets with Tom Tulley, played by Oscar winner William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman), about getting Pits the prestigious Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration that may be awarded by the United States government. Since the award’s inception in 1861, it has had 3,498 recipients, with only 18 of those being members of the Air Force.
Tulley was the airman who sent Pitsenbarger into the jungle on the day he died. Huffman, more worried about his career, sees Tulley’s visit as a distraction, until he is taken off the work he had been doing, and assigned to this work by his boss Carlton Stanton, played by three-time Golden Globe winner Bradley Whitford (The West Wing).
To investigate this issue, Huffman sets out to meet with Pits’ parents, played by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners), who is dying of cancer, and three-time Oscar nominee Diane Ladd (Rambling Rose, Wild at Heart, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore). He also meets with some of those who were there with Pits in 1966 to witness his bravery and sacrifice, including Billy Takoda, played by Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), Jimmy Burr, played by two-time Oscar nominee (Easy Rider, Ulee’s Gold) the late Peter Fonda in one of his last films, Ray Mott, played by four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris (The Hours, Pollock, The Truman Show, Apollo 13) and Chauncy Kepper, played by John Savage (The Deer Hunter), in Vietnam. As Huffman visits with them, some share their survivor’s guilt, regrets for decisions they made, as well as the impact of the postwar post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on them. Along the way, Huffman uncovers the truth about the mission and why Pits didn’t receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, but instead the Air Force Cross, which was presented to his parents five months after his death.
Themes in the film include bravery, courage, self-sacrifice, persistence, friendship, and cover-up. Content concerns include war violence and adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names.
The Last Full Measure is not a great film, and because of the war violence, it won’t be for everyone, but it does tell the important, and to me unknown, story of a brave man and it features an all-star cast. It also does a good job portraying Vietnam Veterans and their stories. For that, this is a film worth seeing.