In 1951 Pierre Schoendoerffer, then in his early twenties, was out for adventure. He had read about French reporters and cameramen working in Indochina and it fascinated him. So he volunteered in the Service Cinématographique des Armées and was assigned to Saigon. There he befriended a Service Presse Information war photographer named Jean Péraud. In 1954, it was Péraud who asked Schoendoerffer to jump into Dien Bien Phu to work with him on filming the combat. Schoendoerffer agreed. He dropped with the 5th Vietnamese Parachutist Battalion into the besieged fortress during the early days of the battle. Corporal-Chief Schoendoerffer “celebrated” his 26th birthday in the midst of the 57 day siege. He filmed much of the battle, but after the French defeat he tragically decided to destroy most of his film and his cameras to keep them out of Vietminh hands. One small reel of footage was salvaged. It didn’t resurface for years.
After the fall of Dien Bien Phu to the Vietminh on 7 May 1954 Schoendoerffer shared the same fate as thousands of French soldiers; he was captured and marched off, hundreds of miles, to a Vietminh prison camp. During the march he and Jean Péraud attempted a daring escape. The two men joined with the legendary French paratroop commander Marcel Bigeard, darting into the jungle at an opportune moment. Unfortunately he and Bigaerd were ultimately caught. Péraud vanished into the jungle, never to be heard from again. Schoendoerffer was released by the Viet Minh in September 1954. After his release he left the French army and became a war reporter in South Vietnam for various French and American news magazines including Paris Match, Time and Life. Later Schoendoerffer took up film making.
His first success was in 1965 with The 317th Platoon (La 317e Section) based on his experience in the First Indochina War. WATCH: THE 317th PLATOON MOVIE TRAILER HERE>>
On 1 August 1965, the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry Division was sent to South Vietnam. The American war in Vietnam was on. The following year, in September 1966, Schoendoerffer joined it and followed a 33-man platoon led by Lieutenant Joseph B. Anderson. WATCH THE ANDERSON PLATOON ENTIRE MOVIE HERE>>