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From Vietnam vet to Hollywood mainstay: The journey of Dale Dye

dyehanksspryan From Vietnam vet to Hollywood mainstay: The journey of Dale Dye

Dale Dye (r) works with Tom Hanks (l) on the set of “Saving Private Ryan” which featured Dye as both actor and senior military adviser. (Photo courtesy Dale Dye)

By Eric Dehm

When you look at the list of achievements and awards from Dale Dye’s Marine Corps career, it’s impressive, to say the least. His 21 years in the Corps saw him rise from enlisted man to Warrant Officer, commissioned Officer with several tours to Vietnam, culminating in the Bronze Star Medal (with “V”) and three purple hearts among the many awards pinned to his chest.

Considering all that he accomplished as a Marine it might seem strange that Capt. Dye is best known for the years after his retirement. Strange, but true, as Dye is now best known as one of the most recognizable veterans in Hollywood.

Dye has appeared in an impressive list of films and television programs. He kicked off his film career with his notable appearance as Captain Harris in 1986’s Best Picture winner “Platoon” and would then go on to feature in the awe-inspiring “Saving Private Ryan” and HBO’s landmark mini-series “Band Of Brothers” among many others. But Dye says his initial goal wasn’t to be in front of the camera. It was to try and correct what he saw as Hollywood’s vision of the military.

dye in hue 68 1 From Vietnam vet to Hollywood mainstay: The journey of Dale Dye

Dale Dye, seen here in Hue, Vietnam in 1968, has used the experience garnered in a highly decorated 21 year Marine Corps career to find, and maintain, a place in Hollywood for over three decades. (Photo courtesy Dale Dye)

“I was always a movie buff all my life,” Dye tells ConnectingVets.com. “I had seen every military movie there was and the common denominator there was that the majority of them upset me. They just didn’t represent who I knew we were from my personal experience… you go see a military movie and the first thing you see is some stupid error, some stupid activity that would never happen and you go ‘ah, crap’ and you walk out. I had that experience so many times.”

So, being the detail oriented Marine he was, Dye noticed that these films had a “military advisor” listed in the credits. So it didn’t make sense to him that these mistakes would occur. He worked on researching what the issue was and found that the filmmakers in Hollywood had what Dye calls a level of “hubris” that kept them from allowing veterans to have any input into the creative process.

“They would hire somebody just for the sake of finding out which side the ribbons go on and that was the extent of it,” Dye says. “And I began to realize ‘OK, here’s what’s wrong’ these folks have no idea who we really are. How we really talk, how we really walk, how we relate to each other, what the concept of relying on the guy to your right and your left to survive in combat is about.”

Dye saw the problem as something he could fix. He knew that he could take a group of actors and train them, over a short period of time, to properly represent the military characters they portrayed on film. He also knew that actors were typically interested in “inhabiting” characters as fully as possible, so they’d be more than willing to take part in the sort of actor “boot camp” he had in mind. But the filmmakers, directors, and producers, were the people who would make that decision and according to Dye they didn’t see why they needed to improve on something that was already making them a ton of money.

Capt. Dye could have given up if he were the type to say giving it a good effort was good enough.

***Spoiler alert: Dale Dye is NOT that type of person.***

He kept at it, and paid close attention to the Hollywood trade papers. Reading through the the happenings of Tinseltown finally paid off when he noticed that a fellow veteran was going to direct a film on a subject Dye knew a little bit about, Vietnam.

“Through a series of machinations that I really can’t tell you about because the statute of limitations probably hasn’t run out, I was able to get a hold of Oliver Stone,” Dye says. “I did my best two minute pitch and I ran it down for him, why i thought so many war movies are screwed up and how we could fix them. He got it, right away. He said ‘That’s right. These guys need to understand who we were and what we were when we were 19 in those jungles.’ So he trusted me. I mean, we’re at opposite ends of the political spectrum but that didn’t mean anything. We’re both combat veterans and we knew what the deal was.”

Stone gave Dye three weeks to whip 33 actors into shape for “Platoon” and Dye’s Hollywood journey began with him helping mold an impressive list of current hollywood A-listers including Johnny Depp, Charlie Sheen, Forrest Whittaker and Willem Dafoe. Actors he would also share the screen with as Stone decided to cast Dye as Captain Harris, the Company Commander whose command included the eponymous platoon.

Dye’s career since then has taken him to many fascinating projects and places in the years since, both in front of and advising behind the camera via Warriors Inc., his military training/advising venture. Still, with all he’s accomplished in the 30 years since this leg of his journey began, Dye can’t help but look around and wonder why there aren’t more veterans alongside him in the film industry.

dye in the pacific From Vietnam vet to Hollywood mainstay: The journey of Dale Dye

Dale Dye on the set of HBO’s acclaimed miniseries “The Pacific” on which he served as senior military adviser. (Photo courtesy Dale Dye)

“The current veteran talent pool is really deep but it’s underutilized,” Dye says. “I’m disappointed in that and every chance I get, I get up on my soapbox and piss and moan about it. It’s one thing to say ‘thank you for your service and we appreciate it and we love you and so on and so forth’ that’s all fine but that’s lip service. If you really appreciate what these men and women have done for you, for our nation, for the freedoms they’ve helped buy for you for the security they’ve helped buy for you? Give ’em a shot!”

That’s the mindset Dye says he will have as he takes over the writer/director’s chair for the first time in the upcoming film “No Better Place To Die” which will tell the story of a unit defending a single bridge in Normandy that, according to Dye, could have ruined the Allies D-Day plans had it fallen to the Germans.

“It’s a wonderful story that’s a microcosm of all of the heroic things that went on in World War 2,” Dye says. “When the big plans swirl down into the crapper the little guys, the sergeants, the lieutenants, the private first class, they get together and they get it done, so I wanna tell that story. And I want to direct it because I wrote it and I understand it. But Hollywood objects to that, because I’m not a ‘known auteur’ so I decided, y’know, the hell with it, I’ll do it myself.”

And so Dye has launched a crowdfunding movement to get the movie made which he says will also give him the freedom to make good on his plan to cast as many veterans as possible in the film which he believes will add a sense of realism to the film that would be hard to achieve with non-vet actors.

With plans for a new movie in front of him, an impressive (and still growing) IMDB page to his name, and a military record that earns immediate respect from his fellow vets, Capt. Dye’s journey is legendary within the vet community. It’s also clearly not over yet.

Connect: @EricDehm | Eric@ConnectingVets.com

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