Crickets fade into the low drone the a bagpipe together the men of the 1st Air Cavalry division nervously peer with the high grass the Vietnam’s main highlands. The order concerns fix bayonets, and also as the soldiers on screen prepare for deadly close-quarters combat, the haunting tune of “Sgt. MacKenzie” overtakes the sound of the soldiers moving to contact.

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The memorable song from we Were Soldiers’ climactic fight was offered again to comparable effect in 2012’s end of Watch. Following the film’s finale, the familiar drone of bagpipes leads audiences come an emotional conclusion. 

As the shade guard prepares and a seemingly unlimited procession that patrol cars provides its method to a funeral, the song overpowers the actions on screen. And while “Sgt. MacKenzie” moves audiences v its beautiful bagpipes and touching lyrics, the true story behind its origin is a tragic historical footnote.

A UH-1D Iroquois helicopter climbs skyward after inserting soldiers near Ia Drang. Photo by Katie Lang, courtesy of DVIDS.

The song’s namesake, Sgt. Charles Stuart MacKenzie, offered with the Seaforth Highlanders — a Scottish regiment of the British military — during civilization War I. The was supposedly wounded and briefly sent earlier to Scotland come recover. If recuperating, he to be asked what killing Germans to be like, come which he responded, “What a garbage of a fine body of men.” 

Sgt. MacKenzie soon returned to his unit, and also in 1917, the Seaforth Highlanders were engaged in the fight of Arras: the same battle Siegfried Sassoon famously referenced in “The General.” There, Sgt. MacKenzie determined to stay by the next of a injured comrade fairly than leave him to the proceeding Germans. According to his great-grandson, Joseph Kilna MacKenzie, Sgt. MacKenzie was then bayoneted to death in the ensuing struggle.

The nature that his great-grandfather’s fatality touched Joseph MacKenzie, spurring the to at some point write the moving melody. Joseph MacKenzie was the founding member that the percussion tape Clann an Drumma and first sang the tribute on their 2000 album, Tried & True.

Knowing the fate that the genuine Sgt. MacKenzie makes the song’s text all the more meaningful. 

Lay me down in the cold cold floor / Where prior to many an ext have unable to do / once they come / I will certainly stand mine ground / was standing my ground, I’ll not be afraid / thoughts of home take far my fear / Sweat and blood hide mine veil the tears / once a year speak a prayer for me / Close her eyes and remember me / Never an ext shall I view the sunlight / because that I fell to a German’s gun.

When the song captured the ear of Randall Wallace — the writer behind Braveheart and also We were Soldiers — he encouraged MacKenzie to rerecord the song for his Vietnam battle film, this time v the enhancement of a full orchestra and backup vocals native West Point’s choir. The result is the hauntingly beautiful ode we’ve all heard ~ above the huge screen.

“The solution to ‘Sgt MacKenzie’ has been overwhelming. <…> It’s very humbling come hear stories of exactly how the song has actually moved, touched and also inspired human being all over the world,” Joseph MacKenzie stated following the release of We to be Soldiers.

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Though Joseph Kilna MacKenzie died in 2009 and never acquired to check out his song used in one more film, the influence of his emotional tribute come his great-grandfather has developed from one ode to the fallen of civilization War ns to an homage to all those that sacrifice in service to others.

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