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William Hurt explains why ‘The Last Full Measure’ had to be made

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An emotion-filled story of selfless heroism from one of the Vietnam War’s bloodiest battles – and how politics and incompetence kept it from becoming widely known for more than 30 years – is at the heart of writer and director Todd Robinson’s “The Last Full Measure,” and it’s a story that had to be told, according to actor William Hurt (“Altered States,” “The Big Chill,” the “Avengers” series).

“The Last Full Measure” tells the true story of William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine), a U.S. Air Force special operations Pararescue medic, responsible for saving the lives of more than 60 men during an intensely bloody battle in April 1966 known as Operation Abilene.

Hurt and Irvine’s costars include Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, John Savage, Sebastian Stan, Diane Ladd and the late Peter Fonda in his final screen role.

When Pits (an affectionate nickname for Pitsenbarger) was offered a final chopper out of an impossible situation, where American soldiers were surrounded by the Viet Cong in thick jungle, his fate was sealed when he chose to stay behind to provide aid to wounded soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, giving his life in the process.

So why did it take more than 34 years for Staff Sergeant William H. Pitsenbarger, to be posthumously awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor?

“There are lots of reasons for it,” said William Hurt, who portrays the 90s version of Tulley - Pits’s best friend and partner in the mission – during scenes depicting Tulley’s 1990s quest to secure the honor for his fallen friend, a mission that became frustratingly tangled in government bureaucracy.

“The Last Full Measure” shockingly lays out multiple reasons for the delay, including corruption, incompetence and embarrassment at the notion of attracting public scrutiny to the mistakes made by the chain of command involved in the operation.

During an interview with The Maine Edge, Hurt says most everyone involved in the filming of “The Last Full Measure” was part of the Vietnam War, either at the periphery, or close to its core.

Hurt turned 18 in 1968 - the year Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were killed and two years after William Pitsenbarger was killed in Vietnam. It was also the year of the Tet Offensive, which resulted in heavy casualties on both sides.

“The war was heating up and we were wrestling with what to do and how to do it,” Hurt said, recalling the confusion and anger of the times.

“Through all of the paradoxes, ambiguities, and frustrations of a war that was never truly defined, we all experienced profound emotional and psychological wounds,” said Hurt, admitting that he wrestled greatly with deciding what to do if his number came up.

“If I had to surrender my number, I didn’t know if I was going to stay and fight as a conscientious objector or not go and flee the country,” he said, admitting that he personally could not fight in the war, before adding “I don’t blame for a second anybody who did.”

“I love my fellow Americans, and I love the people who go and serve their duty for their country,” said Hurt. “I have a profound empathy for those who do and making a movie like this is part of that.”

“The Last Full Measure” opened on more than 600 screens on January 24.

During my interview with Hurt, he relayed his favorite memory connected to Maine.

“When I was 13, I spent the summer in Waterville, in a dilapidated old farmhouse that my father rented. He wanted to experience a rustic summer with his sons, so we went up to Maine and spent the summer in this wreck of a house, with no TV and no indoor plumbing. This place had an outhouse so bedraggled, water would drip on our backs when we’d be out there doing our business, but it was one of the best summers of my life.” 

Last modified on Tuesday, 11 February 2020 06:50

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