When Dale A. Dye accepted the 2012 American Legion National Commander's Public Relations Award at the Washington Conference in February, his opening remarks were what many would expect from a former U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor: "Well, everybody hear me? Pay attention!"
It was a command those in attendance eagerly followed, because the retired captain and decorated combat veteran of Vietnam and Beirut has had a post-military career in Hollywood that is not only fascinating, but heralded by many in an industry not noted for its deeply held military values.
Shortly after retiring from the service, Dye moved to California, where he became a military technical advisor and actor. One of his first films, 1986's "Platoon," won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Another film, "Saving Private Ryan," was selected by a survey conducted by The American Legion Magazine as the "Best War Film Ever."
Dye founded Warriors, Inc., a company dedicated to "changing the way Hollywood conceives, produces and presents military films and TV programs." He has authored numerous books and screenplays. A longtime member of Post 30 in Lincolnton, N.C., Dye recently discussed his career with American Legion Communications Director John Raughter.
Why did you go into the film business?
I decided – when you're ignorant, you can do a lot of things people tell you that you can't do – I just decided that I was tired of seeing the depiction of the American military and the American veteran in movies and television that was just not what I knew from my own experience ... I said this was unfair. It upset my sense of decorum. It said, someone needs to fix this and so I said, well, "I'm tired of hearing somebody needs to. It's me. And I'm going to go do it."
So I took off for Hollywood and said, "All right, I have a mission, and that's to fix this and to unscrew it and change the way things are made. And so I'm going to do it." And so that was really my motivation. I just got tired of seeing us depicted unfairly and wrongly in the popular media.
How receptive was Hollywood at first?
Not at all, John. You know, I was escorted off many movie lots by the security folks. Fortunately, most of them were former military, so I didn't get arrested and booked. But they looked at me and said, "Look, we've been making war movies for 50 years and we've done very well, thank you, and who needs you and why should we involve ourselves in some radical change in the way we do business?" And the big problem was convincing them that I had a better idea – a better mousetrap. So it was very difficult at first.
What's your biggest challenge today with working in the industry?
My biggest challenge is really in the performance of the actors. Look, I can sit down and help you with a script and tell you this dialogue is wrong or these uniforms are wrong or these guys are doing the wrong thing. That's easy. What's difficult is making young actors, who have absolutely no military experience at all – and not only actors but writers, directors, producers – they have no contact with the military. And there's just a huge gap between those who served and those who haven't. And in general, folks who haven't are the ones who make the movies and television shows.
So the challenge is taking those folks and teaching them that what we really do and who we really are is much more interesting, much more dramatic and much more impactful than what they dream up. When you can take them and isolate them, get them away from all the media images and influences and that sort of thing and then say, "All right, this is what we really are," you see the light go on. It's like an epiphany. They say "I get it. You know, I get our dark humor. I get our relationship with each other. I get how we treat each other. I get why we're so dedicated to each other." That's the difficult part, getting them to that stage, getting them to that stage of understanding. You know, I've become notorious really for doing it in a very difficult, special way. There is nothing particularly new about that. I mean, the Marine Corps is the one that teaches me how to do that. But once I've done it, it puts a different color, a different perspective on anything that we do.
Is there one project when you said, "That's it! That's the message we are trying to portray?"
I think "Band of Brothers" did it. It will live long after me or any of the actors or anything else, because it really portrays the relationship between soldiers in extremis. Soldiers who are facing life and death every day. We captured that. And that's what makes it magic. That's what makes it shine. So I think if I had to pick anything, it would be "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific." We had 10 episodes on television to develop these characters and their relationships, and once we did that, everybody was captivated by it.
What's next for you?
Two things. I've written and am about to direct a film called "No Better Place to Die," which is about the 82nd Airborne at La Fière on D-Day. So it covers D-Day and D-plus-3. And then I'm about to do 10 episodes like "Band of Brothers" but on Korea – it's called "The Forgotten War."
I think folks would really love my books. I've authored a series called the File Series. It begins with "Laos File." Then it goes to "Peleliu File," and this summer we will be releasing "Chosin File." And there's an old salty character who's the hero of these things, and I think Legionnaires in general would love these books and I hope they get a chance to read them.
Dye's books are available at WarriorsInc.com, Amazon.com or anywhere books are sold.