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In Pursuit of Honor

In Pursuit of Honor is a 1995 made-for-cable movie directed by Ken Olin. Don Johnson stars as a member of a United States Cavalry detachment refusing to slaughter its horses after being ordered to do so by General Douglas MacArthur. The movie follows the plight of the officers as they attempt to save the animals that the Army no longer needs as it modernizes toward a mechanized military. The movie claims to be based on a true story but without firm evidence to support the claim.[1]

In Pursuit of Honor
In pursuit of honor.jpg
Written byDennis Lynton Clark
Directed byKen Olin
StarringDon Johnson
Craig Sheffer
Gabrielle Anwar
Bob Gunton
Rod Steiger
Theme music composerJohn Debney
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Jeffrey M. Hayes
Marian Rees
Larry Peerce (co-executive producer)
Producer(s)Anne Hopkins
Darryl Sheen (line producer)
Production location(s)Australia
CinematographyStephen F. Windon
Editor(s)Elba Sanchez-Short
Skip MacDonald (co-editor)
Running time89 minutes (TV)
109 minutes (DVD)
Production company(s)HBO Pictures
Original networkHBO
Picture formatColor
Audio formatStereo
Original releaseMarch 18, 1995


The film during opens in 1932 when World War I veterans are protesting and rallying in Washington D.C. for war bonuses they were promised but never received from the government, a true event known as the Bonus March. In the ensuing events, the U.S. cavalry and infantry are present for crowd control. The mounted cavalry is ordered by Major John Hardesty (Bob Gunton), to present their sabers in order to hold back the protesters. First Sergeant or "Top" John Libbey (Don Johnson), along with three fellow soldiers, refuse to draw their swords because the demonstrators were men they served with during the war. As a consequence, their military careers are tarnished and they are relegated to duty at a remote post in the American Southwest.

Two years later, Lieutenant Marshall Buxton (Craig Sheffer), arrives at his new post, where it is discovered during his interview with retiring Colonel Stuart (Rod Steiger) that he was so assigned because of a fight and that many of the others there are also because of insubordination. Lt. Buxton meets Sergeants Libbey, Quinlain (Neil Melville), Mulcahey (John Dennis Johnston), and Shattuck (Robert Coleby), who together manage the herd of remounts.

Col. Stuart is replaced as post commander by Col. Hardesty, (on promotion). Hardesty's mission is to aid in the transition to a mechanized army. To accomplish this, the horses at the outpost will have to be destroyed. Buxton is ordered to escort the animals to slaughter. While watching the first hundred horses being helplessly shot in a mass grave, Lt. Buxton decides, with the concurrence of Libbey and the other Sergeants, to end the massacre and drive the remaining herd to safety.

A manhunt ensues that forces the renegade men and horses north. Along the way, the men get a little help from retired Col. Stuart in his standing with the U.S. War Department and Colonel Stuart's daughter Jessica (Gabrielle Anwar), who is a journalist. Many of the horses are lost during the journey, due to exhaustion and injuries. The original idea for the horses is the Indian Reservation in Montana but because of Hardesty's Armored Division they are forced to go north to Canada.

After reaching the Canada–US border and making a final run with the horses, the men are granted a pardon by President Franklin D. Roosevelt while being fired on by light artillery which was inaccurate because the Gunnery Sergeant's order "accidentally" ranged them to be farther than they were because he did not believe in shooting American soldiers. Buxton's men and the remaining horses are allowed safe passage across the border by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. While Lt. Buxton decides to return to the United States to face charges, Libbey wants to head toward Alaska, the others decide to stay in Canada.



The film was shot in Australia.[2]


While the film depicts the US Army eliminating its horsed cavalry units in 1934 by destroying all its horses, research conducted at the U.S. Army Center of Military History and the records at the MacArthur Memorial show no record of a slaughter of horses as alleged in the film, or any order or plan for such destruction.[1]

In reality the United States Army and various states' National Guard units retained horsed cavalry units into the 1940s. Several US Army units, including the 26th Cavalry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts, the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) ("Merrill's Marauders"), and portions of the 3rd Infantry Division and 10th Mountain Division used horses and mules for transportation for men and equipment during the Second World War, even riding into combat in some instances. US Army occupation troops in Germany included a mounted platoon.[3]

The US Cavalry School continued training horses and riders until 1946, when it was inactivated.[3] When the Army's Remount Service was ended, its horses and programs were transferred to the Department of Agriculture, which sold the horses at auction the following year.[3]

Slaughter of wild horses by ranchers in the intermountain region was not uncommon in the 1960's. Many horsemen in this region wear Stetsons in the "Montana Peak" style which resembles the "Trooper Hat" of the old cavalry units. This might have contributed to the belief that the Army was slaughtering the horses. In his 1992 painting "Save the Wild Horses" for a Smithsonian fundraiser, Stockton Master Artist Jack Feldman depicted the mustangs, rounded up, their eyes glowing red, illuminated by spotlights, in a nighttime mass slaughter.


  1. ^ a b In Defense of Honor: General Douglas MacArthur and the Horse Cavalry of 1934
  2. ^ Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970–1995, Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p61
  3. ^ a b c "The Last Cavalry Horses" Olive-Drab website

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