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The horror... The horror...
~ Kurtz's most famous line

Colonel Walter E. Kurtz is the main antagonist of the 1979 film Apocalypse Now. He is based on the character of a 19th century ivory trader, also called Kurtz, from the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Both the novel and the film deal with Kurtz's false deity and the destruction it brings to Kurtz

He was portrayed by the late Marlon Brando, who also played Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Vito Corleone in The Godfather.


Walter Kurtz was a regular officer in the United States Army; he had risen through the ranks and was seen to be destined for a top post within the Pentagon.

In his first tour of Vietnam in 1964, he was sent by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to compile a report on the failings of the current military policies. His report was not what was expected and was immediately restricted for the joint chiefs and President Lyndon B. Johnson only.

Not long after, Kurtz applied for the 5th Special Forces Group, which was denied to him out of hand because of his advanced age of 38 for the basic training. Kurtz continued with his ambition and even threatened to quit the armed forces, when finally his wish was granted and he was allowed to take the airborne course. Kurtz graduated in a class where he was nearly twice the age of the other trainees, and was accepted into the 5th Special Forces Group.

Kurtz returned to Vietnam in 1966 with the "Green Berets" and was part of the hearts and minds campaign which also included fortifying hamlets. On his next tour, Kurtz was assigned to the Gamma Project, in which he was to raise an army of Montagnards in and around the Vietnamese–Cambodian border to strike at the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. Kurtz relocated his army, including their wives and children, to a remote abandoned Cambodian temple which they fortified. From their base, Kurtz led attacks on the local V.C. and the regular N.V.A. in the region.

Kurtz employed barbaric methods to not only defeat his enemy but to also send fear. At first MACV didn't object to Kurtz's tactics, especially as they proved successful, but this soon changed when Kurtz allowed photographs of his atrocities to be released to the world. In late 1968, when Kurtz failed to respond to MACV's repeated orders to return to Da Nang and resign his command after he ordered the summary execution of four South Vietnamese intelligence agents whom he rightfully suspected of being double agents for the Viet Cong, the MACV sent a "Green Beret" Captain named Richard Colby to bring Kurtz back from Cambodia.

Colby joined up with Kurtz instead of bringing him back to Da Nang, either because he was brainwashed or because he felt a sympathy to Kurtz's cause. With Colby's failure, MACV then selected Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a former paratrooper and now a CIA assassin, to journey up the Nung river and kill Kurtz. Willard succeeds with his mission only because Kurtz, himself broken mentally by the savage war he wages, wants Willard to kill him and release him from his own suffering. As Willard approaches him, Kurtz asks Willard to find Kurtz's wife and son and explain truthfully what he'd done in the war. Willard then proceeds to hack Kurtz to death with a machete.

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