Benjamin L. Willard

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Benjamin L. Willard
Created by John Milius
Francis Ford Coppola
Portrayed by Martin Sheen
Gender Male
Occupation U.S. Army, 173rd Airborne
Title Captain
Spouse(s) Divorced
Children One

Captain Benjamin L. Willard, portrayed by Martin Sheen, is a fictional character and the protagonist of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film Apocalypse Now. His character is loosely based on the character Charles Marlow from Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness. He is a veteran U.S. Army special operations officer who is dispatched to kill the renegade Colonel Walter E. Kurtz.


Captain Willard is a U.S. Army officer who has been attached to MACV-SOG to carry out special operations missions, primarily as an assassin. He has already returned home once, but failed to integrate back into society and was divorced by his wife. Despite his desire to return to the United States, once he had gone back all he could think about was "getting back into the jungle". He has killed at least six people at close quarters, "close enough for them to breathe their last breath in my face," but never a fellow American.

Frustrated by his state of limbo in Saigon, where he is aimlessly stationed without a mission, he drinks heavily and ponders a return to the jungle. He is taken to a briefing in Nha Trang, where he is instructed to take a patrol boat upstream and kill renegade Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, who has gone insane. He accepts the mission, wondering "what the hell else was I gonna do?" Using a U.S. Navy Patrol Boat River, Willard travels up the Nung River to Cambodia, where Kurtz and his private army have a fortified base. He rarely converses with the boat's crew, preferring isolation.

He and his crew are transported to the river's mouth by a manic Air Cavalry commander, Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, an eccentric whose values clash with Willard's. The trip upriver incorporates entertainment provided by Playboy models travelling with the United Service Organizations and a close encounter with a tiger while searching for mangoes with Chef. During the trip, Willard reads the dossier on Kurtz and starts to understand Kurtz's actions and become more disassociated from his superiors.

Willard learns that the previous man sent to kill Kurtz, Captain Richard Colby, has now joined Kurtz. The crew are attacked by Kurtz's Montagnards and Chief is killed. Willard no longer fears Kurtz but is overpowered by an urge to confront him. He is brought to Kurtz, and they discuss Willard's mission and philosophy. Willard stays at the camp for four days before finally completing his mission by killing Kurtz, right before Kurtz asks him to tell his family what he has done. He leaves in the PBR and heads back downriver, upon which, the movie ends.