It’s been many years since I read We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lt. General Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway. Yet this passage has stuck with me ever since:
Platoon Sergeant Fred J. Kluge of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry was moving his men into the fighting holes along the old perimeter. “Two of my men called me over and pointed. There was a dead American sergeant in the bottom of the foxhole. I looked at him and couldn’t help thinking: He looks just like me. I told the two troops: ‘Get him by the harness and drag him to the choppers.’ Someone came up behind me and said, ‘No, you won’t do that, Sergeant. He’s one of my troopers and you will show respect. Get two more men and carry him to the landing zone.’ It was Colonel Moore, making a final check of his positions. If we hadn’t found that sergeant he would have. I had cause to remember his words, and repeat them, just two days later.”
This vignette struck me powerfully as the perfect model for how to speak up for what’s right. I’ve always seen myself as a big fat wimp of a pushover, and I guess this gave me a mental picture of how to stand your ground for a critical principle when saying nothing might be easier and more comfortable. For that lesson alone I owe General Moore a perpetual debt of thanks.
I never knew much about General Moore other than his story of the Vietnam War battle of Ia Drang that’s the subject of his book. I made it a point to read more about him this week, after learning he’d passed away on February 10, just three days shy of his 95th birthday. I learned that his life, like the lives I detailed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series, was one of constant service. General Moore had a full career in the US Army, starting at West Point and running through the wars in Korea and Vietnam (where he won the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts at Ia Drang), and a variety of post-war assignments both domestic and international. He was a master parachutist and an expert at cleaning up drug abuse and racial strife in the Army. Despite being in the bottom 15% of his class at West Point, he went on to graduate from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Naval War College, George Washington University and Harvard. He also served as an instructor in infantry tactics at West Point.
I’m grateful to General Moore for introducing me to other heroes from the Ia Drang battle, such as:
- Major Myron Diduryk, who led the iron defense by Bravo Company that saved so many lives in Landing Zone X-Ray. Tragically, he was killed in action on my fifth birthday, during his second tour of duty in Vietnam. Moore described him as “…the finest battlefield company commander I had ever seen, bar none.”
- Colonel Rick Rescorla (whose photo graces the cover of Moore’s book), one of Diduryk’s men who survived that war and went on to become the Vice President for Corporate Security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. in New York City, where he was laughed at for the evacuation drills he insisted the company conduct. Nobody is laughing now; most of his charges survived the war he didn’t, the one that began in earnest at Ground Zero, the World Trade Center, on Sept. 11, 2001. Morgan Stanley lost just six of their 3,700 WTC employees in that attack; Rescorla was one of them, dying when he went back in for a final check of the company’s floors and Tower #2 came crashing down with him inside. The survivors owe him their lives.
- Lt. Colonel Bruce Crandall, whose unarmed Airmobile Hueys became both ammo supply and medevac choppers when lesser men refused to fly into the hellhole of LZ X-Ray. He piloted several different ships as one after another suffered too much battle damage to continue, flying continuously for sixteen hours and winning the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day. In 2007 this award was quite rightly upgraded to the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush.
It is his finest epitaph that Lt. General Hal Moore was the leader of men such as these. Godspeed, General, and thank you.