Hero is an oft-overused word. But in the case of Lt. Gen. Harold “Hal” Moore, it fits.
It was Moore – then a Lieutenant Colonel – who led the first major battle between American and North Vietnamese forces in the Ia Drang valley, along Vietnam’s western border with Cambodia. If this sounds familiar, it’s for good reason – it was this battle which was depicted in the 2002 film We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson as Moore.
Moore’s tenacity and fierce loyalty to his men loom large in the film, which was based on the book We Were Soldiers Once … And Young, written by Moore and journalist Joe Galloway, who witnessed much of the battle and in 1998 was awarded a Bronze Star for helping to evacuate wounded soldiers while under fire. The book is an absolute must-read, and the movie version is a must-see.
We’ll save the details for your reading and viewing, but the basic facts are that the 7th Cav was dropped into enemy territory via helicopter and almost immediately found itself drastically outnumbered by a far greater force than had been expected. For three days Moore and his soldiers held off wave after wave of attack, but miraculously managed to repel the far superior enemy force thanks in large part to Moore’s continuous out-maneuvering of the enemy and his determination to leave none of his men behind.
His leadership during the fight earned Moore the Distinguished Service Cross, the 2nd-highest medal awarded to US military personnel. Many other members of the 7th Cavalry were also honored with various medals – quite a few posthumously – and the entire 1st Cavalry Division was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
Back home, the Army utilized messenger and taxi services to deliver telegraphed notifications of casualties to family members. Moore’s wife Julia is said to have been highly critical of the terribly callous practice, and her complaints are believed to have been instrumental in the Army’s decision to institute more respectful procedures for notification. She personally consoled the families of 7th Cavalry members lost in the battle, and attended every funeral service. As with any war, the spouses of 7th Cav soldiers were deserving of their own medals, with Mrs. Moore at the top of the list.
Lieutenant General (Ret.) Harold “Hal” Moore died on Friday, February 10 at his home in Auburn, Alabama, and today (Monday, Feb. 13th) would have been his 95th birthday.
Ben Wright’s story on Moore’s death in the Columbus (Ga) Ledger-Enquirer included the following from Galloway:
“I just lost my best friend … I remember that none of us would have come out of there alive if it weren’t for Hal Moore and his brilliance as a combat commander … We had shared an incredible experience, and we left that place good friends with total trust in each other”.
Rest in Peace, Lt. Gen. Moore. Garryowen, Sir.