General Hal Moore passed away Friday at age 94.
The name is not a household name but it should be. If he is known to Americans at all he is known because he was played by Mel Gibson in the 2002 movie, We Were Soldiers Once. Within the Army infantry his name is legendary. On November 14, 1965 he led 450 troopers of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry into Landing Zone X-ray in the Ia Drang Valley.
1-7 Cav landed in a staging area for a couple of NVA regiments. What happened over the next two days as an epic sh**-kicker of infantry combat. Just about any weapon you want to name, from airstrikes, to artillery, to entrenching tools and knives was used. In the end, Moore prevailed and he brought all of his men, dead and wounded, home. That is the standard by which infantry commanders have since been judged.
The battle became known outside Army infantry circles in 1992 when Moore and journalist Joe Galloway collaborated on a book called We Were Soldiers Once… And Young. If you don’t buy the book at least pick it up and read the foreword. It isn’t often you find a book about a battle dedicated, in part, to the young men on the other side in the same battle.
I have a distant personal connection with the LZ X-Ray battle. As a baby second lieutenant in Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, GA, one of the TAC NCOs, senior noncommissioned officers charged with turning lumps of recently graduated, college-educated, flabby meat into steely-eyed killers and leaders of men, had been a private at LZ X-Ray. One day several of us were prodding him to tell us war stories, something he was reticent to do, but this time he did. He had carried the single-shot M-79 grenade launcher.
The M-79 grenade has a minimum arming distance of 14-meters so the shooter doesn’t get hit by the grenade blast. “We were in the tightest perimeter you’ve ever seen. The company was circled around a big tree. The wounded and the radio men were at the tree trunk. I was killing men with the M-79 and they were so close the grenades wouldn’t go off.”
That’s when it strikes you about what battle is like and why taking your training damned seriously is of deadly import. The thought of that 19-year-old killing NVA at point blank range and counting on his platoon leader, his company commander, his battalion commander to get him home safely if he just did his job has been my companion all these years.
If you are interested in the battle, there is some good animation at this site.
Moore was a true officer and gentleman. We won’t find the likes of him again any time soon.