Retired Army Lt. Gen. Harold G.(Hal) Moore died Friday, Feb. 10, at his home in Auburn, Alabama. He was 94, just three days away from 95.
Hal Moore was a professional soldier and a combat commander par excellence. He had a distinguished career in the U.S. Army. From the day he took the oath as a commissioned officer upon graduation from West Point in 1945, until the day he died, Hal Moore personified the ideals of “Duty, Honor, Country.”
Hal Moore is best known for his actions in the November 1965 Battle of Ia Drang. As Commander, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, Moore led his troops in combat against enemy forces who vastly outnumbered his unit. It was the first major battle between American and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops -- and one of the bloodiest.
Fought in the remote Ia Drang Valley of the Central Highlands, the battle began on Nov. 14, 1965. Soon after, then-LTC Moore stepped out of a Huey helicopter onto a small clearing- and into the fight of his life. His mission was “to track North Vietnamese Army units and search for a possible enemy base.” Moore and his 457 men soon found themselves up against over 3,000 NVA troops, hidden in ambush positions on the mountainous ground around the clearing.
Ironically, the American force’s position at what was called “Landing Zone X-Ray,” versus their enemy’s vantage point, was eerily reminiscent of George Custer’s situation at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. Custer and his men were surprised, surrounded and slaughtered there. That irony was not lost on Hal Moore, and he was determined not to let history repeat itself. He personally led the first assaults on the NVA positions, and remained in the thick of the battle until his battalion was relieved after three days of intense fighting.
According to “We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young” (1992), a detailed account of the battle, co-written by Gen. Moore and former reporter Joe Galloway, who was with Moore through most of the battle, “79 Americans were killed and 121 were wounded at Landing Zone X-Ray. An estimated 1,800 North Vietnamese were killed or wounded.”
“We were Soldiers…” was widely acclaimed for its rigorous research, which included testimonies from troops led by Moore in battle -- and from Vietnamese commanders who had fought against Moore and his men. It was later adapted to the movie, “We Were Soldiers,” with Mel Gibson starring as Hal Moore. I’ve read the book and I’ve seen the movie. I recommend both, in that order.
On a personal note, it was my honor to serve with Gen. Moore, when he commanded the U.S. Army Military Personnel Center, and to work with him in the Pentagon as we made the historic transformation, warts and all, to the new All-Volunteer Army. Hal Moore was a mentor to many, including me. Beyond the book and movie, those of us whose lives he touched will remember him fondly as long as we live.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.