We Were Soldiers: The Battle of Ia Drang
On November 14, 1965, soldiers of the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry under then-Lt. Col. Hal Moore dropped into a small clearing in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam dubbed LZ X-Ray. There, their undermanned battalion of 450 men met a North Vietnamese force over three times its size in one of the first major battles between the U.S. Army and the People’s Army of Vietnam.
The story of the men who fought at Ia Drang was immortalized by Lt. General Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway in their book, We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, and later in the film starring Mel Gibson. Nearly 42 years later, at the American Veterans Center’s 10th Annual Conference, General Moore, Galloway, and several of their comrades gathered to recall their experiences, and the lessons learned from one of the defining moments of the Vietnam War.
My own memories began just after dark when I bummed a ride off of the man near the end down there with the gray hair, wearing the black hatâ€”â€Ancient Serpent Six,â€ Bruce Crandall, gave me a ride in. I was very eager to get that ride. He also gave me a ride out on the 16th of November, and I was pretty eager to get that ride, too! Through the years, I have cursed him for the ride in, and thanked him for the ride out. But, in truth, I wouldnâ€™t have missed it for anything in the world. It truly did change my life, and I think it changed all of our lives who were there and survived, and it certainly changed the lives of our brothers who fell there and their families.
My most enduring moment, though, has to be on the morning of the 15th, about ten minutes before 7:00 AM, when literally all hell broke loose and a couple of battalions attacked Bob Edwardsâ€™s Charlie Company at the perimeter, and I learned rapidly what it meant to be in the beaten zone. Everything they fired at Charlie Company that didnâ€™t hit something passed right through our command post, which was a rather barren termite hill, and I was laying flat on my belly, feathering out at the edges, cursing my buttons and zippers while there were a lot of pops and zips buzzing over my head. Then I felt a thump in my ribs, and carefully turned my head sideways to see what it was that had hit me. And it was a size 12 combat boot on the foot of Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley, a bear of a man out of West Virginia, and he leaned at the waist and shouted over the din of battle, and what he said was this: â€œCanâ€™t take no pictures laying there on the ground, sonny!â€ And I thought, â€œWell, heâ€™s right!â€ I later would learn that sergeants major are always right. And it passed my mind, at that point, that I was with the 7th Cavalry, a unit I had heard of before, in a river valley, surrounded by an overwhelmingly superior force of the enemy. And it hadnâ€™t worked very well about 100 years before in a place called Little Big Horn. So it seemed to me that we might all die here today, and if we did, there could be nothing finer than to get mine standing up alongside a man like Sgt. Maj. Plumley, so like a fool, I got up. And everything was okay after that. All the fear went away, and I did my job, and other jobs as were needed. So thatâ€™s my memory.
Now, Iâ€™m going to introduce to you Lt. General, retired, Harold G. Moore, Jr. Hal, who was our battalion commander, is, since those days, my best friend in life and my co-author. I donâ€™t know what my life would have been if I hadnâ€™t met him, but surely far poorer and far different and far less. We all love him. Heâ€™s a hard taskmaster. Heâ€™s still working my ass off, as we finish another book, which will be published in August 2008. The title is WE ARE SOLDIERS STILL: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam, and I think itâ€™s a pretty good story, but he is sure working me hard. Hal, over to you.
We were sent out to the Central Highlands west of Pleiku for patrolling on the 10th of November, and we patrolled around the Plei Me Special Forces Camp for a few days, but made no contact worth mentioning; we captured a prisoner, and evacuated him. At 5:00 in the afternoon on November 13, the brigade commander, Col. Tim Brown showed up at my location, dropped in on a helicopter, and said, â€œHal, youâ€™re going to go into the Ia Drang Valley tomorrow morning. Weâ€™ve got 16 helicopters, and your mission is to search for and destroy the enemy.â€