Lieutenant General Hal Moore- Hero of the Battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam, Paratrooper, and warrior- has died at the age of 94.
Born in Kentucky on February 13, 1922, Moore dreamed of attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. Believing his chances of acceptance would be increased in the big city, he moved to Washington DC and began attending the George Washington University while he waited for an appointment. At one time, Moore was actually offered a slot at the US Naval academy, which he turned down. By convincing two congressmen to trade their two appointment slots, Moore finally was accepted into West Point. Taking an infantry slot, he graduated on June 5, 1945.
The First Team family extends our condolences to LTG (ret) Hal Moore’s family on his passing. He truly Lived the Legend. Garryowen Sir! pic.twitter.com/cj7u4igs37
— 1st Cavalry Division (@1stCavalryDiv) February 11, 2017
Following his graduation, Moore made his way through various Airborne units, as well as seeing combat as a heavy mortar company commander in Korea. But it was the Vietnam war that would put his battlefield prowess to the test.
Moore was famously portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie “We Were Soldiers,” which was universally acclaimed for it’s realistic and gripping action scenes depicting then-Colonel Moore fighting for his soldiers’ lives in a desperate fight against overwhelming odds at Ia Drang , the Vietnam war’s first major fight between the forces of the United States and the North Vietnamese regular army.
Moore was a pioneer of the Air Cavalry, a method of using helicopters to quickly transport troops in and out of combat. In the battle at Ia Drang, shortly after landing and beginning their patrol, Moore’s forces captured an NVA deserter, who revealed that hidden in the valley was a force of more than 1,600 North Vietnamese troops, compared with Moore’s force of less than 200. As his men began to take fire, beginning the conflict that would last more than four days, Moore recognized that securing the LZ, a football-field sized piece of land denoted LZ X-Ray, would be the difference between life and death. The NVA, realizing that they could not withstand American air support due to lack of anti-aircraft weaponry, relied on the “human waves” to close with the Americans and engaged in fierce, close-range combat, much of it hand to hand.
Outnumbered in a foreign land and against a determined enemy, Moore’s men fought with great courage. As Specialist Galen Bungem said, “We gathered up all the full magazines we could find and stacked them up in front of us. There was no way we could dig a foxhole. The handle was blown off my entrenching tool and one of my canteens had a hole blown through it. The fire was so heavy that if you tried to raise up to dig you were dead. There was death and destruction all around.” Stories of individual bravery were everywhere as the men fought off repeated waves of NVA infantry over the course of the three-day battle at LZ X-Ray. One example was Specialist Willard Parish, who earned the Silver Star for fending off attack after attack. After expending his M60 ammunition, Parish resorted to his .45 sidearm to repel NVA forces that advanced within 20 yards of his foxhole. After the battle, over 100 dead North Vietnamese troops were discovered around Spec. Parish’s position.
The four-day-battle around LZs X-Ray and Albany resulted in 234 Americans being killed in action, while the NVA forces lost more than 600 men. The battle of the Ia Drang would reveal to America that it was up against a determined enemy. A quote that a Vietnamese General wrote back in the late 1940s, regarding the French occupation of Vietnam, would ring decades later in Ia Drang, and even today in Afghanistan. General Vo Nguyen Giap said:
The enemy will pass slowly from the offensive to the defensive. The blitzkrieg will transform itself into a war of long duration. Thus, the enemy will be caught in a dilemma: He has to drag out the war in order to win it and does not possess, on the other hand, the psychological and political means to fight a long-drawn-out war.”
For his part, General Moore was circumspect about the battle and what it meant for the larger conflict. In Joe Galloway’s book that inspired the movie, “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young,” Moore observed, “The peasant soldiers [of North Vietnam] had withstood the terrible high-tech fire storm delivered against them by a superpower and had at least fought the Americans to a draw. By their yardstick, a draw against such a powerful opponent was the equivalent of a victory.”
Following Vietnam, Moore would go on to continue his career in various assignments all over the world. He retired on August 1st, 1977 after spending 32 years on active duty.
The question always comes while writing about the fierce determination and bravery of the American military- Where does this nation find such men? General Moore was a fine example of the American Infantry officer: Skilled in battle, courageous under fire, and loyal to his troops. Rest in Peace.
In honor of General Moore there will be no more news this week. -BK
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