In the first major engagement between American and North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, LTC Hal Moore’s 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry took on a numerically superior North Vietnamese Army (NVA) force in the Ia Drang Valley. The battle was later the focus of the book We Were Soldiers Once, and Young and the film We Were Soldiers.

On November 14, 1965, Moore’s 1st Bn. 7th Cavalry landed with 457 men in the Ia Drang Valley, about 30 miles northwest of Pleiku, in the Central Highlands. They were landed at a designated Landing Zone (LZ) codenamed LZ X-Ray. Soon, they were surrounded by over 3,000 NVA regulars. The bloody battle would change how American soldiers would arrive in battle and the NVA would alter its tactics in response.

During the battle two helicopter pilots, Bruce Crandall and Ed “Too Tall” Freeman would be awarded the Medal of Honor. Also awarded the Medal of Honor was Lt. Walter “Joe” Marm, an infantry platoon commander who distinguished himself during the pitched battle. 

Marm was a young platoon leader who had only been in the Army for a little more than a year. He had been a finance major at Duquense University but after graduation, seeing the war in Vietnam was about to escalate, and not wanting to be drafted, he enlisted. He graduated from Officer Candidate School, Infantry Officer Basic, and then Ranger School. He was assigned to A Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, under Moore’s command.

Because the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) troops were faring badly in combat, Army General William Westmoreland had a plan to bolster the ARVN by inserting large American combat formations into the fray. 

The Battle of Ia Drang Valley was the first to use helicopters, the workhorse UH-1 “Huey,” to ferry the soldiers into battle, and then bring in supplies, and exfiltrate the wounded.


A Hard Landing

LZ X-Ray was nearly the size of a football field, so Moore’s battalion had to come in a company at a time in different lifts. The first troopers hit the ground at 10:48 in the morning. The last of them didn’t arrive until nearly 15:00 at which time the battalion was already heavily engaged. With casualties mounting, the Medevac helicopters were driven off by intense ground fire. Moore’s troops were already running short of water and ammunition.