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We Were Soldiers

In: Historical Events

Submitted By Insaynn
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War is a military response to a political situation. War and the battles which comprise those wars are often recorded in history, and those wars seem to be embedded into the human condition. Plato said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." So as long as humans are around, there will be war, and therefore, people to tell the stories of the wars and the battles that are part of our history. The broad specter of war is often recorded as sterilized and impersonal narration dealing with politics, strategies and reasoning to explain the how and the why of battles. Such accounts are often written by historians that were not present at the battle or were safely experiencing it from a safe remote command center far from the killing. "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young" is a historical biography written by retired Lieutenant General Hal Moore and UPI Reporter Joe Galloway that recalls the events of the first major battle of the Vietnam War. The battle took place in the Ia Drang Valley between November 14 and November 18, 1965 at two landing zones northwest of Plei Me in the central Highlands of South Vietnam (approximately 35 miles south-west of Pleiku). The battle derives its name from the Drang River which runs through the valley northwest of Plei Me, in which the engagement took place. "Ia" means "river" in the local Montagnard language. The battle was fought between the US 7'th Cavalry's newly established Air Mobile forces and a mixture of Viet-Cong guerilla's and highly trained North Vietnam Army troops. General Moore was a Lieutenant Colonel at the time of this battle and commanded the 1'st Battalion 7'th Cavalry forces. The opposition was lead by General Nguyen Huu An who commanded elements of the 304'th Division of the PAVN (People's Army Vietnam) and the Viet Cong. The battle is described in great detail by Lt. General Moore(Ret.) who wrote the book along with reporter Joe Galloway who was on the front lines reporting for the United Press International. Moore uses other sources for his book including quotes and material from other published reports of the battle written by the soldiers who fought the battle. General Moore places the reader into the center of the action describing in very precise detail the responsibilities and in many cases deaths of the brave soldiers who fought there in this moment by moment account of the tide of the engagement. Moore writes, "PFC Willie F. Godboldt, twenty four, of Jacksonville, Florida was hit while firing from his position twenty yards to Sergeant Jemison's right, Jemison remembers, 'Godboldt was hollering: "Someone help me!" I yelled, 'I'll go get him.' Lieutenant Geoghgan yelled back: 'No, I will!' Geoghegan moved out of his position in the foxhole to help Godboldt and was shot. This was ten minutes or so from the time the firing first broke out" Struck in the back and the head, Lieutenant John Lance (Jack) Geoghan was killed instantly The man he was trying to save, PFC Godboldt, died of his wounds shortly afterward." (159). The entire book is filled with such detailed accountings of the actions of his men which historians don't usually see as worthy of historical recognition, but Moore sees the sacrifices and actions of his men as the whole reason for writing his accounting of the events of this battle. General Moore wrote this book in 1992, nearly 27 years after the battle in the Ia Drang Valley and more than 15 years after the end of the Vietnam War. There may be some criticism that after so long that the details of the battle may have been blurred by the passage of time, but the battle was well chronicled by many sources including other soldiers who had fought there, the news media and Army records of the event. General Moore retired from the Army in 1977 after 32 years of service. After retiring Moore formed several companies including a software company. He often lectured about his experiences at the Ia Drang battle to military academies and colleges. The book was written to express General Moore's appreciation of the bond of love that can only exist between soldiers who experience combat together. The book does not delve into the political reasoning for fighting the Vietnam War. We do not have long narration about national conflicts and politics, rather Moore shows us a much more personal and focused view of the battlefield where men die. Moore goes out of his way to attach some identity to the 72 out of 395 American men who died and approximately 1800 out of 4000 Vietnamese soldiers who perished at the Ia Drang Valley battle. Moore tries to give an accounting of the age and hometown of the American soldiers who perished under his command and gives details of their deaths and sacrifice that they made to the men who fought beside him. It is clear from the prologue of the book where General Moore tells us that the story will be about the soldiers and their fatedly time in this battle, and that it is written in their memory from accounts of people who were in the battle. General Moore states that the country as a whole did not have much in the way of interest for the individual sacrifices that these men made, many of which paid the ultimate price in this conflict. General Moore states in his prologue "This is about what we did, what we saw, what we suffered in the thirty-four-day campaign in the Ia Drang Valley of the Central Highlands of South Vietnam in November 1965, where we were young and confident and patriotic and our countrymen knew little and cared less about our sacrifices." (Prologue xxii). Moore is most likely a bit biased towards the actions of his men so it is logical to conclude that some of his writing is a bit biased toward the men of command and the United States side in relation to the historical accounting of this battle, but as far as the purpose of the book, the story of his men is the historical significance of his writing, and in that respect the humanizing loss of these young soldiers is the reason to write the book. The book tells the story of the battle of the Ia Drang valley in great detail and also gives a brief history of the units that fought that battle. Moore commanded the 1'st Battalion of the 7'th Cavalry Air Mobile. The 7'th Cavalry had a long history, being the unit that was commanded by General George Custer in the "Battle of Little Big Horn" in June 25 and 26, 1876 against the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in the Eastern Montana Territory where he faced Indian war leaders Crazy Horse and Chief Gall. The battle draws great similarity in that Custer was faced with overwhelmingly superior numbers of enemy forces fighting on their own familiar battlefield. Unlike Custer though, who was killed and three quarters of his command destroyed, General Moore succeed in surviving the battle with most of his troopers alive. In World War II the 7'th Cavalry was designated an Airborne unit and in the Vietnam War it was changed to an Air Mobile Cavalry unit. The mission of this unit was to use new tactics and machinery to defeat the enemy including rapidly deployed infantry soldiers dropped into tactically significant areas by helicopters, supported by superior air power and artillery. This battle was the first time such tactics had been used and is therefore very significant in military history. As Moore writes: "The 1'st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was born of President John F. Kennedy's determination that the US Army, which for a decade had focused exclusively on training to fight World War III on the plains of Europe, prepare to fight a series of small, dirty wars on the world's frontiers"(page 9). It is clear that the Vietnam War will be one of those "Small, dirty wars" and Moore is tasked with training his Airmobile troops for fourteen months before they head to the far distant shores of Vietnam. The enemy forces of the North Vietnamese army also wanted to test their abilities against the new American enemies which found their way into the conflict. "The North Vietnamese wanted their foot soldiers to taste the sting of those weapons and find ways to neutralize them. Their orders were to draw the newly arrived Americans into battle and search for the flaws in their thinking that would allow a Third World army of peasant soldiers who traveled by foot and fought at the distant end of a two-month-long supply line of porters not only to survive and persevere, but ultimately to prevail in the war--which was, for them, entering a new phase." (9) The overall voice of the author is one of a patriotic commander who cared a great deal for his troops. General Moore goes to great length to describe the battle from the perspective of his soldiers and give us a feel of what it was like on the battlefield by writing in great detail about the men and the weapons they were using, immersing us into the military culture with the nomenclature of battle. Moore writes: "Beck, down on his knees, bandaged the wounded officer and screamed for a medic. He adds, "I wasn't with him for more than a minute. I got his M-16 and tried to fire it and it was inoperable. I took his .45 pistol and fired into the jungle toward the enemy. Somewhere along the line I picked up an M-79 grenade launcher from a dead guy and tried to fire it, and it was no good. I fired more .45 rounds into the jungle. The enemy firing picked up." (109). The way that Moore writes sucks the reader into the scene and gives a vivid feeling of being in the fight. Even though the story has many strengths some may find it a weakness in the accounting that Moore goes into so much detail so many times, but the truth of the matter is, that each of these stories is either an act of bravery or a life that was extinguished too early, and in that case I believe that it isn't a weakness at all in the story but that each of those men deserves to have the recognition they deserve and Moore clearly sets the tone that way.
The strength of this story is that all accounts of the story are documented by people who were at the battle firsthand and braved through the trials and agony of this encounter. It may be a little one sided, because we only really see most of the book narrated by accounts by American soldiers, but there is some commentary made by the opposing forces commander then Lt. Colonel Nguyen Huu An whom Moore faced in the Ia Drang. "According to then-Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu An, the NVA battlefield commander, that attack should have been launched against Columbus at two P.M., when half of Ackerson's battalion would still have been marching back from Albany. General An said the commander of the attack battalion of the 33'rd Regiment was unable to mass his men, who had dispersed over a wide area of the valley to avoid air strikes, in time to make the deadline. An said his commander also had problems finding a section of the Columbus perimeter where there was sufficient cover to hide his preparations for the attack. The result was a delay of over three and a half hours."(Page 313) Moore's use of similar quotes by the enemy leader gives solid credibility to his accounting of the battle and is another strength of the author. Moore met General Nguyen Huu An after the war and even made a trip with him and several others from the battle back to the area of the Ia Drang Valley in 1993 which they fought over. The accounting of that trip is documented in the follow up to this book, "We Are Soldiers Still" which is due for release August 19'th 2013. "Now, in October 1993, a chartered Soviet-made Hind helicopter was lifting off the runway at the old Camp Holloway airfield at Pleiku in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The two Vietnamese civilian pilots confessed up front that they had no idea where, in that rugged plateau that butted up against the Cambodian border, the football-field-sized clearing code-named Landing Zone X-Ray was located. So Bruce Crandall, one of the most experienced pilots in Army Aviation, and I knelt in the narrow space between them in the cockpit, unfolded my old and detailed Army battle map, and, using Joe Galloway's even more ancient Boy Scout compass, pointed the way to the place where our nightmares were born." (We Are Soldiers Still - too be released 2013 chapter 1 www.weweresoldiers.net/wass.htm) By using such sources as his men and the leader of the enemy forces we can put together a historical picture of the battle of the Ia Drang Valley. It's historical significance being that it was the first time that the forces of the US and the North Vietnamese had engaged in a large scale battle. The long term strategic value of the battle which the American's "Won" was rather small and the patch of ground they fought over held little military value other than the encounter which occurred there. The reason that Moore believes this to be worth writing for is in honor of the men who fought and died there. "It's easy to forget the numbers, but how can we forget the faces, the voices, the cries of young men dying before their time? Between October 23 and November 26, 1965, a total of 305 young American soldiers were killed in combat in the Pleiku campaign. Their names march down the lines inscribed on Panel 3-East of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, each one a national treasure, each one a national tragedy. Some tell a story by their very juxtaposition: Lieutenant John Lance Geoghen's name is frozen in the black granite beside that of PFC Willie F. Goldboldt, the man he died trying to save. What would they have become, all of them, if they had been allowed to serve their country by their lives, instead of their deaths?" (375). It is clear that the emotional weight of his troopers sacrifices has driven General Moore far longer than years that he served his country and commanded his troops on that long ago almost forgotten battlefield. Society has moved on and we barely give a thought to those who gave so much of their lives and spirit back in November 1965, but those who were there at the battle will never forget, and we as a society should take note of General Moore's accounting of this battle and perhaps learn a lesson and not forget those who went before us. "In the small, closed world of the military, great victories, great defeats, and great sacrifices are never forgotten. They are remembered with battle streamers attached to unit flags. Among the scores of streamers that billow and whirl around the flags of all the battalions of the 1'st Cavalry Division there is one deep-blue Presidential Unit Citation streamer that says simply: Pleiku Province. Schoolchildren no longer memorize the names and dates of great battles, and perhaps that is good; perhaps that is the first step on the road to a world where wars are no longer necessary. Perhaps. But we remember those days and our comrades, and after we are gone that long blue streamer will still caress proud flags." (376).
Thank you General Moore and the men who gave so much on that battlefield. May your courage and devotion remain in the heart of our country and remind us every day that such great soldiers lived and died for their brothers.

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