Hal Moore was a remarkable Korean and Vietnam war veteran with unmatched courage and love for his fellow soldiers. Moore’s famous mantra was “Hate war, love the American soldier.” This strong dedication to his brothers in arms came through not only during his time in the military, but long after his active service came to an end. Best remembered by civilians for his retelling of the Battle of Ia Drang, Moore was and is beloved by veterans across the country.
Born February 13, 1922 in Bardstown, Kentucky, Moore lived a quiet youth. Determined to get into West Point to start his military career, Moore left Kentucky when he was seventeen years old to make a name for himself. He started work at the U.S. Senate book warehouse in Washington D.C., and after graduating from George Washington University in 1942, Moore finally got an appointment to the prestigious West Point military academy from Representative Eugene Cox.
As Moore began his training at West Point, America began its entrance into the conflict of World War II. The increased need for soldiers and service members meant that rather than four years at the academy, Moore’s class would graduate in only three. This did nothing to help his rocky times at the academy. While Moore was the top scorer in his company’s M-1 Garand rifle certification, he struggled greatly with academics at West Point.
Moore was a focused and self-disciplined student, but that did not keep him out of the bottom 15% of his West Point class. However, Moore was determined to nab an opening for and infantry assignment. When he graduated in June of 1945, he got his wish. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry branch.
Barrellng forward into his service, Moore became qualified as an airborne jumpmaster. Then by 1951, he commanded a heavy mortar company as captain in the Korean War. After 1954, Moore returned to the United States to serve as an infantry tactics instructor at West Point, before going to Norway to act as a NATO Plans Officer. By 1964, he’d been promoted to lieutenant colonel.
Though his accomplishments thus far were great, none could compare to his efforts in the Vietnam War. In August 1965, August was deployed to Vietnam with command of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. That November, Moore and his troops were brought by helicopter to the Ia Drang Valley of South Vietnam, just a few miles from the Cambodian border. Those 450 troops had just walked into a deadly trap.
The North Vietnamese Army surrounded the American forces before the entirety of the battalion could even touch ground, outnumbering them by twelve to one. Even with no apparent hope of escape, Moore was not going to let his men give up. The lieutenant colonel bravely stood at the frontlines of the conflict and personally led his troops to face the gruesome and seemingly insurmountable NVA threat. The opposing armies fought all day, and though Moore’s desperate efforts kept American casualties at a minimum, losses were still great.
In the morning, just past seven, another wave of attacks came. This siege brought rockets and mortars, and aggression rained down on the American troops from all directions. Moore tried to save ground with machine gun and rifle coverage, but it was no use. The North Vietnamese Army broke through and engaged troops in a bloody and brutal hand to hand combat.
At four in the morning—barely the next day—a third and merciless wave of attacks befell the 1st Battalion. On three separate occasions, Moore was offered a personal reprieve from the battlefield atrocities—he could be evacuated to Saigon to meet with generals. At every opportunity, Moore refused to leave his men behind. He would not allow himself to be anything less than the last man on the battlefield.
When at last the 1st Battalion were supported by helicopter gunships and fighter-bombers, they beat a hasty retreat from what very well could have been the scene of a massacre. At the end of the ferocious wartime collision, Moore’s troops registered a loss of 79 men, with around 121 wounded. However, the North Vietnamese Army forces were much worse off, with a loss of 600 soldiers and over 2,000 wounded. For his heroic contributions, Moore was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and was later promoted to colonel.
After this incredible feat, Moore went on to accomplish many great things. During his command in California’s Fort Ord, he dealt with anti-war protesters like Jane Fonda. He oversaw the massive transition the Army went through from a compulsory institution to a volunteer-based force, and publicly supported a global ban on anti-personnel landmines. He was even named the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel in Washington.
After an inspiring 32-year military career, Hal More retired from his position as a lieutenant general in 1977. However, returning to civilian life didn’t put an end to the outstanding impact that Hal had on his country. He took up writing, and in 1992 he worked with war journalist Joseph L. Galloway to publish We were Soldiers Once… And Young. This book detailed the phenomenal efforts Moore contributed during the conflict at Ia Drang Valley.
Not only was Moore’s first book a New York Times bestseller, but it’s been on the Marine Corps Commandant’s Reading List for Career Level Enlisted since the early 90s. The book was also adapted into the film We Were Soldiers in 2002. As a follow up, Moore and Galloway came together to publish another novel in 2008, titled We Are Soldiers Still.
It cannot be stressed enough that Moore’s greatness comes from the depth of his compassion. He defined the very notion of heroism, and had a moving understanding of the truth that soldiers are men beyond their orders. In fact, in 1993, Moore returned to Ia Drang Valley and met with Vietnamese General Huu An, who had fought against him many years ago. Despite their language barriers, the two struck up an understanding and became friends.
Unfortunately, in 2017, Hal Moore passed away at 94 years old—just three days shy of his 95th birthday. He was buried in Fort Benning Cemetery next to his wife of 55 years, surrounded by the men he so bravely fought alongside in the tragic battlefields of Vietnam. His legacy lives on, shining brightly.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons