“We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young”
After the Ia Drang Valley battle, ARVN II Corps Command acknowledged 1/7th Air Cavalry Battalion’s heroism with VN Gallantry Cross with Palm. LTC Hal Moore’s battalion was attached to II Corps Forces in the 1965 Pleime Campaign.
In 1992, Lieutenant General Hal Moore and Joe Galloway decided to write the book We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young to “tell the American people what great Soldiers these are. Tell them what a great job they did and what a great Army we have” (Brian Sobel, 10 Questions for General Hal Moore). In his narrative of the epic battle, Moore was taken by self-aggrandizement in two aspects: his assigned mission in the battle and the degree of danger during the course of the battle.
The mission assigned to Moore was to fix the three NVA Regiments – 32nd, 33r, and 66th – at their assembly areas about to move out to attack the Pleime camp for the second time, by conducting an airborne insertion at the footstep of Chu Pong Massif, next to the position of the 66th Regiment, which was the main force in this second attack. Once the distracting diversionary maneuver was achieved, the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion would be withdrawn.
LTC Moore did not read his superiors’ mind and thought he was sent in to search and destroy the enemy troops. That was why in the morning of November 15 he refused to relinquish the field command at LZ X-Ray to Colonel Tim Brown who landed down at the landing zone to set up a forward brigade command post to run the show and performed the withdrawal of 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion with a troop rotation, replacing it with 2/7 and 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalions. His resistance to withdraw his battalion led to the subsequent intervention of General Knowles at the forward division headquarters level and of General Westmoreland/DePuy at the MACV headquarters level.
In his own words, Moore recounted in his book We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young :
It was obvious Moore misunderstood that his role was only secondary to the main role played by the B-52 airstrikes in the annihilation of the three NVA regiments at Chu Pong in refusing to withdraw his battalion in thinking this battle was not over and not recognizing that his assigned role of distracting the enemy’s attention was achieved and the presence of his battalion was no more needed.
The diversionary maneuver was planned as following: once its insertion caught the attention of B3 Field Front Command and distracted it from moving out to attack Pleime camp, 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was to withdraw. It would be reinforced with appropriate number units to match the enemy’s reactive forces. The actual operation unfolded as following:
- By noon of November 14, General Knowles learned that B3 Field Front decided to counter attack with only two battalions – the 7th and 9th of 66th Regiment. He added one more battalion to the air assault force (Coleman "Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam", St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1988, page 219):
- By late afternoon of November14, General Knowles decided to commit another battalion – the 2/5 Air Cavalry, in preparation of the withdrawal of 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion scheduled for November 16 (1/7 AC after action report):
Managing the Military Situation at LZ X-Ray
Moore acknowledged that General Knowles and Colonel Brown were very thorough in exercising the control of the LZ X-Ray air assault operation (Moore, page 38):
General Knowles and Colonel Brown had taken all the necessary precautions in making sure the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion would face the minimum risk in conducting the diversionary maneuver in three key areas:
- 1/ The NVA troops did not have anti-aircraft guns to shoot down transport helicopters and heavy mortars to mauled down the infantry troops prior to ground assaults (Why Pleime, chapter V):
Helicopters ferrying troops, ammunition, supplies and medevacs that got hit at LZ X-Ray were shot at only by small fire arms.
General Kinnard also pointed out that (Pleiku campaign, page 88):
- 2/ At all time during the battle, the American units on the ground (1/7, 2/7 and 2/5) were always at least at par if not superior to the NVA two reactionary Battalions – the 7th and 9th of 66th Regiment (General Nguyen Huu An’s Memoire):
- 3/Through real time intelligence obtained with radio intercepts of enemy’s communications provided by G2/II Corps, General Knowles and Colonel Brown knew exactly all intentions, planning and moves generated from B3 Field Front Forward: its decision to postpone the attack of Pleime camp and to commit only two battalions to counter the American attack troops. The monitoring of the real time intelligence also allowed General Knowles and Colonel Brown to assess the level of pressure the enemy troops exerted against the Air Cavalry troops at LZ X-Ray which allowed them to land with safety assurance at LZ X-Ray at 4:30 pm and 9:30 am on November 15, respectively.
In his 1/7 AC after action report, Moore was surprised that, around 7:30 am on November 15, his need for reinforcement was anticipated by Colonel Tim Brown, his brigade commander the night before:
- 4/Furthermore, Hal Moore’s 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion once inserted at LZ X-Ray was heavily protected by “a ring of steel” put up by the Division Artillery. Knowles had “every route into and out of the area hit hard around the clock” - to interdict NVA troops of the 32nd and 33rd to come in the area. (Richard T. Knowles Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University, p. 4)
He also learned that Colonel Tim Brown had 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalion ready as early as Nov 14 to reinforce the 1/7 and 2/7 the next morning:
Moore did not know that his 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was to be replaced by the two 2/7 and 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalions.
Dramatizing the Facts
Moore gave himself credit for the selection of the insertion landing zone. He wrote on page 64 of his book :
General Knowles begs to differ. Jack Swickard writes in, "Friendship with military legend" (Swickardworld, Friday, October 11, 2013):
Moore dramatized the fate of the isolated Platoon 2, Company B, 1/7 Battalion in We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young , pp 76-77, 103, 138, 165-66, 206, 208, 209. Moore’s exaggeration had been corrected by
Herren offered the correction in the May 2, 2012 Ranger Reunion in Fort Benning, GA.
Moore made the situation on the field to appear “hotter” than it really was when he mentioned about the call of Broken Arrow code made by Lieutenant Charlie Hastings, the forward air controller, around 7:00am of November 15 We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young , page 175, as if his units were about to be overrun by the enemy assaults:
Moore described the situation around that time in a calmer manner in his 1/7 AC After Action Report:
It was also around that time that Colonel Brown decided to land down on LZ X-Ray, knowingly quite well it was safe, contrary to Moore’s indication that the situation was unsafe (Moore, page 202):
Because of his misinterpretation of his secondary role, Moore was upset that his battalion was ordered out when this battle was not over and clung on to the command of his battalion so that he got to be “the first man of my battalion to set foot in this terrible killing ground and I damned well intended to be the last man to leave.”
Moore dramatized the situation in the early morning of his battalion’s withdrawal day, November 16 with the execution of a Mad Minute recon by fire (Moore, page 223):
The real situation on the enemy’s side was that the troops of the 7th and 9th Battalions of 66th Regiment facing the Air Cavalry troops at LZ X-Ray were in shock and demoralized by the thundering waves of B-52 carpet bombing raining down nearby since 1600 hours the previous day November 15 (General Nguyen Huu An’s Memoire):
On that day of November 15, the carpet bombing was aimed mainly at the positions of 32nd Regiment, located about 12 kilometers northwest of LZ X-Ray (Pleiku campaign, page 88):
The expenditure of ammunition in that two full mad minute firing of individual weapons and all machine guns resulted in the dead of merely two enemy snipers dangling on trees. (Moore, page 224)
General Knowles characterized the "mad minute" action as a mere precautionary measure taken by the troops who were about to leave the country that day and "did not want to become casualties on their last night" :
In comparison to the main action conducted by the Arc Light operation, his secondary action weighed much less in time (2 days –November 14-15 versus five days – November 15-19), space (LZ X-Ray versus the entire Chupong-Iadrang complex areas), units committed (1/7, 2/7 and 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalions versus the B-52 fleet stationed at Guam), enemy forces engaged (2 NVA battalions versus 3 NVA Regiments).
LTC Moore wanted to convey the image of a valiant cavalier charging in a menacing enemy front line and fencing his way out of a hostile surrounding enemy circle in being the first man of his battalion to ride in LZ X-Ray in the first wave of air assault and the last man of his battalion to leave the landing zone. The reality was the scenario of a leisure ride in and out a park, both times without any incident and any single shot from the enemy. LTC Moore set his foot on LZ X-Ray at 10:48 am; the first shooting of “moderate intensity” exchange by lead elements of Company B, moving out of defense perimeter on patrol, with the enemy only occurred at 12:45 pm. The helilifted withdrawal of 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was conducted smoothly under the cover of 2/7 and 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalions.
Medal Awards of Gallantry Acts
It is quite surprising that such an epic battle as described by LTC Hal Moore in We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young did not generate many acts of gallantry officially recognized by medals: the Distinguished Service Cross for Colonel Hal Moore on June 1, 1966; the Medal of Honor for Second Lieutenant Walter J. Marm, Company A, 1/7 Battalion on February 15, 1967; the Bronze Star with Valor for Specialist 4 Gaelen Bungum, Company B, 1/7 Battalion (date awarded unknown); the Silver Star for Second Lieutenant John Lance Geoghegan, Company C, 1/7 Battalion (date posthumously awarded unknown); the Distinguished Service Cross for Staff Sergeant Clyde E. Savage, Squad 3 leader and Specialist 5 Charles R. Lose, platoon medic, both of Company B, 1/7 Battalion; the Silver Star for Major Bruce Crandall and Captain Edward Freeman, both pilots of Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion (date awarded unknown) .
In 1992, Moore and Galloway draw the attention to the oversight in their book We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young (New York: Random House, 1992, p. 374):
It caught the attention of the Congress and in 1996 a law was signed that waived the three year report limitations required for the award of medals, including the Medal of Honor, pertaining to operations in the Ia Drang Valley, near Pleiku, South Vietnam, from October 23, 1965, to November 26, 1965 (Barbara Salazar Torreon, Medal of Honor: History and Issues, August 18, 2015). This signed law allows any member of Congress to submit medal recommendations for past wars for military award boards to consider.
Undoubtedly, all the surviving veterans of the Ia Drang Valley battle have been contacted and sollicited to joint efforts in this search to correct the oversight. The results, though, turned out to be pretty disappointing: in 1996 Specialist 4 Bill Beck and Specialist 4 Russell E. Adams (Platoon 3, Company A, 1/7 Battalion) were awarded the Bronze Star with Valor; on May 1, 1998, Galloway was decorated with the Bronze Star with Valor in recognition of his bravery at the Battle of Ia Drang; Captain Edward Freeman and Major Bruce Crandall had their Silver Star medals upgraded to Medals of Honor in 2001 and 2007, respectively.
In brief, after two decades of painstaking search, only three additional acts of gallantry with Bronze Star medals were unearthed pertaining to the Ia Drang battle at LZ X-Ray, none at LZ Albany.
Nguyen Van Tin