Retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, the commander at the Battle of Ia Drang in 1965 that led him to co-author the book, “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young,” died Friday at his home in Auburn, Ala. He was 94.
Joe Galloway, an award-winning journalist, former McClatchy columnist and co-author of the best-selling book with Moore, said news of his death hit him hard on Saturday.
“I just lost my best friend,” Galloway said from his home in Concord, N.C. “I remember that none of us would have come out of there alive if it weren’t for Hal Moore and his brilliance as a combat commander.”
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Arrangements are still incomplete but a funeral mass will be held at St. Michaels Roman Catholic Church in Auburn. A memorial service and burial will follow at Fort Benning.
Galloway said he now must keep a promise he and Moore made to each other years ago.
“I’ve got to tell you that he is having the last laugh on me, because 20 years ago he insisted that we shake hands on a deal that whichever died first, the other one had to preach his funeral,” Galloway said. “I will get in my car Thursday and drive down to Auburn, Ala., from Concord, N.C., and on Friday afternoon at the National Infantry Museum at the memorial service for my best friend, I have the honor and duty of standing up and preaching his funeral. He lasted almost to 95. I was beginning to think he was going to outlive all of us.”
Moore was born on Feb. 13, 1922, in Bardstown, Ky., to Harold and Mary Moore.
For Moore, his military career started 1945 when he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry. He served with the 187th Glider Infantry Regiment in Sapporo, Japan. He later was reassigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he jump-tested experimental parachutes and made more than 130 test jumps in two years.
Moore served during the Korean War as a regimental operations officer.
He came to Fort Benning in 1964 and commanded a newly formed air mobile 11th Air Assault Division which was undergoing air assault training and testing.
As a lieutenant colonel during the Vietnam War, Moore was commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment during the Battle of Ia Drang in 1965. The regiment had about 450 soldiers when they arrived at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley but was outnumbered by more than 2,000 soldiers from the Peoples’ Army of Vietnam.
Encountering the enemy in the remote Central Highlands was the first major battle between the U.S. and the Peoples’ Army in November 1965. Hundreds of soldiers attempted to overrun Moore’s smaller force. The battle ended after a three-day bloodbath with the enemy leaving more than 600 dead on the battlefield.
Galloway was a war correspondent a day after his 24th birthday when he arrived at Landing Zone X-Ray. He recalled how Moore thought on the battlefield.
“He said when you are in a crisis, whether it’s a battlefield, boardroom or living room and things are really dicey, you need to pull out of that situation mentally and ask and answer two questions,” he said. “What am I doing that I shouldn’t be doing and what am I not doing that I ought to be doing? He said if you ask and answer those questions often enough you get ahead of the curve on the battlefield and you get ahead of the enemy commander. That’s like you are reading his mail.”
Galloway said Moore would deploy troops to a small perimeter and in the nick of time would move them. “Five minutes later, the big attack would come at that point and we would be ready for them,” he said.
Galloway and Moore knew they would be good friends after leaving that battlefield.
“We had shared an incredible experience, and we left that place good friends with total trust in each other,” he said.
Galloway said they both knew that one day they would have to write a book. They started research in 1982, and 10 years later the book was written in Galloway’s farmhouse in Virginia. “He would have all his materials spread out on my dining room table, and I was next door in the den on the computer,” he said.
In 1992, the book, “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young,” was a New York Times best-seller. Ten years later, it was the basis for the acclaimed movie in which Mel Gibson portrayed Moore, and Sam Elliott played Moore’s command sergeant major, Basil Plumley.
Years later in 2008, he worked with Galloway on a sequel, “We are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Carmen Cavezza, a former Fort Benning commander, served in Vietnam at the same time in a different location from Moore, but the two had contact during their service and after he retired.
“I think first of all he was a great soldier,” Cavezza said. “Anybody that knew him, that is the first thing they would say about him. He certainly was a strong leader, took care of his people and held true to the very end.”
Moore used to visit museums and cemeteries when his health allowed it. Cavezza also said the best-selling book got the word out about what was going on in Vietnam. “It described what combat in Vietnam was like,” he said.
Cavezza said he saw the movie, and Moore gave him a copy of the book. He invited Moore to speak to officers, wives and soldiers while he was assigned at Fort Lewis.
“I scheduled several sessions for him to talk to everybody, from officers to wives to soldiers, because his message was very strong,” he said.
Moore is survived by three sons and two daughters — Harold Gregory Moore III, retired Lt. Col. Stephen Moore, Julie Moore Orlowski, Cecile Moore Rainey, and retired Col. David Moore — and 11 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. His wife Julie died in 2004.
Donations may go to the Ia Drang Scholarship Fund. Moore and Galloway established the fund in 1994 using proceeds from the book and speaking engagements. The fund’s goal is to help the children and grandchildren of veterans of the Ia Drang battles. Send checks to Ia Drang Scholarship Fund, c/o executive director, 1st Cavalry Division Association, 302 North Main, Copperas Cove, TX 76522.