BY TIM CHITWOODtchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com
In an Easter speech to Fort Benning soldiers, Lt. Gen. Hal Moore looked back decades and looked forward to eternity.
Now famous as the hero Mel Gibson portrayed in the movie "We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young," which chronicled the three-day Ia Drang battle that occurred in November 1965 in Vietnam's Central Highlands, Moore talked about his past and his future.
An Honorary Chaplain of Fort Benning's Unit Ministry Team, he spoke of making "the cut" to get into heaven.
"When you are my age and just an old soldier, I am increasingly aware — daily — that eternity is just around the corner for me when I go out of the game," said Moore, who's 86.
Looking into the eyes of the young soldiers before him, he saw his past.
"Being with you just now reminds me of my final words to my soldiers before we left for Vietnam in 1965," he said. "As I look into your faces, I see their faces."
Many of the memorable scenes of his Army career had Fort Benning as their setting.
"Fort Benning has played a major role in my life," he said. "Here in the summer of 1944 as a West Point cadet in my last year at the Military Academy. Here as a new second lieutenant In the summer of 1945. Here as a captain in the infantry advance course in 1951 and 1952. Here as a lieutenant colonel commanding an air assault infantry battalion in 1964 and 1965."
One of his five children was born at Fort Benning. He was there in 2000 and 2001 for the filming of "We Were Soldiers." He was there for the funeral of his wife.
"In 2004, my precious wife Julie of 54 years was buried in the Fort Benning cemetery next to Sgt. Jack Gell, whom I held in my arms just after he died — and others of my men are buried there, who died in Vietnam," he said. "I visit all of them frequently, and soon I shall join them again with my wife, in the same grave with her for eternity."
Having fought in Korea and Vietnam, Moore knows intimately the price soldiers pay.
"I have carried my wounded and the dead off the battlefields as some of you may have or will. Or worse, some of you may go down fighting for the person next to you and for America, as you may or may not return home alive," he said. "And all of us — men, wives, children — are faced with the inevitable death of our bodies. But the good news is that all of us have the God-given opportunity to qualify in this temporal life on earth for eternal life with God in heaven — if we make the cut."