From beyond the brick wall of Fort Benning’s Main Post Cemetery on Friday afternoon, the cannons fired 15 shots as the flag-draped casket holding the body of retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore was moments away from its final resting place.
After the cannon fire ceased, the trumpet played “Taps” and about 500 people, including about three dozen who fought under Moore’s command in the Ia Drang Valley more than 50 years ago, stood at attention.
Just as the tribute ended, you could hear the familiar and unmistakable rumble of two Vietnam-era Huey helicopters in the distance.
Journalist Joe Galloway, an hour removed from delivering the eulogy for his best friend of more than five decades and co-author of the New York Times best-selling book “We were Soldiers Once ... and Young,” was sitting with the Moore family as the Hueys approached, flying low and with purpose.
“I was thinking the same thing as the first time I ever saw one,” Galloway said afterward. “The hair stood up on the back of my neck and it took me back 51 years. They took us in, brought us out and resupplied us while we were there.”
As the Hueys moved off to the east, the Army band began to play “God Bless America” as an honor guard from the 1st Cavalry stationed at Fort Hood folded the American flag.
The flag was given to Maj. Gen. Eric J. Wesley, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning. He then presented it to the Moore family.
Moore, 94, died on Feb. 10 at his home in Auburn, Ala. He was buried with his wife of 55 years, Julia Compton Moore, who died in 2004.
The burial was the final event in a day of mourning that started with a funeral Mass at St. Michaels Roman Catholic Church in Auburn, moved to Columbus for a memorial at the National Infantry Museum then onto Fort Benning where Moore was buried with full military honors.
Galloway, who normally speaks without prepared remarks, wrote down what he wanted to say about Moore during the memorial, which was held in a Infantry Museum grand hall just outside the gallery showcasing the Vietnam War. Looming overhead was a Huey helicopter that commemorates the Ia Drang battle, the first major engagement in the conflict.
“I usually speak from my heart,” said Galloway, who met Moore when he was a young United Press International war correspondent. “But my heart is broken and I don’t trust it.”
The two men met when Moore approved Galloway’s request to go with the unit into the Ia Drang Valley with the troops.
“It was a ride into the pages of history and the depths of hell,” Galloway said.
And it started a journey that would last a half century and produce two books and a bond forged by the fire of battle.
“Hal Moore, you changed my life,” Galloway said. “You made it much stronger and better. You taught me how to build character, how to follow a moral compass, how to always stand for what is right. I have loved you as a brother and a father. You were my captain in battle. We stood side by side fighting off an enemy determined to kill us all.”
Moore’s leadership was the reason they prevailed, Galloway said.
“You taught me how to forgive our enemies and to make friends with them long years later,” Galloway said. “I have loved you for 51 unbroken years and I will carry your memory and your example with me all the days I have left.”
Galloway closed with a Native American prayer.
“Thank you for what you gave me; thank you for what you took from me; and thank you for what you left with me,” Galloway said.
Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, represented the Army and offered high praise for Moore’s distinguished 32-year career after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“You won’t read or hear of a more beloved and dedicated officer and soldier than Lt. Gen. Moore,” Abrams said. “He was a combat infantryman known for his courage, bravery and deep love for soldiers. We remember his service and untiring dedication to the men he led on the battlefield.”
Though a hard warrior, Lt. Gen. Moore understood that war should only be considered as the last resort, Abrams said.
“He also knew that when called upon to enter into battle, soldiers and leaders alike must take every measure to meet and defeat the enemy,” Abrams said.
Galloway wasn’t the only one on the same sentimental journey Friday afternoon. And he wasn’t the only one harking back to the battle against the North Vietnamese Army in November 1965 that was captured in a book and motion picture.
Edward Times, a retired non-commissioned officer, drove from Baton Rouge, La., to attend the memorial and burial. Times said it was his duty to be at Fort Benning to honor “a great man.”
“I was in the valley with him,” Times said. “He got me out of that valley alive. He kept us from getting killed.”
After the day’s events were over, Galloway agreed with Times’ assessment.
“That could be said of every man there today, including me,” Galloway said. “We were spared to live good lives because of him. He was a great commander in battle, because his gut told him what to do.”
Galloway was not surprised that Times and so many of his brothers from that battle returned to Fort Benning to say goodbye.
“I knew they would be coming,” Galloway said. “That’s what they were expected to do.”