Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, a key figure in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam and a veteran of three wars, died Wednesday morning at Columbus Hospice.
He was 92.
Plumley's role in the Ia Drang battle was brought to life by actor Sam Elliott in the 2002 film, "We Were Soldiers." The movie was based on a book co-written 10 years earlier by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and war correspondent Joseph Galloway.
Plumley was Moore's command sergeant major in the Army's 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment in 1965, and the two men were longtime friends.
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"He was always a great companion and a great leader," Moore said Wednesday when reached at his home in East Alabama. "The main thing I remember about my relationship with him was he gave me excellent advice."
According to Moore's Facebook page, Plumley had been in the local Hospice for more than a week.
Last Thursday, Moore visited Plumley, according to a Facebook post from Galloway, and "told him they will meet again soon on the other side of the river."
Plumley, the son of a coal miner, was born Jan. 1, 1920, in Shady Spring, W. Va. With two years of high school and some experience as a chauffeur and truck driver, he enlisted in the Army on March 31, 1942. He was in the uniform more than 32 years, serving in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
In his final days, Plumley's condition was updated regularly on Moore's Facebook page.
A post that carried Moore's name offered high praise for Plumley and his service to the country.
"He now rejoins his wife Duerice in heaven to enjoy eternal peace," the post stated. "Basil Plumley is an American hero; a combat infantryman in three wars, a man of tremendous character and honor, and an iconic role model for generations of Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines that have followed his path."
The post also noted the special relationship between Moore, who earned three stars as a general officer, and Plumley, who rose to the highest rank available for an enlisted man.
"Basil Plumley will be missed on this earth but he has left a legacy that lives on in the values and fighting spirit of America's servicemen and women," the post states. "God Bless you, Sergeant Major. We know you have St. Peter doing pushups! Drive On!"
In the movie about the Ia Drang battle, Moore was portrayed by Mel Gibson, and Plumley's role was given to Elliott.
Elliott, who played many roles as a cowboy, said he spent some time with Plumley before filming started on the movie. He was proud of the movie and its message.
"I think it reconciles a lot of things like the way we treated those who answered the call," Elliott said during a 2002 interview. "How we let our personal feelings take over when those who survived came home. I think this movie is an opportunity to give some credit to those men."
The book and movie chronicled the 7th Cavalry's battle against the North Vietnamese at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley on Nov. 14, 1965. In what would become the first major engagement between the two forces during the war, Moore and Plumley led 450 soldiers against an enemy of more than 2,000.
Fighting was so close, the enemy could be reached at the end of a soldier's M-16 rifle. "It was literally a fight for survival," Moore once said of the scene.
After leaving the Army, Plumley worked at Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning for 15 more years before retiring again.
Retired Col. Ralph Puckett, a member of the Ranger Hall of Fame, said he never served with Plumley but met him about 20 years ago, after he moved to Columbus. The two ended up teaching a Basic Infantry Officer's Course at Fort Benning.
"I'm glad to tell you I think Command Sgt. Maj. Plumley was a great soldier," Puckett said. "He was a great person, a great human being. I always was in awe of him. I wished that he could go on forever."
Funeral arrangements are still incomplete.