Lieutenant General Harold G. “Hal” Moore PCS’d to a posting on Fiddler’s Green on February 10th of this year. He will be reunited with his Command Sergeant Major, Basil L. Plumly, and other members of 1-7 Cavalry. LTG Moore is known for his service as Commander of the 1-7 CAV during the First Battle of Ia Drang; and for his co-authorship of two books with War Correspondent Joe Galloway, “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young,” about the battle, and for “We Were Soldiers Once… and Still” about returning to Vietnam.
General Moore’s command fought a determined enemy at the first battle of Ia Drang. Moore’s tactics can best be summed up as ‘move to the right, and fight like hell.’ And fight like hell they did. Moore’s decisions and actions, and the sheer guts of his men fought an enemy determined to wipe them out, just as the Sioux and Cheyenne had destroyed another commander of 1-7 CAV, George A. Custer.
Tactically, the first battle was a victory for the Americans. The second battle not so much. General Moore later commented on the Vietnamese point of view in fighting Americans.
In the late 1940s, General Vo Nguyen Giap wrote about the Viet Minh war against the French: “The enemy will pass slowly from the offensive to the defensive. The blitzkrieg will transform itself into a war of long duration. Thus, the enemy will be caught in a dilemma: He has to drag out the war in order to win it and does not possess, on the other hand, the psychological and political means to fight a long-drawn-out war.” After this battle, he said: “We thought that the Americans must have a strategy. We did. We had a strategy of people’s war. You had tactics, and it takes very decisive tactics to win a strategic victory… If we could defeat your tactics — your helicopters — then we could defeat your strategy. Our goal was to win the war.”
Commenting later on the battle, Harold (Hal) G. Moore said, The “peasant soldiers [of North Vietnam] had withstood the terrible high-tech fire storm delivered against them by a superpower and had at least fought the Americans to a draw. By their yardstick, a draw against such a powerful opponent was the equivalent of a victory.”
What is written here won’t do the man any justice, but the short of it was my father respected and admired the man, and I studied the 1st and 2nd battles of Ia Drang at several points in my career. The lessons Moore teaches aren’t about tactics, but leadership and how a unit is glued together in human relationships and character.
It is amazingly easy to mistake the officer’s craft as simply a mastery of tactics. It is not. Moore’s tactics were ‘move to the right and fight like hell.’ That doesn’t cover the fight to get the Lost Platoon, or then-lieutenant Marm’s charge, or three days of fighting at belly-height.
From General Moore I learned to not mistake form (tactics) for substance (leadership and unit cohesion). Move to the right, and fight like hell. Never give up, never give in, never stop learning and never set your humanity aside. For those who are interested, there are several books on General Moore, but one is intriguing: “A General’s Spiritual Journey.”
Thank you General Moore, we salute you.