A new book by Hal Moore and Joe Galloway completes the picture they started in We Were Soldiers Once…And Young
In one of the best books ever written about the Vietnam War, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, retired Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore and war correspondent Joseph L. Galloway tell the gripping story of the battle for the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. Both authors were there on the ground, Moore as commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, and Galloway as a young reporter who eventually had to abandon his camera and pick up a rifle in self-defense.
One of the most important contributions of the book, published in 1992, is its portrait of the average American soldiers who served in Vietnam as the living and breathing human beings they actually were, rather than the cardboard cutout, drug-addled psychos and “baby killers” they were long portrayed as being by the antiwar movement and, all too unfortunately, by major segments of the mainstream media. The 2002 movie based on the book was Hollywood’s first depiction of the Vietnam War GI in any kind of positive light. Although most critics praised the film, some of the antiwar Old Guard took serious umbrage at it.
In their just-published sequel, We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam, Moore and Galloway return to the Ia Drang. They describe their several postwar trips to Vietnam with other veterans of the battle, including the near-legendary retired Command Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, who was portrayed with such precise effect by actor Sam Elliot in the movie version of Moore and Galloway’s first book. However, We Are Soldiers Still is no mere rehash of the battle of 43 years ago, nor is it a travelogue of old soldiers going back in time. Rather, the second book completes the picture that We Were Soldiers Once only half painted.
Although a strong thread of professional respect for the enemy runs throughout We Were Soldiers Once, the North Vietnamese Army commanders and soldiers who fought in the Ia Drang remained largely unknown and unknowable as individuals. But through their subsequent trips back to Vietnam, Moore and Galloway have been able to fill in many of the blanks about them. We Are Soldiers Still introduces faces and names from the other side, as some of those former enemy commanders walk the old battleground with the authors. The book has a poignancy that will remind readers of old film footage from the 1920s in which aging Union and Confederate veterans meet at Gettysburg for the last official time and walk the ground of Pickett’s Charge.
In this issue of Vietnam, we present an excerpt from the new book—“You Killed My Battalion!” The battalion referred to here is not Moore’s 1-7th Cavalry, but the North Vietnamese battalion that was decimated as it tried to overrun the machine gun position manned by gunner Bill Beck. The enemy too has a human face, and we can see it very clearly in this piece.
We Are Soldiers Still is destined to take its place alongside the other relatively few great—and important—books about the Vietnam War. It is a complex and subtle narrative with many messages for many audiences. Its chapter “Lessons on Leadership” should be required reading at all the service academies and NCO schools that produce the United States’ first-line military leaders. The book’s final chapter, “On War,” should be required reading at the senior service and war colleges that produce our future generals.
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.