An Old War Horse Passes
America lost one of her great old war horses last week when Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Basil L. Plumley passed away at 92 in Columbus, Georgia. CSM Plumley was probably the country's best-known sergeant major, thanks to Sam Elliott's memorable portrayal of him in the movie We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, the filmed version of the book by Joe Galloway and retired Lieutenant General Hal Moore. That book chronicled America's first major battle of the Vietnam War, when a battalion of American infantry under the command of then-Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Moore was the first unit of the newly-arrived-in-Vietnam 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) to test the air assault concept against a viable enemy force in the Ia Drang Valley.
The movie, starring Mel Gibson as LTC Moore, leading the 1st Battalion of the famed 7th Cavalry Regiment, was a big hit, but also a gut-wrencher for many of us who served as combat infantrymen in that war. It is probably the most honest depiction of ground combat in Vietnam that has been produced to date. And throughout the chaotic battle sequences of that movie is the steady, fearless image of SGM Plumley moving through the battle area, calming his young paratroopers and keeping them focused on the mission. In a quite moving video, Joseph Galloway relates how Plumley, standing fearlessly in the heat of the battle, reminded the young combat photographer who was fearfully hugging the earth that he couldn't "[t]ake no pictures down there, boy." You really should take a few minutes and watch the funeral video; stay with it until it gets to Galloway's comments. It's worth it.
Command Sergeant Major Plumley served this country in three wars: WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam. He was, without question, the absolute essence of a warrior. I doubt that he would have ever considered himself a hero, as that term is so overused in these times, but I'll wager he would heartily agree to my description of him as an old war horse.
And he's one who's earned his retirement to that great, green pasture in the sky.
Rest in peace, Sergeant Major, and Garry Owen!
Author's note: I had the distinct honor of serving as Colonel Moore's radio operator for a very brief and intense 36 hours or so during the little-known and sparsely chronicled Battle of Truong Luong in the summer of 1966. To me, a young staff sergeant at the time, he was the ultimate lean, mean Airborne commander. I will cherish the honor of meeting that pillar of infantry honor until the day the bugle blows for me.