Lieutenant General Hal Moore, RIP

The absolute embodiment of an Airborne Ranger officer has passed at the age of 94. I say that with complete confidence even though the man made but a brief pass through my life long ago and far away. He literally whirled into my life on a quickly departing Huey that dropped him outside our battalion forward tactical operations center in the middle of what would come to be known as the Battle of Trung Luong in the summer of 1966. My unit, the 2d Battalion 327th Airborne Infantry, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, had choppered into another routine search and destroy operation with intel that the North Vietnamese 18-B regiment and perhaps another regiment might be active in the target area.

They were active indeed—our two infantry companies landed in the midst of 18-B regimental operations and the fight, which would last three days, was immediately on. As Field Force II, our higher headquarters, realized from our contact reports that we might be into much more than they had anticipated, they ordered in reinforcements from the 1st Cavalry Division at An Khe and with those cavalry troopers came their commander, Colonel Harold Moore, he of Hollywood fame as portrayed by Mel Gibson in one of the most realistic depictions of ground combat in Vietnam ever made, We Were Soldiers Once and Young.

Then-Lt. Colonel Moore in Vietnam

We had no idea who this tall, strapping, lean colonel was who blew through the flaps of our forward Tactical Operations Center tent like a whirling dervish with questions, orders and  possible salvation, but even more possible menace. I had been a paratrooper for five years at that point, a combat infantryman in a rifle company for several months prior to coming to battalion headquarters, and an NCO for a few of those years. I must confess I had never seen anything quite like Colonel Moore in my previous years of service. The man exuded that essential quality of leadership that all officers so desire: command presence. Hal Moore had it in spades. In my six years of Army service, I never saw another officer so confidently, completely in command. Yes, he has detractors who would say he was too confident, but I am only relating impressions from my brief 36 hour encounter with this soldier’s soldier.

Inside the TOC Moore demanded to know who the best radio operator present was and a couple of fellow NCO’s fingered me, the battalion chemical, biological and radiological NCO, deferring to my previous experience as an RTO, a radio operator in infantry companies. Moore glared at me and ordered me to take control of the battalion tactical net and to stay there until relieved. That relief order came about 36 hours, hundreds of his orders and no more than two piss breaks later when the battle was finally winding down. During that time I was the mouth and ears of the most confident human being I have ever known in circumstances that would make many strong men waver if not fail completely.

Lieutenant General Hal Moore was a soldier’s soldier and a paratrooper’s paratrooper. May he rest in the old warrior’s peace he has earned so well.

Garry Owen, Sir!

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