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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We Are Soldiers Still

I had just finished reading We Are Soldiers Still - A Journey Back To The Battlefields of Vietnam. The book is by Lt. General Harold Moore and journalist Joseph Galloway. Why go back and read about a long ago, divisive and disasterous war? Simply because there are still lessons to be learned.




For me, an interest in the recent appearance of this particular book began several years ago with a movie. The title of the movie was We Were Soldiers - And Young. It was based on the book of the same name also written by Moore and Galloway. It starred Mel Gibson as the young officer Moore, who's task was to convert the 7th Regiment (Custer's old cavalry unit) into an effective component of the new airmoble 1st Cavalry. That division was about to be sent and tested in Vietnam.

An old Irish folksong "Gary Owen" was the 7th's marching song and greeting.. The 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) division would mount a fleet of helicopters instead of horses.

The 7th regiment was soon shipped in its entirety to the escalating war South Vietnam. There they were quickly helicoptered into the Ia Drang valley with the mission to locate North Vietnamese forces and to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail. The idea for airmoble unit was to be able to chose its own time and place for battle. In that valley, they were immediately surrounded and attacked by hidden and well entrenched regular forces of the regular North Vietnamese army. That army had been moving south to reenforce the Viet Cong .
With great difficulty and heroism, the 7th held its own, under Moore's brilliant leadership, against an attacking force that greatly outnumbered them.

Several days, later a sister unit from the 1st Cav. that was moving into the same area was ambushed and basically wiped out. That, of course, never appeared in the newspapers of the time. Fifty thousand Americans were killed in this war before it was over seven years later. Moore was obviously a fine man and a great leader. I'm sure there were many others like him. The movie as movies are wont to do, elicited a strong surge of patriotic emotion, during the battle scenes. One's fellow countrymen, putting there lives on the line to protect our freedom, it seemed . And yet. And yet walking out of that theater I couldn't help but thinking..... what a waste. What a godawful waste.... The wisdom of hindsight perhaps
I had remembered a Christmas family gathering a few years before, where I met my cousin who had just returned from Vietnam. He was a civil engineer working on water projects in Saigon. Today, I guess, he would be called a "civilian contractor." He had utterly shocked me with tales of massive corruption in South Vietnam's military government. How the Americans had to bribe people left and right to accomplish anything. How, except for some of the Catholic minority, the people despised that government and regarded them as lackeys for the American "colonialists," who had replaced the "true" nationalists. A generation later, Moore kept a promise he had made to his men, that someday they would return to that battlefield, to make peace within themselves and to their fallen comrades. After years of difficulties that promise was kept and a number of these heroes returned to the Ia Drang Valley. One of those heroes is pictured here, at that place and that time. His name was Rick Riscorla. A generation later, he was the new chief of security at the World Trade Center. There he died after his actions saved the lives of thousands of people on that fateful day. Hal Moore, Joe Galloway, and many of their comrades were to return to Vietnam. There they met and befriended some of the soldiers they had fought. Moore's counterpart in the NVA was among them. In fascinating detail we learn of the strategies of each side. More importantly, we read of their hopes, dreams and illusions. Given the delusions, that have at times colored our own foreign and security strategies, it is a tale well told and worth learning from. General Hal Moore follow up on the Vietnam war. We Are Soldiers Still - A Journey Back To The Battlefields Of Vietnam.
I highly recommend it.

7 comments:

Loree Huebner said...

I heard this book was good.

Thanks for the review.

I'm getting Christmas ideas for Eric.

Arkansas Patti said...

Since that was the war of my generation, the interest is there. I ate dinner during body bag counts. I think it was the first time, we got front row seats to a war and made us realize how brutal they can be.
I love the idea of returning and actually meeting former foes. We are all just people when you scrape away the uniforms.

Coy said...

Sounds like this is a must read. I remember reading the first book quite a few years ago and as I recall it was an awesome work. I find you're analysis of that unnecessary war very insightful.
Growing up I expected Vietnam to be my fate; lucky for me it started winding down just before I became draft age.

Grayquill said...

There 'ARE' still lessons to learn! But, I always like hearing others stories. Fifty thousand gone...what a mammoth loss.

Grayquill said...

There 'ARE' still lessons to learn! But, I always like hearing others stories. Fifty thousand gone...what a mammoth loss.

EcoRover said...

Great story. So much for learning the lessons of history, though.

RoadDog said...

Great movie.

This was also "my" war. Thankfully it ended just before I graduated college in 1973, but with a draft lottery number of 22, I would have gone.

I even got into Marine Corps PLC, but was dropped when the war was winding down.

I am always interested in revisits to war sites.