The Real Hal Moore: Lt. General Harold G. Moore, the Real-Life Protagonist Portrayed by Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers, Talks with the New American about the Movie, His Book, and Vietnam. (Cover Story: Vietnam)
Lt. General Moore, Harold G., Jasper, William F., The New American
Lt. General Harold G. Moore (Ret.) graduated from West Point in 1945, commanded two infantry companies in the Korean War, was a battalion and brigade commander in Vietnam, and later commanded the 7th Infantry Division in Korea. A master parachutist and Army aviator, he helped develop and launch the concept of the Air Cavalry in Vietnam. General Moore co-authored with Joe Galloway the best-seller, We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young (now a major motion picture), the dramatic and moving account of the 7th Cavalry's epic action in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965, one of the Vietnam War's bloodiest battles. He was interviewed by William F. Jasper, senior editor of THE NEW AMERICAN.
TNA: First of all, General Moore, allow me to compliment you on a stunning and stirring achievement; your book provides an unflinching look at the horrors and heroism of war, a moving tribute to those who gave their all. Plus, it offers insights and revelations concerning the political decisions that caused our debacle in Vietnam, something that is desperately needed to counter the liberal-left revisionism that has dominated all media and academic commentary on the Vietnam War for more than three decades. It is one of the best I've read.
Moore: Thank you.
TNA: I understand that you were a consultant to the film. Did you go on location for the actual filming?
Moore: Actually my wife and I visited the sets at Fort Benning, Georgia, three or four times. And then we visited Fort Hunter Liggett in California, where the Ia Drang battles were recreated, twice, for three or four days each time. We probably viewed maybe a total of 4 or 5 percent of the total viewing. We were not there to be the boss or to offer running critiques. I was a consultant, which means that whenever they asked a question of me I answered it to the best of my ability. If I saw something that was grossly wrong, I would respectfully inform the director. Otherwise, I didn't look over his shoulder; nobody was looking over my shoulder during the fighting in the Ia Drang Valley.
TNA: Did you have input on the movie script?
Moore: Actually, I saw about five scripts, starting in 1995, when Randy Wallace got serious about wanting to do the movie. He sent me the screenplays and I marked them up and they got progressively better. But it really got good after Randall went to Ranger School for two weeks at Fort Benning and learned about Army culture, history, heritage, tradition, dos and don'ts. He's the only guy that I know of over the age of 50 who ever went through two weeks of Army Ranger School, which is the toughest course in the Army.
TNA: Early in your book you point out that because of political decisions, you went into battle at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley greatly under-strength. How much did this contribute to your disadvantage in battle and, ultimately, to the casualties you suffered?
Moore: Significantly. Lyndon Johnson wanted to get elected in his own right and he didn't want anything to happen that would sour the country on him. He was really a dove in hawk's clothing. Before we went to Vietnam, he ordered that no man with 60 days or less service [remaining] could be shipped out [to Vietnam]. And he didn't freeze discharges or enlistments, like President Bush did in the Gulf War. And so we went in under-strength. Then, after a month in Vietnam, I began to have casualties from malaria, other tropical diseases, several guys got wounded. Fortunately, I had great noncommissioned officers, most of whom were regular army, which means they weren't up for discharge. And I did get a crop of young lieutenants before we went to Vietnam, so we had to train them up real fast, and the way you do that is tell them to listen to what their platoon sergeant tells them and keep their mouths shut unless they have a question. But the end fact is that when you get into battle with an under-strength unit, wha t happens is the noncommissioned officers unconsciously begin taking over and performing subordinate roles, like being a rifleman or a radio technician, instead of leading. …