As Randy Wallace, the director for the movie, We Were Soldiers, began working on his script, he asked Julie Moore for her perspective on being a military spouse.
Here is Part two of her response:
June 25, 1996
As the saying goes the rest is history. At Bragg we had a great group of paratrooper LTs. just returned from 3 years in occupied Japan and five eligible officers daughters. I went to the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) under duress as was not a student, did not know one soul on campus and was having too much fun at Bragg. Of course as you know Randy those southern schools are so very friendly within two weeks I told my folks I wouldn’t be home until Thanksgiving. Mother used to entertain the LTs. on Saturday morning with coffee and cake as they would drop by just to visit with her. After dating so many different ones – at one point I was so exhausted from the morning tennis, afternoon swimming and evening dates (remember this was just after WW II and the army had “downsized” again) that I decided to spend 4 days doing nothing. The only problem was that everyone came over to the house so mother said I had to go out again as it was costing her a fortune in liquor.
I decided the summer of ’49 that Hal Moore was the man for me and chased him till he caught me. We were married in November and first child was born 18 months later at Fort Bragg. We moved to Fort Benning when Greg was 4 months old and Hal attended the Advanced Infantry Officers Course. All the Bragg crowd went with us. Toward the end of the school year Hal received the orders I had been dreading – Korean War! I was highly pregnant with Steve and he refused to come on time. The doctors made me drink cod liver oil in hopes of speeding him up but he finally arrived on May 4 and
Hal left for Korea six weeks later in June. I was 23 years old. I stayed in the high heat and humidity of Columbus, Ga in a tiny tract house with no air conditioning for another 3 months by myself as my parents hadn’t found a place to live yet. I planned to move in with them in Auburn, AL. Not until years later did I realize what a strain I put on them until it happened to me (when our eldest daughter and 2 babies moved in with us for 2 years during her divorce proceedings). It was so awful though as there was NO NEWS of what was going on during that war. Sometimes I would find a paragraph or two on the back page of the Opelika-Auburn Daily News paper. If there was a big fight like Pork Chop Hill the Atlanta paper might mention it. Sometimes I think I was better off not knowing compared to the intensive coverage of Vietnam. Course we didn’t have TV then either. Hal sent me a telegram wishing us all a Merry Christmas which I found in the mailbox. I thought it was bad news and refused to open it so Dad had to do it. You can imagine the relief. I told him never to send me another telegram, and have always “frozen” when I see one so the debacle of the telegrams from X-Ray paralyzed me.
I will never forget that Monday morning in Nov. ’65 when I picked up the Columbus GA. Ledger off the front stoop and opened it up to Joe’s story. I must have read it 10 times trying to comprehend what had happened and that name Lt. Col. Hal Moore kept jumping out at me. Somehow I got the children off to school and drove Dave’s nursery school carpool. When I got home the phone started ringing and didn’t quit. I totally forgot to pick up the car pool until the school called! Even Peter Jennings called to set up an interview that night with the local TV station. He wanted to film our reaction to seeing Hal on the evening news program. I did not want to do it but the Public Information Officer at Ft. Benning asked me to. I was so stunned at seeing my husband with tears in his eyes that I could hardly speak. I should have known better as the Sergeants were his brothers and the privates his sons – no one can lose that many family members and not weep. We did not make the next evenings news:
Up till then I think we thought of Vietnam as patrols and little actions that really wouldn’t affect us. I stupidly thought that Hal being a Lt. Colonel he would be safely in the rear. It never entered my head that he would be up on the firing line: The Division had been on field maneuvers so much for months at a time that I really think we wives thought of it as another maneuver. We had a tight knit group of wives that really tried to help each other, took over if one got sick or needed help with the children.
It is really hard to describe the special closeness that Army wives have to each other. Even though I was lucky enough to end up a General’s wife, I never forgot that I started out as a lieutenant’s wife and the burdens they carried of raising young children with never enough money or husband.
When we received the news from President Johnson in late July of ’65 that the 1st Cav would go to Vietnam there was a flurry of activity among the wives to get the men packed up. At that time the Army had no camouflage insignia or underwear so our great concern was dying their underwear (two forest green to one black was the standard formula we came down on – I know the Chattahooche river ran green for months) – inking out the white name tag and the gold U.S. Army on their fatigue shirts. We were told we had 30 days to get out of the Army quarters on the Post so there was a great scramble to find a place to live outside the gate in the little town of Columbus. 438 wives settled in the area. Dad wanted me to come to Auburn (40 miles from Columbus, GA.) and I felt that I owed him a year with his grandchildren so looked over there but nothing that we could fit into for rent and only a $30,000 house to buy which was way too expensive. I found a dinky house in an area of Columbus that alot of wives had settled in, close to the Post. The 3 younger children (3-11 years old) had the largest bedroom – poor Dave slept on a cot which we put up every night and took down every morning – Greg and Steve (13 and 12) shared a room and I had the smallest room – could only get out of bed on one side!
We tried to keep the night Hal left like any other in the family. All had dinner together, he read Ceci and Davy their evening story, finished the last minute packing. We went to bed. I tried to sleep but I just hung on to him. When he got up to leave around 1:30 a.m. I pretended to be asleep as knew I would start crying and didn’t want him to worry about us. He had enough on his mind. I heard the back door shut, got up and leaned against the upstairs window and watched while the jeep pulled away in the dark then I cried. I was 34 years old.
I wish I could say that I was immediately inspired by a greater power to visit my wives who received th)se fateful telegrams, delivered by taxis at whatever hour of the day or night they arrived at the Western Union office but it was only my father’s prodding that made me go. I was terrified at how I would be received – would they hate me because it was my husband who had ordered theirs into that awful place? What beautiful women they were. I told you Army wives are special. I remember Mrs Givens, so dignified and gracious. Saying she thought she had escaped the bad news and had been visiting the other wives who had received the telegrams. She received the last one delivered. The young girl who couldn’t have been more than 16 or 17 totally bewildered and truly not understanding what had happened or what to do or where to go. The darling pregnant Puerto Rican girl who spoke no english (I could understand some spanish having had a Spanish maid while living in Norway) telling me how she answered the door at 3 a.m. saw the telegram, couldn’t read it but knew immediately what it was and fainted dead away. The Taxi driver banged on her neighbors door to get help for her. She later had her baby boy in the Benning hospital and we wives got a layette together for her. She then returned home to Puerto Rico. Since it was early in the War they had pride in what their husbands had done and could feel that their husbands had died “for a good cause”. I thought about them so much in later years when all the demonstrations started and all the hatred spewed out.
What did they have to justify their sacrifice then? I hate to fault Fort Benning about the telegrams as I think they were caught just as unprepared as all the rest of us. Benning was just not ready for LZ X-Ray – or Columbus, GA., or America either for that matter. The war in Vietnam had suddenly changed radically and violently. I can’t really add any more to the horror those women suffered being told in such a cruel way that isn’t in the book. I will never forget that tense moment when the yellow cab stopped at my door. I saw the driver get out, come up the walk. I was alone so hid behind the drapes and prayed he would go away but he kept coming. When he rang the bell I decided not to answer, that way everything would be alright. I finally said to myself come on Julie , you have to face up to what’s to come so answer the door. He only wanted help in locating a house number. I literally sagged against the door jamb, white as a sheet I was so relieved. Told him to never do that to anyone again. He was so apologetic. Said all the cab drivers had really hated that duty
Hal was so busy that I never received very many letters from him. I got all my news from the Lieutenants wives!! It was so lonely at night after the children were in bed not to have him to talk to, to get advice on problems, handling all the finances, making ALL decisions. It was so different though than the Korean War as I did have so many friends around in the same boat. It was the same for the children. Instead of being the odd person with no father they thought it strange that some kid had a father around. Wanted to know why his Dad wasn’t in Vietnam! There was always someone to have a cup of coffee with or we would get together with all the kids for a pot luck supper. During the Korean War, my two best friends in Auburn were Evie Coursen whose husband had been killed winning the Medal of Honor and Jean —- whose husband was a prisoner of war. Not a happy group.
Everything seemed to go along ok until about 9 months then I noticed that the wives were starting to have trouble. I had to get Hal’s Battalion executive officer’s wife into psychiatric counseling, (her first husband had been killed in Korea), gals were coming down sick, even I ended up with a hysterectomy in April ’66. We were about at the end of our ropes and I think alot of it was the constant TV and newspaper coverage. We grew up in a hurry listening to the troops talk and seeing the actual action and hearing the gunfire. The news got home so fast we wondered if it beat the telegrams and would we get one the next day.
One of the worst times was when I thought Hal was on his way home. I was waiting for the call from San Francisco, the children had made a big Welcome Home sign for Dad and I was watching the noon news on TV when I suddenly heard “Colonel Hal Moore said”. I knew he was in another fight and only God knew when he would get back. I certainly did not want him killed when he was so close to coming home. I learned later that his replacement was on hand but when his brigade was ordered out to rescue a cut-off American Battalion, he refused to turn his men over to a new commander going into a fight. Even though I learned at my father’s knee that to a truly dedicated Army officer such as he and my husband were,” the troops ALWAYS come first”, you get this terrible feeling that you will NEVER come first, it will ALWAYS be the troops and anger takes over. I was really hurt and furious with Hal. I felt that we had all given enough!!
All was forgiven when I finally saw him get off that airplane, in Atlanta, Ga. terribly skinny but alive.
I have rambled on and don’t know if any of the above will help you Randy. I wish I could have made it a little more glamorous, a little more pizazz, but it was a case of day to day survival, beating back the monotony, trying to not let the children see how terrified you were over their father’s safety, going to Mass every morning to get any extra help you could for him. The joy over his safe return was tempered by the knowledge of those who didn’t come back. One of the hardest things to do was to go with Hal, a few days after he returned, to visit those widows and fatherless children who were still in the Columbus area. Like he has said he felt guilty that he had survived – I felt guilty that I had my husband back.
Please give my love to Chris. I really hope we can see you both soon. These Colorado mountains are gorgeous.