Hal Moore: Hate the War; Love the Warrior
I. Of Soliders and Soldiering
The foundation of Hal Moore’s leadership was his love of soldiers and soldiering. It was a love that transcended time, war, and politics. It is a love unique to soldiers and a love only soldiers know. In speeches he gave across the nation, Hal wrote:
“Soldiers in battle fight, kill, and die primarily for each other. For years we’ve taken citizens of all shapes, colors, backgrounds- some privileged, some as unprivileged as you can get- and somehow shaped them into soldiers.
As they go on to their units, they inevitably become very close to the other soldiers in them – much closer than they would ever have imagined before joining the military – because they learn the importance of dependence, that on a certain critical day, each will surely need the others and there will be no one else there for you. If you share the danger, then you will also share the love. And that produces remarkable heroism — the willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
When the fight is over, the cause won or lost, and the battlefield recedes into history, what remains is the bond between those who have fought – a bond soldiers respect and recognize in each other.
Summer, 2016: General Moore at home, surrounded by his troopers, veterans of the Ia Drang Valley
Years after his memorable combat in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam – a fight chronicled in Moore’s book, “We Were Soldiers Once,,, And Young” and in the 2002 movie, “We Were Soldiers” – Hal Moore returned to the Ia Drang battlefield to meet the Vietnamese who fought him there. Hal wrote in his diary:
My unending thirst for peace and unity drove me back to the ‘Valley of Death’ in 1993. Returning in a helicopter, I and four or five of my troopers approached the very same area we left in 1965; there was no visual evidence from the air of there ever having been a battle there. The foxholes had eroded and beautiful wildflowers were everywhere.
Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An and I came face to face. Instead of charging one another with bayonets, we mutually offered open arms. Although we did not understand each other’s language, we quickly learned that the soul requires no interpreter.
Ever so gently, General An placed his arm in mine. Unity was sealed through the reverent affection of one arm in the other.
Together, we listened to and learned from the land, as it too not only forgot, but was also forgiving
II. Soldiering: The Russian Paratroopers
In 1989, Hal Moore got the call that led to his first opportunity to reach across broad political divides to connect on a soldier-to-soldier level. COL Bob Rheault (USA-Ret) put together the opportunity for American Vietnam and Soviet Afghan war veterans to meet and bond during a tough trek hiking through the 12,600 ft Nahota pass in the Tien Shan Mountain range in Uzbekistan. At that time, both sets of war veterans had been rejected by their public – their sacrifices ignored. The shared experience of combat in different wars, combined with the physical exertion of a grueling mountain trek, allowed the veterans to bridge the language barrier and bond as soldiers quickly. No politics; no causes.
In Vietnam, the Americans had lost friends to Russian-supplied arms; in Afghanistan, the Russians had lost comrades to American Stinger missiles. Hal noted that their bond as soldiers – exchanging stories of hardship, courage, and loss – were the stories that all soldiers share and transcended the wars that had brought them into conflict.
By the time the group summited the last mountain pass, the bond was solid. Hal wrote::
“My sweetest memory, so good to dwell on, is of the emotional celebration at the top of the pass, the feeling of brotherhood. The cook pots were soon boiling, and we toasted our team
accomplishment with hot green tea, the delicious “Chay,” which refreshed and renewed us throughout the entire trek. There was a reading in English and Russian of the written fact of our accomplishment, which was then placed in a waterproof container under a rock cairn. It said:
In the spirit of Soviet American friendship and international understanding, the veterans of Afghanistan and Vietnam record their conquest of this mountain that the desire for conquest in war may perish from this land that we have learned to love and from all lands forever. September 11, 1989.”
At the end of the trek, Hal summarized: “Vietnam Vets and Soviet Vets had joined together in a successful, innovative, physically demanding team undertaking for the common greater cause of better understanding and peace between America and the Soviet Union.”
III. Soldiering: Battlefield Adversaries
A desire to understand and pay respect to enemy soldiers drove Hal and his troopers to meet with their Vietnamese Army counterparts. They returned to the Ia Drang Valley in 1993 to exchange
stories of the agony of combat and the the brutal battle they fought together at Landing Zone Xray. Trips to meet with the opposite side often had occurred after World War II. Both sides were anxious to understand the ebb and flow of the conflict and grow closer as allies from the shared understanding gained. This unique understanding – accomplished only soldier-to-solder – formed the basis of the reconciliation sought and found by both sides. Hal, Joe Galloway, and nine troopers met with the soldiers at the tip of the North Vietnamese spear and who fought them in the Ia Drang. Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An, the direct opposing commander in the battle, met with Hal and his men. Alonside General An were five of his officers who had led charge after charged into the American lines during the three days of vicious combat.
The Americans and Vietnamese met and shared experiences. A deep bond emerged as both sides realized the horror each experienced was a shared emotion. At the final dinner, Colonel Hao, who had been the Operations Officer under General An during the battle, read a poem he had just written to express the North Vietnamese gratitude for the opportunity to achieve closure:
After thirty years, we relive that battle
Between two sides of the frontlines
Time now we stand at each other’s side remembering.
Generals and soldiers of years past
Bring back the months and years of history
Untroubled by ancient rifts
We look together towards the future
Hoping that generations to come will remember this deed.
Our peoples know love and bravery
We leave old hates for new friendships
Together we will live in peace
So that this land will remain evergreen
Forever in peace and harmony.
Friendships were sealed. Perhaps the deepest was the bond generated between Moore and An. On a whim at LZ Xray, Hal embraced An and gave An his watch. An reciprocated by giving Hal his helmet.
They remained in touch, and when Hal visited Vietnam in 1997, he met with the widow of General An to pay his respects at the family shrine created in An’s honor. He noted the watch he had given General An was in a place of honor.
The soldier’s bond forged in combat – arching over time and contentious causes — cannot be broken. Hal’s troopers continued to show their love for Hal Moore and their loyalty to each other right up until he passed away in February 2017. Hal Moore’s emphasis on “hate the war, love the warrior” is one of his most enduring legacies..