Sunday, February 12, 2017

In Memory of True Leader and Warrior Hal Moore

In May 1993 I was a third year cadet at the US Air Force Academy, studying history and political science. I learned that the author of a new book, We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, published the previous year, would be speaking at the Academy in one of the periodic guest lectures that most cadets skipped due to exhaustion, workload, and apathy.

The head of the history department invited me and a few other history majors to have dinner with the author, Lt Gen Hal Moore, prior to the lecture. I believe I was strongly encouraged to purchase a copy of the book, which I did at the on-campus bookstore. I did not have a chance to read the book prior to the dinner. I was balancing the academic duties of two major degrees and two minor degrees (French and German) with the leadership duties of running one of my squadron's "elements."

I don't remember much about the dinner, except that I had never spent any time with a flag officer before, and certainly not a three-star. I brought my copy of his book to dinner, and Lt Gen Moore was kind enough to sign it. I remember his lecture was excellent, with an emphasis on the legacy of the men he lead into battle in Vietnam.

Nine years later I saw the movie We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson. If you have never seen it, I highly encourage it. The movie is not 100% historically accurate, but Moore and his book co-author Joe Galloway endorse it. Two of the most emotionally charged aspects of the movie do not seem to be grounded in reality. First, the battle did not end with a bayonet charge. Second, I could find no evidence that Lt Gen Moore made a practice of being the first to step onto any battlefield, and the last to leave.

Nevertheless, many consider the movie to be a master course in leadership and warrior virtues, for both sides of the Vietnam War. The movie also captures the wrenching experience of the family members and loved ones left behind, some of whom never see their soldiers again.

Only after seeing the movie did I realize the sort of leader and warrior I had so casually dined with many years earlier. I was pleased to find my copy of his book still in my library. I was even happier to discover that Lt Gen Moore wrote a sequel titled We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam, published in 2008.

The reason I'm writing this post is that one of my USAFA classmates noted that Lt Gen Moore passed away yesterday at the age of 94. I realized that just as I did not know him in the era before the Internet, Wikipedia, and YouTube, many younger readers of today may not know of his book or the movie depicting his most famous battle.

For those of us aspiring to apply leader and warrior values for the improvement of self, community, and nation, I recommend reading Hal Moore's work, or at least seeing his movie. I just bought the Kindle versions of both books as a commitment to re-acquainting myself with the stories and wisdom waiting for all of us.

Requiescat in pace Lt Gen Hal Moore, and my condolences to your family and loved ones. Thank you for spending time with a group of hungry, sleepy, ignorant cadets who took years to learn of your devotion to your men, family, country, and faith. You and your men are not forgotten.

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