No Man Left Behind
By Tim Lennox
A short drive from Montgomery, near the university town of Auburn, lives a retiree whose walls echo a military career filled with extraordinary leadership and bravery.
The centerpiece of that long career came in November, 1965, when then-U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Hal Moore commanded a battalion of soldiers in the first large scale battle between U.S. and North Vietnamese regular forces.
It happened in the Ia Drang Valley, in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. The story was told in the Mel Gibson movie We Were Soldiers, based on the book Moore and journalist Joe Galloway wrote about the three-day struggle, We Were Soldiers Once, and Young.
At 88, retired Lt. General Moore is the only living member on a highly-respected list of the “Top 100 Generals of All Time.” Call him a hero and he’ll brush aside the compliment.
“I just did the best I could in two wars, in Korea and in Vietnam. I tried to save as many soldiers’ lives as possible,” he says softly.
Moore promised his troops he would never leave a man behind, dead or alive. He promised he would be the first person off the first helicopter and the last person to board the final flight. When fighting ended in the Ia Drang Valley, and he stepped aboard the last chopper carrying his soldiers from the battlefield, Moore told the pilot (later awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the battle) to circle the area so he could memorize the scene.
Below him lay many hundreds of enemy bodies. Moore’s own battalion suffered 79 killed and 121 wounded. True to his word, not one of his soldiers was left behind.
General Moore’s life is not without its ironies.
While working toward a West Point appointment in 1945 he was also contemplating a very different future. His father had taken him to a Trappist monastery near his home in Kentucky, a visit which left Moore with thoughts of becoming a monk.
West Point won out over the monastery, but his sense of spirituality remained a lifelong companion, influencing his late-life perspective on current events.
Nations must find a way to solve their differences, he says, without sending their sons and daughters off to kill each other. Although his son served as a U.S. Army Colonel in Afghanistan, Moore sees no reason for that war, “unless it is oil.”
Moore’s approach to his last years is, in many ways, an extension of the battleground philosophy he used in Korea and Vietnam and, later, in business:
— There is no “three strikes and you’re out.” There is always something else you can do to impact a situation.
— No matter what the situation is, pause a moment and ask, “What am I doing that I should not be doing, and what am I not doing that I should be doing?”
Tim Lennox is a morning anchor at WAKA-TV, CBS-8 in Montgomery, and creator and host of On The Record, a weekly public affairs series. He interviewed Lt. General Moore for a two-part report that aired on WAKA.