October 18, 2017

Moore Than a Soldier

Posted on February 11, 2017 by in Features

story and photos by Bob Corley

Lt. Gen. Hal Moore (ret.), the real-life protagonist portrayed by Mel Gibson in the film “We Were Soldiers”, stands in front of a wall of his home covered by movie posters in several languages. The chairs were used by Moore and his wife Julie during filming.

(Lt. General Hal Moore died February 11, 2017)

Hal Moore likes country music, books that challenge his intellect and BLTs on toast. He loves his country, his family and his God. He hates airports and that “…damned big box in the room,” the television. A retired U.S. Army Lt. General, Moore is the embodiment of the ancient concept of the warrior-philosopher.

“Life on earth,” he says, raising his arm, “is a snap of the fingers.” Down comes his hand. Snap! “You can’t get caught up in the temporal things of life.”

Col. Hal Moore, Vietnam (contributed)

Moore knows a lot about the finger snap separating life and death. He’s heard that snap more times than he cares to count (see No Man Left Behind by Tim Lennox). Pushing 90, he’s no longer young, but he’s still a soldier, in his heart, his bearing, his attitude and his philosophy.

But things have changed. He used to run five miles a day. Not anymore.

“You have to accept the aging process,” he says, gray hair shining in the late morning sun. “If you fight the fact that you’re getting older, you’ll lose that battle.”

Reading is his self-described ‘addiction,’ history in particular, but also historical fiction, “…only if it’s well-researched.” A New American Bible rests next to his favorite reading chair, a dog-eared volume with a frayed cover, bookmarks protruding from the pages like misplaced leaves. If anyone has earned the right to a soft couch and a sedentary life, it’s Hal Moore. But he still has a long way to go.

His mother lived to be 101, residing in the same Kentucky home from birth to death, raising a family, attending church and selling Avon© products. And while he’s slowed down, Moore still finds the energy for three or four speaking engagements each month, recently with the St. Louis Cardinals and a group of international businessmen.

He often speaks about leadership, offering his audience a unique perspective gained under the most brutal of conditions, the crucible of combat. Yet nothing from his combat experience, from his decades in the military, from his years at West Point, prepared him to be where he finds himself today, a place, if we’re lucky, we’ll all inhabit at some point.

Mel Gibson and Hal Moore share a laugh on the set of “We Were Soldiers” (contributed)

“It’s tough being alone. I lost my wife a few years ago,” he says, a momentary melancholy passing over his face. “But I have my books, my memories, my church, my children.”

Speaking in 2008 to an organization in Philadelphia devoted to care of the elderly, Moore was blunt and to-the-point, the common traits of an uncommon man.

“… I believe we all live with fears. As I grow older,” he told his audience, “I also have fears – not of dying, but of living life in a state of loneliness. Thank God, I have my God. But, even with God, it is the honest fear of loneliness in old age that can bring one to a premature state of unhappiness, poor health and death. No longer being an important part of another life, of being forgotten and left for dead…while still breathing – even generals like to be loved.”

During his speech Moore reminded his audience that Thomas Jefferson planned the University of Virginia between the ages of 86 and 92, cautioning that their goals need not be so lofty.

“There is nothing so precious about life,” he told them, “than sharing it with others.”

Helmets worn during the Ia Drang campaign by Moore and the enemy commander, flank a French army bugle captured from the North Vietnamese.

It is this temporal life, this snap of the fingers, that Moore still relishes even as he prepares for what comes next.

“My purpose in life is to prepare for eternity,” he says, gesturing with his Bible — his go-to weapon in the fight against age, infirmity and grief. “I’m here on this earth to qualify to get into Heaven.

Moore shares a laugh with a friend off-camera.

From anyone else, these words would be just so much verbal clutter in a cynical world inhabited by TV evangelists and radio preachers. But from Moore, these words are ammunition for the soul as he continues his qualifying round to get into Heaven.

As his ninth decade draws to a close, Moore marshals his forces in a battle against a common enemy — time. It’s a fight we all will lose, but which few have fought so well.

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