On November 14, 1965, soldiers of the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry under then-Lt. Col. Hal Moore dropped into a small clearing in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam dubbed LZ X-Ray. There, their undermanned battalion of 450 men met a North Vietnamese force over three times its size in one of the first major battles between the U.S. Army and the People’s Army of Vietnam.
The story of the men who fought at Ia Drang was immortalized by Lt. General Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway in their book, We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, and later in the film starring Mel Gibson. Nearly 42 years later, at the American Veterans Center’s 10th Annual Conference, General Moore, Galloway, and several of their comrades gathered to recall their experiences, and the lessons learned from one of the defining moments of the Vietnam War.

Joseph Galloway: It is an honor and a pleasure for us to be here today, and it’s kind of a rare occasion for all of us to sit at the same table and have a chance to talk to a good audience about the experience and what it has meant to us all over the years. Coming up will be the 42nd anniversary of that Sunday: 14 November, 1965, when Lt. Col. Hal Moore took his battalion into a place called Landing Zone X-Ray in the Central Highlands in a place called the Ia Drang Valley.

My own memories began just after dark when I bummed a ride off of the man near the end down there with the gray hair, wearing the black hat—”Ancient Serpent Six,” Bruce Crandall, gave me a ride in. I was very eager to get that ride. He also gave me a ride out on the 16th of November, and I was pretty eager to get that ride, too! Through the years, I have cursed him for the ride in, and thanked him for the ride out. But, in truth, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the world. It truly did change my life, and I think it changed all of our lives who were there and survived, and it certainly changed the lives of our brothers who fell there and their families.

My most enduring moment, though, has to be on the morning of the 15th, about ten minutes before 7:00 AM, when literally all hell broke loose and a couple of battalions attacked Bob Edwards’s Charlie Company at the perimeter, and I learned rapidly what it meant to be in the beaten zone. Everything they fired at Charlie Company that didn’t hit something passed right through our command post, which was a rather barren termite hill, and I was laying flat on my belly, feathering out at the edges, cursing my buttons and zippers while there were a lot of pops and zips buzzing over my head. Then I felt a thump in my ribs, and carefully turned my head sideways to see what it was that had hit me. And it was a size 12 combat boot on the foot of Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley, a bear of a man out of West Virginia, and he leaned at the waist and shouted over the din of battle, and what he said was this: “Can’t take no pictures laying there on the ground, sonny!” And I thought, “Well, he’s right!” I later would learn that sergeants major are always right. And it passed my mind, at that point, that I was with the 7th Cavalry, a unit I had heard of before, in a river valley, surrounded by an overwhelmingly superior force of the enemy. And it hadn’t worked very well about 100 years before in a place called Little Big Horn. So it seemed to me that we might all die here today, and if we did, there could be nothing finer than to get mine standing up alongside a man like Sgt. Maj. Plumley, so like a fool, I got up. And everything was okay after that. All the fear went away, and I did my job, and other jobs as were needed. So that’s my memory.

Now, I’m going to introduce to you Lt. General, retired, Harold G. Moore, Jr. Hal, who was our battalion commander, is, since those days, my best friend in life and my co-author. I don’t know what my life would have been if I hadn’t met him, but surely far poorer and far different and far less. We all love him. He’s a hard taskmaster. He’s still working my ass off, as we finish another book, which will be published in August 2008. The title is WE ARE SOLDIERS STILL: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam, and I think it’s a pretty good story, but he is sure working me hard. Hal, over to you.

Lt. General Hal Moore: Thank you Joe. In short, the battle at LZ X-Ray, 14-16 November 1965, constituted the major turning point in my life. I had commanded my battalion for 14 months at Ft. Benning, Georgia. I knew all my troopers well, though we got a new batch of troopers in just before we left Ft. Benning. But I had great company commanders, two of whom are sitting at this table with me—Tony Nadal and John Herren. We got to Vietnam, and there was little or no action. We went to a base camp outside of An Khe village, and did some patrolling. You may recall that in those days, it was a draftee Army; there were very few regular Army voluntary enlistees. Most of my troopers were drafted; one of whom was the great soldier sitting to my left, Bill Beck, a 19-year-old kid out of Pennsylvania. When we went into the Ia Drang Valley, the authorized strength of my battalion was 750 officers and men, and due to soldiers returning to America for discharge, a few men wounded, and a few men down with malaria and other tropical diseases, my total strength was approximately 450 officers and men. So we entered battle gravely under strength. But you don’t think about that—you just think about accomplishing your mission.

We were sent out to the Central Highlands west of Pleiku for patrolling on the 10th of November, and we patrolled around the Plei Me Special Forces Camp for a few days, but made no contact worth mentioning; we captured a prisoner, and evacuated him. At 5:00 in the afternoon on November 13, the brigade commander, Col. Tim Brown showed up at my location, dropped in on a helicopter, and said, “Hal, you’re going to go into the Ia Drang Valley tomorrow morning. We’ve got 16 helicopters, and your mission is to search for and destroy the enemy.”