From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR
Most of us know Hal Moore from Mel Gibson’s portrayal of him in the 2002 movie “We Were Soldiers.” One year from November will mark the 50th anniversary of the bloody Ia Drang Battle, portrayed in the movie; the Vietnam War had just begun.
But it wasn’t the beginning of the story of Moore, the Spirit of Independence honoree at the 2006 Independence Bowl, recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross and one of the greatest battlefield commanders of the 20th century.
In 2009, Army captain Mike Guardia began looking for a biography about Moore, now a retired United States Army lieutenant general whose memoir, “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young,” inspired the movie. There wasn’t a biography. Thanks to both Moore and Guardia, there is now.
Tank officer Guardia, currently stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, the father of two little girls and personal aide to the brigade commander, spent a week with Moore in 2011 at the 92-year-old’s home in Auburn, Alabama. The result of that visit and Guardia’s exhaustive research has resulted in the first biography of one of America’s most faithful and accomplished soldiers.
Available at most bookstores and online, Guardia’s “Hal Moore: A Soldier Once…and Always” has been nominated as a finalist in the Military Writers Society of America’s 2014 book awards. Filled with photographs from Moore’s personal collection, easily readable and informative, the 229-page book also captures the real-life drama of a man who fought in Vietnam and in the battles of Old Baldy, T-Bone and Pork Chop Hill in Korea, who served in Occupied Japan immediately after World War II, and who oversaw the Army’s transition from a conscript-based to an all-volunteer force as commander of the Army Training Center in Fort Ord, California, beginning in 1971.
“If you enjoyed ‘We Were Soldiers,’ that’s just one snapshot of his remarkable life,” Guardia said this week from Fort Bliss. “Here’s a man whose life touched so many historical events, who had such a great impact through all the theaters he served in. It’s amazing to see what an impact he had on the U.S. Army as a whole.”
When approached about the biography possibility in 2009, Moore was gracious in turning down Guardia. Moore’s wife had recently died; he was prepared to live out the rest of his life quietly in Alabama.
But two years later, Guardia sent Moore one more letter, along with a copy of his first book, “American Guerilla,” about the life of Special Forces founder Russell Volckmann. Moore called a couple of weeks later. “When can you come over?” Moore asked.
At his Auburn home, Moore and Guardia went through papers and photos and memories. “He was pretty open about the whole thing, once he saw I was serious and once he decided to do this,” Guardia said. “He didn’t put any restrictions on me. We’d see a photo or I’d say a word and it would remind him of something, and he’d take an hour to tell the story.”
Of course Ia Drang is covered, along with battle maps and on-site photographs. The first full-fledged battle between U.S. and North Vietnamese regulars, Ia Drang was the site of America’s first use of “air mobile infantry,” as well as the site of the deaths of 79 American soldiers and more than 1,200 Communists.
But the book is also a complete story of Moore’s battles before and after that November in Vietnam, about his beginnings in the foothills of Kentucky, about his role in helping to revive the country’s post-Vietnam army. His is a life every American would do well to know more about, to learn from, and in many ways, to mirror.
“He told me, ‘Mike, if you tell them nothing else, I’d like it to be my philosophy of never giving up,’” Guardia said. “His one core principal is that no matter how bad things get, there is always one more thing that you can do to improve your odds of success. In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out. But three strikes doesn’t mean you’re out in the real game of life.”