Tribute to Lt. Gen. Hal Moore

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Working in the State Capitol each day provides an opportunity to meet many interesting people from across the state.

A recent visitor to the capitol was Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, the distinguished decorated war hero of the Vietnam War.

Gen. Moore was at the capitol to receive a Spirit of Alabama Award from Gov. Bob Riley.

To read Gen. Moore’s and Joe Calloway’s book, &uot;We Were Soldiers Once … And Young,&uot; and see the movie &uot;We Were Soldiers&uot; is moving enough, but the sheer humility I observed firsthand watching him receive an award meant so much more to me. It told me far more about the man than the movie did.

Gov. Bob Riley presented the native Alabamian with the Spirit of Alabama Award, a simple and modest award for such an obvious hero. After all, he was the recipient of a Purple Heart and seven awards for battlefield valor including the Distinguished Service Cross.

So it was not the importance of the award, but the honor and the dignity with which he received it that impressed me most. With tears in his eyes, he accepted the award on behalf of the men who served with and fought along beside him in the Ia Drang Battle (LZ X-ray). It was a three-day battle in the Vietnam War in a place so horrid it was referred to simply as &uot;the Valley of Death.&uot;

In November 1965, 450 soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 7th Calvary of the United States Army were dropped off in a small area about the size of a football field. It was surrounded by 2,000 Vietnamese.

Needless to say, Gen. Moore and his men fought and conquered the enemy in the midst of enormous, insurmountable odds.

Another award recipient at the governor’s ceremony posthumously was Michael Spann. He was a former Marine and CIA officer who was an Alabama native and the first American killed in combat in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom. His father, Johnny Spann, received the award in his son’s honor. The governor placed the award medals around the necks of all the other recipients, but Mr. Spann would not allow him to place it around his because he said he had not earned it &045; his son had.

What the TV cameras, newspaper reporters and audience didn’t see that day because they were positioned behind the general, I was fortunate enough to see from across the room.

As Mr. Spann told the story of the loss of his son and his son’s service to our great country, Lt. Gen. Hal Moore wiped the tears from his eyes, as if it were his own son who had died. His heart was not hardened, as one might imagine to the years of loss and the hundreds of men he had seen die. He was obviously moved by this one man’s loss of a son.

With 32 years active service in the military, this three star general, with all the tragedies he had witnessed, all the losses he had experienced &045; still had enough compassion left for the loss of one man’s son &045; a fellow American, a soldier &uot;once and young.&uot;

That’s not just the common compassion of a fellow soldier but the commitment and camaraderie known only to the United States military and those who serve.

Few people have fulfilled the level of service to our country that Alabama native Lt. Gen. Hal Moore has, though in his great humility, he would be quick to say that many have.

At the reception following the award ceremony I had the pleasure of meeting Gen. Moore’s wife.

She told me that Gen. Moore had always said he would accept any award, any time, any where, as long as he would be allowed to accept it, not for himself, but for the men who had fought along beside him.

That doesn’t surprise me one bit since he is the same man who almost four decades ago told his soldiers, &uot;When we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I’ll be the last to step off, and I will leave no one behind … dead or alive. We will all come home together.&uot;

They did.

Gen. Moore has brought great pride to our state and our nation.

May the spirit of Alabama and the spirit of patriotism which he epitomized, embodies and continues to exemplify through his great humility never be lost or left behind either, just as the men who served along beside him weren’t.

Beth Chapman serves as Alabama’s state auditor. She has a home in north Shelby County with her husband, James, and her sons, Taylor and Thatcher. She can be reached at