Hal Moore Returns to Xray
Finally, in October ’93 we and eight other veterans of the battle made it back to landing zone X-ray in a Russian helicopter with Forrest Sawyer and his ABC television crew. Sawyer did a one-hour documentary on the battle. General An and two of his officers who’d fought against us, went along also. Together we walked that field and discussed the tactics.
Hal Moore describes the return:
– It was hot, over a hundred degrees. Stifling, humid. Instant, soaking-wet clothes hot from the skin out. Just like during the battle.
– It was so quiet. No smoke, dust, explosions, napalm, no gunfire, no fighter-bombers or rockets; no men yelling orders in two languages. No wounded men hollering for medics.
– It was beautiful. Like a park. The shattered trees had grown new branches. Foxholes and shell holes had water in them; were overgrown with bushes.
– Enemy dead had been buried or removed, or had become part of the earth. Some unexploded shells lay around which we carefully avoided.
– Wildflowers were there in abundance, showing that fragile beauty can come even to a place of violent deaths. There was a feeling that the spirits of all the men who died there are at rest.
Late in the afternoon the Russian helicopter flown by Vietnamese army pilots in uniform returned to fly us back to Pleiku City. It would take 2 trips – 2 round trip lifts out. Joe and I, three of my men, a viet interpreter and the ABC crew elected to be the last ones out on the second lift.
But we were weathered in for the night by a monsoon rain which pounded us for 2 hours. For years I’d hoped to spend the night there on that battlefield once again and experience the sensations and catch the vibes. Now it was happening.
The rain stopped and thousands of stars in the Asian sky suddenly illuminated the Ia Drang valley with an eerie beautiful blue light.
There and then I put my head through a time tunnel back 28 years to the night of 14 November ’65. Alone I left the group and walked my defensive perimeter around landing zone X-ray – one last time checking the positions and the men in the blue darkness.
Time and memories.
Once more I visited my precious troopers in their foxholes, weapons at the ready – and so young; most of them in their natural prime. I heard once more the muted, soft murmurs and mutters of the battlefield, of men on the alert and ready; despite the brutal fighting of the afternoon and the deaths of many of our brothers.
And I could actually hear their voices, from all those 28 years gone by, telling me yet again: “We’ll hold, Colonel”. “They won’t get through us”. “You can count on me, sir”. And I grieved for I knew that night in October ’93 specifically which of those men would not survive the massive attack which hit us at first light the next morning, 15 November, 38 years before; which killed 2 of my lieutenants, 19 sergeants, and 29 troopers of the line. 20 more officers and men were wounded. But they held their ground.
Where do we get such men as these?
After checking the perimeter, I returned to the rest of the group around 2 a.m. There we quietly listened to the magical sounds of the jungle. The clicking of gecko frogs. The screams and chatter of monkeys. The distant roar of a tiger. We were mesmerized by the thousands of stars gleaming brightly, so close to us in the tropical sky and suddenly we were awe-struck by showers of meteorites – “shooting stars” – rocketing through the vast heavens for over an hour in electric flashes of thundering silence over the valley of the river Drang.
As we gazed up at the dazzling beauty and splendor of it all, the thought came to more than one of us that those brilliant streaks could well be symbols of the spirits of all on both sides who died there. Saying: “Hail and farewell, it’s over, you can let us go now. You have fulfilled your promise. You’ve told our story. We will live in history. We are joining you tonight one last time on this battleground – this time in peace.”