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Cannonball Read 2 #46: We Were Soldiers Once...And Young by Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway

The full title of this book is We Were Soldiers Once...And Young: Ia Drang - The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. It's a true story, written by two men who were there--Col. Moore, who was the commanding officer of the first part of the battle of Ia Drang, and Joseph Galloway, who was there as what we'd now refer to as an "embedded" reporter.

The battle of Ia Drang, which happened in November of 1965, was one of the first real battles of Vietnam. It was the first time the Americans had met the North Vietnamese on a real battlefield, and was also the first time that helicopters were used in battle. Col. Moore was in charge of the newly formed 7th Cavalry division (a division that hadn't existed in the US Army since Custer's 7th cavalry were slaughtered at Little Big Horn) which was the first "air mobile" unit in the army. The idea was to use the helicopters to move men quickly on and off the battlefield. In this particular engagement, orders were to land the men, find the enemy, and attack. Unfortunately, information was spotty and Col. Moore and his 450 men (many of whom were relatively new to both the division and leadership) were dropped into a position that was surrounded by approximately 2000 PAVN troops. The battle that broke out at Landing Zone X-Ray would last for several days and cost many lives on both sides. A few days later, a second army attempt in the same area would result in an ambush that caused even more casualties.

Col. Moore tells most of the story from his point of view on the battlefield, and includes the accounts of several men who were also there. It is a relatively straightforward book, though it can become somewhat dry and confusing during his long descriptions of troop movements and command structure. His memories of the battle itself, and his descriptions of the heroism of his men, however, were riveting.

After reading books on the Pacific theater of WW2, Vietnam, and Gulf War 2 in a row, it's amazing to see how the same mistakes are still being made sixty years later. Young Americans are still being dropped into situations they are fundamentally unprepared for, in countries where they are completely ignorant of the culture, language, and character of the native people, with inadequate supplies, poor information, and leaders who are often incapable of taking charge. Of course, I'm sure if you looked back through history this would be true all the way back to the first two groups of cave dwellers attacking each other. It's just amazing how--while technology has changed in ways unimaginable in 1944--the day-to-day operations of being at war and the character and reactions of the humans involved don't seem to change much.

I'd recommend the book, with the warning that it is not a page-turner, and will require a certain amount of effort to wade through.


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