From "Face-to-Face" Combat To "Arm-in-Arm" Friendship A Speech delivered by Lt. General Hal G. Moore
Lt. General Hal Moore shares about how his war experiences taught him to appreciate humanity and peace...
Lt. General Hal G. Moore, USA (Ret.)
From "Face-to-Face" Combat To "Arm-in-Arm" Friendship
A Memorial Day Speech to America
May 23, 2008
We are each called to bear witness to the ideals of liberty.
When the blood of any war soaks your clothes, covers your hands, and soldiers die in your arms, every breath forevermore becomes an appeal for a greater peace and unity.
It was Vietnam. I was their commander and accountable for them. We charged the enemy with bayonets fixed to our rifles in face-to-face combat. I still hear the ugly noise of war... I still see the boots of my dead sticking out from under their ponchos, laces tied one last time by their precious fingers... I still carry the wounded to the helicopters as they bleed, scream and beg to live one more day... and I still hold those who died in my arms, with their questioning eyes dreading death, as they call for their mothers... their eyes go blank and my war-crusted fingers close their eyelids.
The blood of my dead soldiers will not wash from my hands. The stains remain.
It was non-stop war! We could not allow the enemy to out-maneuver or out-man us, even with our 450 men to their 2,000! We could not allow the enemy - we would not allow the enemy - to gain the momentum on us.
During the battle, we took prisoners-of-war. We gave them water and aspirins to help relieve their pain. Their anxious faces soon gave way to expressions of relief that they were treated with dignity.
Finally, we dropped to our knees on November 16, 1965. It was over. I looked around at the devastation, the dead, and I knew then that war was a terrible thing - that families back home would never be the same. I would never be the same. America would never be the same. I prayed then that we would learn from this - that there had to be a better way to live in this world with others.
As we walked through the battlefield one last time, I was told that one of my men was unaccounted for. We walked - we crawled - through the grass looking for one great soldier. Turning over bodies, we persisted. Thank God, we found him because had we not, I would still be there crawling.
Every life is so valuable to humanity!
We had won the LZ-Xray battle in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam. But at what sacrifice? Seventy-nine of my dear troopers died for those of us who lived. Ten years later, seventy-nine grew to 58,000. That is what unending wars can do to a nation.
It was time to leave this terrible and ugly scene. All were accounted for. In stepping up into the helicopter, I was the last man to leave the battlefield.
After lifting off and peering through the fire and smoke, with profound shock, I witnessed over 600 hundred enemy bodies strewn over the valley - in the name of victory. This sight I will never forget - I knew I would come back another day - for peace rather than war.
My unending thirst for peace and unity drove me to return to the "Valley of Death" in 1993. Returning in helicopters, as we approached the very same area we left in 1965, there was no visual evidence from the air of there ever having been a battle years earlier.
I wondered if the land never forgets war like humanity never forgets?
Some of my men had accompanied me to meet with the man, along with a few of his soldiers, who had once endeavored to kill us all. Lt. General Nguyen Huu An and I came face to face. Instead of charging one another with bayonets, we mutually offered open arms.
I invited all to form a circle with arms extended around each other's shoulders and we bowed our heads. With prayer and tears, we openly shared our painful memories.
Although we did not understand each other's language, we quickly learned that the soul requires no interpreter.
General An and I then walked toward each other, shook hands, and he kissed me on both cheeks! A communion of friendship was established that far outweighed past bloody memories.
Later, General An and I walked part of the battlefield. We surveyed the once blood-soaked terrain. Foxholes dug long ago were adorned with blooming wildflowers. No thunder of war filled the air. Instead, birds sang with a most beautiful "noise."
Ever so gently, General An placed his arm in mine.
Unity was sealed through the reverent affection of one arm in the other.
Together, we listened to and learned from the land, as it too not only forgot but was also forgiving. A great lesson was learned that day by two cultures with a great history and two old warriors.
We had traveled a very long journey from war to peace.
Col. Tran Minh Hao, one of An's soldiers, accompanied us during the battlefield visit. As we dined that night in Pleiku, he beautifully expressed the unity we all felt in the circle earlier that day.
"We have come to you this afternoon... feeling the loss of each of you... we come to span a bridge... untroubled by ancient rifts... we look together towards the future... we leave old hates for new friendships... forever in peace and harmony."
Spontaneous gestures of respect and friendship followed Hao's poem. I took off my wristwatch and offered it as a gift to General An. Gladly, he accepted the gift. Then, he picked up his much-prized three-star helmet and offered it to me. Stunned, I accepted his most personal gift. Our eyes locked, as the door to our hearts had been fully opened to each other.
Lt. General An died on April 9, 1995. I later visited his family in Hanoi to pay my respects. The wristwatch I had given him was displayed in a viewing case as a part of the family shrine in General An's home.
And resting in my den, our dueling helmets duel no more!
I sit for hours now, reading, thinking, and writing about what is represented by our helmets. To the casual observer, they might just be old war souvenirs. But, to me, they represent a period in our nation's history where we sought solutions to global problems, where no problems were ever solved.
They also represent how far and long mankind can go, if we work long and hard enough to bridge any divide.
Personally, our helmets represent the honest truth of what can be achieved by humanity with the smallest of gestures - looking into one another's eyes and forgiving, a warm handshake, forming a circle of trust, walking arm-in-arm, the giving of private gifts - and yes, even a gentlemanly kiss between two three-star generals.
From face-to-face combat to arm-in-arm friendship - unity was restored by our efforts to come together.
I implore our great leaders on "the many days after" Memorial Day to advance this most worthy of causes for peace and unity. People and nations rise above their differences only through effort, through trust.
Without trust, unity is beyond reach and restoration.
With trust, unity is within reach and preservation.
We must reach out to others in order to preserve the liberty we hold dear. We are each called to bear witness to the ideals of liberty. When we treat others with the respect and friendship that true liberty engenders, they will be brought into that same liberty.
When the heartbeat of one dead soldier stops forever, the heartbeat of our nation should accelerate, driving us to ensure that this life was not sacrificed in vain. Racing pulses should rouse us to seek, at all costs, even better ways to understand, forgive, and deal with our differences.
There are no foxholes in America left over from old wars that we can see. Certainly, during the Civil War, both sides dug in for survival. Certainly, the largest foxhole in America's history may be the tragedy of 9/11. But why is it that I feel that there are many more from sea to shining sea? Perhaps it is because of the too many confrontations that we experience at home, only to leave the "scene of the division" without reconciling. I believe thousands of foxholes are out there - and we all need to starting planting wildflowers where needed, where unity will blossom forth and find its way.
If we are not united at home, we can never be united away. The way of our nation is through unity. Always was and always will be.
We owe our dead and their survivors no less!
We owe our children much more!
We owe our children's children even more!
Let us pay our debts !!!!!
God bless America.