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Hollywood Heroes – Mel Gibson as LTG Hal Moore in “We Were Soldiers”
The Ia Drang Battle took place from November 14-18,1965 in the central highlands of South Vietnam. It was the first major battle between the U.S. Army and the NVA in that war. The battle was also significant because it established the helicopter airmobile doctrine that the Army would use throughout the Vietnam War.
In 1992, Lt. General Hal Moore, commanding officer of 1/7 CAV, and Joe Galloway, a war journalist, wrote a book titled “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young.” The book focused on 1st and 2nd BN, 7th Cav during the battle. In 2002, the book was made into a movie starring Mel Gibson as Lt. Colonel Hal Moore.
As is usually the case, Hollywood didn’t get the awards quite right. In a scene where Gibson is addressing his officers after taking command of his new unit, we get a look at his awards:
He is wearing two personal decorations; the Bronze Star with “V” device and 1 bronze oak leaf cluster. He also has several campaign awards placing him in both World War II and the Korean War. He has the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, the Army Presidential Unit Citation, and the Korean Presidential Unit Citation.
Here is a photo of Lt. General Moore after his retirement. In comparing the two photos, it appears that most of the awards for Mel Gibson’s character seem to jive with General Moore’s pre-Vietnam service.
Obviously, General Moore earned quite a few awards during the Vietnam War, including the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Army Distinguished Service Medal. There is one award that you may notice present on Mel Gibson’s character, but not in Hal Moore’s actual awards. Just after the Army Commendation Medal and just before the American Campaign Medal, Hollywood added the American Defense Service Medal. This award shouldn’t be present. Hal Moore was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in 1945. As per Army Regulation 600-8-22, “Military Awards”:
The American Defense Service Medal (ADSM) was established by Executive Order 8808, announced in War Department Bulletin 17, 1941. It is awarded for service between 8 September 1939 and 7 December 1941 under orders to active duty for a period of 12 months or longer.
In General Moore’s actual picture, you’ll see that he’s not wearing the award, while in Hollywood’s depiction of Lt. Col. Moore, he obviously is.
Here’s how the awards should look on Lt. Col. Moore’s character, from the MyServicePride.com rackbuilder:
This mistake is relatively minor compared to some of the other mistakes we’ve seen so far. Moreover, the value of the book, movie and Hal Moore’s story make me not even care that much. That fact that this story was told to such a wide audience is, in my mind, much more important. During this one battle, 3 men earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, 2 earned the Distinguished Service Cross and Joe Galloway received the only Bronze Star for Valor given to a civilian in Vietnam. Additionally, in Hal Moore writes in his book,
“We had problems on the awards… Too many men had died bravely and heroically, while the men who had witnessed their deeds had also been killed… Acts of valor that, on other fields, on other days, would have been rewarded with the Medal of Honor or Distinguished Service Cross or a Silver Star were recognized only with a telegram saying, ‘The Secretary of the Army regrets…’ The same was true of our sister battalion, the 2nd of the 7th.”
I personally prefer the book over the movie. If you have never read the book OR seen the movie, I strongly encourage it. It’s an amazing story and an important part of American Military history.