On This Day in History: November 14th, 1965 - "We Were Soldiers Once....And Young": Battle of the Ia Drang Valley Begins!
Posted: 11/14/2012 13:00 by herodotusComments: 3
In the first major engagement of the war between regular U.S. and North Vietnamese forces, elements of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) fight a pitched battle with Communist main-force units in the Ia Drang Valley of the Central Highlands.

On this morning, Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore's 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry conducted a heliborne assault into Landing Zone X-Ray near the Chu Pong hills. Around noon, the North Vietnamese 33rd Regiment attacked the U.S. troopers. The fight continued all day and into the night. American soldiers received support from nearby artillery units and tactical air strikes. The next morning, the North Vietnamese 66th Regiment joined the attack against the U.S. unit. The fighting was bitter, but the tactical air strikes and artillery support took their toll on the enemy and enabled the 1st Cavalry troopers to hold on against repeated assaults.

At around noon, two reinforcing companies arrived and Colonel Moore put them to good use to assist his beleaguered soldiers. By the third day of the battle, the Americans had gained the upper hand. The three-day battle resulted in 834 North Vietnamese soldiers confirmed killed, and another 1,000 communist casualties were assumed.

In a related action during the same battle, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was ambushed by North Vietnamese forces as it moved overland to Landing Zone Albany. Of the 500 men in the original column, 150 were killed and only 84 were able to return to immediate duty; Company C suffered 93 percent casualties, half of them deaths.

Despite these numbers, senior American officials in Saigon declared the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley a great victory. The battle was extremely important because it was the first significant contact between U.S. troops and North Vietnamese forces. The action demonstrated that the North Vietnamese were prepared to stand and fight major battles even though they might take serious casualties. Senior American military leaders concluded that U.S. forces could wreak significant damage on the communists in such battles--this tactic lead to a war of attrition as the U.S. forces tried to wear the communists down. The North Vietnamese also learned a valuable lesson during the battle: by keeping their combat troops physically close to U.S. positions, U.S. troops could not use artillery or air strikes without risking injury to American troops. This style of fighting became the North Vietnamese practice for the rest of the war.

Later, the account was written up by war journalist Joseph L. Galloway who stayed with the Moore from the second day, himself taking part in the fighting when pressed.
"We Were Soldiers Once… And Young" is the 1992 book by both Lt. Gen. Harold Moore (Ret.) and Joe Galloway about the battle, and those that followed it. It focuses on the role of the First and Second Battalions of the 7th Cavalry Regiment in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, the United States' first large-unit battle of the Vietnam War; previous engagements involved small units and patrols (squad, platoon, and company sized units).

The book was adapted into the movie "We Were Soldiers", directed by Randall Wallace and starring Mel Gibson as Moore. In the book, Moore complains that "Every damn Hollywood movie got it wrong"; Wallace has said he was inspired by this comment and became "determined to get it right this time."

The film's final version, though getting many of the facts of the book presented onto film, does not present an entirely historically accurate portrayal of the battle, nor is it entirely faithful to the book. For instance, the film depicts a heroic charge under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore at the end of the battle that destroys the Vietnamese reserve, ending the battle in an American victory (a fact that director Randall Wallace noted in the DVD commentary); in fact, there was no heroic final charge in the book, nor were the forces of the North Vietnamese destroyed, though, it should be noted, 1800 out of 4000 Vietnamese soldiers were killed to 72, out of 395, American fatal casualties. Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An, the Vietnamese commander, did not see the conclusion at LZ X-Ray as the end of combat, and the Battle of Ia Drang continued with combat action at LZ Albany where the 2/7th, with A Company 1/5th, found themselves in a fight for their lives against Lt Col Nguyen Huu An's reserve.

Finally, as the movie notes in a voice over by Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper), the battle continued for over 300 more days.

There are as well many other historical differences in the book versus the movie. Some differences not shown would have demonstrated how desperate the American situation at Ia Drang was. For example, the seriousness of the overrun of C Company under the command of Capt Robert Edwards and the repulse of the final major North Vietnamese push at LZ X-Ray on the former C Company line which was then held by B Company 2/7th under the command of Capt Myron Diduryk. Also incorrect is the act of Capt. Ramon Nadal pushing forward and rescuing the stranded platoon of Lt. Henry Herrick, which according to the book was actually done not by one company of the 1/7th, but rather was a major push made by two companies of the 2/5th as well as B Company 1/7th.

Despite the aforementioned differences from the book and departures from historical accuracy, in a documentary included in the video versions, Gen. Moore states that this film is the first one "to get it right."

The Vietnamese government did not greet the film with approval. In fact, Don Duong the Vietnamese actor, who played the Vietnamese commander Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An, was officially condemned as a traitor, subjected to interrogations to force him to sign a "confession" to "crimes" he had supposedly committed. Duong refused to give in. After months of negotiations between the Bush White House and Hanoi, Duong and his family were allowed to immigrate to the United States in 2003.

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User Comments on herodotus's blog

By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on 11/14/2012 14:45
How do you keep this stuff coming so regularly? Well done old chap, yet another great addition ^^
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on 11/14/2012 18:07
A love of history and the desire to share this passion with others, Roderick. Simple as that mate, and I'm always happy to read that someone might get something, anything out of it:)
By SiyaenSokol (SI Elite) on 11/15/2012 01:02
I am also quite amazed where you get all of this information from. It is fascinating reading about these things.