Names on the Wall: The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley

(November 11, 2015 is Veterans Day)

There is no more haunting, moving, or poignant war memorial than the memorial in Washington, DC commemorating the Vietnam War.  It is certainly not the only haunting, moving, poignant place dealing with war.  But, it is unique.

EFA - Vietnam Veterans Memorial

It is unlike any other war memorial, because of the names on the wall.

More than 58,000 of them.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial does not convey the same sacred sense as the American Military Cemeteries, located both here and abroad.  Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg;  Normandy, Lorraine;  others.  American Military Cemeteries are different, because they are mostly cemeteries located at battlefields.  There are names there, too.

And, the Arlington National Cemetery conveys a separate feeling, because of its size, because of its generational span, because of the Tombs of the Unknowns.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial conveys somewhat of a similar feeling to the 9/11 memorial in New York City, the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, PA, the Pentagon.  Mostly, because the relative recency of those events makes us more conscious of those places and facts.

And, because of the names.

The Battle of the Ia Drang was the first major engagement of US troops in the Vietnam War.  It was the first use of air cavalry, with some of Custer’s 7th Cavalry units reassigned to the 1st Cavalry Division.

The  names of those killed during the Battle of the Ia Drang are found on Panel 3E of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial;  because of the detail with which Gen. Moore and Joe Galloway wrote We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, you recall those names, and their stories.

Men like SP4 Willie Godboldt and Lt. Jack Geoghegan, who died together, one trying to save the other, and are listed, side-by-side, on the wall.

The names are important, and their stories are important;  all of them.

EFA - Rick Rescorla

Because of the detail, you also recall the stories of many of the men who survived the battle.  Men like Congressional Medal of Honor recipients Capt. Ed Freeman and Major Bruce Crandall.  Men like 2Lt Rick Rescorla, who’s photograph (above) was taken during the battle, and who died more than three decades later in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11.

The Vietnam War would continue for almost ten years after the Ia Drang.  There would be Tet, Khe Sanh, many other engagements.  At the time of this battle, I was a 15 year-old high school kid.  By the time I graduated from college in 1972, the draft lottery was only being called up to number 95;  I was number 98.  My backup plan was OCS;  I didn’t have to go, so I didn’t.  I regret that decision.  Someone who fought in the Ia Drang later told me that by 1973, my involvement would have been pointless;  nevertheless, I regret that decision.

 

The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley was a series of engagements during the Vietnam War that occurred November 14-18, 1965, 50 years ago this week;  the battle was chronicled in the book We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, by Lt. Gen. Hal G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway.  It is the finest account of battle I have ever read.

Veterans, thank you for all you have done.