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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young

by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway
audiobook: 16 hours
narrated by Johnny Heller

*** About the Book ***

We Were Soldiers Once...and Young: Ia Drang - the Battle That Changed the War in VietnamI'm having a hard time summarizing this book so I'm going to fall back on the description from

In November 1965, some 450 men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore, were dropped by helicopter into a small clearing in the Ia Drang Valley. They were immediately surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. Three days later, only two and a half miles away, a sister battalion was chopped to pieces. Together, these actions at the landing zones X-Ray and Albany constituted one of the most savage and significant battles of the Vietnam War.  How these men persevered--sacrificed themselves for their comrades and never gave up--makes a vivid portrait of war at its most inspiring and devastating. General Moore and Joseph Galloway, the only journalist on the ground throughout the fighting, have interviewed hundreds of men who fought there, including the North Vietnamese commanders. This devastating account rises above the specific ordeal it chronicles to present a picture of men facing the ultimate challenge, dealing with it in ways they would have found unimaginable only a few hours earlier. It reveals to us, as rarely before, man's most heroic and horrendous endeavor.

*** Why I Listened To It ***

Recently I re-watched the movie version of this book and it inspired me to find out more, so I reserved the audiobook from my library.  Look for a comparison to the movie tomorrow. UPDATE: Here's the link to my thoughts on the movie.

This also counts toward the War Through The Generations: Vietnam challenge.

*** My Thoughts ***

Just as Tim O'Brien did in THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, the authors of this book say in their introduction that this story is less a war story and more a love story, about the love of and respect for your country ingrained in 1950s America and the love for your brothers-in-arms.  There were times in the book when I'd forget that, but there were many, many times when I clearly remembered it.

The battles described in this book were horrendous and the death toll staggering.  The impact these events had on the troops, the war effort, the families back home, and America in general is incalculable.  I'm so glad that I took the time to listen to this book and to try to understand something of what happened back then.

At the same time, I had some difficulty following along with the story.  There are simply so many people involved and so many parts to the battle and so many military terms that I'm unfamiliar with (they were explained but I'm militarily illiterate).  Having seen the movie, I was able to visualize some things but I was still confused during most of the battles.  To be honest, the best way for me to understand a story like this would be through a History Channel documentary that included captions and labeled each person.  (Any idea if there is a History Channel program about this? I'd love to see it.)

The part of the book that impacted me the most was hearing how the families at home dealt with the casualty reports as they came in, and with the impact of their losses for years afterward.  Perhaps this is because I can more easily put myself in the position of the families than that of the troops themselves.  Whatever the reason, this section brought tears to my eyes.

Listening to this book was incredibly worthwhile for me and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the story of the American military in Vietnam.

As a side note, two things stood out to me as I listened to the story.  Neither one is a particularly vital part of the book itself, but both captured my attention for different reasons.

First, Col. Moore's unit was the 7th Cavalry, the same unit that served under George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.  Custer's theme song, Gary Owen, was the theme song of Col Moore's men as well, and they often referred with pride to their predecessor, Custer.  This was heartbreaking to me after my experience with BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE and BLACK HILLS.  My feelings about Custer and his unit honestly distracted me from the Moore's story again and again.

Then there was the story of Lt. Rick Rescorla, the soldier pictured on the cover of the book.  Whenever I heard his name, I felt like I knew him in some way, like he should be familiar to me.  About halfway through the book it finally clicked; I realized that he WAS familiar to me - he was the head of security for a company in one of the Twin Towers on 9/11/01.  He had anticipated terrorist attacks on the building and prepared evacuation plans that saved the lives of countless people on 9/11.  Sadly he was still trying to get people out of the building when it collapsed.  Hearing about his actions during these battles gave me even more respect for a man I already admired greatly.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you read this book or seen the movie?  How did either one impact you?  Did the book or the movie change your opinions in any way?


bermudaonion said...

Hal Moore lived in Auburn when we did. We attended a dinner where he spoke and I read the book before that so I wouldn't sound like an idiot if I had the chance to chat with him. I found the book difficult to read at times, but I learned so much about the Vietnam War from it. Ii did have the chance to speak with the author and he was very warm and friendly.

Unknown said...

I have not read the book or seen the movie, but your review makes me want to!

Even though I am fascinated by WWII, books about Vietnam are too rough for me to read. I shouldn't count them out though...I'm sure I'm missing a great many book.

Alyce said...

The book and the movie are both completely new to me. I enjoyed reading your review about this book, especially how it related to you personally with your prior reading experiences.

Anna said...

I think I'd have a hard time following this on audio, so I'll go with a hard copy if I decide to read it. We'll get your review up on War Through the Generations soon.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

bermudaonion - Now THAT is an author meeting I could get really excited about - what an amazing opportunity!

Alison - I feel the same way, but the War Through the Generations Challenge is helping me push my limits. They choose a different war each year and that helps me choose books that I wouldn't normally pick up.

Alyce - Thanks! This movie is definitely worth watching if you ever get the chance.

Anna - It was challenging, but I think I'd have the same difficulties with the print version so this was a good choice for me.

Gina said...

Honestly...haven't read this one or seen the movie...but my dad has it in his TBR pile. (big history buff) Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one...will happily pass them along. Happy reading...

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

GMR - I hope your dad likes it - it is definitely worth reading IMO.

Anna said...

We will feature this review on War Through the Generations on Nov. 19.

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