Saluting a Tireless Warrior

 

His name was David Haskell Hackworth and he died on May 4, 2005. He was a retired colonel in the United States Army and up until the day of his death, the nation’s most decorated living soldier. He lived a full life, but died as no soldier should: ravaged by a cancer most likely caused by his own nation’s use of chemical agents during the Vietnam War.

 

“Commissioned on the battlefield at the age of 20,” he became the U.S. Army’s youngest captain. He would later go on to become its youngest full colonel. And he would throw it all away on principle after appearing on a CBS news program in 1971 declaring that the Vietnam War was unwinnable and that the United States should pull out. He also predicted that Saigon would fall within four years – it did on April 30, 1975 (how prescient he was).

 

The Army that he lied about his age to join at 15 had been his life and it turned his back on him. Phony charges were trumped up against him and he was almost court-martialed. His career ended prematurely by the political hacks in uniform and the West Point Protective Association (WPPA), and he resigned. He threw away all of his medals or gave them to the children of relatives. He moved to Australia where he became successful with a string of restaurants and by breeding ducks. He married for a second time. But he never stopped loving the Army that had nurtured him.

 

Perhaps most importantly, he never stopped caring about the welfare of the average GI who did the fighting, bleeding and dying for the nation he still called home. He thought about them and wrote about them and in 1989 published his bestselling book entitled quite appropriately, About Face.

 

The book brought him additional attention and he decided to return to the USA. He traveled and lectured and became a senior correspondent for Newsweek magazine. At an age when most men are thinking of retirement, he started a new career as a war correspondent and traveled with U.S. and French forces during the first Gulf War. He would later post dispatches from Bosnia, Macedonia, and wherever and whenever American troops were sent in harm’s way.

 

He never tired of speaking for the common soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman. He established a foundation known as Soldiers For The Truth (SFTT) and set up a website where he allowed GIs to write in about poor leadership, broken equipment and whatever other problems are the lot in life of the poor snuffy who all too often is told to grasp the bitter end.

 

Hack would have never succeeded in elective politics; he didn’t know how to be diplomatic. A true infantry officer, trained in the profession of arms, he cared most about his troops and ensuring that he brought as many home as he could. But Hack was no blood-thirsty killer. Despite his years of combat and chest full of medals, he knew that war represented the failure of national policy and that most of the conflicts we had become embroiled in since he retired from the Army were unnecessary.

 

When he died on May 4, he was 74. In his too many battles, he had been wounded eight times. Until the day he died, in one leg, he continued to carry a bullet he stopped, fired at him by a North Vietnamese soldier more than 35 years ago. And he developed a virulent form of cancer most likely as a direct result of defoliants used by his country in that all too painful war in Indo-China.

 

Hack inspired an incredible degree of loyalty and devotion among the soldiers he once led and later, with the staff of writers who posted regularly at his site. I was one of them and feel honored to be able to say that.

 

–Paul Connors

 

A Compassionate Leader

 

On May 4, 2005, America lost one of its greatest living legends. While I never had the opportunity to meet Hack in person, I nonetheless got a glimpse of his greatness over three years of writing for DefenseWatch. 

 

His unsparing criticism of careerist officers and what they were doing to the military he loved demonstrated his willingness to do battle with that most intimidating of all foes: one’s peers. Hack could care less what they thought, unless they wanted to assist in the mission. 

 

DefenseWatch is a forum for ideas and opinions, all of which are aimed at assisting our military in its paramount role of national defense. The glimpse of greatness I saw was Hack’s willingness to entertain different points of view despite his own strongly held beliefs and provide a forum for those ideas on the SFTT website in which he invested time, effort and most of all, moral capital.

 

This is a great way to generate good ideas but it is not an easy thing to do, especially for someone with Hack’s knowledge, experience and passion. Hack welcomed all comers with open arms and encouraged the free flow of ideas. This is one mark of a great leader. 

 

As with all else he did in his life, Hack put the mission first and led from the front.  He will be sorely missed.  Godspeed to you Dave.

 

–Jim Simpson

 

Carrying On

 

Following the unbeaten fighting spirit of David H. Hackworth, an admired friend, military comrade and mentor, I am one of the many who pledge to continue his quest for the truth for the benefit of our troops, their families and the defense of our country.

 

I know that Hack will continue to inspire us from the eternal high ground he now firmly occupies.              

 

–Ralf Zimmermann

 

An Inspiring Mentor

 

My personal association with Col. David H. Hackworth only goes back to 1997.  However, my knowledge of him – his accomplishments, his thoughts on our past and present military, and his love of the common soldier and how conditions of soldiering affected their lives – goes back to when his autobiography, About Face was first published. 

 

At the time, I realized I had just served under the command of one of “Hack’s” protégées, Johnny D. Howard, a “my-kind-of-soldier” soldier.  

 

As a fellow Vietnam veteran, I was very much in ideological agreement with Hack, particularly as to how the force has been weakened largely for social and political reasons.  As well, I agreed that as a military leader, it would never be beyond my responsibility to look out for the common soldier, the “little-guy” in the big picture. That was, as I saw it, my highest calling.  

 

So upon Hack’s encouragement I took a stab at military journalism and have had the honor to write for DefenseWatch magazine since it was launched in 2001. Over the years my literary efforts have not escaped his quick wit and comment. He was the first to praise good writing and the most honest and helpful in the other spectrum. All the time, I tried to keep the best interest of the soldier in view, for the good of the troops.  

 

Hack had magnetism and the personality to justify that trait.

 

Col. David Hackworth inspired people in the military to care for soldiers first, no matter what! All of us who served in an era in history with Hack as a fellow soldier were the richer for it.

 

So, to Hack I say, “So long, for now, my friend, I will be along, we will meet at that big Casual-Company in the sky, save a place for me at the table. And thank you.”  

 

–J. David Galland

 

A Life of Moral Courage

 

I am saddened by the news of Hack’s death. He was someone I deeply admired for his leadership and his moral courage. I did not agree with all his thoughts and opinions, but I respected him for always callin’ it like he saw it.

 

Working for him on the SFTT staff has been one of the most exciting and liberating things I have ever done. Hack gave many others and me an outlet for the joys and frustrations of military life that we have experienced and that would have likely gone unnoticed. He showed how one man or woman with moral courage can stand up and try to make a difference on behalf of the countless young men and women who wear our country’s uniforms and who go where they are needed and do what they are told to keep our nation the land of the free and the home of the brave.

 

His passing has shifted my inspiration for writing for SFTT from doing it with him, to doing it for him, to support our beloved troops.

 

May he rest in peace.

 

–Matthew Dodd

 

An Honored Memory

 

I first saw Col. David Hackworth on television at the onset of the Global War on Terrorism. I was struck by the way he stood out from the other talking heads and how you knew he was sincere when he spoke of winning the conflict that we were thrown into on 9/11. He was an extraordinary individual. It is truly an honor to be associated with him and SFTT as a Contributing Editor.

 

Chad Miles

 

 

Incident at Panmunjom

 

I was nearing the end of a 10-day reporting trip to South Korea in 1994 when my Army escort invited me to visit the DMZ village of Panmunjom, casually noting that another journalist would be coming along – a Newsweek military correspondent named David Hackworth. I had read his columns and vaguely knew of him as a former career Army officer turned commentator, and author of a controversial autobiography, About Face, that had been published several years earlier.

 

We drove from Yongsan up the MSR through Pyokche and Munsan, crossed the Imjin River and soon were in the heavily-guarded truce village, staring eyeball to eyeball with armed North Korean soldiers.

 

After waiting several hours under a tree in the sweltering heat of a Korean summer day for a scheduled press conference involving ongoing North-South negotiations in the conference center nearby, a tall, erect U.S. Army lieutenant colonel – the commander of the elite Joint Security Battalion at Panmunjom – strode up to our position. The officer was polite but indifferent as a Washington Post reporter and I took turns introducing ourselves.

 

“I’m Dave Hackworth,” Hack said.

 

The officer’s eyes bugged out and his voice cracked. “Y-y-you’re my ­hero!” he exclaimed.

 

I think I’d better read that book, I told myself.

 

Seven years later, when Hack asked me to launch DefenseWatch magazine, I readily agreed, telling him that it was a great journalistic opportunity and professional challenge. But I didn’t tell him the real reason why I had volunteered.

 

He had become my hero, too.

 

–Ed Offley

 

Hack and the ‘Screaming Eagles’

 

My experience with Hack goes back to 1964-66, the 101st days at Fort Campbell and Vietnam. I was a young company commander in the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry in the Division’s 1st Brigade. At Fort Campbell, I remember Dave Hackworth – then a major – as the hard-charging brigade S-3 operations officer. Even then, he claimed that more sweat on the training field meant less blood on the battlefield. We trained hard in those days, and he was a major influence in that training spirit.

 

In 1965, the 1st Brigade, 101st deployed to Vietnam, where I saw that same spirit in the man. The training principles he instilled in all paid dividends. We fought well and hard in several different fighting environments throughout the country.

 

Colleagues have reminded me that Hack remained controversial in retirement. So be it: He remained true to his beloved foot soldiers, and that will be his everlasting credit. The U.S. Army has lost one of its best soldiers. I am proud to have known and served with him.

 

–Paul Apfel

 

Condolences from NavySEALs

 

God Bless Col. David Hackworth. He will be sorely missed by the troops.  We at NavySEALs.com send him our blessings.

 

–Mark Divine

 

The Soldier’s Defender

 

I first learned about Colonel David Hackworth in 1990, when I purchased his book, About Face, at the Stars and Stripes bookstore in Germany. For one week, during my free time at Grafenwoehr, I devoured his work. For a young, know-nothing butter bar, Hack’s memoirs were a virtual field manual on how to soldier and lead. Twelve years later, after corresponding by email, Hack suggested that I write articles for his burgeoning website. His exact words were, “open fire.” Thank you Hack, for giving me the opportunity when no one else would. 

 

Hack was more than just a hero. He was a defender of the ordinary soldier. As a former enlisted man, he never forgot about the young people who give all and ask for little. That was why he despised the military’s perfumed princes and targeted them for destruction whenever he had the opportunity. Hack was the maestro of common sense and of thinking outside the box; something the military has always failed at. He knew that an officer with imagination and ingenuity could save lives and inflict damage on the enemy.

 

In his final years, Hack was concerned over the Army’s ridiculous political correctness and its insane coddling of young recruits at basic training. Hack had come of age in the “brown shoe” Army and knew that any soldier who couldn’t handle the rigors of basic training wouldn’t survive the horrors of combat.

 

Hack never went to West Point, but he was an embodiment of their famous motto, Duty, Honor, Country. As a young soldier, he was motivated to fulfill his duty as a citizen and serve his nation. As an officer, he lived by the simple code of honor; lead by example. As a civilian and a writer he continued to serve his country by flushing out the feather merchants, duds and REMF medal-seekers in the U.S. military.

 

–Ray Starmann

 

A Sergeant’s Vision

 

We may be a nation of laws, but we are defended by men. On May 4, 2005 America lost one of its most experienced and devoted warriors, U.S. Army Col. David H. Hackworth.

 

Many obituary writers have emphasized Hackworth’s outrageous, unconventional, maverick and outspoken nature. I have a different view: He was a mature, intelligent thinker who was savvy enough to know that controversy promotes the truth he knew. Who did he want to educate? Soldiers and Marines in the line of fire. Why else would he go to magazines like Maxim and Esquire with extensive interviews if not to reach young male audiences?

 

Col. Hackworth knew that patriotism could be the last refuge of the scoundrel, meaning a patriotism that did not consider how war would play out on the ground in the long run combined with a lack of equal valuation for the lives of those who ended up fighting there. His viewpoint was a mixture of the most egalitarian American spirit one could have with the very traditional classic war wisdom of Sun Tzu, the required West Point staple of realism at war.

 

Why did Col. Hackworth polarize people so much? Because he never stopped being a sergeant even though he had become a commissioned officer, and he turned that exacting sergeant’s eye on live, active duty leadership questions that many brass hats did not want to discuss. Like any good sergeant, Col. Hackworth believed it was unacceptable to cut corners on preparation, training, gear and full-fledged chain of command support for the man in the field.

 

Col. Hackworth’s lack of snobbery made him approachable by the average warrior and the average person wanting to know more about what warriors had learned and had sacrificed to better equip their own thinking on America’s war decisions. This approachability was more remarkable to me as I read more about what he actually had done on the battlefields of Korea and Vietnam. What he did for those under his command and what he dedicated himself to do for generations of young combat troops thereafter was twice as remarkable.

 

–Michael Woodson

 

The Legend and the Man

 

It is sometimes hard to really know a man and even harder to know a legend.

 

Col. David H. Hackworth was certainly a living legend, an airborne-all-the-way, two-fisted, hard talking, ass-kicking, name-taking infantryman whom everybody called Hack.

 

I never met the man in person. I read his books, watched him pontificate on TV, and once sat mesmerized driving across some barren landscape in southern Georgia listening to him talk on syndicated radio about the “Perfumed Princes” and the “ticket-punching” rogues he hated with a passion.

 

Hack made me feel good on a visceral level. I was an Army enlisted man in the ‘Nam and had a natural antipathy for the guys who used to make me stand in the sun and listen to them blather on. His comments about parade-ground generals took me back to the time when Army Maj. Gen. Melvin Zais actually went into the great Douglas MacArthur’s “old soldiers just fade away” routine – and while my buddies were dropping like flies in 110 degree heat – as he was turning over command of the 101st Airborne Division after the big fights in the Ashau Valley. Hack hated guys that did that because he understood.

 

I already know the legend, maybe I’ll meet the man next time around.

 

–Nat Helms

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