After Congress created the Naming Commission to rename Army posts that honored Confederate officers, commissioners this past May recommended changing the name of Fort Benning, Georgia, to Fort Moore. The recommendation to honor both Lt. Gen. Harold “Hal” Moore and Julia “Julie” Compton Moore makes sense: The couple defined the role of command team long before family support groups became the norm.
In November 1965, then-Lt. Col. Moore commanded the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, during the first pitched battle of the Vietnam War, in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Moore and United Press International correspondent Joseph Galloway later described the fighting in the Ia Drang Valley in two books: We Were Soldiers Once … and Young: Ia Drang—The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam and We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam. Moore’s combat exploits were later featured in the 2002 movie We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson.
Throughout her husband’s career, Julie Moore established family support groups. These groups have since become common throughout DoD. And in the midst of the Ia Drang fighting, she challenged the Army’s impersonal practice of delivering death notices by telegram to grieving families.
Born in Bardstown, Kentucky, in 1922, Hal Moore was destined to be a soldier. He held a deep fascination for all things military and aspired to be an Army officer from an early age. Matriculating to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1942, Moore struggled academically. He described his cadet experience as an “academic trip to Hell.” In later years, Moore took great pride in graduating in the top 15% of the bottom 15% of his West Point Class of 1945.
Commissioned in the infantry, Moore found his true calling in leading soldiers. Early assignments included with the 187th Glider Infantry Regiment at Camp Crawford near Sapporo, Japan, and the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Always fascinated by airborne warfare, Moore volunteered for Fort Bragg’s Airborne Test Section, a special unit that was testing experimental parachutes. Over the course of his career, Moore became a master parachutist with more than 300 jumps.
During the Korean War, Moore, by then a seasoned officer, served with distinction as a heavy-mortar company commander; as the 17th Infantry Regimental assistant chief of staff for operations and plans; and as Company K commander in the 7th Infantry Division. Receiving an accelerated promotion to major, Moore returned to West Point, where he served for three years as an instructor in infantry tactics.
Heading for the Highlands
In 1964, Moore assumed command of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, part of the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) at Fort Benning. When President Lyndon Johnson announced on July 28, 1965, that he was sending the division to Vietnam, Moore’s battalion was redesignated the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, and his division was redesignated the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
By late summer, the 1st Cavalry was stationed in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Beginning Nov. 14, 1965, Moore led his battalion in a fierce battle around Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley. For his extraordinary heroism and gallantry in action around Landing Zone X-Ray, Moore received the Distinguished Service Cross.
Following the Battle of Ia Drang, he was promoted to colonel and took command of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. He led the brigade in the Bong Son campaign of 1966.
Over the remainder of his career, Moore became the first member of his West Point class to be promoted to one-star, two-star and three-star rank. His assignments included commander of the 7th Infantry Division; commander of Fort Ord, California, and an Army training center there; and Army deputy chief of staff for personnel.
Lt. Gen. Moore retired from active service in 1977 following 32 years of commissioned service. His awards included the Distinguished Service Cross, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two bronze oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star (four awards, including two for valor) and multiple other medals.
Another of Moore’s significant contributions to the Army lay far from the battlefields of Korea and South Vietnam. He accepted invitations from the service academies, military schools and commands within the U.S. Army to speak about the principles of leadership and his combat experience.
As he wrote in We Are Soldiers Still, he felt “an obligation to give something back to our country and our troops. … I owe that to this new generation of warriors just as I owe it to my fallen comrades.”
In recognition of Moore’s contributions to aspiring officers at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy in 2010 instituted the LTG Harold “Hal” G. Moore Warrior Athlete of Excellence Award. West Point presents the award to the top male and female athletes in their senior year who live up to the bar Moore set throughout his tenure as an officer.
Born at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, on Feb. 10, 1929, to Col. and Mrs. Louis Compton, Julie Moore’s life was inextricably linked to the Army. Married in 1949, Julie Moore joined her husband at Fort Bragg and they began raising a family. She “served as the rock of our family,” her husband said, and her quiet heroism during five of America’s conflicts in which those she loved served in combat—World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Panama and the First Gulf War—proved invaluable in times of crisis and helped Hal Moore build unit cohesion.
Over the course of their marriage, Hal and Julie Moore lived in nine states, two foreign countries and 25 different homes. At every post where they lived, Julie Moore did everything possible to assist soldiers’ families. Those duties included hosting official functions, organizing child care facilities and serving as a Red Cross volunteer in various military hospitals.
In November 1965, then the wife of a Fort Benning battalion commander whose unit had deployed to Vietnam, Julie Moore made perhaps her greatest contribution to the Army. She followed taxi drivers from house to house, trailer park to trailer park, in Columbus, Georgia, as they delivered telegrams to Army wives informing them they had lost their husbands. She personally comforted the bereaved family members and attended the funeral of every soldier lost in combat.
Along with the wife of the 1st Cavalry Division’s commanding general, Julie Moore bombarded the Pentagon with telephone calls and letters, insisting that the Army’s impersonal notifications to families of fallen soldiers be changed. Within weeks, the policy was changed. An Army officer and an Army chaplain began to personally break the news to bereaved family members.
When one of her sons deployed to Kuwait on the eve of Operation Desert Storm in 1990, Julie Moore clearly understood a soldier’s life and worried that her son might not return. Hal Moore’s co-author, Galloway, expressed astonishment that since Julie Moore had sent both her father and her husband to war, she ought to be used to combat deployments.
Julie Moore’s response was swift: “Joe Galloway, you don’t understand one damn thing about this. You can replace a husband, but you can never replace a son!”
I met Hal Moore on numerous occasions when he visited West Point to address my classes about combat leadership during the Vietnam War. His message to me and the Corps of Cadets was always the same: Hate war, but love the American warrior.
Julie Moore extended her appreciation to me for repeatedly welcoming her husband to West Point. Following her death in 2004, I visited Moore at his home in Auburn, Alabama. Three times over the course of our interview, Moore spoke lovingly about his wife, stating, “A soldier needs his mate. My wife was every inch a soldier as I was.”
Hal Moore died in 2017, two days shy of what would have been his 95th birthday. His grave marker notes that he was “devoted to faith family and service.” Galloway, Moore’s friend for over a half-century, delivered a powerful eulogy, stating: “Hal Moore, you changed my life. ... I have loved you as a brother and a father. ... You were my captain in battle.”
Hal and Julie Moore lay today in the Old Post Cemetery at Fort Benning, in the arms of what Julie Moore frequently called “Holy Mother Army.”
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Col. Cole Kingseed, U.S. Army retired, a former professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, is a writer and consultant. He holds a doctorate in history from Ohio State University.