RIP: Col. David Hackworth
This guy was to the grunt/infantryman what Bullshido aspires to be to the martial arts student.
NEW YORK, May 5 /PRNewswire/ -- Col. David H. Hackworth, the United States Army's legendary, highly decorated guerrilla fighter and lifelong champion of the doughboy and dogface, groundpounder and grunt, died Wednesday in Mexico. He was 74 years old. The cause of death was a form of cancer now appearing with increasing frequency among Vietnam veterans exposed to the defoliants called Agents Orange and Blue.
Col. Hackworth spent more than half a century on the country's hottest battlefields, first as a soldier, then as a writer, war correspondent and sharp-eyed critic of the Military Industrial Complex and ticket-punching generals he dismissed as Perfumed Princes. He preferred the combat style of World War II and Korean War heroes like James Gavin and Matthew Ridgeway and, during Vietnam, of Hank "The Gunfighter" Emerson and Hal Moore. General Moore, the author of "We Were Soldiers Once and Young," called him "the Patton of Vietnam" and General Creighton Abrams, the last American commander in that disastrous war, described him as "the best battalion commander I ever saw in the United States Army."
Col. Hackworth's battlefield exploits put him on the line of American military heroes squarely next to Sgt. York and Audie Murphy. The novelist Ward Just, who knew him for forty years, described him as "the genuine article, a soldier's soldier, a connoisseur of combat." At 14, as World War II was sputtering out, he lied about his age to join the Merchant Marine, and at 15 he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Over the next 26 years he spent fully seven in combat. He was put in for the Medal of Honor three times; the last application is currently under review at the Pentagon. He was twice awarded the Army's second highest honor for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, along with 10 Silver Stars and 8 Bronze Stars. When asked about his many awards, he always said he was proudest of his 8 Purple Hearts and his Combat Infantryman's Badge.
A reputation won on the battlefield made it impossible to dismiss him when he went on the attack later as a critic of careerism and incompetence in the military high command. In 1971, he appeared in the field on ABC's Issue and Answers to say Vietnam "is a bad war...it can't be won. We need to get out." He also predicted that Saigon would fall to the North Vietnamese within four years, a prediction that turned out to be far more accurate than anything the Joint Chiefs of Staff were telling President Nixon or that the President was telling the American people.
With almost five years in country, Col. Hackworth was the only senior officer to sound off about the Vietnam War. After the interview, he retired from the Army and moved to Australia.
"He was perhaps the finest soldier of his generation," observed the novelist and war correspondent Nicholas Proffit, who described Col. Hackworth's combat autobiography About Face, a national best-seller, as "a passionate cry from the heart of a man who never stopped loving the Army, even when it stopped loving him back."