I try to make it a habit on Veterans Day and Memorial Day to watch movies or go to monuments that will help me remember those who have died in the service of our country. One year I saw Saving Private Ryan. Another I saw was We Were Soldiers and it is about this one I am writing. It is about the first major American conflict in Vietnam and very much worth the watch.
After I left the movie, I was talking to my good friends John and Margaret Adams, both Army veterans, about the larger-than-life character played by Sam Elliot, Sgt Major Basil Plumley. Among the scenes I recounted was a wonderful scene where the unit gets into their first firefight, and the photojournalist, Galloway, attached to the unit, dives into the bottom of a foxhole. The young servicemen are using machine guns and mortars and laying down an impressive field of fire, showing great skill and training, but also nervousness. The Sgt Major, on the other hand, is standing straight up, holding his service pistol, and firing single shots as targets present. He glances down at Galloway and says, “You can’t take any pictures from down there, sonny.” Galloway gets up and is handed a rifle. “I’m a non-combatant.” “Ain’t no such thing today,” Plumley replies.
John told me, “I’ve met him! Not him specifically, but yeah, that’s a Sgt Major!”
The movie inspired me to go read the book. We Were Soldiers Once… And Young was written by Lt Gen Harold G. Moore (ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway. The movie was almost exactly the first half of the book. I had to wait for a month to get it from the library because the waiting list was so long. It was worth the wait. If you are not a movie-goer, read the book. Or do both. In it I discovered, if anything, they’d toned down the reality of the Sgt Major.
These memories were brought to mind by the fact that the real Basil Plumley passed away this week at the age of 92. CNN had a lovely article which details some details of Command Sgt Major Plumley’s career, from when he joined the Army on March 31, 1942, to his retirement on December 31, 1974. It included the fact that he fought at the Battle of Normandy and other notable WWII battles. His Army awards included the Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster and the Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster.
We are a better nation for having people like this serving our country. Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day are not just a day for us to skip work and party. They are times for us to remember our history and think on how we can personally be better.