We Were Soldiers Once and Young. The Battle at Ia Drang, Vietnam - A Book Review

by CountrySunshine

The griping true story of the first major battle between the US Cavalry Air mobile soldiers and the North Vietnamese army in Ia Drang, Vietnam, 1965

On November 14, 1965, United States soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division set down in Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley of South Vietnam.

What ensued was the first major battle between the US Airmobile soldiers and the North Vietnamese. "We Were Soldiers Once" is the tragic first-hand account of the horrific events these soldiers endured during this 4 day battle.

This is a story of bravery and heroism, both of the average soldier and the seasoned veteran. A great book to help you understand just what the military went through in Vietnam.

Photo of Combat operations at Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam, November 1965. Source:  US Army | Wikimedia Commons

A Brief Summary

We Were Soldiers Once... is not only an historical and factual book about the Vietnam War, but also a first-hand account by many of the participants and survivors of the Ia Drang battle.

It is a story of fear and of courage; of strength and of heroism, and what it takes to be a soldier. While the story is told in graphic - and somewhat gory - detail, it relates what war is all about. And most of all, it is a tribute to those who fought and died, serving their country.

There are several main sections to We Were Soldiers Once.... After the prologue and a brief history of the Vietnam War to date, there are three main parts:

  1. LZ X-Ray: The initial battle that took place in Ia Drang Valley
  2. LZ Albany:The second major battle
  3. The Aftermath: A summation of the battles as told by both reporters and the military; reflections from the survivors, and stories by the widows of those killed in action

Part 1: Landing Zone X-Ray

On November 14, 1965, 450 troops set down in Landing Zone X-Ray. Their objective: Find the enemy, and destroy them. What these troops didn't know was that there were 2,000 North Vietnamese waiting for them.

Through the graphic descriptions of the survivors, you will learn how one platoon was cut off and surrounded, and what they did to survive overnight. Personal information about each soldier, such as name, age and hometown, is provided so you will get to know them. Some of the soldiers were extremely young and inexperienced, while others had served in previous wars. Regardless of their background, they worked & fought together to survive the enemies' advancement.

Unfortunately, 79 American troops were killed in action and 121 were wounded. Luckily, no Americans were missing in action.

Part 2: Landing Zone Albany

Three days later, on November 17th, the remaining soldiers were ordered to LZ Albany. The intention was to find a small clearing to serve as an intermediary landing zone while moving into another area. Located just 2 miles northwest of LZ X-Ray, Albany was just another 6 miles from the next landing zone: LZ Crooks.

Search and Destory Mission - LZ Albany
Search and Destory Mission - LZ Albany

Part 3: The Aftermath

The battles at Ia Drang Valley have gone down in the history books as the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. This section of We Were Soldiers Once relates what happened to the survivors.

Told in their own words, the survivors, journalists and military figures give their stories in touching detail. Families of those killed in action tell what it was like to receive the news by telegram, and how their lives were changed in an instant. Military figures - both American and Vietnamese, relate the lessons they learned because of this battle. And the survivors? They tell wrenching stories of their experiences during the bloody battles, and how those events affect them today.

Final Section

The Appendix

At the end of the book is the appendix, but it's not the usual bibliography or index that you'll find in most books. Instead, this is a listing of the survivors, and what they were doing at the time the book was published. It brings the story full circle, as you learned what they were doing before and during the war, and now you learn what happened to them afterwards.

Co-Author: Lt General Harold Moore

Harold "Hal" Moore was a battalion and brigade commander during the Vietnam War. But before that time, he commanded two infantry companies in the Korean war. His expansive knowledge and experience during wartime paid off as Commander during the Ia Drang Valley battles.

Moore retired from the Army in 1977, and pursued a career in hospitality and computer software over the following years. Yet, he never forgot the battle - or his troops, resulting in the writing of this story.

Lt. General Harold G. Moore (Ret)
Lt. General Harold G. Moore (Ret)

Co-Author: Joseph Galloway

Joseph Galloway was just 24 years old when he arrived in Vietnam as a reporter with UPI. Armed only with a pen and paper at first, he quickly learned that he would have to carry a gun to survive. He quickly became the "soldiers friend", and fought in the battle of Ia Drang Valley.

Thirty-three years after this battle, Galloway was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for carrying wounded soldiers to safety during the heat of battle. He is the only civilian to receive a Medal of Valor for his action is Vietnam.

Speaking on War

Joseph Galloway describes his first exposure to the war in Vietnam.

More Information About the Ia Drang Valley & Ist Cavalry Division

  • LZ X-Ray

    The official website of "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young"

  • 1st Cavalry Division Association

    Non-profit association for 1st cavalry soldiers and veterans

  • 1st Cav Vietnam 1965

    A personal photo gallery by a soldier who served in the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam during 1965.

Real Footage of the Ia Drang Valley Battles

My Recommendation? Read This Book!

I have read many books about the Vietnam War, and those who fought in it. We Were Soldiers Once...And Young is one of the best. Unlike many Vietnam War books, it tells the story from both the American and Vietnamese viewpoints.

This is a tragic book, and parts may shake your inner core and make you uncomfortable. Yet, that is what makes We Were Soldiers Once.. a gripping tale. It is real, and thought-provoking... and will make you proud to be an American!

The Story Continues

We Are Soldiers .. Still

Lt Gen Hal Moore and Joe Calloway return to the Ia Drang battlefield in Vietnam, not only to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but to meet with the leaders of the Vietnamese Army. What ensues is a strange friendship between former enemies.


Copyright 2012-2017 L.C. Clifton / Country Sunshine.
Originally published September 11, 2012 on Squidoo.com


Updated: 08/01/2017, CountrySunshine
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