Sunday, April 6, 2014

Gone and almost forgotten

  When I was in the service, I was very conscientious about my professional library.  Marine Corps officers were expected to learn about their profession at military schools, and through self education.  I'd always enjoyed military history and I built quite a library.

  I invariably wrote my name, rank and the date in the cover of each book I bought, as well as where I bought them. As I served in 36 foreign countries, there are some interesting inscriptions in some of those books.   So, I primarily own a collection of books that started in the summer of 1971 and ended in May, 1986.

 When I went out the gate at Camp Lejeuene for the last time  on May 16th of that year, I didn't have any further interest in anything related to the military.  It took me several years before I even picked up any of those books again.

 One book in particular I've always been ambivalent about.  On the one hand, I admired the author and on the other, he was very much the protagonist in a Greek tragedy.  Riddled with flaws that eventually caused his downfall.

I just read it again, to see if I felt differently after all these years, and I find that I don't.

David Hackworth was a soldier. He joined the Army as a private after World War II,  fought through Korea, received a battlefield commission, then fought through most of the Vietnam war.  He was one of those guys you never want for a C.O.  because he had no outside interests and expected his men to put in 16 hour days seven days a week.  No time for family, no time for rest, no time for any diversion. Just work.

He eventually dumped his wife and kids because he found them a distraction.  He went through a series of women his entire adult life, but could never keep any kind of relationship going.  He cared nothing for rules or regulations, and he hated and despised the ring knocker society, the apple polishers and ticket punchers.  In the end, that destroyed him.

Unable to do anything about the many serious issues he saw with how the Vietnam war was being fought, he went outside the service and gave interviews that amounted to valid criticisms of corruption and incompetence, both within the U.S. military and the South Vietnamese system.  That is something a serving officer doesn't do.  He incurred the wrath of General Westmoreland, and the Army tried to press charges against him. He wound up barely escaping court martial by resigning as a full Colonel.

After that, he tried to live in Spain.  If you are old enough to remember the Vietnam war, you know there was not much of a middle ground in public discussion and he was harried by those who thought he was being traitorous. I think he was just insane, by then.  The Spanish jaunt didn't work out, and he moved to Australia, after first dumping another girl friend.  There he eventually married an Australian woman, fiddled around in different ventures, and became a writer and news correspondent. He continued criticizing the Army until he died in 1995.( corrected per comment by the Sgt. In fact, Hackworth died in 2005)

The strange thing is that he was a household word in the 1970's,  just about anyone would have been able to tell you who he was, although what they said would have depended on their political persuasion.
Most young officers read his book, because there was a great deal in it that was true, and they could identify with what he was saying.

But time has moved on, and almost no one remembers David Hackworth now.  It's a shame, because whether you thought him a hero or a villain, he was an intelligent individual and his experiences of life have a lot to offer, even today.


  1. Ahmmmm. Hackworth had already turned down two invitations to attend the War College before his 1971 interview and then retirement. Essentially he left the Army little choice but to move him out of the way because he refused to be promoted. So I am not sure voicing his opinion had that much to do with a forced retirement, that boat had already left.

    My first Battery C/O used to swear that "Apocalypse Now" was at least politically based on Hawthorn to some degree even though Hawthorn was not SF nor ever tried to make his own army per se but he did leave the reservation while in Vietnam a few times. Strangely I have never seen anyone else anywhere make that same comparison.

    Alas the Army of yesterday rarely exist in reality....

    Hackworth was prolly just a bit too much of a military romantic and a bit high strung to boot....

    1. Just before he gave his interview, he had been offered a job with a top General to try and revamp some of the issues he was fervent about. In his book, he emphasized the point that had he not given the interview, he would have gotten his one star. He was also already in receipt of orders to Berlin for a final two year stint as a Colonel, and could simply have turned down the "ticket punch" , retired as a Colonel, which would have given him two years to get ready. As it was, he was hounded and persecuted, many of his old friends turned against him, and the had the CID following him around and taping his phone when he got back to the states. In my opinion, he exercised poor judgement. I can understand his anger, but you change things from within the military, not by going outside and being a dupe for the anti military crowd which is what I think he did.

      Hackworth mentions the "apocalypse now" character with the old cavalry hat in his book, but he is talking about another unorthodox officer, I forget the guys name but he got killed later in the war.

      I think Hackworth was selfish, self centered, and a prima dona. I also think he was wholly devoted to the Army, tried to be a good officer, tried to take care of his troops, and was justified fully in his contempt for the ticket punching crowd. They are still out there, alive and well in todays military.

      I am impressed you know so much about him. The fact that my analysis of his character and yours are not spot on means nothing, because he was a very complex individual. I don't think even the guys he served with really understood him.

    2. Maybe he thought he would have gotten his star but I don't think they have given a star out to any combat arms Colonel without going through the war college since WWII. I could be wrong of course as I have no reference to back that up just some sort of common knowledge that any officer had to have Command and General Staff school and War College under their belt before they were eligible for a star.

      I believe the reason my old CO thought there was some connection between Hackworth and Kurtz has something to do with how he treated some so called ARVN officers when Hackworth was the liaison officer to them in Vietnam. Also the refusal to go into the fold and go general staff.

      The real reason I know much about Hackworth at all is because some how my CO knew him although exactly how an arty Captain in the late 80's knew him is beyond me. I wasn't in a position to have an opinion on the matter honestly although the Battalion S2 once told me if I let my CO's opinion rub off on me I could kiss any promotion goodbye.

      As it turned out it didn't matter anyway my Army career didn't survive the great Clinton DE-militarization move regardless. I was so sick of the PC crap even then I would have went inactive even if they hadn't of gotten rid of so many units and slots.

    3. You could be right. Do you want the book? I will never read it again,and the first three quarters are very good, especially the parts about Korea. The last 1/4 is just sad, because he basically goes crazy and does some really stupid things, if in a good cause. You can have it if you want it, I'll mail it to you.

  2. G'day Harry,

    I remember Hackworth from the 1980's here in Australia, not only was he anti military (he was particularly scathing in his opinions on the US Military) he was also heavily involved in the Anti Nuclear Movement here. I believe he finally moved back to the US and died in 2005.

    1. That's the guy. In the book, he stops his narrative with going to Australia. But he was anti-nuc, even when he was in the Army, and got into the Australian anti-nuc movement in a big way. I think he needed something to be mad at, seems like he was "the rebel" from the time he went into the Army as a very young man ( I think he was 16 and faked his age).

      It may well have been 2005 that he died, I was thinking it was 1995 but now that you mention it I believe you are correct. I didn't know he came back to the U.S. I wonder where he lived when he did?

      I'm not surprised he finally wound up in Australia, for a bit at least. In Viet Nam he was a great proponent of Australian infantry tactics and his book is a peon of praise for them (justified from what I know from my experience with the Australians, I would think.) At one point, he requested permission to send his officers to work with the Australians, on a rotation basis. But this was denied by higher headquarters because it implied that the Australians might know something we didn't. I can believe this assertion from the book, it fits exactly what I know about REMF (rear echelon m****her f***kers) myself. And I say that having spent a good part of my career as a REMF , though I tried not to act like one when fate and the officer's monitor landed me in such a position.

      He was eventually caught doing this and reprimanded when, while working with an Australian platoon, one of his officers was involved in an engagement with the North Vietnamese and was recommended for an Australian award by the Australian Brig.General commanding Aussie troops in Viet Nam. Then a world of hurt came down on Hackworth for having sent the guy in the first place.

      He also had a predilection for Australian women. He left his wife and kids for an Australian stewardess (she was the one he dumped in Spain) and wound up marrying another Australian woman who owned a restaurant. I'm not sure how that worked out but given his past I would say it probably didn't last, though for his sake, I hope it did.

    2. I might have to look up a copy of his book, for all his apparent flaws he sounds like a larger than life character.

    3. It is a good read. The first two thirds of the book are really interesting. The last third is sad.

  3. Sounds like an interesting read. I was born in 76, so I've never heard of him. I like it when people write what they truly feel, and don't hold stuff back.

    1. Well, this fellow sure did that, although it cost him his career. How strange, that I was already flying in VT-6 about the time you were born. Maybe that's why most of the people I know from those days are dead now......