The Battle of Ia Drang

Today is the anniversary of the start of the Battle of Ia Drang, the first major engagement of US forces in Vietnam against the North Vietnamese Army. The 1st Cavalry Division, still learning how to employ an airmobile division, found itself locked in battle with two regiments of the NVA, themselves just learning how best to fight the Americans.

Vietnam tends to be thought of as a guerrilla war, but make no mistake, this was a conventional force-on-force engagement. Both sides were well equipped and armed, trained, and had some previous battle experience. And both sides learned lessons that would influence they way they fought each other for the next five years.

The battle has been memorialized for those of us of a younger generation both by LTG Hal Moore’s book, We Were Soldier’s Once, And Young, and the film adaptation We Were Soldiers.

LZ X-Ray, 14 NOV 65, before the engagement

In the early ‘90s, LTG Moore gave a talk to all the NCOs of the 4th Infantry Division about the battle (not often you have three star generals, even retired, giving NCO Professional Development).

I could address the technical and tactical lessons learned here, but for me, the lessons that always stood out were that young American soldiers, when faced with a daunting situation, backed by quality training, will display fortitude, resilience, ferocity, tenacity, selflessness, intrepidity, and valor. It is the leadership’s challenge to ensure those displays are exercised in a worthy effort.