October 13th, 2012

Combat Veteran of Three Wars: Basil Plumley Dies


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Command Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley and General Hal Moore in 2009

Command Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley and General Hal Moore in 2009

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A Hero Has Fallen

CNN coverage is here:

http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/11/basil-plumley-army-veteran-of-three-wars-dies-at-92/?hpt=us_c2

Basil L. Plumley, a renowned career soldier whose exploits as an Army infantryman were portrayed in a book and the movie “We Were Soldiers,” has died at 92 — an age his friends are amazed that he lived to see.

Plumley fought in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam and was awarded a medal for making five parachute jumps into combat. The retired command sergeant major died Wednesday.

Friends said Plumley, who died in hospice care in west Georgia, never told war stories and was known to hang up on people who called to interview him. Still, he was near-legendary in the Army and gained more widespread fame through a 1992 Vietnam War book that was the basis for the 2002 movie starring Mel Gibson. Actor Sam Elliott played Plumley in the film.

Plumley didn’t need a Hollywood portrayal to be revered among soldiers, said Greg Camp, a retired Army colonel and former chief of staff at neighboring Fort Benning who befriended Plumley in his later years.

“He’s iconic in military circles,” Camp said. “Among people who have been in the military, he’s beyond what a movie star would be. … His legend permeates three generations of soldiers.”

(end passages from CNN coverage)

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Fox News coverage is here:

http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2012/10/10/basil-plumley-retired-veteran-whose-book-became-were-soldiers-movie-dies-in/?intcmp=trending

From Fox News:

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley, who fought in some of the U.S. Army’s bloodiest battles in three wars, died Wednesday in Columbus, Georgia. He was 92.

Plumley saw action in some of the largest battles of World War II, including the Battle of Normandy, the Battle of Salerno in Italy and Operation Market Garden.

He then fought in the Korean War, but it was his role in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam that brought him the most fame. The battle was chronicled in the book “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” which was later a 2002 movie starring Mel Gibson. Sam Elliott played Plumley.

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia, tweeted a picture of Elliot and Plumley in noting the veteran’s death.

(end quoted passage from Fox News coverage)

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Wikipedia coverage of the Battle of Ia Drang in November, 1965 is here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Ia_Drang

Wikipedia gives a day-by-day description of the Battle of Ia Drang, in which CSM Plumley distinguished himself. Here is an excerpt:

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At 10:48 on November 14, the first elements of Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion/7th Cavalry touched down at LZ X-Ray, following around 30 minutes of bombardment via artillery, aerial rockets, and air strikes. Accompanying Captain John Herren’s Bravo Company were Moore and his command group. Instead of attempting to secure the entire landing zone with such a limited force, most of Bravo was kept near the center of the LZ as a strike force, while smaller units were sent out to reconnoiter the surrounding area.

Following their arrival, Herren ordered Bravo to move west past the creek bed. Within approximately 30 minutes, one of his squads under Sergeant John Mingo surprised and captured an unarmed NVA soldier of the 33rd NVA Regiment. The prisoner revealed that there were three North Vietnamese battalions on the Chu Pong Mountain – an estimated 1,600 North Vietnamese troops compared to fewer than 200 American soldiers on the ground at that point.

At 11:20, the second lift of the battalion arrived, with the rest of Bravo Company and one platoon of Alpha Company, commanded by Captain Tony Nadal. Fifty minutes later, the third lift of American forces arrived, consisting of most of Alpha Company. Alpha took up positions to the rear and left flank of Bravo along the dry creek bed, and to the west and to the south facing perpendicular down the creek bed.

At 12:15, the first shots were fired on Bravo Company’s three platoons that were patrolling the jungle northwest of the dry creek bed. Five minutes later, Herren ordered his 1st Platoon under Lieutenant Al Devney and 2nd Platoon under Lieutenant Henry Herrick to advance abreast of each other, and the 3rd (under Lieutenant Dennis Deal) to follow as a reserve unit.

Devney’s platoon led approximately 100 yards (91 m) west of the creek bed, with Herrick’s men to his rear and right flank. Just before 13:00, Devney’s platoon was heavily assaulted on both flanks by the North Vietnamese, taking casualties and becoming pinned down in the process. It was around this point that Herrick radioed in that his men were taking fire from their right flank, and that he was pursuing a squad of communist forces in that direction.

Herrick’s platoon is cut off

In pursuit of the North Vietnamese on his right flank, Herrick’s platoon was quickly spread out over a space of around 50 meters, and became separated from the rest of the battalion by approximately 100 meters. Soon, Herrick radioed in to ask whether he should enter or circumvent a clearing that his platoon had come across in the bush. Herrick expressed concerns that he might become cut off from the battalion if he tried to skirt the clearing and therefore would be leading his men through it in pursuit of the enemy.

An intense firefight quickly erupted in the clearing; during the first three or four minutes his platoon suffered no casualties and inflicted heavy losses on the North Vietnamese who streamed out of the trees. Herrick soon radioed in that the enemy were closing in around his left and right flanks. Captain Herren responded by ordering Herrick to attempt to link back with Devney’s 1st Platoon. Herrick replied that there was a large force between his men and 1st Platoon.

The situation quickly disintegrated for Herrick’s 2nd Platoon, which began taking casualties as the North Vietnamese attack persisted. Herrick ordered his men to form a defensive perimeter on a small knoll in the clearing. Within approximately 25 minutes, five men of 2nd Platoon were killed, including Herrick who radioed Herren that he was hit and was passing command over to Sergeant Carl Palmer. Herrick gave vital instructions to his men before he died, including orders to destroy the signals codes and call in artillery support.

Sergeant Ernie Savage assumed command after Sergeant Palmer and Sergeant Robert Stokes were killed. The platoon was technically under the command of Sergeant First Class Mac McHenry, who was positioned elsewhere on the perimeter. Savage assumed command by virtue of being close to the radio and began the process of calling in repeated bombardments of artillery support around the platoon’s position. By this point, eight men of 2nd Platoon had been killed and 13 wounded. Under Savage’s leadership, and with the extraordinary care of platoon medic Charlie Lose, the men held the knoll for the duration of the battle at X-Ray.

Specialist Galen Bungum of Herrick’s Platoon later said of the stand at the knoll:

We gathered up all the full magazines we could find and stacked them up in front of us. There was no way we could dig a foxhole. The handle was blown off my entrenching tool and one of my canteens had a hole blown through it. The fire was so heavy that if you tried to raise up to dig you were dead. There was death and destruction all around.

(end excerpt from Wikipedia article on Ia Drang battle)

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CIA official film coverage of Ia Drang and its implications is well worth the time:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDMcxBk4vg4

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Local coverage: http://www2.wrbl.com/news/2012/oct/10/remembering-local-war-hero-ar-4727056/




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2 Responses to “Combat Veteran of Three Wars: Basil Plumley Dies”

  1. 1
    SIGO Says:

    I got to meet GEN Moore and Joe Galloway when I was with the 1st CAV. They were on Ft Hood for the screening of the movie, “We Were Soldiers”. I had read the book, and as I prepared for my first command in combat, I hoped I possessed just a small portion of the leadership LTC Moore and CSM Plumley exhibited during that famous battle.

    Farewell, CSM. Our prayers are with your family. See you on the high ground.

  2. 2
    Andy Says:

    As a fellow “AIR CAV” soldier and recently returned combat vet, I feel a great sense of loss at the passing of CSM Plumley.

    CSM Plumley set the standard for all professional soldiers not to mention Non Commissioned Officers of the United States Military.

    His passing is a great loss, but Heaven is found to be better with his presence.

    See you on the Hight Ground SGM. “AIR CAV!!”

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