Command Sargent Major Basil L. Plumley passed away this past week and to those that served in the U.S. Army he was a legend, a soldier’s soldier, a man’s man. He was portrayed by Sam Elliott in the movie, “We Were Soldiers” starring Mel Gibson, which was based on the book, We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, by General Hal Moore and Joe Galloway, who was covering the Vietnam War for United Press International.
Moore led the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry in the first major engagement of U.S. Forces in Vietnam, known as “The Battle of Ia Drang,” Plumley, Lt. Col Moore and Galloway, along with 395 soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were in a 3 day battle against 4000 Vietnamese soldiers. During the battle the North Vietnamese had 1,800 men killed and the U.S. lost 72 soldiers. The men that fought in that battle had been trained by Moore and Plumley to overcome all odds.
In the 2002 film version, Mel Gibson played Moore and Sam Elliott played Plumley. Galloway said several of Elliott’s gruff one-liners in the movie were things Plumley actually said, such as the scene in which a soldier tells the sergeant major good morning and is told: “Who made you the (expletive) weather man?”
“Sam Elliott underplayed him. He was actually tougher than that,” Galloway said. “He was gruff, monosyllabic, an absolute terror when it came to enforcing standards of training. That’s not to say he was mean or inhuman. This was a man above all else who had a very big, warm heart that he concealed very well.”
Galloway also relates one of his personal stories from the actual battle, he says, “The sergeant major bent at the waist and shouted over the incredible din of battle—-‘You can’t take no pictures laying down there on the ground, Sonny.’ I thought to myself he’s right. I also thought fleetingly that we might all die here in this place—and if I am going to die I would just as soon take mine standing up beside a man like this. Like a fool, I got up. I followed the sergeant major over to the makeshift aid station where Doc Carrera and Sgt. Tommie Keeton were tending the wounded. Plumley hollered at them: Gentlemen, prepare to defend yourselves! As he pulled out his .45 pistol and jacked a round into the chamber.”
Basil Plumley enlisted in the Army in 1942 and ended up serving 32 years in uniform. In World War II, he fought in the Allied invasion of Italy at Salerno and the D-Day invasion at Normandy. He later fought with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment in Korea. In Vietnam, Plumley served as sergeant major — the highest enlisted rank — in the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment.
“That puts him in the rarest of clubs,” said Galloway, “To be combat infantry in those three wars, in the battles he participated in, and to have survived — that is miraculous.” According to Guardianofvalor.com, Basil Plumley operated in more than twenty different military operations.
So, why am I writing this, I’m writing this because it’s almost impossible to teach the love, passion, and courage that Basil Plumley had for this country. Today there are many men and women, like Basil, who serve in uniform and go and fight where ever the President and Congress send them. They deserve smart and caring politicians who do not use them for political purposes or gain. Our soldiers are an extension of our foreign policy, which in my view has been a disaster since World War II.
We have Presidents and now a Secretary of State, in regards to Libya, who waste American lives based on their political agenda and their incredibly stupid misunderstanding of what U.S. Foreign policy should be. As Basil Plumley would say, it’s time we throw the current administration under the bus, and then back over them just to be sure. It’s time for us, as citizens, to demand of our elected officials, that they treat those in uniform with respect, and that means giving them what they need to do the job they are asked to do, and never ask them to do a job for the ego or political needs of the President.
More Quotes: Joe Galloway: In Saigon, Hal Moore’s superiors congratulated him for killing over 1,800 enemy soldiers. Then ordered him to lead the Seventh Cavalry back into the valley of death. He led them and fought beside them for 235 more days. Some had families waiting. For others, their only family would be the men they bled beside. There were no bands, no flags, no Honor Guards to welcome them home. They went to war because their country ordered them to. But in the end, they fought not for their country or their flag, the fought for each other.
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: They attack us; no casualties. They run and hide in the mountains. Naturally we chase them, of course. Smell like an ambush to you? Sergeant Major Basil Plumley: If they’re trying to get us close enough to kill, I rekon we’ll be close enough to kill them.
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: I wonder what was going through Custer’s mind when he realized that he’d led his men into a slaughter? Sergeant Major Basil Plumley: Sir, Custer was a pussy. You ain’t.
After the battle, referring to the North Vietnamese Commander: Sergeant Major Basil Plumley: You want to know how Custer felt? Why don’t you ask him?
Sergeant Major Basil Plumley: You can’t take any pictures from down there, sonny. [Galloway gets up and is handed a rifle] Joseph Galloway: I’m a non-combatant. Sergeant Major Basil Plumley: Ain’t no such thing today.
Rest In Peace Sergeant Major