BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Retired Army Colonel David H. Hackworth your new book
"About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior" is co-written by Julie
Sherman, a woman. Why?
DAVID HACKWORTH: Well, I had a lot of people over the 18 years of
rumination and I thought about writing this book -- a lot of authors came to me to
write it with me or for me, and I waited for the right one. And Julie Sherman
came along, and after looking at her work and talking to her, I concluded that
what I really needed was a woman's feel, a woman's touch. War is about men,
and men take life, but the horrible result about war is it takes the life -- young men
in the main -- and it's the sons, the daughters, the husbands of women. Women
give life. And I felt that if we could discuss war and discuss it with that man's
passion from my own experience, but with a sensitivity and the depth and feeling
of a woman, we could tell the complete story.
LAMB: How many times during those 18 years since you left the Army did you
seriously consider writing this book?
HACKWORTH: Oh, probably a half dozen. There were a number of qualified
people that came to me. But I wanted also to insure that I had my head together
so the message that I was going to give would be clear and would be objective
and would be without bitterness and vindictiveness and the need to even the
LAMB: At the end of the whole book -- some 875 pages -- your last line says
something about -- you think you've got the anger out of your system. When
were you the most angry and why where you angry?
HACKWORTH: Well, in 1971 I said to the nation that Vietnam was a bad war.
And I said it from my heart from the experiences of almost six years, over a
six-year period in Vietnam. That it was a bad war. We were losing it. We were
bleeding unnecessarily. And there was just simply no way we were going to win
it. People were involved with the South Vietnamese, were going to win it, and we
should get out now. What I didn't realize that when you sound off against a big
institution like the U.S. Army and say they are all wrong, I didn't realize what
happened to whistle blowers. And I got thumped about the head and shoulders in
a very severe way. And that created the bitterness. And that caused me to leave
America, leave my roots, and go to Australia and be angry for a long time.
LAMB: Were you angry at all before you made those pronouncements on "Issues
HACKWORTH: Well, I certainly was. You know in 1966 I told the Army Chief
of Staff, Harold K. Johnson, we were losing the war. In 1968 I wrote in a paper
which went to General Westmoreland that we had botched the war. The
following year in '69 I told the Secretary of the Army, Stanley Reisler, that we
were losing the war. And I told anybody and everybody that would listen to me. I
wrote this in Army publications and it was pretty evident were I was coming
But nothing was done. I took a draftee battalion full of untrained kids in '69 and
turned them into a guard that just turned the battlefield around. And at the end of
a five month period we'd killed 2,500 enemy at the loss of 25 of my men. A 100
to 1 ratio. We were fighting the war as the war should have been fought. But no
one listened. No General came down and said, "Gee, how did you guys do this."
How did these untrained troopers win battles like this time and time again.
Because we didn't want to learn.
The government, the Army specifically, has no real deep reflection. They just
don't look at the past to learn from it to grow from it. I think that's the thing -- as
it built up this frustration caused me to sound off. You know as a little kid, when I
was 15, I was in Italy, and General Eisenhower, who is a five-star General, stopped
in front of me and probably because I was just a little 15-years-old kid, he said,
"Well, how do you like it here?" So then I said, "Oh, just fine General." And he
said, "How's the chow?" You know, the normal thing that a General is going to
ask a little boy. And I said, "Oh, it's terrible." I said, "We eat Spam everyday."
And he went down the line and he said, "Why do these guys eat Spam
everyday?" You know it went from the Lieutenant General to the Major General
down to the little Major and the reply came bubbling up, "Oh the depot from the
war is filled with Spam. We've got to get rid of it."
So Ike said, "Stop it. Give these guys fresh food" and so on. So from that point
forward, as long as I was a soldier, I sounded off. If I saw something wrong, I
told them. So when I reflect that my sounding off in '71, I tried it through the
system, I told everybody in the Army that would listen to me. When I realized
that wasn't going to happen, I went to the people via the media and told them the
truth of what was happening in Vietnam.
LAMB: What were you doing in the Army when you were 15 years old?
HACKWORTH: I was interested in sex and adventure. And it seem to me the
Army provided both.
LAMB: Could you get in the Army when you were 15?
HACKWORTH: If you lied. And I had been in the Merchant Marines for a year
before so I had Merchant papers from my experience in the Pacific. And so I
used those as documents to get me in the Army. I was an orphan, so the Army
became a home for me, Brian. It became my family. It was something I loved
very, very much. So I was very protective towards this institution. And I always
loved my soldiers because I was a soldier and I wanted to keep them alive. I
believed in winning battles and fighting wars. And I was a warrior but not at the
expense of my men. So I think that great love for my soldiers too that made me
stand up and shout, "Stop the madness."
LAMB: Do you think that if you had written a book -- and I know you talked
about the Korean War in your book and the Vietnam War -- I want to talk about
the Korean War in just a second. But if you basically said the Vietnam War was
a good thing and we did a good job that you'd be getting the kind of reviews,
positive praise for your book that you're getting?
HACKWORTH: Well, I don't know. I would from certain circles. Certainly the
Army Magazine and the institution would endorse what I have to say. But I think
in the book is the truth. And I think that those people who are writing the reviews
-- most of them had been on the battlefield, had gone through that same
experience as I -- and they are just seeing somebody finally coming out in a in a
real detailed form and offering what happened in Vietnam. And it just wasn't from
Vietnam. This tragedy that occurred started in 1946 when we took our Officer
Corps and started this business of making everybody a diplomat and a warrior
which ended up under Maxwell Taylor when he became Chief of Staff. Our
Generals became corporate generals rather than the fighting generals of type that
won World War II. The Ridgeways and the Pattons and so on.
LAMB: What do you think of medals?
LAMB: Let me preface it by saying when you read about your book and about
you, they say you are the most decorated man, at the time of your departure from
the Army in 1971, as anybody in the history of the military or just during the
HACKWORTH: Well, I think it's in the living history of the U.S. military. What
do I think of medals? I think that Napoleon said, if you have enough ribbon, you
can conquer the world. And I think you have to honor your warriors for standing
up and being counted. For moving into the fire across the killing zone. And you
honor them with a piece of ribbon.
And at the end of World War II the household name was Audie Murphy. Audie
Murphy had nine ribbons. The Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross,
the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Bronze Star and so on. They were all awards for
feats on the battlefield. During the Korean War there was a fellow right here in
Washington, DC named -- he lives now -- named Scooter Burke. Lloyd Leslie
Burke who won all the medals that Audie Murphy won and never received any
recognition because that war -- the Korean War -- was not a glorious war.
We didn't win it. There wasn't any Berlins or Tokyoes or so on. And the same
thing from the Vietnam War. Those kids that won awards for attacking a machine
gun or saving a comrade were certainly to be honored and to be recognized. But
there was so many others that were the self-serving, careerist General officers,
Colonels and so on, who used the award thing to get an award simply so it
looked good on his jacket, which would cause someone to think he was warrior.
And if you take Admiral Crowe who is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On his jacket it's ablaze with medals and so on. 31 of them. But there's not one
for a combat deed. They're all having-been-there awards. You're-a-good-guy
award. You-moved-some paper-across-your-desk-in-a-neat-way award. Take
Oliver North who's in the hot seat as we talk. He has 14 awards on his chest. But
only for combat -- the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart. The
rest are having-been-there awards. And he appears in front of Congress and the
American people think, "Hey, this is a warrior."
Just like when Admiral Crowe perhaps appears in front of Congress, those are
his credentials, and those Congressmen don't know they are just
having-been-there awards. When he says we need this they believe that he
knows what he's talking about from the standpoint of being on a battlefield. So I
think that we've kind of put our award system at a cross purpose. Grenada --
there were 7,000 men on that island. They gave 8,000 awards. There were 200
enemy Cuban soldiers and so on that island. And they gave 200 awards for valor.
One per enemy soldier.
So this is stretching it a bit far Brian. I think we need to go back and clean up our
act on awards and just give awards to soldiers. The final line on awards is to me
the only award -- that is, of today because it's been considerably prostituted --
that really means something to warriors is the Purple Heart and above that, the
Combat Infantry Badge. That means I've been there. In Vietnam there were 100
Infantry Battalions. Of that 100 Battalions there was 1,600 Rifle Platoons.
So of the 550,000 men that fought in Vietnam that were in Vietnam that served in
Vietnam only 50,000 men were Infantry out fighting the enemy. And every time
they put their foot down they didn't know if they were going to have a foot, a leg,
or a life. So I think that we have to look at medals in the military and in Vietnam
from that viewpoint. That it's become a big corporation rather than a fighting
institution. And I think we need to return our military to an organization that can
serve and defend our country without all these games people play.
LAMB: How many awards did you win? How many ribbons?
HACKWORTH: Gee, I don't know.
LAMB: How many Purple Hearts?
HACKWORTH: Eight. Now, that means something to me.
LAMB: What did you do the first time you were wounded? And where was it?
HACKWORTH: Now let's see. I was a little kid in Korea. Was a squad leader
of an infantry squad and I was flushing out a sniper and he got me first. The bullet
struck me in the back of the head and came out under the skin and knocked me
on my tail. And I thought I was dead. Ringing in the ear and so on. And my
buddy that was with me that was covering me thought I was dead with blood
spurting everywhere. And it may have knocked me out -- I don't know.
But when I came to my senses I was by myself and I crawled out of there and it
was way out in front of the enemy lines and we had just killed three enemy, a
machine gun crew on the way to this position where I was firing at the sniper.
And I had to crawl over these three fellows and I knew they'd be alive. And I, in
panic, had dropped my weapon.
So I finally crawled over them and got back to the American lines and was
patched up and back to the hospital. And I wanted to return because I wanted to
get back to my unit. Because again that point that I brought out earlier, it was my
family. The guys I really loved. And there's no bonding like that on the battlefield
-- that among combat infantrymen.
LAMB: Can you remember -- and you don't have to go through all these -- but
can you remember the other seven times you were wounded?
HACKWORTH: Yeah. As clear as a bell. It's something I don't think you'd ever
LAMB: Tell us a couple of them.
HACKWORTH: Oh, gee. I think the one time I was lying in a position and we
were being shelled and my platoon Sergeant flung his arm over my back and a
shell exploded right next to us. And the platoon Sergeant said, "Oh, I'm hit." And
when things settled down and we started, Well, what you normally do is start
checking out your body because things are thumping up against you -- dirt and so
on -- and just check out if you've been wounded. And I realized I hadn't, and I
said, "Well, let's get out of here." And Greer found that his arm was nailed to my
back. And the shrapnel had gone though his arm and nailed it to my back so we
had to pry his arm from my back. So that was one that I wouldn't forget.
Another time was in Korea again in 1951, 4 November -- I had a hand grenade
blow up underneath me. And it blew me way up in the air and flung me down on
the ground and tore my arm almost off. And I thought I was going to die and a
Sergeant named Jack Speed from Memphis, Tennessee came running up and he
said, "Well, the old man's dead." And I thought never am I going to die on this
hill. And I got up enough strength and walked to where the doc was patching
So you don't forget those experiences. And they all kind of happen in slow
motion, Brian. Now you recall the whole thing. And it's something -- all of us had
been at one time or another have been in danger of some sort -- in an accident
with a car and you can see that car swerving over and everything slowed down
and you can see the other car coming and you think, "Why can't I stop?" And
that's the way combat is. I think when it comes to the time where you're in the
utmost danger, you're whole system slows down where you're recording every
micro second of it.
LAMB: When do you remember in your life being the most afraid or having the
HACKWORTH: Well, on the battlefield you're frightened all the time. And you
live with it. And the beauty of being a leader of being a squad leader, a platoon
sergeant, company commander and so on was you were busy. You were looking
after your troops. Shepherding your herd, so to speak. You were calling in
artillery fire, bringing in air, maneuvering your unit, talking on the radio and you
simply didn't have time to be as concerned as that warrior is who's just waiting
behind a wall for someone to say, "Let's get up and go." So that's the real
And another problem is the brighter you are, the more imagination you have and
the more things your brain can conjure up can happen to you -- so if you're a
"dolefoot," and you're not too clever, you know, you might make it through the
night without a lot of stress. And I think that one of the things from Vietnam is this
Vietnam stress syndrome -- is that those kids endured something that the
American soldier in the history of our country from 1776 forward didn't
experience in battle -- and that was that minute to minute experience of walking
through a field laced with booby traps that were carefully camouflaged. You
know that 50 percent of all casualties in Vietnam came from mines and booby
traps. And I think that that business, if you were lucky to survive for the 365 days
our infantry fought in Vietnam, that would sear your mind. And I think that that is
one of the causes of disturbances among the men that fought in Vietnam.
LAMB: Tell our audience, we are talking about this book right here "About
Face," Colonel David Hackworth along with Julie Johnson. I mean, Julie
Sherman, I'm sorry. How did you write this book?
HACKWORTH: Well, it took five years Brian. Five long years. And what Julie
and I first did was worked out a game plan. We decided to tape every
experience that I had and that before the taping -- this is audio tape -- we took all
of the documents, the notebooks, the papers, the things I had saved throughout
my 25-year military experience and we "compartmentalized" -- we envisioned we
would be writing 18 chapters.
And maybe it was a notebook, a little small book I'd carried in Korea, which had
only six or seven lines in it, or a letter from a friend, or letter that I had sent home
that was saved by my brother or my sister-in-law or someone. And once we'd
organized those 18 boxes of information then we went through those and
recorded those experiences. Then that became a transcript about this -- about 57
Then Julie went through that and set out what the story was. And then she would
write a chapter and give me the chapter. I would rewrite the chapter -- while she
was doing two, I would be doing one. And then from that, names would fall out.
We only started with about three or four names, and we ended up with almost
400 people who contributed to the book, which made the book alive in that we
were drawing on the experiences on the memories of a lot of other warriors.
And so I was, like then, by the end of the book, driving the truck and there were
300-odd guys in the back of the truck, whose voices we could use and added to
the wealth and the knowledge that's contained in the book. And the accuracy too.
Because you're memory is a funny thing. And on the battlefield too you can only
see over the sights of your rifle -- so you don't see the big picture. And we
wanted to tell the big picture as best we could.
So then these chapters would go back and forth and we'd integrate the input from
the letters from the people that we were tracing down and we'd crank their stuff
into it. And then the thing would be rewritten and rewritten and rewritten. Some
chapters were written 20 times. So that put a big strain on Julie and I. There's a
thing -- Julie's a screenwriter, not a book writer, and there's a thing in her trade
called abandon. You just get so much information -- and in my case I was so
passionate about the subject because I felt the book would cause people to learn.
The book would cause people not to make those horrible mistakes again.
So I wanted to get every little detail in so I might -- for example, one chapter
which is called, "The Wolfhounds," which deals with Korea of 1950 and '51 and
early '52. When it was completely done, locked in concrete, I had gotten some
information from the National Archives that really lent a lot of information to that
particular chapter. And I went to Julie and I said, "Look, golly, this is great stuff,
we need to put it in." And she felt we had reached a point of abandonment on
that chapter. And so we had that kind of friction. We would give and take friction
to get the book together and get it done correctly. And that's why it took five
years, which is a lot of your life.
LAMB: Where did you write it? Where were you physically?
HACKWORTH: We wrote it in Australia. This was supported by three or four
visits to the United States by Julie where she went and interviewed the people
that we had tracked down in their hometowns. So she traveled all over America
recording people's comments and collecting data and so on. So we tried to make
the book as complete and accurate as possible.
LAMB: Why did Julie have this kind of time? Was this a full-time job?
HACKWORTH: We made it a full-time job. We decided it was such an
important message -- that you know the war has changed so significantly from the
time that say my ancestors came to America in 1622 and landed in James City
and they were firing old musket weapons at the Indians and the Indians were
firing bows and arrows back at them. And by the time I was to leave the military
we had awesome weapons in our inventory that one alone could bring about the
destruction humankind. We saw what Chernobyl brought about. Well, if
Chernobyl was a bomb that was on a submarine or an airplane or at the end of a
missile it would be a very small one in what the Soviets and the Americans and
the English have in their inventories. So I felt that we had to bring out the point
that through our story that war is no longer probably the means to resolve
conflict. We got to find a new way to do it. And that's kind of one of the bottom
lines of the book.
LAMB: Did you spend some of your own money to keep this thing going?
HACKWORTH: Oh, we sure did. And the advance was small because Simon
Schuster didn't know us from Adam. We had never written a book before of any
significance and so the advance was really small. And Julie dipped into her
savings, and luckily I was retired Army so I had my little magic blue check
coming in every month and that's what kept us going.
LAMB: Somewhere I read that you moved to Australia and became a millionaire
several times over. Is that true?
HACKWORTH: Well, Jim Webb said that, and I know he worked hard to do
LAMB: You talking about the "Parade Magazine" article?
HACKWORTH: Yeah, that's right. But I think that's an error, and I'm glad
you're going to correct it to the nation. I did do well, but I didn't -- well, in those
kind of numbers. I used my military experience and my military training which I
found that were very appropriate and applicable to civilian life. If you thought
things out and made your decisions rationally and logically, it was very easy to be
a success. So I used my military training in running restaurants and establishing a
duck farm and so on, and I found that civilian life is a piece of cake.
LAMB: Why did you come home?
HACKWORTH: Well, I came home mainly to promote the book. But I think an
important part of this which I didn't understand last May -- my son graduated
from school and I came to his graduation at Berkeley. And at the same time
brought the manuscript back -- the final manuscript to Simon and Schuster. And
then I left there and went out to Montana to spend a few days with my best
friend. And I suddenly realized that I wanted to come home.
That the book had had such a cathartic effect on me -- such a healing effect, such
a purging effect -- that it had taken all of the bitterness out. It had taken all of the
need to strike out and get revenge for what happened. And I realized that I
wanted to return home and return to my roots. And in this score from that
"Parade" piece I have received hundreds of letters and many of the people writing
those letters had also read the book because the article told about the book.
And so many Vietnam veterans, so many wives of soldiers that were killed in
Vietnam, parents of soldiers who were killed in Vietnam wrote to me and said the
book had a healing effect for them. And I'm really thrilled with this, that here
maybe we've explained what happened and now to parents who over all of these
years have thought, "My God, why did my son die and what were the
circumstances?" And as one lieutenant wrote to me said, "Now, I understand."
I felt so guilty over all of these years that I was the one who told men to die and
they followed my orders. And I realize that I was fighting in a bad war. Maybe in
an unjust war. In a war that perhaps my country shouldn't have been in the first
place. So I'm glad that that kind of message is coming out of it because that's the
kind of effects it's had on me, Brian.
LAMB: Are you home for good?
HACKWORTH: You're darn tootin'.
LAMB: Where are you going to live?
HACKWORTH: I think in Montana or Colorado. Someplace up high where I
can be out in the country. I like the wilderness, and I'm not into the big cities. I've
just been in New York for three or four days, and I couldn't sleep from all the
noise. Because I live in Australia on top of a little hill all by myself, and when I
hear a car coming down the road, they're coming to see me. And I don't hear that
many cars coming down the road. So to suddenly to be thrust in New York City
where they're collecting the garbage at midnight and there's crash bang boom, it
was like living on a battlefield. So I'll live probably up in the hills where my family
came from. So I'm really had this passion to return to my roots.
LAMB: On the cover of your book and obviously inside down at the bottom, you
have, "With an introduction by Ward Just." Who is Ward Just? And why did you
ask him to do this introduction?
HACKWORTH: Ward Just is a writer. He wrote for Newsweek, Washington
Post, he's now a novelist and a very good one. And Ward Just had a profound
influence on my life. It started with in June of 1966 during the battle of Duc To.
Ward was with one of my platoons -- a reconnaissance platoon that found
themselves in a very tough fire fight deep into enemy positions. And they were
surrounded and had a great number of casualties and Ward was wounded in this
action. And that night we couldn't get to this sieged unit with infantry to reinforce
them. We were working toward that end -- the unit had eight seriously wounded
men who in terms of the medic that was on the ground reckoned they wouldn't
make it till first light when we could get them out with choppers.
So we got an all-volunteer Air Force chopper crew that flew over the battlefield,
took a lot of fire, but "winched" them out. And while I thought that this reporter
would come out too, he refused and he gave up his seat so a fellow in his
judgment who was more severely wounded could get out. He stayed on the
ground, stayed surrounded and so on, when he had a free ticket out, which was
so untypical to reporters in Vietnam. And he won me for life. And he joined the
brotherhood. He joined the brotherhood of infantryman. And when the fight was
over. I went to the hospital. I awarded him the Combat Infantry Badge. I took
him a rifle that we had captured in the fight a Chinese rifle and he became my
friend for life.
And then, coincidentally, I was from that assignment assigned to the Pentagon
right here in this city. And as was Ward. He became the Washington Post military
correspondent. So we dealt a lot together, and I learned from him. He wrote his
very brilliant book, "To What End," and he asked me to review the manuscript.
And then I realized the war wasn't only a war of tactics and strategy but a war of
winning the people to the side of the government in South Vietnam. And there
were so many other political implications other than the "wham-bam" of the
battlefield. And so Ward became my teacher and caused me to kind of wake up.
So that I knew that he had the sensitivity to write an introduction that would
really tell what our book was all about.
LAMB: For some reason I found myself in the MacArthur Museum in Norfolk,
Virginia a couple days ago and saw a film prepared by the museum that showed
General MacArthur during the Korean War. And at one point watching this they
showed the General at Enchong and the comment voiced over something to the
effect this was one of the smartest things that General MacArthur did in Korea
was to land the troops at Enchong. It was even stronger than that. You talked
about generals earlier. What do you think of General MacArthur?
HACKWORTH: Well, I think that that there are a lot of arguments about what
happened at Enchong. But meanwhile back at the Pusan perimeter we were
getting stronger and stronger. So we were about to break out anyway. And he
took an enormous risk to employ the forces that he did against the
recommendations of the Navy, the Marine Corps. It was a very daring thing to
do. And it might have been a desperate thing to do.
I think that what happened to General MacArthur was he became a law unto
himself. I think he had developed to the point where he didn't have to follow
orders. And the thing about a soldier is you must follow orders. And I think that
we experience that with MacArthur and a much lower level we experienced it
with Oliver North. His failure to follow the Constitution and his failure to follow
the instructions that he received. The law. And once you go beyond the law when
you've got military forces at your disposal our only purpose as soldiers is to
defend this country. And when you start doing things on your own you're violating
LAMB: You talk about in your own book when you were a soldier where you
would do things beyond, I can't remember where I read it maybe it was the Jim
Webb piece where you would stretch the law or stretch the rules to..
HACKWORTH: Yeah. I always broke the rules. OK, I was never a soldier that
followed the rules. But there's a difference between breaking an Army regulation
than breaking a law of our country and violating the Constitution. And that's why
when I became so frustrated over what was happening in Vietnam. I didn't shred
the Constitution. I stood and took the message to the people because I believed
and this was the thing that hurt me that we were a nation of the people by the
people and for the people and what our nation was all about was exactly that.
And that's the thing that I found scary. That the people were asleep. And the
people were not in charge. And they left the running of our government to the
generals to the politicians to the presidents and so on. And I think that those cats
needs us to tell them what to do. And if we think they are in charge we're making
a mistake because this country should be ran by the people. That's what
democracy is all about.
LAMB: You said earlier that the generals take their orders from the civilians. The
soldier takes his order from the boss, I mean where -- how can you have a
successful war if the generals aren't running the show?
HACKWORTH: Well, it's a prerequisite that the general the guy in charge to
ensure that if he's in a war that he's fighting the war as effectively as frugally as
brilliantly as swiftly as possible. The whole key to war is not a very complicated
thing is get there, with the mostest, grab your enemy by the short of the stock and
give him a punch that he won't forget. And make a real impression on him. Now
when you do that you've got the initiative on your side.
What is happened in our military is that since 1946 we've become our generals
have removed themself from the war. They've become, as I said earlier,
corporate generals. They've become people who are involved in the politics of
things rather than the war of things. And in becoming politicians they've
developed a kind of go along to get along attitude. Now this is wrong.
What's a general should do if I am you general and you've task me to fight in
Vietnam? Let's use that situation then. I would say "Mr. President, you realize that
the security is not at stake there. Why are we fighting there?" And you'd say,
"Well, we've got to contain communism there." And then I'd argue that perhaps
we wouldn't be containing communism there. But if you said General it's my
instruction that you will fight there.
I say right sir. I will deploy my forces accordingly. Now I need to fight there 12
divisions of infantry I would deploy them simultaneously. And I need to destroy
the Port of Heipong .I need to destroy the dikes in the Red River Delta. I need to
destroy Sinookville the port. I need to destroy all of the enemy sanctuaries. And
the President would say Well, we can't allow you to have those divisions. We
won't allow you to use your Navy to blockade and destroy Heipong.
Then it is my obligation to say I can't go into that war with these two mighty fists
tied behind my back. If you won't allow me to do it correctly and to win I quit.
Find another boy. And then I'd quit and you'd find another boy. And if we had
those kind of warriors that's what Ridgeway would have said and he did say that
in 1954 when our administration was considering going into that war and that is
what Patton would have said. And that's the kind of generalship we need. We
don't need corporate generals. We need warrior generals that know and are
willing to stand in the door. Who are willing to say that piece of equipment is
I mean why today are we spending for example a half a billion dollars on a
bomber -- a stealth bomber -- when they're not even sure it'll fly. Or why we're
spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the B-1 bomber and they're grounded
to be used only in war. Or why we have tanks like the Sergeant York divisional
anti-aircraft system which cost two billion dollars was quietly folded up because it
didn't work. But after the taxbearer had spent that kind of money.
So if you had generals who knew what the hell they were doing you wouldn't
have these problems. So what we've got to calculate and what our Congress has
to do -- and their at fault in this whole military procurement thing, too -- is that
they've got to insist that we produce those kind of people. And those are the kind
of people that we put stars on their shoulders. That the fighters from the past not
the writers from the present and the future.
LAMB: What, if you're President of the United States, how do you know that a
general has the right judgment when they come back at you? What makes you
think the President and the civilians don't have the right answer and they are
ordering the generals to carry out their mission and if just because a general
comes back and says I'm not going to do that" does that make the general right?
HACKWORTH: Well, he's got -- generals simply can't say "I won't do that." But
they'll give the reasons why. And then they're willing and the European sense to
resign if it's not done correctly. But we have developed a system of selection of
our generals that you must have a Masters Degree you must have gone to the
War College and have you been to Harvard. And have you had all of these
So that by the time you are a general you've forgotten what it is to lead troops.
We'll take Westmoreland for example, who I think is a great corporate general
on the battlefield of Europe. He would probably have been another Eisenhower.
He's a good man. I'm not saying that he's a bad man. But he was the wrong
fellow for that show in Vietnam. But if you take a guy like Westmoreland -- his
whole background is one of an administrator. Certainly he had the cursory
command experiences. But he didn't know what was going on the ground. His
background was he was an artilleryman. He had never been in an infantry
platoon, in an infantry company, in an infantry battalion in his life. Yet he was the
leader of a war which was purely an infantry war fought at those levels. So he
was like a car designer that had never driven a car. And many of our divisions
were commanded in Vietnam by those type people who simply didn't know their
They may have at one time. And I think that one of the problems is most of the
generals in Vietnam were the young Colonels of World War II. The best and the
brightest. And by the time they were 23, 24 years old they were a Lieutenant
Colonel. Today a fellow who is 23 years old is a Lieutenant and he'll probably be
a Lieutenant for a couple more years. So he's getting a lot of experience at
platoon level. Patton said an officer wasn't worth a pinch of salt until he had 10
years with troops. But our soldiers and our officers and leaders today don't get
that kind of experience.
I think today right now in 1989 the Army has recognized this. Now I've just been
to the 7th Division the 25th Division and the National Training Center out at Ft.
Erwin and I've talked to the young leaders. And these people are good. And the
battalion commanders that I spoke to had been with their battalions a long time
and were immanently qualified. And I think where it happens is once they leave
battalion and become a Bird Colonel or above that's where the corruption begins.
And then these are the fellows who become the generals and they are the ones
who go along to get along and won't stand in the door.
LAMB: If you've just joined us we are talking with retired Colonel David
Hackworth. This is his book. It's called "About Face: The Odyssey of an
American Warrior" co-authored with Julie Sherman. Go back to -- let's quickly
go over for those people who have just joined us your military experience. You
came in when you were 15 years old. You first served in Italy 1946.
HACKWORTH: '46 to '50.
LAMB: You were not in World War II?
HACKWORTH: Nope came at the end of World War, just when the war
LAMB: Came in as a ...?
LAMB: Enlisted man.
LAMB: You got a battlefield commission where?
HACKWORTH: In Korea.
LAMB: What was your first rank?
HACKWORTH: On the battlefield I was a squad leader then a platoon sergeant
then a platoon leader and then a company commander. And I was trained in in
Triest in almost a time warp. It was an isolated command. All of the NCO's were
sort of Burt Lancaster "From Here to Eternity" kind of guys.
LAMB: Now, non commissioned officers ...
HACKWORTH: The non commissioned officers. All of the officers were
imminently qualified from the war. Combat veterans and so on. So I thought that
was what the Army was all about. Meaning I thought the whole United States
Army was like Triest.
LAMB: Triest, Italy?
HACKWORTH: In Triest, in Italy. It was called Trust United States Troops.
Triest United States Troops. And when I left that command I was well trained in
the basics. And my platoon sergeant would beat it into our heads if you don't
learn it right you won't do it right. And we learned it right. By repetition. By iron
discipline and by great motivation, great spirit.
So I took those values and for the next 21 years imposed them on any unit that I
served in. And I was always in trouble for being too tough for being too
disciplined. But I'll tell you one thing Brian -- very few of my soldiers died
because I made damn certain that they were well trained. And if you're going to
have an army then that's their function. You've got to make certain they are well
trained. If you have an electrical company that's playing with electricity you want
to make damn well sure that all your electricians have played with electricity
before and know that if they touch the wrong thing they're dead.
LAMB: How much formal education do you have?
HACKWORTH: Seventh grade. Oh at that time, seventh grade, yes.
LAMB: How about now?
HACKWORTH: University degree. The army was incredibly good to me. They
educated me. They sent me to University. I went to Austin Peay University in
Tennessee and got a degree in History. And so I'm not just knocking the Army in
terms of attacking and institution. I have a great love for this institution because it
was my home. It looked after me and I just want to make sure that we'd never
repeat the mistakes of the past.
LAMB: Think the United States Army will ever fight again in a conventional war?
HACKWORTH: Well, that's hard to say and I don't have a crystal ball. I don't
think that I don't think you'll see a war between super powers. I think both the
Soviet Union and the United States realize that the destructive powers that they
have at the end of their canons is so mind boggling that it would destroy their
countries and destroy the world.
LAMB: If somebody told ...
HACKWORTH: But I do think -- if I just finish that -- I do think we will see
wars of national liberation similar to what we had in Vietnam. I think we'll see
wars in Latin America. Latin America is exploding and I think that is where our
strategic interests was really threatened and I think that we need forces who
know how to deal with that.
And more important we need diplomats right here in your city who can solve the
matter without conflict. Who can solve the matter through programs of education
and stopping this whole gringo thing of the arrogant yank coming in and taking
advantage of somebody that doesn't have the good things that we have. I think
that a lot can be done in Latin America to preclude a war. But I think we've got
to be prepared for that contingency.
LAMB: How long were you in Korea?
HACKWORTH: I was there in 1950, '51, '52. I went to Ft. Benning in 1952.
LAMB: Ft. Benning, Georgia?
HACKWORTH: Yeah. Just kind of like a mid level course on infantry which
went from the company to regiment. Then I went back to Korea '52 to '53.
LAMB: How long were you in Vietnam?
HACKWORTH: '65 through all of '65, '66, part of '67 and '69, '70 and half of
LAMB: What did we not learn from Korea? Or there's probably a better way to
ask that. But what mistakes did we make in Korea?
HACKWORTH: Well, that's a very good question because in Korea we made a
lot of mistakes. We simply went there with the view that here come Uncle Sam.
We just kicked the Jap's and the German's tail and if anybody gets in our way, it
was like John Wayne and the "Top Gun" type thing better stand aside.
And we thought our presence would stop the North Koreans as we did the same
in Vietnam as we did recently in Lebanon. Our presence would cool things off.
And we sent an army that was badly trained badly led by a lot of tired old men
and badly equipped that hadn't been trained for the battlefield. And we made a
lot of mistakes. And the things didn't turn around until we got a leader, Ridgeway.
When General Walker was killed Ridgeway took over and he turned winning one
of the most important events of military history. How one man can take a
defeated army and turn it around. That's why leadership is threaded through this
discussion so much. If you've got the right leader you can get the job done.
LAMB: Go back to General Ridgeway though and just tell me what you liked
about him as a leader.
HACKWORTH: He was on the battlefield. He knew his trade meaning he knew
what attack strategy was about. And he was not afraid to tell the President of the
United States Truman at that time when things were not going right.
LAMB: Did you know him?
HACKWORTH: I never knew him personally but I've admired him and I served
under his command of course in the 8th Army.
LAMB: How many people did you have command over in Korea?
HACKWORTH: In Korea -- oh, at the most it would be a rifle company -- a
couple hundred men.
LAMB: And what technique did you use leadership technique did you use in
Korea that you can remember that people responded to?
HACKWORTH: I talked to my soldiers. I was there. I would never give an
order that I wouldn't do myself. And I loved my soldiers I never wasted them.
They knew that and we formed a very perfect team. I was very hard on them,
meaning I was like a father that took his children and laid a very disciplined trip
But we were not playing in the back yard. We were playing in a life and death
game. And if I could train them where they were competent and confident then I
knew they could make it though the night. And the most horrible experience a
human can endure and that's being an infantryman on the battlefield when shells
are crashing in, booby traps are exploding, machine guns are ripping away. So it's
a one big raging atrocity Brian.
LAMB: Based on what you're experience was did you ever change the way you
lead troops after Korea?
HACKWORTH: No I always lead from the front. And that was Ridgeways way
LAMB: You'd physically go to the front?
HACKWORTH: I'd physically go to the front.
LAMB: Ahead of them?
HACKWORTH: Well, in the Delta of Vietnam I took over a battalion that was
so badly trained, it was filled with draftees and bad leadership and so on that I
virtually had to become a squad leader again. Meaning that I virtually had the lead
from the front. But as soon as I got them trained up I got back to where I could
You know you really can't fight a battalion or a brigade by playing squad leader.
You've got to get back and look at the battle and see it from an overview point.
But there's always a time that you've got to go and understand the pulse of it.
You've just got to grab on to the pulse of the fight and to find out what's going on.
The great generals of history the Jacksons and the Rommels and the Ridgeways
and the Gavans and so on, were guys who lead from the front. Not from their
helicopter as was in Vietnam. Or not from their command and control bunker
that's in the Pentagon. They were there and they knew what was going on. And
they had a good feel for the war.
LAMB: Another man who was outspoken in Vietnam who has been the subject
of another very successful book Neal Sheehan's "Bright Shining Lye" John Paul
Van. Got out as a Lieutenant Colonel came back as a Major General in the
HACKWORTH: I knew him well.
LAMB: You knew him well?
HACKWORTH: He was my company commander in Korea for awhile. And I
worked with him in the Delta and is a guy I admired a great deal.
HACKWORTH: He was one of the kind of guys that we're talking about. He
wasn't afraid to stand up and tell the truth.
LAMB: Well, he flew around in one of those planes.
HACKWORTH: Oh yeah, but that's when he was killed. And I flew around in
one of those planes too. But I wasn't reluctant to land the damn thing and get on
the ground and lead my troops nor was John Paul Van. He was a doer a shaker
and a maker. And I liked him and I thought he was a good man.
LAMB: Neal Sheehan gives you a mixed picture though on him.
HACKWORTH: Well, Neal Sheehan goes into his personal background and I
don't know if I cared for all of that but I didn't write the book. That's up to Neal
Sheehan to say what he had to say. But I think, I enjoyed the book very much
and I think that our book certainly dove tails very neatly with it as a companion
piece. Because we're talking about the war from the standpoint of the U.S. where
that was the Vietnamese side. Even though we have one strong chapter that deals
with Arvin and the Vietnamese from my almost two plus years experience
working as an advisor at brigade and division and special zone level in Vietnam
with the Vietnamese.
LAMB: What do you think men in the military in a war situation respond to the
best personal relationship, tough, versus loud versus quiet all those little things that
people study when it comes to leadership? What was your style? Did you scream
and yell at them?
HACKWORTH: No I don't think you get a lot done by screaming and yelling. I
think that by setting the example by winning their confidence, letting them know
that you're not a butcher, that you love them that you're going to care for them
and that you really know your trade.
And once your soldiers know that and I'll give you a good story that's told in an
about face. I'd taken over this battalion this one I'd described of draftees and on
the first day and I just couldn't believe the condition of this unit. It was total
disintegration and I reckoned that their defensive positions wouldn't hack it. If we
were attacked if the enemy hit us we'd be in serious trouble.
So my first order after taking over the unit was by midnight I want us to be fall
back three hundred yards. I want new positions dug. And I want all this junk
taken out. There was cokes and soft drinks in little containers on position. Men
slept in cots. The weapons were rusty. Ammunition was in the mud. It was just
simply not a professional military organization. It was an organization that had
been blooded for six months and they were just waiting for disaster.
So I fell them back. They dug in their new holes got their new positions together
with a lot of grumbling who is this new guy that they would call me G.I. Joe who
going to change this thing around and blow our nice soft life apart. And exactly at
midnight that night as if I would have planned it we got hit with everything that the
enemy could throw at us. With rockets and with artillery and fire of all sorts.
And the men went to their defensive position and I had been away from troops
from combat troops OK I'd had a battalion at Ft. Lewis just before I came to
Vietnam on this tour but I'd been away from the war for a couple years and I was
nervous as Nellie you know I grabbed the radio and thought, "jeez," I hope I
don't blow this thing.
Here's with all my combat experience you can imagine these dilettantes that came
in who hadn't been with troops for 10 or 15 years and took a battalion, OK, and
as I was adjusting artillery and calling in air and getting flare ships and all these
good things you do under those circumstances a young lieutenant ran by to go
into his fighting position and he said I'll tell you what he's a mean son of a bitch
but he knows what he's doing.
LAMB: And that that was success?
HACKWORTH: And the next day the grumbling slowed down. And those
words were probably spread throughout the battalion that I knew what I was
doing. And if we had more people in Vietnam who knew what they were doing, I
think the outcome of that war at the tactile level on the battlefield would have
been a lot different. We would have come out with real honor rather than the
Kessinger peace with honor. Meaning where we sold out our allies.
LAMB: If you had to pick a general that's in the United States Army today that's
your kind of general you got anybody?
HACKWORTH: I got lots of them.
LAMB: Name a couple.
HACKWORTH: Oh sure. There's Jim Mussleman, Johnny Howard, Jim
Mukyama. Kids that I knew who were young lieutenants, young majors and so
on. Don Hilbert right here in your city. You got a lot of very competent guys. I'm
very pleased with the number of generals that I know that I've soldiered with
Glenn Mallory. I could name probably a dozen. So I think that somebody who's
picking generals are picking the kind of guys who will stand in the door and who
will give us who bring back that warrior leader spirit that we had in this country
before the Pattons and the Ridgeways.
LAMB: Back in 1971 you went on "Issues and Answers" to say, had you
planned to say the strong things about the Vietnam war that you did?
HACKWORTH: Well, I had a lot of time to ruminate about it. And it was a hell
of a decision because I knew I was cutting my throat in terms of the military. I
knew I was all washed up if I sounded off. But I felt it was necessary that I did
and so I did my homework and, meaning, I knew I was going to talk about
training. I was going to talk about, "Vietnamization," I was going to talk about
how the war was being fought about the senior leadership. So when it came to
filming it I had my act together.
LAMB: Where did you do it?
HACKWORTH: Right in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta.
LAMB: Do you remember who interviewed you?
HACKWORTH: Yeah. A guy named Howard Tuckner from ABC and a Nick
George who was the ABC grill chief. Later Nick George was very responsible
for I think probably keeping me alive. Because the Army became immediately
angry and a lot of funny things happened to me and Nick George just simply
assigned a camera team and a narrator to me. Wherever I went along with this
ABC team and I had the power of the press. It was a great insurance policy in
my back pocket.
LAMB: Did they know when they assigned the crew to you that you were going
to sound off?
HACKWORTH: Well, the ABC people had been asking for about three months
to do this interview. And I was trying to weigh up whether I wanted to pay the
price or go to War College and get a star and go onward and upward so ...
LAMB: How did they know by the way that you were even controversial?
HACKWORTH: Ward just wrote a book called "Military Men." I don't know if
you remembered that book and there was a chapter in there called "The
Colonel." It didn't mention me by name but, and he tried to shape me so you
couldn't, like he made me 5'9" and changed my appearance a bit and so on but
among the media they knew that that was David Hackworth. And they knew
those words were mine and they could feel the anger. And what they were trying
to do is get me to be the first senior guy to sound off. And in retrospect I'm glad I
did it. I'm sure that I caused us to get out of that mess a little bit earlier.
LAMB: A minute left. What's been the reaction by the military to this book and
has anybody not liked it an come and told you so?
HACKWORTH: The reaction to the military the current military that's running
things right in your town has been very favorable. They allowed me, first of all
General Bagnell commander of the western command out in the Pacific invited me
out there to talk on my Vietnam experience. To talk about how to fight the
guerilla to his commanders and staff. I visited the 25th Division the 7th Division by
invitation of their commanders.
I visited the National Training Center so I think that I'm rather surprised that they
are letting somebody who had once gave them a good blast in the nose back. But
I think that they think that there is some good lessons learned in this book and
they can learn something from me. So they've forgiven me and I've forgiven them.
And remember the guys running the Army today weren't the generals in Vietnam.
They were the majors who where mumbling and grumbling and bitching and
moaning just like I was. They knew the truth.
LAMB: The book -- "About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior".
Colonel David H. Hackworth, U.S. Army retired, and Julie Sherman. Thank you
very much for your time.
HACKWORTH: My pleasure.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1989. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.