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The 1965 battle of the Ia Drang Valley was a five-day battle that occurred in the central highlands of South Vietnam. It stands as the first major battle of the Vietnam War. The fighting happened at multiple locations or LZ’s (landing zones) that the US command saw as an ideal opportunity to test the newly developed air mobility tactics. Lt Gen. Harold G. Moore led the first battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. The battle would eventually act as a preview and representation of the trauma and chaos that was yet to come in following years during the war.

Plei Me
The battle of the Ia Drang Valley began at Plei Me, the Special Forces camp in Vietnam. It was October 19, 1965, at 11 PM when the first mortar rounds hit the ground. The battle for Plei Me essentially marks the beginning of the American military involvement in Vietnam. After this attack at Plei Me the United States finds itself in an undeclared war with the Vietcong, the rebel force in South Vietnam, and the powerful armies of North Vietnam. The communist North Vietnamese aimed at completely wiping out the American base camp at Plei Me. If it wasn’t for the American air assaults, American forces would have been completely destroyed. We learned many lessons during the seven-day battle to protect Plei Me, especially about the determination of the enemy. For the men defending Plei Me the battle was over, but for the American soldiers in the 1st Battalion 7thAir Cavalry Division, it was just beginning.

New Strategy
Gen. Richard Knowles, the assistant commander of the 1st Battalion 7th Air Cavalry Division, understood and sought a new concept of battle. The responsibility and objective of the 1st Battalion was to secure the surrounding perimeter of the Plei Me base camp. The ultimate goal was to move closer to the Cambodian border, searching for the enemy and its main supply area. The Americans leapt into battle using helicopters because it was nearly impossible to get into selected areas in the jungles and to efficiently resupply. A significant amount of training and planning was required to carry out this new strategy effectively. Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore was chosen to organize this movement. Once on the ground, a steady flow of helicopters as transportation and supply would be extremely complementary. This technique called “Airmobile” was our first major employment of the helicopter in battle. The Americans would engage the enemy with the aid of these helicopters at several specific Landing Zone locations. Their mission was plain and simple: find and kill the enemy.

LZ X-Ray
Of the seven Landing Zones chosen near the Chu Pong Hills in the Central Highlands of North Vietnam, LZ X-Ray was the first one put into action. Lt. Moore was the Battalion commander of the entire operation. He decided to call in a preliminary air strike that would give us more time to get all the soldiers on the ground safely. Moore’s biggest fear was being attacked directly upon landing. Getting all of his men on the ground through the new Airmobile strategy would take up to five hours. For the first hour that the men arrived at X-Ray on November 14, 1965, it appeared that the North Vietnamese army was nowhere to be found. Soon, however, the sound of gunfire erupted in the distance, and our men started taking charge of a tree line while under fire. Later, under heavy fire, they established position on a creek bed beyond which was no man’s land. As the battle progressed, more and more enemy soldiers poured out from the mountains and headed directly towards LZ X-Ray. The mountain at which Moore’s troops landed was home to three battalions of the North Vietnamese Army (roughly 1000 enemy troops). The Americans were outnumbered but made up for that through the use of constant artillery and deadly air assault bombings. Air support put down a barrier of explosive protection around the infantry. By the first afternoon a lull in the fighting occurred, opening the LZ, allowing helicopters to land and relieve the troops with fresh supplies and to collect the wounded soldiers. 79 Americans were killed and 121 wounded; more than 600 North Vietnamese died.

Lost Platoon
Soon after arrival at X-Ray, a very young and inexperienced Lieutenant by the name of Henry Herrick spotted a few enemy soldiers running deep into the jungle. Herrick was known as a determined soldier focused on winning the Medal of Honor and making a name for himself. His decision as a platoon leader to pursue these soldiers and capture them as prisoners would have significant consequences. He didn’t realize they were being led straight into a guerilla-warfare-style ambush. As they progressed into the jungles and further away from the landing zone, Herrick’s platoon quickly became surrounded by enemy troops and began losing men. Within the first hour they were pinned down, the platoon leaders were all dead. Lacking Herrick and the others in the chain of command, Sgt. Ernie Savage took over. He grabbed a radio and called in the proper coordinates for artillery fire. Although having held off enemy troops to some extent, the cut-off platoon could not immediately be rescued because the other platoons were also in trouble. Members of this “lost platoon” were badly wounded and stranded in the forest through the night, and they had no choice but to hold their own under enemy fire until American troops could breakthrough to rescue them. Artillery fire all around them shielded them all night. The lost platoon held their ground all the way up until the air assault “Broken Arrow” the next afternoon, November 15. Afterwards, when it was finally clear to rescue them, 8 men had been killed, 14 wounded.

Broken Arrow
On the morning of the second day, the North Vietnamese mounted a massive surprise attack, so massive that Moore used the code word “Broken Arrow” to call in every means of air support available in South Vietnam to come to the aid of a battalion that was about to be overrun. Moore’s troops were completely surrounded and overwhelmed by the enemy’s presence, and he called the subsequent air support “A blessed river of high powered destruction.” It resulted in many enemy casualties and, unfortunately, some allied casualties as well. Eventually after this large-scale assault, the North Vietnamese Army retreated. After clearing the battlefield and collecting the wounded and dead soldiers, a fresh set of reinforcement Battalions arrived on scene and would finish up the action at LZ X-Ray for the 1st Battalion of the 7thAir Cavalry Division.

LZ Albany Ambush
As Moore and the 1st Battalion withdrew from LZ X-Ray on November 16, General Westmoreland ordered the fresh 2nd Battalion of the 7th Air Cavalry Division and 2nd Battalion of the 5th Cavalry Division to remain there for a few days to avoid the appearance of a retreat. After it was ordered for them to move, they were sent on a tactical march to the other nearby landing zones. The 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Division was ordered to LZ Albany November 17, under the command of Lt. Col. Robert McDade. The battle of Ia Drang was truly a two-part battle, and LZ X-Ray was only the first half. As the soldiers moved to support LZ Albany, they suddenly found themselves involved in a bloody ambush. The battalion moving to Albany was strung out marching in a long column through thick jungle and tall grass. When they were ambushed they were completely vulnerable and cut-off from their destination at Albany. The ambush that the Vietnamese sprung was violent close-quarter hand-to-hand combat. Many were killed, and the wounded who were left were either captured or killed by enemy walk by’s. The second part to the Ia Drang battle has been described as a long and bloody traffic jam in the jungle. The 2nd Battalion was almost completely annihilated from this attack: roughly 70 percent of the soldiers were either killed or wounded. After the fighting eventually ceased, a landing zone for medevacs was established. The Americans then finally left the Ia Drang Valley completely and headed to LZ Crooks on November 19, 1965, after 155 Americans were killed or missing and 124 wounded. Overall, between LZ X-Ray and Albany 234 Americans were killed and at least 1037 North Vietnamese.

Moore and Galloway
Best known as the Lieutenant Colonel in command of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, during the LZ X-Ray phase of the Battle of Ia Drang, in 1965 during the Vietnam War, Hal Moore received the Distinguished Service Cross, which is the second highest military decoration of the United States Army, and was the first of his West Point class (1945) to be promoted to brigadier general, major general, and lieutenant general. Joseph Galloway was a combat reporter for United Press International during the Vietnam War and embedded with the 1st Cavalry Division during the Battle of Ia Drang Valley. Galloway received a Bronze Star in 1998 for repeatedly disregarding his own safety to rescue wounded soldiers under fire. Galloway was the only civilian decorated by the U.S. Army with a Bronze Star with Valor during the Vietnam War. Moore and Galloway collaborated on a best-selling account of the battle of Ia Drang, We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young, 1992, which was the basis for a film written and directed by Randall Wallace and starring Mel Gibson in 2002.

Print Resources

Cash, John A., John Albright, and Allan W. Sandstrum. "Fight at Ia Drang." Seven Firefights in Vietnam. Washington: The United States Army Center of Military History, 1970, 1985.
This article touches extensively on the details of the Battle of Ia Drang, especially the events prior to the battle (the first major battle in the Vietnam War) before Col. Hal Moore steps in, events people usually know little about. Moore's name can be seen throughout this document symbolizing just how much he was responsible for coordinating this battle. The overall battle strategy is revealed here, while highlighting the cause and effect behind every tactical approach of the Americans and North Vietnamese. (Main page:
Mason, Robert. Chickenhawk. New York: Viking Press, 1983.
Chapter Five, "Ia Drang", describes the increasingly hectic pace of the fighting in November 1965 during the Battle of Ia Drang.
Moore, Harold G, and Joseph L. Galloway. We Were Soldiers Once And Young: Ia Drang, the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. New York: Random House, 1992.
This book can be defined as the ultimate narrative of the specific events that happened during the Battle of Ia Drang through the eyes of Col. Hal Moore and journalist Joseph Galloway. It does not touch so much on the details of the battle and the time period but primarily on the way in which the soldiers responded to their assignments. Heroism and sacrifice are the two major underlining themes that this book brings into plain sight. This book is an inside look or, in other words, the ultimate compliment to this historical battle.
Smith, Jack. "Death in the Ia Drang Valley." Saturday Evening Post 28 January 1967. 80-85.
Smith's jaw-dropping story includes being used as a sandbag for a machine gun by an enemy soldier. You rarely have the opportunity to read a real soldier laying out horrifying and life-changing experiences, such as being Medevac'd, for the public to read. Smith was truly in a tough position in the Ia Drang battle. He survived friendly fire and appears to have seen the most serious effects of the battle while still having his life to retell it. Vietnam would still get the best of Smith years later, however, when he dies from pancreatic cancer because of Agent Orange.
Swager, Brent. "Rescue at LZ Albany." Vietnam October 1999.
Interview of Colonel Willard Bennett that reveals some of the small acts of heroism that occurred during the battle in the midst of absolute terror. Bennett was a good pilot with nerves of steel and a special sense of duty. He was commander of Charlie Company in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile): "He was a pilot with the ability to think and react adeptly in the most intense combat situations." The Ia Drang Battle was exceptionally new to all Americans, therefore the whole idea of flying into battle by helicopter was a modern technique and had not been tested before. It took pilots like Bennett to assure the stability of the troops on the group and their success. Without an aware, steady, and constant fluctuation of helicopters in and out of the battlefield, disaster or even total destruction could occur. In this story, complete tragedy is avoided. And during a battle like the Ia Drang, you appreciate and cherish every last bit of triumph.

See Also

Builder, Carl H. , Steven C. Bankes, and Richard Nordin. "No Time For Reflections: Moore at Ia Drang." Command Concepts: A Theory Derived From the Practice of Command and Control. RAND 1999. Chapter 7.

Coleman, J.D. Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Fitzgerald, John J. "The Battle of the la Drang Valley: A Comparative Analysis of Generals, the Media, and the Soldiers." OAH Magazine of History 18.5 (2004): 37-43.

Galloway, Joseph L. "Fatal Victory." U.S. News & World Report 29 October. 1990: 32–36.

Gwin, S. Lawrence, Jr. "Ambush at Albany." Vietnam October 1990.

Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Ballantine, 1993.

Hellmann, John. American Myth and the Legacy of Vietnam. New York: Columbia UP, 1986.

Herr, Michael. Dispatches. 1977. New York: Vintage, 1991.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Kinnard, Lt. Gen. Harry W. O. "A Victory in the Ia Drang: The Triumph of a Concept." Army September 1967: 71–91.

Pierce, Kenneth R. "The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley." Military Review. 69.1 (1989): 87-97.

Pribbenow, Merle L. "The Fog of War: the Vietnamese View of the la Drang Battle." Military Review 81.1 (2001): 93-98.

Summers Jr., Harry G. "The Bitter Triumph of Ia Drang." American Heritage. 35.2 (1984): 51.

Video/Audio Resources

ABC News -- Vietnam: They Were Young and Brave. The ABC "Day One" show, Forrest Sawyer moderating. 1993.
This ABC news special program highlights the events of the Ia Drang Valley battle through the accounts of returning veterans. We see Lt. Harold G Moore, Joseph Galloway, Jack Smith, George Forrest, and many other significant veterans. The former American soldiers relive the battle and explain specific experiences. Half of the film looks at the events at the initial landing zone X-Ray, while the second half focuses on the not so successful and demoralizing attack on Americans at landing zone Albany.
The Battle of Ia Drang Valley (1965)
This is the actual CBS News Special Report of the Ia Drang battle just six days after its conclusion. Within the week of this battle, the American casualties exceeded the causalities of the Korean War. This news report demonstrates very accurately how exactly the country would have been informed of this battle. It also comes across as breaking news to Americans -- the first word. Using a giant diagram, Morley Safer explains the progression of the battle, and essentially the Vietnam War, very effectively. Generally speaking this source is a key and reliable one while putting viewers on the balcony of history like they were actually alive during this time period or present at the battle. (Also available
Day Under Fire: Vietnam War. National Geographic Channel. 2007
This National Geographic presentation focuses on the firsthand accounts from combat veterans. Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore narrates, "Troops in battle don't fight for what some president says on TV, for mom and apple pie, they don't fight for the flag!" The film provides reflections particularly from four veterans who reveal their harrowing experiences fighting in the first major battle of the Vietnam War. Using actors, this video resource also gives the viewer a complete reenactment of the events that occurred.
Vietnam in HD. History Channel. 2011.
"Vietnam in HD is a 6-part American documentary television miniseries that originally aired from November 8 to November 11, 2011 on the History Channel. From the same producers as WWII in HD, the program focuses on the firsthand experiences of thirteen Americans during the Vietnam War. The thirteen Americans retell their stories in Vietnam paired with found footage from the battlefield." Joe Galloway is one of the tellers. Episode 1: The Beginnings (1964-1965) covers the battle. All episodes are available online:,, etc.

Online Resources

Battle of the Ia Drang
This website breaks down the Battle of the Ia Drang into many sections. The most effective sections I believe to be Background / Northern Vietnamese Plan / Early Movements by 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) / LZ X-Ray / Air Attacks / LZ Albany / U.S. Lessons Learned. Keep in mind all was written as a citizens' compendium.
Front & Center, with John Callaway, October 8, 2005.
Video interview of Moore and Galloway in the context of the Iraq War on a segment of Callway's show done at the Pritkzer Military Library. Chicago.
Galloway, Joseph L. "Vietnam story: The word was the Ia Drang would be a walk. The word was wrong." U.S. News & World Report 29 October 1990.
This is an extremely valuable resource. Galloway was Lt. Moore's tagalong during the course of the Ia Drang Battle, so we have here a factual and a reliable firsthand account. This special report commissioned by U.S. News is broken down into a 5-day explanation and epilogue. Galloway was the only American citizen correspondent present at Landing Zone X-Ray, and he was forced to fight along with the men as a true American soldier.
Galloway, Joseph. "Ia Drang -- The Battle That Convinced Ho Chi Minh He Could Win ." Vietnam 18 October 2010.
According to Galloway, the deep rotting feeling that the Vietnam War put out over the course of its run all began with the Ia Drang Battle. Galloway addresses the negativity surrounding the Ia Drang Battle and Vietnam in general. It was well known in Vietnam that this battle had been a horrific and unsuccessful scene, but reporters were told to report that an ambush never happened and slaughter never occurred. Galloway touches on LBJ and McNamara's role in the altercation as well, and what exactly happened at Ia Drang and what it meant.
LZ X-Ray
This web page is dedicated to the soldiers at LZ X-Ray and is a true complement to the book We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young. It is defined by its separation into two main areas, the book and the actual history of the battle. Contains a breakdown of the battle, video clips from the battle, a war game, information on medals, and other interesting links. It's not clear who created this site, but I can't help but get the feeling that predominantly veterans who served in the Ia Drang Valley view this page often for reference and for honor. I see this site as a memorial outlining every bit of knowledge regarding this event and praising the soldiers through reliable and factual information. This is a very supportive online resource.
Schogol, Jeff. "LZ Albany: The forgotten battle." The Ruptured Duck: A Blog for Veterans and Those Who Will Be. November 16, 2011.
"Thursday marks the anniversary of the ambush near LZ Albany, the second and largely forgotten half of the Vietnam War battle of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. The first part of the battle has been dramatized in the 2002 movie "We Were Soldiers" and lionized in the recent History Channel documentary "Vietnam in HD," both of which show U.S. troops' heroic stand at LZ X-Ray. Neither mentions the far bloodier engagement that followed, when the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry was nearly annihilated. Of the roughly 400 soldiers in the battalion, about 70 percent were killed or wounded."
Smith Jack P. Sandbag For A Machine Gun: Jack P. Smith on the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley and the Legacy of the Vietnam War.
This web page is dedicated to Jack Smith and his actions in Vietnam. Smith's amazing story followed him his entire life, and even though he passed in 2004 of pancreatic cancer his story still goes on to touch people. He was an ABC newsman and spent his life providing awareness to Americans. He is a true American hero and an inspiring individual.
Van Hieu, Nguyen.
"This Homepage is dedicated to General Hieu of the Armed Forces of Viet Nam -- an incorruptible, virtuous and competent General; with the hope that it would indirectly boost up the morale of all soldiers of the ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] who had sacrificed their prime lives to the just cause of their beloved country." This is a large web site containing extensive material relevant to Ia Drang. Some of the dozens of subsections include "'No Time for Reflection at Ia Drang'? The Operational Concept Behind the Ia Drang Battle," "Hal Moore and 1/7th Air Cavalry Battalion's Real Mission at LZ X-Ray," "LZ X-Ray After Action Report LTC Hal Moore and Colonel Hieu," "The Fog of War: The Vietnamese View of the Ia Drang Battle," and "Venturing into Lion's Den in Ia Drang Valley."
Van Hieu, Nguyen. What Really Happened at Ia Drang Battle
"After 35 years since the Ia Drang Battle took place, Merle Pribbenow -- a former CIA analyst who worked at the Saigon CIA station from 1970 to 1975, and is now in the process of translating PAVN official documents into English -- was able to compile a dozen books- published from 1988 to 1995 -- written by North Vietnamese authors about the Ia Drang Battle." The North Vietnamese perspective, sources printed here.