It was fifty-five years ago on November 14, 1965, the First Cavalry Division commanded by Lt. Col. Hal Moore landed in the Ia (pronounced Eye) Drang Valley, South Vietnam. It was a small football size clearing for the first helicopters to be used in combat.
Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore, a no-nonsense West Pointer, was the commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment assigned to the Ia Drang. According to his book, “We were Soldiers Once … and Young,” the battalion “had come looking for trouble” and “we found all that we wanted and more.”
Moore’s battalion consisting of approximately 450 elite untested soldiers had landed in the front yard of three regiments of a very well trained People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN). According to Army intelligence, the PAVN had an estimated 2,200 soldiers who were also “looking for trouble.”
The Battle of Ia Drang Valley was fought between November 14 and 17, 1965 and was reported as the first major battle and most bloody of the Vietnam War. When it was over, it claimed 234 American lives at Landing Zones X-Ray and Albany.
According to Lt. Col. Moore’s account, the Alpha and Bravo companies were the first units to land and were already locked in a fierce battle. Bravo Company was a good rifle company with high morale with 2nd Lt. James Lane as a platoon leader.
Jim Lane is a native Floridian born in Jacksonville, Florida. Jim joined the Army in 1964 and graduated from Officers Candidate School (OCS) in May 1965. He trained as a Ranger and as an Airborne Paratrooper. On July 1965, Jim boarded an old WWII ship on his way to Vietnam. Suddenly, he was a soldier to lead men.
Jim was assigned to B Company, Second Battalion, 7th Cavalry under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore. This battle had been fictionalized by Hollywood’s “We Were Soldiers,” based on a book written by Lt. General Harold G. Moore with war correspondent, Joseph L. Galloway. Moore was played by Mel Gibson in the movie.
According to Jim, from November 14th, the Americans were outnumbered 15 to 1. From the start everybody saw a lot of combat and within hours he rose from a 2nd Lieutenant to company commander.
On November 15th, the C Company commander was killed, and Lt. Col. Hal Moore yelled at Jim to take their call sign – he was now a Commander. Jim Lane was 23 years old.
On November 16th a hand grenade was thrown into his command post and killed his platoon sergeant and wounded him severely in both legs. Jim was carted off the battlefield and was shipped to the Philippines and then to Okinawa.
2nd Lt. Jim Lane was in the Battle of Ia Drang for three days. Commander Lt. Col. Hal Moore was the “first foot on the battlefield and the last to go.” The names of soldiers killed in combat in the Battle of Ia Drang are inscribed on Panel 3-East of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
With sadness Jim remarked, “You don’t forget things like that.”
“When I got to Ia Drang, Lt. Col. Moore just said, ‘Do your job, young man.’” For the men at Ia Drang, it was about duty and honor to fulfill their commitment to service of country.
Jim Lane of Marco Island is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, having received the honors of the Purple Heart, Silver Star and the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry and Valor.
Let us all remember our country’s Vietnam Veterans, and salute and thank them for their contribution to our freedom, on Veterans Day and throughout the year.