Before I speak about my father, on behalf of all of his children and grandchildren, we wish to say thank you to Auburn and to St. Michael’s Church for all your care, devotion, and support.
This is perhaps our family’s one last time to embrace all of you in thanks. Thank you to our Auburn friends for your generosity to our parents and to us for many, many years. It is why life here in this small spot of God’s creation in East Alabama is so wondrous and so rare.
Hal Moore’s life was a love story. Now, love. Love is not the word that comes readily to mind when speaking of a general. Love is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of a soldier, when you think of life in combat.
But love is foremost in what we children and grandchildren know of our father. Love for our mother is what we saw when he gently kissed her at the kitchen stove when they thought we weren’t looking. Love for his troopers, his band of brothers, who he led under desperate circumstances in two wars. It is what they know on the battlefield and in their bones. And it is love that has powered his devotion to his faith and to his God.
Love of family
His love was an engaged love. Never a spectator, he wanted to be on the field itself, hiking with us deep into the mountains, setting up fishing camps, skiing with us into the dark hours. Yet coupled with this playful love was a serious love – the kind you don’t recognize until years later you say to yourself, “thank God they did that for me.”
Serious love, principle one: Get your kids a good education. He and my mother took on debt to send us to Catholic schools, even when stationed in Norway and the nuns taught us in indecipherable Norwegian.
Serious love, principle two: Get your kids’ teeth fixed. Again, he and my mother took on debt to put each of us in braces. He believed that a great smile leads to self-confidence, and self-confidence leads to great things. Teeth matter. Smiles count.
Love of Julia Compton, our mother
Let me read a letter he wrote to his grandmother, dated Nov. 14, 1949, just a week before he and Julie got married. "Dear Granny. Well, of course you know that old stale news by now that I am getting married up. I just wanted to write to tell you that she is tops. She is taking me — dog and all.”
Here is how we knew they loved one another. There are pictures of him beaming on his skis and she on hers, a little bewildered, but with a game, half-smile on her face. It is clear that this isn’t her natural habitat. By contrast, there are pictures of her beaming in lovely dresses at Washington affairs, shaking hands with some diplomat, while he stands next to her, with that same game, half-smile on his face. It was clear that social Washington wasn’t his natural habitat. Somehow, they each willed themselves to be in the world that the other loved, and so in that way they could never be separated.
Love of his troopers
Later today, he will be buried with our mother at the Fort Benning Cemetery. He will be surrounded by those he led and loved in the Ia Drang Valley campaigns. He has never stopped missing them, and now he will be with them. I believe he wrote his book, “We Were Soldiers” with Joe Galloway in order to explain to us the unique kind of love that men feel for one another in combat — love for one another that drives them to bear any pain, any sacrifice, and even death for one another.
It is transformative, and he needed to honor his troops by making us understand it and understand them.
You may be surprised to learn of his eventual friendship with Vietnamese general Huu An, who had tried to kill him in the Ia Drang Valley. In a memoir he wrote these lines:
"My unending thirst for peace and unity drove me back to the 'Valley of Death' in 1993. Returning in a helicopter, I and four or five of my troopers approached the very same area we left in 1965; there was no visual evidence from the air of there ever having been a battle there. The foxholes had eroded and beautiful wildflowers were everywhere.
Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An and I came face to face. Instead of charging one another with bayonets, we mutually offered open arms. Although we did not understand each other’s language, we quickly learned that the soul requires no interpreter.
Ever so gently, General An placed his arm in mine. Unity was sealed through the reverent affection of one arm in the other.
Together, we listened to and learned from the land, as it too not only forgot, but was also forgiving."
Love of God
Finally, we remember — particularly in this sacred space — his love of God. Someone once asked him, “General, what do you consider your most important accomplishment?” Now, of course, you are asking this question of someone nearly 95 years old, with somewhat of a resume.
“What is your most important accomplishment?” He replied, “It hasn’t happened yet. My most important accomplishment will be when I cross that line at St. Peter’s gate and meet my God and my Julie.”
The one accomplishment he cared most about is actually one that we now share together with him. No one can know God’s will, but I believe that in this church, here today, we can celebrate the one great accomplishment that mattered most to him of all accomplishments in his life, the one he still longed to achieve after 95 years — it is here. And we all get to be part of it.