Originally published in MilitaryWeek.com, 11 May 05
W. Thomas Smith Jr.
The passing of a soldier's soldier
Best-selling author, Col. David H. Hackworth, dead at 74
Col. David H. Hackworth was not your typical television talking head. He was a military analyst to be sure. He understood tactics, strategies, defense technologies, and the disposition of military forces. The man knew how to fight, and he knew how to report on and write about fighting. But soldiers and their well-being were always his priorities. After all, Hackworth had been a combat soldier for much of his adult life – and for most of his teenage years – before becoming a best-selling author and syndicated columnist.
Lying about his age to join the Army at 15, Hackworth spent a quarter-century in service. He became the Army's youngest captain after winning a battlefield commission during the Korean War. During the Vietnam War, he was known for leading troops from the front during some of the most intense fighting. He was a gritty, bayonet-loving combat commander – radio call sign, "Steel Six" – who chewed cigars and sipped beer while poring over maps detailing enemy strong-points and re-supply routes. Yet he ditched his medals in protest and was nearly court-martialed for publicly criticizing America's involvement in Southeast Asia.
Retiring from the Army in 1971, Hackworth settled for a time in Australia where he earned a small fortune as a duck farmer and restaurateur. He later wrote books – including About Face, Hazardous Duty, and others – became a syndicated columnist for King Features, was a regular guest on every American television news program from FOX to CNN, and he continued to openly defy the military's orthodox approach to anything, often championing new Army reforms with the individual soldier always in mind.
I first met Hackworth a few years ago while working on one of my own books. I had a question about the history of his much-loved unit – the Wolfhound Raiders of the U.S. Army's 27th Infantry Regiment. I sent him an email pulled from his website, and "Hack" – as he signed his name – responded within minutes. I was amazed at the response-time from this much-in-demand author, not to mention the detailed, personal answer to my question.
I later learned that that his response and our soon-to-develop relationship was due to the fact that I was a former Marine rifle-squad leader and Hack was an old-school, combat Army officer who loved veterans of all stripes and from all branches of service.
Hack and I differed on quite a bit, politically. For instance, he often criticized the Bush administration for it's handling of the war in Iraq, even referring to the "occupation" phase as "going down as one of the biggest snafus in U.S. military history." I, on the other hand, believe that we are winning, and that we will ultimately achieve peace and freedom in that country.
Where Hack and I did – and I still do – agree was in our disdain for ticket-punching senior military officers, who were more concerned about their own careers than they were the individual soldiers under their commands. Hack referred to them as "perfumed princes," and he wanted them out of the Defense establishment just as soon as they showed their cards and before they could make decisions affecting the lives of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen.
Hack often exhorted all journalists who cared about America's servicemen and women to take up the cause. His last words to me in fact were, "It is only with numbers that we can make the bastards listen."
Goodbye, Hack, and thank you for making everyone listen.
Col. Hackworth's website can be found at Hackworth.com.
— W. Thomas Smith Jr., a former U.S. Marine infantry leader, parachutist, and shipboard counterterrorism instructor, writes about military/defense issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans and on the West Bank. He is an award-winning author of four books, the co-author of two, and his articles have appeared in USA Today, George, U.S. News & World Report, BusinessWeek, National Review Online, CBS News, The Washington Times, and many others.
W. Thomas Smith Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
© 2005 W. Thomas Smith Jr.