Legendary U.S. Army Guerrilla Fighter, Champion of the Ordinary Soldier
Washington, D.C., May 5, 2005 – Col. David H. Hackworth, the United
States Army's legendary, highly decorated guerrilla fighter and lifelong
champion of the doughboy and dogface, ground-pounder and grunt, died
Wednesday in Mexico. He was 74 years old. The cause of death was a form
of cancer now appearing with increasing frequency among Vietnam veterans
exposed to the defoliants called Agents Orange and Blue.
Col. Hackworth spent more than half a century on the country's hottest
battlefields, first as a soldier, then as a writer, war correspondent
and sharp-eyed critic of the Military-Industrial Complex and
ticket-punching generals he dismissed as "Perfumed Princes."
He preferred the combat style of World War II and Korean War heroes like
James Gavin and Matthew Ridgeway and, during Vietnam, of Hank "The
Gunfighter" Emerson and Hal Moore. General Moore, the co-author of We
Were Soldiers Once and Young, called him "the Patton of Vietnam," and
Gen. Creighton Abrams, the last American commander in that disastrous
war, described him as "the best battalion commander I ever saw in the
United States Army."
Col. Hackworth's battlefield exploits put him on the line of American
military heroes squarely next to Sgt. Alvin York and Audie Murphy. The
novelist Ward Just, who knew him for forty years, described him as "the
genuine article, a soldier's soldier, a connoisseur of combat." At 14,
as World War II was sputtering out, he lied about his age to join the
Merchant Marine, and at 15 he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Over the next
26 years he spent fully seven in combat. He was put in for the Medal of
Honor three times; the last application is currently under review at the
Pentagon. He was twice awarded the Army's second highest honor for
valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, along with 10 Silver Stars and
eight Bronze Stars. When asked about his many awards, he always said he
was proudest of his eight Purple Hearts and his Combat Infantryman's Badge.
A reputation won on the battlefield made it impossible to dismiss him
when he went on the attack later as a critic of careerism and
incompetence in the military high command. In 1971, he appeared in the
field on ABC's "Issue and Answers" to say Vietnam "is a bad war ... it
can't be won. We need to get out." He also predicted that Saigon would
fall to the North Vietnamese within four years, a prediction that turned
out to be far more accurate than anything the Joint Chiefs of Staff were
telling President Nixon or that the President was telling the American
With almost five years in-country, Col. Hackworth was the only senior
officer to sound off about the Vietnam War. After the interview, he
retired from the Army and moved to Australia.
"He was perhaps the finest soldier of his generation," observed the
novelist and war correspondent Nicholas Proffit, who described Col.
Hackworth's combat autobiography, About Face, a national best-seller, as
"a passionate cry from the heart of a man who never stopped loving the
Army, even when it stopped loving him back."
Having risen from private by way of a battlefield commission in Korea,
where he became the Army's youngest captain, to Vietnam, where he served
as its youngest bird colonel, he never stood on rank.
From the beginning his life was a soldier's story. He was born on
Armistice Day, now Veteran's Day, in 1930. His parents both died before
he was a year old and the Army ultimately stood in for the family he
never had. His grandmother, who rescued him from an orphanage, raised
him on tales of the American Revolution and the Old West and the ethos
of the Great Depression. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he
got his first military training shining shoes at a base in Santa Monica,
where the soldiers, adopting him as mascot, had a tailor cut him a
pint-sized uniform. "At age 10 I knew my destiny," he said. "Nothing
would be better than to be a soldier."
He always credited his success in battle to the training he received
from the tough school of non-coms who won World War II, hard-bitten,
hard-drinking, hard-fighting sergeants who drilled into him the basics
of an infantryman's life: sweat in training cut down on blood shed in
battle; there was nothing wrong with being out all night so long as you
were present for roll call at 5 a.m., on your feet and in shape to run
five miles before breakfast in combat boots.
In Korea, where he won his first Silver Star and Purple Heart before he
was old enough to vote, he started his combat career in what he later
called a "kill a commie for mommie" frame of mind. He was among the
first volunteers for Korea and later for Vietnam, where he perfected his
skill. "He understood the atmosphere of violence," Ward Just observed.
"That meant he knew how to keep his head, to think in danger's midst. In
battle the worst thing is paralysis. He mastered his own fear and
learned how to kill. He led by example, and his men followed."
Just met him in the ruins of a base camp in the Central Highlands in
1966, where he was a major commanding a battalion of the 101st Airborne.
"He was compact, with forearms the size of hams. His uniform was filthy
and his use of obscenity was truly inventive." What struck the
journalist most forcefully was "his enthusiasm, his magnetism, his
exuberance, his invincible cheerfulness."
To young officers in Vietnam and long afterwards, he presented an
unforgettable profile in courage. ""Everyone called him Hack," recalled
Dennis Foley, a military historian and novelist who first saw him in
action with the 1st Battalion of the 327th Infantry in 1965. "He was
referred to by his radio call sign of 'Steel Six.' He was tough,
demanding and boyish all at the same time, stocky with a slightly
leathered complexion. His light hair and deep tan made it hard for us to
tell how old he was. He wore jungle fatigue trousers, shower shoes, a
green T-shirt and a Rolex watch. In the corner of his mouth was a large
and foul smelling cigar. As we entered the tent, he was bent over a
field table looking at a map overlay and drinking a bottle of San Miguel
With Gen. S.L.A. "Slam" Marshall, he surveyed the war's early mayhem and
compiled the Army's experience into The Vietnam Primer, a bible on a
style of unconventional counter-guerrilla tactics he called "out gee-ing
the G." His finest moment came when he applied these tactics, taking the
hopeless 4/39 Infantry Battalion in the Mekong Delta, turning it into
the legendary Hardcore Battalion. The men of the demoralized outfit saw
him at first as a crazy "lifer" out to get them killed. For a time they
even put a price on his head and waited for the first grunt to frag him.
Within 10 weeks, the fiery young combat leader had so transformed the
4/39 that it was routing main force enemy units. He led from the front,
at one point getting out on the strut of a helicopter, landing on top of
an enemy position and hauling to safety the point elements of a company
pinned down and facing certain death. Thirty years later, the grateful
enlisted men and young officers of the 4/39, now grown old, are still
urging the Pentagon to award him the Medal of Honor for this action. So
far, the Army has refused.
On leaving the Army, Col. Hackworth retired to a farm on the Australian
Gold Coast near Brisbane. He became a business entrepreneur, making a
small fortune in real estate, then expanding a highly popular restaurant
called Scaramouche. As a leading spokesman for Australia's anti-nuclear
movement he was presented the United Nations Medal for Peace.
As About Face was becoming a best seller, he returned to the United
States to marry Eilhys England, his one great love, who became his
business and writing partner. He became a powerful voice for military
reform. From 1990 to 1996, as Newsweek magazine's Contributing editor
for defense, he covered the first Gulf War as well as peacekeeping
battles in Somalia, the Balkans, Korea and Haiti. He captured this
experience in Hazardous Duty, a volume of war dispatches. Among his many
awards as a journalist was the George Washington Honor Medal for
excellence in communications. He also wrote a novel, Price of Honor,
about the snares of Vietnam, Somalia and the Military-Industrial
Complex. His last book, Steel My Soldiers' Hearts, was a tribute to the
men of the Hardcore Battalion.
He was a regular guest on national radio and TV shows and a regular
contributor to magazines including People, Parade, Men's Journal, Self,
Playboy, Maxim and Modern Maturity. His column, "Defending America," has
appeared weekly in newspapers across the country and on the website of
Soldiers For The Truth, a rallying point for military reform. He and Ms.
England have been the driving force behind the organization, which
defends the interests of ordinary soldiers while upholding Hack's
conviction that "nuke-the-pukes" solutions no longer work in an age of
terror that demands "a streamlined, hard-hitting force for the
"Hack never lost his focus," said Roger Charles, president of Soldiers
for the Truth. "That focus was on the young kids that our country sends
to bleed and die on our behalf. Everything he did in his retirement was
to try to give them a better chance to win and to come home. That's one
hell of a legacy."
Over the final years of Col. Hackworth's life, his wife Eilhys fought
beside him during his gallant battle against bladder cancer, which now
appears with sinister regularity among Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent
Blue. At one point he considered dropping their syndicated column, only
to make an abrupt about face, saying, "Writing with you is the only
thing that keeps me alive." The last words he said to his doctor were,
"If I die, tell Eilhys I was grateful for every moment she bought me,
every extra moment I got to spend with her. Tell her my greatest
achievement is the love the two of us shared."
Col. Hackworth is survived by Ms. England, one step-daughter and two
step-grandchildren, and four children and four grandchildren from two
earlier marriages. At a date to be announced, he will be buried in
Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Soldiers For The Truth is now working on legal action to compel the
Pentagon to recognize Agent Blue alongside the better known Agent Orange
as a killer and to help veterans exposed to it during the Vietnam War.
Memorial contributions can be sent to Soldiers For The Truth either by
internet or by mail to, P.O. Box 54365, Irving, California, 92619-4365.
From senior leaders & politicians, broken promises and scams
continue...so keep up the tradition Hack started. Spread the truth to
the young studs who bust their glutes...