“We have come to you this afternoon, feeling the loss of each of you, we come to span a bridge, untroubled by ancient rifts, we look together towards the future, we leave old hates for new friendships, forever in peace and harmony.”
—Col. Tran Minh Hao, Vietcong, upon meeting with his former enemy Lt. General Hal Moore on his return to Ia Drang, Vietnam, decades after the war had ended.
Legendary three-star Lieutenant General Hal Moore, a longtime Crested Butte resident, wrote in his award winning book, We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, about the Vietnam battle of Ia Drang: “We discovered in that depressing, hellish place where death was our constant companion that we loved each other. We killed for each other, we died for each other and we wept for each other. And in time we came to love each other as brothers. In battle our world shrank to the man on our left and the man on our right and the enemy all around. We held each other’s lives in our hands and we learned to share our fears, our hopes, our dreams as readily as we shared what little else good came our way. We were the children of the 1950s and John F. Kennedy’s young stalwarts of the early 1960s. He told the world that Americans would go anywhere, pay any price, bear any burden in the defense of freedom. We were the down payment on that costly contract, but the man who signed it was not there when we fulfilled his promise. John F. Kennedy waited for us on a hill in Arlington National Cemetery, and in time, by the thousands, we came to fill those slopes with our white marble markers and to ask on the murmur of the wind if that was truly the future he had envisioned for us.”
Moore’s book was an immediate success and made into a movie starring Mel Gibson and Sam Elliott.
Lt. General Moore commanded the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, the same division as General Custer in his last stand, but Moore, in brutal combat with the Vietnamese, was able to bring most of his troops out from that battle, although not without significant loss. He was drastically outnumbered, losing 79 soldiers, but the Vietcong withdrew after losing 1,200 of their men. It was the first full-fledged battle between the U.S. and the North Vietnamese.
Lt. General Moore served in that war from 1965 through the end. A 1945 graduate of West Point, Hal Moore first experienced combat during the Korean War. After his tour in Vietnam he assumed command of the 7th Infantry Division in South Korea. In 1971, he took command of the Army Training Center at Fort Ord, Calif., overseeing the army’s conversion from compulsory service to all-volunteer. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military decoration of the United States Army.
Lt. General Moore retired in 1977 and moved to Crested Butte at the urging of his friend, former Secretary of the Army Howard “Bo” Callaway, who owned Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) at the time. Callaway and Moore had worked together at the Pentagon and since Moore was a big skier, Callaway wanted him to look at the new enterprise. Moore had joked that his friend wanted him to run the resort company because he had a bunch of hippies working there and Callaway had said that he needed the General to run it.
As it turned out, despite the hippies’ fear of having a three-star general commanding them, Moore was well-loved by the workers because he was forward thinking and very cool.
In a photo taken on duty for a private security firm in Qatar several years ago, Lt. General Hal Moore’s nephew, Jimmy Moore, stands in his mesh ammo vest, clutching an M4 rifle with a 9mm semi automatic pistol strapped on his hip. On the Saudi Arabian border, in the desert, it is 125 degrees.
“I grew up around Hal Moore, who turns out to be a warrior, along with my cousins [Hal’s sons] who were at West Point,” Jimmy explains. “Every time I talked to Hal on the phone he’d say, ‘If you ever come to Crested Butte you’ll never leave,’ knowing what an outdoorsman I was, but I was in business in Kentucky.”
Finally in 1991, Jimmy loaded up his wife, Turtle, and their two kids, Jacob and Julie, and headed west to visit with his aunt Julie and uncle Hal.
“Hal was right… we didn’t want to leave,” Jimmy laughs. A year later they moved here.
A decade later, the Twin Towers went down and Jimmy recalls, “When that happened, I was here in Crested Butte. I had a horse ranch on Brush Creek. My children were about to go to college. I simply felt at that time that I wanted to serve in some way and I was at a point in my life where I could do something. I could go away and do something more important. I was going to enlist, go to officer candidate school and spend two to four years in the war zone. It wasn’t because I was for the war, I just wanted to fill a slot. I felt like if I was there, then maybe there wouldn’t be a 20-year-old there, stepping on bombs. It wasn’t a political thing.”
When Jimmy made his decision to serve, he was a fit 44-year-old and chose to enlist in the army but he ran into a snafu.
“When I called the recruiters they told me I was too old, 39 was the cutoff age. I hit a wall. I talked to Uncle Hal about it and he suggested, ‘You’re not too old to do international security work—the problem is you’re not qualified.’ There were firms in Afghanistan and Iraq who had people in uniforms carrying weapons in the war zone.”
Jimmy points out that working security for a private firm is not an offensive position, it’s about guarding people, political and service VIPs. “All I knew is that I wasn’t too old for that. Other than growing up in Kentucky hunting, I had no weapons training. [The security firms] advised me that they only hire ex-military men who had been in the Middle East but if I got three years of high-speed law enforcement and went to a big city like New York or LA, I could be hired.” So he enrolled in one of the toughest and best training programs in the U.S., Clayton County Regional Law Enforcement, to bolster his resume.
“I sold the ranch and went to the police academy in Atlanta. Twelve weeks of training. There were 50 in the class and I was the oldest by eight years,” he smiles and adds proudly, “Even though I was the oldest, I graduated first in the class and won the Physical Training Award. That means that the old guy won the award from all those young guys.” He graduated in the summer of 2002.
He was hired by a police department on the south side of Atlanta in Henry County and was an officer for three years, during which time he was a Field Training Officer (FTA) training the new recruits. With this experience finally under his belt, a private security firm offered him a job providing armed security at Army Central Command (ARCENT) in Qatar, in the Middle East, where both the Afghani and Iraqi wars were headquartered. “I basically guarded everyone, a lot of State Department, Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, generals, military leaders, VIPs.”
Jimmy was in Qatar for two years and they made him a lead guard. “I spent a lot of time looking for and searching vehicles and people like third world nationals, checking Arabs for bombs, weapons or ammunition. The biggest stress I faced was that I worked over 90 hours a week, 14 hours of duty a day, seven days a week, in 125-degree heat, sleep deprivation and in full body armor.”
And there was the isolation, he recalls, of being on the other side of the earth from his family. Jimmy returned to Atlanta, got divorced, and with the kids in college he returned to Crested Butte.
“I felt like I had fulfilled what I wanted to do. Personally, I always said, I was born in the U.S. And, by the grace of God, with an American passport that I felt I had never done anything to earn it. After three years in Atlanta and two years in the Middle East, I felt liked I served my country,” he rightly determined.
But after his return from Qatar, Jimmy became entrenched in researching the genocide of the Karen tribe people of Burma, now Myanmar. He had witnessed, while he was passing through an airport, the sexual exploitation of young Burmese girls as they were being taken from their families and transported to Arabian buyers. Wanting to help make a change, he flew to Thailand on the Burma border in the summer of 2008. He went as a volunteer.
“I met an Australian journalist, Daniel Pedersen, who is the most prolific writer on the Burmese genocide. I traveled with him into Burma with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the guerilla rebel fighters. The government army was slaughtering the Karen. Daniel travels with the commander of the KNLA to where the fighting is and writes about it. I provided armed security for him. I got to see what genocide looks like up close and personal. I was there three months, then I came back to Crested Butte where I’ve mostly been riding horses, telemarking, hanging with friends, driving for Mountain Express and started a solar company, GO SOLAR! [gosolarincb.com] with Kirk Sellers and Pete Rinaldi,” says the volunteer warrior.
“Uncle Hal never openly encouraged any of this but I’d grown up seeing what my uncle and cousins had done. I wanted to serve. There wasn’t any guilt, never anything said about it. I just felt like I wanted to do something. What I did is nothing compared to what my uncle Hal did, what my cousins did, and what my son is now doing,” Jimmy says humbly.
Lieutenant James Jacob Moore, Jimmy’s son, grew up in Crested Butte, attending school here. His was the first graduating class of the Crested Butte Community School. He also decided after 9/11 that he wanted to serve. He set his sights on becoming a Navy pilot. Jake applied for and received a Navy scholarship to Georgia Tech University, and he graduated with honors as Commander of Navy ROTC. He went on to Navy Flight School in Pensacola, Fla., where he graduated first in his class and had perfect all-academy skills scores, which only four others had done before him.
Jimmy explains that Jake chose helicopters over jets because he wanted to work as a team and he always considered himself a great team player and not a solo. He flies Knighthawks SH-60, basically the Navy version of an Army Blackhawk. In 2011, he was named Navy-Marine Corps pilot of the year. The following year he was named instructor pilot of the year. Jake is currently forward deployed and his squadron is attached to the Navy SEALS out of Coronado, San Diego, Calif. Forward deployed means you’re not at your base, you’re out, and Jake is out providing support to the Filipino special forces who are fighting radical Islamic terrorists in the southern Philippines.
Last week, Jake finagled the longest flight home for the shortest time to surprise his family at his sister Julie’s wedding. Getting leave at the last possible moment, Jake left the combat zone and flew 36 hours to walk into the rehearsal dinner still in his flight suit and smelling of jet fuel. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. He flew back, spending only two days in town, to return to the war zone. When he gets out, his father hopes that Jake will come back and make Crested Butte his home.
“Hal Moore is an icon,” Jimmy Moore states and adds, “The most interesting thing about Jake’s situation is that he grew up in Crested Butte with no ROTC program and still qualified for a Navy scholarship. It’s an academically based scholarship and most Crested Butte parents don’t realize this is an option. You’re still eligible even though there’s no ROTC here. A lot of people are trying to figure out how to pay to send their kids to college and if you do get one of these scholarships, they pay for all your college and you’ll be commissioned as an officer when you graduate. All you have to do is call a recruiter,” he says, and you realize that the legacy of their commitment to conscientious service is sure to continue into future generations.