There is mourning in a number of small corners of the country this week. With a dozen new American deaths in Iraq over the weekend, there are shattered lives in a dozen new towns. And at Fort Benning, Ga., this week we are laying to rest one of the finest Army wives who ever walked.
Julia "Julie" Compton Moore, 75, was an Army daughter, an Army wife and an Army mother. In the dark days of November 1965, she did the hardest duty of all: She visited the small bungalows and trailer houses around Columbus, Ga., to offer her sympathy and support to new widows whose husbands had died in action in the Ia Drang Valley of South Vietnam.
In those early days of the war the Army was overwhelmed by hundreds of death notices for unsuspecting families. It had forgotten how to do this right, so the Western Union telegrams were handed over to taxi drivers.Julie Moore was horrified when one taxi driver pulled up to the small house where she and the five young children of Lt. Col. Hal Moore, commander of the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry in Vietnam, were living. It took her a long, long time to answer the doorbell, a lifetime really, and then the driver apologized, said he was lost and asked her where he could find this address.
Mrs. Moore followed in the wake of that taxi and others to comfort the new widows and orphans of a war that would, itself, ultimately be orphaned and abandoned. She also raised unshirted hell with the Pentagon about so callous a method of notifying the families. Within two weeks the policy was changed and a new one instituted, requiring that an officer and a chaplain personally deliver the news. It was also a small beginning of a concern for Army families that has grown into a major program throughout the Army.
Mrs. Moore was a true hero in the book her husband and I wrote about that time in Vietnam and in America, "We were Soldiers Once . . . and Young" and the movie based on that book, "We Were Soldiers." Madeline Stowe played the role of Julie Moore on the silver screen, and Mel Gibson portrayed Hal Moore.
The love story on film couldn't hold a candle to the real love story -- how the dashing West Point graduate swept the lovely college coed off her feet, and married her beneath an archway of drawn sabers.
How she brought forth five children, and raised them largely without a husband who was away fighting wars. He fought in Korea, where he commanded two infantry companies on places like Pork Chop Hill and Old Baldy. He fought in Vietnam, commanding first a battalion in the Ia Drang Valley, then a cavalry brigade all over the central part of South Vietnam.
Julie Moore was an Army brat herself, born at Fort Sill, Okla., only child of Col. and Mrs. Louis J. Compton. She would see two of her three sons follow their father to West Point and the Army, and one of them fight in Panama and the Persian Gulf War with the 82nd Airborne.
In January 1991 I phoned the Moore home to give Hal Moore the news that I was leaving early the next morning on a military flight to Saudi Arabia to get in place for the coming ground war. Miss Julie said, "Joe, I am so very upset and worried about this thing. My son Davy is over there now."
I expressed surprise that the normally unflappable Mrs. Moore was upset. "Julie, you sent your husband off to two wars, so why worry now?"
She responded: "Joe Galloway, you don't understand a thing. You can replace a husband. You can never replace a son."
Julia Compton Moore died last Sunday, in the early afternoon, surrounded by her grieving husband and her two daughters and three sons. I said my goodbyes at her bedside the day before. Her eyes lit up and she whispered:
"Oh, Joe, we have come so very far together, and we still have so far to go . . . "
This week we are burying Julie Moore in the Fort Benning Cemetery, near her mother and father, and in the middle of the 7th Cavalry troopers whose wives she comforted and whose funerals she attended in 1965.
Her grave is beside that of Sgt. Jack E. Gell of Alpha Company 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry. She will rest in the arms of the Army she loved so long and served so well.
GarryOwen, Miss Julie. Godspeed.