Passings: David Hackworth
HACK STOOD ALONE
by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Boca Raton, Fla.
BOCA RATON, Fla., May 6, 2005 -- The most decorated living U.S. military veteran, known simply as "Hack," stood before the 82nd Airborne Division Assn. in Fort Lauderdale a few years ago, and taught Military History 101.
Col. David Hackworth, who died of cancer in Mexico yesterday at age 74, told the veterans and their guests in that hotel ballroom, that "from ancient Rome to the modern battlefield, the infantryman has won, or lost the war."
From the perspective of an orphan who doctored enlistment papers at age 14 and fought in Trieste at age 15 in the final days of World War II, the "modern soldier, with modern technology and weapons, could now hold and control an area it took 500 soldiers to control centuries ago."
Hack was a frequent guest on my old talk radio show, and we got to be fairly good acquaintances over the years. His greatest strength as Newsweek magazine military editor, or commentator, was that at different times everyone hated him.
To his "Perfumed Princes of the Pentagon," he was left-wing, antiwar, anti-military . To Pax Christi, and anti-war orthodoxy he was probably an ultra-hawk apologist for all things military.
But to the rank-and-file troopers, "Hack" was mostly their business agent. He was their lobbyist. He was the guy who rattled the Washington cage for jungle boots in the jungle and desert boots in the desert. He was the guy to help organize "Soldiers for the Truth" website, sort of an umbrella for military whistle blowers.
The thing I probably liked most about Hack was the modesty I also saw in my late dad (a veteran of the Normandy invasion), and his "generation." With ten silver stars, and eight bronze stars, two Distinguished Service Crosses (the country's second highest honor for valor), his second most treasured award was his Combat Infantryman's Badge. He told me more than once that the Purple Heart, that honor bearing the likeness of its first champion, Gen. George Washington, was the honor he most cherished.
He usually didn't mention that he had eight Purple Hearts unless someone else brought it up. I once found a reference to him actually earning a ninth Purple Heart, and he smiled the smile, and shrugged the shrugged of someone who had lost count.
His controversies included an article about a popular admiral who may or may not have earned all the badges he wore. When Admiral Elmo Zumwalt committed suicide, some readers blamed Hack.
Yet those who think Hack was about medals and badges, forget his landmark anti-Vietnam War book "About Face." His critics also forget that he tossed all of his medals to a group of Australian Boy Scouts and stormed away from the U.S., the Vietnam War, and the Army he loved for a few years.
In an age when "no comment," and "spinmeister" are treasured Washington attributes, this grunt who rose to Colonel, put his entire career and reputation on the line one day in Vietnam, by going on ABC-TV's 'Issues and Answers' and saying the Vietnam War was un-winable.
His boss, Gen. Creighton Abrams, tried to immediately have him court-martialed, but them let him resign with an honorable discharge. In its obituary today, The New York Times said that earlier in 1971, Gen. Abrams told a Newsweek reporter that Col. David Hackworth was the "best battalion commander I ever saw in the United States Army."
Hack had his own network of contacts, sources, experts, and operatives throughout the military. Even if a garrison commander might want to declare him persona non grata, Hack always found a way onto a base, into a tent, or in close proximity to the troops.
Once in Bosnia-Herzegovina I made my way to some messy, muddy, rustic, smelly, and remote outpost, feeling pretty good about the soldiers I would be able to interview. No big deal, the all told me that Hack arrived unannounced three weeks earlier, reported for Newsweek, and went his own way.
Former UPI newsman Mark Scheinbaum is business editor for Doug Stephan's "Good Day" show heard daily on RadioAmerica Network and at www.dougstephan.com, and is chief investment strategist for Kaplan & Co. Securities, at www.kaplansecurities.com.