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‘We Were Soldiers’ legend’s record under review for unearned awards, report says

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 5/18/2016 Thomas Gibbons-Neff
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley, right, and retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, who served together with the 1st Cavalry Division in the Ia Drang Valley, talk at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center in Columbus, Ga., in March 2009. © Robin Trimarchi/Ledger-Enquirer via Associated Press Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley, right, and retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, who served together with the 1st Cavalry Division in the Ia Drang Valley, talk at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center in Columbus, Ga., in March 2009.

The late Command Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, a legend in the U.S. Army and famously depicted by the actor Sam Elliott in the Vietnam War movie “We Were Soldiers,” is under review by Army officials for having worn unauthorized combat and valor awards, according to a report on Military.com.

Plumley died of cancer in 2012, but Brian Siddall, an independent researcher who has devoted years of his life researching Plumley’s service records and the exploits of other service members in World War II, uncovered discrepancies between Plumley’s official documents and widely reported accounts of his service.

In the 1992 book “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” co-written by Joe Galloway and retired Lt. Gen Hal Moore and on which the movie is based, Plumley is a central character and is introduced as a soldier who had made four combat jumps in World War II as well as a combat jump in the Korean War. According to Siddall, service records indicate that Plumely served as a scout in a glider unit and participated in two glider assaults during World War II and never deployed to Korea.

“When I spoke with him in July of 2011 he never claimed to have jumped out of an airplane in combat in WWII or any other wars. He did talk briefly about that he jumped out of helicopters but never an airplane in wartime,” Siddall wrote on his website last year.

Siddall also maintains that Plumley often wore what amounted to two Silver Stars and one Bronze Star medal, although he earned just one Silver Star in Vietnam. Plumley also wore unauthorized additional Combat Infantry Badges, Siddall said. All three awards — the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for valor and the Combat Infantry Badge — are coveted decorations that demonstrate valor and outstanding conduct in battle and it is perplexing that– already having earned some of the awards — Plumley would wear additional medals that he did not rate.

Undoubtedly, Plumley distinguished himself as a proven combat leader in one of the first major engagements of the Vietnam War: the Battle of Ia Drang. During the battle in November 1965 — depicted in Galloway and Moore’s book — Plumley earned the Silver Star f0r defending a helicopter landing zone on the cusp of being overrun by North Vietnamese forces.

“I just want the correct information out there because there are so many people that are really heroes, and it is so frustrating when they give the hero status to someone who was anything but,” Siddall told Military.com.

A part of Siddall’s research, which was given to Military.com, is a 2015 Army memo indicating that the service was “unable to verify” some of Plumley’s supposed awards.

In light of the findings, according to the Military.com report, Army officials at Fort Benning in Georgia are looking into correcting Plumley’s headstone, as it bears the wrong number and type of awards.

Col. Andy Hilmes, the garrison commander for Fort Benning, acknowledged that there are discrepancies between the headstone and Plumely’s official records.

“I want to do the right thing,” he told Military.com “I have looked at how do we go about changing the headstone.”

In an email to Military.com, Galloway responded to Siddall’s research and the accusation that Plumely had inflated aspects of his service.

“I don’t know a thing about Mr. Siddall and his research that slanders a fine old soldier who died four years ago and can’t speak for himself,” Galloway wrote. “My co-author Lt. Gen. Hal Moore vouched for CSM Plumley when we were working on the books. I read the Plumley biography when Moore and Plumley received the Doughboy Award quite a few years ago. It sure looked official to me and matched details I had been told about his service. I have no interest in commenting on this any further.”

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