Thursday, May 05, 2005

R.I.P. David Hackworth 

Nobody could ever say he wasn't looking out for the average soldier:
HARTFORD, Conn. — Retired Army Col. David Hackworth (search), a decorated Vietnam veteran who spoke out against the war and later became a journalist and an advocate for military reform, has died, his wife said Thursday. He was 74.

Hackworth died Wednesday in Tijuana, Mexico, where he was receiving treatment for bladder cancer. His wife, Eilhys England, was with him.

"He died in my arms," she said. The couple lived in Greenwich.

Hackworth, a Newsweek correspondent during the Gulf War (search), worked in recent years as a syndicated columnist for King Features, where he has been highly critical of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war.

"Most combat vets pick their fights carefully. They look at their scars, remember the madness and are always mindful of the fallout," Hackworth wrote in February. "That's not the case in Washington, where the White House and the Pentagon are run by civilians who have never sweated it out on a battlefield."

Hackworth ignited a national debate last year when he reported that, rather than personally signing condolence letters to the families of fallen soldiers, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) used a machine.

Rumsfeld later promised to sign each letter be hand.

"Hack never lost his focus," said Roger Charles, president of Soldiers for the Truth (search), a California-based veterans group for which Hackworth served as chairman. "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."

Hackworth served four tours of duty in Vietnam and was one of the first senior officers to speak out publicly against the Vietnam War. He was nearly court-martialed before he retired from the military in 1971 and gave up his medals in protest.

He moved to Australia and made millions in a restaurant business and a duck farm. His medals were reissued by Brig. Gen. John Howard in the 1980s and he returned to the United States.

Hackworth wrote several books including "The Vietnam Primer," "About Face," and "Hazardous Duty."

Hackworth is survived by his wife of 8 years, a stepdaughter and four children from two earlier marriages, the family said.

England said he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery (search) but said a date has not been set.

Hackworth is also rumored to be the model of Colonel Kurtz in my favorite movie, Apocalypse Now:

It is a part--the self-regarding, self-parodying military macho man--that might have been modeled on former Col. David Hackworth, not unlike the part he's written for himself as America's ballsiest war reporter, "the hot shit dude who tells it like it is." Hackworth is the type known as a legend in his own mind. The colonel's own press materials assert that he is the "reputed model" for Col. Kurtz, the Marlon Brando character in the movie Apocalypse Now...

David Hackworth is a war hero. In 1944, when he was a 14-year-old orphan, Hackworth faked his way into the U.S. Merchant Marine. At 16, he was a U.S. Army private, fighting Yugoslav partisans on the Italian border. At 20, he won a battlefield commission in Korea, then commanded a savage and brilliant Army Raiders unit that wreaked havoc on the North Koreans and Chinese. When he left the Army in 1971, he was the youngest full colonel in Vietnam, winner of eight Purple Hearts, nine Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars, four Army Commendation Medals, four Legions of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and a chestful of other medals. Today Hackworth calls himself--often--"America's most decorated living soldier."


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