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Hackworth is also known for his accusation in 1996 that Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Boorda was wearing two unauthorized service ribbon devices on two of his uniform's awards denoting valor in combat. Although Admiral Boorda had served off the coast of Vietnam in the 1960s and believed he was authorized to wear the two wartime decorations for meritorious service, he did not meet the Navy's requirements. Boorda committed suicide during Hackworth's investigation.
Early life and education
Hackworth was born in Ocean Park, California (now part of Santa Monica), on November 11, 1930, the son of Leroy E. Hackworth and Lorette (Kensly) Hackworth. His parents both died before he was a year old, and his brother, sister, and he were raised by Ida Stedman, their paternal grandmother. The family had to rely on government aid during the Great Depression, and his grandmother, who had been married to a Colorado gold miner, brought them up on tales of her Old West experiences and her Revolutionary War ancestors. While attending school in Santa Monica, Hackworth and a friend earned money by shining the shoes of soldiers stationed at bases in the area. Imbued with a sense of adventure, at age 14, Hackworth lied about his age and paid a transient to pose as his father so he could claim to be old enough to join the Merchant Marine with parental consent.
When Hackworth returned to active duty, the expanding Cold War substantially changed the structure of the army from what he had known. Initially posted to 77th Antiaircraft ArtilleryBattalion in Manhattan Beach, California, Hackworth was eventually assigned to Germany, initially in staff roles, but returning to infantry in the early 1960s as a company commander under Colonel Glover S. Johns. He was involved in a number of fire drills around the Berlin Crisis of 1961. He recounted his experiences with the Soviet guard and his views on military history in his book About Face.
When President John F. Kennedy announced that a large advisory team was being sent to South Vietnam, Hackworth immediately volunteered for service. His request was denied, on the grounds that he had too much frontline experience, and that others who had seen less fighting (or none) should have an opportunity to acquire experience in combat.
In 1965, he deployed to Vietnam as a major. He served as an operations officer and battalion commander in the 101st Airborne Division. In November 1965, he founded the platoon-sized unit Tiger Force to "outguerrilla the guerrillas". Initially, Tiger Force was a highly decorated small unit in Vietnam which suffered heavy casualties and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. However, after Hackworth was promoted out of Vietnam, the unit began a string of atrocities and war crimes, with U.S. Army investigative records and interviews by The Toledo Blade estimating the unit eventually killed hundreds of noncombatants. Hackworth has stated he did not know about the atrocities and does not know what caused the unit to spiral out of control.
Hackworth quickly developed a reputation as an eccentric but effective soldier, becoming a public figure in several books authored by General S. L. A. "Slam" Marshall. Following a stateside tour at the Pentagon and promotion to lieutenant colonel, Hackworth co-wrote The Vietnam Primer with Marshall after returning to Vietnam in the winter of 1966–67 on an Army-sponsored tour with the famous historian and commentator. The book advised counter-insurgency fighters to adopt some of the guerrilla tactics used by Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, and Ho Chi Minh. Hackworth described the strategy as "out-G-ing the G." His personal and professional relationship with Marshall soured as Hackworth became suspicious of his methods and motivation.
However, both his assignment with "Slam" Marshall and his time on staff duty at the Pentagon soured Hackworth on the Vietnam War. One aspect of the latter required him to publicly defend the U.S. position on the war in a speaking tour. Even with his reservations concerning the conflict, he refused to resign, feeling it was his duty as a field grade officer to wage the campaign as best he could.
Fire Support Base Danger, Dinh Tuong Province, March 1969: This fire support base was the 4/39th Infantry Battalion headquarters when Hackworth took command of that unit.
Hackworth was assigned to a training battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington, and then returned to Vietnam to lead elements of the 9th Infantry Division, turning his theories about guerrilla warfare and how to counter it into practice with the 4/39 Infantry in the Mekong Delta, an underperforming unit made up largely of conscripts which Hackworth transformed into the counter-insurgent "Hardcore" Battalion (Recondo) from January to late May 1969.
Hackworth next served as a senior military adviser to the South Vietnamese. His view that the U.S. Army was not learning from its mistakes, and that South Vietnamese ARVN officers were essentially corrupt, created friction with Army leadership.
In early 1971, Hackworth was promoted to the rank of colonel, and received orders to attend the Army War College, an indication that he was being groomed for the general officer ranks. He had declined a previous opportunity to go to the War College, and turned down this one, as well, indicating his lack of interest in becoming a general and demonstrating his discontent with the war and the Army's leaders.
Hackworth's dissatisfaction ultimately culminated in a television interview with ABC. On June 27, 1971, he appeared on the program Issues and Answers and strongly criticized U.S. commanders in Vietnam, said the war could not be won, and called for U.S. withdrawal. The interview enraged senior U.S. Army officers at the Pentagon. He soon found himself ostracized in the defense establishment.
He subsequently retired as a colonel. Senior Army leaders investigated Hackworth, who avoided them for several weeks. He was nearly court-martialed for various allegations during his Vietnam service, such as running a brothel, running gambling houses, and exploiting his position for personal profit by manipulating the scrip in which soldiers were paid and the limited U.S. currency available in the war zone. Ultimately, Secretary of the Army Robert Froehlke opted not to press charges, deciding that Hackworth's career accomplishments outweighed his supposed misdeeds, and that prosecuting an outspoken war hero would result in unneeded bad publicity for the Army.
Hackworth returned to the U.S. in the mid-1980s and began working as a contributing editor on defense issues for Newsweek. He also made regular television appearances to discuss various military-related topics, and the shortcomings of the military. His commentary on the psychological effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, based on his own experiences in overcoming it, resonated with disabled veterans.
In the mid-1990s, Hackworth investigated Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda, then Chief of Naval Operations. Hackworth, through his Newsweek articles, questioned Boorda's longtime wearing of two bronze "valor pins" (in the Navy, the "V" device was worn on certain decorations to denote valor in combat or direct combat participation with the enemy) on his Navy Commendation Medal and Navy Achievement Medal service ribbons, generating much controversy. Boorda committed suicide before he could be interviewed by Hackworth, who had received at least one Army Commendation Medal and other decorations with the "V" device from the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War (in the Army, the "V" device denoted valor in combat only). The Navy reviewed the matter and determined afterwards that the two "Combat Distinguishing Devices" (Combat "V"'s) that Boorda had worn on two of his uniform service ribbons since the Vietnam War and until almost a year before Hackworth's and Newsweek's intervention, were both unauthorized despite the fact Boorda and some others serving on Boorda's destroyer had been given verbal authorization for the devices by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt during the war.
Hackworth's last assignment in a combat/conflict zone was with Newsweek during the initial deployment of US forces into Bosnia and Herzegovina in February 1996. Hackworth joined 3-5 CAV of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division near the disputed village of Brcko. Hackworth interviewed a number of officers and enlisted soldiers, reinforcing his historical tenure as a seasoned combat veteran of previous wars and as a well-known and respected journalist.
Hackworth appeared on countless televisions and radio talk shows and formed his own website, Soldiers for the Truth, continuing to be the self-proclaimed voice of the "grunts" (ground troops) until his death.
King Features Syndicate distributed Hackworth's weekly column "Defending America". Many of his columns discussed the War on Terrorism and the Iraq War and were concerned with the policies of the American leadership in conducting the wars, as well as the conditions of the soldiers serving. Hackworth continued the column until his death from bladder cancer in May 2005. Associates believe that his cancer was caused by exposure to Agent Blue (a defoliant used in Vietnam), and are lobbying the United States government to have the substance labelled a known carcinogen like the more famous Agent Orange.
Hackworth died on May 4, 2005, at the age of 74 in Tijuana, Mexico, as he was searching for alternative treatments for his bladder cancer. He is survived by his wife, Eilhys England, a stepdaughter, and four children from his two previous marriages. His remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Military decorations and awards
Hackworth earned over 90 U.S. and foreign military awards, and frequently wore a CIB lapel pin on his civilian sport jackets.
In response to Hackworth's investigation of Admiral Boorda, CNN and the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather questioned the accuracy of Hackworth's own military decorations. In particular, the reports accused Hackworth of claiming a Ranger Tab to which he was not entitled and an extra Distinguished Flying Cross listed on his website. Hackworth threatened to sue CBS and requested a formal audit of his military records. In response to the military audit, the executive producer of CBS News sent a letter to Hackworth that stated:
The Army's audit of its records has determined that the Army made an administrative error back in 1988, when it reissued your medals and awards. Along with numerous other decorations, the Army mistakenly issued you a Ranger Tab and two Oak Leaf Clusters for your Distinguished Flying Cross. The Army has thus verified what we reported as your explanation of the matter.
As far as we are concerned, the Army audit makes clear that you did not at any time wear or claim any military honor not actually issued by the U.S. Army, based on its official records, including the service record you signed and dated. At the same time, CBS continues to believe that our reports did not state or imply that you knowingly wore or claimed decorations not issued by the U.S. Army and that any such inference drawn from the reports would be mistaken.
Similarly, we do not believe our reports in any way equated your conduct with that of the late Admiral Boorda's. Indeed, as we believe we made clear in our reports, by all accounts you are a man who has shown extraordinary heroism in your service to our country, and has deservedly been awarded many of the nation's most coveted awards for valor.
In 2002, Hackworth was asked about the controversy in an interview with Proceedings. In the interview, he stated:
I had served in the 8th Ranger Company; later I served in the 27th Raiders of the 25th Infantry Division. On the Raiders' tenth mission, the regimental commander awarded every trooper the Ranger Tab. When all this fell out after the Boorda story, I immediately had my records audited. And they reflected that I was awarded the Ranger Tab. It was on my official records; it's not something I claimed falsely.
Let me tell you how the regulation reads now. To rate a Ranger Tab, you had to have been awarded the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) while a member of the 8th Ranger Company. But I got my CIB with Company G, 27th Infantry Regiment. Thus, the 1951 award of the tab did not meet the 1980s criteria. I take all the blame.
All the guys in the 27th Raiders got the Ranger Tab, but they were not Rangers. When the Boorda story exploded, people were looking for chinks in my armor. So I'm a defrocked Ranger. As it turned out, though, in the Army's vetting of my record, they found I had ten Silver Stars, not nine.