Basil Plumley, Army veteran of 3 wars, dies at 92
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley, left, and retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore help lead the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam.
October 11th, 2012
10:46 AM ET

Basil Plumley, Army veteran of 3 wars, dies at 92

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley, who fought in some of the U.S. Army's bloodiest battles in three wars, died Wednesday in Columbus, Georgia. He was 92.

Plumley saw action in some of the largest battles of World War II, including the Battle of Normandy, the Battle of Salerno in Italy and Operation Market Garden.

He then fought in the Korean War, but it was his role in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam that brought him the most fame. The battle was chronicled in the book "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young," which was later a 2002 movie starring Mel Gibson. Sam Elliott played Plumley.

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia, tweeted a picture of Elliot and Plumley in noting the veteran's death.


Plumley, along with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, led the Army's 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment in the November 1965 battle that saw 450 U.S. forces face off against 2,000 troops from the North Vietnamese army in the first major engagement between the two armies. More than 230 U.S. troops were killed.

Plumley was at Landing Zone X-Ray, where 79 U.S. troops died.

"That was a long day. I was the second one in and next to the last to leave," Plumley was quoted as saying by The Bayonet in 2010 when he donated a large print of himself and Moore in Vietnam to the National Infantry Museum.

"Command Sgt. Maj. Plumley was a true American hero who spent much of his life placing his nation and its greatest ideals ahead of his own well-being," Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood, Texas, said in a statement Wednesday. "He served with great valor and distinction in three wars and continued to mentor soldiers and leaders well after his retirement from active duty. The command sergeant major touched countless lives in his more than 30 years in the Army."

Plumley joined the Army on March 31, 1942, and retired on December 31, 1974.

His Army awards included the Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster and the Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster.

At a reunion of Ia Drang veterans this year in Columbus, Plumley talked about the troops he helped lead, according to a report on the U.S. Army's website.

"That battalion was the best trained, in good physical shape and most disciplined that I've ever seen," he said. "We did real hard training at Fort Benning before we went into X-Ray. … But that battalion was made up of hard, disciplined, well-trained and well-commanded soldiers who didn't give a damn how rough their training is as long as you're fair about it. I was glad to have been a member of it."

Plumley was a larger-than-life figure, who had the respect of those on the battlefield, according to Joe Galloway, a reporter who was at Ia Drang and later wrote "We Were Soldiers" along with Moore. At the May reunion, he told of the scene when Plumley showed up at another Ia Drang vets reunion years earlier.

"It was up in the hospitality room, and everybody's had a few pops. All of a sudden, Sgt. Maj. Plumley arrives, steps in the door," Galloway said. "And I saw guys who had served a two-year draftee tour in the Army and had been out for 25 or 30 years, turn white, backs against the wall. As the sergeant major made his way into the room, they made their way along the wall and out the door. They were afraid he still had their name and number."

Plumley died of colon cancer, the Army statement said.

See local coverage from CNN affiliate WRBL-TV in Columbus

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Filed under: Military • Obituary • U.S. Army
soundoff (433 Responses)
  1. Pliny

    This man *IS* American History come to life.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Office Junkie

    Thank you good sir!!! Rest in the peace you have deserved.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. MSG Strunk

    Rest well CSM, other good men and women stand the watch now. Big shoes to fill, but we will do our best. Thank you for your amazing service and know peace now.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • TXJake

      Well said Sergeant!

      October 12, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    All the way SMG. Airborne. RIP

    October 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jeff Walker

    Yes. A true hero has passed. The nation is better for his service, and lessened by his loss. RIP Sgt. Major.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. FNK

    A true hero indeed. I actually watched that movie just yesterday for the first time and I was so speechless with the bravery of the men in uniform. RIP.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. gladiatorgrl

    They just don't make 'em like this anymore 🙁

    October 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      You forget the many who serve know.

      October 14, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. uofslim

    Day is done, gone the sun,
    From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
    All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
    While the light fades from sight,
    And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
    To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

    Thank you Sgt Major Plumley and may ye rest in peace.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Army Vet

    May you be met at heavens Gate with a cigar and a slug of jack

    RIP Sgt Major.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Gman

    Thank you CSM Plumley, for your service, dedication, and mentorship to all all the officers and enlisted men you have worked with. Thank you also to all the other servicemen and women out there who are continuing to serve their country every day, in the best traditions of the US military, which were exemplified and embodied by this paragon of soldierly conduct.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JeffS

    What a leader – a hero in terrible times that prepared others to meet the test and inspired them to be all that they could be. RIP Sgt. Major

    October 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Al Torre

    Rest In Peace. Thank you for you service.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Peace Girl

    I really didn't support the Vietnam Police Action. Didn't in the 1960s and don't now. Sorry.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • doug

      The fact you didn't support the says nothing about the man. He did his duty as he saw it as you did what you saw as right.

      October 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • matthew

      This has nothing to do with support or non support of the policy of the war. This is about a man who made it possible for you to be a bleeding liberal.

      October 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      You dont have to support the war or its policies but please support the men and women who wore the uniform

      October 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      I don't really support the Iraq War and how the Afghan War was handled but I support the people being sent there for fight it for the guys in Washington(and Texas). I understand why we went into Vietnam but didn't like how our government handled that war either. But I still support the people sent over to fight it. Especially since a lot of them were drafted to do it.

      Most of the soldiers fighting in these wars are just your average person. These guys believe in protecting America and in turn that alone deserves our respect. They are held at a standard that regardless of the political situation they do what they are told as long as it is lawful. Yes, there are shady moments done by a select few but for the most part we hold those people accountable for their actions.
      I'm sorry about the world is not a nice place. We need a military force otherwise others will simply roll over us and you won't be able to enjoy the freedoms you take for granted.

      October 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ

      Sorry Piecegurl, but fighting for the freedom of others is always a worthwhile endeavor. That's what many of the troops who served in 'Nam believed they were fighting for. It was only years later we all learned of the farce our govt perpetrated on our soldiers. But many of the men who served believed they were fighting for the SV people's freedom.

      Not that you seem to understand anything about courage, valor, or honor. People like you make me wonder about all my buddies who came back in body bags and if people like you are worthy of what's been given to you by the blood of many.

      CSM Plumley, thank you for you courage and and willingness to give all. R.I.P.

      October 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Well did you support Hitler? This man also fought in WWII to get rid of that maniac. If you don't want to show a little respect to a man for protecting your rights in VN than at least do so for his service in WWII.

      October 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • rjp34652

      I was in service during those years with honorable discharge. That was before the lottery and before a man had a choice about what he was going to do or not do. I did not support the American invasion of S. Viet Nam and our insinuation into regional politics and what was a civil war among locals.

      I DO NOT support American wars abroad (24 concurrent wars as of this writing), the bloated military (do we need a military larger than the next 10 nations combined – a navy larger than the next 17 nations combined?), American war crimes, torture of prisoners or presidential approval on assassinations (its illegal by our own law, folks).

      It's about tmie the American people woke up to military abuses, tax payer abuses and political illigitimacy at the expense of our liberty. Instead our nation is pleased with the proud new fascist police state we've built. Your days of gloating are numbered. Quite soon the vaunted American reputation will pop like a child's balloon.

      I've done my duty and I'm here to say my allegiance is to God, not some bloody striped piece of cloth.

      but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

      October 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phineas


      Support them how so? Isn't that view, which was adopted in 1990 to sell the first Persian Gulf War, intellectual laziness? If you don't mind, I'd love to hear what that statement means to you.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • panda napkin symphony

      TJ, I am his brother in arms and I agree with everything he said. Nowhere did he disparage the men and women in uniform. I am one of those guys who still cries when the national anthem plays because I KNOW what it means to those who serve. Since my time in the military I have also learned I was lied to repeatedly by my country and I am bitter about it. I think after all the people I murdered in the name of America that I have that right. No one has the right to judge those who have done their duty save those who served beside them. I understand not many people can relate to professional soldiers and what they've witnessed doing their service and so I take your comments with a grain of salt. Learn what the word patriot means and you will see there are two sides to every coin. As I learned the hard way, theres a whole lot more to war than patriotism and a whole lot more to patriotism than war.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • boring

      You boring boomer. Still don't get it. And change your name to Peace Grandma, you haven't been a 'girl' in 40 odd years.

      October 12, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norm,Windham,Maine

      Neither did I. However, that's irrelevant. I've always believed it was a terrible shame the way Vietnam vets were treated when they came home. Let's remember, this was a draftee army, not the volunteer force we have now. Guys went to Asia to fight a war they wanted no part of, then were spat on and called baby killer by idiots when they returned. Then, in the ultimate indignity, groups like the VFW and American Legion turned their backs on them. I've known Vietnam vets that to this day won't join either organization because of it.

      October 15, 2012 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  14. Andrew

    This guy would of been neat to meet. He was in 3 wars. 3 freaking wars! Mad respects for this man.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      @PS......His answer might echo Tennyson's "Ours not to reason why. Ours but to do and die"

      October 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ

      He wasn't the only one. I met a man some years ago... a career Navy SEAL (Ret. MCPO) who also served in those same three wars. I have to wonder if there's any chance he ever met MCSM Plumley.

      Oh... and here something a bit funny; this man was 85 when I met him. He had started a new job at Home-Depot. I had asked him how he got the job, considering his age. He told me he lied to them, said he was 62. He looked it too. Still well built, in top physical shape. We should all be in such shape at that age!

      October 11, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phineas

      Portland Tony,

      You don't often see Tennyson quoted in these forums. Nice job.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • meemee

      As a one time re-enactor, the Crimean War was my specialty. The "Charge" was the result of a couple of miscommunications between the seconds of British officers who couldn't stand the other. The real purpose was to send a couple troops to prevent some captured guns from being carried away, not charge all the batteries up "the valley of death." What historians said of the charge was that it was spectacular, but "not war." What it really was was a horrid waste of life. The Gallipoli campaign of WW1 would echo the same stupid, useless waste of life by careless and stubborn officers.

      It was stupid, dangerous junior officers that were fragged in Vietnam the most, not dissenting soldiers.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Scott

    He was a man, a brother, a father, a son, a husband, and he was a soldier. A man who fought not in front or behind, but next to his brothers in arms. Never looked for glory, but only wanted victory, stood with men and fought next to those who he trained with and sacrificed so much for. His beliefs in himself, his men, his country made him a true example of leadership, dignity, honor, and intengrity not only to the uniform but to being a man. Thank you Sargeant Major Plumbley for your dedication and bravery. You stepped forward and demanded others to do the same to not only fight for their own survivla but the survival of their brothers. Rest In Peace as you will always be spoken of with true honor and courage, you join those gone but never forgotten. LZ Xray has welcomed home another fallen brother.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
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