Brookfield resident Jim Wiginton has admired Lt. Gen. Harold “Hal” Moore for more than 40 years. Moore, who wrote the best seller Were Were Soldiers Once … And Young, had commanded the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Ia Drang.
The bloody battle in 1965, later memorialized in a film adaptation of the book starring Mel Gibson as Moore, was the first major battle between U.S. and North Vietnamese forces.
A year later, Wiginton would be attached to the 7th Cavalry as the crew chief of a helicopter gunship in the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion. He served during 1966 and 1967 and was wounded in battle.
“I saw action,” said Wiginton, who avoided adding detail, saying he wanted the focus to fall on Moore. The Battle of Ia Drang claimed nearly 500 U.S. casualties, including about 240 killed.
Moore was awarded the distinguishes service cross, Legion of Merit, bronze star and purple heart during his years of service in the Army.
A former Riverside resident, Wiginton is a life member of VFW Post #6869, the former North Riverside organization which has merged with Berwyn VFW Post #2378.
Wiginton, who lived in Cicero when he was drafted into the U.S. Army, never got to meet his hero during his years in the service and always wanted to meet him ever since. Recently, while watching a TV documentary about the 87-year-old Moore, he said to his friend, Jane Wirengard, “If I’m living when he dies, I’ll attend his wake.”
To which Wirengard replied, “Why wait until he dies?”
Wirengard e-mailed a newspaper reporter who had written a story about Moore, and the reporter passed along her inquiry about setting up a meeting between Wiginton and Moore.
The next thing Wiginton knew, he was on his motorcycle headed south to Auburn, Ala., where he had an appointment to meet with his hero on May 26. The two talked for over an hour, Wiginton said.
“We talked about life in general, about the war, about the situation now,” said Wiginton, who admitted he was blown away by the experience.
“I was excited before and after; it was something I so badly wanted to do,” Wiginton said. “It was overwhelming.”
Wiginton, who owns Perfect Image Hardwood Floors in Brookfield, convinced his idol to take a couple of pictures with him, including the two saluting each other wearing the 7th Cavalry Stetson.
The former helicopter crew chief also wanted to pass along information on a scholarship fund that Moore set up in 1994 after the publication of his best-selling book. Proceeds from book sales were used to fund the Ia Drang Scholarship Fund, which helps further the education of descendents of Ia Drang veterans.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the fund can visit online at www.lzxray.com/scholarship.