RIP CSM Basil Plumley
Basil L. Plumley, a renowned career soldier whose exploits as an Army infantryman were portrayed in a book and the movie “We Were Soldiers,” has died at 92 — an age his friends are amazed that he lived to see.
Plumley fought in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam and was awarded a medal for making five parachute jumps into combat. The retired command sergeant major died Wednesday.
Friends said Plumley, who died in hospice care in west Georgia, never told war stories and was known to hang up on people who called to interview him. Still, he was near-legendary in the Army and gained more widespread fame through a 1992 Vietnam War book that was the basis for the 2002 movie starring Mel Gibson. Actor Sam Elliott played Plumley in the film.
Almost all of use from the post-Desert Storm era (especially us Infantrymen and of course the Cav guys) pretty much worship the CSM, even though we know him largely from the movie. Even without that though, everyone had heard of him, as is made clear in the article.
Plumley didn’t need a Hollywood portrayal to be revered among soldiers, said Greg Camp, a retired Army colonel and former chief of staff at neighboring Fort Benning who befriended Plumley in his later years.
“He’s iconic in military circles,” Camp said. “Among people who have been in the military, he’s beyond what a movie star would be. ... His legend permeates three generations of soldiers.”
Iconic is the right word, if ever there was one.
For those who need a reminder of some of the great one liners attributed to the CSM in that movie, this is perhaps the most famous.
I like what Mr. Galloway had to say about that aspect of him:
"Sam Elliott underplayed him. He was actually tougher than that," Galloway said. "He was gruff, monosyllabic, an absolute terror when it came to enforcing standards of training."
That's not to say he was mean or inhuman, Galloway said. "This was a man above all else who had a very big, warm heart that he concealed very well."
Since I got to work this morning around 6 am, I've been searching around to refresh my memory about some of the exploits the CSM went through. His awards and medals alone is nothing short of startling:
Silver Star with one Oak Leaf ClusterBronze Star with one Oak Leaf ClusterPurple Heart with three Oak Leaf ClustersArmy Air Medal with eight Oak Leaf ClustersArmy Presidential Unit CitationArmy Good Conduct MedalAmerican Campaign MedalEuropean-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with arrowhead device and one silver and three bronze campaign stars (eight campaigns)World War II Victory MedalArmy of Occupation MedalNational Defense Service Medal with one Gold StarKorean Service Medal with one Arrowhead Device and three campaign starsVietnam Service Medal with eight campaign starsRepublic of Korea Presidential Unit CitationRepublic of Vietnam Presidential CitationRepublic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm three AwardsUnited Nations Service Medal for KoreaRepublic of Vietnam Campaign MedalRepublic of Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Award Honor MedalRepublic of Korea War Service Medal, Order of Saint MauriceCombat Infantryman Badge (third award)Master Parachutist Badge with five Combat Jump StarsFrench Croix de Guerre 82nd AirborneBelgian Croix de Guerre 82nd AirborneDutch Order of the Orange 82nd AirborneDoughboy Award 1999
Bear in mind that the Ia Drang was only a small part of his career. He also served with the 320 Gliders during WWII, and 187th PIR during Korea. The man was virtually omnipresent in every conflict the US engaged in from 1940 to 1974 when he retired.
I watched this this morning about the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, something I inexplicably have never seen before. It is long, but it really goes to the hellish nature of combat.
And so, it's with heavy heart that we say goodbye to a man that was more demi-God to us infantryman than a mortal. He always seemed timeless, but that never seems to come to fruition.
Halfway down the trail to Hell,
In a shady meadow green
Are the Souls of all dead troopers camped,
Near a good old-time canteen.
And this eternal resting place
Is known as Fiddlers' Green.
Marching past, straight through to Hell
The Infantry are seen.
Accompanied by the Engineers,
Artillery and Marines,
For none but the shades of Cavalrymen
Dismount at Fiddlers' Green.
Though some go curving down the trail
To seek a warmer scene.
No trooper ever gets to Hell
Ere he's emptied his canteen.
And so rides back to drink again
With friends at Fiddlers' Green.
Farewell CSM Basil Plumley.