Ia Drang was one of the most significant battles during the Vietnam War because it was the first major engagement between US and NVA forces. Its memories are permanently engrained into the minds of those who fought there. During this trip I have had the pleasure of spending time with a man who has not only been impacted by this war, but who also made a significant contribution to this battle.
Ramon A. “Tony” Nadal served 22 years in the US Army in both Germany and Vietnam. A 1958 West Point graduate, he served three tours in Vietnam. His first came in 1963-64 as the commander of a Special Forces “A” detachment based in Nam Dong. His unit was responsible for conducting counter-insurgency operations, ambushes, and raids. The second tour came in 1965-66 while he was a company commander in the 7th Cavalry Division. Located near the city of Pleiku in the Central Highlands,Tony led troops into battle in the Ia Drang Valley. He returned for a third time in 1968 to conduct a study of operations of the allied forces throughout different tactical zones. Tony has a long list of decorations that include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and the Vietnam Cross Gallantry. He is also Special Forces, Army Ranger, Pathfinder, and Airborne qualified.
Today we visited the area close to LZ X-Ray and Tony described his account of the conflict. It was an emotional time as he recalled the names and faces of men he lost in battle. Tony emphasized the importance of brotherhood and said that “even through the disaster of war, sometimes flowers bloom.” He went on to say that to this day, almost 50 years after the war ended, he sees his men as his own family. His experiences are described in the best-selling book written by his commanding officer, Hal Moore, “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young” and was later made in to a major motion picture. I have truly been blessed with the opportunity to get to know Tony as well as hear his wisdom, knowledge, and experiences. My experiences with COL Tony Nadal in Vietnam will definitely be a time that I will never forget.
A native of Los Angeles, Steve Hansen enlisted in the Army at the age of 17 where he found a home. “Everything that I am today is because of the Army.” Upon completion of basic training, he spent time in Germany before being transferred to Ft. Benning, GA in early 1964 for 18 months of additional training as a member of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. Upon arriving in Vietnam, he served as a mortar forward observer and fought in the battle of Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley. After six months, Mr. Hansen was reassigned to company headquarters being responsible for logistics in the field. He served a second tour of duty from 1969-1970 as Company Commander for Charlie Company of the 20th Division and later as Commander of Alpha Company 23rd S&T Battalion at Chu Lai.
In my conversations with Mr. Hansen, he told me that the most difficult thing he has struggled with while in the military was being worthy to lead his men. That admission resonated with me because I have wondered if I am and will be an effective leader in various areas of my life. After spending many hours with Mr. Hansen, I have realized that being a good leader takes time and that you must listen to those around you who know more than you do. Mr. Hansen told me that in a platoon, there is a lieutenant and a platoon sergeant. The platoon sergeant has more experience than the lieutenant, so he must teach the officer everything that he needs to know so that he can effectively lead his platoon. At some time, the platoon sergeant steps back and allows the lieutenant to led, but he remains ever present for advice and guidance. Mr. Hansen carried this principle into civilian life as well–if you need help, seek out those around you, whose opinions you value and respect.
COL Steve Hansen is an incredible man who served his country with distinction. I have learned much from him and I am very grateful for this opportunity to learn from all the veterans. Most of all, I will never will forget the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam and will always honor them.
Blane R. Bias