Remembering Our Heroes: Command Sergeant Major Basil L. Plumley
Basil L. Plumley
For the many people who have seen the movie We Were Soldiers or watch the history channel much, you may recognize the name Hal Moore. You may even know about how he led his troops through the Battle of Ia Drang during the Vietnam War. A name you may not recognize is Command Sergeant Major Basil L. Plumley. Basil L. Plumley served under Hal Moore as Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion. You may remember his character in the movie We Were Soldiers as the memorable rugged Sergeant played by Sam Elliot. Along with Hal Moore and the other men that movie was based on Command Sergeant Major Basil L. Plumley is real human being that served our country not only in Vietnam, but in the Korean War and World War II. He was in the Army from 1942 until 1974 and has been given numerous awards for his efforts.
World War II
Around the time of World War II Basil L. Plumley joined the United States Army. During World War II Basil L. Plumley served as a paratrooper and made all four combat jumps with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. This included Operation Husky in Sicily, Operation Avalanche in Salerno, Operation Neptune in Normandy, and Operation Market Garden in Holland.
Basil L. Plumley made his first combat jump during Operation Husky in Sicily. Operation Husky in Sicily was a World War II campaign where the Allied Forces launched an air and water assault in to Sicily. It was a six week campaign that would lead to the Allied Forces to gaining control of Sicily, and was the beginning of the Allied invasion of Italy. When the 505th Infantry Regiment parachuted that day it was the first regiment sized combat jump in history. Unfortunately, during this assault a mishap occurred and naval vessels opened fire on their allies in the sky causing the many of the troopers to deploy early, and twenty three planes were shot down leading to the death of 318 American troops by friendly fire. Despite not landing in their target zones and many troops not making it to their assigned rally points, the operation was deemed successful because even the lost troops grouped together in small bands and the small skirmishes that happened in so many random locations caused panic amongst the enemy ranks.
Basil L. Plumley along with the other members of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment would make their second combat jump over Salerno, Italy during the Allied invasion of Italy. The Allied army intended to surprise German forces by landing a beach assault without prior bombings. Unfortunately, as the U.S. 5th Army troops stormed the beach they were welcomed by a loud recording playing in English that stated they should surrender as they were surrounded. The men fought onwards to secure the beachhead despite the recording. The German army decided to push back, and the 82nd Airborne Division was chosen to offer support and help secure the beachhead. The 504th Parachute Regiment jumped first, and the 505th followed the very next day. After two weeks of fighting the 505th pushed their way to Naples and helped to secure the first major European city for the Allied Armies.
Operation Neptune was part of Operation Overlord, but is more commonly referred to as D-Day, the allied assault of Normandy and the largest combined military operation in history. The main portion of the allied forces would land major beach assaults that morning, but the night before the airborne divisions would parachute in and secure the way for the beach assault. Basil L. Plumley and the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment would again fall through the skies into enemy territory. As the planes carrying the troopers came over Normandy they came under heavy fire and many troops were deployed before their scheduled drop. The 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment was one of these groups and later their motto would become H-minus because they dropped ahead of schedule. Many of the troops were scattered because of the early drop, and many had no idea where they were once they hit the ground. Despite all of this confusion the members of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment would gather enough troops to attack and liberate the town of St. Mere-Eglise, and were the first troops on the ground to accomplish capturing a town. The 505th was awarded the Presidential Citation for their efforts on D-Day.
Operation Market Garden
Operation Market Garden was the largest airborne assault in history. The Allies plan involved sending airborne troops in first to secure several bridges, then the armored divisions would follow. Again Basil L. Plumely along with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment would fall through the skies, this time at Groesbeck, Holland. During this battle men of the 505th were attacked by an entire German battalion with tanks, yet they held them off through three assaults until reinforcements relieved them. The 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment would again receive the Presidential Citation.
Battle of The Bulge
Near the end of World War II, the Germans launched a surprise attack through the Ardennes mountains in Belgium. Despite being outnumbered and unprepared for the winter, Allied airborne forces, including the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment were surrounded and survived through a harsh winter and constant enemy attacks. The Battle of the Bulge would become known as the bloodiest battle of World War II with estimated American troop losses varying from 70,000 to 108,000.
Basil L. Plumley made one more combat jump during the Korean War with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment. In the battle of Pakchon in Sukchon, North Korea, the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment dropped from the skies to help capture Korean Government members and to free American prisoners.
Award For Combat Jumps
These five combat jumps would lead him to be one of the few men in history to receive the Master Combat Parachutist Badge with a gold star. This all took place before the Vietnam War which he became well known for.
The Battle of Ia Drang
November 14th, 1965 the 1st Battalion, 7th Calvary led by Hal Moore began a battle that would be the first large scale clash of the Vietnam War. The battle took place in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam near the Drang river. Three United States Air Calvary Units would face off against five Vietnamese battalions along with anti-aircraft and mortar units in a battle that would last for two days.
The story would later be told by Hal Moore and a war journalist Joseph L. Galloway that accompanied the soldiers, in a book called We Were Soldiers Once... And Young. This book would later be portrayed by the film We Were Soldiers. There seems to be a few minor disputes about the historical accuracy of the book, and more so about the movie but that is a moot point for the purposes of this article. The simple fact of the matter is that these men served our country by going to this distant battlefield and many gave their lives.
Another interesting dispute is that the United States claims victory, that 305 American soldiers died, and 1,519 Vietnamese were killed. The Vietnamese however also claim victory, that 2,974 Americans were killed, and 554 Vietnamese were killed.
The now Command Sereant Major Basil L. Plumley played a major role in this battle. In the film it depicts that he refuses to use the new M-16 rifles in battle and fought throughout the entire engagement with only his .45 caliber 1911 model handgun. This is rumored to have actually occurred this way. For those with little knowledge of guns, this speaks volumes to the courage and tenacity of this man. The M16 rifle admittedly had some problems in its early service days during Vietnam due to a misunderstanding about gunpowder, it was still an automatic rifle that held thirty rounds. The Colt 1911 pistol is a semi-automatic handgun that only holds seven rounds.
The book We Were Soldiers Once... And Young Hal Moore praises Basil L. Plumley for his performance and leadership role. The movie We Were Soldiers depicts Basil L. Plumley as a gruff, tough as nails leader, which seems to match the stories and various accounts from the real men that served with him. His men referred to him as Old Iron Jaw. Some of the veterans that served with him say that God may look like Sergeant Major Plumley but he is not nearly as tough as the Command Sergeant Major on sins small or large.
Command Sergeant Major Basil L. Plumley's medals, awards, and decorations include the Combat Infantryman Badge with two silver stars, the Master Combat Parachutist Badge, The Vietnam Parachutist Badge, The Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and Valor Device, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, and many many more.
Basil L. Plumley retired from the military in 1974, but continued working as a civilian for the Army in a Military hospital for another 15 more years. He is still alive today, and lives in Columbus, Georgia with his wife.
The Remembering Our Heroes Series
A True American Hero
Sergeant Major Basil L. Plumley survived through the friendly fire, fell from the sky, went through combat on the ground amongst his scattered allies and survived through Operation Husky in World War II. He would again fall from through the sky, fight, and survive through Operation Avalanche in World War II. He would take part in the largest combined military assault in history on D-Day in World War II, again falling through sky, fighting amongst a scattered battlefield, and survive. He would fall through the sky a fourth time in Operation Market Garden during World War II, once again fighting and surviving. He would fall through the skies a fifth time during the Korean war, fight and survive. He would ride a helicopter in to the Battle of Ia Drang during the Vietnam war, carry only his side arm, fight and survive. Sergeant Major Basil L. Plumley fought for his country through three wars, and stands in my mind as a true hero of this country and example to us all. Such men as this and the sacrifices they have made should always be remembered.
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