He was young once…but was always a soldier

I speak of Command Sgt Major Basil Plumley.  The country lost an iconic trooper this past week and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the man who defended his country on 2 continents and 3 countries.

He was young once…but was always a soldier

CSM Plumley started his military career in 1942 as a Private in the army.  He invaded Sicily, fought in the battle of Salerno, fought in the battle of Normandy and Operation Market Garden.  Plumley in total made 4 combat jumps all across Europe.

He would again be called to battle during the Korean War where he would make his 5th combat jump.

But it will be in his final war that CSM Plumley will be remembered most for.  His exploits were portrayed by Sam Elliot in “We were Soldiers Once” based off the book “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young” by Col. Hal Moore and reporter Joseph Galloway about the training of 7th Air Cav and its first battle in the la Drang Valley, Vietnam.

By all accounts, Sam Elliot actually underplayed the role and CSM Plumley was even MORE gravel chewing and hard charging.  ”Old Iron Jaws” as he was affectionately known among the men, was gruff, monosyllabic, and an absolute terror when it came to enforcing standards of training.  It is that high level of discipline in himself that he instilled into others and I would wager that a good number of men saw themselves safe through combat because of it.

If in training he was a strict task master, then it was in combat that he revealed the leadership that would inspire others to walk through the fires of hell and back.  Even a non combatant like Joe Galloway who was at the Battle of la Drang was inspired when he found himself curled up on the ground while the American’s were taking incoming fire.

Galloway recalls:

“The sergeant major bent at the waist and shouted over the incredible din of battle—-’You can’t take no pictures laying down there on the ground, Sonny.’ I thought to myself he’s right. I also thought fleetingly that we might all die here in this place—and if I am going to die I would just as soon take mine standing up beside a man like this. Like a fool, I got up. I followed the sergeant major over to the makeshift aid station where Doc Carrera and Sgt. Tommie Keeton were tending the wounded. Plumley hollered at them: Gentlemen, prepare to defend yourselves! As he pulled out his .45 pistol and jacked a round into the chamber.” 

Now, when your Command Sgt Major tells you to prepare yourself, its one thing…when he emphasizes the point by locking a round in the chamber of his 1911 it somehow instills the point that things are going to get hot and heavy real quick and you are about to be face to face with the enemy…literally.

A few words and a simple action is all it took.

That was the kind of man CSM Plumley was.  He didn’t need to give rousing speeches, he wasn’t about flowery pep talks.  When a soldier wished him good morning one day, Plumley responded “Who made you the %&#$Q weatherman?”  No…no flowery pep talks.

He was a man of action that instilled more in those actions than a library of words could muster. This country may have Declared Independence with flowing words of poetry and grace, but it was won and defended by men of action such as Plumley.

America lost a great man when CSM Plumley died this past week at the age of 92. His love of country and that of his men never faltered.  His jaw may have been iron…but his heart was gold.

Medals and awards: CSM Basil Plumley

Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster
Bronze Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster
Purple Heart with three Oak Leaf Clusters
Army Air Medal with eight Oak Leaf Clusters
Army Presidential Unit Citation
Army Good Conduct Medal
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with arrowhead device and one silver and three bronze campaign stars (eight  campaigns)
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
National Defense Service Medal with one Gold Star
Korean Service Medal with one Arrowhead Device and three campaign stars
Vietnam Service Medal with eight campaign stars
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
Republic of Vietnam Presidential Citation
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm three Awards
United Nations Service Medal for Korea
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Award Honor Medal
Republic of Korea War Service Medal, Order of Saint Maurice
Combat Infantryman Badge (third award)
Master Parachutist Badge with five Combat Jump Stars
French Croix de Guerre 82nd Airborne
Belgian Croix de Guerre 82nd Airborne
Dutch Order of the Orange 82nd Airborne
Doughboy Award 1999

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