Vietnam Hero, Foe Hackworth Dies at 74
By Matt Apuzzo
The Associated Press

Friday 06 May 2005

Hartford, CT - Retired Army Col. David Hackworth, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who spoke out against that war and became a journalist and advocate for military reform, died Wednesday in Tijuana, Mexico, his wife said Thursday. He was 74.

Hackworth, who lived with his wife in Greenwich, was receiving treatment for bladder cancer.

A Newsweek correspondent during the Gulf War, he worked in recent years as a syndicated columnist for King Features, often criticizing the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war. "Most combat vets pick their fights carefully. They look at their scars, remember the madness and are always mindful of the fallout," Hackworth wrote in February. "That's not the case in Washington, where the White House and the Pentagon are run by civilians who have never sweated it out on a battlefield."

He ignited a national debate last year when he reported that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used a machine to sign condolence letters sent to the families of fallen soldiers. Rumsfeld later promised to sign each letter by hand.

"Hack never lost his focus," said Roger Charles, president of Soldiers for the Truth, a California-based veterans group of which Hackworth was chairman. "That focus was on the young kids that our country sends to bleed and die on our behalf. Everything he did in his retirement was to try to give them a better chance to win and to come home. That's one hell of a legacy."

Orphaned before he was a year old, Hackworth was raised in California by his grandmother and in foster homes. He became a merchant marine at the age of 14 and lied about his age to join the Army in 1946 when he was 15. He gained a reputation for blunt talk when, as a teenage private in Italy, he told Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, "The chow stinks."

At 40, he became the youngest full colonel in Vietnam, where he served for nearly six years. He was awarded roughly 80 medals, including two Distinguished Service Crosses, 10 Silver Stars and eight Purple Hearts.

Hackworth's unsparing criticism of tactics and doctrine continued throughout his 25-year career. In 1971, when he appeared on ABC's "Issues and Answers," he told a national television audience that the Army's Vietnam tactics were not unlike the food he had in Italy.

It was one of the first examples of a senior officer publicly speaking in opposition to the Vietnam War, and the Army unceremoniously retired the man who had been told a few months earlier that he was virtually assured promotion to general officer.

"I was brokenhearted because the Army was my family," he said in 1990. "I loved it." He gave up his medals in protest and moved to Australia, where he made millions in a restaurant business and a duck farm.

Hackworth's medals were reissued by Brig. Gen. John Howard in the 1980s and he returned to the United States around the time he published his best-selling autobiography, "About Face." His other books include "The Vietnam Primer" and "Hazardous Duty." His latest was "Steel My Soldiers' Hearts."

He is survived by his wife of eight years, Eilhys England, a stepdaughter and four children from two earlier marriages, the family said.