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Obituaries

David H. Hackworth, 74; Highly Decorated Soldier, Blunt Military Analyst

May 06, 2005|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Retired Army Col. David H. Hackworth, the highly decorated infantry officer who denounced U.S. policy in Vietnam during the war and later became an outspoken journalist who offered trenchant analyses of the military, has died. He was 74.

Hackworth, who lived in Greenwich, Conn., died Wednesday in Tijuana, where he was undergoing treatment for bladder cancer. Eilhys England, his wife of eight years, was at his side.

Known as America's most decorated living soldier and one of the more outrageous figures to emerge from the Vietnam War, the brash, outspoken Hackworth received 78 combat awards -- including a Distinguished Service Cross with an oak-leaf cluster, a Silver Star with nine oak-leaf clusters, a Bronze Star with seven oak-leaf clusters and eight Purple Hearts -- during his 25-year military career.

The veteran of both the Vietnam and Korean wars also earned a reputation as one of the Army's most brilliant commanding officers -- and one of its most controversial.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 10, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Hackworth obituary -- The obituary of retired Army Col. David H. Hackworth in Friday's California section incorrectly reported that he commanded an all-volunteer regiment known as the Wolfhound Raiders during the Korean War. It was not a regiment. As a member of the 27th Infantry Regiment, known as the Wolfhounds, Hackworth commanded a specialized, all-volunteer unit called the Wolfhound Raiders.

Disillusioned with America's conduct in prosecuting the Vietnam War, the active-duty colonel offered a harsh critique of the conflict on the ABC-TV news show "Issues and Answers" in 1971.

The maverick Hackworth became an overnight media sensation, but he incensed Army officials who tried to discredit him by charging him with violating regulations in Vietnam.

Before he could be court-martialed, Hackworth was forced to resign from the Army. In protest, he gave away his medals and went into self-imposed exile in Australia, where he became wealthy running a Brisbane restaurant and raising ducks.

He returned to the United States more than a decade ago and assumed a new role as a journalist: He became a contributing editor at Newsweek, a syndicated columnist and a television talk show regular.

As a reporter, he covered the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Balkans conflict, U.S. policies in Somalia, the 1994 Korean nuclear crisis, Haiti and other hot spots.

A persistent thorn in the Pentagon's side, Hackworth called Afghanistan a Vietnam-like disaster in the making in 2002. Last year he told Salon.com that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "misunderstood the whole war" in Iraq and predicted that American troops could be stuck there for "at least" another 30 years.

"Most combat vets pick their fights carefully. They look at their scars, remember the madness and are always mindful of the fallout," Hackworth, who still carried a bullet in his leg from Vietnam, 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."

Hackworth, who was known to go to great lengths to take care of his men in the field, also ran two websites for soldiers in Iraq to air their uncensored complaints and criticisms, ranging from bad food to poorly performing equipment to lack of ammunition.

"Hack never lost his focus," Roger Charles, president of Soldiers for the Truth, a California-based veterans group that Hackworth led, told Associated Press on Thursday.

"That focus was on the young kids that our country sends to bleed and die on our behalf," Charles said. "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."

The lean, wiry Hackworth once said he joined the Army for two reasons.

"I did it for sex and adventure," he told The Times in 1989. "That's what got me, to be dead-truthful. I was into sex and adventure. And I thought, well, you know, along the way, if you can serve your country, great."

Then he roared with laughter.

Born in 1930, Hackworth was orphaned when he was 5 months old. After time in an orphanage, he was raised in Santa Monica by his grandmother, who entertained him with stories about his family's long line of military men dating back to the Revolutionary War.

He grew up tough and streetwise and in 1946, at age 15, he used fake ID papers to join the Army.

He won a battlefield commission in Korea, where he commanded an all-volunteer regiment known as the Wolfhound Raiders.

"The Raiders were the cockiest, most gung-ho [soldiers] on the block," he wrote in his bestselling 1989 autobiography, "About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior." "The men approached each raid with superhuman confidence, knowing just as well that it could be their final journey."

In Korea, Hackworth became known for driving his men to their limits, screaming orders and bullying them to fight harder.

For that, he earned their loyalty.

At the same time, he antagonized his superior officers with his outspokenness and for ignoring regulations.

To meet his men's needs, be it T-bone steaks, warm clothes or better weapons, he begged, borrowed and stole supplies.

"I've never been one for just toeing the line," he told The Times in 1989. "That got me in trouble, but it also kept me honest. If people didn't like that, it wasn't my problem."

But it was on the battlefield that Hackworth earned his legendary status in the military.

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