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October 19, 2009

Before Julia Compton Moore, survivor support services
not on the radar

By Rob McIlvaine
FMWRC Public Affairs

Julia Compton Moore died at the age of 75 on April 18, 2004 after making the world a better place for survivors of the fallen.

A U.S. Army daughter, wife and mother, Julia was depicted in the 2002 Paramount release “We Were Soldiers” by actress Madeleine Stowe. Her husband, Lt. Col. Hal Moore, who wrote the book “We were Soldiers once…and Young” with Joe Galloway, was played by Mel Gibson.

In November 1965, some 450 men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Calvary, under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore, were dropped by helicopter into a small clearing in the Ia Drang Valley. They were immediately surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese Soldiers. Three days later, only two and a half miles away, a sister battalion was chopped to pieces. Together, these actions at landing zones X-Ray and Albany constitute one of the most savage and significant battles of the Vietnam War.

The efforts and complaints given by Julia in the aftermath of the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, the first major ground engagement involving U.S. forces in South Vietnam, prompted the Army to set up survivor support networks and casualty notification teams consisting of uniformed officers, which are still in use.

“If it hadn’t been for leaders like Mrs. Moore who saw a need for change and spoke up, we’d still be dealing with casualties in the same manner as depicted in the film,” Donna Engeman, FMWRC survivor advisor, said.

In those early days of the war, Galloway said, the Army was overwhelmed by hundreds of death notices, so the Western Union telegrams were handed over to taxi drivers to deliver to the survivors.

Julie Moore was horrified when one taxi driver pulled up to her door where she and the five young children of Lt. Col. Moore, commander of the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry in Vietnam, were living. It took her a long, long time to answer the doorbell. The driver apologized when told of his mistake and asked for the correct address.

Mrs. Moore followed that taxi and others to comfort the new widows and orphans and then raised her ire at the Pentagon about their callous method of notifying Families. Within two weeks, her efforts resulted in a new policy requiring an officer and a chaplain to personally deliver the news of a fallen Soldier. It was a small beginning of a concern for Army Families that has grown into a major program.

According to Galloway, who served with Julia’s husband in Vietnam, Julia visited the small bungalows and trailer houses around Columbus, Ga. to offer her sympathy and support to new widows whose husbands had died in action in the Ia Drang Valley during those dark days immediately following the battle.

The only child of Army Col. Louis J. Compton and Elizabeth Boon Compton, Julia began her lifelong journey of experiencing the separation and risk of loss in war at the age of 12. Her father fought in Europe in World War II, and later, her husband, Lt. Col. Hal Moore was wounded in Korea and Vietnam where he was commander of the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry.

Throughout her years as Army wife and mother and wherever her husband was stationed, she served as a Brownie leader, Girl Scout leader and Cub Scout den mother, while working with the wives clubs to take better care of the enlisted Soldier and his Family.

An Army brat, born at Ft. Sill, Okla., Julie would see two of her three sons follow their father to West Point and the Army, and one of them fight in Panama and the Persian Gulf War with the 82nd Airborne.

In 2002, Mrs. Moore wrote:

"I was a stay-at-home Mom, volunteering with the Red Cross and Army Community Service. My main love and focus has always been the Army family and especially our Child Care Centers.

"Not very exciting when I write it down but I have loved every minute (well maybe not every minute, like when the dog throws up on your carpet just as the doorbell rings with the General arriving for dinner, or a child falls out of the tree and breaks his arm minutes before you are due at a reception in your honor, or the movers lose all the trousers to your husband’s uniforms etc. etc.) and wouldn't trade with the wife of any other profession.”

She was especially active in setting up the Army Community Service organizations that are now a permanent fixture on all Army posts to assist Soldiers and Families.

Julia Moore is buried near her parents at Fort Benning, Ga., surrounded by the 7th Cavalry troopers whose wives she comforted and whose funerals she attended in 1965. She will rest in the arms of the Army she loved so long and served so well.

According to Galloway, she was “one of the finest Army wives who ever walked.”

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