The late Colonel David H. Hackworth, December 1995

Late last week I began Colonel David H. Hackworth’s About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior. For those who may not know Colonel Hackworth’s life story, I have gotten to the part where he has finished his post-WW2 service in Italy and has just begun his time in Korea. Hackworth was only fifteen when he joined the Army in May 1946, lying about his age to get in. He does a god job of explaining the starvation and chaos in postwar Europe and shows how the Second World War did not end as neatly as our general consensus has it. Events are always more complicated than we believe. There is a human need to find simplicity in things.

Hackworth was stationed in Trieste in the late 1940s, arriving as a private and leaving in 1950 as a sergeant. I have read a good deal about Hackworth online. Some commentators argue that he was too self-serving and held himself in too high regard in his memoirs. I suppose it amounts to a truism: memoir by definition is self-serving. The writer always sees himself as the center of events, just as we all see ourselves as the center of events as we go about our daily lives. The reader must be cognizant of this going in. Hackworth does a good job of explaining how hard his unit trained and how difficult it was. His premise is that TRUST was the last of the Old Army units and that training, expectations, and discipline were meted out in ways that would no longer be permissible even a few years later. The postwar drawdown in the late-1940s thinned the Army ranks back almost to their early-1920s size. The WW2 soldiers had returned home and were using the GI Bill and low-interest home loans to get on with their lives interrupted by the war. With those citizen-soldiers gone, there were still enough regulars left in the service to carry on in the old ways. Korea ended that.

Trieste itself was a complicated place. The city had been part of the Austro-Hungary Empire until the First World War and was given to Italy as a prize at Versailles for being on the winning side. Tito wanted it for Yugoslavia in those years just after World War 2. That is why there was such a strong Allied presence there in the late 1940s. All of this is preliminary to Hackworth’s expositions on Korea and Vietnam, and his public denunciations of the civilian and military leadership that led to his forced resignation from the Army in the early 1970s. I intend to have more to say on this in the coming weeks as I go deeper.

(image/Dale Cruse via Wikimedia Commons)