Immediately I said, “Wow! Purple Heart. Thank you for your service, Sir.”
He replied, “Actually TWO Purple Hearts. I was shot twice.” and as we clasped hands, I noticed a 7th Cavalry Regimental Crest pinned to his hat and I said, “Garry Owen!”
I offered my condolences on the recent passing of Lieutenant General Hal Moore. He said, “Who?… Oh yeah. He commanded 1st Battalion. I was in 2nd Battalion.” He went on:
“You know about Garry Owen?” he asked.
“Yes, Sir. I do. My father and Grandfather served in the 5th, 8th, and 17th Cavalry Regiments.”
“Great. But do you know about the HISTORY of Garry Owen?”
Well, I used to do a fair bit of research on the 7th Cavalry and General Custer in the Indian Wars but I’m far from an expert on their history in Vietnam.”
“Do you know how it came to have the name ‘Garry Owen’?”
(Actually I do but wanted to hear it from him)
“The whole battalion was wiped out!… Except for one guy… His name was Garry Owen… and you know why he survived?”
(I shake my head).
“He was AWOL!”
“The guy was a deserter but he was the only survivor so they named the regiment after him!”
Now I’m sure this legend was passed down from his sergeant, or maybe a corporal or senior PFC with great solemnity, and he’d told it with such enthusiasm, lived with this legend for so long…
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Garry Owen is the name of an old Irish drinking song of which General Custer was particularly fond, and was well-suited for mounted drill (on horseback).
Here’s the Hollywood version…