The Battle I’ll Never Forget – Tony Nadal, Ia Drang Hero and Philosopher

Every Memorial Day, the AARP Studios release a film, this year the film was titled, “The Battle I’ll Never Forget’, and it tells the story of one of the most vicious battles fought in the Vietnam War; Battle of LZ X-Ray.

The film was produced by TJ Clooney, who searched the National Archive in Washington DC to find the original footage. In an interview with, Clooney described how the titles and text descriptions of the film footage were incorrectly labelled and it was only by approaching Joe Galloway that he was eventually able to track down the footage he was looking for. Galloway is the author of “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young”, later turned into a screenplay starring Mel Gibson. He sent his original footage to Clooney who was able to tie it back to the archive footage and thus piece together the film required for the AARP video.

The star of the AARP video is Retired US Army Colonel Ramon ‘Tony’ Nadal, who took part in the infamous battle. It may be fifty years since that fateful time but the passage of the years has not dimmed his recollection of the battle nor of the heat, the noise and the blood.

In the early 1960’s Nadal, as a young man, was eager to be accepted into the US Army Special Forces and fight for his country in Vietnam. He had graduated from WestPoint and in an interview on film he states, “I always felt my duty was to move to the sound of the guns.”

On the 14th November 1965, Nadal, as the acting commander of a rifle company in the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Unit, was told to take his men and check on a nearby mountain in the Ia Drang Valley and to flush out any enemy troops that may have been hiding there following an attack on a military base some weeks previously.

He and his company were dropped into position and very shortly thereafter they captured an enemy soldier who informed them that the rest of the enemy soldiers were digging in on the nearby Chu Pong Mountain. Shortly thereafter heavy fighting broke out between the American and North Vietnamese forces. On the first day of the battle, Nadal was informed of the death of a lieutenant and he decided that he would retrieve the lieutenant’s body as Nadal had told his men that he would not leave anyone behind. Nadal braved enemy fire and grenade explosions to find the lieutenant’s body, only to discover a wounded soldier next to the body. He took the body back to his lines and then returned, once again, to help the wounded soldier to safety.

Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, commander on the ground, instructed Nadal to take his troops and to rescue a platoon that had been cut off from the main body. In his interview with, Nadal spoke of trying to motivate his tired men, “We have to go bring back a platoon from B Company. They are your friends, your buddies. B Company will be with us. Check your weapons and fix bayonets.” He then stood up and asked his men to follow him, which to a man they did.

Charging forward, Nadal survived a barrage of gunfire that cut down the men on his left and right. Air support was available and white phosphorous smoke was dropped on the enemy positions hiding the American troops from their sight and though the detached platoon was rescued, the rescue came at a heavy cost.

Overall the Battle at LZ X-Ray cost 79 American and 834 North Vietnamese lives. Nadal was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery.

Nothing can make Nadal forget the heartache of war. He said:

“I feel the loss of all my soldiers, when you get through all the bravado… what you are left with is anguish. I have found help — and the help is that the soldiers that fought at LZ X-Ray have been gathering together for the last 22 years and we have annual reunions. We have gotten very close.”

Nadal recognised himself on the screen, saying, “oh, that’s me, that’s me right there,” and as Clooney said, it was great to be able to show Nadal footage of himself on the screen. It was Nadal’s passion for his men that Clooney had first seen on a YouTube clip that prompted him to make the film.

Though Nadal was a career soldier, retiring as a Colonel, he recognized the damage done by war on so many fronts.

“I also think about the absurdity of war,” he told “There has to be a better way.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE