The Film Archives– Premieres Apr 22, 2022
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David Haskell Hackworth (November 11, 1930 – May 4, 2005) also known as Hack, was a prominent military journalist and a former United States Army colonel who was decorated in both the Korean War and Vietnam War. Hackworth is known for his role in the creation and command of Tiger Force, a military unit which was formed in South Vietnam to apply guerrilla warfare tactics against Viet Cong guerrilla fighters.
Hackworth is also known for his accusation in 1996 that Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Boorda was wearing two unauthorized service ribbon devices on two of his uniform’s awards denoting valor in combat. Although Admiral Boorda had served off the coast of Vietnam in the 1960s and believed he was authorized to wear the two wartime decorations for meritorious service, he did not meet the Navy’s requirements. Boorda committed suicide during Hackworth’s investigation. It came out in 1997 that Hackworth claimed he had earned two Distinguished Flying Cross medals when in fact he had only earned one and that he was entitled to a Ranger tab, an insignia worn on the shoulder of the uniform, when in fact he was not.
When President John F. Kennedy announced that a large advisory team was being sent to South Vietnam, Hackworth immediately volunteered for service. His request was denied, on the grounds that he had too much frontline experience, and that others who had seen less fighting (or none) should have an opportunity to acquire experience in combat.
In 1965, he deployed to Vietnam as a major. He served as an operations officer and battalion commander in the 101st Airborne Division. In November 1965, he founded the platoon-sized unit Tiger Force to “outguerrilla the guerrillas”. Initially, Tiger Force was a highly decorated small unit in Vietnam which suffered heavy casualties and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. However, after Hackworth was promoted out of Vietnam, the unit began a string of atrocities and war crimes, with U.S. Army investigative records and interviews by The Toledo Blade estimating the unit eventually killed hundreds of noncombatants. Hackworth stated he did not know about the atrocities and did not know what caused the unit to spiral out of control.
Hackworth quickly developed a reputation as an eccentric but effective soldier, becoming a public figure in several books authored by General S. L. A. “Slam” Marshall. Following a stateside tour at the Pentagon and promotion to lieutenant colonel, Hackworth co-wrote The Vietnam Primer with Marshall after returning to Vietnam in the winter of 1966–67 on an Army-sponsored tour with the famous historian and commentator. The book advised counter-insurgency fighters to adopt some of the guerrilla tactics used by Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, and Ho Chi Minh. Hackworth described the strategy as “out-G-ing the G.” His personal and professional relationship with Marshall soured as Hackworth became suspicious of his methods and motivation.
However, both his assignment with “Slam” Marshall and his time on staff duty at the Pentagon soured Hackworth on the Vietnam War. One aspect of the latter required him to publicly defend the U.S. position on the war in a speaking tour. Even with his reservations concerning the conflict, he refused to resign, feeling it was his duty as a field grade officer to wage the campaign as best he could.
Hackworth was assigned to a training battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington, and then returned to Vietnam to lead elements of the 9th Infantry Division, turning his theories about guerrilla warfare and how to counter it into practice with the 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment (4-39 Infantry) in the Mekong Delta, an underperforming unit made up largely of conscripts which Hackworth transformed into the counter-insurgent “Hardcore” Battalion (Recondo) from January to late May 1969.
Hackworth next served as a senior military adviser to the South Vietnamese. His view that the U.S. Army was not learning from its mistakes, and that South Vietnamese ARVN officers were essentially corrupt and ineffective, created friction with Army leadership.
In early 1971, Hackworth was promoted to the rank of colonel, and received orders to attend the Army War College, an indication that he was being groomed for the general officer ranks. He had declined a previous opportunity to go to the War College, and turned down this one, as well, indicating his lack of interest in becoming a general and demonstrating his discontent with the war and the Army’s leaders.
Hackworth’s dissatisfaction ultimately culminated in a television interview with ABC. On June 27, 1971, he appeared on the program Issues and Answers and strongly criticized U.S. commanders in Vietnam, said the war could not be won, and called for U.S. withdrawal. The interview enraged senior U.S. Army officers at the Pentagon.