Gary Owen

Here is a man who must not go unnoticed:

Basil L. Plumley was born January 1, 1920 in Shady Spring, West Virginia, the second son and fifth child of coal miner Clay Plumley (b.1879) and his wife Georgia (b.abt.1895), both of West Virginian stock. He is most famous for his actions as a Sergeant-Major of the US Army’s 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, at the Battle of Ia Drang (1965). General Hal Moore praised Plumley as an outstanding NCO and leader in the book We Were Soldiers Once…And Young. The Sergeant Major was known affectionately by his soldiers as “Old Iron Jaw”.

He enlisted in the US Army on 31 March 1942 as a private. His education on enlistment was 2 years of high school. His civil occupation at the time was listed as semiskilled chauffeur/driver of bus, taxi, truck or tractor. Height and weight is given as 70/154. Plumley is a veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He made all 4 combat jumps with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division in World War II (Sicily, Salerno, D-Day and Market Garden) and one in Korea with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment. He retired as a Command Sergeant Major on 31 December 1974. After his retirement he worked 15 more years for the Army at Martin Army hospital as a civilian and retired again in 1990.

He currently resides with his wife Deurice in Columbus, Georgia.

He was portrayed by Sam Elliott in the film, We Were Soldiers.

  • CIB3.gif Combat Infantryman Badge with two silver stars (three awards)
  • Combat Parachutist Badge 5.gif Master Combat Parachutist Badge with gold star (indicating 5 combat jumps)
  • ViPaBa.jpg Vietnam Parachutist Badge
Bronze oak leaf cluster

Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster
Legion of Merit
Bronze oak leaf cluster

Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and Valor Device
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster

Purple Heart with three Oak Leaf Clusters
Silver oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster

Air Medal with one silver and three bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Army Commendation Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster

Army Presidential Unit Citation with two Oak Leaf Clusters
Army Good Conduct Medal (6 or 11 awards)
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Silver star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star

European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Arrowhead device and 1 silver and 3 bronze campaign stars (to signify 8 campaigns and 4 combat jumps)
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster

National Defense Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star

Korean Service Medal with Arrowhead device and three campaign stars
Silver star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star

Vietnam Service Medal with one silver and three bronze campaign stars
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Bronze star

French Croix de Guerre (for World War II service) (attachments unknown, but at least 1 bronze star)
BEL Croix de Guerre 1944 ribbon.svg Belgian Croix de Guerre (for World War II service) (attachments unknown, but at least 1 bronze lion)
Bronze star

Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
Vietnam gallantry cross unit award-3d.svg Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm
United Nations Service Medal for Korea
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Republic of Korea War Service Medal
  • Order of Saint Maurice
  • 7th Cav Crest.jpg (Garry Owen shoulder insignias)
  • 7thCav.JPG 7th Cavalry Regiment
  • 10 Service Stripes.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Sorbonnetoga says:

    I’ve often wondered how Garryowen (or Garry Owen, even) which is the name of a small village that has now been swallowed up by Limerick City got to be the motto of the US 7th Cavalry. It’s definitely distinguished compnay for Limerick to be in!

  2. janetinSanDiego says:

    Thanks Fr Z. The Sergeant-Major is a great American, truly. “We were Soldiers” is a favorite movie of mine, and it inspired me to read General Moore’s book. Sgt Major Plumley served so admirably. What a staggering stack of medals and ribbons. The sacrifices of our armed forces can just never be taken for granted. According to General Moore, “We were soldiers” the movie, finally ” got it right” about Vietnam. Gritty, honorable, Catholic (Moore is and plays such in the movie), at times funny and other times tragic, the movie also portrays the Sgt Major as true to “Old Iron Jaw” name you mention. Bravo for his service, and fortitude. May we all still be going strong at 90. God bless him.

  3. Thomas G. says:

    Truly, a great American. Does anyone know how he got the nickname “Old Iron Jaw”?

  4. Kerry says:

    This man,, is also interesting. And here in St. Paul, someone tells me he once bumped into a Marine who at 17 fought on Guadalcanal and said it was like meeting someone who said they’d been at Gettysburg. And I once heard a man in line in front of me saying, “I shouldn’t be here. I was in three landings”. I asked, “North Africa, Sicily and Normandy?”. “Yes”, he said. “What beach at Normandy?” “Omaha”, he said. “What wave?” I asked. “The first wave.” Never, never, never, never ever forget.

  5. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thank you for this!

    I was lately talking to a young enthusiast of WW II-related computer games about the possibilities and probabilities of people fighting in Vietnam who had fought in WW II: have I got an example to pass on now!

    And thanks to all for the ‘We Were Soldiers’ comments.

    Any recommendations for more info about the Order of St. Maurice?

  6. Jordanes says:

    JanetinSanDiego said: According to General Moore, “We were soldiers” the movie, finally ” got it right” about Vietnam.

    I’ve heard the same thing from other Vietnam vets. It really is a great movie, and, of course, very hard to watch in places. Some Vietnam War veterans told me that the best and most faithful cinematic treament of their experience was “We Were Soldiers,” and they said the absolute worst, least accurate, most disrespectful was Oliver Stone’s “Platoon.” They said the problem with “Platoon” is that, while all of the things depicted in that movie were kinds of things that did happen, no single platoon ever did or had happen to them ALL of the things that Stone had his imaginary platoon do or experience — but his propaganda film makes it seem like it was the typical Vietnam War experience for our soldiers, like our guys were all lowlifes or monsters or emotionally disturbed or drug addicts, etc. “Platoon” is a failure as a film because the filmmaker so blatantly has an intense and irrational hatred of the subject of his art, but “We Were Soldiers” succeeds for the exact opposite reason: a genuine love of its subject, of its characters, enough to motivate the filmmaker to treat them with the respect that they earned through the shedding of their blood and sweat and the honorable sacrifices we called on them to make.

  7. Andrew says:

    Here’s a shout from a former 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper.

  8. robtbrown says:

    Hal Moore, whose wife died a few years ago, is a serious Catholic. A friend from daily mass who is a MAJ (VMI) and recent CGSC grad, leaves for Afghanistan (2d tour) on Jan 7th. He can’t wait. My guess is that his wife is less enthusiastic.

  9. Rob Cartusciello says:

    “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young” was a decent movie, but an amazing book. Hal Moore recounts a great story about “that guy [who] was afraid of Plumley.” It is not, however, a story for a polite crowd.

    Garryowen is a late 18th century Irish air about the rowdies in a small village near Limerick. It is a stirring and rousing tune.

    The air was adopted early on by the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers, and reportedly played during during the Peninsular War at the Battle of Tarifa in late December 1811. It gained greater popularity among British troops during the Crimean War.

    Early in the American Civil War, the 69th New York State Volunteers (the famed “Fighting 69th”) adopted the song as its regimental march. The 69th NYSV was the first regiment of the Irish Brigade, and the song was associated with the entire brigade, though other regiments within the brigade (such as the 88th NYSV) had their own regimental songs.

    The connection to the 7th Cavalry is less clear. Custer may have liked the song, and adopted it for the regiment. There were also Irish Brigade veterans in the 7th Cavalry who may have also introduced the song to the regiment. Irregardless of the exact connection, the song became the marching song of the 7th Cavalry in 1867.

    In tribute to its association with its marching song, the 7th Cavalry later adopted the motto “Garry Owen”. The 69th New York’s own motto is “Garryowen and Glory”.

    On a final note, many of the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry killed at Little Big Horn were of either Irish or Italian decent.

  10. Daniel Latinus says:

    @ Sorbonnetoga:

    The tune “Garry Owen” is the official march of the 7th Cavalry.

    Check out this video:

    A short history, and lyrics for both the original song and the 7th Cavalry March are given.

    And a big thank-you to Sgt. Maj. Plumley and his comrades who defended this country! God bless them all!

  11. Good video, except that I’ve always heard it sung “FROM Garryowen in GLOry”, or “FROM GA-a-rryowen in GLOry.”

    Sgt. Major Plumley sounds like an amazing guy.

  12. MAJ Tony says:

    One of the training support detachment officers that used to assist my old unit, who is a Lt Col now (if not higher), if still in, went to school with CSM Plumley’s kids, and actually was able to get LtGen. Moore as a guest speaker for some military function. He said Plumley was very much as portrayed in the movie: blunt, matter-of-fact and no-nonsense. Thank God for men like Basil Plumley and Hal Moore. Speaking of Moore, he was born in Bardstown, KY (just outside of Ft. Knox) which was one of the original spin-off dioceses from Baltimore. It’s now the Archdio. Louisville, KY.

  13. iudicame says:

    “Gentlemen – Prepare to defend yourselves…”


  14. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I’ve known members of the 69th New York for the past 15 years and have sung Garryowen.

    The version of the song in that video runs contrary to every other version of the song I have ever heard.

    Here’s a version of Garry Owen from ‘They Died With Their Boots On’ . The lyrics are a bit different from the standard version, but run fairly true:

  15. Marysann says:

    Our son, who is in the army reserves and who has served as a cavalry officer, said that the award of the Order of St. Maurice is an award given to infantryman by the Infantry Association. Typically a unit will award one of these to a current or former member every year. He said that they aren’t common to see, but not super rare either. Armor and Cavalry award the Order of St. George, the patron saint of mounted warriors. He was very impressed by the story of CSM Plumley when I forwarding this link to him. He said that it was confusing because although the CSM served in a cavalry unit, he was still an infantryman which was shown by the blue cord on this shoulder.

  16. Soonerscotty says:

    Much respect to this warrior.

    Our family celebrates the great victory over the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Greasy Grass (aka Little Big Horn) every year.

  17. ghp95134 says:

    A soldier’s soldier!!!

    The Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry is modeled after the French Croix de Guerre and was awarded by the Government of Vietnam for personal bravery in combat; it is worn on the left breast. The bronze star device means it was awarded at regiment or brigade level, and is the loose equivalent of the Bronze Star Medal or British “Mentioned in Despatches.” The second higher award, with silver star attachment, means it was awarded at division level and would be roughly equivalent to the Silver Star Medal. The third higher is with gold star device. The highest award is with palm [bronze, silver, and gold] attachment and is an Army level award roughly equivalent to the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Service Cross or higher.
    Lieutenant General Hal Moore had 2 silver palms and one golden palm:

    The unit award (worn on the right breast) has a gold metallic border and was issued to all US personnel — it should NOT be confused with the personal award.

    –Guy Power

  18. Sam Urfer says:

    A great American, and a great story.

    Give Oliver Stone his due, though; he earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star fighting in Vietnam; the narration from Platoon is from his wartime journal. His depiction might be negative, but it is his own experience.

  19. Rob Cartusciello says:

    He said that it was confusing because although the CSM served in a cavalry unit, he was still an infantryman which was shown by the blue cord on this shoulder.

    Your son is correct. His shoulder cord is blue (infantry), but he is wearing a cavalry hat with a gold branch cord (cavalry). I missed that.

    Our family celebrates the great victory over the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Greasy Grass (aka Little Big Horn) every year.

    I know people with ancestors on both sides of the battle. When I visited the battlefield back in 1999, the ranger who delivered the tour was a descendant of one of the 7th Cavalry’s Crow scouts. They recovered his ancestor’s jawbone during archeological excavations on the battlefield in the late 90s.

    One of the most interesting aspects of battlefield archeology is that they can track the journey of each particular rifle on the battlefield from the unique imprint left of the shell casings. It has resulted in an extremely detailed account of the fate of each cavalry soldier during the battle.

  20. Limerickman says:

    O’Donald Abú? O’Donnell Abú to be correct. Confederacy uniforms were produced in Limerick at a now defunct factory opposite Sarsfield Barracks in Prospect. Whats more “Garryowen in Glory” was sung I believe by the Munster Fusileers in the trenches of the First World War.

  21. Soonerscotty says:

    @ Rob Carusciello,

    Yes, I’ve heard similar stories from several people who had descendants on both sides also. I have a really good friend who is both Crow and Sioux and we used to joke with her about the dichotomy of being both. She joked back that sometimes she would wake up in the middle of the night fighting with herself. haha, Indian humor.

    I was worried after posting the comment that some would find it disrespectful but, I mean absolutely no disrespect to either this great warrior or the 7th. Our people have always honored warriors who served their people no matter what side they fought on.

    And while we respect the 7th…we will also never forget.

  22. EXCHIEF says:

    A great soldier from a great generation…one that put sacrifice before self. There are those today who do so as well, but fewer of their countrymen understand and respect it.

  23. Mike Morrow says:

    Those who serve in the military are quite literally the best that American society has to offer. CSM Basil Plumley and LGEN Hal Moore deserve special respect for the leadership they exercised at the Ia Drang in November 1965. I don’t know why CSM Plumley wears none of the Korean War service medals he has earned in that photo above. Anyone who appreciates Hal Moore’s book “We Were Soldiers…and Young” will enjoy the sequel “We Are Soldiers Still.”

    There are still such people today in the service…everyone should see the story of LCPL Chance Phelps, USMC, killed in action in Iraq in 2004 at age 19. HBO’s “Taking Chance” is a stunningly positive depiction of military custom and traditions for the funeral of LCPL Phelps.

    Let’s also not forget Chaplain (Captain) Emil Joseph Kapaun, who fought along side his unit in Korea, was captured in November 1950, and died six months later in a POW camp (see He earned the following for service in World War II and Korea:

    -Distinguished Service Cross [Battlefield valor on the date of capture]
    -Legion of Merit [Actions of extreme merit while a POW]
    -Bronze Star Medal with V (Valor) Device [Battlefield action, Fall 1950]
    -Purple Heart [Died as POW]
    -Prisoner of War Medal [Service in North Korean POW camp]
    -American Campaign Medal (WWII) [WWII service around American continent]
    -Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (WWII) with One Campaign Star [WWII service in Burma]
    -World War II Victory Medal [Post-WWII commemoration]
    -National Defense Service Medal [For US service anywhere during Korean War]
    -Korean Service Medal with Two Campaign Stars [Korean War service – US award]
    -United Nations Service Medal – Korea [Korean War service – UN award]
    -Republic of Korea War Service Medal [Korean War service – RoK award]
    -U.S. Army Presidential Unit Citation
    -Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.

    His recommendation for the Medal of Honor awaits only congressional action to override rules that normally prevent award of the MoH more than three-years after the event for which it would be awarded.

    He has also been designated “Servent of God” as first step towards possible canonization.

    All these people are tremendously inspiring, especially in US society today where military service is discouraged, discounted, or disparaged by many.

  24. Mike Morrow says:

    The link to Fr. Kapaun material above should be . As written above, the close parenthesis is being interpreted as part of the URL.

  25. Tony Layne says:

    This is the kind of soldier generals listen to, with deep respect.

    I’ve both read the book and seen the movie; the movie is not only better than Platoon but better than Full Metal Jacket (with apologies to GySgt. Ermey) and, in some respects, Patton. Sam Elliott, I think, is the only actor who could have made CSM Plumley more than a cardboard cutout. The book is one of the best dissections of a single action I’ve ever read.

  26. jaykay says:

    Mike Morrow:

    Nice link. I had never heard of Fr. Kapaun. There’s also the Ven Fr. Vincent Capodanno CMOH who died in Vietnam – the “Grunt Padre”.

    Truly a model of priesthood and heroic service. There are some lovely pictures on the link above (including an ad orientem celebration).

    Regarding Sorbonnetoga’s comment about Limerick and Garryowen up at the top, the motto of the city is “Urbs antiqua fuit, studisque asperrima belli” (from the Aeneid, as of course y’all know). It was founded by the ferocious Vikings, and in the wars of the 17th century it was besieged once by Cromwell and twice by the Williamites, resulting in the (in) famous Treaty of Limerick whereby thousands of Irish soldiers left to fight for the French, Spanish, Austrians etc. forming the famous Irish brigades, the ‘Wild Geese’. So, erm, perhaps the 7th is the one in distinguished company :)

  27. The first video has the original Irish song, which is a “let’s go out and drink and fight and make trouble” song, exactly like “The Rakes of Mallow” and other Irish songs of the same genre. It was a pretty popular song, so it’s not surprising that it would have a lot of different versions. (And it might not even be the original version, itself.)

    “They Died with Their Boots On” has the 7th Cavalry military version of the song, which obviously is more about being a soldier, than about being a hometown Garryowen boy out on a spree. This is part of the long military tradition of folk song, which continues to this day (and is often seen in videos until the Pentagon decides one has gone a bit too viral).

    Most people in the 7th Cavalry in Custer’s day would probably have been thoroughly familiar with both versions of the song.

    There’s also a ballad about Little Bighorn that’s to a different tune altogether, and references a lot of different military music including “Garryowen”. Some people call that one “Gary Owen”. Don’t know much about it.

  28. MAJ Tony says:

    Speaking of combat arms specific awards with names of saints attached, the Field Artillerymen have none other than Saint Barbara as our patroness. We have the “Honorable Order of St. Barbara” of which I am a member (it’s not as exclusive as the Order of St. Maurice) and we also have the considerably more exclusive “Ancient & Honorable Order of St. Barbara.”

    As far as why Soldiers in an organization named 7th Cavalry are wearing Infantry appurtenances, this is at once quite simple as it sounds complicated. Cavalry as a branch is part of Armor since the establishment of the Armor branch. However, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry (1-7th Cav) of which Lt Gen Moore and CSM Plumley were commander and senior noncommissioned officer, was organized as an Infantry Battalion with Infantry Companies, not a Cav Squadron with Cav Troops, as it’s mission was an Infantry mission (closes with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver in order to destroy or capture him or to repel his assault by fire, close combat, and counterattack, not a Cavalry mission (reconaissance, security, and economy of force missions). Currently, 1-7 Cav is a Squadron, the Reconaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA) Squadron for 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Cavalry Division, which is really an Armored Division. 2-7 Cav is an Infantry battalion in 4th BCT, 1st Cav Div.

    Of note, the 3d ACR (Armored Cavalry Regiment) “Brave Rifles” calls itself the “Regiment of Mounted Riflemen” (it’s original designation) as in horse-mounted Infantry. It is the last unit in the U.S. Army to be organized as such under the old Corps-level Cavalry Regiment program. In 2012, it will join 2d Cavalry and 11th Cavalry in reorganizing as modular Brigade Combat Teams with Stryker vehicles, apparently becoming 3d SCRCT (Stryker Regimental Combat Team).

  29. DHippolito says:

    My father, whose soul now rests with God, earned the Legion of Merit for quelling a riot while he was a military police captain and the provost marshal for Masawa, Eritrea, after it was liberated from the Italians. He also served as associate provost marshal with a British officer for the Suez Canal Ports during WWII. May God bless him and all those like him.

  30. irishgirl says:

    MAJ Tony-I didn’t know there was an ‘Ancient and Honorable Order of St. Barbara’! She’s my name Saint! Very cool!
    I know that in the American Revolution, a medal with an image of St. Barbara was worn by those who manned the cannons.
    I didn’t know there was even a military Order dedicated to St. Maurice, either; well, those in the line of battle need all the heavenly patrons they can get!

Comments are closed.