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War Veteran Hackworth Became Advocate for Reform

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Colonel David Hackworth died Wednesday. He was a brash, outspoken, highly decorated war hero. He was said to be a model for the character Colonel Kurtz played by Marlon Brando in the movie "Apocalypse Now."

BLOCK: David Hackworth said that when he was 15, he lied about his age and paid someone to pose as his father so he could join the Army at the tail end of World War II. By the time he was 40, he was the youngest full colonel serving in Vietnam. He led the controversial Tiger Force unit. In 1989, in an interview on WHYY's "Fresh Air," he bragged about his unconventional leadership.

(Soundbite of "Fresh Air")

Colonel DAVID HACKWORTH: Well, I had the best little whorehouse this side of the Mekong delta river. Warriors are warriors, and they like to fight and they like to do other good things. And so instead of taking the problem of having the heroin brought into my base or the syphilis brought in, we corrected that by providing that good service for the allied troops.

SIEGEL: But by 1971, Colonel Hackworth was in his fourth tour in Vietnam, and he appeared on ABC to denounce the war. `It is a bad war,' he said, `It can't be won. We need to get out,' and walked away from the Army. Later he told "Fresh Air" why.

(Soundbite of "Fresh Air")

Col. HACKWORTH: What I saw was the military went from a high calling, a high profession, to just another job. And our generals went from that Patton type, that Gavin type, these inspirational warrior leaders, to corporate managers who had their PhDs and their masters' from Harvard and so on, but didn't know diddly-squat about leading soldiers and didn't care about their soldiers.

BLOCK: Hackworth moved to Australia, where he ran a restaurant and gas stations. By 1990, he started a third career, this time as a journalist writing for Newsweek, Soldier of Fortune and others. He continued to take on the military, most recently criticizing the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq War and pushing for reforms to protect soldiers.

SIEGEL: Retired Colonel David Hackworth died Wednesday at the age of 74 in Tijuana, Mexico, where he was receiving treatment for bladder cancer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.