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To the end, colonel a man of the troops

Top brass not expected at funeral of war hero

WASHINGTON -- His courage under fire was the stuff of Hollywood, such as once ordering his helicopter pilot to land in the middle of a firefight so he could rescue his wounded men.

As an orphan shining shoes at a military base in Santa Monica, Calif., he lied about his age to join up in the waning days of World War II. That started a career that led him to Korea, where he survived a gunshot to the head, and a whopping four tours of duty in Vietnam, where his daring and swagger became the inspiration for Robert Duvall's Colonel Kilgore character in the movie ''Apocalypse Now."

Tomorrow, the US military will lay to rest Colonel David H. Hackworth -- among its most decorated heroes of all time -- at Arlington National Cemetery.

The top brass is not expected to attend.

Hackworth's most enduring foe was not the communists he fought. He earned a a chestful of medals, including two Distinguished Service Medals, 10 Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars, and eight Purple Hearts. His adversary became the US military bureaucracy, which he railed against for 30 years on grounds that it failed to put the troops first. He also opposed military action in Bosnia, Kosovo, and especially Iraq.

But while the military leadership may be absent from the funeral, hundreds -- and probably thousands -- are expected to attend. The numbers would be larger, except that many who consider him a hero aren't in Washington. Hackworth became a touchstone for soldiers in the Middle East who questioned the Pentagon but didn't feel comfortable raising complaints with superiors.

''He had an incredible communication line to the barracks and the trenches," said Roger Charles, president of Soldiers for the Truth, Hackworth's organization, which has a website that averages about 1 million hits a day. ''He answered all the e-mails."

To the very end, however, the military brass treated him with disdain for his biting criticism of insufficient training, equipment, and pay. There were deeper grievances as well, including his role in 1996 in exposing the fact that the chief of naval operations, Admiral Jeremy M. ''Mike" Boorda, wore combat ribbons that he did not earn. Boorda committed suicide an hour before a planned interview with Hackworth.

''He could never be forgiven for what he did to Mike Boorda," said a retired admiral who requested that he not be identified. He said Hackworth did not reveal the true nature of his investigation into Boorda's ribbons, leaving the Navy chief ''blindsided." Hackworth's allegations eventually were substantiated, and his defenders point out that wearing undeserved combat ribbons is a serious offense.

Remembered as fatherfigure to the troops But while Hackworth was an unyielding critic to generals, admirals, and defense secretaries, he was a father figure to thousands of grunts. Some held memorial services for him in between hunting for Iraqi insurgents, his family said.   Continued...

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