David Hackworth’s Legacy

Colonel David Hackworth had a legendary military career which he followed with decades as an author, commentator, and advocate for the American grunt. Like a lot of old soldiers who comment on military affairs, his views were eventually colored too much by the past and unenlightened by how modernization had rendered some old dogmas outmoded. And, like most pundits, he was a little too full of himself and thought he was even smarter than he really was.

One of the more annoying parts of the Hackworth mythology, though, is that he successfully sold himself as “the most highly decorated soldier in American military history” based on “over 90 decorations, including a Distinguished Service Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, a Silver Star with five Oak Leaf Clusters, and a Legion of Merit with three Oak Leaf Clusters.” Shaun Mullen repeats that description in an “appreciation” post here and here.

It’s simply not true. Hackworth’s career is storied and his heroism in combat undisputed. But no man who has not been awarded the Medal of Honor can be considered “the most highly decorated soldier.” Period. It’s rather like a young Shaquille O’Neal’s comment (before going on to win four NBA titles) that he had won championships at every level, except college and the pros. One doesn’t simply tally up the number of ribbons and who ever has the most “wins.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mithras says:

    Funny, given Hackworth’s views on people who were awarded decorations undeservedly. I think one officer he went after killed himself.

  2. Rodney Peloquin says:

    Admiral Jeremy M. Boorda was the current Chief of Naval Operations in 1996 when Hackworth went after him on the wearing of two low to mid level ‘admimistrative’ awards to which Hackworth claimed he was not authorized to wear. Admiral Boorda subsequently shot himself at home on May 16th. It was a strange and petty issue for the self-righteous journalist to go after.

  3. William d'Inger says:

    Yes, the Boorda thing was a sordid affair, but if Boorda was that mentally unstable, it’s probably best to not have him as CNO.

    That doesn’t excuse Hackworth for exaggeration. I suspect his inflated opinion of himself is what drove him to garner all those decorations in the first place. In my opinion, someone like that is not a hero but an egotist.

  4. Mithras says:

    A smart guy, but insecure. It’s obvious from his book About Face.

  5. anjin-san says:

    In my opinion, someone like that is not a hero but an egotist.

    Gasp, A Bushie who despises combat vets… what a shocker!

  6. Dennis Neylon says:

    Hackworth’s “Story” on Boorda was part of a campaign to run him out because Boorda ran roughshod over the much of the senior officer corps who thought, for reasons unknown, that he was “bad” for the Navy. Boorda, who rose up from enlisted ranks, actually believed in enlisted personnel being the backbone of the Navy — not the self-inflated officer corps. Boorda was a breath of fresh air and the officer cadre couldn’t handle it. Days before Hackworth’s last straw, Navy Times published a long anonymous letter for a senior anonymous officer that thoroughly trashed Boorda and his policies. Boorda was far from unstable, but was under a lot of stress.

  7. William d'Inger says:

    Gasp, A Bushie who despises combat vets… what a shocker!

    That’s so childish. When you have nothing germane to add to the conversation (which in your case is 99% of the time) you just hurl nugatory blather in (I presume) the hope that it will make you relevant somehow.

    I neither support nor despise combat veterans on their service experience alone. I judge them the same way as I do anyone else, i.e., on the basis of their character insofar as it is known to me. I would recommend the same to you.

  8. Jim Bartoli says:

    Chesty Puller is credited with more decorations than Hackworth.

  9. Anderson says:

    I propose “most heavily decorated.”

  10. The Pale Scot says:

    Chesty was a Marine, Hack was a soldier (U.S. Army)