David H. Hackworth
December 15, 1998


Are the Clinton spinmeisters right -- is President Clinton really indispensable?

More and more the roars from the president's camp say the sky will fall if Clinton goes down.

Clinton's now being presented as, "The most indispensable man in the world." The message is: if he goes, the sun will cease to shine, fruit will die on the vine, the nation will be devastated by a seven year plague and Jay Leno won't be able to get a laugh.

I first learned at the tender age of nineteen as a squad leader in Korea that no one is indispensable when my Army commander, General Walton Walker was killed during the most desperate retreat in U.S. history.

He died as his Eighth Army, smashed by the Chinese, was reeling in defeat. Thousands of his soldiers had been wounded and killed, the weather was below zero causing countless casualties from frost bite and there was little food, winter gear, or ammo.

In December of 1950, at the most critical moment of our withdrawal, as we slugged our way out of one ambush after the other, we'd lost our top leader. The panic merchants played this as the final blow.

A few days later General Matthew Ridgway replaced General Walker and within a few weeks we were a different Army. No longer an Army with its head down, beaten, but an Army on the attack. Our bayonets were thrust forward and we had the Chinese on the run.

Almost two years later, on an icy hill in Central Korea, just as the sun was inching its way up in the eastern sky I briefed four good NCOs on an operation we'd conduct that night. From a vantage point -- we had to lay low because we knew we were under enemy observation -- I walked them through the plan, pointing out objectives on the ground, rally points, artillery concentrations and return routes. When I was satisfied they were jake, I crawled back towards my company C.P. while they worked out all the coordination stuff.

Just as I was about to enter my bunker I heard a WHOOSH and a ground shaking crunch. Ugly, black 120-mm mortar smoke rose from the position I had just left. I ran back to find one leader dead, one with gaping chest wounds and the other two minus legs. We patched up the wounded and evacuated the casualties.

I had lost four of my best leaders. Who would conduct the raid that night? Where would I find four replacements?

But as darkness came, the Raiders crossed the line of departure on schedule and went on to accomplish the mission.

Almost twenty years later, in a different war, I was laid up in hospital in Long Binh, South Vietnam. I had zigged when I should have zagged and a bullet had made a mess of my leg.

I begged the doctor to let me out early, insisting I could fight my battalion on crutches. The Doc had been a World War II infantryman who'd fought from Normandy to Belgium until a piece of hot steel had ended the war for him. He knew how I felt and what was driving me to get back to my troops: I was convinced I was the only man alive that could keep my men alive.

The doc was about to let me out early when my brigade commander, Colonel John Hayes, the finest combat leader I have ever known, arrived.

"Tell him, John, tell him how important it is that I get back to the HARDCORE," I pleaded to this savvy battle leader.

Colonel Hayes took a glass from my bed-stand, filled it with water, put his finger in it and pulled it out. "Hack, you're as indispensable as that hole my finger just left in the water. Major Mergner is doing a great job running your battalion. Maybe even as good a job as you."

He turned to the Doc, "Keep him here until he heals up right."

I cooled my heels for another week, but I learned once again that every good leader is missed -- as an individual -- but there's always someone to pick up the slack.

No one is indispensable, be he a combat leader or a president.