BOOK REVIEW by W. Thomas Smith Jr.
THERE ARE MEN WHO ARE SAID TO BE GREAT, though most of those “said to be great” are only penultimately exceptional. Then there are truly great men in the purest sense. Colonel William P. “Bill” Collier, Jr. is among the truly great. And not just because I say so. His greatness is objectively true and proven, though the sublimity of that greatness may never have been known were it not for a harrowing 54-hour-period in mid-September 1972 wherein he led a tiny besieged garrison in a desperate defense against waves of fanatically attacking enemy soldiers and accompanying guerillas: Thousands of them.
Col. Bill Collier, then a tall, thin, bespectacled 34-year-old U.S. Army artillery major, was quite literally the man at ground zero who led, carried, saved the day – actually two-and-a-half days – when all seemed hopelessly lost.
Even Bill, now in his mid-80s, concedes that he believed they were all going to die at Mo Duc. There was no way his tiny little 120-man outpost located in the Quang Ngai Province of South Vietnam was going to survive, especially when the fighting became close and in some quarters devolved into a hand-to-hand slugfest.
But survive they did, beating back a force that outnumbered them 20-to-one. Why? How? Bill, and his masterfully innate ability to compartmentalize his fear (which all men have, but not all are able to manage), his ability to constantly assess the devolving situation and the collapse of his perimeter in every direction, his outwardly confident command-presence, his judgment, encouragement, compassion, courage, and unassailable trust in God. Not to mention, Bill’s tactical and technical expertise enabling him to call for and coordinate supporting fires while running from one point inside the outpost to the next, with pistol (sometimes other weapons) in hand.
The attacks continued in succession: Massed wave assaults supported by mortar and machinegun fire (even a 105mm howitzer which the NVA captured early in the fighting) with green-and-brown-clad NVA soldiers screaming their battle cries while bugles echoed from their command elements. Yes, it was an eerie panic-inducing hell on earth with seemingly no way out. Yet there was, and this story details it all.
When I first learned of Bill’s story, I compared it to Texas’ ill-fated last stand at the Alamo or the British Army’s successful defense of Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu wars. I even said so in an Aug. 2013 piece I penned for the Daily Caller, “MAJOR COLLIER’S IMMORTALS AND THEIR FIGHT TO THE DEATH.”
Little did I know that one of the U.S. Air Force OV-10 pilots flying forward-air-control missions over the Mo Duc battlespace also likened Mo Duc to the Alamo and the Drift: As did my close friend, Col. (Ret.) Steve Vitali, U.S. Marine Corps, who fought to have Bill awarded the Medal of Honor in 2012. Bill had received the Silver Star in 1972.
The comparisons are undeniable. In the annals of recorded military history there are only a few standout “fight to the death” battles where the odds of the surrounded defenders or those caught in a complex ambush (where there was also a huge disparity in numbers) were bleak at best. Throughout history, many of those who found themselves surrounded by numerically superior forces were doomed like the aforementioned defenders of the Alamo.
Thinking also now of Leonidas at Thermopylae, Custer at the Little Big Horn (though different in a tactical or maneuver sense), and the initial Sikh outpost in the Battle of Saragarhi.
Some commands had the hand of God on them like the Brits at the Drift who miraculously beat back wave-after-wave of numerically superior Zulu impis and survived as a unit. Also my own Marines at Wake Island, or the airstrip at Guadalcanal, and elsewhere; of course Hal Moore’s isolated battalion in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965, and a year later the Australians at Long Tan.
The Battle for Mo Duc was every bit as desperate as any of those actions: And but for a young Major Bill Collier who took over in the dearth of senior South Vietnamese leadership, the command would have most-assuredly been doomed.
God was with Maj. Bill Collier in 1972. God is with retired Colonel Bill Collier in 2022. This highly readable, pulse-quickening tale of Divine hope in the midst of grim desperation is a testament to that fact.
[Outnumbered 20-to-1 is available at Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1641467592/]
– W. Thomas Smith Jr., a former U.S. Marine Infantry leader and New York Times bestselling editor, wrote the AFTERWORD to Collier’s book, ‘Outnumbered 20-to-1.’ This review is based on that Afterword.