Iron Mike – Gruntworks Contributing Blogger
Listen up fucknuts! Today the average man is an unmotivated, unpassionate, shiftless waste of oxygen. He bitches about his problems instead of owning up and facing them. He is told that he should cry and express all his delicate sensitive feelings. He will spend thousands of words trying to justify not taking a single action. He is likely overweight and physically weak. He is a failure in ways he can’t even imagine not only because has he not had any guidance but the very words to describe what he should aspire to be, know, and do have steadily been erased from our collective lexicon. The result is the sharp degradation of the American Republic as a whole as men fail to aspire to anything higher than the self. Weak men whose selfishness, emotional incontinence, and feminized state of learned helplessness (which is now praiseworthy apparently) struggle to change their own tires and still dare to look down on the last bastion of masculinity in society today – the blue-collar man like the ones who mine the coal that powers the dainty metrosexual’s Prius. He is a latte-sipping testosterone deprived disgrace. A historical abomination that his ancestors would have cast out of the tribe or left on a hillside to die for his failure to be of any value as a man. Don’t be one of these new-age sycophantic beta male bitches for the love of all that is holy.
There are those of you among the current generations in America who have come to the realization that a piece of them is missing. An intrinsic part of their life is lacking and as a response they are unfulfilled… Some try to fill this void with internet memes, video games, or even joining the military trying to connect with this intangible piece of themselves they recognize is gone, but cannot identify to retrieve. To understand this missing piece, one must know its name, and its name is “Thumos”. Today’s story is about a man who is the living embodiment of Thumos, and the standard of excellence that every non-commissioned officer in the United States Military should aspire to: Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley.
Before we get to the story of this titan among men, let’s first address what ‘Thumos’ is. Thumos is a concept that dates back to the ancient Greeks. It translates roughly to “Spiritedness” or “Driving Passion” and is one of the most essential aspects of manhood in the Greek tradition. In the text of Phaedrus, Plato describes Thumos in the Allegory of the Chariot. Every man is represented by a chariot pulled by two horses: Thumos – the white horse that represents the passion for higher purpose, honor, and triumph; and a dark horse – that represents man’s baser urges for material possession, carnal pleasure, and power. Guiding these two horses is the charioteer who represents wisdom and the strength to harness the two beasts to guide men to purpose and fulfillment. The mastery of these two forces to guide the chariot towards attaining ‘Eudaimon’ – “Flourishing”. Essentially the Greeks believed in the tripartite nature of the human soul, and that the fulfillment of man – what made a man from the humblest farmer to the greatest king a good man – was his mastery of Thumos and his control of his base urges. Thumos can be broadly understood as a fire in a man’s soul that drives him to greatness, and inspires greatness in others. It inspires courage, steadfastness, and indomitability. All traits sorely lacking in today’s excuse of a man. This philosophical position was later adopted by the Romans who called the concept of Thumos “Virtus” from which we derive the word ‘Virtue’. In Roman society, manhood was determined by ones’ virtue. An un-virtuous man was something less than a man; he was like a child whose moral development was retarded. Whether you call it ‘Thumos’ or ‘Virtus’ – it is the quality of men that drives them to pursue honor through courage and conviction. It is this quality that made CSM Plumley a God amongst mere mortals on the battlefield and in life. Let me explain why your candy ass needs to be more like him and how to do it.
Basil Plumley was born on New Year’s Day, 1920. The 5th child of a family of Coal Miners in Shady Spring, West Virginia Plumley grew up poor. His formative years encompassed some of the worst economic decline that America has ever seen. By the age of 17 he had left high school after only two years in order to take a job as a chauffeur and delivery driver to help pay the bills. In December of 1941 the Japanese launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor – dragging the US into the greatest war in modern history. After setting his family affairs in order, Basil enlisted in the Army as an Infantryman on March 31st, 1942. Here he would begin to cultivate his ethos that would make him legendary. Already a strong man, his upbringing and personal struggles to provide for his family during the depression years had given him a no-nonsense attitude and an appreciation for hard work. He built on that foundation when he arrived to the 82nd Infantry Division later in 1942 and would become part of history as the 82nd Infantry was converted to the 82nd Airborne in August that same year. Plumley would serve as a private in the 320th Glider Field Artillery Battalion. In those initial formations the Glider Field Artillery units were full of infantrymen who were cross-trained to operate the 75mm M1A1 Pack Howitzer to provide the new Airborne divisions with an endemic fire support option – they also had to establish their own fire support positions while surrounded behind enemy lines fighting as infantry. Plumley made all 4 combat jumps as a glider trooper with the 82nd Airborne during the Second World War (Sicily, Salerno, Normandy, and Holland). He served with distinction fighting in the invasion of Sicily and into the Italian Campaign. He made a second combat glider assault into Normandy during Operation Overlord and fought on through France until the 82nd was relieved to prepare for Operation Market-Garden. Plumley would make a third landing with the ‘All Americans’ in Holland and secure the towns of Nijmegan and Grave. He would take part in the Battle of the Bulge enduring the harshest winter Europe had offered in over a century before taking part in the final push into Germany. Surprisingly, this is not what Basil Plumley is remembered for… but it is important to note this is where he cultivated his soldierly mentality and appreciate for tough leadership and supreme discipline. It was in this forge where his mettle was tested and solidified.
After the war Sergeant First Class Plumley wasn’t done. He chose to remain in the army during the post-war downsizing and attended Airborne School to become a proper Paratrooper as the glider units were being abolished for killing too many of their own troops… Following Airborne school, Plumley was reassigned to the 187th Parachute Infantry Regiment as a Platoon Sergeant. He would make his only combat jump as a paratrooper a few years later during Operation Tomahawk in the Korean War. He would lead from the front during the Battle of Pork Chop Hill and through the intense fighting on nearby “Old Baldy” where he was decorated twice for valor. Surprisingly, this is not what Basil Plumley is known for either…
After the Korean War, Master Sergeant Plumley became part of a new unit to test a new concept in warfare: Air Mobility. The 11th Air Assault Division (Test) was constituted to develop the doctrine behind helicopter-borne warfare. In this capacity Plumley would become an expert in training and preparing to lead soldiers into the battlefield through the door of a UH-1 Helicopter. Assigned as the most senior NCO in a battalion training this new concept in warfare, Command Sergeant Major Plumley put his Thumos into action. He was by all accounts an absolute tyrant when it came to enforcing standards. Soldiers were expected to have neat uniforms and clean shaves. Physical fitness was a top priority – fatbodies were run ragged until they sweat off the excess girth. Barracks were expected to be maintained to the utmost cleanliness and leaders were expected to monitor their soldiers. The reason for this strict adherence to standards and discipline was that Basil Plumley knew the ugliness of war inside and out twice over. He knew the young men he would be leading to battle were not like him. They had not grown up tough in Depression-Era Coal Country; they were the first of the baby-boomers who had grown up in America’s greatest period of growth and prosperity while he had slogged through the Korean mud. These young men needed to be instilled with the character and will to fight for each other if they were going to survive in combat. He would administer this in the only way appropriate for infantrymen with necessary harshness and high expectations. His attitude was gruff, his language short and coarse, he used profanity in heroic dosages when correcting infractions and feared telling no man regardless of rank what they needed to do to fix themselves, and he worked only for the Battalion Commander himself – another outstanding leader, LTC (Later LTG) Harold ‘Hal’ Moore. “When he talked, I shut up and listened.” LTG(R) Hal Moore would say about Plumley during a speech given at West Point in 2010.
CSM Plumley set the standard for ‘no-fucks-given’ when it came to discipline. Soldiers found wanting of his standards would expect immediate correction in a manner that would make the new NCOs of today’s basic training units shit their pants bloody. The men were both terrified and in awe of him. He had a way of being cold, but not indifferent. He always led from the front even in his 40’s during physical training. He was known for his terse, vulgar one-liners that served to remind the young men of the unit who wore the pants – and multiple awards for valor in combat. Young NCOs trying to gain favor with the CSM would greet him with “Good Morning Sergeant Major” to which CSM Plumley would respond “I didn’t know you were a fuckin’ weatherman SGT so-and-so”. No NCO dared act indignantly at this response, it didn’t come from a place of hatred – merely a carefully cultivated attitude that had kept him alive through two horrific wars already. CSM Plumley didn’t speak unless he had to, and he didn’t like having to. If he could crush you with a look, he did it. His stern demeanor earned him the nickname “Old Iron Jaws” from the men of his command. CSM Plumley never allowed the men to see him become emotionally compromised. Anyone who met the Sergeant Major knew he was a man of purpose and conviction. No one dared mistake his passion for lack of control and every man in the unit feared and admired him for his valor, professionalism, and personal conduct… the essence of Thumos.
Great men are those who not only develop great qualities, but those who inculcate their qualities in others. The qualities inculcated in the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers under CSM Plumley’s guidance would be tested very soon… In 1965 the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) was re-flagged as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and CSM Plumley found himself as the most senior NCO of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. They were going to be deployed soon for the first operational combat testing of the airmobile concept in a small country in southeast Asia called Vietnam. This is where CSM Plumley would become a legend.
1/7 CAV arrived in the central highlands of Vietnam to reinforce the area surrounding a Special Forces advisors’ camp at Plei Mei which had been under heavy engagement by People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) regular army troops for nearly two weeks. The PAVN had broken contact and moved back to an area of high hills and mountains not too far from the Cambodian border. The 1st Cavalry Division was going to go get them. The mission to pursue the PAVN (Really North Vietnamese Army – NVA) regulars into the Ia Drang Valley fell to the men of 1/7 CAV. The plan was to land a battalion-sized force at several designated landing zones (LZs) and then to have a column of reinforcements push across the valley to meet them, sweeping the area of NVA in the process. Intelligence suggested that a light enemy force remained and that the bulk had either retreated to another area or pulled across the border into Cambodia, but as usual, the intelligence was fucking wrong…
The objective area known as Landing Zone X-ray (LZ X-ray) was a small open patch of ground surrounded by jungle and a dry creek bed – no bigger than a football field, and dozens of miles away from any friendly forces. The 435 men of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment were going there to make first major contact with an enemy that had never been engaged in full scale battle by American forces. The first two men off the first helicopter were the Battalion Commander and CSM Plumley. Minutes after the landing the first 90 or so men of the first flight were already being engaged. Some initial enemy prisoners were captured – and they revealed that the area was not a lightly garrisoned outpost, but the base camp for several regiments of NVA soldiers who were all very eager to fight. The Battle for LZ X-ray had begun, and the Americans did not even have their full force on the ground yet. Meanwhile, over 2,500 NVA soldiers were mobilizing to come get them. The boys of 1/7 CAV were outnumbered 5:1.
Early in the fight CSM Plumley did exactly what a Sergeant Major should do. He organized the Command Post, established the Battalion CCP/Aid Station, and provided the figure for the young men he was surrounded with to look to in their hour of desperation. Again, the Sergeant Major was steely-eyed in his conviction and stalwart in his purpose. His courage and conviction unwavering. As the pressure mounted and casualties began piling up, the NVA began closing the perimeter around LZ X-ray. The main LZ had to be closed due to the overwhelming enemy fire and another one had to be blasted with det-cord in the jungle to allow the helicopters to keep delivering supplies and evacuating casualties.
In the midst of hell in the jungles of Vietnam strode CSM Plumley with his M1911 .45 caliber pistol organizing the CP and barking at men to get maintain their volumes of fire. One of the arrivals with the last flights into the LZ on the first day of the battle was a civilian reporter named Joseph Galloway. He would be awe-struck by the CSM as he entered the CP to record the battle. The NVA were pressing extremely close to the CP and threatened to overrun the entire LZ. Rounds cracked overhead and Joe Galloway hit the dirt… He looked up to see the CSM standing over him who simply said “You can’t take no pictures lying on the ground, sonny!” and walked away… Joe Galloway would describe that moment many years later: “I thought we might all die in this place… and if I’m going to take mine; I’d rather take mine standing up alongside a man like the Sergeant Major. So I got up.” This was the effect CSM Plumley had on those around him. His courage was infectious and he barely said a word – such was the caliber of his character.
Sometime later the NVA troops pressed even closer to the CP and threatened to overrun the aid station. Joe Galloway was near the wounded men when the CSM greeted him with a sharp him in the ribs and dropped an M-16 and 3 magazines into his lap. “I’m a non-combatant” pleaded Galloway. “Ain’t no such thing” quipped Plumley and then gave the order: “Men prepare to defend yourselves!” before personally leading the defense of the 1/7 Command Post against a swirling mass of NVA soldiers. He was armed with nothing but his .45 pistol. He personally engaged enemy soldiers at point-blank range. CSM Plumley would go on to heroically lead the men of 1/7 CAV through all three days of the battle for LZ X-Ray. He would be known for his own feats of valor, such as removing a burning parachute flare from piles of ammunition and mortar rounds and moving to various parts of the line while under heavy fire with the Battalion Commander. He was the second to last person to leave the battlefield after every man – living and dead- had been accounted for. No man was ever left behind.
CSM Plumley would continue to lead men into combat in Vietnam until 1967 and finally leave the Army in 1974 after nearly 33 years of service. He would serve as a hospital administrator at Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning for another 15 years before retiring a second time in 1990. He remained at Fort Benning and was instrumental in the construction and consecration of the National Infantry Museum. He would go on to see himself portrayed by actor Sam Elliott in the 2003 film “We Were Soldiers” directed by Mel Gibson. A role that those who knew the Sergeant Major would claim didn’t quite grasp the full nature of his character. “Sam Elliott under-played him – He was actually tougher than that. He was gruff, monosyllabic, an absolute terror when it came to enforcing standards of training.” remarked Joe Galloway when asked about the movie. CSM Plumley would go on to many distinguished engagements along with LTG Moore, seldom speaking at any length and always in an immaculate dress uniform adorned with more than 40 awards that also displayed his Combat Infantryman’s Badge with 2 stars on it. He is one of only 324 men to ever be awarded the CIB three times, a group more selective than Medal of Honor recipients. His awards for valor are too numerous to name and he carries decorations from France, Belgium, The Netherlands, The Republic of Korea, and Vietnam. At a reunion for members of 1/7 CAV, men who had not worn a uniform in 20 years were suddenly standing at parade rest as soon as the Sergeant Major entered the room. Still in awe and slightly afraid of a man now in his 80’s and enfeebled be old age. The Sergeant Major is said to have given a small chuckle at this reaction – the only time many of the men had ever seen him smile.
Sergeant Major Plumley would tour the country for various speaking engagements until his health began to fail, and at the age of 92 he was diagnosed with cancer. He lost his wife of 65 years in early 2012, and passed away peacefully in hospice care four months later on October 10th, 2012. His funeral was attended by some of the most distinguished military veterans of the Vietnam War. He lies eternal next to many of his fellow troopers in the sacred ground of Infantrymen at the Fort Benning Cemetery. He rests just up the road from the National Infantry Museum he was instrumental in creating, where thousands of young Infantrymen learn of the words and deeds of those who came before them. His obituary in the Army Times read:
“To this day, there are veterans of the 1/7 CAV who are convinced that God may look like CSM Plumley, but HE is not nearly as tough as the Sergeant Major on sins small or large.”
Today’s story is about what a man can accomplish when he is in control of himself. When he pursues not vain personal glory, but instead pursues personal excellence with discipline. When a man does that he finds his purpose. Once a man finds his purpose and disciplines himself to follow it, he has mastered Thumos – the quality that so many men lack these days. CSM Plumley was the quintessential embodiment of Thumos. His passion was his service to his country, his purpose was to train his men to fight and win in the harshest conditions. He was in total control of himself at all times and dedicated his life to the pursuit of courage and honor, and achieved them through indomitable passion and conviction. Thumos is not something one attains in a single event, it is built in thousands of small triumphs over adversity throughout your life. Find your passion, and harness your “white horse”. Sew up those holes that our soft and weak society has put in your guts and stop being the histrionic vaginal prolapse you see marching in America’s streets with unnatural hair colors and an excuse for their every failure. Embrace the suck and use it to fuel that fire in your belly. Go to the fucking gym and gain the power and confidence you need to conquer your next adversary in life. Weakness is antithetical to Thumos. Find that part of yourself that our comfortable feminized modern society has tried to neuter from you. Be like Command Sergeant Major Plumley. Be a titan of purpose and passion among the disgusting modern “men” of comfort and weakness.