Hal Moore and the Randall Knife

By Jack Williams
Originally published in the September 2017 Sentinel

It is a perplexing question. What is the connection between these:

  • Colonel Hal Moore;
  • Colonel Louis Compton;
  • General William Westmoreland;
  • General “Slim” James Gavin;
  • General John Singlaub;
  • Special Forces – personal equipment?

Now … add a personal friendship dating to pre-WWII; a torpedoed troop transport in WWII; experimental parachute testing gone wrong; airmobile doctrine development and application; a wedding; battles in Vietnam; DSC presentation; and much more. What could possibly weave all these elements into a story about a piece of history worthy of research and preservation?

Lt. Gen. Hal Moore’s passing a few months ago deservedly received widespread publicity and an outpouring of support and memories especially from Vietnam vets. We remember him as one of the dynamic combat leaders of the 1st Cavalry Division in the early days, 1965-6, and for his leadership in the victory at the Ia Drang Valley, LZ X-ray battle in November, 1965.

General William Westmoreland shakes Colonel Hal Moore's hand, DSC presentation, June 1966

Col Hal Moore, June, 1966, DSC Presentation (photo courtesy Jack Williams)

At the time, along with the national publicity about that victory came the inevitable news media photographs. Especially famous is one of Col. Moore after receiving his DSC for actions on LZ X-ray. Though this picture has been published many times, most recently as a memorial following his passing, there is a small detail in the picture that has been overlooked – Col. Moore is pictured wearing a Randall combat knife on his web gear. Therein lies a story.

The Randall Knife in Vietnam

Many Special Forces troopers carried a Randall knife in Vietnam. It was one of the three legendary personal items needed to present the image of hard core SF during this era … Randall knife, Rolex watch, star sapphire ring, (and some irreverent troopers added a fourth item…divorce papers). Therefore, for an RVN Special Forces vet, that famous picture of Col. Moore posed some questions: where is Gen. Moore’s knife that appeared so prominently in the DSC photo? How did his Randall relate to the famous Randall that Gen. Westmoreland usually wore in the field in RVN? And for that matter, where did the Randall knife tradition in the airborne and SF originate?

Col. Moore – wearing Randall - return to LZ X-ray in 1966 with CSM Plumley searching for MIAs from LZ Albany. (photo courtesy Jack Williams)

Searching for answers, I found a Facebook site dedicated to the memory of Gen. Moore, maintained by his two sons, LTC (ret) Steve Moore, and Col. (ret) Dave Moore. I posted a query asking about Gen. Hal Moore’s Randall and received an interesting message from LTC Steve saying he thought his father’s Randall had actually belonged to his grandfather, Hal Moore’s father-in law, Col. Louis Compton. A short time later, LTC Steve sent me some pictures of his grandfather’s Randall knife and another picture of Col. Compton with Bo Randall himself in Florida probably in 1942.

When I examined these pictures, it quickly became apparent that Col. Compton’s knife was very rare and unusual. Posting these pictures on the Randall knife collector’s forum attracted experts who agreed this was one of the first thirty or so model 1 “fighters” ever made by the Randall Knife shop, probably in late 1942. His military record, and his name etched on the blade combined with the picture of Col. Compton and Bo Randall made the knife potentially of great value to a collector. But who was Col. Louis Compton and how did he come to have a Randall knife, and how did Gen. Moore get it and why did he take it to Vietnam?

Col. Compton’s very early 1942 Randall knife (photo courtesy LTC (ret) Steve Moore)