Alumni and friends honor Vietnam hero

He [Tom Metsker] risked his life, ultimately gave up his life up, that someone else, someone hurt worse than he, someone less able at that moment to carry on, someone more desperately in need of medical attention, might live. In that moment he defined himself. In that moment, he defined the best in all that had helped make him who he was.

From a letter written by Randall Wallace, director of We Were Soldiers, to Joe Galloway

When The Citadel Foundation hosted a fundraising dinner and screening of We Were Soldiers to benefit the Thomas C. Metsker Leadership Education Fund, writers, family members, and classmates alike marked the occasion. The Thomas C. Metsker Leadership Education Fund was created to honor the late Tom Metsker, '61.

An Army captain, The Citadel grad was one in the battalion that led the first search and destroy mission ever to be conducted using airmobile (helicopter) warfare tactics. Codenamed Landing Zone X-Ray, the mission took place in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. Metsker, who was wounded in the shoulder, was shot and killed when he gave up his seat on a helicopter to another soldier who was more seriously wounded than he.

Landing Zone X-Ray became famous when Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (ret.), the former battalion commander, and Joseph Galloway, a UPI war correspondent who covered the battle, wrote the best-selling book We Were Soldiers Once and Young, which was made into a movie starring Mel Gibson.

During the dinner, several friends and alumni remembered Metsker as a cadet, a soldier, and an outstanding human being. Metsker's good friend, Lt. Col. Ben Legare, '63, served as the master of ceremonies for the evening. Dr. Horace Fleming. Fleming, an executive vice president at Mercer College and the father of a cadet at The Citadel, was the brainchild behind the Metsker Leadership Fund.

"Captain Metsker's act of courage exemplifies the kind of leadership and values taught to cadets by The Citadel. He gave his life for his friend. This act of selfless sacrifice teaches us a lot about Tom Metsker and about The Citadel," Fleming said.

Tom Metsker's family stands together on Summerall Field after parade. Pictured are Catherine Metsker McCray, Karen Metsker Galloway, Ibby Zoe Hall, Jennifer Hall Tiplick, and Joseph Galloway,

Moved by the story of Metsker, Fleming wanted to establish a memorial that would continue his legacy and his leadership, and so he approached Galloway with the idea. Galloway immediately embraced the idea as did his wife, Karen, who is also Metsker's daughter.

"I cannot even begin to tell you what one bullet, fired among the millions in the Vietnam War did to my life - to our lives - when it took the life of my father," she told the audience at the Riviera. "He was just 25 years old that November in 1965-I was just 17 months old."

Thanks to the help of the many people who have contributed to the Thomas Metsker Leadership Fund, Tom Metsker, who died young and heroically, will continue to be remembered for years to come.

Addressing Tom Metsker, Galloway said, "Well done, good and faithful soldier. We, your comrades and your family, remember you with love. We have done all in our power to keep your memory alive and tell your story of all those who fought and died in Vietnam. Now we take one more step to ensure that your name will be associated with the good work of teaching leadership and ethics to generations of Citadel men and women still to come."

The Metsker Leadership Education Fund was established to help fund leadership initiatives, including the Greater Issues Lecture Series and the Institute for Leadership and Ethics. For more information or to make a contribution, contact Joy Simpson in The Citadel Foundation at 843-953-4804 or joy.simpson@citadel.edu.