By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Maj. William P. “Bill” Collier’s 54-hour pitched battle against massed wave-attacks from a determined, numerically superior enemy force may yet to have inspired a book or screenplay (“yet” mind you). But a growing number of military officers, various veterans’ organizations, congressmen, senators, and at least one South Carolina governor believe the Columbia, S.C. man’s epic defense of his 120-man position at Mo Duc in the Quang Ngai Province of South Vietnam, Sept. 16 – 18, 1972, was every bit as “desperate and dramatic” as Texas’ last-stand at the Alamo or the British Army’s defense of its isolated outpost at Rorke’s Drift.
And a little-known group which meets at Columbia’s Northeast Presbyterian Church (NEPC) is leading the charge to have Collier – today a retired U.S. Army colonel – awarded the nation’s highest military decoration (for battlefield heroism) for this particular action.
Last week, the Veterans of Foreign Wars approved a national resolution “supporting congressional action to award the Medal of Honor” to Collier.
The VFW is not the first to endorse the effort. Two years ago, NEPC’s Combat Veterans Support Group began the effort to have Collier’s award of the Silver Star (for his heroic leadership in the battle) upgraded to the Medal of Honor. An ambitious undertaking to be sure. But after learning of the two-day-six-hour fight, fellow combat-action veterans like retired U.S. Marine Col. Steve Vitali concluded that Collier’s action warranted more.
“Collier’s 120-man ARVN [Army of the Rep. of Vietnam] force defeated an NVA [North Vietnamese Army] force well over 2,000 men during a ferocious battle while twice repulsing NVA overruns of his position in hand-to-hand fighting,” says Vitali, who served operationally in both Iraq and Afghanistan. “Collier repeatedly called artillery and air on his own position while continuously being exposed to withering fire in order to reposition his force and direct fire-support.”
Moreover, Collier “saved countless civilian lives by his decision not to fire on the refugee camp being held hostage by NVA from which they massed their assaults against his compound.”
The stuff of heroic-legend some say – far beyond the ordinary – which is why the comparison to the Alamo where that garrison’s commander, Lt. Col. William Barret Travis (also a South Carolinian) penned the words “Victory or Death” while defending the mission fortress in 1836.
Unlike the ill-fated Alamo where the defenders – including Travis, Kentucky knife-fighter Jim Bowie and Tennessee frontiersman and legislator Davy Crockett – all perished, Collier and his men were victorious. Thus the comparison to Rorke’s Drift during Britain’s war with the Zulu in 1879.
“Like Rorke’s Drift, Major Collier assumed command of a small force at the start of the battle,” says Vitali. “He was besieged and repeatedly assaulted by a vastly numerically superior enemy force attempting to wipe-out his command. It was only through his inspirational leadership, extraordinary courage, and tactical expertise that his command was saved from annihilation while imposing on the enemy a reverberating defeat.”
Former U.S. Army soldier and Vietnam veteran Bobby Farmer, who today serves as NEPC pastor of visitation, agrees. “He [Collier] kept his composure and stood his ground in what seemed to be a futile effort,” says Farmer. “What’s also important to note is that it took several years to get this story out of him, because he felt he was simply doing the job for which he had been trained.”