China Spring resident Marvin Moore, 70, spent just a brief time in the military, but that was enough. In his 13 months with the Army in Vietnam, he saw more than enough action to last him a lifetime.
Born in Gatesville, Moore lost his mother when he was a baby. Since his father worked, he and his twin sister were adopted out to various family members. There were several moves: to Waco, Lubbock and Cameron, and back to Waco again. He was living 10 minutes outside the city when downtown Waco was hit by a tornado in May 1953.
Moore attended Waco High School for a time before deciding to work. Like many young people, he was unsure of what to do with his life. Joining the U.S. Army seemed just the thing.
“I just figured I needed to do something constructive,” he said. “I thought it was a good thing to do … join the Army.”
And so, he did.
On Dec. 29, 1967, at age 20, he joined the U.S. Army and went to basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, followed by eight weeks of advanced training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. “Pole jockey,” or lineman as it more commonly known, was his military specialty in communications with the Signal Corps.
Before Vietnam, Moore spent nearly a year in Germany with the 7th Army, 541st Signal Battalion, for what he called “war games.” He spent about eight months in the field perfecting his skills. When he returned to the States, he was called up for Vietnam. He was unperturbed.
“That’s what you signed up for, to serve your country wherever they needed you, doing whatever it is that needed to be done,” he said.
A point of no return
After a 30-day leave, he went to Fort Lewis, Washington, for RVN (Republic of Vietnam) training. A top brass official warned the men that 50 percent of them may not come home.
“That’s when you realize this may not turn out good,” Moore said.
Serving with the 523rd Signal Battalion Americal Division, Moore went to Chu Lai, less than 100 miles from the demilitarized zone, in the area known to soldiers as the “rocket pocket” because of all the 120 mm rockets fired by the enemy.
“We had some ROK (Republic of Korea) Army with us. They were bad to the bone,” he said.
Working in the Headquarters Division Support Command, Moore and the communication men handled the division’s communications, including the main Division Tactical Operations Center where communications were routed from throughout Vietnam. “We could even go there and call home occasionally (albeit by ham radio),” he said. He called twice.
Life in Vietnam was anything but typical. Moore would climb 90 feet up a pole, often facing rocket attacks, to string communication wires in the northern I-Corps Tactical Zone.
Once, a rocket “blew him out of bed” when it hit the “hooch” as the men called their sleeping quarters. Fortunately, no one was injured.
“We were on the reactionary force,” Moore said. “The VC and NVA were trying to penetrate the concertina wire.”
In another instance, Moore spotted a sapper, a specially trained NVA /Viet Cong soldier who could infiltrate a well-fortified base and inflict considerable damage.
“I took appropriate action,” he said. It was the only time he fired his gun. “You do what you have to do because you know what his intentions are. He got caught with his "bushes" down,” he said, darkley.
It’s just a small part of what he witnessed that he prefers not to talk about.
In August 1970, Moore’s time was up. He was in Cameron Bay, waiting to come home, when “all hell broke loose.” They had no weapons, as they were preparing for the trip home.
“You’re thinking, ‘My God, my last day in-country and I’m going to get killed,’” he said.
Moore came home and was honorably discharged as a sergeant in August 1970. He was not happy with the way people treated him and other veterans. One lady on his plane trip got up and moved away when he sat down next to her.
“And I wasn’t treated as bad as some of them were. Some threw feces. That’s a real nice welcome home,” he said.
Putting the past behind
Still, Moore went on with his life, putting his past behind him and moving forward. Two weeks after he returned home, he married Martha Dameron. They recently celebrated 47 years of marriage and have two daughters and three grandsons.
Moore worked for Central Freight Lines for 20 years, followed by nearly 12 years at Total Restoration disaster services.
Today, he’s glad he served his country. Although he doesn’t want to do it again, he “would in a heartbeat,” if needed.
“Once you’re a soldier, you’re always a soldier,” Moore said.