For Ken Moore, the hardest part about serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War didn’t even happen there.
“This country was a disaster when we came back,” Moore said. “We were treated like crap when we got home. It got so bad that you didn’t even admit that you were a Vietnam vet. That’s the part that hurts me the most.
“You know, I didn’t start that damn thing. I just went and did what the country asked me to do.”
Moore didn’t even think he would be drafted. In 1965, he was 23, working at Eastman Kodak and “living the life,” as he put it.
“And one day I got that letter in the mail that ‘your friends and neighbors have selected you to be part of the armed forces.’ And I’m still looking for them.”
Moore said his unit was stationed in a small village on the river about 40 miles north of Saigon.
“We set up base camp there and just raided out of there. We operated, we had boats, we would go on night ambushes. … When I look back on it, it’s not like I remember a lot of time sleeping, you know.”
One of those night ambushes is particularly difficult for Moore to speak about. He said about a week after getting to Vietnam, he was out with his fellow soldiers, including one named Danny whom he had befriended during their training at Fort Benning.
“We went out on an ambush at night and he got killed. His wife had a baby the next week,” Moore said, crying. “And that’s hard.”
The bond built among soldiers is unbreakable, Moore said.
“You have to remember that we had each other’s back throughout the whole thing, and there was nothing you wouldn’t do for one of the other guys,” he said. “So you kind of carried that on for the rest of your life.
“I mean, I could pick up the phone right now and call one of them and say, ‘I need you,’ and they would be right here. Just like that.”
About 10 to 15 of them reunite every year, he said.
“These are guys that are very special to each other, and we have a good time for about four or five days,” he said. “We used to sit around and drink beer and all that, but we all got so damn old that we just sit around now and tell lies.”
Moore has spent much of his post-war life helping fellow veterans. He formerly worked for the Monroe County Veterans Service Agency as an outreach coordinator, he said, and was president of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 20, for several years. “And you know I’m a licensed service officer with the federal government, and I do claims for vets,” he said.
He even worked with former Miss America Heather French, whose platform was raising awareness about veterans’ issues.
Moore and a few others returned to Vietnam several years ago, and he said they went to his former base camp.
“What a shock that was,” he said. “When I was there, it was just this little village with straw huts, and now because it’s on the river, it’s a seaport and they have all these big cranes … unloading these ships.”
He said while he was worried about what kind of treatment he would receive there as a veteran, the war didn’t seem to be an issue that raised much concern any more.
“I don’t really think the young people know that much about it,” he said. “Whenever people did refer to it, they referred to it as the American War.”
Moore is thankful about one effect the war had.
“If anything came from this war that was good, it was the public finally woke up to the fact that don’t fault the war, fault the politics,” he said. “We thank our soldiers now.”
And in the end, he’s glad he served.
“You know, I would do it all over again. It was bad, but I would do it again.”