Monthly Archives: February 2014

George Moses – Battery Commander – Part Five





 Captain Moses stayed in the Army after Vietnam and retired a full bird colonel in 1983. He has a lot to say about leadership. He seems to have learned from every commander he served under and from every tight spot in his career.

The Magic Hold of Leadership

 When we moved into LZ Judy in January of 1968, just before Tet, we didn’t put anything underground, we just built our hooches up on top. The ground was hard pack alluvial plain material, like concrete for the first foot or more, and the monsoon rains would flood any hole you had in the ground. We’d been at Judy for a couple months when Lieutenant Colonel Elliott, the new taskforce commander, came out to inspect. He wanted everything underground, saying to me, “Look George, it’s better to have wet feet than to be shot. Let’s get everything down to no higher than waist level.”

That meant we had to dig in everything. One of my pictures shows me digging a hole for my own hooch. That damn ground was so hard you just had to beat the hell out of it to get below that crust. Once you got below the crust you could dig in it. I couldn’t ask these guys to dig me a hole. The hell with it I’d dig my own hole.

Captain Moses Digging His Hooch Hole
Captain Moses Digging His Hooch Hole

We had a lot to dig in. Every one of those hooches had to be taken down to the level of that one in the picture way off on the left. Of course we got it done.

“You may be the first and only West Point graduate to dig his own hooch hole.”

It just seemed like the right thing to do. I couldn’t ask the guys to dig my hole for me. I’d ordered them to dig their own; to dig mine too would have been a shitty deal.

That’s not to say Captain Moses believed in equality.

At Qui Nhon I had a separate officers mess built and insisted they eat separate from the NCOs and the rest of the men. I did that because officers need to talk about officer things; and NCOs need to talk about NCO things. That doesn’t mean we don’t talk during the day. But at meal time that’s the time to share things, and you may want to share things you don’t want the other group to know about. In today’s Army that probably would not fly very well. At the time for me it made sense.

I remember my old battalion commander at Ft. Benning, Colonel Bishop, telling me, “There are officer things and there are NCO things, and there are times when they shouldn’t mix.” He was an old WWII warrior and I wasn’t about to argue with that.

Bishop had three rules. Never give an order you couldn’t enforce. Never give an order you wouldn’t do yourself. And an officer never fools around with an enlisted man’s wife. He looked at all of us on his staff and said, “And I want all you young bucks to stay away from my mama.” He was a good man and a good leader.

There was another incident that I have not talked a lot about. It grew out of my respect for Bishop and what I learned from him. Bishop was a big advocate that a commander of an outfit had a magic hold on soldiers. He said it’s the thing that happens when you go to a change of command. Before the colors are passed every eye is on the old commander, not the new one. Then once the colors pass every eye is on the new commander, not on the old one. So when you’ve got a bad thing going on, the only way to get ahold of it as a commander is to get in the middle of it yourself.

We had an incident one night at LZ Judy. One of my young troops was on guard duty in a bunker that had a 15 foot walkway down into the bunker, so that you were down on field of fire level through the barbed wire. It was late at night. The first sergeant came to me and said, “Sir, we got a problem with a guard post. He’s threatening to kill himself, and he’s gonna kill anybody that comes down there to mess with him. They tried talking him out of it, but he’s not having any of it.” How in the hell was I going to handle this? What would Bishop do? There was only one damn way this was gonna resolve. The kid would shoot himself, or he’d come out on his own. But while this was going on we had a jeopardized guard post out here, and that put all of us at risk.

I said, “OK.” I got up, got dressed and went down to the bunker entrance and I called the young man’s name out and I said, “This is Captain Moses, I’m here and I understand you’re having a rough night.” He told me he had gotten a letter from his girlfriend that caused him a lot of anxiety. I said, “Look, I’m gonna come down and talk to you. We need to talk this out. I’m not armed and I’m not going to hurt you or anything. I just want to sit down and talk this over.”

He didn’t say anything. I’m thinking to myself, Well, if I’m going down I better do it. And about that time you know how fear gets ahold of you. The hair on the back of my head went up. My cheeks went flush. My spine was trembling. But I walked down that damn ramp and I said to myself, Goddamn, the last thing I see might be the flash out of an M16 for all I know. I walked in and fortunately he was sitting down. There was just enough light to make him out sitting in the back of the bunker with the M16 butt on the ground between his legs. I think he was just resting. I said, “Why don’t we just sit here and talk awhile.”

He said, “Sure, sir, have a seat.”

We just started talking about his problem. His girlfriend had written him a letter telling him she was leaving him and he was pretty distraught. By this time too the entire battery was getting a little worn out. I was even in my own letters beginning to see things a little negatively. I remember commenting recently after reading my old letters that I could see my energy level dropping.

Anyway, we talk for 15 maybe 20 minutes, a long time. I finally said, “You know, look, you’re gonna be just fine. We’re gonna forget about this little problem tonight. You go back to your section and nobody’s going to say anything to you about this. You just go on with your duty and do it the way you know how, and when you get back home you’re going to find somebody that’s worthy of you.” That seemed to calm him down. I came walking out with him.

The first sergeant had a replacement for him, the replacement went on duty. I told the section chief to take him back to his section and let him get some rest. Then I told the first sergeant, “I don’t want anybody in this battery to say a damn thing to him or anyone else about this incident.” And they didn’t and the man worked out just fine. But I’ll tell you what, it scared the shit out of me. That’s where my time with Bishop paid off.

There were other incidents. We were going to be inspected one day by the First Field Force commander. The night before we had a fire mission, and somehow the powder pit caught on fire. Everybody was un-assing from the ammunition bunker and running and yelling, “Fire, get away.” I looked at the powder pit and I could see that the fire was burning almost straight up. It wasn’t throwing stuff into the ammo bunker, but it was searing the bunker beam and sandbag walls. I thought, We can control this. I jumped up and ran over with a shovel and started throwing dirt around it and started tamping out the fire that was on the sandbags. When others saw me they all began coming back and we got it under control. We had some black wood and sandbags for the inspection the next morning, but it all worked out.

Now that came from when I was a cadet and had gone to Germany as a third lieutenant in the 3rd medium tank battalion up in Friedberg. We went to Grafenwoehr for 30 days and I had a tank platoon. During the bivouac out in the field we had the old M-48 tanks that had gas drums on the back mounted on steel racks. They would leak gasoline down into the engine well. Every now and then one of these damn things would catch fire. This particular company commander had burned up two of those tanks on other exercises.

In the company mess area late one night the mechanics were working on this tank, and the damn thing caught on fire. Everybody ran … except the company commander. He looked at that and started yelling, “No. No.” He ran over and he got into the driver’s seat with the thing flaming in the engine well. He started the engine and moved that tank out of the bivouac area. When everybody saw that they all came back, got fire extinguishers and got the fire under control. Damn, that took courage. But maybe that’s why officers were there. Maybe that’s why our NCOs were there. To be able to get those kinds of things under control.

The powder pit incident in Vietnam caused me to do the same thing under different circumstances. That flashed through my mind. I could see that company commander grabbing that burning tank and driving it out of the company area. That made me believe that the way you conduct yourself day to day is affecting others in the battery in ways you can’t predict. It creates a mindset to make good things happen if you provide a good example.

I sit down and think about those things. Those leadership incidents I saw as a young cadet and the ones I experienced with Bishop. They stuck with me, and I don’t think it was always conscious. I don’t talk a lot about these incidents, but I think it makes a point about how you affect the future of people you are leading.

At one of the reunions we had at Ft. Sill, I was a colonel by then, a young soldier came up to me and said, “Colonel, when you were on the firebase you would walk around talking to people. That always made us feel safer.”

I told him I was glad to hear that because I didn’t do a lot of socializing with soldiers. Occasionally we’d go to a movie and there would be some banter, but I didn’t do a lot of socializing, beer drinking with them and that kind of thing. I would take care of them and I would talk to them and deal with their problems. That also came from Bishop. There were times when we were in a rear area when we had a good time together. But when we were on a firebase conducting missions it wasn’t a social thing. They expected you to help them through this thing alive.

George Moses – Battery Commander – Part Four





Fast on the heals of earning the Valorous Unit Award for its performance during the Tet offensive, B Battery experienced a tragic incident that could have been catastrophic had it not been for Captain Moses.

The Incident

I said I’d tell you about the one incident we had in March, after Tet. There was a small village next to us at LZ Judy. The population of that village was Catholic and Buddhist. The Catholics had moved south out of North Vietnam when they established the demarcation line separating North and South Vietnam after the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The negotiated settlement allowed people to move one way or the other. There was a Catholic priest that moved his parish from North Vietnam down to this little village. So half the village was Catholic, and half was Buddhist.

The Catholics were gathered on the west side of the village, and the Buddhists were on the east side. There was no formal demarcation, but it was clear there were two types of people there. In the village there was a regional forces infantry platoon led by a lieutenant, a former Viet Minh major who came south with the Catholics. Over time the Catholic parish had been winnowed down by snipers operating out of the tree lines around their rice fields. They were about half of their original members that came south.

The Catholic church had a steeple. We were asked to put a forward observer up there at night to be able to help protect the village. The only candidate I had was a sergeant who had come into the battery from Germany while we were up at Qui Nhon. He had made E6 staff sergeant while in Germany. He went in as a private over there and somehow came out a very short time later an E6. He exhibited some FO knowledge  and claimed to have had some forward observer experience. But I was concerned about him from the beginning when he first came the battery. He was a section sergeant and I had trouble with him following orders to the tee. He kept wanting to make little changes. He had poor attention to detail, which made me nervous.

I said to Lieutenant Colonel House, “Sir, I’ve got this sergeant who’s got experience but I don’t trust him for that kind of operation.”

He said, “Well, you got to do it anyway, George.” It was clear Lt. Col. House did not have a choice in the matter either. So we gave this sergeant a PRC-25 radio, a map and a compass and put him up there. We ran a few drills to make sure we were all connected properly.

Typically whenever we’d get a mission from a forward observer I’d walk into the Fire Direction Center and just kind of check the geometry. If everything was in order I’d get out of the way. I never slowed anything down. Without disturbing anyone I could see what the call for fire was, the observer’s azimuth, the gun to target azimuth, where we were, where the observer was. I just looked at all of that and if it didn’t come together geometrically the way it should and mesh, I knew something was wrong.

Well this night the sergeant in the steeple had called in a mission and we were shooting white phosphorous rounds. I went in and I looked at where the church steeple was and I looked at the azimuth that the observer claimed to be observing, and it appeared the shot was going in the opposite direction it should. I immediately yelled. “CHECK FIRE.” This was the second volley and it went out before my CHECK FIRE command could get implemented. We ended up putting that second volley into the Catholic part of that village.

I don’t remember how many casualties there were. I don’t think there were any deaths. But that white phosphorous burned some people awfully badly. We brought the injured into the battery and had them medevac’d out.

Medevac of Villagers
Medevac of Villagers

Of course the First Field Force guys came down and had an investigation. The investigating officer got off the helicopter, looked at me and said, “Well, you screwed up the grid convergence, didn’t you, captain?”

Battery center sat very close to a grid convergence line, requiring special procedures when firing into the neighboring grid zone.

I looked at him and I said, “Sir, I think you’ll find we had the grid conversions totally under control.” And we did.

Then he interviewed our sergeant and determined that the sergeant had misread his compass. The sergeant had read the degree scale on his compass, instead of the mil scale.

A brief explanation is in order. In Vietnam the military used only metric scales for direction and distance. In a metric circle there are 6400 mils, as opposed to 360 degrees. Fire Direction Control would naturally interpret a reading called in by a forward observer as mils without a second thought. Were a forward observer, for example, to call in a direction of “180” FDC would dial its map instrument to just a little off due north. However in degrees a direction of “180” would be straight south. The compass used in Vietnam had on its dial an outer scale in 6400 mils, and an inner scale in 360 degrees, making it all to easy for an inexperienced FO to misread.

The Vietnamese lieutenant was there with our sergeant in the church steeple. I found out later that there was some pot being smoked, which could have been the root cause of the problem. To this day I couldn’t tell you if that sergeant was a trained forward observer or not. I didn’t want to put him up there, but he was the only one I had available that claimed he had FO experience. When I talked to him he was either a good bull-shitter or he had experience, I don’t know which.

I had a case of the ass over this incident, big time. I wanted that sergeant in prison. And I asked my fire direction officer who was overseeing the mission why he didn’t see it, and he didn’t have a good answer. I think he was taken up with checking the calculations and not looking at the geometry like I was, but that was his job.

There was a military program to reimburse people as best we could to help ease the pain of all that. To make amends the battery went back to the village and we worked at rebuilding the homes for the two families. The lieutenant that was in charge of them was very understanding and so was the Catholic priest. They worked with us, and it really brought us closer to that village than we had been.

Sergeant Joe Mullins remembers that night.

It was about two or three o’clock in the morning and I was a gunner that night. We had a forward observer out and he called in the wrong coordinates. We shot into a village and messed a bunch of women and children up with white phosphorous. They came down and said, “Do not touch nothin’, leave the guns as they are.” I thought, Oh-oh, one of us has done something wrong. I went over and looked through my scope to make sure I was on my aiming stake out there, and I was all right.

The word finally trickled down that they were bringing the injured in. They made make-shift stretchers, and they took ammo plastic and wrapped it around them to try to keep out the oxygen as much as they could. It was mostly women and children. I remember one woman was pregnant, and she had a lot on her stomach. Finally we got them medevac’d out. The word that got back to us later about that forward observer, they say he had been drinking pretty heavy. That was the word, and it might be totally wrong. I never saw him after that.

Later on in life somebody sent me something about the area we shot into. I noticed that they went in and spent money on that village, but they didn’t state what they done it for.


Bad Water … Really Bad Water

In early April we had a big outbreak of diarrhea in the battery. My immediate thought was that we were not washing things well enough in the mess hall. So I supervised getting that water hot enough to make sure all the utensils were boiled and the pots cleaned. We did that religiously and it still did not improve things. I finally got ahold of the taskforce command staff and said I have a problem here and I’ve done everything I can do to get rid of this based on recommendations from the medic.

We’d get a bladder of water every so often out of a lake near Phan Rang. The engineers chlorinated and purified the water, but it turned out that during Tet two months earlier the VC or the NVA had dumped a lot of their dead into that lake. We were just now feeling the effects. So they started heavily chlorinating the water. It was so damn chlorinated that you’d try to brush your teeth with it and it burned your gums. But that cleared it up – another combat zone event.


Welcome to LZ Sherry

Our last move was in late April to LZ Sherry about five miles east, and directly north of Phan Thiet city. It was a road march, and I had gotten reports that on this road we might get ambushed. We had helicopter gunships on the move, and as an added precaution I went to every section and said that on the prime movers (trucks) I want rifles loaded, I want the muzzles up and ready to fire, and I want people back to back so you could fire in either direction. If we get ambushed, if the road’s not blocked, the first vehicle is going to speed up and every vehicle is going to speed up behind it.

Sure enough we did get ambushed, along a berm that was only 15 yards from the road. There was a lot coming at us. The gunships went into action and the battery responded beautifully, just absolutely beautifully. I was the lead jeep, and my driver sped up and moved out, the trucks behind us doing the same thing, all the while us and the gunships returning fire.  Finally it was the gunships that shut the attack down.

Several hundred yards down the road we stopped. I went along the convoy to inspect damage and saw a lot of bullet holes in metal. One driver said he had a sore neck. I looked at his helmet and saw that a bullet had entered into the left side of his helmet, spun around between the outer steel pot and the helmet liner, and come out the other side.

I said, “Son, take your helmet off.”

He looked at it and said, “Holy shit.”

“That’s why you got a sore neck. It’s better than the alternative.”

He said, “I agree.”

Another odd thing happened on this attack. One soldier had emptied his magazine and had lifted up his M16 to load another magazine when an enemy bullet hit dead center on the side of barrel. It drilled a hole in the barrel and bent it 30 degrees. I said, “Man, the chances of that happening are so small.” A lot of metal had holes, but fortunately nobody was wounded. We moved on and set up at LZ Sherry.

We dug our cots into the ground about a foot, so that the cross hinge on the legs was at ground level and you were sticking up about six inches, then we put up a couple rows of sandbags. If you needed weather protection you could take your poncho and put it over the top to keep the rain off. Of course the howitzers had their parapets and powder pits and ammo bunkers sandbagged.

We were at Sherry only two or three days when one night I was awakened by a swizzling sound. Then I felt a thud, something hit the ground; I didn’t hear it so much as I felt it. It was not close to me, but it was in the battery area. Then immediately mortar rounds started exploding on the perimeter short of the compound. The quad-50s started up and began to fire into areas where they had seen lights. After the attack one of the commo section guys came to the first sergeant and said you got to come look at this. We went over and saw a mortar round stuck in the ground, with its fins sticking up, right next to this commo guy’s cot. The round did not have a fuse on it. Whoever had fired it had failed to fuse it. The thing launched, and when it came into the battery area that was the swizzling sound we heard. It stuck in the ground right next to this guy’s cot, and he nearly crapped in his pants when he saw the thing. I would have done the same. I looked at the first sergeant and said, “I don’t think we’ve got these cots dug in far enough.”

We eventually brought the base piece howitzer into action, but not until well after the attack was over. And of course once they got off three or four mortar rounds they would un-ass the area. I knew there would be more mortar attacks to come because of our location, in the middle of an open rice paddy with stream beds running through it and a tree line a thousand meters out. We needed to be able to turn that base piece and have a standard setting that put a round out immediately, and then adjust in pre-set increments. We tried that two nights later when we observed lights in the tree line. We were not under attack but we shot the hell out of the area where the lights were.

Pre-emptive defensive firing and quick reaction from the howitzers became a standard procedure for B Battery at LZ Sherry.

I remember we had a Navy gunship called El Toro with five-inch guns that also fired into our sector. Our guys used to get on a helicopter and go out to that gunship for ice cream. The Navy always had good ice cream.

A few weeks after setting up at LZ Sherry I gave up the battery to Captain Ridgeway. He had been my executive officer, a first lieutenant. He went to battalion headquarters for awhile in a staff job, and then came back as a captain to command the battery.

My tour with B Battery was a life forming event, and one of the most rewarding things I did in the Army. You trained to be an artilleryman, and this was the ultimate of what an artilleryman does. I felt fortunate to work with Lieutenant Colonel Munnelly and Lieutenant Colonel House, and all the soldiers of B Battery. They were all good. I mean they would have done anything for that battery. The morale when I got there was excellent, and when I left morale was still good, but people were tired. I know I was tired, and I know they were too. What we did was hard work, awfully hard work.

George Moses – Battery Commander – Part Three





In late January, 1968 Captain Moses receives orders to move the battery south from Tuy Hoa to the operational theater around Phan Thiet, a key port on the South China Sea and where the battery will remain for the rest of its time in Vietnam.


 It was a two-day road march to Phan Thiet, over 200 miles along Highway 1, the coastal road. We were to overnight at Phan Rang where Camp Eagle was located, the old 101st Airborne base. Now there was an Australian Canberra squadron located there (Australian air force). We were taken out of action there at Phan Rang, which meant we had a free night with no official obligations. I was hoping to be able to go to the Canberra officers club, have a steak and a few beers, but we didn’t get an invitation from the officers club. Instead the officers and the NCOs of the battery got an invitation from their NCO club, where we had a wonderful time. We had a great steak dinner. We sat at the bar and drank whiskies and sodas until the wee hours of the morning.

It was about 1:00 in the morning when the old Aussie sergeant major in charge of the club – and those guys were hard to understand because their mouth didn’t move when they talked – the sergeant major said, “Captain, we have a little game we play here.” Across the dance floor was a wall that had a curtain in front of it. The curtain parts and here’s this large picture of – you see them in old saloons – of a beautiful gal laying back on a cushioned divan. They had it down low on the wall. Then they come out with what looks like a toy hobby horse. The front and rear legs on this hobby horse are hinged so that they move in tandem, the front legs are wired together and hinged at the top, and the rear legs are the same way. If you sat on that hobby horse and rocked it ever so gently it would inch forward. But the kicker was that if you got to aggressive with it that thing would flip right out from under you and you’d be on your butt. The challenge was to sit on that hobby horse after having all those scotch and sodas and inch that hobby horse across that dance floor over to that painting and reach up and kiss this beautiful painting. Only you sergeant majors would think of something like this.

Anyway, a lot of our troopers tried to ride that horse, they were all game, but many of them fell flat on their ass. We had a great time trying to ride that damn horse. Everybody demanded that I do it, and I said the hell with it, I’m going to do it. I got on that thing and I was determined not to get thrown off. I made it, kissed the picture, and the whole damn place went wild. The sergeant major came over and bought another round of drinks.

Now was around 2:30 or so in the morning and the sergeant major said, “I understand you Yanks play a game called softball. We don’t know anything about softball, but we think we can whip your ass in softball.”

That was just the challenge I needed. I said, “8:30 tomorrow morning on the field down the road across from where the Eagles headquarters was.” We were on.

My first sergeant comes over and says, “Captain, it’s 2:30 in the morning, we’re shot to the wind, and you just made a challenge for softball at 8:30 in the morning?”

Sure enough, the next morning we all felt like hell, but we were damned if we were going to let those Aussies get our goat. So we were there and we had our softball gear that we pulled together. I think it was about 8:35 and we looked down the road and here’s this cloud of dust coming. This stake-and-platform truck pulls up and it’s got a pot full of Aussies on it. They jump off and one of the more energetic ones walks up and says, “Good morning, Captain! Where is the ball diamond? We’re ready to play.”

I say, “Do you know what the rules are?”

“Nope, we don’t. But we’ll figure ‘em out as we go.” We then proceeded to play softball for several hours and drink a lot of beer.

That night we hunkered down. I told everybody the partying’s over at 6:00. We got to get a good night’s sleep because we’re roadin’ out at o-dark-thirty before sunrise to finish our road march down to Phan Thiet. Turns out that whole thing was planned. Lieutenant Colonel House had arranged the road march in such a way that we had that break at Phan Rang, and I believe he was behind the party at the NCO club too. The next morning we loaded up and headed south.


Tet 1968

The Tet offensive of 1968 would result in over 4,000 U.S. and ARVN deaths, and 45,000 NVA and VC deaths. It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian targets across South Vietnam. Both North and South Vietnam had announced on national radio broadcasts that there would be a two-day cease-fire during the Tet Lunar New Year celebrations. Nonetheless, the Communists launched the attack during the early morning hours of  January 30, the first day of Tet.

We got into Phan Thiet January 27th, three days before Tet. We set up at LZ Judy about seven miles northwest of the city.  We linked up with the 3rd battalion of the 506 airborne infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Geraci. It was a very hardnosed, determined airborne outfit. They were good, but they were cocky too. Their headquarters was located at Phan Thiet airfield just west of the city, and he would rotate his companies out from there into the area of operations for search and destroy missions. Our firing fan just touched the airfield at the max range of our 105s.

Initially the infantry provided our perimeter security. They started monkeying with us, playing like they were being attacked through the wire. It spooked us pretty badly. So we fell everybody out on the perimeter and started shooting. Later on I said to myself I think we were had. Anyway, it was a good exercise for us in knowing where we needed to go if we ever did get attacked.

When the infantry moved out we received a section of quad-50 machine guns and a section of 40 mm cannons for our security, two of each. I’ll tell you, they were pee-bringers. Fearful weapons that caused you to pee in your pants. We used those twin 40 mm cannons to fire H&I into the mountains and I would not want to be on the receiving end. And those quad-50s, when they fired up and they got going out there, you just didn’t want to be near it. After we got the quad-50s and 40s we started manning the observation posts ourselves. There were three or four of them around the perimeter.

I started noticing civilians streaming out of Phan Thiet city, carrying everything but the kitchen sink headed toward the mountains. I reported it to the taskforce staff two or three days in a row.

And then the headquarters of 3/506 got attacked with mortars. We were sitting seven miles away watching these fireworks, when suddenly the whole ammunition dump went up. You could feel that alluvial plain vibrate for a minute or so. The shock wave came across the ground, settled in and then rose back up again.

Lt. Col. Geraci came out to the battery at two in the morning and ordered me to move south to an open, dry rice paddy that put our firing fan over the edge of Phan Thiet city. We would be all by ourselves. He ordered us to be ready to fire the next morning before nautical twilight. In order to move that battery, doctrine called for clearance with my battalion artillery commander. So his staff should have coordinated with Lt. Col. House on that. I wanted to make sure of that because he was going to set us up out there without any security.

I told Lt. Col. Geraci, “I’ll inform my battalion commander.”

He said, “You can inform God if you want, but you better be setting there ready to fire when daylight comes.”

“Sir, we’re not going to let you down.” And we were in position to fire by 6:00 that morning.

NVA regulars had tunneled into individual burial mounds at a cemetery that was right along the edge of the airfield at Phan Thiet city, and next to taskforce headquarters. In these alluvial plains they buried people in mounds. The NVA tunneled in among these mounds and created firing positions so that the only thing they had to do was knock out the last little bit of dirt and they were able with impunity to rake the taskforce headquarters area with machine gun and small arms fire.

That’s when we started firing from that open field in support of the 3/506. We were naked out there for three or four days with no perimeter barbed wire and no perimeter defense force.

In Position for TET 1968
In Position During TET 1968

It was very risky business for us at that time. I don’t know how much we fired, but it was a lot and we were giving the Viet Cong hell. It would have been a very easy thing for them to turn on us out there in the open. We could have gotten into a major engagement out there, but fortunately that did not happen. We would occasionally get small arms fire that would go bouncing through the area. The rounds were expended, from people shooting at us, but not close enough to hit anything. They were obviously not directed toward us, or it was obviously not a planned attack against us.

The most dangerous place turned out to be the mess truck, which we ran back to LZ Judy for hot food. The truck got blown off the road on one of the trips. Nobody was killed, but one of my cooks was thrown out and injured. We evacuated him, I think he went back as far as Japan. But he came back to the battery several weeks later, and we pinned a Purple Heart on him.

Remains of Mess Truck
Remains of Mess Truck

B Battery would be awarded the Valorous Unit Award for their service during Tet of 1968. It is the second highest unit decoration which may be bestowed upon a U.S. Army unit, the highest being the Presidential Unit Citation. It is granted for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy, and is the unit equivalent to the Silver Star. Colonel Moses did not learn of the award until after his retirement, in part because it was granted in August of 1970, over two years after his departure from Vietnam. B Battery was the only unit of the 5th Battalion to win the Valorous Unit Award in Vietnam. Today Colonel Moses says of the award, “The men who served at that time need to know about it. It speaks to the soldierly spirit and dedication of all the men of B Battery at the time. They just performed magnificently.” 

George Moses – Battery Commander – Part Two





 Captain Moses spent the early months of his command tightening up battery procedures and overhauling the howitzers. The payoff for this hard work begins in December, 1967 with an operation in support of the Sky Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne.

“Oh How We Love You”

 On December 5 we began the toughest operation of my tour in Vietnam. Ordinarily I would be leaving the battery at this time. The routine was six months in command and six months in a staff position. But there had been a change in policy that came out of the infantry accidentally firing on themselves with their own mortars and some of our artillery commanders firing accidentally on friendly troops. If you had a commander who had not had an incident, there was the option to keep him in command for a full year. Just before this operation Lieutenant Colonel House, who had replaced Lieutenant Colonel Munnelly as battalion commander, decided to leave me in command of B Battery. I was fine with that because I would have gone to a desk job somewhere.


We road marched the entire battery 80 miles south to Tuy Hoa and the next morning airlifted out to Landing Zone Clara where we settled in with a battalion of the 173rd separate infantry brigade, four companies of airborne infantry totaling about 500 men. On Christmas Eve, or maybe Christmas, Lieutenant Colonel House came out to have lunch with us and see how we were doing.

Captain Moses (left) and Lt. Colonel House Dining in High Style - Christmas, 1967
Captain Moses (left) and Lt. Colonel House Dining in High Style Christmas, 1967

I cannot resist interrupting Captain Moses to comment on this picture. “There’s a lot going on here. It shows the many uses of artillery ammo boxes, including the fancy table, and I see in the background your howitzer has its muzzle cover.”

Oh my lord, we couldn’t have survived without the ammo boxes. We built everything. We built shower stalls, latrines; we put down flooring with the wood; troops would make small homes from them around their howitzers.

Shower at LZ Clara
Shower at LZ Clara

The operation began on the 27th at 7:00 in the morning. Our orders were to airlift the entire battery, all six guns, to a landing zone 15 miles north near a Special Forces camp at Dong Tre. We were to lay the battery and immediately register on seven potential locations where the infantry might land. Three of the locations would be decoys, the other four would be actual landing sites and were known only to the infantry battalion commander. Our orders were to be prepared to fire preps on the actual landing sites, three to four minutes of continues artillery fire immediately prior to the landing of troops by helicopter.

Three days after the operation, on New Year’s Eve, Captain Moses wrote a letter from the field to his wife and daughter describing the action.

We had about 700 rounds pre-spotted at the new position and brought about 800 rounds with us. We fired two preps and everything went normal. We fired the third prep about 0905 hours and the company that went in (Alpha company) got hit hard. We continued firing and by eleven o’clock we were down to 820 rounds. By 1:00 we were down to 300 rounds and yelling and calling for more ammunition. A tactical emergency was declared and all Chinooks were made available to haul ammunition for us. By 2:00 we were down to 125 rounds and still going strong. By 3:00 we started getting more ammunition and the firing fell off. By nightfall we had 2600 rounds. By morning we were back (down) to 2000 rounds (bringing the total to well over 2,000 rounds in 22 hours of around the clock firing).

Alpha Company was pinned down for about three hours while we fired in and around their perimeter. That evening at dusk they found a total of 104 bodies around their position, and saw evidence that many more had been dragged away in the night. The men of A Company would have kissed every man in our battery because they knew we had saved their lives.

The operational tempo got very fast because we figured out a way to get rounds out more quickly in response to a correction from the forward observer. That was one of the criticisms we in the artillery got, that it took too long to get rounds out after corrections. I was listening to the corrections coming from the forward observer to the Fire Direction Center, I was tuned in on that frequency. I was able to give the 1st sergeant a heads-up on which way in general the corrections were going to come out – left, right, up, or down. So the guns could begin moving in those directions while the FDC calculated the precise firing information. By anticipating we were shorting the time to get the rounds back out there. That was a departure from FM 6-40, but I could see that it was making us more responsive and it worked quite well for us. That was the payoff for being a well trained artillery unit.

We had a mountain of ammunition boxes from that operation. If we had stayed in that position we could have built a castle.

We burned the paint off some of those tubes. That’s where all the maintenance that we did at Qui Nhon paid off. Not one of those howitzers hiccupped at all. It was the damnedest thing. Ever since then I’ve been in love with the 105 howitzer.

1st Sergeant Roy and Captain MosesPicture taken mid-mission around noon
1st Sergeant Roy and Captain Moses – Picture taken mid-mission around noon

Lieutenant Kerchoff was my forward observer. He and the radio operator were inserted with Alpha company. Kerchoff did one hell of a job directing fire for that infantry company. He received a Bronze Star With V-Device for Valor for his actions in that operation. Boy he was a fine young man. Here’s a case where you certainly didn’t want to judge the book by the cover. When you looked at Kerchoff you’d say he would never do what he did on that Dong Tre operation. He did it in spades. He performed like he was trained to do, and with courage.

When he came to the battery, I have to admit he didn’t look like much and I was a little skeptical of him . Because of what he did on that operation, I have never again judged a man by the way he looked. He showed the kind of courage you would love to have in every soldier. He came back from that operation a bigger person and a tougher person because of that experience.

Captain Moses and Lieutenant Kerchoff
Captain Moses and Lieutenant Kerchoff

As I recall there were not any U.S. casualties. The brigadier general in charge of the brigade and the captain in charge of A company came down to the battery and went around and shook the hand of every soldier they could find, and thanked them for saving their ass that day.

Late the next night we were listening to Saigon radio, and the disc jockey said that the men of Alpha Company dedicate the following record to B Battery of the 5/27 artillery. The song was Oh How We Love You. I thought that was priceless. It was what field artillery is all about – the close trusting relationship between infantry and field artillery.

Good Shooters

 In early January we were directed to an operation back up at Qui Nhon Bay for Major Wright, who was the liaison to the Vietnam Regional Forces. These were like their national guard and reserves, not ARVN regular army. It was a strange operation. The entrance to Qui Nhon Bay was formed by the tip of a peninsula that formed the harbor entrance. The Viet Cong had set up on a reverse slope of the peninsula, on the ocean side, a protected position that controlled the entrance to the bay. There had been a lot of activity there and the operation was to clean out the VC.

We set up our howitzers on a causeway on the inland side of the bay. We had to fire high angle over the crest of that peninsula onto the reverse slope. It was particularly stressful on the gun crews because they had to lower that tube to load a round, and then crank the tube back up to fire. Those cannons weighed 5,000 pounds and totally controlled with hand wheels. You had to turn that hand wheel lots and fast. By the time the day was over my boys were just shot. They were worn out.

I say, “Firing high angle onto a downslope is also tricky business.”

The battery was technically qualified to do that, and they did it very well. Fire direction center handled it well, the forward observers handled it well, and the crews did a marvelous job. I was very proud of them for their gunnery and their firing battery operation that day.

During the mission a colonel came down from Qui Nhon city and was just standing there. I saw him and walked over and reported to him and asked if I could do anything for him. He said, “No captain, I just came down here to smell the cordite.” I guess he was a staff guy and he missed being around the guns.

After that we continued to support Major Wright on more missions. He would go out with the Regional Forces platoons and call for what he called it reconnaissance fire. He would use the artillery to fire in front of him as he was moving. He was training his platoon to flush out anything in front of them that looked suspicious. If he was moving cross country and he came across a hedge row or clump of trees or something that looked suspicious, and he was concerned about getting ambushed, he would stop and call for fire on that point to see if it would flush out anything.

Wright came by the battery area after one of those operations and had some coffee with me. He said, “George, I’m not going to tell you how close we’re bringing that stuff in.”

I said, “As long as you tell me its danger close, that’s all I need to know.”

He kind of laughed. “Well, it’s that, and sometimes a little more.”

“Well, as long as you call it in danger close, that’s what our procedures call for.”

“We’ll do that. But your accuracy is so good that we are confident.”

I did not go into deeper conversation, but I trusted he knew what he was doing and what the risks were. I felt really good about that. Of course I passed that onto the battery, and that just motivated them more to be better at their gunnery. When he gave me danger close we went into the danger close procedures in the FDC, and we made damn sure that the guns were moving the hand wheels in the right direction and taking out slack. Major Wright was in love with the battery.

We were real good shooters, and stayed good until we had one incident. I’ll talk about that later.