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Interview with John Moore [6/23/2007]

David O'Shea:

This is David Meyer O'Shea, son of Earl D. Meyer, Company H, 379th, 95th Infantry. And today is 12:25 p.m. approximately, June 23, 2007. And I have the pleasure today of talking to Mr. John Moore.

John Moore:

I was in the Green Berets and special forces for four years. I come from a long military -- inadvertent military history because my family has produced sons in time for about every war going back to the French and Indian. My father's family's been in the country since the 17th century and my mother's since the 18th. Old Southern aristocratic families. We have military representation in all the nation's wars, and my -- I've got forebears in the baseball Hall of Fame and in Congress and in the Senate and a whole bunch of lawyers. And my grandfather, my mother's father, was a big hero in the 5th Marines in World War I. He was killed at Belleau Wood, and he is the officer who uttered the immortal Marine words, "Retreat? Hell." It's probably been cleaned up a little bit, but that's what it's come down to us as. And my brother got a nice letter from the 5th Marines a couple years ago saying they're going to add that to their patch, to their unit logo, which is kind of fun.

David O'Shea:

Yeah. That's a lot of fun. Where were you born?

John Moore:

I was actually born in South America. My father worked in the oil business down there. His family's all from Virginia, and my mother's all from South Carolina. But my father was working in the oil fields down there and so I grew up in Venezuela, and was sent to prep school in Virginia and then I went to the University of Virginia. When I graduated it was Vietnam was current, and I was I-A for the draft. But my parents by then lived in England, in London. And when you're I-A you can't leave the country, and you can't really get a job either because no one's going to hire you if the military's going to come and take you away. So I was stuck. I couldn't work and I couldn't go home. So I enlisted in order to avoid the draft, and I picked September as the time to go in because I thought maybe the weather would be cooling then and basic training would be a little easier on me weather-wise. And

David O'Shea:

What year is this?

John Moore:

This was '66, I think. Yeah.

David O'Shea:

So your birth date's --

John Moore:

July. It's late July. Late July, 1949? 1943.

David O'Shea:

1943?

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

Do you have the exact date?

John Moore:

July 26th.

David O'Shea:

July 26th. ah.

John Moore:

1943. Cuban Revolution Day.

David O'Shea:

Ah.

John Moore:

That's important, I'm sure.

David O'Shea:

That is. To the Cubans.

John Moore:

To the Cubans, certainly. Yeah. So I spent that summer sailing. I've always been a big ocean sailer, and I spent that summer goofing off, in effect. I went into the military and did very well right away. Being one of the few college graduates who was in as an enlisted man, I actually was probably subject to some acceleration through the ranks. In fact, I was a sergeant E-5 before my PFC pay caught up with me. But I actually found the military something that I was right for, even though I disliked it.

David O'Shea:

How did you what was your basic training?

John Moore:

Basic training was all the straight infantry stuff that we got at Fort Dix. And I'd actually enlisted on the college option plan to become a second lieutenant, and after I got in I realized that second lieutenants weren't lasting very long in Vietnam, and that sergeants all intimidated them, presumably because NCOs are the cadre at OCS school so all these young, shave-tail lieutenants were getting out and they were all scared to death of the sergeants. So I thought this sergeant business sounds good to me. But anyway, I trans -- I gave up the college option when I was in advanced infantry training, AIT, and applied to special forces. And got in. In fact, I was told secretly after taking the battery tests, that it was the highest score they had ever seen at the time. Both the -- the two guys who ran the test facility took me aside privately and glanced over their shoulders to make sure the other one wasn't hearing and said this is the greatest score. And I had actually guessed the last third or fourth of all the answers. They had this very interesting test, which was designed to test your ability to make decisions under pressure. And you get a recording in your ear of a tactical situation, and then you have to rank in descending order of correctness or appropriateness several alternatives given that tactical situation. So many men wounded, you're on a hill or you're in a gully or wherever you are, and what are your options. And the recording gets faster and faster as you go through the test. And by the time I was halfway done with the test the guy was talking so fast I couldn't remember anything. And I realized I'd never finish the test in time if I didn't just start checking things off, and I must have guessed most of them completely correctly. But anyway, I got into special forces and they sent me to jump school in Fort Benning. I also went through I kept being the honor graduate of each of these schools, so I would get my next school, and it was my hope to use up my enlistment getting in different schools. So I went to rangers school. I was one of two NCOs that went through ranger training. Everybody else was a graduate of West Point. I think ranger is now required for infantry officers. I'm not sure. Pathfinder school, jungle expert school. Then I was they announced that I was going to Vietnam so my little plan failed.

David O'Shea:

How long had it been from the time you started to the time they announced your ?

John Moore:

I'd been in special forces, I guess, about a year and a half at that point. Maybe a little less. I've actually forgotten the passage of months. And I was sent to a unit in Vietnam that was doing contract work for the CIA. We were running deep penetration interdiction and reconnaissance missions into North Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos. Very long range stuff. And we were working with Chinese mercenaries called Nungs. Nungs were interesting people. They have -- they treat combat patrols as a way of life. They hire themselves out to the armies of the Pacific. The British and the Americans used them in World War II. But they like to take their kids out with them on patrol to teach them how it's done. And the Americans objected to that. So now their kids are the ones who are helping us in Vietnam, and they weren't as good as their parents were. But they were better than we were, I thought. So I was assigned to this -- after having my orientation to Vietnam interrupted, I was assigned to a unit called FOB-4, Forward Operational Base 4, and we were up in the DaNang area in the north and I Corps. Our base camp was right -- strangely enough, at the foot of a large rock outcropping. It looked very much like one of those dramatic rises of rocks you see on Chinese scrolls. It looked like Chinese landscape.

David O'Shea:

Chinese landscape?

John Moore:

Yeah, Chinese landscape. Exactly. A few scrubby trees trying to hang onto the rock face. You could have rolled a grenade into our camp from the top of this mountain, which they did. The mountain was a network of caves that was supposed to be sacred to the Buddhists. And the Viet Cong would pull local raids and then put on their Buddhist outfits and go up on this mountain, and we were not allowed to chase them down. In order to go in there we had to get permission from Saigon. We had to get permission from Washington. And the mistake of trying to run the war from Washington is the same one I think we're making now in the Middle East, but that's another issue. I'm not one who thinks that politics are a part of fighting wars. But anyway, I was put in charge of a recon team of Chinese mercenaries. Our camp was overrun my first night there. It -- when we -- I remember the day I arrived at the camp thinking that the perimeter looked pretty thin. And we had Chinese and Vietnamese in the watch towers. And some instinct -- I just had this flash that this was not a good thing but I figured well, these people have been here a lot longer than I have. They know what they're doing. The next morning I think we had over 350 dead in the camp. I was one of the few special forces that had survived the night. We lost a couple hundred of our Chinese, our indigenous people. I'd been wounded. I got both shot and full of rocket fragments and wood splinters that night. They sent me off to the hospital that night, and you can imagine the psych -- the psychological impact of being introduced to Vietnam with an event like this. But we needed everybody we could to keep things going in this base camp by the next day. So with my legs all bandaged up -- they came and got me out of the dressing station and brought me back to the camp where we started dragging all these bodies together and trying to clean the place up. You had to watch where you stepped for a couple days after that. And then after maybe another month, I was put in charge of one of the recon teams. The guy who had been in charge of it ahead of me was transferred out. And at that time, if I remember correctly, we only had four or five team leaders who had survived as many as four of these missions that they were sending us on, deep into the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Laos and Cambodia and all these areas we weren't supposed to be in. And when I got well, they started sending me out. And the Chinese are very interesting. They're Buddhists, and they're very suspicious of numerology. They won't go out on an odd-numbered day of the month something that saved my bacon a couple times won't go out with an odd number of people. So if it's raining on an even-numbered day of the month in the area of operation you're to be inserted in, they won't go. So you stand down for another day, another two days. And that did save me a couple times. Once that happened and we got -- you're on standby 24 hours a day. You sleep in your gear. You're ready to go. The helicopters could come and take you in pretty much any time, mainly daylight hours. And the psychological pressure of that is very high. So after you've been on standby like this for enough days, you stand down and another team goes in instead. Because of this Buddhist business about the odd-numbered days of the month and the have it coordinated with the weather, I was saved from going out on a mission in which the entire team was wiped out. Went in after me. So I started

David O'Shea:

Were you in a base camp?

John Moore:

Yeah. Our base camp was at the base of this Marble Mountain place back there. And we would show movies against the side of the mess hall in base camp. And the Viet Cong would sit up on this mountain and take pot shots at us because we had a light there and everybody was gathered under the light. And it really gave me the creeps to hear these rounds go whing, zinging in at night. And I said why don't we go and get the guy? And somebody said, well, first of all, we have to have permission before we can go get him and, secondly, if we do get him, they might replace him with someone who's better.

David O'Shea:

Who's a better aim.

John Moore:

So --

David O'Shea:

I read someplace there was a huge Buddhist statute somewhere around Marble Mountain.

John Moore:

There may have been. I didn't know about it. It might have been destroyed before I got there or it might have been inside the mountain. My last two weeks in Vietnam sometime later, we finally did go into that mountain in force, and it was a hell of a fight. There were -- there were people all inside that mountain. They'd been there all along just watching what we were doing. Here we are one of these top secret CIA contract bases and the bad guys were watching us all the time. And we kept a look out. We kept an outpost on the top of this mountain, but it was kind of hairy getting up there _________ + and coming down. You'd walk up -- sometimes they would put a team up there by helicopter, but basically you'd walk up. You'd drive through a little stonecutters' village and get out. The stonecutters' village was in sympathy with the Viet Cong, and we lost a whole truckload of people there one day. Our Chinese were blown up by a 12-year-old kid who had put a Claymore mine on the side of the truck. And it was pretty gruesome when they brought this truck back. And the little boy had been equipped and trained by an old woman. And this is what the civilian press doesn't pick up. You never know who the bad guys are over there. Anyway

David O'Shea:

We talked about after you talked about the Chinese and numerology, and you had your first encounter, first

John Moore:

First fire fight --

David O'Shea:

First fire fight.

John Moore:

-- was my first night in the camp.

David O'Shea:

First night in the camp. Was the camp in jungle?

John Moore:

No. It was on the beach actually. On the South China Sea. It was wide open. It was all sand. In fact it was kind of hard to run in sand, it was so soft. But we had bunkers. We had perimeter with bunkers on the sea side. And in fact the night we were overrun they came in from the sea side, too. They came floating in on the on the Styrofoam packing from rocket launcher crates and bits of wood and crates. They -- we ended up losing -- it was -- I heard it was the greatest single loss of special forces troops in the whole war. But we chopped them up pretty badly. We called in the air force and they brought in the mini guns. The C47s that had the mini guns mounted on them. Spooky, they called it. And I remember looking up at some point during the fire fighting and just seeing these rivers of tracers. Just working the perimeter. And I think we killed all of them. But they got a bunch of us.

David O'Shea:

Oh, yeah?

John Moore:

I think there were about 120 of them that hit the camp. They did their job, but it was -- they burned up our supply warehouse, and to this day I get a little hate flash when I smell burning plastic. I still get that little trigger.

David O'Shea:

I was going to ask you what -- as you said, that was a hell of an introduction.

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

The first day. And so between the first day and after that, what immediate change was there in your attitude?

John Moore:

Well, I had gone over, like everybody, thinking that the only people who are going to be hurt are other people. It's not going to happen to me. And I got hit by several different things that night, a single bullet and a lot of wood fragments and rocket fragments. The house I was in -- it was kind of a transit barracks. It had a central hallway that went through the whole building, and the guys' rooms were off this central hallway. And they hit us at about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. I still remember the first rounds came in -- and they make this "crump" sound when they hit. You hear the explosion. And someone started screaming outside, "Incoming, incoming." And then I began to hear the AK47s and the AK50s going. They make -- our weapons make a kind of "pow" sound. They make a "chug." Ka-chow, ka-chow, like this. You could hear right away that it was somebody else's stuff. They trained on them at Fort Bragg, but in that academic training atmosphere it's all kind of interesting. When you hear it for real, there's an instinctive terror about that sound. Right above my head -- I still have -- I was still wondering what the hell to do. I was lying in the bunk. A Chi com rifle butt broke out in a scream over my head and threw a satchel charge into my room. And I grabbed a mattress instinctively. I fell on the floor and pulled my mattress off and got behind it. This satchel charge went off and it blew the back open of a ranger captain who was also sleeping in the room. He -- he was terribly, terribly hurt that night and died before morning. We found him the next day, when the whole room had been blown up. I don't know whether it was that charge and I just didn't notice the night sky over us in my efforts to get out and to drag him out. All the skin on his arm came off when I tried to pull him out of the room. And I ran out in the hallway. I didn't have a weapon. I ran out in the hallway and I hear these popping sounds going by my head. Snapping, snapping sound. And somebody who was on his belly shooting out the door at the opposite end of the hallway said, "Get down you dumb fuck. Don't you know they're firing down the hallways?" And, of course, I never heard that. I'd never been shot at before. I didn't recognize that sound. That's the bullet itself as it passes your ear. It's not a zing. That's at a distance. And I hit my -- hit my -- the floor and right then there were already spent cartridges, I mean it just seemed in seconds, allover the floor. Hot cartridges. There were bullets passing through the building because it was a plywood building. Wood splinters and fragmented bullet pieces. And I crawled into a room down at the end of the hallway. And for some reason the room hadn't been slept in. The two beds in there were perfectly made up. And right on the blanket of this bed was a .45 caliber pistol lying there out of its holster and everything, and there were several bandoliers of rifle ammunition on the foot of the bed. And I picked up this pistol and cocked it and a live round carne out, so I knew it was all loaded. And I looked up right out the window that was right over the bed, and there was a little Viet Cong running along about to throw a satchel charge. And I just instinctively led the target, brought up this pistol and fired. I still remember the flash, the muzzle flash, on the inside of the screen. And I hit him. And he was running this way and it looked as though he'd been struck by a train. It just spun him around. It changed his direction 90 degrees. It spun him around, threw him against the neighboring building, and his satchel charge went off at that point and blew that whole side of the building and its roof up in the air. There was a rifle in that room, too. And that's what the bandoliers went to. I tried to put the bandoliers on and I got all tangled up in them. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I was scared to death. I heard this monster breathing. This huh, huh. Terrible thing. And I suddenly realized it was me. And I -- there was -- the guy who had been firing across the threshold of the building was now gone. And I crawled over -- that was the last room at the end of the hallway, so that from the window -- from the door to that room you could see out the door to the building. And there was a pile of dead and wounded Americans just outside this window. The bad guys had gotten into the camp before they started firing mortars into the camp, so we were running out of the buildings when they had all the doorways covered. And the fact that I had panicked and not known what the hell to do saved me from running out of the building. And I was afraid to shoot. I was terrified to shoot because I thought the muzzle flash would give my position away. And I crawled a little further out the door and all of a sudden a Viet Cong came running around the corner of the building with -- with a satchel charge. And the weapon I had was a Swedish K submachine gun. They issued those to us, and that's what the bandoliers were for. And I just instinctively raised this thing up and just fired wildly. I took a few chunks out of the side of the building and hit him. And it just -- it blew him away so fast I had the feeling his image was left against the sky for a minute there. And I crawled over a guy who was dying. His throat had been blown open and his thorax or something was exposed. It looked like that ribbed hose you see at dry cleaners. And I got -- I realized that the building wasn't safe. They were shooting allover the place. They were throwing satchel charges into it. So I put this machine gun, this submachine gun, around my neck and I went outside in the sand and pulled four or five bodies up to make something to hide behind. And for the longest time I was afraid -- I was afraid to fire. But after -- there was a -- we had a tactical operations center, it was called. It was a bunker where we kept all our long-range radio equipment with bristling with antennas. Had wire all around it, a wire fence all around it. The bad guys were in that compound. They'd managed to get in and set it on fire. We found out later they'd killed the guys that were in it and they were shooting out of the Toe at the rest of the camp. And I was content just to cower there behind these bodies as long as I had to. But then an American who was throwing grenades at them managed to blow a hole in the fence near where they had a machine gun position. They jumped on one of our machine gun positions and had turned the guns around. And one of these guys -- one of these bad guys came running out of the fence and started heading right toward me. So I popped up and let fly at him, and he immediately stopped and spun and turned around. And I kept shooting. And I can remember seeing the bullets follow him through the sand and I just stitched him up the back. He fell forward. And from then on I don't know. Something clicked in my mind at that point and I just -- I fired all night long until there was no more resistance from that section. And in the morning it was allover. My -- my legs were bleeding pretty badly. And I got up from behind these bodies and just sat on a bench. There was a bench outside the doorway to this building I'd spent the night in, spent part of the night in. And a guy came out who -- who was -- he had on a tee shirt, unlaced boots, and I think he was in his underwear. And his tee shirt was all full of burn holes and his eyes were absolutely scarlet red. It seemed like all the blood vessels in his eyes had burst. And he was trying to light a cigarette and he kept slobbering it out. He couldn't he couldn't -- he couldn't get it lit. And I took his lighter and lit it for him. And I remember he said, "Last night I couldn't even spit and now I can't fucking stop." And after a little while -- we were both of us in shock, I think. At some point during the night I threw up. And there were all -- the flies started arriving on all these guys that were scattered around us immediately, too, these horrible green flies. And I watched as they dragged a bunch of Americans together and made a pile out of them. And I think there were only 13 guys in this pile but it was -- whenever to this day I read about the number of victims in a plane crash or a fire or something, I remember that little pile of 13 people and how it made me feel. I -- because I grew up out of the country, I didn't have any particular sense of patriotism. I took my citizenship for granted. But something about that pile of feet all aimed in different directions lying there and the sound it made when they threw those bodies onto the pile, I suddenly got a very clear feeling of we and them. And that's something I have to this day. It took the Seabees a couple of weeks to get us back in shape, to come in and rebuild the buildings. Filled thousands and thousands of sandbags to build them up around the side of the hootches, the houses we lived in. And I ended up surviving six missions, the last one being for the Nixon White House to go in to get some information for him. But I'll tell you about two of them. One of them -- when I was tapped to become a CIA contract, they didn't even tell me. I was -- this is you know, we were talking earlier about the way the government operates. I was sent in to -- to keep an eye on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which at that point was, I think, in Cambodia, right across the line. And when I called for an extraction, after being out there with my team -- well, I'll tell you about how they do that. You fly out -- I would divide my team up into two different helicopters according to the weapons we carried. And the helicopters would fly out and they would usually be accompanied by two others, a high one and a low one, so they would use four helicopters, two of which had the team on them. Would go out and would get to the area where they're going to insert you and they all start making false landings so in case somebody's watching from a distance, you don't know when the team gets out. They don't know when the team gets out. So you get out. You run into the jungle. And I would have everybody lie down immediately and just wait until the sound of the helicopter engine stops ringing in your ear and the insects and the birds start making noise again. And then you -- you move very, very cautiously on your belly, crawling, whatever it is. I would move for 15 minutes and wait an hour. Move for two minutes, wait 40 minutes. Move for 30 minutes, wait 10 minutes. Just break up the pattern all the time. You want to move without disturbing any of the vegetation if you can, especially if there's high country around you. You never want to move through bamboo. You can get hung up in bamboo and it clumps and clatters together and it's very tall. And when the top of it is stirring, someone on a hillside can see you. And every now and then they would put trackers on us on these missions. The trackers would -- would signal one another and you by firing a rifle into the ground so you really couldn't tell how far away they were. But they would triangulate you, and you would hear one go off over here. You might hear another one over there. And then one behind you. And if they started closing in, you knew they were steering you someplace. Now, you didn't know whether they were steering you to an ambush or away from something they didn't want you to find out about. So I developed a C pattern of escape. I would always move one direction, then cut back on that direction, and then cut back over toward the direction I came from. And sometimes I would end up behind them by doing that. But it was a risky move. It's always a risky move. The thing that was in our favor was that we were operating where nobody expected us to be. The thing that was going against us is that we were always inserted in areas where we suspected there was some activity. So we made a big, loud noise whenever we arrived with all these helicopters and things. So it was a very, very strange and frightening sort of work. You were way, way distant. We wore clothes that were manufactured out of captured Chinese cloth. We carried no ID, no dog tags, no money. Our weapons were all sterilized. No "Made in Westport Connecticut" written on them anyplace.

David O'Shea:

Did you find food --

John Moore:

And -- no, we didn't really live off the land. We were taught how to do that. But we carried these -- these ready mix meals. What I would do is tear open the bag before I started, put a little canteen water in there and then reseal the bag and put it in my side leg pocket and strap that down and just let the sweat from my leg heat it as we moved. We wore specially tailored clothing so it wouldn't whisper when we walked. They used duct tape -- the equivalent of it, green airborne tape, we called it, to tie everything down so that nothing would rattle. You don't want your rifle sling to rattle. You don't want any noise when you're out on these operations. Painted our faces green and we lived out there for five to seven days at a time, trying to stay on the move. Once -- I never did find out what it was -- on one of the missions I heard a generator out there in the jungle in the middle of some place, and it might have been a prison camp or -- we were alerted to look for those sorts of things. But we began to fight the trackers off. They began to use dogs on us after while. They mixed up a mixture of dried goat's blood to attract the dogs, and CS powder.

David O'Shea:

What's CS powder?

John Moore:

That's tear gas powder. And I would sometimes sprinkle this down -- if they were using dogs, I would put this down on the trial behind us and, sure enough, after several hours you'd hear these dogs just howling in pain. And then you'd hear them shoot the dogs. Buys you a little time. Anything to buy you your life. On this -- this one mission I was sent off to keep an eye on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and when I called for an extraction on the radio, an unfamiliar, unmarked helicopter carne to get us. And we were taken to another country, I'm convinced of it. The vegetation was different, the people were different, everything. And I was debriefed by a bunch of people I'd never seen before. And they wanted to know what kind of trees were growing in the area and were there any of a certain kind of berry growing in these trees. Were there any monkeys in the area and were the monkeys eating the berries? And I thought, you know, I've been out there risking my ass and my team for a bunch of botanists, for Christ's sake. If you people wanted me to look at the trees, why didn't you fucking tell me? So I made up what I thought they wanted to hear. And I was reinserted so that I could be extracted by the conventional methods of rescuing the teams and taken back where I was debriefed by the people I knew. Well, then it turns out I -- my -- I got a new ID card. And my -- a military ID card is generally green. This one was printed in red. And all these people who are CIA contracts carry these red ones. So everybody knows and another thing is you're not allowed to go unarmed at any time. So when you go to the local PX and everybody else has to stack his weapon and you're wearing yours, everybody knows who you're working for. Anyway, it was crazy.

David O'Shea:

That's so crazy.

John Moore:

Anyway, the reason they wanted to know all this stuff about the monkeys and the berries turned out to be very interesting. We had developed a very sensitive microphone that could -- that could receive and transmit over, you know, a couple hundred miles. And they had disguised these microphones to look like a certain kind of berry that grew in clusters from a certain kind of tree. So if the right kind of tree was growing in the area, they could fly over in helicopters and drop these clusters that were hanging in the tree. The trouble is monkeys like to eat these kind of berries and they didn't want the monkeys eating the microphones. So there was a reason for it all, but if they had only told me, I could have been much more helpful.

David O'Shea:

That's the typical way that you were, on a need-to-know basis.

John Moore:

I guess so. It's all part of the secretiveness. A need-to-know basis. They didn't want me captured and talking about these new microphones. I don't know what the bad guys could have done about them except burn the trees, but in any case, that's how I became an unknowing contract.

David O'Shea:

Did you ever -- just in passing there was -- there's a -- I'm not sure whether -- I had a buddy who worked for the CIA and his name is Richard Clack. Dick Clack. He's short. He was Scottish. Very proud of being Scottish. But he was around Marble Mountain and he was sent on missions.

John Moore:

I don't remember that name, but Marble Mountain is where we were. Was he in special forces?

David O'Shea:

Uh-huh.

John Moore:

There was a rather poor Marine unit outfit called 3rd AmTracs that was also on the other side of the mountain. Even marines I know who knew about them said they weren't a very good unit.

David O'Shea:

Okay. When I was looking at Marble Mountain I saw some unit that had called themselves Scar Face.

John Moore:

No.

David O'Shea:

And because they used to be called oak -- you know, they're -- when they would call in, they had the password oak -- oak -- oak leaf.

John Moore:

Oak leaf?

David O'Shea:

And but when they would call in oak leaf, they said if they got a grunt on the radio, they thought they were saying okay. Oak leaf, oak leaf. And they'd say yeah, everything's okay.

John Moore:

Yeah. Oh, God. Yeah.

David O'Shea:

So finally they changed their name. But, anyway, my brother was a friend of Mr. Clack, just passed away last year. I was asking my brother, who's a doctor and he was in Vietnam a little bit. He was stationed in Hawaii. He and his wife would go to Thailand and Vietnam. He asked me to ask about Dick Clack and also about -- he said there was a term, "snake eaters."

John Moore:

Yeah. That was a general term for us. You know, for the sneaky Petes that were out.

David O'Shea:

The sneaky Petes?

John Moore:

The snake eaters, yeah. Yeah. And where we were, at FOB-4, all our recon teams were named after snakes. And they had FOB-I, 2, 3 and 4. And the others were south of us. And they were named -- I think one was named for states. I don't remember

David O'Shea:

And your group was named for snakes?

John Moore:

Ours was named for snakes. I was the 1-0. That was our radio code for the team leader, of team anaconda. So the snakes were alfa, bravo, charley, delta. They were alphabetical. Anyway, there was another mission I went on where we were moving through the jungle and I began to notice the smell of burned vegetation and dead people. And I could see ahead of us through the trees there was more light than there should have been for the density of the jungle we were moving through. And there was a clearing up there of some kind. They moved into the edge of this clearing, and it looked as though a large unit of the bad guys had been subject to an air strike. A lot of body parts. The constant maddening whine of flies and a lot of burned vegetation around. And these places are taboo to Buddhists. And I thought this might be a good place for us to spend the night. It was -- it had rained heavily after whatever this action had been and the explosion craters were full of water and a lot of body parts around. And it was early for us to stop for the night, but I -- I didn't think we'd find a place that might be any safer than this. They deployed ourselves around this area after doing a little recon, and over at one edge of this -- this place there was a ruined a burned tree with an explosion crater at the base of it. And sitting more or less upright in this crater was a little Vietnamese machine gunner. And the top of his head had been blown off and his brain cavity was full of rainwater. And this Chinese guy that was my point man and I kind of crawled up opposite sides of the -- the blast pattern, the spillout from this -- this explosion crater, they were kind of keeping our eyes and ears open for any movement in the jungle around us. And we were passing the time entertaining ourselves by trying to flip pebbles into this guy's head just to hear the sound, you know, kind of like Tiddly Winks. And I remember suddenly realizing what we were doing, thinking to myself, "How did I get here?" I was taught to stand up when a lady comes into the room. I was taught to chew with my mouth closed and to say yes, ma'am and no, sir. And how did I cross over into this realm where death is a constant companion? This -- what I was doing was something I couldn't even have imagined before I went over there, let alone to become a part of it. And I -- I remember also thinking, "What part of my mind has detached itself enough from this that I can make this judgment? That I can objectify this -- this thing that I'm doing?" It was so odd. I mean that moment lives with me to this day. I don't know how I got -- I mean I can go back over the events, the directives to go out on these missions, the number of missions, the things we did and the things we saw, but I can't get back to that -- that quintessential psychological moment where I stepped over to the other side without going mad, without going crazy. And it's not it's not that sort of memory that gives me nightmares to this day. That seems to be something I intellectualized, put to rest, recognize it as a part of the experience of being of being stuck in this modern jungle war. It's just odd. Very odd.

David O'Shea:

And with no no desire to pry, what sort of -- if that doesn't give you nightmares, what sort of things do come back to haunt you?

John Moore:

I get some related to that first fire fight. I was just completely psychologically unprepared for the events of that night. And another time I was sent out on a mission to look for a suspected prison camp where they might have been holding Americans. And this was right in the buildup before the Tet offensive. And unbeknownst to any of us, my team was inserted right in the pathway of a big North Vietnamese battalion that was moving southeast. And again, we were moving through the jungle. We came across rising ground, which opened up into a large grassy plateau. It was kind of shaped like a hand with all these peninsulas going out over the lower jungle. And the grass was about -- I guess about as tall as these chairs, two and a half feet or so. And so we set up a perimeter for the night. And toward dark we began hearing -- feeling the tramp of feet, began hearing equipment clanking and people talking, and all of a sudden this entire battalion moved in and set up all around us. We were trapped in the middle of this thing. I was -- we were all just shit scared. I didn't know what the hell to do. We were lying in the grass and they didn't see us and thank God nobody walked across their perimeter to visit anybody on the other side. They would have come right across us. And so I got the radio out when they were busy talking and settling and digging in and all these things they do to set up for the night. I used whatever noise they were making as a cover to get the radio telephone out. And I turned the squelch way down so there would be no sound when you pushed the button, none of that radio sound, put the thing in my mouth and broadcast in the clear with a whisper way down in my throat. "Get us the hell out of here." I told them where we were. Thank God for the shape of the peninsula, because of the plain so that the jets could find us. I didn't know the message had gotten through. You know, you can't tell when you got the squelch turned down like that and the volume turned way down from your end. You don't know. And I didn't want anyone around us to hear them call me back to acknowledge. I had everything turned way down and I just -- I called and no code words. I told them where we were as best as I could tell from my map and please get us out of here. And shortly after first light in the morning these jets, the fast movers came in, right on the place, probably guided not only by the shape of the ground but by their fires, their cooking fires, and started dropping napalm right on top of us. They got up, started shooting in every direction taking advantage of the confusion. We all got hit. We all got burned. We all got fragments. I grabbed a Chinese colonel, he turned out to be, one of their advisors who was sitting near the perimeter. Eyes like fried eggs. Just like we were. Grabbed this guy, he was considerably smaller than I was. We dragged him with us as we ran like hell to get out of there. And they tracked us for a little while, but not much. There was -- all hell was breaking loose. The jungle was on fire. The people flying through the air. We got away, mostly unnoticed, but with this colonel. And we dragged him with us for the next day or so. I had to stab him in the leg to hurt him so that he would be a little more docile. We gagged him and dragged him. But we realized we couldn't keep him like this, so I had to -- I had to kill him with a knife. And when I put the blade in, it hit the rib. And it sent a vibration to the bones in my hand that I am still haunted by. You know, in Southern families, the man of the house is supposed to carve at Christmas and Thanksgiving. My father was a beautiful carver. His father was a beautiful carver. My brother can carve a ham you can read through. And he has several times over the years when I'm home for Christmas with his family offered to have me carve. And I just -- I live with a little bit of fear that I might have a bad reaction if the knife hits a bone. But we got some maps and stuff off this guy that I had -- I finally had to stick him through the throat, they left him there. And I remember we were another two or three days out in the jungle, trying to get to a place where they could extract us. And we were eating our food with our hands. They got back, I don't know how many days later, to base camp. And I went through the debriefing. And I was in the shower afterwards and I realized I had all this blood under my fingernails. It was this guy's blood. All of a sudden I just threw up in the shower. And I realized then that I was okay, that I hadn't lost my mind. But that event comes back to me at night sometimes. And it's usually at a time when I have some other kind of anxiety, whether I should get a new agent, you know. An important job I'm going to audition for. Very often I'll -- I'll -- I think there's something about being anxious that triggers suppressed ones. And apropos of nothing it seems, I'll have a bad dream the night before.

David O'Shea:

I had a friend who has now passed away, but he was in _________ + when he was in Vietnam. He carne back and he ended up becoming bipolar in another way. But whenever he had the episode, his memories were triggered.

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

And that would feed it. It wasn't as though -- you know, it wasn't as though the war caused it, but it sure put the fuel for it ahead of anything else.

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

What -- when did you finally leave? I remember you said you were wounded so many times.

John Moore:

When I was wounded a third time, I got to come back in February of '69. I'd only been in the country about ten and a half months, so I didn't do a full tour. And I came home to England.

David O'Shea:

To England?

John Moore:

Yes, where my home of record was. My father was head of the Iraq Petroleum Company in London. And I still had this -- I still have a bullet fragment in my right hip. And I came back and was just luxuriating about being in England. I still remember the lovely sound of the of the wet tires on the cobblestones at Knightsbridge in the middle of the city in the morning. Nobody wanted to hear about Vietnam, so I didn't have to talk about it. I wasn't asked questions about it. And I was still walking with a cane, so I was spending lot of time in my bed or on the sofa in the living room enjoying being there. And one day my mother, who was worried that I was feeling sorry for myself, came and brought me an article from the London Times advertising for diggers and categorists at an archeological dig up in the northern-most of the two Hddrian's walls in Scotland. She said why don't you try to get yourself a job on these things? And I've always been interested in archeology, so I thought well, that will be fun. So I went down and interviewed and, you know, they wanted any kind of grunt help they could get, so they accepted me. And I got on the Grand Scot train, went up to Scotland and got on this dig. And it was -- it was interesting but not interesting enough. I had seen Roman floor plans before and that's really all we were finding. So after about a month of working on this dig I left, only to find out in the American Association for the Advancement of Science magazine about a year later they made a fabulous discovery right after I left. But anyway, I started walking. One of the women on the dig there drew a map for me. I said I want to walk around, go back -- foothills of Mount Sterling and I want to go down through this particular area where I knew from history the Romans had been stopped by the Picts and the Jutes in ancient times. And they had gone off and left all the bodies out there. And I wanted to get to a place where I could get a ferry across one of the firths to a place that had a train station so I could go back to London. But she didn't draw the map to scale. So I started off late one morning hiking on this road, and I walked through violent rainstorms for an entire night and through the next day carrying this suitcase with a squeaky handle, dragging my wounded leg. And finally at the end of the second day I've written a book about this, by the way. By the end of my second day I really didn't think I could take another step. And I found an old Roman milestone that was just high enough to sit on. It had "14" written on it in Roman numerals. 14 leagues, most likely. But I didn't know if it was 14 leagues to something or from something. I had not seen a village or a town. I didn't know how much farther I had to go. But the sky was grumbling in the background, and I knew another storm was coming. And I figured walking all night with a bad leg one night might have been an adventure but two nights might be suicide, so I said I just got to keep moving. And I got up, picked up my suitcase and walked about 20 more paces and came across the entrance to a monastery. So with all the doubts anybody that's read Chaucer has about what goes on in monasteries, I went up to try to take shelter from this storm. And it turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I ended up staying in this monastery for about five months and it was really interesting. A lot of these monks had Royal Navy tattoos. They all had a past. And no one asked anybody about their past. But in fairly short order they evidently knew that there was something military in my background because they began asking me questions. But they had a wonderful library with ancient, toast-colored pages and a lot of secular material. A very early edition of Spenser's "Faerie Queene." And they let me have their library. I could do anything I wanted. They didn't insist that I go to services or anything, though I did go the first night. They made their own food. They introduced me to single malt Scotch whiskey. It was just a really interesting place and I got very comfortable there. And then one day the -- I fell and reopened my wound, and so I decided I'd get an audience with the abbot to get some easy work, you know. And I made a -- I made an appointment with him. He turned out to be one of the most interesting men I've ever met. Blind in one eye but through that other one he saw everything. And he essentially threw me out. Very politely. But he knew I didn't belong in that life. And the day I left, I tried to sneak out really early in the morning so that no one would know I was going, and I pushed open the front door to the place and there were all my friends. It makes -- it chokes me up a little bit to think about it now. They pressed prayers and sandwiches and things into my hand and one of them gave me a cane I have to this day that he had carved with a nasty little gremlin for a handle. And he was a pretty tormented soul himself. But that was -- gosh, what a wonderful experience. And then I continued my hike to the next town, which was only another couple hours away. And I went to dinner at a pub that had a restaurant attached that night. And while I was there, I overheard a bunch of out-of-work, North Sea oil workers at a neighboring table complaining about not working and talking about the fact that a company called Consolidated Mines in Timmins, Ontario, was hiring rock drill operators and paying them $60,000 for a season, which is about 90 days. $60,000 in 1969 was more than $60,000 is now. And I ended up going there. And I got -- I got hired and I worked for four months or so in -- underground at 2,000 foot level down --

David O'Shea:

Holy cow.

John Moore:

Until I damn near got blown up one day, and I figured I had enough of that, and I quit. And to this day having quit still bothers me a little bit, you know. Yeah. But it was something I needed at the time, I guess.

David O'Shea:

Do you ever keep in contact with anyone you knew from the military?

John Moore:

You know, I don't. Oh, well, one. One guy called me actually just last year. He was a good friend of mine when I was at Fort Bragg. I didn't know him in Vietnam. And he had lent me his watch as an amulet, as a good luck token while I was there. And I kept that watch until just a couple years ago and I think I gave it away or something and -- when I was going through a bunch of myoId military stuff and purging it. I hope I still got it because I always wanted to give it back to him, but I didn't know how to get hold of him. And he is now president of a bank down in Florida some place and he called me. He'd seen me on television or something. And I really want to see him again. I've got an anxiety to see him now. But most of those guys -- a couple of them came by our house in England after they came back from Vietnam and I was terrible to them. I didn't want to see them. There was just something -- something about it that -- it was a part of my life I was trying very hard to escape. And they were good guys, too. I feel awful about not having done more for them when they were there, but I just couldn't bear to have them around.

David O'Shea:

One of the first people I talked to, a man named Pete Preston, he came out of World War II. People would write him and say Pete, let's meet. And he said no, I put that all behind me.

John Moore:

Yeah. Yeah.

David O'Shea:

And then five years ago he realized how much they meant to him.

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

How close he was.

John Moore:

Some of them are probably gone now. You know ... anyway.

David O'Shea:

Do you remember your service number?

John Moore:

RA 15765888.

David O'Shea:

And why did you pick the branch of service you picked?

John Moore:

I didn't like the military. And I figured if you're going to be in, you might as well be with the best trained people you can possibly find, and that was the special forces at the time. I -- and I figured also it would be a way to learn how to jump out of airlines and rappel and do all this great stuff at government expense.

David O'Shea:

Sure. Sure. You joined -- was it September of

John Moore:

I -- I joined I went in in September of '66, I think. Might have been '65. I've forgotten. It was the year I graduated from college, and I don't remember what that was. Five or six. But I was at -- my parents had lived in Germany for four years and I'd been there, and special forces had a unit in Germany, so I figured I might go there. And I speak, read and write Spanish, so I figured well, maybe I'll go to Panama. So they sent me to the one place I was least qualified to go.

David O'Shea:

Where?

John Moore:

Vietnam.

David O'Shea:

The military. The military.

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

Does your wound in your leg -- does anything still bother you?

John Moore:

Well, yeah. It's -- it's caused some arthritis in that joint now. I -- I contend with that. But I was on the US Bobsled team for 14 years. So I really can't complain about my wound, you know.

David O'Shea:

When did you become an actor?

John Moore:

In the early '70s. I had a little management consulting firm with another guy in the early '70s, in Greenwich, Connecticut, and I always wanted to be an actor. I just was too well educated, you know.

David O'Shea:

Yes.

John Moore:

So I met a guy once whose girlfriend knew an agent in New York, and I got through her an appointment to come and interview an agent. And I thought I was going into town to just find out how one gets in the business. The agent thought I was looking for representation. So I had an interview with this agent and she gave me some material to read. And when I finished reading she looked at me for a long time. She said well, John, you're going to make a lot of money in this business and I want some of it. Let's get started. And, in fact, it took off very quickly. I auditioned fruitlessly for six or seven months, and then all of sudden I had an audition -- I had auditions in one day for seven commercials. And I booked them all. And five of them became networks, and within a month after that I had a contract on a soap opera. And it's just gone since then. It's been fun. I got kind of spoiled.

David O'Shea:

That is nice. That is nice.

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

Let's see. Of the biographical data, your place of birth was, again?

John Moore:

Venezuela.

David O'Shea:

Venezuela. And--

John Moore:

Because my father was working overseas.

David O'Shea:

So when they say -- so the special forces, FOB-4?

John Moore:

FOB-4. Fifth group, fifth special forces group.

David O'Shea:

Fifth special forces group. What was your rank when you left?

John Moore:

I was staff sergeant, E6, with orders for E7. But I didn't I didn't put the stripes on. I just went home. But I was told I may be the youngest sergeant first class in the whole army. But I was pretty old. I don't know that that's true, because I was 25. And the average age over there, I think, was 18.

David O'Shea:

So when you went back and came back to London, did you feel any of the -- some of the veterans who came back to San Francisco had the experience that they were abused

John Moore:

Been abused, yeah.

David O'Shea:

Did you manage to escape that?

John Moore:

Yeah. We were brought back to Fort Lewis, Washington. I guess we landed in what would be the big airport there. I've forgotten now.

David O'Shea:

Dulles?

John Moore:

No. No. No.

David O'Shea:

Dulles is in Virginia.

John Moore:

No. This is Fort Lewis, Washington, on the west coast.

David O'Shea:

Oh, okay. Sure.

John Moore:

We were flown back to a commercial -- to a commercial airport. I'm simply drawing a blank on what that was. I remember so clearly there were puddles on the tarmac when you got off the plane. There was a whole line of guys behind a fence waiting to get on this plane to go to Vietnam. And I started over to them to just give them something encouraging. I was so glad not to be one of them. Just -- I was going to tell them keep your head down, keep your eyes and ears open, and you'll be okay, fellows. And there were some MPs there that wouldn't let me speak to them. And there were -- I was one of four special forces guys on the flight back. And we were the only four people that were just waved through customs. Kind of as a courtesy, I guess. I still remember that. I could have brought back a duffel bag full of hand grenades.

David O'Shea:

So when I talk to -- when I talk to the World War II veterans, they talk about how long it took them to go back, and then sometimes they felt that helped them readjust because you had time in the boat on the way back.

John Moore:

Oh, yeah, I see what you mean. I was in one of first planeloads of people who were allowed to come back John R. Moore USMC June 23, 20e in our combat clothes, our field clothes. My class A uniform, traveling uniform, had been all burned up along with all my decorations and everything months before. And so I came back in the clothes I had on in my last mission, my last operation. And there's -- you know, actors will tell you that when you dress for the part, when you put the wardrobe on, you go through this kind of psychological bump when you change into this other person. That's a great that's a very real feeling. And getting on that plane and all the stuff I had had on in the field, instead of changing into travel clothes and accepting that this is another move, I was still very attached to where I had come from. And and it was -- it was difficult to recognize that I was home. That I was going to be home. The -- when the plane and I remember the airline hostess kept singling me out on that flight to try to talk to me, and I was so frustrated I couldn't think of anything to talk to her about. She kept coming back. I don't know why. Maybe she saw me as a lost puppy or something, but I just couldn't make conversation with her. And when the plane descended over Alaska -- it was in February. And suddenly we broke through the clouds and on both sides of the plane were these enormous pine trees and deep snow drifts. It was like a Christmas card. And the sound that erupted from the guys in the plane was really quite remarkable. It was a combination of crying and laughing and applauding, cheering. Just odd kind of animalistic vocalism that erupted out of all of these guys with their different emotional reactions to that scene. And we landed and I got out on the tarmac and I just for a moment got down on my hands and knees and just felt the asphalt, you know. There were all these shallow puddles reflecting the sky allover the ramp as you walked into the building. Yeah.

David O'Shea:

I wanted to ask you something. They talked about the monsoons. What were those --

John Moore:

Oh, boy.

David O'Shea:

What were those like?

John Moore:

Those are rainstorms that people in North America can't even imagine. The rain comes down so hard it can cave in roofs and it moves past the windows like a solid object. I've often thought about those monsoons. You can stick your hand out and lose sight of your -- the end of your arm.

David O'Shea:

Really?

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

Son of a gun.

John Moore:

And yet you can still breathe. You can see your hand fine at the bottom of a swimming pool, but you can't breathe down there so it must -- you know, it's the aeration of the falling water that makes it --

David O'Shea:

Sure.

John Moore:

You can't see through it. But it does give you something to think about. Yeah. And I always welcomed the monsoons because no one can go out on operations in that kind of weather. Every day it rains like that is another day you're likely to live. The bad guys can't operate in it either.

David O'Shea:

So in your time in Vietnam -- so you left in 1969. You arrived -- you were there ten months.

John Moore:

Ten and a half months. I came back and immediately my sister was going to college out here in California. I went by to visit her. And it was around Valentine's Day. I remember we went to a restaurant she knew of and there were all these red and white, pink balloons hanging around. And at one point during the dinner somebody popped one of those balloons and the next thing I knew I was on the floor under the table. Kind of embarrassed.

David O'Shea:

Sure.

John Moore:

Got up, sat back down again. I was real shook. And she drove. And she drove at 50 miles an hour, I remember, and I was scared of the speed.

David O'Shea:

Really?

John Moore:

I hadn't -- hadn't -- you know, I'd been in helicopters and stuff but, you know, you're way off the ground.

David O'Shea:

Sure.

John Moore:

And driving along the road at 50 was something I hadn't experienced in almost a year. It was kind of And then I flew to North Carolina to try to visit my brother, and he didn't get the message I was coming through, so I didn't get to see him. I went on to Charlottesville, Virginia, where I spent a day with my grandmother and got my portrait taken in uniform. I had all replacement decorations and things by then. And then I went to Manhattan. I went to New York to await military space available flight to London so I could go home. So I had two days in New York to kill, and I didn't really know what to do. I thought I would test myself against crowds to go out and walk. And people would -- people opened up a path for me in the crowd. I had the beret and the uniform on and everything, and they would snatch their children out of my path. And I don't know whether it's because they thought I was going to eat one of these children or whether it was respect. I don't really know. At one point I was walking up a side street and I -- I heard a guy running up behind me. And I turned around and he said -- and he said, "Excuse me, Sergeant. I just want to thank you for what you guys are doing over there." And he wrang my hand and ran back to a double-parked jalopy of a station wagon with a big line of cars behind him, everybody leaning on his horn, you know. Everybody in New York thinks that blowing your horn is going to achieve something. And this guy had held up all the traffic on that street just to come over and shake my hand. I still remember that.

David O'Shea:

That's nice.

John Moore:

Yeah. Unexpected, too.

David O'Shea:

Oh, sure. Oh, sure. Yeah.

John Moore:

That's an odd period in my life.

David O'Shea:

You know, you what -- what did you think of your commanding officers? I mean that was a whole different situation.

John Moore:

The colonel in charge of the unit I was in, FOB-4, was crazy. I was not alone in that opinion. I don't know what it was. Most people who have a career in the military don't spend long in the special forces. You know, you don't get promoted to general if you spend too much time operating off the book. And he was a full colonel. He might have been nearing the end of his career. But I remember -- I remember once one of the teams that had gotten terribly chopped up was brought back. All the Americans were dead. Just a couple of the Chinese had survived. And they brought the helicopters in and we were all told to go out to the helipad to form up to show respect these guys. And they pulled these bodies off and had them all laid out. And the colonel went around slapping the bodies and grabbing them and weeping and telling them that they'd done a wonderful job. And it was just -- oh, it was very disconcerting. And then he gave a little speech to the rest of us telling us that they had made the supreme sacrifice like many of us were going to that year. And I never heard of this guy after that. He I don't remember whether he was transferred out before I was or not. I think I left before he. Something tells me another guy came in right toward the end there, but I don't remember. I was convinced he'd gone around the bend. He followed the black light arrow right around the bend before I was gone.

David O'Shea:

Did you get any special medals or any commendations?

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

What did you get?

John Moore:

I had the Distinguished Service Cross, two silver stars, five bronze stars and three purple hearts and several other service and -- and unit commendations.

David O'Shea:

_________ + Let me get another CD out. + an ingenuous question: How did the war change you? That's -- you've basically told much about that, but anything -- why is it important to remember what happened?

John Moore:

I think in my case the war taught me a lot about being a person. It teaches you a lot about the difference between being a person and a chair. I learned a lot about the fact that our government is just as dirty as everybody else's, as indeed it probably has to be. I learned a lot about humanity. You spend an awful lot of time suppressing your emotions, but very much in touch with them internally the whole time. I did not believe in the war. I didn't think we were supposed to be there. I think my suspicions have been vindicated in the years since when it's become increasingly evident that we created the whole thing. We caused the Gulf of Tonkin incident which we then used as an excuse to go in and throwaway 52,000 guys. I think it made me more sophisticated as a citizen in that respect. And I think all wars have to be remembered. I can -- I can feel us moving into, I guess, what the hippies used to call the Age of Aquarius. I can feel us moving into an age of enlightenment in which increasing numbers of people object to any kind of warfare, even after we have been attacked. And a part of me is in sympathy with them. I don't think anybody disapproves of warfare more than a combat veteran. And a part of me is outraged that we have such administrative bungling that we can't dispatch a military force to some country for whatever the reason and not leave it up to the field commanders to fight the war. That -- that gets my undies in a bunch. (END OF CD ONE; BEGIN CD TWO) MR. MOORE: Where are the Roosevelts and Churchills and people who saved our butts in World War II? Does that kind of leadership only come out when things are really demanded of them and the rest of the time they spend their lives in industry or as unnoticed generals? Or has something changed in the national spirit and those kind of people just aren't interested in politics? I think politics has a very bad reputation these days. I really got to the point where I don't trust anything the government says. MR. MEYER: Yeah. MR. MOORE: Nothing.

David O'Shea:

No? I just -- speaking of, would you recommend military service to young people?

John Moore:

Yeah, I do. I think it's very important that you get forced into something you don't want to do for a certain amount of time. It teaches you to wait in line and it teaches and it gets the spoil your parents and grandparents instilled in you out. I feel like a much more useful person because I've learned to put up with certain things that irritate me. We can't go through life bitching about everything and the military's one of the -- one of those institutions that teaches you it doesn't do you any good, so you might as well just stand in line until your turn comes.

David O'Shea:

Yes. Grin and bear it.

John Moore:

Yes.

David O'Shea:

Let's see. Is there anything else, you know, that you'd like to talk about right now?

John Moore:

No. I -- I -- I'm writing a book about my Vietnam experiences now and it's -- it's very interesting to go back and read the stuff I wrote a year ago. I now understand why they say you should write the woman who dumps you even if you never send the letter because there's something about exteriorizing those thoughts that helps to erase the tapes for you.

David O'Shea:

ah.

John Moore:

It purges your system of it. And I go back now and read things that I wrote with great emotional difficulty a year or so ago, and it's like getting the information for John R. Moore USMC June 23/ 20C the first time. So whether anything ever comes of this book, I'm going ahead through with it. It's very difficult to write it. I sit up late at night to try to relive some of those moments well enough to come up with the language to describe it for people that weren't there. And there's a therapy in that, I think.

David O'Shea:

Well, this I think will be good because your -- your descriptions are -- are vivid, articulate and also sometimes I think -- you know, sometimes I ask people what are the sounds of the jungle like? You mentioned --

John Moore:

Yeah. Well, it's very interesting. The jungle is a habitat. It's a living place. When it's raining, there's a lot of blubbering sounds as the raindrops fall heavily on these big jungle leaves. And when it's dry, you you're very aware of the cries of strange birds and insects and there are some very odd sounds that come from some of the lizards. And you have to learn to interpret some of these sounds when you're out there. Sometimes an explosion of sound from them is a warning that you are around. Other times they go dead silent when you're around. And you -- I never did get to where I could confidently interpret that stuff. But if you're sleeping on the jungle floor and it's dead quiet and all of a sudden there's this explosion of sound around you, that I never did like. That's -- something upset everything that's around there at that time. And we'd go instantly on alert. When you're in the field over there, you never really sleep through the night anyhow. I used to have everybody sleep on his back holding hands. Because when you're on your back, when you open your eyes you see more than at any other position. And if you suspect anything, smell anything, hear anything all you got to do is just squeeze and you start alerting everybody else in the circle.

David O'Shea:

How many people you were talking -- how many men often would go out and do penetration?

John Moore:

I seldom went out with more than six. I had -- I had ten assigned to me plus one other American. I was the one zero, the team leader, and the two zero was the second in command guy. But I usually went out, either the two of us, with four of the little guys, the Chinese, or me alone with another five. And we carried these little plastic M-l foot mines, and we'd put those out all around the perimeter and I'd run strings from them back into the remain-overnight site where our little circle was, where if we ever had to get out in a hurry, you can pull all these strings and pull the mines out of the ground and run with them. But they were very interesting little things. They're about this big, they're plastic and they were designed to blow off a foot. And when we got to the Ho Chi Minh trail, we would sometimes bury them in the earthen floors of the bunkers on each side of the trail so that when they ran into these bunkers to get away from air strikes, we would still be leaving a message. Get them to where they can't trust anything. They certainly had me like that. I couldn't trust anything.

David O'Shea:

Oh.

John Moore:

It was very scary work. I hated every minute of it.

David O'Shea:

Yeah. The food you talked about.

John Moore:

Yeah. I think they call them MRIs now. You can buy them in any -- any camping outfit store.

David O'Shea:

Oh, those? Yes.

John Moore:

Yeah. You just add water and mix it up.

David O'Shea:

Just add water and mix it up. And smells from the food -- from the jungle. Smells from the area?

John Moore:

Yeah. There's -- there's an odd rotting smell, the vegetation on the floor of the jungle is that -- and there's this constant tension between death and rebirth that you get in a jungle like that. Everything in states of decomposition and new growth is in these jungles. You adjust to the smell of it, when rain is coming and when rain has passed and when it's dry. And the humidity is -- is just awful. It's something I never experienced before to that degree. And that's --

David O'Shea:

+

John Moore:

Yeah. It's just -- when I first arrived in Vietnam we arrived late at night. Air conditioned airplane, big airliner. They opened the doors to the plane when it stopped and this -- this wave of humidity rolled down the cabin and by the time I got to the door I was -- I was soaking. And I'm not a profuse sweater. Never have been. But I can remember perspiration literally dribbling out of my shirt, out of my jacket sleeves. It's really quite amazing that people live there.

David O'Shea:

Have you ever wanted to go back?

John Moore:

Never. Never. These guys who say they have to go back to get closure, screw that. I got closure. I got closure the minute I stepped on that airplane. I have no interest -- and they the Vietnamese cook with a very pungent fish oil called nuoc nam, and to this day I will across the street to avoid smelling a Vietnamese restaurant. Yeah. When you're out in the jungle these guys eat that stuff like the French are rumored to eat garlic. And it comes out of your skin just like garlic does, so you can smell when you're near the enemy. You can smell them. And when we went out, we never wore cologne or hair tonic or any of that stuff that some of the straight-leg infantry outfits are known to have worn. We never used deodorant. Anything that doesn't smell like it belongs in a jungle is going to give you away. We never smoked when we were out there. We used hand signals. And when it was safe, we would use a kind of pidgin English that had evolved between the Chinese and ourselves.

David O'Shea:

And do you remember some words in pidgin English?

John Moore:

Oh, geez. Not now. Lookee, see, hear, listen. You know. And a lot of -- a lot of signals for distances. How many you see. And you never you never want a metallic sound to come from you either. So -- in order to charge an M-16 you pull this -- this lever back.

David O'Shea:

Sure.

John Moore:

So I would always leave a round in the chamber when I was out in the field because of the temperature changes and the moisture changes during the night I never wanted to run the risk that that first round would jam. So in the morning one of the first things I would do is break the seal around that cartridge. And that was a very long, kind of tedious process to to squeeze the trigger on that "T" handle and slowly ease it back to break the seal around that first cartridge and reseat it. You never want to hear -- you don't want the buckles on your rifle sling to make a noise. All that is taped down. You get to where you live an utterly silent life.

David O'Shea:

What did you do -- when you had a chance for relaxation, what would you do for relaxation?

John Moore:

Well, we couldn't -- I could never trust the camp we were in because we'd been overrun that first night, so I really never relaxed. I would go down go into the clubhouse now and then, but I never liked being in there because they had a juke box in there and as long as I was listening -- I could hear that juke box, I couldn't hear what was going on outside. I would sometimes go out at night and sit on the perimeter. And then I went on Rand R twice to Hong Kong. That was nice.

David O'Shea:

You said -- you mentioned in passing that this was near the end of the time that you went into Marble Mountain.

John Moore:

Yeah, at the very end. We actually -- by then I was recovering from my last wound, and I wasn't on that operation, but I was on the radio in camp while the guys were attacking Marble Mountain. And it was just one helicopter raid up there after another. We were pouring everything into those cave entrances. And one of the things that haunts me is the sound of one of our guys who got trapped on a ledge up there and he was in view of the bad guys. But 60 and they were continually wounding him all night long. He didn't die until late at night. But every time they would fire we'd hear him cry again. It was just -- I sometimes read about World War I and no man's land, how the men must have been out there screaming for hours and hours at night after one of those pig-headed charges. And there's nothing you can do. You can't go out and drag them in. People who tried to do that get killed themselves.

David O'Shea:

I'll send you, if you want -- my brother had sent me something from -- I think it's Fredricksburg and one of those things where they had _________ 's charge +

John Moore:

Oh, the southern boys were behind the stone wall.

David O'Shea:

Yes.

John Moore:

And the northern boys were just -- they got to the point where they were crawling over the piles of their dead companions to get those large charges in, and they put their names on bits of paper on their packs. They didn't wear identity disks or dog tags in those days, and these guys were so sure they were going to die that they'd put their names on their packs so that they could -- their parents could be told. I've been there actually. I've stood behind that wall. It's -- talk about a pig-headed charge.

David O'Shea:

And this one -- one description, he talks about the northern lights. Seeing the northern lights that night. And that was -- it seems very, very far south to see it.

John Moore:

Yeah. Very.

David O'Shea:

But where it is I forgot who it was. One of the wars, probably one of the ones -- anyway --

John Moore:

That's Fredericksburg.

David O'Shea:

What did your parents -- well, you came from a + military family. What happens --

John Moore:

Well, not really a military family. It's just the the recurrence of sons

David O'Shea:

Ah.

John Moore:

-- through the generations always coincided with one of America's wars, you know. We -- I don't think -- I've only got one relative I know of -- my mother's father was a career marine, but he was killed early on in World War II. I have a cousin who went through a full 20-year army career. But basically we're not a military family. We've been lawyers and industrialists, ship owners, business people. But we've been stuck with each war.

David O'Shea:

You have been.

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

Is there -- let's see. Words of wisdom sometimes. Let's see. This is a general question about how do you feel about the way you've lived your life so far and what's important to you now?

John Moore:

Wow, that's a really good one. I don't think an ambitious person or a person who's interested in a lot of different things is ever really satisfied. I really enjoyed my acting and writing career. I've been one of the lucky ones. I've always made a good living at it. But I've been -- thanks to perhaps a certain perspective on life that was opened up by my experiences in Vietnam and my delight in being alive, I have probably had more adventures and welcomed a chance to go to different places and try different things than I would have had I not had that -- the scare thrown in me in 1968 and '69. I got on the US Bobsled team and I competed in three Olympics and 12 or 13 world championships, and then I competed in three America's Cup races. And I've been skiing in Europe. And I just -- I really made a point of trying things, and when I found that I had some acceptable degree of aptitude for it, I pursued it. You know. And I don't know that I would have had the guts to try these things if I had not come back from Vietnam kind of feeling reborn.

David O'Shea:

One -- I thought of something. You know, my talking to World War II veterans will sometimes talk about running across the Germans and feeling -- feeling like, oh -- I mean in the European conflict, not so much in Japan. Thinking oh, they were just like us.

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

They were just corning in. And yet people dealing with the Japanese would talk about the difference in culture and --

John Moore:

Yeah.

David O'Shea:

How did you feel about the NVA in the field?

John Moore:

Well, I have -- for a long time afterwards I had a fear of Asian faces. Very suspicious of them. I people who looked like that, that had those racial characteristics, were people that were trying to kill me. And I had just -- you know, I was always polite to people when I'd meet them, but I had this -- little neuron would go "thoink" whenever I'd see a face like that. I've pretty much gotten over that now, though I stayed conscious of it.

David O'Shea:

So it's still around?

John Moore:

It's still around, but it doesn't bother me now. But I'm conscious of the difference.

David O'Shea:

I talked to someone -- a woman one time, Evie, who used to give tours at the Museum of Tolerance, and she and her brother were both in Auschwitz. And she had interesting stories.

John Moore:

I'll bet.

David O'Shea:

Endless stories. But she said when she first came out of Auschwitz, one of the first Americans she saw was a black man. And she had never seen a black man, and he was a sergeant, and he scared her to death.

John Moore:

Yeah. Yeah.

David O'Shea:

And I said to her -- this is maybe five years ago. I went up to her, I said, "Well, how did you get over it?" And she'd said, "Oh, I haven't."

John Moore:

You haven't, yeah.

David O'Shea:

"I'm just aware of it. I know it's not true." But that's -- especially if she's taken by surprise, she'll move.

John Moore:

Yeah. Maybe I have a bit of that. There's a Chinese guy that's in one of my writers' groups, a great guy. I'm really fond of him. We had a Vietnamese woman, charming, in one of my writers' groups for a while. She has since left. I did a movie about a month ago and the assistant director was Vietnamese. He was a great guy. He was funny and very Americanized now. But I see that face and there's just this moment of recognition of something that has to be put right, you know. Or adjusted to my spectrum of acceptance. Just momentary, fleeing. It's -- it's

David O'Shea:

I understand.

John Moore:

-- programming.

David O'Shea:

I understand. That's the old -- I'll do that -- oh, when driving a taxi, you know, I always felt that I was fortunate. The first people who robbed me were black. The people who pulled a knife on me were Puerto Rican, but the guys that shot me were white. So I thought well, everybody's --

John Moore:

Everybody got them. That's right. That's right.

David O'Shea:

Everybody can kill you. But I know people who just said, you know, I don't pick up so and so. I never pick up this type. I never pick up that type.

John Moore:

I remember during one of the taxi strikes -- right after one of the taxi strikes in Manhattan, some taxi driver pulled over -- Bill Cosby was walking along the sidewalk and some taxi driver they were soliciting rides then, you know. People were discovering that they knew how to walk. And one of these taxis pulled over next to Bill Cosby and asked him if he wanted a ride. And Cosby said, "I'm off duty."

David O'Shea:

Well, John, is there anything else you'd like to --

John Moore:

No. I think I've purged my soul for today.

David O'Shea:

And anytime you want to -- this should be, I think, helpful with your book.

John Moore:

Maybe so. Although I have just told you stories that are at hand. Ready at hand. There's something about the memory process that opens up a lot of detail when you really get down, it's 1:00 in the morning and it's quiet and you're writing.

David O'Shea:

Is that when you like to -- there a time --

John Moore:

I usually write at night. It's quiet. I like to hear the whisper of the pine trees outside the house, and at night sometimes the breeze comes up in the mountains. But I liken the memory process -- I remembered so much stuff that I had been suppressing for years. It was like going into an attic with a little pen light and you're crawling along the floor and you see a lion foot on an old chest or a chair or something. And you go up the leg of the chair and suddenly you remember oh, yes, I remember this chair. It's upholstered and it's got grandmom's needlework on it. And then you go up top and then you hit a lamp shade and you remember what that lamp looks like, and before long with just a little field of light like this, you fill in everything that you know is stored in that room. And that's the way my memory seems to work. I'll try to use great detail in describing what I do remember, and in the process of that I remember how I felt, how I thought, what happened next, what things sounded like, what things smelled like. And that's the beauty of the prose writing. Michelangelo said that sculpture was the perfect art form because it was three dimensional, and what I like about the prose writing is it's in the same -- it's in the same mode in a way. In a paragraph you can give people what something looked like, smelled like, seemed like, felt like, made you react. And all that you can put in there and that's all part of the totality of the experience. And maybe some day someone who reads my book will be a Congressman and will vote against the next war.

David O'Shea:

Maybe so. Maybe so. Well, that sounds like a good way to end.

John Moore:

Okay.

David O'Shea:

This is David Meyer O'Shea, son of Earl D. Meyer, Company H, 379th, 95th Infantry. And I've just been talking to...

John Moore:

John Moore.

David O'Shea:

-- John Moore at great pleasure. It is now 2:05 in the afternoon at Los Angeles Public Library, June 23, 2007. Thank you very much.

John Moore:

Thank you.

 
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