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A Veteran's Story: From Baseball to Tet Offensive
Saturday, it will be Military Appreciation Day during the Stony Brook-Liberty football game at Williams Stadium. The day will honor our brave men and women who are serving or have served in the military. Before the game, there will be a B-25 flyover and at halftime, there will be a special salute to our armed forces.
The story below is reprinted by permission of the Rockdale News, a community-based weekly newspaper that serves the citizens of Rockdale County, Georgia. The story, written by a Vietnam veteran, freelance writer and columnist Pete Mecca, was first published on Aug. 8, 2012. Mecca maintains the web site aveteransstory.us dedicated to telling stories of America's military veterans.
Liberty Athletics Equipment Manager Mike Morris fought house to house in the Chinese Cholon District of Saigon during the infamous Tet Offensive of '68. Assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry (Mechanized), 25th Infantry Division as a rifleman, Morris' normal operational area was Cu Chi, also known as "Hells Half Acre." Yet all he could think about was playing second base.
A native of Lynchburg, Va., after graduating from E. C. Glass High School in 1964 Morris immediately went to work as an assistant equipment manager for the Minnesota Twins. "I loved baseball," he said. "I wasn't thrilled about the prospect of Vietnam so I joined the Marine reserves. After boot camp at Parris Island, I was sent to Camp Lejeune. At Lejeune, they discovered I had a hernia. I was given a choice - an operation to repair the strangulated hernia or a discharge. I took the discharge, got the hernia fixed, and returned to baseball as a trainer with the Lynchburg White Sox AA farm team for Chicago."
The Marines didn't want Morris, but the Army did. Reclassified 1A, he received a draft notice in Feb. '67. "I will say this; Army basic training at Fort Bragg was a lot easier than Parris Island!"
Morris arrived "in-country" in July '67. "I was in Cu Chi base camp for about three days before assigned as a squad leader in Alpha Company and flown by chopper to the field. I don't think "field" is the right word; it was jungle and rice paddies, way out in the boonies." Dodging sniper fire and occasional Viet Cong activity, Morris' exposure to limited combat served him well when the inferno known as Tet '68 erupted.
He said, "We knew all hell had broken loose, but we didn't really see much activity. All that changed when the 1st Sergeant told us, ‘Saddle up boys, we're heading into Saigon for house to house fighting.' Well, great. None of us had been trained for that, but we certainly received on-the-job training."
Transported by choppers to the Cholon environs, Morris and elements of the 25th fought their way into a nearby hamlet, and then moved towards Cholon for house to house engagements. "We'd get fired on, eliminate the threat, and move on," he said. "We didn't see any civilians, just occasional bodies of combatants. The house to house fighting is dangerous and dirty. We were lucky not to take more casualties than we did."
Within three days, the enemy moved back into the countryside, with the 25th on their tails. "The B-52s pounded those guys," Morris said. "We couldn't imagine one soul surviving that kind of bombing, but they did." They discovered bodies, lots of bodies, or pieces of bodies, yet the fighting and sniping and ambushes continued for several days. Morris said, "We lost about 25 of our own, plus many were wounded, but I guess we did OK."
Sent back to Cu Chi, Morris' luck ran out on March 6. "We moved into a forward camp in the jungle and took assault positions. As we moved through a destroyed village, we got caught in a cross-fire. They had us bracketed in with machine guns so we were forced to pull back."
Returning with APCs (armored personnel carriers) mounting .50 caliber machine guns to engage the enemy, Morris said, "We paused behind a copse of trees when the mortars came screaming in. The entire squad was hit but fortunately we didn't lose anyone." Shrapnel caught Morris in the top of his legs and right forearm. He said, "The shrapnel was hot, my forearm sizzled like bacon. A medic used forceps to pull the metal out."
Evacuated to a hospital in Cu Chi, Morris said, "I pretty much ate ice cream for four days until reassigned to the sick, lame, and lazy back at camp." Before returning to the field, Morris' skills as a 60 word per minute typist landed him a position at the supply base camp. "My typing talent may have saved my life," he said. "My unit was moved to the DMZ."
Returning stateside, Morris received the assignment of a lifetime, helping train the Army's modern Pentathlon Team in San Antonio. "What great duty," he said. "All branches of service were there, athletes in fencing, swimming, equestrian, running and pistol marksmanship."
Discharged in Jan. '69, Morris has enjoyed a life most men would envy. He spent 10 years with the Chicago White Sox, served as a chaplain's assistant in the Army reserves, worked in stadium operations with the Atlanta Braves, spent eight years on the Athletic Staff at Georgia Tech, and returned to the Atlanta Braves from 1994 until 2006 as equipment manager and clubhouse operations for their six team minor league system.
On his service in Vietnam, Morris said, "I didn't want to go, I wanted to play second base and stay in baseball. But I went, and I did my job. Whenever I look at my children and grandchildren, well, perhaps that's why I survived."