MUSCLE SHOALS – Barry Moore has rediscovered the hobby he took up after returning from Vietnam 50 years ago.
Painting ceramic soldiers and people helps him to relax.
“When I do that I’m in another dimension and my hand’s steady,” he said.
Moore needed a steady hand while serving in Vietnam as an artilleryman in A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery, 9th Infantry Division. He was 23 when he arrived from Germany in March 1968 in Rach Kien, a small village about 40 miles south of Saigon.
“I turned 24 in Vietnam and I was considered an old man. All the other guys were 18, 19 years old. I was married and had a child,” he said.
He fired the 105 mm howitzer for most of his 11 months at war. There were six 105s in each battery and four batteries per battalion. The artillery would support the four infantry companies that went out on search and destroy missions from the base camp.
“Boring, with a lot of moments that were absolutely frightening,” Moore said of his tour. “I really shouldn’t say boring. We didn’t have time to be bored but that’s just the way it was.”
In one incident while firing at the enemy, he suffered burns when an artillery piece fell through the hooch on the rain-soaked grass. “When they fired the gun right over the hooch, it just blew it in,” he said.
His scheduled yearlong tour was shortened to 11 months when he got an early-out to return to college. Moore said he never really bonded with the other Soldiers in his unit because he was a replacement member.
“Even though you were with people, you were still basically alone,” he said. “We didn’t have a bond. We didn’t have a cohesion like you’d think.”
The Muscle Shoals native graduated from Sheffield High School in 1964. After spending 1964-65 at Florence State, which later became the University of North Alabama, he and a good friend decided to join the Army for the adventure. Moore enlisted in March 1966 and went to artillery school that spring at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The Army sent him to Germany in September 1966 and he deployed from Giessen.
He spent just one semester in college after returning from Vietnam and leaving the Army in 1969 as a specialist. He went to work for Sara Lee in Florence, in its maintenance department, and retired in July 2009 after 24 and a half years.
Moore, whose father served in the Navy in World War II, remembers seeing protesters at the airport in California when he returned from Vietnam. He said he was generally ignored by most people.
With two children, his first marriage ended in divorce and he eventually remarried. He and his wife of 12 years, Josie, have a combined four children, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandsons. His daughter, Wendy Musselwhite, resides in Niceville, Florida; and his son, Chris, a former Soldier, lives in Sheffield.
Besides painting ceramic figurines, the Muscle Shoals resident enjoys woodworking. He is helping plan the national 9th Infantry Division reunion in Muscle Shoals in September 2020. That year marks the 50th anniversary for the 9th Infantry Division leaving Vietnam and also the 26th anniversary of the movie “Forrest Gump.” The organizers hope to invite stars Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise and Mykelti Williamson.
“We’re going to try to make this a spectacular reunion because we’re all dying,” Moore, 73, said.
He went on an honor flight about three years ago which was sponsored by the Tuscaloosa Rotary Club. He recalled how he and the other Vietnam veterans were cheered by young people while visiting the Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam Memorial.
“I think the young people understand that we didn’t make the policy and we did what we were supposed to do,” Moore said. “And I do appreciate that, too.”
Editor’s note: This is the 223rd in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.