“To be honest I enjoyed myself,” said the 79-year-old Florence native who received a Special Service Medal at his hometown legion for his six-month stint in Southeast Asia while a long, bloody war raged between the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies and communist-backed North Vietnam.
“There were a lot of days it was scary but at 27 years of age you kind of think you’re indestructible.”
Moore, a corporal in the Canadian Guards infantry regiment, got a quick introduction to the dangers of serving with the International Control Commissions, which was made up of military officers and diplomats from Canada, India and Poland who acted as peace observers in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Moore and a friend had just flown into the country in 1963 and were being driven to their compound in Saigon when they found themselves in the middle of an air raid.
“The first day I arrived we were in the thick of it,” he recalled. “A plane went over bombing and the young Vietnamese fella that was taking us from the airport pulled over and we had to get out of the jeep because there’s plane overhead shooting and bombing and that.”
Most days were far less eventful. Moore, who often served as a weapons instructor in the Canadian army, expected he’d be training people on firearms use but never even carried a gun while in Vietnam. He said most days they acted as security, occasionally taking notes on any suspicious activity. Other times he was taken by plane to North Vietnam where he delivered diplomatic mail from high-ranking Canadian officials.
But there were also some unsettling moments, like the time he was standing guard outside the compound and witnessed an immolation by Buddhist monks who were protesting the policies of the South Vietnamese Diem regime.
“There was a big rumpus outside and a bunch of these Buddhists come along and set fire to themselves. Holy jeez, now that was an experience,” he said. “They just killed themselves — poured gasoline on themselves and lit it on fire.”
While he left the military the next year after nine years of service, including posts in Germany and as a ceremonial honour guard on Parliament Hill, Moore, who now lives in Sydney Mines with his wife Beverly (they have two adult children), still looks back fondly on his time in Vietnam.
“It was the experience of my life. It was certainly eye-opening,” he said, adding that receiving the medal in the legion near his childhood home from a man he admires made it even more special.
“Getting the medal — I was really proud of that and I’ll pass it on to my son — but receiving it from the Florence legion and a man I knew, Tremaine Sampson, who always was there for the veterans and friends and neighbours, that means a lot.”