Conyers resident 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 a bat boy 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 basic training at Parris Island, I was sent to Camp Lejeune. At Lejeune, they discovered I had a strangulated 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 bat boy 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 fought like a dog to stay out, but with no success," he said. "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 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 a little 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, 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 bunches 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. "The boys were moved to the DMZ, so I guess the good Lord was watching over me."
Returning stateside, Morris received the assignment of a lifetime, helping train the Army's modern Pantheon Team in San Antonio. "What great duty," he said. "All branches of service were there, athletes in fencing, swimming, equestrian, now that's my kind of Army!"
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, shoot, I wanted to play 2nd base for the rest of my life. But I went, and I did my job. Whenever I look at my kids and grandchildren, well, perhaps that's why I survived."
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, freelance writer and columnist. You can contact him at email@example.com.