From bat boy to the Tet Offensive

The Covington News - - Local News - PETE MECCA COLUM­NIST Pete Mecca is a Viet­nam vet­eran, free­lance writer and colum­nist. You can contact him at avet­er­

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, “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.”

Army ri­fle­man Mike Mor­ris in the jun­gles of Viet­nam in 1968.

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