A. J. Moore unravels his dynamic Vietnam War memoir centered on flying as an E-5 scout observer in the OH-6A Cayuse helicopter—the Loach—in Warpath: One Vietnam Veteran’s Journey through War, Disillusionment, Guilt and Recovery (Apache Press Books, 296 pp. $16.99, paper; $6.99, Kindle).
In the book’s opening line, Moore declares that he “was eager to go” into the military, and “was not waiting for the draft.” Because of his father’s history as a World War II rifleman and the influence of Hollywood heroic war movies, he says, “Sitting out the [Vietnam] war was simply not an option.” He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967 at the age of 18.
Reading about Moore’s Loach missions is spellbinding. Operating from Vinh Long with the 1st Cav in 1969, Moore experienced events beyond imagination during low-level search-and-destroy missions.
On many flights whatever could go wrong went wrong. As often as not, problems evolved from unexpected enemy action or misdirected maneuvers by Moore and his pilots. They often escaped harm by performing seemingly impossible moves that surprised even themselves.
“Among all helicopter aircrew, the Loach crews had the highest casualty rates,” Moore writes. In Army and Marine jobs, he adds, helicopter crews ranked second-highest in casualty rates only to armored personnel carrier crews.
Most of his unit’s operations took place in free-fire zones. He describes in detail the gore resulting from blasting enemy troops on the ground with gunfire, rockets, and grenades.
He confesses to killing people in free-fire zones regardless of whether they fired at his helicopter. When operating with friendly ground troops, the Loach crews did not take prisoners. Body counts measured a mission’s success.
Basically, Moore has written a story of discovery, namely that the positive beliefs he learned as a child shattered under exposure to war’s horrors. In-country, he soon met disillusionment with two sobering realizations: First, the Vietnamese actually wanted to kill him for no reason other than he was American soldier; and second, the ARVN’s hearts were not into the effort.
Moore trained as a helicopter maintenance man and won top honors through every phase of schooling. He reflects on the progression of his training with a keen appreciation for unfamiliar behavior by the men around him. In his description of Basic Training, for example, Moore writes about crises faced by other young men more than by himself. He does the same when looking back on his maintenance and flying experiences.
For four months in Vietnam he performed the seven-days-a-week “monotonous drudgery” of a helicopter mechanic under a sergeant who specialized in make-work tasks. After volunteering three times, Moore was finally reassigned to fly alongside Loach pilots as another pair of eyes. For extra life insurance, the pilots taught him how to fly the Loach.
Coming home was difficult. He decided not to pursue a military career he had been counting on. Guilt and shame overwhelmed him. His recitation of PTSD treatment he received describes excellent programs unfamiliar to me. He eventually shared his emotional rebirth with other war veterans.
As president of VVA’s Tidewater, Virginia Chapter 48 in Norfolk, he concentrated on elevating the social status of challenged Vietnam War veterans and providing college scholarships for veterans’ children.
Warpath more than fulfills its subtitle. Al Moore shows himself to be a man of integrity: By revealing the pros and cons of his Vietnam War story, he takes the glory out of war.