R. J. served two combat tours in Vietnam as a Staff Sergeant in the Airborne Infantry. His first tour was with the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. His second tour was with the 173d Airborne Brigade. Additionally, he served with the 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division and the JFK Center for Special Warfare. He also served as an Airborne instructor at Fort Benning and in Germany.
His combat awards and decorations include:
Silver Star for Gallantry
Bronze Star for Valor (with three Oak Leaf Clusters - 4 Awards)
Meritorious Service Medal (with one Oak Leaf Cluster - 2 Awards)
Army Commendation Medal (with two Oak Leaf Clusters - 3 Awards)
Army Service Medal
Air Medal (with three Oak Leaf Clusters - 4 Awards)
Combat Infantry Badge (CIB)
Master Parachutist Wings
His comments on the Vietnam war?
“I was there. Along with a bunch of great men and women soldiers. End of story. If you want to learn more, please visit our 327th Airborne Infantry web site at
Below are three short stories R. J. wrote and published about some of those men.
R. J. is a Life Member of the 101st Airborne Division Association (Screaming Eagles) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
A Snake Story
© 2003 Roger J. Morris
Published in the 101st Airborne Division Association,
Quarterly Magazine “The Screaming Eagle” October, 2004
I was a Staff Sergeant acting Platoon Leader with Cobra Company, 1/327th Infantry (ABN) in July 1968. The company had just returned to Fire Base Veghel for a much-needed week to ten day stand down.
For the uninitiated, stand down did not mean that you got to actually STAND DOWN. Along with the pleasure of a hot lunch every day came the duties of securing the fire base, maintaining the bunkers and patrolling. Add to that the daily and nightly mortar and rocket attacks; Charlie probing the wire at night, artillery firing over your head around the clock, performing any and all kinds of details anyone of a higher rank could think up (including the much dreaded crap burning brigade), helicopters coming in and out constantly throwing dust and dirt from their rotors, living in dust up to your eyeballs when it was dry and mud when it was wet, rats in the bunkers, and constant well orchestrated bedlam. And you had to shave every day.
You had to really respect those guys who lived and worked there all the time. After a few days I’d enjoyed about as much as I could stand. I was ready to return to the sanity of the sticks where we could find some relative peace. As luck would have it, the commander called me to the Command Post (CP) and gave me a warning order for a three to four day patrol into the next valley about 10 kilometers from the fire base. They had it on good authority that there was at least an NVA regiment and maybe a Division Headquarters operating out of the area. There had also been helicopter and bird dog sightings of enemy activity.
Don’t you love it when they tell you that? Enemy activity in the area. Hell. News Flash! There was ALWAYS enemy activity out there! If you wanted to get your butt kicked, step outside the wire. Anyway, our mission was not to make contact unless we had to, but to see what was going on. Sounded good to me.
First Lieutenant Janes, a former Special Forces Staff Sergeant, and we discovered, a damn fine officer, had been assigned to the company as a Platoon Leader of one of the other platoons a few days earlier. He had not yet been into the woods with his platoon and he asked me if he could go along as an observer to get his feet wet. I was impressed with him, and having long held the belief that an extra rifle is always welcome, especially when carried by a former Special Forces NCO, I agreed.
We left the next morning at daylight and moved to the other side of the valley and up into the hills. After a day of uneventful patrolling, and having discovered nothing except recent signs of Charlie wherever we went, I decided to set up a night site on the ridge line with a listening post (LP) about 100 yards from my CP on a main road. We moved into our positions just prior to dusk and set up. I pre-plotted fire support and gave the LP strict instructions not to engage anyone coming down the road. They were to observe and report. I in turn would report to the Battalion and call in any needed fire missions. I did not want to give our position away with a firefight before we even reached our objective in the next valley.
We were sitting in undergrowth very quietly eating our evening meal (cold C-rations) when I looked up and saw a small snake crawl over Janes’ shoulder. I said “don’t move, there’s a snake on your shoulder.” I guess you can’t tell someone that. The first thing he did was move and the snake bit him on the neck. He knocked the snake off and it crawled away before we could find out what it was. We had a quick discussion of our options. Calling in a medivac at night in Chuck’s territory was not one of them. He asked me if I knew what kind of snake it was. I could only tell him if it was poison, he might want to get under his poncho before full dark and have a few drags on one of his cigars. He took it well and we all set around waiting for him to either give it up or live.
Janes was still with us early the next morning so we moved off the ridgeline, trying to avoid any trails to escape possible enemy detection. We discovered numerous high-speed trails with signs of recent use in the next valley. We moved down the valley, again avoiding trails when possible, trying not to leave evidence of our passage. I’m talking by-the-book patrolling. The usual hand and arm signals, sniffing the wind, the usual stuff but with a bit more flare. I guess we were all showing off a bit for the new lieutenant. We had moved approximately 500 meters down the valley when the point detected voices and movement to the front. We quickly went to ground in some thick underbrush and I motioned for the machine gun to set up by a log overlooking a major high-speed trail.
I was just passing a radio sit-rep on to battalion when I noticed the machine gunner beside me with what I’ll call a worried expression on his face. I finished the short sit-rep and asked him why he wasn’t set up yet. He whispered, “there’s a snake over there.” I whispered back “throw a stick at it.” He responded, “it’s a BIG snake!” I said “Come on,” and being the clear-headed individual that I am, I crawled through the brush to show him how to get rid of the snake. I didn’t see it at first until it moved its head. The head was about 9 inches wide, the eyes as big as quarters and he was staring straight into my eyes, which were as big as saucers, from about four feet away. Sometimes I have been known to think things through before I put all the facts together. This was one of those times.
I was raised in the hills of Missouri. I hunted both day and night as a way of life. Now to me, a snake is a snake. I didn’t care how big he was. He was in our way and we needed his space right now. I would just have to move him. Right? Played good in theory. I just forgot for a moment what snakes do, even little ones, when you injure them. I raised up on one knee and took my bayonet from my belt. I very slowly fixed it onto my M16. Positioning myself I speared that critter right between the eyes. This is about the time that things came undone.
He came up off the ground, all 14 to 16 feet of him, started knocking down brush, wrapped around my M16, and jerked it from my hands. The voices we had heard earlier suddenly became louder. The snake cracked the fore-grip and stock of my M16 and, with crystal-clear 20/20 hindsight, I knew that I probably had made a major mistake.
I was finally able to jerk the weapon clear. I had already blown discretion and didn’t have time to think about valor, so I initiated a hasty plan to make a strategic move to the rear. We got the hell out of there. Arriving back at Veghel, Janes and I went to the CP for a debriefing. Janes told the snake stories and said I was crazy. Everyone had a good laugh at my expense.
Maybe we were all a little crazy.
Roger J. Morris
© 2003, Roger J. Morris
Published in Erick Miller’s true novel (Toll of War/Vietnam)
In the years following my service in Vietnam with both the 1/327th Infantry (Airborne) , 101st Airborne Division, and the 173d Airborne Brigade, I have heard supposedly firsthand accounts, read numerous articles, and seen countless movies of NCOs and officers assigning inexperienced, and often “problem” soldiers to serve as point man. It has been a point of contention with me wherever I encounter this misrepresentation of fact. Point Men and their Slack Men were among the most able and experienced in any organization. It could not have been any other way.
The point was responsible for the lives of all those following behind them. They brought skills and courage to this task that were invariably learned through hard and dangerous experience. They had to be experts at “woodcraft.” They could “read” a trail and tell who, what, when and how frequently it had been used. They could sniff the wind and detect enemy presence or their recent passing. They had a “sixth” sense that alerted them to danger. They often came face to face with the enemy and had to kill or be killed in close combat. They knew they were in the most vulnerable position possible and depended on their Slack Man to cover them and keep them alive while they led those behind them forward. In turn, they had the complete faith and respect of the entire organization. It was faith and respect justly earned.
As a Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant and Acting Platoon Leader, I don’t remember one time having to detail someone to point or slack. Point Men appointed themselves and chose their own Slack Man. They took pride in their skills and courage. Upon the signal to move out, the same ones moved to the head of the column time and again to assume their rightful place. They were often the first wounded or killed. They knew this beyond a shadow of doubt and performed the job in spite of it. Point and slack were not jobs that were trusted to just anyone. The men who performed these duties were in a class of their own.
I have listed some of these brave men below.
John Ahern (point – killed in action)
Jay McMurphy (slack/point – killed in action)
Raymondo Armijo (point – seriously wounded and returned to the field)
Willie Green (slack/ point – seriously wounded and returned to the field)
Roy Aguero (point - wounded and returned to the field)
Pete Cipolla (slack/point)
Gary Lamb (point – wounded and returned to the field)
Larry Riley (point – serious head wound, lived)
“Hillbilly” Jones (point – seriously wounded)
Robert “Stonewall” Jackson (point & slack – killed in action)
There were many others and only time and my poor memory keep me from recalling all their names. If I have forgotten their names, I have not forgotten their faces or the dangers they faced to keep their fellow soldiers alive.
Roger J. Morris
© 2003, Roger J. Morris
Published on the 327th Airborne Infantry Website
at: http://screamingeagles-327thvietnam.com .”
On 25 February 1968, we were in the vicinity of Gia Le in an area called “The Bowling Ally.” I was a Staff Sergeant and had taken our platoon on a patrol. We were crossing a rice paddy when we came to two rice paddy dikes joined together, about 100 meters from a wood line and another 100 meters to a village. Just as I got to where the dikes came together, two command detonated claymores went off. One facing each way up the trail. I was exactly between them with my Radio Operator (RTO) and the blasts went in front of and behind me, taking out my point man, slack man, grenadier, medic and next man in line. The enemy simultaneously opened up with mortars, machine guns and small arms fire from the wood-line and village. My command element obviously was the target.
We were stranded in the open taking heavy concentrated fire. I had five men seriously wounded from the initial contact. I couldn’t go forward or back so I called another platoon in the vicinity and requested they maneuver in my support. I requested fire support and directed suppressive fire from the remainder of my platoon upon the enemy. I then turned the fire support control over to the other platoon while I tried to take care of the wounded.
They were all torn up, some of them already dead and the rest cut to ribbons. The medic was worst of all. Although seriously wounded, he wouldn’t let me care for him. He insisted that I care for the other wounded first. He then directed me in actions to take on the most seriously injured. We lay there in the open taking all that fire and he and I did what we could.
He was hit again. By the time the fight was over and the medivac came in he was almost gone. I heard he didn’t make it to the hospital. He had not been out with my platoon before, the best I can remember, and I don’t remember his name. I only remember that he was a very brave and calm man who cared more for others than he did for himself.
That’s the way medics were. I never met one that didn’t face death and danger more than anyone else did in the field. When things got tight and people were getting hit, a medic would be right there in the open taking care of them. They were always totally focused on aiding the wounded without a thought to their personal safety.
Thank God they were there.
Roger J. Morris
[Background] [Musical Influences] [Blues Man]