By Theresa D. McClellan
For The Fort Bend Star
His eyes shine bright. That’s because tears are never far from Adolph Moreno.
At 70 years old, the memories of Vietnam return in an instant. He is most comfortable around people like him. Which is why the Sugar Land man is a constant fixture at the VFW post at 2200 Staffordshire in Missouri City. He comes here to be a listening ear to other soldiers who can’t forget the sounds and smells of war.
With Memorial Day just around the corner, he wants people to think of it as more than just a three-day weekend or a time for big sales.
“Think about a veteran and lift up a prayer. Say hello. Go to a cemetery. Remember those who didn’t make it,” Moreno said.
He looks away, “remember those who did.”
It’s Friday afternoon and Moreno is at the VFW post on Staffordshire Road helping to hoist tents and preparing barbecue pits for the annual cook-off. He belongs to a trio of veterans “Pit Daddies” Adolph, Billy and Danny, who get together the weekend before Memorial Day with other veterans to raise money for the VFW post.
They use the money to buy treats for soldiers in the Veterans Hospital. Another man stops by to chat and Moreno asks him about an old colleague they both knew.
“He’s got that PTSD. He’s kinda like me, he cries when he talks,” Moreno said.
He grew up poor in Rosenberg. He remembers picking cotton on land leased by the sugar company. He went to Vietnam in 1965, right after high school. Those were the early days of war. He was in the Fourth Infantry division with the U.S. Army.
“I was green. I didn’t know anything,” he said.
He had a bloody baptism into adulthood. Riding on carrier boats that took the soldiers close to shore, the doors opened and he jumped off into surging waters.
“There were planes, jets helicopters, artillery all hell broke loose. There was gunfire all around you. Fire. Bombs. Dead bodies, I was thrown into hell,” he said.
He remembers days in the jungle, in villages, swamps and rice paddies.
“Walking, walking being alert 24 hours a day,” he said. “They turned me into an animal. We went to villages; we were polite. After a while, we were not polite. We shot people. We pushed ’em around. We were not humans no more. And you ask why are we in Vietnam, I don’t know.”
War changed him. He was married when he was drafted.
“I came out there different. My wife said you went in a nice, lovable young man. You came out old, mean, hard.”
They are still married. He credits his wife Alma with helping keep him sane. That and his work with the Veterans of Foreign Wars post where he served as commander welcoming veterans and helping organize trips to the Veterans Hospital where soldiers and ROTC students visit monthly and provide outside meals from Church’s Chicken to patients.
When he thinks of Memorial Day, Moreno said he thinks of friends who died and the walking corpses who wish they had. He received a bronze star and got a call from Washington asking if he wanted to come there for a ceremony.
“Why would you celebrate that? I did what I had to do. They mailed it to me. I put it away,” he said.
“I want people to know what we went through. It seems nobody cares about the vet,” he said.
His friend and brother-in-law Danny Montemayor, 62, served in the U.S. Navy. He was in Vietnam in 1972 on the USS Chicago.
“I’m so proud of Adolph. I’m proud of all the men and women who served their country, lost life or limb, their health, their mind. I’ m proud to say I’d do it all over again to protect my country. Adolph was in the thick of it and it took its toll. But he is there for other veterans,” Montemayor said.
Montemayour shares Moreno’s belief that soldiers are forgotten and under appreciated from getting health coverage to even the smallest of recognition. He recalls going to a diner for Memorial Day and asking if veterans got a free cup of coffee.
“The kid asked what’s a veteran,” he said.