Vietnam vet knows #8216;freedom is not free#039;
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 9, 2005
Many have caught him clowning around the city and county in his guise of Gimpy the Clown, bringing smiles to the faces of young and old.
He can also be found on Sunday mornings leading the hymns at his church, Mount Pisgah Baptist in Georgiana. He's active in both the Georgiana Masonic Lodge and the Scottish Rites Bodies of the Valley in Montgomery.
Meet Thurston Mosley of Greenville. He's a community volunteer, committed Christian and family man with three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Mosley is also a proud American who served his nation during one of the most controversial conflicts in America's history.
A personal story
For him, each Veterans Day is a personal remembrance.
There were ambushes and firefights, struggles to calm injured “kids” who served under him in the jungles of Vietnam, sad goodbyes to those to didn't make it.
Thirty-five years later, Mosley's body still bears the scars of more than 25 separate wounds he suffered, including a bullet through the heart.
The disabled vet has few regrets, however.
“I'm just sorry I am unable to serve my country now,” he says.
Tours of duty
After four years in the Air Force, from 1957-61, Mosley entered the Army in 1963 at the age of 25. During his time in Vietnam, the Green Beret served as an advisor to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and worked with the Montagnards, Vietnam's mountain people. Many of his 44 months were temporary duty.
The conflict might not have been popular with everyone, but the soldier says he never shirked his duty.
“I knew there were a few people back home protesting against what we were fighting for. I also knew I couldn't let my men relax to the point of thinking of the negatives back in the U.S.,” Mosley says.
As a platoon sergeant, he had as many as 25 “kids” under the age of 20 serving under him.
Being in charge of those young lives was no easy task.
“The most difficult things for me? Having one of my kids receive a ‘Dear John' letter or having one caught in an ambush or firefight. I would hold his hand to reassure him until Medi-Vac arrived,” Mosley recalls.
There were also those sad days when a young soldier lost his life.
“I would try and picture in my mind how his family would feel when the chaplain came calling at his home…that was always tough.”
Tougher times were about to come for the soldier.
Mosley was serving in Company D, 1st Battalion, 506th, 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division when he was selected for a special mission in October 1970.
“I was chosen to take 29 hand-picked men into the Ashau Valley. We trained in DaNang until March 20, 1971, when we rappelled into the valley,” Mosley says.
The men traveled under the cover of darkness. On March 31, at 4:15 p.m. the enemy decided the Americans had gone “far enough.”
“They ambushed us…two days later I was shot through the heart after being wounded in 26 different places,” the veteran recalls.
The seriously injured Mosley finally “came to about April 10.”
He was evacuated to Japan on April 27, 1971, where he spent three months recuperating. Eight more months followed at Fort Benning, Ga., where Mosley underwent many surgeries, including operations on his knees, shoulders and a reversed colostomy.
He was discharged and assigned to Fort Jackson, S.C. Mosley remained there until medically retired in 1976.
For his service to his country, Mosley received a Combat Infantry Badge, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Army Commendation with one oak leaf cluster, Jump Wings, Jungle Expert Badge, Good Conduct Medal with five awards and the Vietnam Medal.
Looking out for others
These days, the disabled vet routinely gives back to his fellow veterans and to the community.
“I've served with the Department of Disabled American Veterans in every capacity from the chapter level up to, and including, the department level for the state,” Mosley proudly notes.
He also spent one year as aide to the national DAV commander. Mosley credits his wife, Rochelle McClure Mosley, for unstinting support of all his endeavors with the DAV.
“I am proud to say Rochelle was selected to serve as the DAV Auxiliary Adjutant last year and this year,” he says.
He works to protect the rights of fellow disabled veterans, and admits frustration with some governmental policies.
“I regret the way our disabled veterans are treated by our government due to our being unable to perform. (The government) considers that different from being retired, and that is not right,” Mosley says.
“I only lacked one year and 16 days before I had 20 years in for retirement purposes. The injuries I suffered while in service to my country ultimately forced me and others like me to leave the service, and that is counted against us by our government.”
Remembering the sacrifices
During his time as the commander of the state DAV, Mosley and his wife attended a ceremony at the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“We were able to find all the names on the wall…it brought back so many sad memories,” he recalls.
Last year, Mosley was able to visit the traveling version of the wall when it came to Alexander City.
He wants to bring that experience to the people of Butler County.
“I would very, very much like to have the traveling wall come to Greenville. If there is enough interest and support, Butler County could have it on display here,” Mosley says.
High demand means it takes some three to five years to have the memorial scheduled, “but it would mean so much to all the schools in the county, as well as surrounding counties.”
This life member of the Purple Heart Association of America is ready and willing to share his story with area schoolchildren.
“There is so much that could be taught in the schools about all the wars and conflicts, but often the ROTC are the only ones who get to hear these stories,” Mosley says.
“If there is any school that would like to invite me or another veteran to come to your school and give a short speech, I am sure the children would enjoy knowing their freedom is not free – just ask a veteran.”
When Veterans Day arrives this Friday, Thurston Mosley has one big wish.
“I would like to see every citizen observe Veterans Day, even if for only a few moments, at 11 a.m. on the 11th day.”