Veterans inspire longest-serving recruiter
November 9, 2011
By Donna Miles
FORT MEADE, Md. (American Forces Press Service, Nov. 8, 2011) - Last week, retired Army Sgt. Maj. Ray Moran visited the Baltimore Military Entrance Processing Station here to bid goodbye and good luck to young men and women, many whom he recruited himself, as they headed off to basic military training.
Moran's frequent visits to the station are reminiscent of his boyhood days in Latrobe, Pa. He remembers fondly when he and his brother, Sam, ran to the local railroad station to wave goodbye to U.S. troops bound for combat during World War II.
Veterans inspired Moran's life-long love of the military and the men and women who serve in uniform.
He joined their ranks as soon as he was old enough, in 1948. It was the start of a 30-year career that included duty in post-World War II Japan, in Korea during the Korean Conflict, in Vietnam, and after volunteering to return to active duty after his retirement, during Operation Desert Storm.
This week, as he celebrates his 82nd birthday, Moran continues to make his mark on the military as its oldest and longest-serving recruiter. Over the past 60 years, he figures he has enlisted more than 1,000 Soldiers, and he continues to sign on more every day.
Talking with Moran, still widely known by the moniker he picked up in Vietnam, "Old Soldier," is like reading chapters out of a history book.
He remembers being too young to enlist during World War II, but making a point with his brother to give a proper send-off to combat-bound troops marching down his street to the local train station every Tuesday. "We were always there," he said.
Looking at his long list of duties after he enlisted in the Army, it's clear that Moran was, in fact, always where the action was.
Shortly after his basic training at Camp Breckenridge, Ky., he found himself helping keep the peace in post-World War II Tokyo. When war broke out in Korea, he deployed there on July 17, 1950, with the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry.
Moran recalls moving with his unit into North Korea, all thinking the war was almost over when news broke that China had entered the conflict.
"The Chinese had joined the North Koreans in the war and were pushing back our troops," he said.
Moran was among the troops charged with retrieving the bodies of more than 800 of their fellow Soldiers killed during an attack near North Korea's Yalu River. Some, their hands tied behind their backs with barbed wire, had been shot in the head.
The experience was a far cry from the triumphant Armistice Day parade Moran had expected to be a part of in Japan.
Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur had personally selected his unit to return from Korea to parade through downtown Tokyo.
"The problem was, there were so many mines in the bay in Korea that the Navy couldn't come in to get us," Moran said.
Instead, he remained in Korea, where, time and time again, he enjoyed chance encounters with his brother. Moran remembered setting up and manning roadblocks one blustery night in November 1950 when Sam drove through, transporting wounded troops.
"That night, I'd been freezing until I heard his voice," Moran recalled. "But after that, I stayed warm all night long."
Serendipity struck again when both Moran boys returned home from the war hours apart on July 10, 1951.
Members of the local VFW and American Legion -- many of them the same World War II troops they had bid farewell to at the railroad station -- descended on their home to make them honorary members.
"They kind of motivated us," Moran said.
Moran was so motivated, in fact, that he decided to re-enlist and continue his military service that ultimately lasted three decades.
It was the start of his recruiting career that included some of the toughest assignments ever: recruiting for other recruiters in Vietnam, and recruiting the first members of the all-volunteer force.
Looking back, Moran said he's proud of what he helped create.
"We built a volunteer Army that really proved itself in Desert Storm," he said. "They were just a marvelous bunch of Soldiers, and they have done it right through to Iraq and Afghanistan today. We are very proud of the all-volunteer Army."
Even after hanging up his uniform in 1978, Moran has remained an integral part of that force as a civilian Army Reserve recruiter here at U.S. Army Recruiting Command's 1st Recruiting Brigade.
He had only one brief hiatus from that duty when, after three phone calls to the Army retired branch in St. Louis, Mo., he convinced the right person to recall him to active duty during Operation Desert Storm.
Moran, who was 60 years old at the time, served casualty escort duty at the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Del.
"It was what the Army needed me to do, so that's what I did," he said.
He recalled the sad duty of escorting the remains of 28 members of the Army Reserve's 14th Quartermaster Detachment Soldiers, some from his hometown, killed by an Iraqi Scud missile attack on Feb. 25, 1991.
When terrorists struck the United States on 9/11, 70-year-old Moran again volunteered to return to military duty, but the Army drew the line.
"I got really upset when the Army said 'no,'" he said. "They told me that at my age, they were only accepting doctors [from the retirement rolls]."
The consolation, he said, was knowing he could continue to serve the military he loves by recruiting good-quality, dedicated forces to fill its ranks.
Recruiting runs in Moran's blood. He admits that back during his first recruiting stint in Pennsylvania, he took his future wife, Barbara, on their first date to a one-day recruiting training conference in Pittsburgh.
Moran bonds with potential recruits easily, with his big, easy smile and encouraging manner. One needs to spend only a few hours with him to realize that he has friends of all ages nearly everywhere he goes.
He's become a fixture in and around Fort Meade and within the recruiting community. A Fort Meade street now bears his name. He was honored in late 2008 as one of the first two inductees into the Army's Recruiting and Retention Hall of Fame at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Even the name of that honor recognizes Moran's legendary status; it's known as the Sgt. Maj. Ray Moran "Old Soldier" Hall of Fame.
Moran marvels that he now finds himself recruiting children, and even the grandchildren, of the veterans he enlisted -- including his own grandson.
"Recruiting is easy when you love something, and I happen to love the military. So talking about it is an easy task for me," he said. "Everyone in the service is red, white and blue to me."
Moran said he recognizes that military service isn't for everyone, and takes pains not to "sugar-coat" the military experience to the men and women he talks with.
"I know we have tough times and we make sacrifices and there are hardships. I'm not getting away from that," he said. "But I will tell you this -- there are a lot of rewards. And the biggest reward in the world is just having the camaraderie and respect that you get from your fellow Soldiers."
Today's recruits are smart, he said, and know what they are signing on for and what they want to do in the military.
"So I am sort of a locomotive, to take them where they want to go," he said. "It's pretty wonderful."
Despite the vast changes he's witnessed, Moran finds that the same values continue to attract people to the armed services.
"I just think it's personal pride, and I really think it is patriotism and love of country," he said. "I see that in their faces every day."
Moran recognizes that cuts in budgets and recruiting billets are likely to force him into a second retirement, probably early next year.
"It wasn't my time to retire, in my book, but Uncle Sam needs it to happen, so we are going to salute and say, 'We'll do it,'" he said.
His perpetual ear-to-ear smile faded only slightly as he acknowledged what seems to be inevitable.
Looking back over his career, Moran said he has just one regret: he offered his father a handshake rather than a hug when he left home more than six decades ago to join the Army. It's a transgression he apologized for when he returned home, and that his father assured him he'd more than made up for with a belated bear hug as he returned home.
"I am grateful," Moran said of his career, regaining his infectious enthusiasm. "I look back and say, there's no reason in the world not to be so happy that everything turned out the way it has," with a devoted wife and family and rewarding career.
"The work I have done has been so meaningful to me, and I have made so many friends along the way," he said. "So when I look back, I just have too much to be grateful and thankful for to even think any other way."
This Veterans Day, Moran will express that gratitude through a tradition he shares with his family and their closest friends. They'll travel to Washington, D.C., to attend a full day of ceremonies, beginning at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, then at the Vietnam Memorial Wall and, finally, at the Korean War and World War II memorials.
Moran said he takes pride knowing he has recruited and served with some of the "finest people in the world" who took part in those conflicts and continue to serve in the military.
"I've had a challenging career and loved every minute of it, and I would do it all again," he said. "And it all stems from veterans. They were the ones that inspired me when I was a young man, and continue to do so to this day."