When James Moore III and Alan Grieger joined the Boy Scouts as children living in Jacksonville, neither knew how much they’d credit the institution for the skills they’d learned.
Boy Scouts was just the beginning for the duo — who have been friends since they were 11 years old earning merit badges, later serving in the Vietnam War, and since 1995, co-owning Explosives Experts, a business in Parkton.
“Being in Boy Scouts helped a lot [in Vietnam],” said Grieger, 69, to Elinore Frush, auxiliary historian of the American Legion Post 200 in Hampstead this week.
“You knew how to do things some of the guys didn’t know,” Grieger said. “You'd have to pack things — they’d put the hardest, sharpest thing right to your back and put the pillow on the outside. And it’s a form of discipline and responsibility.”
Moore, who came to share his story with Grieger, agreed that participating in Boy Scouts was a formative experience.
“I think everybody should go through it,” he said, “for character building.”
American Legion Post 200 is preparing for its next newsletter, which comes out every three months, and decided to highlight the duo.
The idea to talk to veterans for the newsletter came from Frush’s husband, Marvin, she said.
“First we started out with what happened [since the military],” Frush said. “ ‘Where are They Now?’ is what it was called. We wondered what happened to the older commanders, and just the officers and the charter members. So we did some of those. That was not so much their service, but their life, what they were doing since they weren’t commanders. That's what [Marvin] wanted to do.
“From there,” she said, “it evolved from a lot of World War II guys, most of them are gone now. But we’ve had some nice stories.”
Over a couple of beers and a plate of cheese, crackers and fruit in the Legion Hall, Moore and Geiger shared their chronologies, delving into some of their experiences at war almost 50 years ago.
When Grieger learned of the draft, he was in Officer Candidate School and decided to enlist with hopes of choosing his own Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS. But more than that, he enlisted to keep his younger brother from the draft. If something happened to him, he said, he wouldn’t have been able to forgive himself.
Grieger specialized in artillery fire direction control, he said, but ended up using other specializations — military intelligence, infantry training, combat engineering — while doing ground surveillance at Camp Eagle with the 101st Airmobile, a censor platoon.
Because there was so much rain in Vietnam, Grieger said it was hard to monitor enemy movement. That’s where his team came in.
“It was a grand surveillance technique,” he said. “When the monsoons [came], it rained so heavy that helicopters couldn’t go out. Nothing could go out. And at that time the enemy would move in to our areas.
“So our job, I had thee or four men on each of the fire bases out in the jungle and we would put electronic censors in along trails,” said Grieger. “These things would detect seismic activity, magnetic, anything metal going through. They were acoustic, they could pick up sound and voices. So we had to go out and put them in place and stay up all night listening to them and report what we found.”
But thinking back on that difficult time made some memories a little spotty.
Grieger said he remembered crawling on the ground one day — and randomly realizing it was his birthday. But he doesn’t remember where he was going, or what he was supposed to be doing.
He also doesn’t remember what day it was when he got home, because it didn’t matter to him, said Grieger. He just remembers that it was 1971 and his parents did not pick him up. He came back to Maryland and took a taxi home from Towson.
His family wasn’t a military family, he said, and weren’t ones to put much attention on birthdays, either.
But his best friend’s family was a little different.
Moore learned of the draft when he was already serving in Korea, he told Frush this week. And when he left for Korea in 1969, it wasn’t his family’s first military farewell.
His father before him was in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and his son after him would also join the military, sent to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2002.
When Moore said goodbye to his family for a second time before shipping out to Khe Sahn and Quảng Trị, Vietnam, Charlie Hoover, an old family friend and World War I veteran also wished him well.
“He said, ‘Jimmy boy, just take care of yourself,’ ” Moore recounted, wiping tears from his eyes. “That said everything.”
In Vietnam, mechanics was his MOS: army personnel carriers, tanks, and vehicle recovery.
Being away from home was hard, Moore said, and he kept some soil from his family’s garden in an Aspirin bottle with him every day. He said he tried to get transferred to Grieger’s unit at Camp Eagle, but to no avail.
“If you could be around someone you knew, it would be a huge advantage,” Grieger said. “He was bringing dirt around with him. I could have been there instead.”
Moore described Operation Dewey Canyon II, the first phase of Lam Son 719, the South Vietnamese invasion of Laos in 1971. The operation’s goal was to sever the Ho Chi Minh Trail — the supply network which stretched through Cambodia and Laos and allowed Hanoi to supply both Viet Cong forces and North Vietnamese Army units — but American troops were not allowed in Laos so they gave logistical support and provided supplies.
“In February of ’71 [the South Vietnamese army] went into Laos,” Moore said. “We supported them. We reopened Khe Sahn, which was a Marine Corps base in ’68 that was hit pretty hard.
“We had some pretty disabled tanks,” he said. “We loaded them on the 10-ton truck, took them back to Quảng Trị. There was a dirt, muddy, single path through the mountains — if you ever want to read about the operation, [there’s a book] called ‘Into Laos’ [by Kieth W. Nolan]. It’s got a really good description.”
A photo Moore brought with him for the historian showed him in a bunker, surrounded by heavy burlap bags in his military attire. In his hands was a letter from his girlfriend, Regina Combs, who later became his wife.
“Then there’s the wire we were hanging our laundry on,” Moore pointed to the photo’s background, “which we couldn’t keep clean anyway because of dust.”
Grieger came home about two months before Moore, but both returned in 1971.
His family and future wife waited for him at the airport.
Before long they had both started working at Explosives Engineers, the company that would later change its name to Explosives Experts.
Today, it’s been about 46 years that the two friends have worked at the same place, and about 25 years since they took it over.
And as the Boy Scouts prepared them for the military, the military prepared the two friends for their next journey in life.
“As far as using explosives and things like that, there’s no comparison,” Grieger said of his work after returning from Vietnam. “But it is problem solving, and it’s universal in all these jobs no matter what you’re using.
“I tell people sometimes: All the blasting jobs are different. Every single one,” he said. “But the solutions are exactly the same. You figure out what you can do, what it takes to do it safely, and that's what I do. And they let us do it.
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"So it’s the same way in everything,” Grieger said, “not just the blasting.”