Old soldier, new mission

Recruiter: Despite the challenges, a man who began in the Army 56 years ago plans to keep enlisting young Americans into the service he loves.

January 15, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Most of the Korean War veterans digging into their chili bowls at the Fort Meade golf course's Double Bogey Lounge wear their Army affiliation subtly, with a small pin or patch on their sleeves.

Not retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond J. Moran, known on the Odenton post as "Old Soldier."

Never shy about his love for the Army, the longtime recruiter is wearing three nylon Army jackets - each with its own lapel pin - plus a tie pin, a Korean War baseball hat covered with military decorations and a combat infantry patch.

"This I learned from being in a foxhole during the Korean War: You dress in layers on cold days," Moran says.

It's one of many lessons Moran has taken from his 56-year career with the Army. At 75, he's the oldest and one of the most effective Army salesmen at Fort Meade's 1st Recruiting Brigade.

At a time when news of casualties in Iraq challenges Army recruiters across the nation, Moran, who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and in Desert Storm, is persuading young Americans to serve their country.

"He's so effervescent and energetic and positive, and there's just no way you can forget that. Right away, it stands out," says Richard Lane, an Army public affairs officer who has known Moran since the mid-1980s. "What he does is for the love of the Army and his country. Hopefully that rubs off on the young recruits."

From the time he comes to work at 6:30 a.m. to when he leaves at 3:30 p.m., Moran answers his phone with a cheerful: "Sergeant Major Ray Moran, the Old Soldier, proud to help you!"

He greets everyone from the fresh-faced guards at the gates to the oldest veterans in his Korean War group with a hearty Army "Hoahh!" followed by: "Old soldier, I'm proud of you!"

If he knows that a civilian served in the Reserve, Moran makes a point to note the rank - Lane, who retired from the Reserve in 1996, is always "Colonel" to Moran.

"He always makes me feel good," Lane says, "reminding me that I earned that."

Moran doesn't know how many soldiers he has recruited - possibly thousands. Among his recent recruits is Jacob Ives, son of Fort Meade Garrison Commander Col. John W. Ives.

The commander has an older son who served in Iraq. But his younger son never expressed interest until Moran visited one night and began talking about his service. Shortly afterward, Jacob Ives shipped out to Fort Stewart, Ga., where he's a private first-class.

"He just inspires young people to want to serve your country," John Ives said. "What a great American. Is there anybody in the Army he doesn't know?"

A few years ago, Moran organized the Korean War veterans' monthly luncheons to remind those who retired from the Army long ago that their country hadn't forgotten them.

"I wouldn't be so active if it weren't for him," says 84-year-old Carlo DePorto, a former artilleryman who served in World War II and Korea. "He has a gift of gab."

Moran's office walls are more decorated than his lapels. Slogans from the last century's recruiting efforts share space with autographed photos of generals, thank-you notes from recruits in Iraq and Afghanistan, and medals and commendations. They include the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge.

"He is what I would call one of our shamans," says Sean Marshall, the brigade's chief of advertising and public affairs. "His wisdom, if it were lost, would affect the whole organization."

Even the Old Soldier says he never expected to be in the Army this long.

Growing up in Latrobe, Pa., Moran and his brother often ran to the railroad station to see off older classmates bound for combat in World War II. That many never returned didn't stop the brothers from enlisting in 1948. Soon, Moran shipped off to Japan, then served in Korea. He still remembers his Tokyo address from more than 50 years ago.

"I didn't know if I was going to stay in the Army," Moran says, "but I knew I liked it right away."

He returned from Korea and became a recruiter in Washington, Pa., south of Pittsburgh and near his hometown. There, he fell in love with a courthouse clerk named Barbara Schilinsky; they married on Valentine's Day in 1953.

Fifty years later, the couple still act like newlyweds. Their wedding day photo graces the back of Moran's business card. His "bride" rises most mornings before dawn to make him breakfast, usually pancakes. When they eat out, Barbara orders for both of them.

"She's been feeding me for 50 years, and I'm healthy because of her," Moran says.

In 1969, at age 40, Moran volunteered to serve in Vietnam. It was during this tour as a sergeant major - the Army's highest rank for enlisted soldiers - that Moran, nearly two decades older than most other fighters, earned the nickname "Old Soldier." He earned a Purple Heart after being wounded in a battle where a younger soldier died by his side.

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