When Larry Moss, a very funny, multi-faceted, talented guy, ended his stint as Runyon Saltzman’s creative director (1997-2006), no one, including Larry, seemed to know what was coming next.
More powerful creative work was always a possibility, as were buying and selling antiques with his wife, Marjorie, in a quaint Mill Valley store near their home; playing the piano for friends and strangers at the store and at various other Marin County outposts; cutting CDs; and spending gobs of time with grandchildren.
While at Runyon Saltzman, Larry shared “war” stories with his colleagues about his past work at some of the biggest and best advertising agencies in the country. And sometimes, he hesitantly and openly unveiled his memories of the Viet Nam War during which he served as an infantryman in the mid-late 1960s.
On Jan. 9 of this year, an essay written by Larry (see below) about one particular moment in time ran in a New York Times newsletter series called Vietnam 67. It’s well worth the read, whether you knew him or not.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, PIANO MAN.
“War and All that Jazz”
By Larry Moss
Growing up in an affluent, predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago, I didn’t acquire many skills that would help prepare me to be a soldier in Vietnam. I had never once gone camping, hiking or hunting. I never even went to overnight camp. I knew nothing about guns, knives, tents, maps — anything related to survival. I did have one skill, though: I knew how to play the piano. I never would have guessed that talent would help me survive Vietnam.
After high school, I diddled around in college for a couple of years, but wasn’t really much of a student. No surprise, I was drafted in March 1968. My first stop was Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training. While there, I volunteered to be a paratrooper. To this day, I don’t know what possessed me to do so, but it meant there was only one place I would be sent to next — Fort Gordon in Georgia, for airborne infantry training. This second phase of training made basic look like a two-month vacation. After enduring eight weeks of endless running, marching and infantry training, I decided to “un-volunteer” from airborne, a decision I’ve never regretted. Upon completion of the training, instead of going off to the next step, jump school, I was given a few weeks of leave and then sent right to Vietnam.
I arrived in Vietnam in September 1968. Having been trained as an infantryman, I was assigned to the 198th Light Infantry Brigade and sent to Landing Zone Gator in Chu Lai, just south of Danang. My unit spent most of the time humping the boonies of I Corps conducting search and destroy and search and seize missions. We saw action regularly; thankfully, by then, I had learned a great deal about guns, knives, tents and maps.
One day, after about six months in country, I heard an announcement on AFVN Radio about something called command military touring shows. The Army’s Special Services section was looking for G.I.s who played musical instruments. With my commander’s blessing, I went to Saigon to audition. A month later, back in the boonies, I got the news that I had been selected to join a six-man jazz band called the Six-Pack of Jazz. Blissfully, I was choppered to Saigon to meet and rehearse with my new band mates.
We put together a very tight show and hit the road for four months, doing one or two performances a day. We were sent all over the country — from the Demilitarized Zone in the north to Vung Tau in the south, from the Cambodian border to the South China Sea — to provide some much-needed musical entertainment to units at remote bases and to the wounded in hospitals. Because we were soldiers, we were able to go to places where it was far too unsafe to send a U.S.O. group. After all, you can’t write off Bob Hope or Ann-Margret, but we were just G.I.s on temporary duty. Indeed, incoming mortars or rockets cut a number of our shows short.
Being a part of that touring show was unquestionably one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It felt so good to do something to lift the spirits of my fellow soldiers. And, selfishly, it kept me out of harm’s way for a couple of months, and I was able to finish out my tour and get home safely.
Now, nearly 50 years later, I remain eternally grateful for the piano lessons my parents insisted I take as a child. I’m pretty sure they are the reason I am alive today. Thank you, Mom and Dad.
Larry Moss, a retired advertising agency creative director and professional musician in Northern California, has released two albums, “Blame It on My Youth” and “Why Try to Change Me Now.”