William Vance Moss was born on November 2, 1945 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He was the son of Arthur and Isabella Moss. His younger brother by 2 years was Arthur Parks Moss. His family later moved to Chappaqua, where they lived on Millwood Road. As a teenager, William attended Greeley High School with his younger brother. He played basketball and soccer, at which he was very good, according to his brother. He left Greeley to attend a private school in upstate New York, graduating in June 1963.
In January 1964, he left home for basic training at Paris Island, to become a Marine. After completing basic, he transferred to the 1st Infantry Training Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Once he was thoroughly prepared to perform his duties as a Marine, he was assigned to the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, as a photo interpreter, in a Headquarters Company.
Around the time that William was training, the destroyer USS Maddox was attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Tonkin Gulf. It was then that the general American public started to become aware of the escalating conflict in a little known country called Vietnam.
William continued his service in the United States, for another year. He was then transferred to the Fleet Marine Forces in the Pacific and assigned to the 1st Marine Division, 7th Marine Regiment in preparation for going overseas.
On May 24, 1965, as William Moss’ transport ship left San Diego harbor bound for Vietnam, his battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Leon Utter said, “I want each of you to look to your right and look to your left. Look directly at the men on either side of you. Remember their faces. Remember that we are going to war, and one of those men will probably not come back. It is not easy being a Marine. That is the truth. Good Luck! God speed! And may you be secure.”
His unit arrived in Vietnam on December 1st. Almost immediately they moved out, becoming part of Operation Harvest Moon, a major offensive operation designed to clear the Viet Cong out of the area between Chu Lai and Da Nang.
Heavy monsoon clouds kept the nights in total blackness. Clouds dumped rain in buckets so frequently that the Marines were never able to completely dry out. The 7th Marine Regiment would be in the thick of the fighting once the battle started on December 8th. His team’s mission was intelligence, which required it to be a forward unit.
On December 18th, on the last leg of its long trek to their destination, units of the 2nd Battalion encountered heavy resistance near the village of Ky Phu. The Viet Cong enemy allowed Company G, the lead unit of the column to pass through the village, before opening up with a heavy volume of small arms fire. Thinking it was an enemy force of snipers, Company F was ordered to advance. As they passed through the eastern edge of the village, enemy mortars were heard and began to drop on William Moss’ Company in the open rice paddies.
Two Companies of the Viet Cong’s hard-core 80th Battalion attempted to enter the gap created between Company F and the Headquarters and Supply Company approaching the village to split the Marine units. The battle between the opposing forces raged on for several hours until the enemy was beaten at their attempt to destroy the Marines and retreated into the darkness of the night, leaving one hundred and four of their dead on the battlefield. Regrouping in a defensive perimeter, the Marines evacuated their dead and wounded comrades. The commander of the Headquarters and Supply Company, Lt. Nicholas H, Grosz Jr., was mortally wounded.
Another of the many Marine casualties was Corporal Moss. Wounded, he was first evacuated to Chu Lai that night, then to Da Nang. A day later, he was transferred to the Hospital at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. He died there on December 21, 1965 of the gunshot wounds he had sustained.
He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 35, Plot 582. He received the Purple Heart, Republic of Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.
Research and story by David L. Egerton