AUGUSTA — Lt. J.G. Robert Moinester was 24 when he was killed on Jan. 31, 1968, while leading his crew and others on house-clearing operations in the Vietnamese city of Hue after they found themselves under heavy mortar attack during the Tet Offensive.

More than 45 years later, his mother, Gertrude Moinester continues to speak with pride of her eldest and his valor.

And on Oct. 31, in the Maine Military Historical Society Museum, 194 Winthrop St., just outside the gates of Camp Keyes in Augusta, she saw a memorial to the young lieutenant and spoke with a retired sailor who served with her son in Vietnam.

“He was just such a super guy,” said Michael Tatosian, 86, of Lewiston, who retired after 42 years in the U.S. Navy, including 12 in the reserves. Tatosian referred to himself as part of the brown water Navy, whose craft plied the rivers of Vietnam. He and Moinester met several times a week for months when Tatosian’s boat ferried ammunition from Da Nang.

“All I did was carry ammo up and down the river,” Tatosian said. “When we’d get a boat filled up with ammunition, we waited ‘til night. At night we got underway. At first light at the mouth of Perfume River, we waited ‘til we knew the river had been cleared. They usually mine-sweeped the river. We’d off-load the ammunition at Hue, and go back and get another.”

Moinester was in I Corps and in charge of the Hue Ramp Unit.

“I remember the bad, bad weather during the monsoon, and he would be out there in the rain,” Tatosian said. “He would be out there in all kinds of weather. He’d be off-loading the ammunition off the boats. If we got there at night, they would off-load the boat as fast as they could. He was a really, really hard-working individual. He knew the importance of getting the ammunition off the boats.”

Tatosian said the Marines who worked for Moinester at the boat ramp used a rough-terrain forklift to shift the ammunition.

“He was concerned about my boat crew,” Tatosian said. “He brought us CocaCola one time. It was a big treat. He was really concerned about us to make sure we were OK. We’d run down river with a l00-150 tons of ammunition, and you’d get sniped at.” Sometimes the boat crew cook would offer him sandwiches, and Tatosian would carry letters from Moinester to be mailed in Da Nang.

Tatosian spoke with Gertrude Moinester about her son as the two viewed a museum display case with the shirt and medals and photos of a smiling Moinester as well as memorabilia from the USS Moinester, a destroyer escort named for him in 1974. At their first meeting, Tatosian had brought her a picture of her son in Hue.

“I must have been one of the last people that knew the lieutenant before he got it,” he said later. “I left Vietnam just before the Tet Offensive. When I heard from another lieutenant that was in charge that Lt. Moinester got killed, it sort of made me feel a little bit guilty because I left Vietnam and he got killed. I was very proud of the Marines at Hue. They actually stopped the whole North Vietnamese Army.”

Gertrude Moinester, the ship’s sponsor, christened it in Norfolk, Va., and remained in touch with the ship and crew throughout the years. She was present too at its decommissioning almost 20 years later. It was first leased by and later sold to Egypt.

“This is a beautiful display, very, very nice,” Moinester said as she viewed it for the first time. She recently relocated to Hallowell from Evergreen, Colo. She had donated some of the items for the display, but she still has her eldest son’s medals — including the Silver Star — at home in a case given to her by his commanding officer.

After graduating from St. John’s University in New York, Robert Moinester told his parents, “I owe the country,” his mother recalled. He went into the Navy and opted to go to Vietnam and work in Naval support.

Gertrude Moinester said her son had the job of providing supplies to other units. She knew the job was dangerous, and said it was not so surprising to find out he had been leading a group of men when he was killed.

“When we got the news (of his death), the house filled up with everybody,” Gertrude Moinester said, recalling that day so many years ago. Her husband, a New York City firefighter, talked about the family surviving and said, “Perhaps we taught Robert too well.” She said she told him, “You love your country or you don’t love your country.” They were married almost 71 years when her husband died.

She said she later got a call from someone who served with her son in Hue, “Mrs. Moinester, I want to tell you about the bravery of your son …”

Today Moinester also speaks with pride also about her grandson, a Naval aviator, and a great-grandson, a sea cadet.

The petite, light-haired woman, who wore a red wool coat and bright silver flat shoes for the museum visit, effortlessly recalled dates and names, and also showed her unabashed support for veterans.

“If I was in Congress, I’d say veterans could get everything for free — and educate their children too,” said Moinester, who will be 92 this week.

“You could see what the mother was like, and the son was just as good,” Tatosian said.

Another son, Raymond, went into the U.S. Marine Corps, and later retired from the Augusta Police Department. Lately, when he’s not volunteering with the Cony High School football team, he’s been squiring his mother around Augusta and environs.

Earlier this year, Raymond Moinester was wearing a cover or hat emblazoned USS Moinester at the Veterans Affairs Maine Healthcare System — Togus when Tatosian, then a stranger, stopped him in the hallway and asked whether he had served on it.

“I was a Marine. That’s my brother,” Raymond Moinester responded. Tatosian then told him about serving with his brother. The men have remained in contact since, and Tatosian was invited to meet Gertrude Moinester at her new home.

“What a super lady she is,” Tatosian said.

Tatosian has some stories of his own, including a couple from World War II when he was in an amphibious unit operating small landing craft.

“I picked up Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., the president’s son, and took him to the Missouri. He went for the signing at the end of the war.”

Japan formally surrendered to end World War II in a ceremony Sept. 2, 1945 aboard the battleship USS Missouri which was anchored in Tokyo Bay.

Later, when Tatosian was in Taiwan, then known as the Republic of China, he was reintroduced by his admiral to Roosevelt. “He remembered me on the boat when I took him to the Missouri, and we had a toast together,” Tatosian said.

Tatosian, who had enlisted as a 17-year-old, retired from the service as senior chief boatswain’s mate.

The museum is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. the first Sunday of every month as well as by appointment. For more information, check the museum’s website at or call 207-626-4468.

Betty Adams — 621-5631[email protected]Twitter: @betadams

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.