Thanks for sharing,
Plt 249, 2nd Btn MCRD SD, July 65
SDI Ssgt Loo
DI Sgt Prather
DI Cpl Eastman
We just got to starch our covers for the first time. Had afternoon chow and was marching back to our squad bay. I don't know what they served us but my stomach was going crazy, cramps and all.
When we got to our area SSgt Loo barks out "O.K. you maggots, smoking lamp is lit", "SIR, SMOKING LAMP IS LIT, AYE, AYE SIR. Man I had to take a shit.
It was summer and all our faces were tan except the top our heads that was protected by our cover, white as a sheet. SSgt Loo didn't like that because he was Guamanian, dark complected, He thought we should all look like him.
His next order was, "Alright you shit birds, take off those covers, get some sun on those fucking white heads so you look like me". "SIR, AYE, AYE SIR". We took off our covers and slid them under or belts and trousers in the small of our back.
Then I yelled, "SIR, PRIVATE MEANS REQUEST PERMISSION TO SPEAK TO THE DRILL INSTRUCTOR, SIR"
"SPEAK, YOU LITTLE TURD". "SIR, PRIVATE MEANS REQUEST PERMISSION TO GO TO THE HEAD, SIR". "HURRY UP YOU SHITBIRD AND GET BACK HERE BEFORE SMOKING LAMP IS OUT". "SIR, AYE AYE SIR".
By now I had to go so bad I didn't know if I was going to make it. I ran into the head undoing my trousers as I went. Skidded to the shitter just in time to let it rip. Jesus did that feel good. Wiped my ass real good and stood to flush. When I looked in the commode I couldn't believe it. Then I said out loud, "who's the asshole that put his cover in the toilet". And then it hit me, "OH GOD!!, OH GOD!! PLEASE GOD!!
I retrieved my cover and cleaned it the best I could, just in time to hear SGT Loo belching. "OK, Maggots, Smoking lamp is out". I ran to the formation as fast as I could stuffing my dripping wet cover into the back of my belt as I ran. Just in time for the "AYE, AYE SIR".
So there we were all standing in the hot sun with our freshly starched covers stuffed in our belts, except mine. Then the dreaded moment came. "Get your covers back on your heads, you Maggots. "SIR, AYE AYE, SIR!!"
The next sound we all heard was "MEANS!!!! WHAT IN THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO YOUR COVER!!!!!.
We finally landed at the bridge ramp in Da Nang sometime 1967. After unloading Guns, vehicles, all our equipment, via LCU s from the USS Catamount we found ourselves camping on the beach next to the bridge ramp for the next three nights. I found out years later that was because nobody in Division had the slightest idea we were coming and once we got there they didn t know what to do with us.
Finally they gathered us altogether, Major Black, Battery CO, says, All right, they are splitting us up, listen up for your Platoon assignments . Then he called up different Captains, CO s of three different Platoons, HQ Platoon, 1st Platoon, 2nd Platoon and then there was 8 which was already a cohesive unit. Each platoon got two 155 self propelled guns and everything else in the battery was split up three ways. Then it was like being chosen for a neighborhood flag football game. Each Captain standing there calling out names of gun crew commanders, FDC personnel, drivers and dozer operators. I was in the Engineer Section, as a dozer operator along with Sgt McCoy and L/Cpl Stevens. McCoy went to HQ Platoon, Steven with 1st Platoon and I was called out to 2nd Platoon.
We found out Capt Steen was our Platoon CO. Nobody really knew him because he was operating with they 8 battery and Lt Wasson was our XO, until that time I didn t know either of them. We then gathered around our perspective officers and got list of equipment and supplies that we had to gather up from the general battery. We all gathered all our stuff into nice neat piles to prepare to load up again on LCU s. We also found out that we were going out to valley named Que Son and be with 1/5 on Hill 51. HQ Battery to a ROC Compound below Chu Lai and 1st Platoon up to Dong Ha.
The next day around noon an LCU beached itself at the bridge ramp and Capt Steen told us it was ours. They were going to take us down to Chu Lai where we would go overland to Hill 51 from there. It was late afternoon by the time we got everything loaded with the help of Sea Bee forklifts. The LCU backed out and headed for open sea thru the Da Nang Harbor. Monkey Mountain was to our right. We headed south around Monkey Point as darkness set in. The seas were calm as some tried to sleep myself; I was to excited to sleep and kept visiting the LCU s galley for more coffee.
Around two in the morning one of my buddies told me to look over toward the land. A Puff (DC 3 manned with Mini Guns) were firing a couple of miles inland, a solid line of red from the tracers. We could hear the roar of the mini guns that sounded like the running of an engine. Yes, here we were in Vietnam and a real war was happening. Things were already starting to hit home knowing that men were fighting and dieing as we watched just off shore.
We reached Chu Lai sometime the next day. We unloaded from the LCU and traveled a short distance to a group of buildings. The first smell was that of burning shitters, we were all going to become quite accustomed to that smell. At the buildings we were passed out ammo and all had to pitch in to load the guns with 55 rounds and powder canisters. We were told we were leaving the next day. SSgt Snowman (our acting Gunny) called me over and told me that 9th Engineers was going to truck my dozer out to Hill 61, I was to wait for them and then somebody was going to pick me up from an 05 outfit.
Early the next day the Guns took off with some tanks from 1st Tanks. I was left alone with my dozer, stuff stacked on top. I felt a bit sad as the guns pulled out even though our little gun platoon hadn t gelled yet; I still wanted to be with my unit. A flat bed showed up not too much later and I loaded my dozer on it. Right behind them a couple of Marines in a Mighty might came roaring in. The Marines got out and introduced themselves, said they came to take me out to Hill 61. First thing I noticed about them was how un-squared away they were. Their trousers weren t bloused and jungle boot hadn t seen polish in months, bush Marines, they were both L/cpl s, just like me.
They told me they we re going to take off soon to get back to Hill 61 before dark but first they wanted chow. I hopped in the Mighty Mite with them to the short ride to the chow hall, already wishing the toes my boots were white with ware like theirs. I watched the Engineers take off with my dozer as we looked for the chow hall. Breakfast was still being served, as we filled our trays and sat at one of the tables, they began to fill me in on in-country life out in the bush. One of the guys already had a Purple Heart from shrapnel wound on a night they got mortared. As they rabbited on, all I could say was words like really, man, geez, no kidding. They got a kick out of sharing all their war stories with this new guy. They told me the ride on Hwy 1 to Hill 61 wasn t to bad, pretty secure with 9th Engineers all over the place keeping the road open. From there to Hill 51 in Que Son Valley could be tough, real Indian country they said.
Hopping back into the Mighty Mite we had to pick up another guy, so there were four of us. The two of us in the back had our rifles and 782 gear so it was a bit crowded. We sped thru the Chu Lai compound pass the airstrip as jets were taking off; some choppers were over head with the wop, wop of their rooter blades, that too would become a familiar sound. Out the Main Gate turning right along Hwy 1 was the village, the street already crowded with Vietnamese. Women with two baskets between a pole that rested on their shoulder. I was amazed what they could get in those baskets, everything from pigs to fire wood. Bars and whorehouses were everywhere with MP s already patrolling the streets. A lot of Army guys were there.
We made it thru Chu Lai onto open road, the driver was going so fast it was hard for me to take in the countryside but I was taken by how green and beautiful the landscape was. Rice patties with women and water buffaloes working the fields. Cham and Buddhist Temples, green hills and quaint villages, Man, I m really here, what a gas. Hot, man was it getting hot.
After about an hour of driving there was detour off the main road, the driver didn t see it coming, took the turn way to fast and we ended up spinning out. Dust was thick as smoke, couldn t see. His buddy told him he better slow down or we re all going to get killed in a jeep crash. At first the driver took his advice but before long he was going full speed again.
When we pulled into Hill 63, I noticed that the guns and tanks were already there. The gun crews were all excited because they had taken small arms fire twice. One tank driver had taken a round in his helmet that had spun around the inside but never got him. My dozer was there and I unloaded it off the flat bed. Capt Steen then came over and asked if I could carry something for him, Of course I said, Aye, Aye, sir . His future father in law was a CWO with the Wing at Da Nang and had given him a spring rack with mattress. He asked me to load it on top of my dozer with all the other stuff I had on there. I did and lashed it down the best I could.
My dozer was an EMCO 103, MK 64. It was the kind that the driver sat up front looking over the blade. It had a big Jimmie Diesel behind the driver seat. There were two exhaust pipes coming thru the top on either side. I packed as much stuff as I could between those pipes including Capt. Steens rack.
We left for Hill 51at first light with a contingent of 2/5 and a couple of tanks. The trip to Hill 51 was pretty much uneventful except when I had to fill in a crossing over a river. The sides were fairly steep and Capt Steens rack shifted while I was working, his mattress caught on fire as it made contact with my exhaust pipes. I had this big fire burning on top of my dozer. I was cutting COM wire that I used as lashing as fast as I could throwing everything off. Capt Steens rack and mattress was ruined. I also found out later my sea bag never made it back on either so I had no change of clothes for quite sometime. The underwear was no problem because we never wore any, to hot, but socks and trousers were.
We got in to Hill 51 late in the afternoon; we were well and truly in country, the bush. Hill 51 was nestled in the Que Son Valley with mountain ridges on either side. A small village was to the right of the compound as one looked up the Valley. The small village had formed around the Main Gate where a road passed by. While we there the road wasn t much more than a wide dirt path. Years later when I returned to visit in 1988 the road was paved lined with gum trees, 40 feet high. The Vietnamese that were our guides told us the road was named the American Road because the Army Engineers built it up and paved it. The Li Li River meandered down the valley on the opposite side of the compound with rice paddies lining each side of the river. Green, green, it was all so green.
As one entered the compound the CP tent was on the right, that s where Col Hilgartner and Lt/Col Meachum hung out. They had a platoon of 1st Tanks right next to their tent. To the left was a large open area that was part of a Vietnamese graveyard and unused rice paddies below that. In the middle there were two large clumps of very large granite boulders. In the saddle between the boulders where the 05 and 55 tows with an ammo pit. From there the compound dropped down to about fifty yards from the river. The 1/5-infantry companies were dispersed around the compound with a small LZ between the tanks and 05 gun pits. There was only one tree inside the whole area, which was near the larger clump of rocks to the left from the main gate. The whole compound was surrounded with rows and rows of barbwire; OP pits about thirty yards apart.
By the time we got in I had about ten grunts riding on my dozer due to heat prostration, man was it hot, I mean hot! We were all glad to finally get there and entering the compound with all the barbwire gave one the false since of security. Somebody directed us thru the two clumps of boulders past the 05 pits to the other side by the river. It was a nice grassy slopping hillside that would be our home for the next five months or so. By the time we settled in a bit and took stock of our gear and surroundings it was pretty well dark. They had prepared chow for us at the chow tent and after that we just laid our ponchos on the open ground and fell asleep. It felt good to finally be some where, so I remembered going right to sleep until we were woken up just at first light.
The next day was a beehive of activity. I was set to work with my dozer scrapping flat areas to pitch the tents. Dug out the side of the hill for the FDC bunker, then the gun pits, then ammo pits. All of us were doing this while choppers were flying 155 ammo and powder canisters, it all had to be stacked nicely in the ammo pits, each round weighed 98 to 110 pounds. The guns were backed into the gun pits and calibrated with the aiming stakes. And then there were sandbags.......hundreds of thousands of sandbags. Each tent had to be surrounded with sandbags, the ammo pit, gun pits, FDC bunker, even the water buffalo had to be surrounded with sandbags. And if that wasn t enough just fill sandbags for the sake of filling sandbags and man, was it hot!
Fire missions started pretty much the first night. We d get a mission about every three hours, which was very confusing, these were all T&I s. You really weren t shooting at anything, just probable approach areas , just incase. Of course we never knew that when they gave us the mission. It was mostly two rounds, secure the gun, and go back to bed. Two hours later just as you going back to sleep, from the FDC Bunker someone would yell FIRE MISSION , so it started all over again. The other thing was no safety inspectors. Stateside or in Japan there were 5 safety inspectors per gun. There was so much regulation it was amazing if you got a round off every 5 minutes. In Vietnam we honed our firing skills down to one every 12 seconds.
After everything got pretty much set up, we were told that we had to cover security for our section. Four OP s were ours along the outer perimeter of the compound. We also had to cover the LP in that section. Each guy in the Platoon had OP watch every four days or so. I was then told to get in with a gun crew for when somebody on that gun had OP duty. I became powder man on Wendall Shannon s gun.
Firing a 155 gun was pretty cool. In the gun crew, you had the Gunner, A-Gunner, Powder man and the guy who controlled the Quadrant. The Gunner would site the gun sites along the aiming stakes. The turret of the Gun could transverse about 15 degrees either side of center. Anything more than that you have to move the gun and reset your aiming stakes. It sounds like a big deal but we got to where we could get it done within a matter of seconds. To load the gun you had to bring the breach up to load position at which time the Powder man (me), would open the small breach that held the primer it would pop out as the A-Gunner would open the main breach. At which time the Powder man (me) would lower the loading tray into the breach. Then the A-gunner would load the round on the tray, which the ground crew had set on the tailgate. The ground crew would set and screw on the fuses on the nose of the round. The fuses would determine if the round was an airburst, delayed burst or would blow up on impact. We had H&E rounds (High Explosive) or WP (Willy Peter). We could also fire flares. They would also open the powder canisters and set they appropriate bags of powder on the tailgate. There were long and short bags of powder, they could determine the range by the combination of powder bags and the angle of the gun. We got all this info from the boys in the FDC bunker. Comm wire and headsets were used to relay the information.
After the A-Gunner loaded the round on the tray, he and I would take the cleaning rod to ram the round home. The gun had a hydraulic ram but it never worked. As we were doing that the powder bags were loaded onto the tray and I would ram them home using my fist. As I brought my fist out I would grab the handle on the tray and pull it back. As soon as the tray would clear the breach the A-Gunner would slam shut the hatch and then I would place the primer in the primer breach and shut that hatch. As we were doing that the gun would be raising back to firing position and the guy with the quadrant would tell the gunner when to stop when the bubble was centered on the quadrant. Then we would wait for the FDC Officer to give us the command to fire and the A-Gunner pulled the lanyard to fire the gun. As the gun fired it would raise a bit off the ground. We had a scaffire on the back of the gun that looked like a big bulldozer blade with teeth in it that the gun would back up on to take up the recoil when fired.
I know this all sounds a bit complicated, but when we got the command to fire for effect we could get rounds off every 12 seconds. We were good but we never once beat #2 gun. I don t know what they did but they always beat us.
After a month or so on Hill 51 things became pretty much routine. There where two reasons why we all sat on that hill. One was Que Son Valley was a natural approach area to the Da Nang Airfield, so we were to close off that approach area and two, the valley was very fertile and a main rice growing area. We were to provide security for the farmers to get their rice harvest in and not allow the VC to tax or bother them.
In that time we got a few decent fire missions but most of the time we just fired H&I s (Harassing and interdiction). Two of the larger fire missions we got in that time were, once we fired on a bunch of sampans in a river. The other and by far the coolest were a Recon unit had infiltrated into a VC base camp and were calling in rounds from inside the base camp, we had to be very careful on that one. The major frustration we had in these fire missions is that they never told us if we hit anything, it use to really piss us off. The H&I s were a bummer because we would get three or four a night. We never knew if it was an H&I or a bigger mission. We would just get back to sleep after securing the gun and after a short time, got a call Fire Mission! And then we would have to do it all over again.
I don t remember how long we were there until it finally happened, a couple three-month or so. Everything had been pretty quite, a few small unit actions with the grunts from 1/5. I remember they would bring in prisoners now and again and I would go check them out, my first look at a real VC. Small little skinny guys, a lot of time bandaged up with some wound.
Then one evening we all had chow, it started getting dark so the OP s and LP s took up their position. It was my night to be on the gun crew. When dark came we all just hit the sack because there was nothing else to do, we were in the bush so no lights after dark.
We had been trained what to do incase of rocket or mortar attack. We all had a place to go where our Officers and Staff NCO s would know where we were. Kevin, our Corpsman and I were to go to the sand bagged water buffalo. Artillery in a rocket or mortar attack had to get to their guns and start firing back, even as rounds were coming in. The reason for this was, they figured in an attack it s always better to fight back as soon as possible. So in the case of attack all artillery pieces were given a pre-arranged set of coordinates to start firing on. These were a calculated by people a lot smarter than me to be possible areas that the enemy would set up his artillery or rockets.
It must of been somewhere between one or two in the morning, I was sound a sleep. We had already got to the point where we could sleep thru out going artillery so big booms didn t bother us. I was waken by shouts of IN COMING!!, RED ALERT . I was wide awake in a split second, we always slept in our clothes so all I had to do was jump in my boots and grab, flack jacket, helmet and rifle and run to the sandbagged water buffalo. As I grabbed all my stuff it seemed as the whole world was blowing up around me, I could see and hear the explosions of the incoming rounds. Putting on my flack jacket as I ran out of the sandbagged tent I made my way to the water buffalo, Kevin was already there on the ground snuggled up against the sandbags, face in the dirt. I followed suit as I hit the deck, yelling at Kevin if he was O.K. I didnít hear from Kevin, but I did hear someone yelling right out side where we were. I noticed it was Gary Jones, a small black guy who was running around in circles. Kevin noticed it also and he and I yelled for Gary to get in with us, rounds were landing everywhere. Gary kept running around and we could now make out what he was saying, he was yelling I CAN T FIND MY HELMET!!! . Later we found out he didnít know if he should go to his position or go back and look for his helmet, so he just ran in a circle in his confusion. Kevin and I both jumped up and grabbed Gary, hauling him into our sandbagged area.
During a lull as I lay there, I began hearing my named yelled out by the guys on my gun crew. I then realized they needed a powder man. I jumped up, grabbing my rifle as I ran to the gun pit. Half way there another salvo of rounds began to explode all around our area. As I looked down I thought I saw a hole in the ground which I jumped into. I lay there for a second when the gun crew kept yelling for me to get my ass over there. I jumped up and instantly realized I didn t have my rifle. Looking around, I couldnít find it as the gun crew kept screaming at me. I just ran to the gun where just before jumping over the berm, I tripped over my rifle, it must have been thirty or forty feet from where I hit the deck. Grabbing my rifle I made it to the gun and jumped up on the tailgate and took my position, not noticing there was no more incoming, we were getting ready to ram home the first round when we were told by the gunner to cease fire. We all stood at the ready wondering what was happening. We stood there a minute or two and then the gunner told us to secure the gun. We were all in total confusion.
We all secured the gun asking each other what was going on, none of us new. We then went back to our tent where the Gunny was asking for any casualties; Kevin was running around checking up on everybody. After a complete search and taking names, everybody was accounted for and no casualties, Thank God. None of us could sleep the rest of the night, we all stayed awake and just talked about what happened trying to figure it out.
Early in the morning we heard reports that two were killed on the hill and twelve wounded. Still no word as to what happened, then the Gunny came and told us it was friendly fire. A platoon from 1/3 had a sweep and got lost in the night and came upon us. Being lost and not knowing where they were or who we were, they called in Artillery on us. The Battalion Gunny figured it was friendly fire because the rounds were coming in salvos and not being walked in as the gooks would do. He got on the radio, called all the surrounding hills that had arty on them until he found the one that was firing and told them to knock it off, which they did. We heard later that heads rolled from that action, not only the Platoon Commanders from 1/3 for getting lost but more from the arty that fired on us because they should of had our position plotted on their charts.
The weirdest thing was that they brought the Platoon from 1/3 into our compound to be choppered out. It s hard to imagine the vibes we had toward those Marines in 1/3; nobody spoke to them as they loaded up on the choppers, just hard looks. We probably should of been more forgiving, but at the time........Well, you know.
Later in the morning I began to wonder where that hole was where I jumped into the night before between the water buffalo and the gun. I never remembered a hole being there, so I thought I would go look. I was amazed to find what I thought was a hole the night before was really just an indention in the soft dirt where a deuce and a half had been the day before unloading 55 rounds for us. Thinking I was well secure below the surface, really I was just laying on top clasping my helmet as rounds were dropping around me. And the rifle? I must have just heaved it unknowingly thirty feet as I hit the deck.
Looking down at what I thought was that hole in the ground I also noticed that white was beginning to show thru the toes of my Jungle boots.
Here s what happened as I saw it. We had a pretty big fire mission the night before Swift started, at the time we had no idea what was just before us. Dave Orton, #1 gun driver and gunner and I were cleaning the gun. Although I was the dozer operator I was also powder man on Dave s gun. The regular powder man (can t remember his name) didnít like it and wanted to be on the ground setting fuses, so I, liking the action took over.
We were on Hill 51 in Que Son Valley with, 1/5, a company of 1st Tanks, a Platoon of 05 and 55 tows. Col Hilgartner was in command of the area.
Our guns were 155 SP,s with a turret on an M-53 carrier. The M-53 s ran a gas V-12 engine. Obsolete but I guess they wanted to get them all blown up before bringing in the 175's. Our maximum range was 17 miles although we rarely hit our target at the range because to many variables. We generally fired between 7 to 12 miles. 55and 05 tows would pick up most of the closer stuff. 81's right around the perimeter.
Anyway, Dave and I were cleaning the gun and we were up over the motor hatches when I looked up and saw this Huey about a mile south of us firing their M-60 s. As I was watching they took a hit, big white puff of smoke and then they went down. I found out later that one of our security patrols ran right in to the lead element of the 2nd NVA division. They were totally out gunned and set a make shift perimeter and called in the Huey for help. When the Huey went down it landed right in the middle of their perimeter. The crew not being hurt took the M-60 s off the chopper and joined in the fight. A few of the security patrol were already dead and a number wounded.
It wasnít thirty seconds after that when I noticed red flares going up all over the compound with everybody yelling RED ALERT . The place turned into a total madhouse. People running everywhere-grabbing weapons and ammo. Gunnyís were screaming at their troops getting them together and making sure they had what they needed.
It took about five minutes before the first group of about 40 Marines from 1/5 to begin moving out thru the main gate. The rest were still getting it together being issued supporting weapons, M-60 s, LAWS, 60 mm Mortars. All the time we could hear the small arms fire.
Dave and I jumped from the gun and ran into our hootches to grab our gear and then made it back to the gun getting set up for a fire mission. By the time I got back most of the guys in our outfit were at their battle station waiting orders. You could see other groups of marines running for OP s and filling in our secondary line of defense while their officers were accessing the situation and figuring out what to do and what they were up against. The small arms fire was getting more and more intense as all this was happening.
It didnít take long before the 05 s were getting fire missions and began firing. The first group of Marines that left the compound were getting enveloped by the NVA and had to fight their way to the beleaguer security patrol. By then, from where we sat, we could hear the small arms fire a lot closer and see tracers coming from their direction.
Gunny Snowman made his way to the guns and told us what was happening. He said for now we were to stay at our stations and await further orders but that most likely we would be taking over the OPís if the grunts had to go in support because everything was so close, to close for us to fire. We were all pretty hyped by this time and a bit pissed that we could do more to help .
A short time later Kevin, our corpsman was called to the CP, they were already taking numerous casualties and bringing them back in (we found out later that C Company, one of the first units out, took 80% casualties the first twenty minutes after leaving the compound ). By now more choppers were showing up in support plus medi-vacs. The 05 s were firing hot and heavy, a number of our FDC boys were sent to help with ammo for them. The noise level was becoming more and more intense, our gun crews along with myself were still a station standing by, more and more frustrated.
The first air strikes stated coming in by late afternoon, A-4 s and Phantoms. If you have never seen a real air strike in support of Marines, it is a site to behold. By the time we saw them they were right on the deck releasing napalm. There is really nothing you can really say about it; you just stare in awe with your mouth hanging open. Every time a plane would fly over there was a huge increase of tracers as the NVA tried to shoot them down. We didn t realize it then but the NVA had brought some heavy anti air weapons with them they had mounted a wheeled carriage (can t remember what caliber they were).
By early evening with darkness setting in the battle was taking shape. Of course we didnít know that, in fact we rarely knew what was going on in the big picture, we all just did what we were told. I didnít know what happened until years later when I got hold of an after action report I found at the VET Center in Eureka, California.
I did notice that the battle had moved from the south and was raging both sides of our compound toward the north. By then most of our guys was either working with the 05 s or had taken over the OP s as the grunts were sent out. Then it came down that we were all going to take over OPs or the second line of defense because Hilgartner was trying to get in behind the NVA and push them our way and use Hill 51 as a blocking force with us and the Tanks. I was sent down to the wire with an M 60 with a couple of other guys. It wasnít long after dark that this guy jumped in the hole with us. To my surprise it was Chaplin Cappadonno. I wasn t to scared until then. I figured we were going to be in some pretty tough Shit if the Chaplin was coming around. He visited for a short time and then went to the next hole. He was killed the next day rescuing wounded marines, the only Chaplin in the Vietnam War that received the MOH.
The thing I remember most about the night was that the jets were still flying air strikes. You could see them come down the valley drop their load swing up and around to drop another load. What blew my mind was that every time they made a pass I couldnít understand how they didnít get shot out of the sky. I mean the sky was just solid red with tracers and then you figure every fifth round was a tracer.
I guess the NVA sussed out what Hilgartner was trying to do because the push to our compound never came. I found out later it was just us arty guys manning the whole compound. Morning came and we sat in the OP s the battle still raging all around, choppers, jets everywhere, 05 s and 55 s still pounding away. Some of the grunts were coming back in for a break and to get some hot chow. By now elements of 3/5 had entered the fight (all of 3/5 and some of 3rd Marines would be in it before it was over).
One thing that sticks in my mind, I was told to go up and get some chow. As I entered the mess tent there was this guy sitting there shaking like a leaf. He had his coffee cup up to his mouth but he was shaking too much to be able to drink. You could tell the guy was emotionally wasted just coming in from the field. I grabbed some chow and sat to eat it when this other guy just coming in from the field pranced into the mess tent with him holding the barrel of his M16 with the rest of it resting on his shoulder. He was all happy, even whistling a tune as he came in. He looked at the guy sitting there all shook up and said Hey Jones, what s the matter man, those gooks canít shoot, they re all shooting way high. Just stay low, you ll be all right . I don t know if that comforted Jones too much.
I went back to the OP and late in the afternoon the Tanks took off some where. Found out later Hilgartner sent them to another ridge where he was again pushing the NVA into a make shift blocking force with tanks from Hill 63. Although the main fight had moved up the valley more there was still plenty of action going on around our compound. By late afternoon the second day were heard the 05 s were running out on ammo and 46's were flying in emergency runs of 05's rounds hanging from nets under the choppers. As they came into the LZ they were taking hits from anti aircraft guns the NVA had. A number of us including myself were told to go to the LZ and make a human chain to haul 05 ammo from the LZ to the 05 s.
This is where it got real scary for me. It was now dark the second night, I was in this line taking and handing ammo to the next guy, the noise was unbelievable, choppers coming in, arty going out, everybody screaming and yelling and you still couldnít hear anything. When the gunny comes over and tells me Means fire up your dozer and head to the CP, they got a mission for you . I ran to my Dozer fired her up and made it to the CP where I was met by this Captain. He told me that a 46 had taken a bad hit and had to drop his basket of ammo in the rice patty outside the compound. He didnít want to leave it there so he sent out this small rough terrain forklift to pick it up but it got stuck in the mud. I was to go out and get the forklift pull him out and then go find the basket hook it to the winch on the back of my dozer and haul it in. Man, I had no idea where all this stuff was. The Captain just said get going and pointed in the direction and I took off. I crossed over the road went into the rice paddy and there in the middle of it I faintly saw the forklift with this Marine sitting on top. I spun around hooked up his forklift and pulled him to the road. As I unhooked the forklift I yelled where is the ammo basket ; the guy just looked at me and pointed the way we had come as he hot footed it back in the compound. So I turned my dozer around and headed back out as the choppers were flying in dropping their loads. As I was making my way across the paddy a chopper must of been lost because as he came near me he hit his landing light right on me. So there I was in the middle of this rice paddy perfectly light up. Not fifty yards away an NVA Machine gun opened up on the chopper as he veered away. I was a sitting duck. As the NVA was firing on the chopper, with the choppers light I could see the basket of ammo and went spun around hooked it up, jumped back in my seat, started back to the compound. The thing that gets me today that I ll never understand is why that NVA guy never fired on me. He had me dead to rights, I was dead meat.
The rest of what happened is rather just a blur as time has obscured things. I don t think I ever fired my weapon in that action as it raged around me and I do remember feeling the frustration of that.
History proves that Operation Swift was one of the most important operations of the war. The 2nd NVA Division was working their way to the Da Nang area where they were to take part in the 68 TET offensive. 1/5 stopped them in their tracks even if it was an accident. More MOH were received in that operation than any other operation in the Vietnam War. A lot of good men died, and I knew quite a few of them, I can t help but think that their actions saved the lives of many more had the 2nd NVA division accomplished their mission. I never fired a shot, but I was there.
1st Air Cav took over Hill 51 in the Que Son Valley; they were moving all the Marines up to the DMZ. We left early in the morning to work our way out to Hill 63 on Hwy 1, then down to Chu Lai where an LST was waiting to take us up to Da Nang. Col Hilgartner had rotated and a Maj Thompson had taken over 1/5 and Lt. Col Meachem who was 1/5 XO took over 2/5. Everybody was a bit nervous about this Maj Thompson, it always took a while to get use to new officers, especially when your life depended on them.
We had to wait around a bit for the Cobraís to show up who were going to cover us from the air. Tanks and our guns were lined up, me and my dozer were the lead vehicle Two tanks behind me, our two guns and then a tank behind them for rear security, I had to clear the way, the grunts had to walk. The grunts were all laying around with all their gear ready, plenty of LAWS and M 60 s, M 79 s. Tons of gear piled up on our guns, C rations and extra ammo. Choppers had come in the day before to haul out all excess gear to Chu Lai.
Cobras came flying over about 0800. Gunny s started yelling all right boys, saddle up, and lets move out . Point moved out first with the point squad behind them, then the flankers. Main body began to move the grunts on either side of me, tanks, guns, rear security last. By 0900 already hotter than hell.
There was a road to Hill 63 but it was all chewed up and we knew it was mined. SOP was to skirt the road and head thru the rice paddies. I took off everybody followed right down the middle of the paddies.
Things were going pretty good until late afternoon when I went thru this little ditch. No problem for the first tank and me. I just kept going. After a bit I looked around and it was just me and the first tank, Jesus, we were all alone, where was everybody . I looked at the tank driver and motioned, what s up? He looked confused and shook his head, didn t know. We both turned around and when we got back the second tank had got stuck in the ditch, the third tank was pulling him out.
I was watching when the 1st Sgt came and jumped up on my dozer and told me to build a ramp up on the road so the other tracked vehicles could get up. I responded with, we weren t suppose to do that , the 1st Sgt said orders from the Major. I was a bit confused because the tanks and guns could easily get up on the road with out my help but just did what I was told, but I guess not good enough. The next thing I know was this guy running full tilt towards me and then jump on my dozer and started chewing my ass off royally.
It was Major Thompson. I can t remember all the horrible names I was called but basically he told me when he gave an order to make a ramp he wanted a proper ramp. I said Aye, Aye sir , and made a real nice ramp.
From then on things went real slow. The gooks had dug big holes in the road plus stuck cut up railroad iron up in the road to make it unusable. I had to fill in holes and push these pieces of iron out of the ground. I knew I was going to hit a mine at any time. The grunts were really pissed because they wanted to get into Hill 63 before dark. They really began to wonder about this Maj. Thompson.
Late afternoon we started taking sniper fire, Cobra s were firing everywhere, flankers moved on a couple of hooch's and blew them up with their M 69 s. We were there for the night. Grunts formed a perimeter, then it began to rain, and then it began to pour. Nothing happened the rest of the night but non-of us got any sleep except for five minutes here and there, most of us were wet and cold, I was scared.
First light we began to move out again. I was working hard getting the road in shape for everybody else when I looked up and there was this deuce and a half that was blown up down the road about 100 yards or so. Everybody waited for some reason while I went to push it off the road. I was then told to go and fill the hole up which I didn t think was any big deal. So I did that and came back, Hill 63 was only about a click away and we were home free. As we moved out about thirty yards the tank behind me ran over a mine that blew their track off. This one grunt was so mad he thru his canteen he was drinking out of in the rice patty and started cursing the shit out of Major Thompson. I realized I had run over that mine about five times running back and forth clearing the road.
We got into Hill 63 just in time for evening chow and just before it started pouring again. 9th Engineers had a flatbed waiting to pick up my dozer to take it to Chu Lai for us. I loaded it and then asked Capt Steen if I could ride in with the Guns on Hwy 1. He gave me permission, which I was pretty happy about, because I wanted to stay with my buddies.
It poured all night and we had to just find a place to sleep the best we could. I remember I didn t sleep too much or not at all, drank a lot of coffee. The tanks and guns got fueled up in the night plus we had to re-arrange a lot of stuff so we could leave first thing in the morning. Most of the grunts were going to get air lifted out but one of the company's from 1/5 were going with us for security.
We had early chow and then took off at first light down Hwy 1 to Chu Lai. Two tanks led the way with our two guns and then a tank in the rear. The grunts were piled on and I was riding on Mike s gun, which was behind Wendell Shannon s gun. Mike was on the 50 and I straddled the barrel leaning up against the turret, Capt Steen was also on the same gun. Kevin the Corpsman, also my best buddy was, was riding on top of the turret on the first gun. It was easy going compared to what we went thru getting in to Hill 63. 9th Engineers had the responsibility to keep the road open and safe and so far it looked as if they were doing a pretty good job of it.
After going for most of the day we pulled into Hill 29 where there was a Marine Four-Deuce outfit. The CO was a friend of Capt Steen s, which he wanted to pay a visit to. The Marines there seemed real happy to see us; Some of their guys took us over to this Deuce and a half with a canvas covering the bed. When they lifted up the canvas it was filled with cases of Tiger Beer, man did that blow our minds. Then they just began passing this beer to all our guys. I mean what a cool break but I couldn t figure out where they got all that beer. In a very short amount of time we were all getting a little bit shit faced. It turned out to be a great place to take a break; I mean how cool can it get. Back then in 68 one could still drive with a higher alcohol level and get away with it. You wouldn t want to try that today. It was getting late afternoon when we staggered back to or guns loaded up and took off once again, I was feeling pretty good for being tired, wet and cold.
As we took off we were only about five miles from Tam Ky and a lot of Vietnamese were on the road. We passed an ARVN Compound and they all waved with big smiles on their faces as we passed. About a hundred or two hundred meters down the road from there the road was in the middle of rice paddies with the ARVN compound behind us, a village about 200 yards across the paddy to our right, and two small villages separated to our left just before a river. When all hell broke loose, the gun ahead of ours with Kevin sitting on top of the turret ran over a culvert through the road which had a four hundred pound charge hidden in it. As they ran over it somebody detonated the charge and #1 gun of 52 tons was blown off Hwy 1, out into the rice patty. It was a huge explosion. In shock, I saw Kevin go air born along with the gun. Kevin came down landing on his back over the scaffire that we backed the gun up on when we were in firing position. It looked like a big bulldozer blade with ugly teeth on it. I was sure Kevin couldn t of survived that and was probably dead as the gunny yelled for us to watch our heads as giant dirt clauds where crashing down around us.
My concern for Kevin was short lived as we began to take heavy small arms fire. The tanks opened up first with their 30 s. Mike opened up with the 50 just over my head as we were told to get off the gun and lay down a base of fire. As I got up to jump I was faced toward the ARVN compound where there were a lot of mussel flashes and rounds coming our way. I yelled at Mike, incoming small arms at five o'clock . He turned the 50 on them, blowing them all to shit. I jumped off the gun to join up with Lopez and Johnson firing at the two small villages by the river. There were still a lot of Vietnamese around that were caught in the crossfire, they were getting mowed down like dried grass, and there was nothing we could do about it as we tried to gain fire superiority.
Then guys started yelling for ammo. By now it had gotten pretty dark, I remembered a box of ammo up by Mike on the 50, so I ran around to the back of the gun and yelled at Mike to throw down some ammo. I thought he would just pass down some bandoleers, but in his haste and with all the excitement he just pushed over the whole box. I couldn t see a damn thing as I stood there with my hands held up to receive the ammo. The wooden box of ammo came flying down crashing into my arms and face, nailing me in the chest, knocking me to the ground. Goddamn did that hurt as I lay on the ground feeling blood running down my cheek.
Guys were still yelling for ammo as I picked my self up grabbed the box and made my way back as somebody some where started firing flares for us. That began a lull in the firing as we started reloading our weapons not receiving anymore fire. Then one of the Para shutes on one of the flares didn t open and the flare fell right to the ground by the river. It most of just landed right on or right next to this gook, for he jumped up and when he did he was a perfect target for everybody on the line. We all opened up, the 50 s, 30 s, M 60 s, m14 s, M16 s, M69 s, this poor guy was blown into a million pieces right before our eyes in less than a second.
I was standing there in awe in what I just saw take place when I felt somebody grab my shoulder and spin me around. I couldn t believe it was Kevin, our corpsman. He looked all screwed up like he wasn t all there. I was sure he was dead but there he stood. Somebody saw my face all bloody and thought I was hit and went and told him. He then said, Bob, where are you hit, you O.K. (or something like that). In return I said something like sure Kev, I m O.K. . That s when he puked all over my trouser leg and fell to the ground. We picked him up and took him over to the Gun and Leaned him up against track. This guy ran over asked if we wanted a medivac. Kevin looked at the guy and said Hell no, I don t want a medivac! . Then Mike yelled at me to get on the 50 because he had to help short track #1 gun to get it out of the rice paddy. The rest of the night it was pretty quite, I fired T&I s the rest of the night periodically just to let all around we were still awake.
At first light the Vietnamese were pulling all their dead out of the rice paddies, it was a pretty sickening sight, Small kids and Ma Ma sans. Others just went back to work in their rice fields, going up and down the road like nothing happened, really weird. We were told to fire up #2 gun and take it back down the road because the engineers were coming to fill in the road where the charge had blown out. Lopez and me were left there to watch the gun while everybody else was busy trying to get the other gun back on the road. My face was really starting to hurt along with my arm and chest. A lot of Vietnamese were passing us on the road when a couple of kids put their hands up for food. We had some open C Rations so I threw down something to one of the kids. Man! what a mistake that was. With in an instant of time we were surrounded by hundreds of Vietnamese begging for food. God I thought here we just wiped out half these peoples village and they have the balls to come and beg for food.
At first they just stood there but then a few younger guys tried to get up on the gun. I pointed my rifle at them and told them to di di . They backed off for a second but the crowd kept getting in closer. Some of the people were laughing and more kids tried to get on the gun. I was really getting scared because I thought I was going to have to start shooting these people. I ran forward where to kids had almost got up on the gun and kicked them square in the chest knocking then back to the ground to more screams of laughter. And they just kept coming, I really didn t know what to do until I started grabbing fifty caliber casings that were left all over the top of the gun from the night before. I began heaving those casings as hard as I could, nailing people in the head and chest. That kept them back until some grunts saw we were in trouble and came running down the road to clear the area.
Shortly after that we were told for our gun and two tanks to get going on to Chu Lai and the others would come as soon as they got the other gun up and running. Lt Wasson came with us and Capt Steen stayed back with the other gun.
When we got into Tam Ky the bridge had been blown and the engineers had a ferry going across the river. We were going to have about an hour wait to get all the vehicles across. Man, my face hurt, I was beat tired as the adrenalin began to wear off form the night before plus three nights of no or very little sleep. I saw a patch of grass by the side of the road and thought it would be a great place to lay just for a minute. I lay down and was just dozing off when this little girl came up to me and wanted to practice her English. Man! Was I pissed. I don t remember what I said to her but I was very rude and then she laid into me. She looked at me with eyes of fire, screaming at the top of her lungs as she wagged her finger at me. WHAT DO YOU TALK TO BABY SAN LIKE THAT FOR she started, then carried on for another minute or so until she finally turned on her heels, put her nose in the air and stomped off with her hands on her hips. Boy, did I feel like a heel.
We finally got into Chu Lai late in the afternoon. They told us to go straight to the chow hall. Were we ever a mess, just coming in from four months in the bush, compared to these Chu Lai people. We all walked over to the mess hall as a wild herd, weapons still in hand. As we got to the mess hall front hatch, the first couple of guys stopped to figure out what to do, we all pushed in the back of them cause a lot of commotion. Inside the mess hall went from a lot of chatter to dead quite. We looked at them for a minute as they looked at us. The Chu Lai boys got out of line to give us their places and up from their seats, which made us all, feel pretty good.
Epilogue: I always remembered that little girl of Tam Ky and wished I had done better. When I went back to Vietnam in the late eighties, the group that had come over to help in one of the orphanages we were building, all had dinner together at the REX Hotel in Saigon. I was a bit tired and decided to leave a bit early so started walking back to where I was staying at the Quay Hung Hotel. As I left the REX there was this little girl out front selling peanuts. She asked me in perfect English if I want to buy some peanuts. I told her no and kept walking. Then I noticed she was following me which brought back to my memory the little girl of Tam Ky some twenty years before. So I stopped and knelt down and asked her how much for the peanuts. In doing so I sat down on the curb as she did also and we began to talk. We talked all about her family, how she learned English and what she wanted to do as she got older. As we were talking a considerable crowd of people began to gather. And one of the older ladies began to shout at the little girl. And I picked up the word Lin so meaning Russian in Vietnamese. The little girl shook her head and angrily shouted back No! Mai Meaning Vietnamese for American. That caused quite a rucas as the little girl looked up at with eyes of pride. I m glad I took the time.
We d been in country four months or so, taken our Guns out to Que Son Valley. Went thru Operation Swift, ambushed at Tam Ky, hundreds of fire missions. We were no longer new guys, we now had the look and talk of those that had been there and done that, bush Marines.
They were moving all Marines north and Army were taking everything between Da Nang and Chu Lai, so we spent two days loading everything we had on and old LST off the beach of Chu Lai to go to Da Nang. This LST was old, I mean real old. It was contracted out to some Korean outfit just to haul cargo and troops up and down the coast. It didn t have a number, just small black letters that said. US Ship , no name. The crew, all Korean s were civilians.
Everything was loaded and dogged down, the ramp was raised and the bow hatches were closed as we backed off the beach. Of course we were all hungry but no working galley, so we all opened up C-rats in our troop compartment as the ship headed north out to sea.
As soon as we got out in Open Ocean the ship began to roll heavily, we cruised right out into a heavy storm, somebody even mentioned typhoon. As the ship turned north we were taking waves right on the bow. You could feel the ship rise high in the bow and then the crash as she plowed into the massive wave.
A number of us wanted to go out and see what was going on. If this had been a US Naval ship with real Squids they wouldn t have let us go up on deck in conditions like this. This civilian crew didn t really care what we did, so we ran up to the top deck and went through a hatch aft by the superstructure. There was five of us, Lopez, Johnson, Don Lohnes, myself and Bill Tinney. The first thing we noticed was that the Korean Captain was up on the catwalk of the bridge doing some kind of Oriental exercise. We all thought was a little bit weird and had a laugh, then we turned our focus to the huge waves crashing over the bow.
Then a plan began to take shape. As we watched the bow would raise fifty feet, or so, into the air and then it would crash down. It would take about thirty seconds or so from the rising to the crash. We noticed that up in the foc sle there was a combing that came over the bow about four feet off the deck and one could actually get under that combing when the wave crashed over and not get wet. Then someone said, can t remember who but I think it was me, if we went back in and ran to the forward hatch, waited for the crash and feeling the ship begin to rise, we could bust out the hatch and get to the combing hide under there and not get wet as the waves came over the bow . We all agreed that was the best thing we could do and took off.
We all got to the forward hatch waiting for the crash. As soon as the ship began to rise we opened the hatch and ran forward along the deck to the combing, perfect, just perfect, the last man closed the hatch with still plenty of time to get to the combing. The ship was still rising when we got there so we raised our hands in defiance of the elements and began shouting and screaming, yelling at the ocean to come and get us as the ship began it s downward motion. Then it was chicken time, who could be the last guy to duck under the combing before the wave crashed over us. Man it worked perfect, ducking under the combing at the last second with tons of water going over us and no buddy getting wet.
As the ship began to rise we would jump up and hoot, howl, shout and carry on like a bunch of flaming fools. We did this about three or four times and then we noticed Bill Tinney wasn t coming up, not only that, he was laying on the deck groaning in agony, green with seasickness, he then began to puke his guts out. Bill was a pretty big guy, he wasn t moving, we realized we had to get him back inside. We told Bill we were going to go back in but he said he couldn t get up, he was to sick as he puked again. Now we had to come up with another plan, how to get Bill in, realizing we were going to have to carry him.
The plan was that Lopez was to go first as the ship began to rise, make it to the hatch, turn the handle, get in shut and secure the hatch so no water got in. On the next wave after the crash the three of us left would grab Bill the best we could and drag him to the hatch. At the time the ship began to rise Lopez would open the hatch and let us in, no problem.
Crash, the time had come, Lopez took off ran to the hatch, open and got in, plenty of time left as he secured the hatch behind him. O.K., the next crash, we all grabbed Bill, he was too big to carry, we had to drag him over the deck as he groaned. By the time we got to the hatch the ship was on its way down, why wasn t the hatch open, what in the hell was Lopez doing. We franticly began pounding on the hatch, yelling for Lopez to open the fucking hatch. We only had a few seconds left before the crashing wave came over the bow and washed us all aft over the top deck, maiming or killing us, Bill was sure to drowned. The hatch came open just as the first of the wave came over the combing. We pushed and rolled Bill in as best we could, jumping on top of him as Lopez along with others grabbed the hatch and shut it. No time to secure it, three or four feet of water already on deck, had to hold it shut the best we could as Bill lay on the bottom of the pile groaning and puking.
As the ship began to rise, we all looked at Lopez, except Bill of course, and shouted Lopez! What in the hell were you doing!! , Lopez looked at us sheepishly, he said The handle got stuck, I couldn t get it open .
Dragging Bill back to our compartment, we tried to get him up to his rack but he wouldn t go, so he just lay on the deck as the Gunny came in. Gunny says, Who s out on deck . We answer back, nobody, Guns . Then he says, the Captain came and told us somebody was out there and he wanted everybody inside , we answered O.K., no problem . The Gunny noticing Tinney laying on the deck say s, what s wrong with Tinney , sea sick, Gunny . Then the Gunny says, well get him up in his rack , tried gunny, he won t go, Gunny says, oh , turns and leaves the compartment.
Introduction: The 68 Tet Offensive in Vietnam is characterized by big battles, Hue, Siagon, De Lat and so forth. I wish to say that besides all the big battles, there were hundreds if not thousands of small engagements where individual and small groups of soldiers and Marines bound together to stay alive and defeat the enemy. This is one of those engagements, my story.
After the wild ride in through a typhoon from Chu Lai we landed at the Bridge Ramp at Da Nang. Off loading from the rusty old LST run by Koreans we made our way through Dog Patch around Liberty Hill out to Red Beach area. Red Beach was north of Da Nang about 12 miles. 1/7 was just south of us along with some Marine Engineer outfit. 1/7 s job was perimeter security for the whole of Da Nang area, pretty big job. They ran a lot of operations out in what was called Happy Valley. Our 155 (sp) Guns were to cover fire for them when ever needed.
We found Red Beach pretty cool after the Que Son Valley, Operation Swift and the ambush at Tam Ky. Army took over the compound at Que Son where we were with 1/5. All Marines where going North, 1/5 moved up to Phu Bai. Our 155 Self Propelled Guns had been in country about six months and our jungle boats were well and truly white from wear.
At Red beach, I set right in with my dozer building gun and ammo pits along with a big berm around our area. There was a 05 outfit next to us and they had been there awhile. We found a proper mess hall with Vietnamese working in it, we started having real meals again. We even made a hot shower. A couple of the guys cut the top off two 55 gallon drums. Then we built a wooden shower stall and put one of the drums on top. The other drum we put in a water heater, the kind we used for field mess. It had a fuel tank that dripped down a pipe into a burn compartment. One would light that and lower it into a 55 gallon drum full of water. When the water was the right temp we would pump it up using a manual fuel pump with a hose on it to the drum on top. We had a pipe coming out of that one with a valve on it, turn it on, hot shower. We were pretty proud of ourselves.
Rick, Dave Orton and I use to hang out a lot together. They were the gun drivers and I the dozer operator plus I was on Dave s gun crew. Rick made E-5, so that kind of broke us up because he didn t feel it was right to hang with two E-4 s. It really pissed off Dave, I really didn t give a shit because I thought Rick was acting a bit strange after when we got ambushed at Tam Ky. Rick was a family man and I think his wife was having an affair with some guy back home. He wanted to get back and do something about it but couldn t. Said he was having some kind of breakdown which nobody was paying any attention to him. The whole thing was turning him into a real dick.
After we got set up I was told to start driving for the mess hall. I d go by the mess hall in the morning about three or four times a week and pick up one of the cooks and we d go into Da Nang and pick up food stuffs at different locations. We d usually fake a break down in front of a little whore house so the girls could come out and rub our crotch as we looked like we trying to fix our deuce and a half. One time a little kid jumped on the truck and grabbed our frozen strawberries. The cook chased him a bit but the kid got away, that was a real pisser, no strawberries.
On one of the chow runs Jerome Washington went with me. Jerome was a big
black kid from Nashville. He was a real funny guy and we got along real well. Jerome told me he really needed a piece of tail from the whore house and if I would be into getting a couple of girls and have a time of it. My attitude was sure sounds like a real gas. We pulled in and the girls as usual came running out and I asked the Mama San if we could take two with us. Of course it was double the price for take away so I paid the six bucks rather than the normal three. We took our pick, loaded them in the back of the truck and took off. Once we got going we weren t sure where to take them. We couldn t just stop on the side of the road so Jerome suggested the dump. Made since to me and we went to the dump. What a mistake that was! As we stopped the truck there where a million little Vietnamese kids working the dump salvaging all they could. Right away Jerome jumped in the back and started pounding away. I was going to follow suit but by the time I got to the back there were a hundred kids climbing all over the deuce and a half. They knew right away what was going on and they all wanted to have a look. I started pulling them off the vehicle yelling Di Di Mao . They paid no attention to me until I locked and loaded. It helped for a minute but they knew I wasn t going to shot them and started in again. I though I d wait until Jerome got his and then he would fend off for me. That didn t work either. As soon as Jerome got finished, he wanted to get out of there. I said what about me and he replied, Bob, we have got to get out of here, were going to get busted . Frustrated, I jumped behind the wheel and hauled ass out of there. We kicked the girls out when we got to the road and went on to get all the food stuffs. So much for the adventure. At least Jerome was satisfied and I did say he was a real funny guy.
We all felt pretty good about this place, we even got to got to China beach for some in country RR. Being a Southern Cal Surfer, the waves were up and I got to do some bodysurfing. There were a few Red Cross round eyed girls on the beach, we got to check them out, hadn t seen anything like that for awhile. They weren t to pretty but what the hell the round eyes made all the difference.
Things settled down to a routine, A few T&I s at night, rarely a day time mission, driving for the mess hall, cleaning our equipment. We even traded our M-14 s for the M-16. We all had to sight them in so I made a small rifle range with my dozer, we set up targets and then a natural competition began, who was the best shot. It was a lot of fun and took us out of the mundane. I out shot Gunny Snowman that pissed him off.
One day we got a fire mission from and ARVN Operation. By all the signs, it looked like it was going to be a pretty big mission. After four rounds they aborted the mission. The next day a big investigation team came and we had to go over the whole mission with them. It was kind of weird with some heavy vibes floating around. It looked like we missed or something and our rounds landed on this very prominate Doctors house killing his four daughters. We never did find out for sure what happen but one of our officers got sent somewhere and we never saw him again. The scuttlebutt was that an ARVN Col called in the mission because this Doctor owed him money from a gambling debt and wouldn t pay up.
Christmas in Da Nang was cool because we got to go see Bob Hope and Ann Margeret. We were so far up they were small little specs. It was a great show and we all appreciated it. If anybody should be allowed by God to live forever, Bob Hope should be one of them and the other Ann Margeret.
On the way back from the show we passed up another deuce and a half full of Army guys. Our guys started barking and howling like dogs. The doggies started giving us the finger and telling us Jarheads to get fucked. We told them to eat shit and die, returning the middle finger salute. Something came flying into our truck and we being good artillerymen instantly returned fire. Articles were flying all over the place until the Army driver took a right turn onto another road.
One day Lt Wasson told me to fire up one of the jeeps he wanted to go and take some pictures. He was going on R&R to Hawaii to meet his wife and he wanted to show her some of the local sights. We took off for Liberty Hill where they had this huge PX. Just before we got there we hung a right and went out behind the mountain. It didn t take long and we were out in the country speeding down this dirt road. We d stop from time to time, once at a Catholic Church and another in a little village where we got surrounded by kids. Lt Wasson would jump out snap away. We didn t know then that the Tet Offensive was a little more than a week away.
Things began to happen that began to surprise us. Somebody must of known something was up because they brought in two How 6 s, Amtraks with small turrets with a sawed off 05 in it. I helped set them up and by the time we got finished it was after dark. We also set up a few more OP s around our area. About 2100 Lopez and I were told to man one of them. Sometime after that Lopez and I were talking and I looked up at the mountain side and saw the flare of rockets. We were under a rocket attack. These rockets would flare for about 10 to 15 seconds and then flare out and glide the rest of the way in. Rocket attacks were pretty scary because it took about thirty seconds or so before they landed and you knew they were coming. As the rockets came in blowing the shit out of us, Lt Wasson jumped up on top of the How 6 s and started directing direct fire at the hillside. After the forth or fifth round from the How 6s, the hill side exploded. We all let out a big cheer as if our home football team just made a touchdown. The next morning the grunts from 1/7 did a sweep of the area and they found all kinds of stuff blown up plus some unused rockets. I thought Lt Wasson should of got a medal for exposing himself to incoming rockets and blowing up the mountain. We found out later that he got reprimanded for it because he didn t call in to get permission to fire. We all thought that was a pretty shitty deal.
Two nights later a PF Compound about half a mile down the road from us came under attack. There were some Special Forces advisers in there with the PF s. By the looks of it where we were, it was a hell of a fight. A couple of Companies from 1/7 came flying down the road in some deuce and a half s and unloaded right by us to join the fight. 05 s and How 6 s were firing like crazy and we were told to fire on these two tree lines. Found out later that the PF Compound got totally over run. The Marines from 1/7 flushed them out and they took off. Our, what we thought, secure little Red Beach compound was turning into a real hell hole. This all must of been some preemptive strikes before the real thing.
Right after that Lt. Wasson left for R&R and Capt Steen got transferred out to Khe Sanh to plot artillery. Gunny Snowman told us all to saddle up the Guns were moving North. Didn t know quite where. The guns were going over land via Hy Van pass and I was sent with my Dozer back to the Bridge Ramp. I was to wait for an LCU to be taken up to Phu Bai and then trucked by 9th Engineers out to what I found out later to be Camp Evens. By now we all had less than two weeks left in county before our rotation time.
When I got to the bridge ramp I unloaded my dozer and check in with this Navy Chief Sea Bee who was NCOIC of the bridge ramp. He knew I was coming so he told me to get something to eat off the lunch truck (Roach Coach) and wait, the LCU should be in around 1500. 1500 came and went, no LCU. 1700 no LCU so asked the Chief if he knew when it was coming. He said he didn t know what was going on but to just wait. By now it was getting dark and the Sea Bees were closing everything up to go back to their compound. So there I sat on my Dozer realizing it would probably be a long night. There were about 15 to 20 Doggies waiting there also for the same LCU.
I hunkered down in my Dozer seat trying to get some sleep when around 2200 all hell broke lose. Rounds were flying everywhere, seems like they were coming from just up river from the bridge ramp but I couldn t see from where I was. I had already jumped off my dozer and was laying face down in the dirt. The Army guys where over by the this little wall or small berm returning fire. I got myself together and ran over to see if I could help out. I asked this guy what I should do and he just looked at me without saying anything. From there I could see the mussel flashes and just started firing. There was light from the city but down by the water it was pitch dark except the flashes. I didn t have a whole lot of ammo on me, four or five magazines. I emptied three or four magazines but realized if we got over run I was going to be fucked. I remember seeing a pallet of ammo and left the line to try and find it. The timing in my mind now is all a bit muddled but I did find the ammo and grabbed a box. Went back to my dozer and loaded up my empty magazines. There were still a few round flying around but it seemed like things were quieting down a bit. I remember looking around across the city and I could see tracers and hear firing from all over with booms and blasts. I know I must of been real scared but I don t remember that. I do remember thinking that this wasn t suppose to be happening in Da Nang and I only had a few days left in country.
The firing at the bridge ramp died down. I stayed by my dozer the rest of the night. With being so short I figured if somebody needed me they could come get me. I had no idea what I was going to do next.. I was by myself, my outfit had left, nobody I knew, knew what was going on and I didn t even know who to turn to for directions or help. There was action all through the night around Da Nang. It was the first night of the 68 Tet Offensive.
At first light the Sea Bees showed up and asked me what the hell was going on, I replied with You tell me! . I asked him where in the hell was that LCU, he said he didn t know. As we looked down at the water in front of the bridge ramp there were a couple dead bodies floating all bloated up. Believe it or not the chow truck showed up right after that. I went to get something to eat and the Sea Bee said, How can you eat with those two dead bodies floating there . I just answered him by a confused stare. I was starving.
Everything seemed all confused the rest of the morning, nobody knew what was going on. I was told by the See Bees to just hand tough and they would try and figure out what was happening. I went back to my dozer after picking up another box of ammo, made sure I was ready and then drifted of in and out of sleep Then a real strange thing happened, in fact it was so weird I often wondered if it really happened or did I dream it. But when I really think about it I have to say it really happened.
I was sitting on my dozer contemplating what I was going to do, how do I get a hold of anybody to let them know what s happening. I looked toward town and there was a the end of a block with sidewalk and a cement wall about 8 feet high. So what I saw was the two corners and then down the street of the corner that was closest to me. As I was watching about four or five guys came running to the corner further away and stopped. What blew my mind was they all had on what I thought was Hawaiian shirts. I noticed they had weapons but they were pretty far away and to be honest I was just caught in this surreal situation just looking at them. Why would these guys be wearing these Hawaiian shirts. All of a sudden they began running toward the other corner along this concrete wall and as they rounded the first corner there were about ten or so altogether. I just sat there and watch as they all ran kind of bunched up together. As they approached the next corner the first few guys stopped real quick so I guess they could check it out before they continued. The ones in the back weren t paying attention I guess and they just kept running right into the guys in the front plowing right into them they all knocked each other down, kind of like something you d see the Key Stone Cops do. So here was this pile of guys in Hawaiian Shirts in a pile struggling to get up. As they got up they all ran back they way they came and out of sight again. It never dawned on me until years later that they were probably NVA wearing cammies. They hadn t introduced cammie s until after I got out and I know NVA were wearing them in places, but I never saw them before. That s the only explanation I could come up with, but it sure was weird.
The day carried on and late in the afternoon a company of ARVN came down and took up positions around the bridge ramp. The lunch truck left in the morning and never returned so I was wondering where I was going to get something to eat. The See Bees still had no answers. Little did I know that the whole country was now in total pandemonium. You could hear firefights in the distance. My situation was way down the priority list, so there I sat. As it got dark the See Bees packed up again and left leaving me with a company of ARVN and those twenty Army guys. About 2100 all hell breaks lose again, rounds coming from everywhere. The ARVN opened up with everything they had, they Army guys are huddled not to far from me taking cover, I guess they were thinking, just leave things up to the ARVN. I said, fuck it, I m staying with my dozer, if we get overrun I ll fight it out from there. The fight goes on for awhile and then calms down. The ARVN open up different times during the night. First light, I m still alive with eleven days left in country if anybody knows I m there. Really confused and starting to get really scared.
As before the Sea Bees show up. This time they have info, The LCU ain t coming, the ramp where we were going to had been overrun. He said as I remember, 11 Sea Bees dead. He told me I had better call somebody from 13th Marines, I don t remember how I got the number but I remember making the call. When I called this Lt Col answered the phone. I told him I m Cpl Means down here at the bridge ramp with my dozer from 5th Guns. I was trying to get my dozer to Phu Bai to catch up with my unit when all hell broke lose. We had been hit the last two nights, I found out the LCU ain t coming, I m starving to death . Then I said Col, I ve only got eleven more days in country, what do you want me to do? His answer was, wait right there .
I could actually hear the jeep coming before I saw it. When I saw it there were weapons sticking out all over the place with an M-60 mounted in the back with a Marine standing on the tail gate. They came screaming into the bridge ramp and stopped right at my dozer.
This Light Colonel looked up at me from the passenger side and said you Cpl Means , yes sir, I answered. He said, grab your gear and get in . I then said Sir, what about my dozer to which he replied Fuck your dozer, get your ass in here .
As we took off he explained we were going to Mag 16, he gave me a set of orders and I was to catch this Caribou and take it to Phu Bai where I would catch a C-123 to Dong Ha, from there another plane to Quang Tri. From there I was to ask directions to Camp Evens where my outfit was. At Mag 16 they were loading up this Caribou with troops as we arrived and they took me right to the plane. I got out of the jeep and saluted saying, thank you, sir . He saluted back saying good luck and they drove off. I was in the air in less than ten minutes.
At Phu Bai got on the C-123 and took off over the water, when the plane headed toward land the Crew Chief put on his flack jacket and they started down at a steep decent. This Black Army SSgt thought we were going in for crash landing and started flipping out. The Crew Chief grabbed him yelling something in his ear and then he settled down. When we got over land we must of been only a few feet off the ground going full throttle. I remember looking up through the port holes and seeing the tops of the trees. As we approached Dong Ha, the plan regained altitude made a sharp left turn and landed, as soon as they touched down put both his engines in reverse, we came to a quick stop with only a loose strap to hold us in place. As we got off the plane mortars began dropping on the airstrip, we were all directed to a bunker, we ran like hell. The C-123 took right off. It wasn t to long when somebody called out names and I was one of them. They told us to hot foot it out to this other Caribou with the engines already running. We jumped in and it took off, we landed in Quang Tri. As I got off the plane there was this Army SSgt standing there with a clip board in his hand. I asked him how I could get out to Camp Evens. He said to go down this here road about two thousand clicks and I would see a small LZ on the right, When ever a chopper came in run up and ask the Crew Chief if he was going to Camp Evens, I d get a ride eventually. I took off at a half run, I really wanted to get back to my unit.
The third chopper that came in the Crew Chief told me to get in, they had to make a couple of stops first but they would get me there. They took off staying right on the deck doing as fast as they could. At around 1600 I landed at Camp Evens, 101st Air Born all over the place. I didn t see our guns so asked this army guy driving a mule if he new where our guns where. He told me to get on and he d take me there.
As I approached the CP tent I got there just as Gunny Snowman was coming out. We both looked at each other, he being the first to speak saying Means, where the fuck you been . I was to tired to answer. Then he said you eaten? , I said No . Then he said give me your rifle, go get something to eat, get cleaned up and hit the rack . I did just that and was fast asleep before my head even hit the rack. When I woke up my rifle was laying against the rack, spit shined. Even today Gunny Snowman and I are best of friends.
Camp Evens was a big place, Tet was still raging, all the guys that came over with the guns were getting ready to rotate, 1/5 was battling it out in Hue City. Ist Air Cav, who was at Camp Evens was suppose to get air lifted in behind Hue as a blocking force for the Marines. In the late afternoon the Army must of brought in 50 choppers for an early air lift out the next morning. Sometime during the night we woke up to Red Alert, the gooks were walking mortars right down the whole row of choppers, blowing them up, a bunch of Army guys got blown up with them. 1st Air Cav never made it and the Marines at Hue paid a hell of a price because of it.
The Gunny told me he had extended another six months and would not be going home with us. The new guys had come in and we were ready to leave Tet had pretty much wound down. The last thing I had to do was go pick up my dozer in Hue, don t ask me how, but somehow it got there. Tinney, Lohnes and Kevin took a jeep to make sure it got loaded. As we crossed a bridge over the Feather River into Hue this ARVN was walking across the bridge carrying a Maroon Burette in his hand. Kevin challenged me to grab it as we drove by. Not thinking, I did, then I felt bad about it and told them to stop the jeep, got out and walked back to give it back, the ARVN guy laughed..
The next day they loaded us up on choppers back to Quang Tri, then a C-123 to Da Nang. Spent two days there processing out. We were all totally shit faced the whole time. Loaded on a C-130 back to Okinawa for a 16 hour flight with a horrible hang over. We landed and we were sent to Camp Hanson to Staging Btn. for three days. Spent most of it at the Animal Pit trying to figure how we could get out to Kin Village and get a piece of ass. I must of witnessed thirty fights at the Animal Pit.
Pulled out our dress greens, got them all cleaned up, put them on along with all our ribbons, stood inspection and were taken to Naha where we were loaded on to a Continental Airlines 707. Unbelievable, the stewardess s were beautiful. I was sure we would never make it home. Landed in Hawaii to refuel and then on to El Toro.