your story to the 15th webmaster]
at Katum Special Forces Camp (ODA-322)
Tay Ninh Province C-130B, 61-0965* Aircraft TDY from 772d TAS, Clark
Manning, Command Sergeant Major (Ret)
(A-322) Special Forces Camp was opened officially on 21 February 1968 in
northern Tay Ninh Province. It was a border surveillance camp located
just slightly more than 4 kilometers south of the Cambodian border in
War Zone C. All re-supply was by air onto the 2900-foot North-South
runway which had been built on top of an old unused road. Or by Huey
helicopters onto the pad within the West star point inside the camp or
by Chinook helicopters onto the chopper pad just East of the runway.
Katum had long
had a reputation as a "hot trip" for the Air Force crews
making re-supply runs from Bien Hoa or Tan Son Nhut. Every fixed wing
aircraft or helicopter, which landed, could count on being mortared
while on the ground or at any time during the landing and take off.
Additionally, there was at least one crew-served weapon located to fire
on approaching and departing aircraft. All approaches were from the
south and departures were also to the south. Nobody flew north of the
camp except the F-4’s, B-52’s, Cobras, and MEDEVAC Hueys. Too many
bad guys with guns up there.
(E-6) John Campbell (Junior Commo Man) and I (Senior Medic) had been out
on a 5 day sweep straight north from Katum up to the Cambodian border,
then turned East along the border for about 4 clicks. We had a 40-man
Combat Recon Platoon (some of our better troops) and had had a
relatively quiet time on this excursion.
On day five,
we had started back sort of Southwesterly in the general direction of
Katum. Just taking it slow and easy because we didn’t want to enter
the camp confines until after dark anyhow. That way, the bad guys
perched up in the trees with the glasses wouldn’t know if we were back
inside or still out roaming around out to the Northeast.
clicks Northeast of Katum, we pulled up in a real thick place to eat the
absolute last of our rations at about noontime. Then, the CIDG (Civilian
Irregular Defense Group) have to take pak-time. Everybody takes a nap.
The good guys. . the bad guys, everybody. The whole war comes to a
screeching halt for pak-time.
eaten whatever was left for lunch and I had leaned back against a tree
to cool it for awhile when I heard my PRC-25 radio go off with one of
our ALLEN FACs in his O-1E announcing "C-130 coming into Katum on
fire". I grabbed up rifle and radio and stepped out of the thick
stuff so I could see. I could hear the C-130 Southeast of me and
approaching but couldn’t see it yet for the trees being in the way.
I moved about
15 meters further to get out from under some stuff and then could see
the airplane flying South to North just to the East of where we were on
the ground. When I first located him, he appeared to be less than a mile
away to the South crossing across my front as I faced to the East. I’d
guess that he was somewhere around 1500 feet AGL, had the rear ramp
down, the nose trimmed ‘way up, was flying very slowly, and had fire
streaming off the back of the right wing ‘way back past the tail. The
fire would sort of blossom and die, blossom and die.
When he was at
a point due East of us (John had joined me by that time), we saw the
nose pitch up sharply and all forward motion stopped. The right wing
dropped followed by the nose. Big increase in engine noise. It entered a
relatively flat spin with the right wing still tilted lower than the
left with the nose down about 15 to 20 degrees. It made two complete 360
degree spins before it went into the trees with the nose pointed along
the line of the original heading.
Did you ever
run over a beer can in the Club parking lot? That’s the exact sound
that it made when it hit the ground. Of course, there was a thump which
we felt and heard. Followed almost immediately by a billowing cloud of
black smoke going straight up.
One point I
should make here. The aircraft was carrying 3 speed pallets of 105mm HE
As we watched
the aircraft spin down, we both saw something fly off (or out of) the
aircraft. To this day I believe that it was the Loadmaster being pitched
out the rear ramp by centrifugal force.
The ramp was
down and the nose was pitched up. It’s my opinion that they were
attempting to jettison their load of ammo. I also firmly believe that
when the pallets were rolled to the rear of the aircraft to push them
out, the Center of Gravity shifted aft. That caused the nose to pitch up
and stall the airplane. And when it started going around and around, the
Loadmaster (who probably would have been the one cutting the tie-down
chains loose and jettisoning the cargo) just got spun out the ramp door.
yelling at my troops to get them up and organized so we could start back
toward the crash. We got organized and started back up the same trail we
had just broken through the brush earlier except, now, we were going
back in the opposite direction.
We had been
holed up in tall trees but had to cross about 250 meters of chest-high
brush to get to the next bunch of tall trees where the C-130 had
By this time,
ALLEN is orbiting over us and the crash, we’re strung out in the weeds
and brush moving back to the Northeast, more airplanes are responding to
the ELT beacon (Emergency Locator Transmitter on 121.5) and to the
column of smoke that was up to Lord knows what altitude by that time.
We had been
moving for less than ten minutes when ALLEN reports to me that one of
the helicopters which had arrived had reported "a column of about
40 people approaching the crash from the Northeast and that the point
man had what appears to be a machine gun".
Whoa! I looked
up ahead and saw that our point man was carrying an M-60 machine gun so
there followed several exchanges attempting to determine whether the
"40-man column" was approaching from the Northeast or towards
the Northeast. Finally, one of the OH-6s which was buzzing around made a
low pass over us, I waved my hat at him, we exchanged some hand and arm
signals to give him our radio operating frequency, and we got it
straightened out that we’re the good guys and we’re headed
By then, the
air was really starting to get crowded. Another one of the ALLEN FACs
had come over from THIEN NGON (A-323 was our sister camp on the border
about 30 or 40 clicks to the West of us). Our ALLEN told us on the radio
that he had put the other ALLEN to work directing traffic and keeping
all the sightseers at different flight levels.
helicopters of every shape and size. Cobras from the 1st Cav Division AO
just down to the South of us, Loaches, even a Chinook. And fixed wing!
We had everything but a B-52. It was amazing to look up and see all the
stuff orbiting around up there. I guess you could see the smoke all the
way back to Bien Hoa and Saigon because it was going just about
absolutely straight up for forever.
I already knew
what was going to happen with all the FACs and fighters. Everybody in
the world is here now when we don’t especially need them. And when we
really do need some help, everybody will be out of gas and gone home.
And that’s what happened later . Everybody left at about the same
moving and talking to ALLEN and he’s saying that the crash is just
inside the next bunch of big trees. We’d just about figured that out
because we could now see the fire through and above the trees. And, by
this time, the propellant charges inside the 105 ammo are starting to
cook off from the heat. When that happened, the inert projectile (no
fuze) would fly in one direction and the brass shell casing would take
off at high speed in the other direction. And those things were starting
to pop like popcorn.
We eased on
into the trees and the first sight I had of the aircraft was when I
bumped into the port side elevator. It was about belt high and the
entire tail was intact. In fact the whole airplane was intact except for
the back being broken about two thirds of the way back from the nose. It
had come straight down flat and only contacted one tree. That was with
the left wing. It had bent over that 8 to 10 inch diameter tree at about
a 45 degree angle and dented the leading edge of the wing..
John and I had
moved to the front of the column as we approached the trees because I
didn’t want a possible survivor who had just lived through a plane
crash to open up on my friendlies. I wanted them to see two white faces
When we bumped
into the stabilizer, I told John to go around the left wingtip, that I’d
go around the right side and meet him at the right front corner of the
airplane. I stepped up on the stabilizer and had taken about three steps
to walk across to the other side when the whole thing blew up.
I can remember
seeing my feet going through the air and the trees pointed the wrong
way. It seems as though it took 20 minutes to ever hit the ground.
Finally did and immediately gathered up my rifle and radio bearer and
got us behind a BIG tree. He’d taken the same ride I had and didn’t
seem too anxious to expose any skin at all anymore.
I hollered at
John to see if he was OK. He’d almost reached the left wingtip when it
blew and he, too, had hunkered down behind a tree. I told him to stay
there ‘til things quieted down a bit.
and I are about 10 feet directly behind the rudder which was still
sticking almost straight up. Brass casings are flying, projectiles are
thumping our tree and knocking really big limbs down off the trees
around the crash. I have no idea where my little people are with the one
exception of the radioman.
By this time,
I’d guess that maybe twenty minutes had elapsed since we had heard
ALLENs first call of "C-130 on fire".
hunkered down behind our tree, John is behind his tree, and all the
booming and banging in the world is going on the other side of the tree.
comes up on the radio and asks if we can "find and turn off the ELT".
There followed a long conversation about what it was and where it might
be found. He said it was back by the tail somewhere and was screwing up
the Guard Channel commo all over half of South Vietnam.
I asked him
what the thing would look like. He had to talk to one of the (many)
C-130’s that were overhead by this time. He came back and told me that
the ELT panel was about 2 feet by 3 feet by about 4 inches thick and
would be somewhere back by the tail. I looked down at my feet and there
was a Styrofoam lined panel the size and shape he’d described.
I scooted down
and got the thing and got back behind my tree. I read the directions on
the thing and still remember that it said something about "Take the
9-volt battery from the pocket. Apply the 9-volt battery across the two
terminals". Problem was that there was no 9-volt battery in the
little pocket. Informed ALLEN and there was more conversation about how
to turn the beacon off. Someone in one of the C-130’s overhead started
talking about a "thorough review of Maintenance Procedures to
insure that the battery is in place on every single aircraft". We
really didn’t need a review of Maintenance Procedures at this
particular point in time, so I made a friend for life by telling him to
back and told me to shoot it. But since I didn’t know where my people
were, I wasn’t about to shoot anything. So I decided to stab it to
death. I pulled out my Buck knife and started poking holes in the
Styrofoam trying to hit something vital. I poked it in one place and
apparently shorted out the wires from the (unseen) internal battery and
the Styrofoam started smoking and stinking and melting down. Radio toter
got the big eye and was about to take off! But it stopped smoking and
ALLEN told us that we’d killed it.
After about a
half hour or so, things had quieted down enough that we felt comfortable
enough to start again to work our way around the aircraft. Still some
rounds cooking off. Enough to cause some slight nervousness. Not going
across the tail this time though. I found some of my CIDG in a cluster
about 25 meters off the right rear of the tail as I went by. They were
all clustered around a body in a flight suit. You could tell by the pale
streaks that they had stolen his watch and his ring. They’d also taken
some rather loud words about getting the watch and the ring back. They
gave those items back as well as a wallet. I put them in a zippered
pocket on the flight suit and zipped it shut.
I gave Radio
Toter my .45 and told him to guard the body and shoot anyone who took
anything while I worked my way around to the nose of the aircraft. By
now, mostly all that’s left of the aircraft is the tail from about the
jump doors aft, the outer wing panels outboard of the #1 and #4 engines
and the basic outline of the fuselage burned to the ground. The radome
had sort of melted and drooped over towards the front. The cockpit and
center section of the troop compartment had been totally burned out and
blasted to pieces. The front of the fuselage appeared to be embedded
about a foot to a foot and a half in the ground.
We rounded up
some of our troops and organized a sweep through the woods around the
aircraft extending out about 100 meters or so and found nothing else. No
parts and no other bodies.
We had put
some of our troops out about 75 meters (as far as they were willing to
go) to the North, to the Northeast, and to the Northwest. I figured
these to be the most likely approaches if the bad guys were to pay us a
visit. I wanted a little advance warning if they did.
By now, we’re
getting more advice on the radio than a little bit from everybody in the
world. Our priority, however, was to get the recovered body out of there
in case we had to make a run for it.
We could talk
to Katum on the radio and they had done a very good job of keeping quiet
and staying off the air except when necessary. I called them and asked
if they could round up a DUSTOFF to come and pick up the body. They came
back about 5 minutes later and said that the DUSTOFF folks had told them
that "the evacuation of deceased personnel is a Quartermaster
responsibility and that they declined to do so".
driver overheard that conversation, came up on the air, and told me that
if I’d secure an LZ, he’d come get it. So, we round up some little
people, move back out of the trees to the West, send some people out as
far as they’d go (especially to the North edge of the LZ) and call for
He came in and
just about landed and John and I placed the body aboard. And for some
reason that I still don’t understand, I wrote down the tail number of
the helicopter. I’d never done that before and really have no idea why
I did it then. The Huey departed towards the Southwest and Tay Ninh
Rounded up the
little people again and went back to the crash site. We had decided to
hang around for awhile to see what "higher" wanted us to do.
gotten a sort of a perimeter around the airplane again when a voice on
the radio announced that he was Colonel SomebodyOrOther in a
"Command" C-130 and that "you will" RON at the crash
site and "you will" secure it until tomorrow when the crash
team and the mortuary team and Lord knows who else will arrive.
Now, here we
are under a plume of smoke that has to be 10,000 feet up in the air, all
the airplanes in the world are flying around, and the Cambodian border
is less than 2 clicks away. Every bad guy in the whole of the two
countries knows exactly where we are to within about 10 meters and there
is no way in the world that "we will " RON here overnight.
If we had not
been out of food I probably would have moved off somewhere about a click
or so away, stayed there overnight and come back to the crash carefully
from a different direction the next morning. But absolutely, positively,
we’re not hanging around the crash site overnight. So, I called him
back on the radio, respectfully declined to do so, called my Team Leader
at Katum, and told him we were coming home.
fastest I ever saw our CIDG move except when they were running away from
a firefight. They flat out moved heading for the barn. Reminded me of an
old mule at the end of a day of plowing.
Still, it was
fully dark by the time we got to Katum and got inside the wire. Got
something to drink and some chow and started writing up the After Action
Report. When I got to the part about the crash it occurred to me that as
much as I had been around the tail and as close as I was to it, that I
had never even looked at the tail number. I remember seeing that the red
lens on the very top of the fin was broken but don’t ever remember
even looking at the numbers. I don’t know if the red lens was broken
in the crash or by some of the stuff that was flying about. The first
time I looked at the fin it appeared to be in perfect condition except
for one long diagonal wrinkle down the port side. Afterwards, it looked
as though it had been in a war. Gaping holes everywhere.
Finished up my
report, took a cold shower (the only kind out of a 55 gallon barrel) and
went to bed.
morning, early, somebody came over to my dispensary bunker and woke me
up and said that the CO wanted to see me right now. So, I rolled out,
slipped on my cutoffs, my blue sleeveless OR smock and stuck my feet in
When I went in
the Team House, there was an Air Force Colonel who got right in my face
demanding to know "what I had done with the deceased
personnel". I got my AAR from the Operations Sergeant and gave him
the helicopter tail number.
Well, later we
found out that the helicopter had a problem of some sort on the way to
Tay Ninh City (West) Airfield and they had to park it in the trees about
halfway there. Then, that crew had to be rescued along with the body.
And somewhere along the way, the body had been misplaced.
the Team Leader had gotten a Huey from someplace and had sent some of
our folks back out to the crash site and had recovered the remaining
bodies. All were badly burned. According to the folks who went on this
recovery mission, all were in places where you’d normally expect to
find the crew.
were placed in the shower building until a fixed wing aircraft came in
to pick them up. The Colonel by this time having departed the camp in
I never heard
any more about the missing body until about 3 months later when I was
down at our C-Detachment at Bien Hoa. I got word that the G-2 folks
wanted to see me and we went all through it again. I never did find out
if the problem with the missing body was ever solved or not.
I should point
out here that just prior to all the excitement with the C-130, A-322 was
in the process of lining up a 100-man company heliborne operation
alongside the runway to go out to the West between Katum and Thien Ngon.
helicopters were inbound when the whole incident started. The Team
Leader immediately decided that the operation would go Southeast instead
of off to the West.
There were two
roads which came together at Katum. One came up from the South from Tay
Ninh City (it skirted around the eastern edge of Nui Ba Dinh) and the
other came up from the Southeast. These two joined at Katum and then
that road went to the North and then turned Northwest into Cambodia.
Southeasterly road about 4 or 5 clicks had been the village of Bo Tuc
which had been evacuated years earlier because this whole area was a
Free Fire Zone. Bo Tuc was now the home of the "Duty Antiaircraft
Gunner" for the other side along with his .51 cal Russian machine
gun. We knew it was not a US .50 caliber just by the sound it made. You
did not fly up the Bo Tuc Road without getting popped at. He’s who got
I can’t tell
you how much time and effort went into trying to find this guy. Small
Listening Posts were put out to try to locate him by sound and then,
when he had been triangulated by sound, call all the big dogs and go
after him. Found squat!
helicopters arrive, everybody loads up and off they go down the Bo Tuc
Road. They get there and offload in the big dry land rice field (not a
paddy) just on the East side of the ex-village. They moved across the
road, got everybody on line side-by-side and combed the woods East to
West, West to East, North to South for three solid days. Found nothing
except a radio antenna going up a tree. At the end of the third day,
they walked home. And the Duty Gunner started popping away again at
anything that flew up the Bo Tuc Road.
(and had been) several ARC Light strikes down in that neighborhood. I
remember one of them shortly after the crash where, instead of dropping
their loads one bomb after the other in a long string, they dropped all
three loads at the same time. Just one giant boom. Not the usual boom,
boom, boom as when they dropped them normally.
I was down by
Bo Tuc sometime after that and they’d made the damnedest hole in the
ground that you ever saw. But the Duty Gunner was still on duty.
We would warn
any approaching aircraft when they called in to avoid the Bo Tuc Road at
all costs. Fly anywhere you want except there. I’m not sure if any of
them ever passed on that word because they would continue to fly up the
road on the way from Bien Hoa AFB. And they continued to get dinged.
finally came time for me to depart Katum in late November 1969 and move
down to B-32 in Tay Ninh City, I made absolutely sure that the Chinook
driver (MULESKINNER somebody) knew for sure that he was not to fly down
the Bo Tuc Road.
following information on the aircraft in this incident was furnished by
aircraft in the 23 June 1969 shootdown was 61-0965, a C-130B. It was
Lockheed number 3652. It was delivered to the 314 TCW at Stewart AFB,
TN. They flew it from ‘61 - ‘64. It then went to the 313 TCW at
Forbes AFB, KS. They flew it from ‘65 - ‘67. Then it went to the 463
TAW at Clark AFB, PI. It was assigned to the 773 TAS with a "QG"
tail code. On the day it was shot down, it was being flown by a crew
from the 772 TAS also from Clark. It was reported shot down by a Quad
info from Jim Hoogerwerf...)
was shot down on a re-supply mission on 23 June 1969. It was very
interesting to me as the story was told from the perspective of a person
on the ground. Some of the details differ from what little I had heard:
that the plane was seen climbing steeply into a cloud deck, and fell out
in a spin, and I did not know of the attempt to jettison their cargo
load, but it makes sense.
At the end of
the story there was additional information from you on the aircraft and
the crew. The purpose of my note today is to correct your information
about the crew. They were not from the 772 TAS, but the 773 TAS, also at
Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. I was assigned to the 773 TAS
from May 1968 to May 1970 and flew eighteen rotations (of sixteen days
each) "in country". Thirteen of them were as a copilot and
five were flown as an Aircraft Commander. All together I flew 1190
sorties for a total of 959 combat hours. Thus, interestingly each flight
averaged only about :48 minutes.
I can't believe that I was only 24-26 years old. That was a very
demanding flying environment! I've included the information above to
make a point: the personnel makeup of the squadrons in the 463 TAW was
in transition. The old pilots (Lt Cols. Majors or senior Captains) first
assigned to Vietnam duty were completing their tours and rotating out.
The new pilots were guys like me just out of flight school. We flew as
copilots for the most experienced pilots still around. But it was clear
that the wing would have to rely on us to upgrade to Aircraft Commanders
as soon as possible to replace the old group. I think the criteria was a
total of 1000 flight hours.
promoted) Gary Brunner was one of the young pilots. A graduate of the
Air Force Academy, he was on a fast track to the left seat. While I knew
Gary, we didn't socialize much. I was a bachelor and he was married.
And, I wasn't on the fast track.
1st Lt. Terry
Reed was tapped as one of the best copilots in the squadron and probably
soon to upgrade himself.
Lt. Col. Jean
A Kearby was, in my mind, one of the kindest friendliest senior officers
in the squadron. For some reason he took a liking to me. He was an
instructor navigator in the unit, one of the best we had.
Condit was a new navigator in the squadron. Every new arrival in the
squadron had to get an in-country checkout even though they were combat
ready from training in the CONUS.
To round out a
crew you needed a flight engineer and loadmaster. SSgt Billy McDonald
and SSgt George C. Peters were among the best our squadron had.
That was the
crew of the aircraft shot down at Katum on that fateful day.
Gary was on
his very first Aircraft Commander rotation to Vietnam. He had one of the
best crews the squadron could put together to support him.
loss, the wing had to continue upgrading junior officers to the left
seat, and did so with remarkable success. I attribute that success to
two factors: 1. supervision 2. standardization.
One change did
result from the shoot down, new Aircraft Commanders on their initial
in-country rotations were not scheduled into forward airfields.
By the way,
the 463 TAW flying C-130 B models was dedicated to in-country airlift.
aircraft and crews flew only in direct support of the in-country airlift
needs of the military effort there (we did other flying too, but not on
a regular basis). The A's and E's also flew in-country, but they had
other tasks as well such as BLINDBAT and ABCCC.
flew into Katum five times. One time a Cobra gunship, providing cover
was shot down
while we were on the ground offloading. That was on 7 November 1969. He
got out OK, but I'd like to find out who he was.
In two years I
only took one hit, and that was a bullet in a main tire. It was flat
when we landed! One day we ran off the end of the runway at Dong Xoai,
but that's another story....
helps round out your information file.
PS I flew a
Functional Check Flight on ship 61-0965 out of TSN 1 May 1969. Guess it
checked out OK as I didn't make any other notes.
|It was December
the 24, 1962. I was a single fellow away from home for the first time
and thinking of family. It was decided that the married men would be
home for Christmas, and I being single I would be allowed to go home for
new years. I was stationed aboard the USS Hoel DDG 13. I was leading
seaman of the main deck. This rank also gave me messenger of the watch
Christmas Day. We were down to a skeleton crew as most were either on
leave and what was not on leave, were given liberty to be with family in
San Diego. That is every one who was not on watch.
I went on
liberty, to go down town and maybe catch a movie. Around 11:15 PM I
arrived back at pier side. We were tied up 6 DDG's abreast, which meant
I had to cross 4 ships to get to the Hoel.
I climbed the
gang way and saluted the quarter deck and requested permission to cross
Permission being granted I crossed to the next ship saluted and
requested permission to cross. this went on until I arrived at the main
Deck of the Hoel. where I walked down to the main deck and requested
permission to come aboard. Permission being granted. I went aboard and
proceeded to the Mess deck. Half way up to the mess deck It struck me
something was not right. I continued on to the focsle where everything
seemed to be in order. I look across at the other DDGs and we were tied
up nose to nose straight across. I preceded down the port side observing
things as I went along. Arriving at the fantail, I noticed we were tied
up but to but, put we were 6 foot below the other destroyers, looking up
I noticed the super structure, and it was identical to those on either
side of us.
I hit me. WE
ARE SINKING. Hold on now, I told my self don't go hollering that, be
sure I looked again at the ship on either side of us.(had I over looked
something?) no that was a DDG to my right, and a DDG to my left, and we
were tied up but to but. I proceeded It back up the starboard side to
the focsle, and yes indeed we were tied up noise to noise, and the super
structure was identical. WE WERE SINKING NO DOUBT IT.
It is now
Earlier I had
gone into town and had a spaghetti dinner, were a friendly restaurant
owner had allowed me to purchase several beers with my meal. I was only
19 and you were suppose to be 21 to drink in California. What the hell,
here is a sailor away from home on Christmas eve, what is a couple of
beers going to hurt?
the quarter deck my old nemesis Lieutenant Trail had the watch, which
meant he had been on sense 7:45. Saluting him ,I stated. Sir we are
sinking. Damn he got irate fast. Starling this is no time for jokes! Go
to bed! Sir I have checked. We are tied up between 2 guided missile
destroyers, and we are 6 foot below either of them. Getting closer to me
he ask, if I had been drinking? Yes Sir I had 4 beers, but I am no where
near drunk. Get below he hollered! I turned to go below and half way
there I realized he did not believe me.
I turned and
went back. Sir I said we are sinking we need to do something. This time
I though he was going to hit me. I going to do something, I am calling
the damn shore patrol if you don't get below. I turned and went away.
realizing he did not have any idea, of what I had told him. I went back.
When he saw me
he started yelling, I am calling the damn ashore patrol for you now get
to the mess decks and wait there till they come for you. I Yelled back
at him Sir you can call any damn body you want but you had damn well
better find out why were tied up between 2 DDGs and we are sitting 6
foot lower in the water than either of them are. With that I turned and
went to the mess decks to await the shore patrol.
a hell of a note , to spend Christmas day in the brig
I got me a cup
of coffee, as I waited. Just as I put the cup to my mouth general
quarters was sounded.
everyone thought of Pearl Harbor damn what a time for an attack. With
only A skeleton crew, and half of them gone on liberty. Hell we did not
have enough men on board to man one gun properly what were we to do? The
move stooped, and the lights came on. And for a second everyone looked
at each other, in disbelief. Move damn it someone cried, and all hell
broke loose as we tried to get past each other and get to our battle
hatch burst Lt. Trail Get below and see what is going on down there.
WATER! WATER! Water! every where, Hell its up to the upper level of main
Shit we are
I settled back
into my seat to await the shore patrol.
The word went
out to all ships along either side of us to get some pumps and hoses
over. We have to save this ship.
I got up for a
second cup of coffee. I waited, and running threw the hatch came the
Captain. A W Slifer (a full commander) wearing a kaki shirt and pajamas
paints with bedroom shoes.
One of the
entrances to main control was just to my left about 15 feet. Down the
hatch he drooped, and like a jack in the box out he came, wet from the
waist down. Just for a split second he stopped, and looked me eye to
eye, and if looks could kill I would be dead.
This was one
Here come the
hoses. Men pulling hoses from every direction I waited and got another
cup of coffee.
Well I looked
up and it is now 1:30 am and it looks like the shore patrol is not
coming so I went to bed.
the first class told me to report to the captain's state room at once.
Some of my other duties on board were Duty driver, where I would drive
the Commodore as we were a flag ship, and the captain and other
officers, so they were fully aware of my name and what I did.
I arriving at
the state room door. I had no Idea what to expect. I had seen this man
send people to the brigs for the smallest of infractions.
was told to enter.(many times I had made 12 o'clock reports but this was
going to be different.)( I had, had many friendly conversations with the
captain and the commodore, but I had no idea what to expect this time)
As I stepped through the door I said in a low voice. GOD help me.
As I entered
the state room the captain was standing next to his bunk.
Starling reporting as ordered sir.
Starling, I am
very disappointed in you.
Yes Sir I
With every one
working like hell to keep this think afloat last night, Just who the
hell do you think you are sitting there drinking coffee?
Following orders Sir.
Just who the
Hell told you to sit there and drink coffee while rest of us were trying
to save this ship?
Lt. Trail sir
move over to his desk and sat down.
beginning Starling, tell me what happened.
For the next
several minutes I had this mans undivided attention. Here was a lowly
seaman telling a captain what had happened to his ship the night before.
In a calm
voice he thank me, and told me I could go. AS I steeped from the state
room I had gotten no more than 20 feet when it came over the loud
speaker, for Lt. Trail to report to the Captains state room on the
I never did
learn what happened to Lt. Trail. The problem all started when several
civilian workers removed the bilge pumps for repair. Some one had left
the check valves open and from about 4:30 that afternoon on, we had been
taking on water. We had water to the upper level of main control, when
they were able to get it stopped. A Christmas I will never forget.
By: John Galkiewicz
One of the most important lessons that I learned in Vietnam was that you sure
couldn't tell a person's real worth just by looking at him. War made the
rules and the rules say you are judged on your ability and not your looks.
More often than not, it is the quiet guy in the corner that is the real hero or
worker of the group. The people that got things done were the ones not
bothered by maintaining an image. Vietnam was a young man's war and Joe
We got a call one day that a full bird Colonel was in
and needed 2 ships for a tour of the Dalat outposts that Maj. Casey went to on a
routine basis. Because a rather large assault was scheduled for that day
all the good ships were being used so both of the dog ships were assigned to the
Colonel. I was put in charge of the flight and at the appropriate time
both ships hovered up to the pickup pad at the end of the runway next to
Maj. Casey was there to brief us after we shut down. He
was somewhat disappointed when he saw both the dog ships hover up because he
knew each ship would have one additional passenger which meant several of the
tighter outpost would have to be scratched from the list and the Colonel would
not like that. He was glad though to see that he was given myself and the
other high-time dog ship AC for the mission. Maj. Casey briefed us, then
we proceeded to the gathering of officers that were now around the Colonel.
| At a lull in the gathering Maj. Casey introduced us to
the Colonel and told him that we were the ACs that would be flying him around
that day. The Colonel gave us a quick scan and said "Oh no they
aren't". He wanted "mature" pilots flying him around and
these 2 kids standing in front of him would not do. Now this tore up Maj.
Casey for he knew this was no piece-of-cake mission. I felt insulted and
though I and the other AC were indeed young looking we both were war tested and proven
Maj. Casey tried again to tell the Colonel that these
were indeed the pilots he needed for the mission and that he flew with us often
and highly recommended both of us. The Colonel would have nothing to do
with it so off we went, down to the OPS tent to inform the OPS. Officer.
Maj. Casey had a look on his face like a little boy that had just lost his dog.
I did feel sorry for him.
At the OPS. tent I told the OPS. Officer what had
happened and he about blew a gasket. The only pilots left in the whole
place that happened to be older than us were the two pilots that refused all
responsibility and had let it be known that they would be more than happy to sit
out the war until their rotation date. Both of them were very vocal about
that and did sit out most of the war. Both were well past the normal date
most PPs become ACs and so were only used on the simplest of missions and only
as a last resort. Neither were ACs but both were sometimes placed as
pilot-in-command that sort of fooled them. As I understood, they
were so-so PPs but neither was close to being AC quality. And so the
Colonel got his "mature" pilots and I went back to my tent for a nap
and a very rare day off.
A day or so later I saw Maj. Casey and commented that I
was glad to see he was still alive. He said he was alive because those
other guys either couldn't find the outpost or flatly refused to go into them.
I told him that was what I figured would happen. He then said something to
the effect that the Colonel was really pissed but that he did get in one
I believe Maj. Casey learned one of life's lessons that
day concerning arrogance. There is a reason the natives do what the
natives do and sometimes its best to let the natives do what they do because
there is a damn good reason why they do it that way. I believe Maj. Casey
had a wee bit more respect for me after that mission.
The mission would have been a fine training mission for
the 2 PPs that were ready to become ACs. Instead they just flew circles in
the air. We could have gotten into most of those outpost with two ships,
one at a time though. I guess I could have gone back and replaced the lead
ship's PP. That way the Colonel would still have his "mature"
pilot in the left seat though I would still have been in charge of things
chopper wise. I didn't though because a day off was a rare thing indeed
and arrogance needed to reap it's own rewards.
There are times when you wish deeply you could do something but know you just
can't. Just such an occasion happened while flying one of the Commanders
of one of the Army's largest artillery bases. "Up Lift"
was a huge artillery complex to our north that supplied artillery support to
various forces all around it. We called it "Up Lift
International" because the radio operator there treated it just like a
major US airport with big airliners going in and out. The guy was good and
though they only had pads for two choppers he made everyone coming in there feel
like he was diverting all kinds of Airliner traffic just so you could get in and
I was the AC and was suppose to fly the Commander around his
AO (Area of Operation) after picking him up at one of the real airports in the
area. After we got him on board and got within radio range of Up Lift we
were told that we could not land. A sapper had snuck in and set off their
big ammo dump and the whole camp was under cover. A fire was now cooking
off the rounds. We could easily see people running around trying to get
away from the ordnance that was popping off and believe me it was going all over
the place. There was really no place to land because the rounds were not
just going off they were being blown into the air above and all around the
compound and then going off. The rounds were even going past the far end
of the camp and not just one or two but several at a time and in all directions
and it was going to do that for hours to come. Several people died and one
had his arm blown off. There were all kinds of wounded down there and here
we are watching it all from a safe distance and there was nothing we could do.
If I could have gotten down and gotten out a chopper full I would have. It
tore their Commander up as well. We circled for as long as we could.
I do not remember what we did with their Commander.
Promotes Redleg to “Airborne”!
Holdorf C/7/15th FA 4/68-4/69
“Midnight at the Oasis”… Maria Muldaur’s 1974 hit single was released
only one year prior to the end of the Vietnam War. Who would have known for
years to come her song would remind me of those nights at LZ Oasis? During the
period of approximately July 1968 to December 1969, C-Battery 7th Battalion,
15th Field Artillery was located in the Upper Highlands region of Pleiku.
The unit was General Support ( GS ) to the 3rd BDE., 4th INF. DIV. during
Operation MacArthur, 478 days through 31 Jan. 69. Several U.S. INF units
participated including the 8th, 14th, and 35th under the 4th DIV. and elements
of the 1st CAV. DIV. In addition, 5th Special Forces A-253 Detachment was
at Duc Co near a Montgnard Village, and had a C&C: Command and Control Base
at Forward Observation Base: FOB-2 in the AO near the Cambodian border. As per
4th ID, NVA KIA: 5731, US KIA: 955. This should not to be confused with an
earlier Oper. MacArthur in 1967. Base Area 701 18B NVA. INF. Regt. had aprox.
1800 troops of the 320th NVA DIV - Duc Co, in the area AO., all just NNW of the
Ia Drang River and Valley.
During Oct./Nov. 68, OP/LAN 30-68 HQ. 3rd Bde., 4th ID was participating with
plans under Operation Binh Tay-MacArthur. C/7/15th FA was based at LZ Oasis,
near Thang Binh at the time. 15 Nov. 68 Operation Commando Hunt air
interdiction program begins in Laos by employing IGLOO WHITE sensors fields. The
Duc Co area is experiencing much activity from enemy troop build-up in Cambodia.
9 Oct. 68: C/7/15th FA becomes GS to 1/35th INF at LZ Joan, Duc Co, and returns
to LA Oasis on 19 Oct. 68. Activity in the area is somewhat slow through 10 Nov.
68, although recon platoons are finding evidence of some enemy movement.
13 Nov. 68: at 0130 hours, the enemy launched a suicide attack on B/1/92nd FA
which lasted throughout the night to 1700 hours the next day when the NVA
launched their last attack to over-run LZ Vera YA 834-178 near Duc Co, 50 km S.
of Pleiku. 1-KIA, 23 MIA, 3 damaged howitzers.
15 Nov. 68: C/7/15th FA BC asked for volunteers to go to the Duc Co area. I and
about 3-4 others were to try to pull out damaged howitzers as wheeled
vehicles were unable to. Two M-548 track vehicles were displaced to a clean-up
of LZ Vera. Upon arriving to an area on Hwy 19 West before Duc Co, troops on the
road told us to head into the dense foliage due South on what is believed to be
Road 568. This dirt road had heavy foliage which brushed the side of the
vehicles, and could not be seen through for more than a few yards.
Some time later, we reached open terrain surrounded by trees: LZ Vera. Again,
the foliage was so dense, one could not see past the fairly small perimeter. Gun
section hooches were small, low dug in, and with little room. All but one
gun had already been removed. That gun was totally scrap, and the area was a
mess! We decided to leave that gun there, and return to the main QL 19 West.
Upon reaching the QL 19, a 5th Special Forces Sgt. asked if we would like to
stay the night at their camp vs. trying to make it back to LZ Oasis before dark.
Realizing what went on there, we all thought it best to get back to the
safety-of-numbers at the Big “O”. Pushing the M-548’s at near maximum, we
had one transmission overheat. Stopping for as short of a time as possible, we
cross-cabled that one to the good one, and pulled it the rest of the way home
Arriving at dusk, we were approached by the BC and told “get some sleep,
we’re heading back to where you were in the morning!”
C/7/15th FA started in convoy toward Duc Co mid to late morning on 16 Nov. 68.
The Captain and 1SG were in the lead, with part of the maintenance section near
the rear. About an hour or so into convoy, the FDC track’s generator belt came
off and the vehicle came to a halt.
After accessing the situation, we felt all it would take would be to re-install
the belt and push-start the track with a 5-ton truck from the ammo section.
Although it was
suggested that we leave the track there, we took a shot at it. Mechanic Sp-4
John Rodriguez took the helm of the 5-ton truck and slowly approached the track
as I guided him to the bumpers from a standing position on the running board.
1LT Michael Rippingill road shot-gun in the truck cab, and several others were
in the truck bed. FDC men were in the track.
I stayed standing on the driver side running board as John started pushing the
track. At approximately 1400 hours “Charlie” promoted “Davo” to Airborne
via a command detonated land mine that blew right in between the FDC track and
5-ton truck! Those that told me about the incident said that I traveled a few
stories in the air before landing in the middle of the road.
LT Mike Rippingill mentioned that shortly after the mine blew, an FDC man
climbed on to the top of the track and yelled “Have You Ever been
Experienced”? For those that don’t remember, that line is in Jimmy
Hendrix’ album “Are You Experienced”?, and it’s followed by “Well, I
Am”! And the lyrics continue: “I Don’t Live Today, Will I live Tomorrow?,
Well I just Can’t Say”.
I’ve now landed face toward the road, on my knees and elbows. A horrified
feeling comes to mind as I begin to realize what has happened. My ears are
ringing and it seems everything is in slow motion as I collapse to my side. I
see a shadow approach and realize it’s Sp-4 Roberto Annino.
something, but I can’t hear him….only the loud ringing. Bob motioned to me
to keep down as I tried to look for my glasses through dirt-packed eyes.
Realizing I couldn’t see, Bob washed my eyes with a canteen of water, found my
glasses, brought me my M-14, slowly pulled me toward the side of the road and
stayed with me.
Cobra gun-ships seemed to arrive immediately and began to spray the foliage off
to a distance from the south side of the road. During this time, I looked down
to see that my flack jacket and fatigues were shredded….and I immediately
checked to see if the family jewels were still in place…Yes!…Oh Good, I
won’t be needing “Extra-Testicles from Outer Space”!
I’ve now learned
that Bob borrowed a 45 Cal. Automatic for defense as he lost his rifle in the
blast at his position in the truck bed. Things from here are a bit vague, as I
must have been fading in and out. What seemed to be just minutes later, a Medevac
touched down on the North side of the road. I believe Bob then helped me across
the road and positioned me seated in the chopper.
My first ride in a Huey chopper was unbelievable. The wind rushed by with each
blade and I had to hold my glasses on my face. We flew at tree-top level while I
held the center post while and faced out…until we reached our destination. I
don’t remember how I got to the 4th Med. Aid-station at LZ Oasis from the
chopper, but my next vision was looking at the top of a tent while laying on a
table. Someone was cutting the rest of my fatigues off, and I must have passed
I then woke up on another cold steel table with another table to my right. I’m
not sure where I was at that time, but as I looked over to my right Sgt. Tim
Haslett laid there on that table. I seen that his upper arm appeared to have a
rather large deep wound with bone showing. He later told me that was a large
piece of metal. I told him “Good Luck” and that’s the last time I spoke to
him until I found him while searching for 7/15th FA Vets. Until then, I didn’t
remember who he was.
Tim said he was shipped to the 71st Evacuation Hospital with me that day, and
later flown to a hospital in Japan. From there, he was flown to the states and
had a fairly long recovery.
I stayed at the 71st Evac. Hosp. at the Pleiku Airforce Base through 19 Nov. 68
at which time several of us in the ward received Purple Hearts. While there, the
base was mortared. During the in-coming mortars, I and other patients were
lifted out of bed and placed under the beds with sand-filled ammo boxes stacked
two to three high next to us.
I was then flown to the 12th USAF Hospital in Cam Ranh Bay on an AF patient
transport, WWII vintage Douglas DC-3 “Gooney Bird” airplane. Patients were
placed along the fuselage sides, laid in strap/harness beds stacked three high.
From there I was sent to the 6th Convalescence Center Ward 21. My bed was
located across from the nurses station, and a pretty good view of some great
nurses! There was no shortage of patients in that ward, it was filled to the
Injuries to me were multiple contusions and abrasions to both lower extremities
and back. In addition, my left arm was bleeding from near the elbow and wrist,
my left ear drum possibly punctured and was draining. I have to assume my flack
vest saved my life as it was torn to shreds! My left leg has now grown in
size to twice that of the right leg, I suppose from being so close to the mine
blast. I’m worried about loosing it. The medications kept the pain down, but
there is a rather long 10 inch open gash on the exterior that runs above and
below my knee. The choice for healing was what is called a “Williamson” wet
bandage. This is a 10% salt and saline solution that is suppose to help the
wound heal from the interior out vs. stitching it closed.
As it begins to heal, scar tissue starts to form and at least two scar revision
surgeries had to be performed. This involves removal of existing scar and
reapplying the wet bandage. I’m now moved into a more sterile environment….
a room with a 1SG and Captain.
While in the center, patients volunteered helping each other by changing
bandages for each other. One of my duties I took on was to run long sterile
solution soaked Q-tip like sticks through the Captains gun shot wound located
through his lower rear leg muscle. This removed any debris and infection, a job
that needed to be done a couple times a day. I was rewarded by him after he
began to heal, by a Mai Tai cocktail every now and then that he brought back
from the offices club.
During the first few days there, I received a letter from Col. Stan L.
McClellan, 4th INF DIV Commander, thanking me for my participation in the
operation, and he asked if I needed anything.
Since I wasn’t
receiving mail and didn’t have any money, that’s what I asked for. I also
asked that my Mom not be notified of my situation, and he assured me she
wouldn’t. He replied on 6 Dec. and told me he was sending 1LT Flanagan down
from Dc Co with a few pieces of mail that was now being held at our service
battery in Phu Cat. I got the visit, some mail, but no money!
One of the nicer things that happened while there, was a visit from one of my
state-side buddies, Bruce Hanke. Stationed in the area, it was a short distance
and he seen me a few times.
Later on I learned how to use a wheel chair, then “wheelies” in it! For
Christmas, the nurses had a tree for us, and the Red Cross provided letters from
home that volunteers wrote to GI’s. We always dug deep in the rather large
drum with letters to find those that smelled like perfume. But they didn’t
replace those I received from home with the red lipstick “Smack” image on
By mid to late January 1969, I was well enough to return to our unit at LZ
Oasis. The leg was still stiff, but the wounds had closed. I got my orders to
return and was sent to the AF Base to hop a plane back to Service Battery in Phu
Cat. I couldn’t believe they didn’t issue me a weapon to travel with! I
suppose they figured the trail back would be safe enough, but I didn’t like
it! First hop was to Na Trang Airbase, then another to Qui Nhon. I thumbed a
ride on a truck from there to Phu Cat, then to Service Battery. I finally got a
weapon there… “Gee Thanks!”, then took an ammo run truck to Pleiku and
then the Big “O”.
I wasn’t in the C-Battery but a few minutes when the 1SG approached me in the
motor pool area and told me the Captain wanted to see me. I’m thinking “Oh,
he wants to see how I am and wish me welcome back.” NOT! During the walk to
the BC office tent, the 1SG told me how Col. McClellan sent 1LT Flanagan to the
Oasis to give him some crap on not contacting me in the hospital. Now I don’t
know if I believe this, but he said the 1LT had the Captain at “Attention”
while reaming him a new A_ _ !!! I’ve now changed my mind about seeing him for
a welcome home.
As it turned out, the Captain did in fact welcome me back…but not without
mentioning the incident with 1LT Flanagan and Col. McClellan. He apologized for
not knowing where I was and we left it at that. Battery rumors were that two men
were KIA near LZ Jackson Hole, but in reality it was Tim and I that were
medivac’d out. I returned to lighter than normal work, and did a lot of
inspection vs. actual maintenance. I then asked for a truck load of lumber and
we motor pool mechanics built a new motor pool hooch. The wood-frame
construction and use of “Marston Matting” or PSP: Pierced Steel Plank used
for runways, made an impressive looking hooch!
The PSP, was used on
the top and sides to hold sand-bags in place. Along with the newer nylon bags
normal wear from rain
and sun was eliminated. It also allowed us to have standing room, and a weapon
rank! The captain liked it so much, he asked for one for himself. No, it
didn’t get built!
C-battery stayed at LZ Oasis until about February 1969 when we moved to LZ
So far, the Vets we know that experienced the land mine incident are mechanic
Sp-4 John Rodriguez, mechanic Sp-4 Robert Annino, XO, FO 1LT Michael Rippingill,
FDC Sgt. Tim Haslett, Ammo Sp-4 Roger Kilday, 13A Sp-4 Richard Pennell.
We believe 1LT XO/AO/FO/FDC David E. White was near the end of the convoy and
stopped with us. In addition, a few Commo and FDC Vets we haven’t confirmed
As per 1/35th INF Daily Report, one platoon of C/7/15th FA reached LZ Joan by
1200 hours. The unit stayed at DucCo to 30 Nov. 68 when they became OPCON to
2/8th INF at Grid ZA195350 which is in close proximity to Catecka Tea
Plantation, and Pleiku Airfield about 12km NE. of LZ Oasis Airfield.
searches, I believe it was the “Dust-Off” 283rd Heli-Ambulance Det. that
flew us out that day as they were the only unit operating that AO at the time.
They flew support for the 15th Med. BN, 1st Cav., and 4th Med. BN which
transferred us to the 71st Evac. Hosp. I also believe to have identified,
but haven’t confirmed the cobra unit that strafed the area and cleared it for
the medivac. The Cobra’s that were parked on the LZ Oasis flight line had a
unit emblem design on the front door area that matches photos taken in early
Jan. 69. This unit is “Try Me” C-Troop, 7/17th Air Cav. They are also
mentioned in reports from Oct. 68 0400 hours at Duc Co.
A/1/9th Cav. are call sign “Headhunters”. I’ve located Jim Dempsey,
“Headhunter 61” for confirmation. Other Assault Helicopter Company chopper
units used during the Operation are “Ghostrider 157” 189th AHC, “Bikini
538” 170th AHC, 7/17th Cav. Regt. “Ruthless Riders”.
It’s been about 34 years since that fateful day 16 Nov. 68 to finally get a
bit of closure on the incident. I often think how things may have been different
had we decided to stay in Duc Co on 15 Nov. 68, instead of going back to the
“safety-in-numbers” at the Oasis. Obviously it wouldn’t have been me on
that running board….but it could have been someone else? Guess I’ll never
It’s amazing how one decision can change a lifetime! And I still wonder if
I’ll have bigger problems down the line and maybe still lose the left leg!
Well….the only “Camels” ever put to rest at the Oasis that I know of were
the hard-fistin “Gun Bunnies” and Men of the C-Battery, 7th BN, 15th Field
Artillery that spent yet another day running the unit and “Humping” 200
Information taken from mostly 1/35th INF Daily Logs.
The following units
participated in the operation at Duc Co, and other areas in close proximity
while C/7/15th FA was GS to those units. INF units operated under 3rd Bde. 4th
ID, and the rest were either OPCON to them or GS to them. The time frame was mid
to late 68, early to mid 69.
D Co. 4th Engineers,
B/2/8th Mech. INF, D/2/8th INF CAV, 4C/3/8th INF, C&A/2/9th FA,
C&A/1/10th CAV, B/C/1/14th INF, C/5/16th FA, C/7/17th CAV Aero Weapons
Platoon, 1st AVN Bde., 17th ARVN Grp., B/C/1/22nd INF, A/B/C/1/35th INF, 4/42nd
Arty. Quad-50’s, B/C/1/69th Armor, B/1/92nd FA, AN/TPS-25 Sect. Radar-DIVARTY.
( D-Troop 1st Sqd. 23rd INF = Blackhawks)
In addition, C/7/15th
was OPCON to 1/29th FA LZ Plei Djereng Aug/Sept 68, and to A/2/17th FA LZ Action
Apr. 69. Many other units under 4th AVN in the area C/7/15th was OPCON to 2/8th
INF 30 Nov. 68 thru Oper. Hines Plei Mrong area: Blackjack 4: 4th Avn.,
Headhunter 37: A/1/9th Cav. now in Kontum, Gamblers: 4th AVN?, Gladiator 100:
57th AHC, Bikini 69: 170th AHC.
Call Signs/Chopper Units:
Headhunter 41, 60, 61, 69: A/1/9th CAV, Ghost-Rider 157: 189th AHC, Bikini 538:
170th AHC, Joker 1: 48th AHC, C&C Bird Blackhawk 106: 187th AHC, 4th AVN?
in 'The Field'
J. Jefferson 2002
Often there is some
particular incident one remembers that brings to mind a whole series of related
thoughts. In my case, it's the filthy latrine at the 6th Convalescent
Center in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. I was there because of an emergency
appendectomy. One would think that two weeks of nothing to do all day
except play bridge incessantly in the '0 Club,' sit in the warm, salty, shallow
(to avoid the sharks) water of the South China Sea, and eat three squares -- all
while being watched over by a pretty nurse -- would be just fine with anyone.
But I couldn't wait to get back to my unit. I was particularly concerned
because they only released people once a week and I would have been there just
under a week when the next opportunity came up -- normally not long enough.
And why did I want to
go back to the 'field' so soon? To be blunt, when you've had abdominal
surgery, it takes a while for your bowel movements to return. As a result,
you spend a good deal of time in the latrine waiting for something to happen;
often, you're in considerable pain. So there I was, sitting in the wide
open spaces of the 6th CC's latrine, with filthy water all around on the floor
and a little old Vietnamese lady pushing it back and forth with a broom.
Meanwhile, all I could think about was the clean, airy, just really nice latrine
back at the 7th Battalion l3thArtillery at LZ Uplift.
This brings me to my
point. There are some things that really make a difference in the morale
of a unit, or of any group of people who are thrown together for some purpose.
One of the great benefits to me of my tour in Vietnam was learning this lesson
and seeing just how important the small details can be. Prior to my
arrival, decisions had been taken that produced a radically different, and
better, living environment for the 7/13th than I experienced in other places I
found myself during the year from December '68 to December '69.
Let me set up the
situation: The 7/13th was a non-divisional 105mm towed artillery battalion.
Because the l05mm towed howitzer is a short-range piece of light artillery,
designed to operate as part of an infantry division, the Table of Organization
and Equipment (TO&E) for a battalion of them is pretty sparse. They
are supposed to get most of their logistic support from the division to which
they are assigned.
In reality, our
situation was completely different. Two of the battalion's firing batteries were
detached and committed to the defense of coastal cities. The third
occupied LZ Pony in the middle of the 506 valley, firing in support of l73rd
Airborne Brigade or local Vietnamese operations when they were within range.
The main function of the battalion headquarters was to deconflict air traffic
flying through the area with artillery fires (including those of the 173rd and
the ARVN). So, we kept up a large operations center with many more radios
than normal for this kind of unit on a 24-hour basis. The battalion was in
effect permanently garrisoned at LZ Uplift, and the unit existed mainly to
support the operations center. We also provided minimal support to our one
firing battery at LZ Pony and furnished extra Forward Observers for a variety of
local operations as needed.
When I arrived at the
unit, for example, I learned that rather than being punishment duty, as in many
units, the latrines were the total responsibility of the battalion medics.
This accounted for them being well-built, well-ventilated and clean. There was
also permanent power. This had been arranged by 'renting' an over-age 100
KW generator from the Air Force at Phu Cat in return for a monthly cut of steaks
from the battalion's meat ration. Not only did this make the operations
center a workable proposition, it also meant that the rest of the unit could do
things at night and that we could operate a regular movie show (which many
troops from the 173rd infantry battalion at Uplift came over to watch).
There were other
revelations regarding food. The old saying that an army travels on its
stomach is true in more ways than one. Not only must you have food, but if
it isn't good you're going to have morale problems. Evidently this had
been the case at some point in the previous year, as the story of how it had
been fixed was still circulating when I arrived. The HHB (Headquarters and
Headquarters Battery) commander had been dissatisfied with the mess hall -- it
was dirty and the food was bad. So one day he loaded all the cooks on a
truck and took them out to LZ Pony. Gathering all the 'gun bunnies' at the
firing battery around, he asked if any of them would like to come to battalion
headquarters as cooks. Volunteers were numerous and he took a group of
Puerto Rican troops, leaving the cooks behind to replace them. Food was a
little spicier thereafter, but it was infinitely better and the mess hall was
Another aspect of food
was something to drink, especially in the really hot seasons. The
reconstituted white milk we received was virtually undrinkable, but most troops
could stomach the chocolate version and that's the only kind the mess hall would
accept from our supply depot. But if potable water were available at all,
cold Kool Aid was to be had at any time from a large urn in the shade just
outside the mess hall. (Our ability to make ice was of course another side
benefit of having a big generator.)
On the subject of
water, its availability was not something to be taken lightly. Not just
for cooking and drinking, but whenever humanly possible, for showering as well.
As a non-divisional unit, we did not have access to the 173rd's water supply.
Moreover, during the summer of 1969, the monsoon failed in our area --
instead we had a major drought.
Now there are two
kinds of supply, maintenance and other such support officers -- the kind who
believe they own all the supplies and take it as a personal affront if you want
any, and (much less common) the kind who will get you what you need, period.
Fortunately, our maintenance warrant's predecessor was of the latter variety and
had made provisions for such a contingency. He had gone down to the Port
of Qui Nhon and chalked our Unit Identification Code on the side of a water
tanker. He then made his way to the port office and displayed paper work
saying the 7/13th was due a tanker. Upon finding the proper UIC on the
truck, it was promptly turned over to him. This tanker was a real life saver
many times over.
We later acquired a
five-ton wrecker in a similar but slightly less formal way. When at LZ
English (the 173rd's headquarters near Bong Song) to turn in and pick up movies,
I dropped off some of my troops who had come along for the ride at the Enlisted
Club while I was about my business. When we came back to pick them up,
only one was there. He said the others had gotten a ride. When we
got back to LZ Uplift, there was a brand new wrecker in the motor pool with our
unit designator already painted on its bumper. Its previous owners had
made the cardinal error of parking it at the EM club before having chains and
locks welded on to prevent exactly what happened.
The wrecker was
invaluable on a number of occasions, including one unfortunate time when one of
our 'deuce and a halves' (2 and 1/2 ton trucks) hit a mine on the road into LZ
Pony. The main use to which it was put, though, was when the unit decided
to rebuild everything we had. When I first arrived in the unit, during the
night I could see through the ceiling of my 'hootch' the green tracer rounds
from the 'dusters' (self-propelled twin-40mm anti-aircraft guns shifted over to
a ground attack role) that fired from the hill above us into the valley below to
discourage mortar attacks on the LZ. This was comforting in a way, but it
was also a constant reminder that the 'hootch' wouldn't withstand much in the
way of a mortar or rocket hit. Later on, when the Air Force rebuilt all
its housing at Phu Cat, we traded for the used plywood and electrical wiring and
fixtures, and then somehow obtained cement and heavy timbers through Army
engineer channels. Having the wrecker was the key to putting up the new
The work involved in
mixing and pouring the cement, putting up the new buildings, and re-sandbagging
everything brings up another aspect of life in the 7/13th. Unlike many
other units in Vietnam, the battalion strictly minimized the access of
Vietnamese to its compound. Importantly, there were no 'hootch maids' in
the officer or senior enlisted quarters. The three mess hall helpers were
the wife and daughters of the local village chief ( a government functionary, as
it was an official relocation center). When labor was needed, the village
chief's son would recruit a small number of men and personally take them back
and forth. The importance of such precautions had been underlined to
everyone during Tet, 1968, when Viet Cong attackers had penetrated our perimeter
(inside the main LZ Uplift perimeter) and thrown explosives into the operations
Looking back from the
perspective of my experiences and those of my wife as managers in the civilian
world, I see many parallels. "An Army marches on its stomach" --
Terry opened a number of new stores during her career in retail sales, and I
remember going with her many times to buy -- usually on our credit, and
sometimes before she even knew if she would be reimbursed -- small refrigerators
and microwave ovens for the employees to use. A successful organization
has to have people who will do what needs to be done as a matter of course.
If the water jug is almost empty, they'll replace it. They'll make sure
that birthdays and farewells, promotions and awards are recognized without the
boss having to mandate everything. They'll post appropriate (funny, not
offensive) cartoons on the bulletin board and organize the football pool.
I have always
confronted potential new employees up front with the very worst aspects of our
job, seemingly trying to dissuade them from joining us, to get a feel for them
as people. I'm sure now that it was no accident that the 7/13th had so
many of the rare 'right' kind of support people. Very likely, it was a
succession of savvy Sergeants Major who knew who to ask for and how to pull the
strings with personnel. Good morale in an organization is hard to build
and easy to destroy. It is a jewel beyond price. When you have it,
Charles J. Jefferson
Charles J. Jefferson 2002
I had moved from LZ
Uplift on the coast to Artillery Hill in Pleiku in the central highlands,
becoming assistant Communications Officer of the 52nd Artillery Group. As
such, I naturally drew a number of extra duties. One was pay officer.
This unfortunate individual must, after signing for the cash to pay the troops,
get it into their hands 'toot sweet.' We had a units in several
out-of-the-way places, including Kontum and Ben Het, and getting to all of them
within the deadline wasn't so simple. As a non-divisional unit, we didn't
have ready access to helicopters. The alternative was to accompany a
Since our unit in Ben
Het was due for a re-supply of fresh food, I was riding shotgun in a 'reefer' as
we joined a 4th Infantry Division convoy en route to Kontum (about half-way to
Ben Het). About an hour out of Pleiku, the front end of the very long convoy was
hit by rocket fire from across the valley. We could see the smoke and hear
the return fire, and shortly saw the covering Cobra gunships zoom in to strike
the ambush site.
Eventually, the convoy
commander decided to turn back. This didn't suit me at all. I had
two units to pay and a deadline to meet. I really had to go on.
Plus, the stuff in the reefer would spoil if it wasn't delivered soon. We
joined up with a small Engineer element that had the gun jeep and radio required
for independent movement on the roads. They planned to go on past Kontum
to Dak To. At Dak To, we and some other Ben Het-bound vehicles were able
to arrange for a Vietnamese APC to go on with us.
The Special Forces
base at Ben Het was dug into an isolated hill in the middle of a plain, with
mountains overlooking it from the Laotian side of the border. As we neared
the recently besieged base (where my predecessor had earned a Silver Star
leading in a convoy), it looked like a World War I battle scene. There
were a few scraggly tree stumps and the ground was covered in all directions
with brass of every caliber as well as other detritus of battle. A
brand-new 'Fat Albert' with a big hole in the side was in a roadside ditch. A
small mountain of destroyed equipment was piled up by the airstrip.
As I sought out our
unit and started to pay the troops, the arriving vehicles were unloaded
feverishly. Joined by a few others from the garrison, they started back
toward Kontum immediately so as to get there before nightfall. Clearly, I
was going to spend the night at Ben Het. Outlining my plans to join a
convoy to Kontum the next day so I could pay the unit there and then return to
Pleiku, I was told, "Not so fast." Our unit in Kontum had two
175 SPs out on a 'hip shoot' just off the road on the way back to Kontum.
I would have to pay them there.
The next day, I rode
shot gun on a gun truck. As the convoy neared the hip shoot, the driver
touched the brakes and I jumped out into the ditch along the road. I made
my way over to the unit, discovering as I approached that they were in the
process of closing down. With our two howitzers were a battery) of ARVN
towed 155s and a company of ARVN rangers. With the Vietnamese troops were their
I paid the troops as
the planned departure time came and went. We had major problems! It
was already late afternoon. One of our guns couldn't move under its own
power, and then the ammo carrier towing it broke down. It became clear we
weren't going to get to Kontum before dark, when the roads closed. In
fact, we weren't even going to get to the next town with a garrison.
Eventually, we pulled off the road next to a small ARVN watchtower with an apron
of wire around it. We strung up what concertina we had, as did the ARVN
artillerists. The Rangers, however, decided to push on down the road.
We learned later that one of their trucks hit a mine, with many casualties.
It was quite a night!
The lieutenants called in our position and plotted supporting fires in case we
were attacked, but in truth we were essentially defenseless in the middle of a
prime North Vietnamese Army operating area. Seemingly unconcerned, the
Vietnamese lit a large bonfire around which they sang and danced after dinner.
As a Captain, I was the senior US officer present, though I had no mind to
interfere with the two artillery lieutenants in running their unit. On top of
that, I had $40,000 in MPC with me for which I was personally responsible.
I don't think I've ever been more relieved to see daylight than I was the next
morning. The rest of my road trip was a breeze, but then I had already had
all the adventure I wanted.
Charles J. Jefferson
By Davo Holdorf
Dropping a huge
rail-road tie on your big toe is sure to get you some “Light-Duty” work. And
so it goes ….while in Service-Battery before being shipped out to my permanent
duty assignment with C-Battery. Light-duty resulting in riding shot-gun on the
gasoline truck to LZ Pony. Well, no one said it would be safe.
After a couple weeks
of getting acquainted driving around on a time bomb, an advanced party of two
was sent to LZ Diamondhead. C-Battery at this time was in Ban Me Thuot taking
part in “Operation Plus”. Upon arriving at the LZ, I couldn’t help
noticing the layout, in a road level area with mountains around. No one was
around, except for the ROK (Republic of Korea) unit on the hill to the
A 1SG and I were sent
there to set up camp in one of the hooches. We spent time cleaning up the area,
and had it pretty good. It sure beat riding on that gas truck!
But after a few nights
stay we heard, then noticed a rather large black cat roaming the grounds. At
that time the 1SG suggested we bunk in the center of the LZ in the only hooch
that had a couple of screen doors. We made sure to be lock-and-loaded from then
On 23 April 68
C-Battery rolled into LZ Diamondhead to see our sign we made, “Welcome Home
Charlie Battery, Job Well Done!”
It was work as usual
from then on, which meant repairing vehicles for us in the motor pool…and of
course guard duty. The motor pool’s guard bunker was on the east side of the
compound, looking directly at an up-sloping mountain with the ROK’s at the far
left. The bunker was a metal shipping container with a 12 inch by 3 foot hole
cut out, and a door to the rear that led to a trench. A bench across at the
front hole was large enough for our M-60 machine gun, and a stool was used to
sit on for that position. The unit was large enough for a cot at the rear, and
we pulled guard duty with one awake, one sleeping.
One dark evening as I
sat in the stool I looked up to see two very large round green eyes about two
feet from me! Reacting from such a site I kept in the same motion I was in and
fell directly backwards on to SP4 Walter Hawsey. You can imagine Wally’s
surprise as he responded “What the F…”!
A call to commo
followed to explain, but I’m not sure if they really believed us. There was no
cat to be found after all that commotion, but I know that cat was out
Nights went by without
seeing or hearing anything, then George Catledge and I spotted it again. This
time we took a couple of shots at it! Big Mistake! Our guard bunker phone rang
at once and they wanted to know if Charlie was in the wire. We told them the cat
was back. This went on now and then for a few weeks, and Cpt. Larry Strassner
was now getting pissed. “Knock it off” he said, “you’re scarring the
hell out of everyone”. Easy for him to say, he didn’t have to sit there and
wonder if that cat would be jumping through that hole while looking for dinner!
It’s hard to shoot a
cat at night… they’re quiet, sneaky, and don’t make any noise. Alas,
George has an idea… “Hey, let’s bait the cat with hamburger meat” I
replied, “Yeh, and we can attach our flashlights to the top handle on the
M-16’s and we can light up our target.” We set out to put the plan in
George acquired some
old meat from the mess hall and laid it in the perimeter wire directly in front
of the guard bunker. Now all we had to do is wait….
A night or so
later…rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat…I took a shot at it after seeing the eyes in the
wire. Did I mention what a lousy shot I was? Missed that sucker this time!
Opp’s, another suggestion from Cpt. Strasser followed…he wasn’t a happy
sees the cat again….we slowly proceed out the back to the side of the bunker,
then turn on the flashlights. I forgot to take my weapon off safety, but had the
cat looking into my flashlight beam. “Pow”, George lets loose with a short
burst, and hit the cat! This time we were able to tell commo we got our
The following morning
we hung the cat from the tree in front of the officers quarters for formation. A
round of applause for us, and the Cpt. and others finally believe us. Cpt.
Strassner tells us to get rid of it, but we wanted to play first. After taking a
few photos, I decided to paint it olive drab! What the hell, I was painting
vehicles anyway, and we wanted to see what it would look like in Army green. Not
bad. So we took it to the dump on the way to get parts.
Would you believe….
on the way back from the parts depot, the locals had that cat on a spit cooking
it over a fire! Yuk!
Story ends? No! That
wasn’t the cat we were looking for. We got an ocelot, about a 40 pound spotted
species. The cat I saw close-up was black, at least 70-80 pounds, with a head
the size of a volley ball, and still out there somewhere.
Don’t know if it was
ever killed, as C-Battery moved to Artillery Hill shortly after. We watched for
the other cat while still there, but never spotted it again….and I’m sure
Cpt. Strassner would have had a fit if we kept baiting for it.
Were we in line with
trying to kill that cat while scarring the rest of the battery? We thought so at
the time. Would that cat actually attack us? Not sure.
However, 30 years
later I purchased the video by Paul Reed A/1/503rd INF, 101st Abn., called
“Kontum Diary”. A North Vietnamese soldier reflecting on his side of the
War, mentions one of the things he recalled. While fighting in the area just
north of An Khe, and in and around the An Khe Pass, tigers would dig up their
buried KIA’s and have them for a meal!
I still don’t care
Holdorf, C/7/15th FA 4/68-4/69
6th Battalion, 15th Field Artillery
February 1969 to November 1969 - Republic of Vietnam
My name is John E.
Sarantakes. I arrived in RVN in February 1969 fresh from the Vietnam Orientation
Course at Ft. Sill. Prior to that I had spent three years in USAEURER as a
battery commander and battalion S3 in VII Corps.
I was assigned to the
6th Battalion, 15th Field Artillery upon arrival in country. The battalion
operated in III Corps as a part of the 23rd Artillery Group. Our area of
operations (AO) was a rough box running from Saigon north to Tay Ninh, north to
the Cambodian border, then east along the border to a point just north of Quan
Loi, then south to Phuc Vinh, south to Zuan Loc, then west back to Bien
Hoa. Our battalion was organized as a divisional direct support battalion with
M101A1 towed, 105mm Howitzers. Our mission was to provide direct
support/reinforcing fires to various units in III Corps. Quite a mission for a
battalion of “pop guns”.
When I arrived, the
Battalion headquarters was at Tay Ninh, Alpha Battery was split between two
Special Forces/CIDG camps on/near the Cambodian Border (Thien Ngon and Katum),
Bravo Battery was at Thunder IV, and Charlie was at Phuc Vinh. Service Battery
was located at Bien Hoa. After a week’s orientation, which included visits to
the firing batteries to see how they functioned, I took command of Bravo Battery
in late February 1969 at FSB Thunder IV.
In the case of Bravo,
my supply and maintenance personnel and all of my vehicles, except for my jeep
and trailer, the FDC ¾ ton truck and trailer and the Mess Sections ¾ ton truck
and trailer, were located at Bien Hoa with Service Battery from where they
provided us with logistics support by air, and on rare occasions, by road. My
admin was with Headquarters Battery at Tay Ninh. My forward observers were
wherever the battalion sent them, usually with the ARVNs. I seldom saw
At Thunder IV we
supported the 1st Infantry Division. A Mechanized Infantry Battalion of the Big
Red One secured provided security. Thunder IV was at the northern end of Highway
13 (Thunder Road) and was one of the Thunder FSBs providing interlocking fires
to cover the daily convoys to Quan Loi which were ambushed frequently. We also
fired in support of the infantry battalion which provided security for us and
for Quan Loi when they received either indirect or direct fires.
On one occasion we
split the battery and put three howitzers at Quan Loi in order to achieve a
greater range for some specific missions. Later, we participated in an Artillery
Raid from Thunder IV, sending two howitzers with a mech company escort to
provide close fire support for a Division operation. The day we returned from
the raid we were notified that we would be moving the next day to a new fire
base east of Nui Ba Dihn (the Black Virgin Mountain) which was to the east of
Tay Ninh. That night, while shooting counter mortar fires for Quan Loi, we took
one 82mm mortar round inside the parapet of one of our howitzers. The entire gun
crew was wounded, none seriously, and of the howitzers tires was blown out. At
daylight we convoyed to Quan Loi with mech infantry escort
LZ White was a newly
established temporary base. Engineers had built an FDC of timber with RPG
standoff and had prepared rough parapets as well as underground bunkers for
personnel. It was secured by an infantry unit. The night we were hit at Thunder
IV, LZ White had received a ground probe, which was repulsed by the infantry. In
essence, we were going into a potentially hot LZ.
Our air movement to LZ
White was carefully orchestrated but, as it turned out, not without problems.
Fixed wing transports were to shuttle our howitzers, pallets of “special”
ammunition and gun crews to FSB Joe; CH-47s were to hook us to LZ White. They
were to drop us on the log pad, which had already been stocked with ammunition.
The hook pilots were to set us down between pallets of ammunition. The first
load was my recon party, the second was the FDC, and the third was the base
piece. The log pad, incidentally, was “outside of the wire”
The first couple of
loads arrived uneventfully and we quickly moved into position, set up and began
to register the base piece. Then “murphy” came to visit. One of the CH-47s
lost its hydraulics and set down on the edge of the runway at FSB Joe. The
transports coming from Quan Loi with the rest of the battery declared the runway
unsafe to land and diverted to bases throughout RVN leaving us with only one
howitzer at LZ White. Some of the battery was still at Quan Loi.
At LZ White we had a
log pad covered with ammunition (outside of the wire), it had started to rain
and it was getting dark. With only fifteen men, we did not have the manpower to
move all of the ammunition to secure locations inside the perimeter with only
two vehicles, a ¾ ton truck with one broken axle and one jeep.
The Battalion S3, who
had been monitoring the move, passed the report of “murphy’s” actions to
the Battalion Commander who passed it to Group Headquarters who passed it to II
Field Force Artillery who passed it to II Field Force Headquarters who passed it
to USARV. The problem was what to do with this howitzer battery, which was in a
potentially hot LZ with only one gun while the rest of the battery was scattered
all over South Vietnam (no one up to group level had any idea where they were).
The AF was adamant; they would not fly into FSB Joe with part of the runway
blocked. Army aviation was adamant; they would not hook anyone into a
potentially hot LZ, at night and in the rain. Back at the LZ we loaded boxes of
ammunition onto our two vehicles and moved what we could, while we waited for
someone to make a command decision.
Finally, someone made
the decision that this lone howitzer battery was not going to be left
“swinging in the wind”. Orders were issued that an all out effort would be
made to reunite Bravo at LZ White, that night, whatever the cost. So, throughout
the night, transports picked up the rest of the battery, wherever they were, and
moved them to FSB Joe, where CH47s were waiting to hook the rest of the way to
To say the situation
was hairy at LZ White would be an understatement. It had been probed the night
before, there was ammunition scattered all over the log pad, the infantry was
nervous as hell, the few artillerymen were exhausted from the artillery raid the
day before, the mortar attack the night before, the move, then having to
manhandle what ammunition they could off of the log pad and now we were going to
turn on the lights to guide helicopters into a potentially hot LZ! And it was
Thus began what I have
since called: Vietnam’s only Night Insertion - By Mistake!
insertion went pretty smoothly. The CH47s came in as scheduled, dropped their
loads then went off for more. The only problem occurred when one pilot placed
his sling loaded howitzer directly on top of a pallet of ammunition, then left.
It took a dozen men over an hour of muscle tearing labor to manhandle 4,980
pounds of howitzer off of that 4-5 foot high pallet of ammunition to the ground.
They were not happy campers! Sometime before dawn we had all of the howitzers in
their parapets and laid, most of the ammunition under cover and the log pad
secured. The men fell wherever they could, some burrowing under duffle bags to
escape the persistent rain, too exhausted to dig out sleeping bags or ponchos.
Fortunately “charles” did not come calling that night and we did not receive
any fire missions either. During the course of the move, we had several men
injured, including one officer, by a flying aircraft loading pallet at FSB Joe.
They eventually rejoined the battery.
We stayed at LZ White
for several months with security being provided by US units and, on one
occasion, by ARVN Rangers. LZ White was in a “free fire zone” so we shot at
anything that moved with both direct and indirect fire. We shot for whoever
called – usually we supported two brigades of the 1st Cav Division. They liked
shooting us since our ammunition did not count against their ammunition supply
rate (ASR). In return they provided us with such creature comforts as ice, beer
and soft drinks. They even gave us a stop watch so we could shoot preps for them
(we didn’t have any).
Our next move took us
to Dau Trang - on top of a mountain! It was the only time in my career that I
ever fired negative site since we were always shooting at targets below us. It
was like being at the “top of the world”. We replaced a battery of the 1st
Cav and our first challenge was to enlarge the parapets since they had
been constructed for smaller M102 howitzers. We also had to clean out a rat’s
nest of abandoned small arms ammunition left behind. Also for the first time, we
were cold since we were at a high elevation. Poncho liners and field jackets
were in demand. We could see our old base at LZ White and fired several missions
on it when “charles” tried to rummage through it. We continued to support
After a couple of
weeks we were hooked out and taken to FSB Hunter. At Hunter we were able to
receive re-supply runs by vehicle since we now had access to roads! Here we shot
in support of the ARVN. Our stay at Hunter was uneventful; we did not shoot as
much as we had in the past.
Again, after several
weeks, we were moved, this time by road to Zuan Loc where we provided support to
the 11th ACR (Black Horse). At Zuan Loc we replaced a battery which had been hit
hard by a sapper attack several weeks earlier. A 175mm Gun Battery was located
on the other side of Zuan Loc and we soon learned to get used to their shooting
H & I fires over our compound through out the night. Our security
included quad 50s. The quad 50 crews had taken heavy casualties during the
earlier sapper attack and they did not hesitate to turn their barrels cherry red
at the slightest provocation. Despite the obvious danger, everyone liked Zuan
Loc since it was a real village with clubs and girls!
After a couple of
months we received word that we were going to be pulled back and inactivated as
part of the pull out from Vietnam. The battalion’s howitzers, vehicles and
other equipment were to be turned over to ARVN units and personnel with
ten months or more in country would DEROS to the states. Those under ten months
would be reassigned in country. Each firing battery was pulled out of the line,
one by one, and sent to Bien Hoa for out-processing. But first, EVERYTHING had
to be inventoried and accounted for … after years of war!! Everyone had extras
of the type of equipment needed to fight or just survive, i.e. rifles, machine
guns, generators, vehicles, etc. Obviously we were short of those things which
had been lost and never replaced or thrown away as useless in our type of jungle
fighting. And of course, everything had to be cleaned and broken or inoperative
parts replaced or requisitioned. Some ARVN units would not accept some of our
equipment the first time around because it was not up to “their” standards
although we had been using it with no difficulty. Our howitzers, and other
weapons, however, were immaculate and taken without question.
As I recall,
Headquarters and Service Batteries were phased out slowly as the firing
batteries were inactivated. Hellfire Bravo was the last firing battery to
turnover its equipment and case its guidon. It was hard to say goodbye to so
many great guys who had gone through so much together. Since I did not make the
ten month cutoff, I was reassigned to II Field Force Artillery as a Target
Analyst on the night shift for my last month in country. I was welcomed to the
land of crystal and china at the club and starched jungle fatigues, spit shined
boots and specific places you could and could not sit at the officers open mess.
I was almost fired my first day there since my serviceable fatigues, washed by
mama san, and my boots did not pass the “headquarters test”. Fortunately my
last month pasted quickly and I left Vietnam on December 27th, 1969.
IV, Quan Loi, LZ White, Dau Trang, FSB Hunter, Zuan Loc, Bien Hoa – the
Highways and Byways of Hellfire Bravo!”
Thus read a sign which we carried with us and added to as we traced our
adventures in RVN.
During my tour with
Hellfire Bravo we were very fortunate. We fired a lot of missions, burned up a
lot of ammunition, supported a number of different units and made a lot of
moves, mostly by air. We were shot at many times and had several men wounded by
enemy action and several injured in accidents but none were killed. We did not
lose any howitzers or any other equipment of any consequence. At every LZ and
Fire Base we were commended by the units we supported.
It has been said that
if, as a Field Artilleryman, you satisfy the maneuver units you support, then
you have done your job.
Hellfire Bravo and the
rest of the 6th Battalion 15th Field Artillery did their job in the Republic of
commander when I arrived in country was Ltc Bob Sennewald. He got a Silver Star
for directing direct fire from the top of a parapet during an evacuation near
the Cambodian border prior to my arrival. Eventually made three stars. He was
followed by Ltc. Timothy Donovan who commanded until the inactivation. The Bn Xo
was Maj James Sheasly.
NOTE: The above
information is based on my personal recollection and memories. All of my maps,
notes and photographs are in storage and unavailable at the present time. Once
they are retrieved, I will revise this document as necessary.
John E. Sarantakes
units at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin were the 15th FA BN, the 37th FA BN, and the
12th FA BN. Each unit was assigned to support a regiment of the infantry- the
15th was assigned to the 9th Infantry Regiment.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the 2nd
Division units were on maneuvers at Ft. Sill, Okla. With the news from Pearl
Harbor, the division packed up and made a forced march back to Ft. Sam Houston,
TX. We stayed there for several months while we were given all new equipment,
trucks, guns, uniforms, etc. We traded the old Dodge half-tons for 2-1/2 ton GMCs
to pull the new 105 howitzers which replaced the French 75s.
Other infantry regiments were the 23rd and 38th. I was forward observer and was
always attached to 'A' Company of the 9th and called artillery fire for the
point company of each attack.
The division then went
by truck to Camp McCoy, Wis., where we were first to occupy the structures
there. We were trained on the new howitzers and then marched to the Upper
Peninsula of Michigan to learn to ski and use snow shoes. It was cold there. One
week it was 52 below zero at night, with daytime highs about 22 below. We had
the clothes and equipment to withstand that weather comfortably. I remember one
night I climbed into sleeping bag with clothes on and tried to sleep on a bench
in the back of a truck. I pulled pants down over my feet. It was still too cold
so I tumbled to floor. I was still freezing, so I tumbled over the tailgate into
the snow. I warmed up immediately and fell asleep. We returned to Camp
McCoy in the spring and awaited shipment to Belfast, Ireland.