Short stories by veterans


Background sound track - "Radio First Termer" - 
The Dave Rabbit radio show was an underground 
"outlaw" radio show in Vietnam during the war

Shoot-Down at Katum Special Forces Camp New!

That Sinking Feeling 

Not Mature Enough  

Up Lift International  

NVA Promotes Redleg to “Airborne”  

Life in 'The Field'  

Road Trip

Cat-Tales at Diamondhead

Hellfire Bravo

Camp McCoy

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Shoot-Down at Katum Special Forces Camp (ODA-322)

Northern Tay Ninh Province C-130B, 61-0965* Aircraft TDY from 772d TAS, Clark AFB*

23 June 1969

Reg Manning, Command Sergeant Major (Ret)   
The Katum (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.

Staff Sergeant (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.

About 2.5 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.

So, we’d 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 ammunition.

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.

I started 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 impacted.

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 Northeast.

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.

There were 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 time.

So, we’re 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 first.

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.

Radio Toter 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".

We’re 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.

Our ALLEN 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 "hush up".

ALLEN came 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 his bootlaces.

There followed 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".

Some Huey 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 the helicopter.

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 City.

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.

We’d just 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.

That’s the 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.

The next 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 some boots.

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.

At daylight, 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.

The remains 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 his Huey.

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.

The lift 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.

Down the 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 the C-130.

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!

So, the 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.

There were (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.

When it 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.


The following information on the aircraft in this incident was furnished by Jim Hoogerwerf 

"The 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 .50." ================== 

(additional info from Jim Hoogerwerf...)

The aircraft 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.

Looking back, 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.

Captain (newly 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.

Major Bill 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.

Despite the 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.

All our 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.

Personally I flew into Katum five times. One time a Cobra gunship, providing cover for us,

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....

Hope this helps round out your information file. 
Regards, Jim Hoogerwerf

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.

That Sinking Feeling
By Joseph StarlingIt 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 11:15 PM

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?

Arriving at 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.

Still 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.

Thinking what 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.

Instantly 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 stations.

Threw the 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 control,

Shit we are going down.

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 mad man.

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.

At Quarters 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.

Knocking. I 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.

Seaman Starling reporting as ordered sir.

Starling, I am very disappointed in you.

Yes Sir I replied.

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?

I interrupted Following orders Sir.


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

The captain move over to his desk and sat down.

From the 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 double.

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.

Joseph Starling

Not Mature Enough
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 average excelled.
     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 headquarters.
    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 pilots.

John Galkiewicz

     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-told-you-so.
     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.

     The End

Up Lift International
By: John Galkiewicz

    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 land.

Uplift International

    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.

The End 

NVA Promotes Redleg to “Airborne”!
by Davo 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 without incident.

            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.

He’s saying 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 out.

            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 maximum.  

            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 them!  

            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 Blackhawk.

            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 yet.

            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. 

After Internet 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 know!

            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 pound Projo’s!  

            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? 

Davo Holdorf

Life in 'The Field'
© Charles 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 spotless!

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 buildings.

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 center.

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, treasure it.

Charles J. Jefferson

Road Trip
© 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 convoy.

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 families.

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

Cat-Tales at Diamondhead
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 east. 

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. 

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 there. 

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 action.

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 camper.

Then finally….George 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 man…well…cat.

Catledge with Cat

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 for cats.

Dave “Davo” Holdorf,  C/7/15th FA 4/68-4/69

Hellfire Bravo
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 them.

Thunder IV

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.

Quan Loi

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

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 LZ White.

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 still raining!

Thus began what I have since called: Vietnam’s only Night Insertion - By Mistake!

Actually, the 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).

Dau Trang

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 the Cav.

FSB Hunter

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.

Zuan Loc

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!

Bien Hoa

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.

“Thunder 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 Vietnam.

The battalion 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

Camp McCoy
By Virgil Smith

The artillery 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. 
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.

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.

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.

Virgil Smith 
January 2002