Ban Me Thuot (Ban Me touey)
When I was first assigned to a firing battery in the summer of 1968, The battery was way up north near Dak To. In fact, we were on a fire base up on as hill top that had provided most of the fire for the Dak To base during Tet 1968. The place was dreary when I arrived and had a curious odor that reminded me of death. Soon after my arrival, one of the many dogs that the guys drug up there with them, brought a skull from down in the jungle. I was told that during the fight to protect Dak To, many times the plane called "Spooky" would fly around the fire base and shoot at troops massing to overtake the position. We never went down there but the reminder was always there. If you threw the bones back down the hill, another dog would just bring it back.
Because things there near Dak To were fairly quiet, someone decided we were needed to support a 4th Division effort down south near Ban me Thout. It was a fair piece and there was just no way anyone could fly an entire battery of 155mm Howitzers that far. Somewhere in the war plans at battalion headquarters was a plan to airlift a battery from a hill top and then make a 100 (or more) kilometer land move to a new location. Due to pretty crummy weather, it took us two days to move off the hill top and get everything ready to make the move by road to Ban Me Thuot. On the third day, we moved to Pleiku and swapped many of our worn out trucks with Service Battery to make the move. Earlier, I think I mentioned the work we had done with those trucks to resupply the Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) in Dak To. Those trucks looked good because the battalion maintenance section worked hard to keep them bright and shiny, but they too were road weary.
For reasons unknown to us, we drove our trucks to Artillery Hill there in Pleiku and just shut them down. Unless there was a truck swap, we left the guns hooked up to the trucks. We got to sleep all night with no guard duty or fire missions. It was the calm before the storm. Early the next morning we drove on south on roads that the Viet Cong had done their best to destroy. Several of the bridges were blown up and the Engineers had just constructed dirt works to allow us to cross them. Some of the roads had one layer of rock and some had a light layer of a hard surface. We drove all day and late into the afternoon. A Captain from one of the other units met us and took us to our new position way out to hell and gone in the countryside. I was the second Fire Direction Officer and it was decided that I would run the rear area back by the runway in Ban Me Thuot. Instead of waiting for the next morning, someone decided that we would follow the Captain back to ban Me Thuot that night. The roads we used were mud and slick and we spent the next couple of hours with most of the trucks driving with at least one set of wheels in the ditch and throwing globs of mud. I was in a truck with Sergeant Trerratola and all the way back that night he would kiss his Saint Christopher Medal as say, "Just you and me Lord, Just you and me!" I guess I was too stupid to be scared.
The next day, I set out to locate the 4th Division Supply Point. I took the two Sergeants I would get to keep and we located all the places and discussed what paperwork they would require. We set up the teams and set out to resupply the battery each day. We were co located with a 175mm Howitzer unit and they would give me the sitreps from the battery each day and we would make out the paper work to send the supplies to the battery. It was no big deal to me and we soon had things settled down to a dull roar. I had a jeep and I visited the guys as they made their pick ups and as they sent the stuff to the forward battery. Many times, I would find that the team that was to send the loads forward would be one guy and the rest of the team would be missing. That night I sat the two Sergeants down and we talked about what the heck was really going on. It seems that because we were wearing First Field Force shoulder patches, the MP's from the 4th Division just left my guys alone. They had been on a fire base so long that they were taking every chance to visit the locals.
To help keep everyone in line, we worked out a schedule to give them about 4 hours a week for Rest and Recreation (R&R). One of the Sergeants changed the name to F & F. Fun and Fornication. Things settled down and the schedule was enforced. In fact they had a duty roster prepared and they enforced it to the minute. We were in Ban me Thuot for a couple of months and not much happened. One night a 122 mm rocket hit the runway over by the control tower but other than waking us up, there was no ground attack. After we had been there about a month, one of my guys came to us and said he needed to go on sick call. I didn't think much about it until I found out that he had contacted a case of something from one of the girls in the city. he wasn't so sick that he was bed ridden, but he sure was incapacitated by the large chancre on the end of his penis. Every day, he had to go over to the aid station and get his missions of units of penicillin (or whatever they were giving him) and have the chancre cleaned. Much to his surprise, after about two weeks of daily shots and cleaning, the Doctor ordered the soldier to be circumcised. That put him in the hospital for about a week and after that, the F& F runs slowed way down.
My short tour to the 7/17th Air Cav will be tomorrow.