9/06/2017

Vietnam

As I travel out and about, I see a lot of old guys wearing those Vietnam Veteran hats.  I always go up to them and say, "When I went to Vietnam we were a bunch of young guns and now all I see are old guys wearing those Vietnam hats."  How do you explain Vietnam to kids today that didn't go there.

In real estate they say it is Location, Location, Location.   In Vietnam that was one driving force but it was also Branch, location, branch.  If you saw the Movie, "Good Morning Vietnam." you saw only the war from the eyes of one of those Rear Echelon (Words deleted) guys.  I don't know the ratio of warriors to support but at 500,000 troops in 1968 it seemed that the guys in the field were far outnumbered.

I went to Vietnam with an Artillery Battalion that go mortared their first night in the field.  I think the final count was 13 dead and about 27 wounded.  I never saw the recovery of that unit as I got transferred to  another 155 unit within a week of that horrible night.  The bright side of it all was I went from one of the worst units in Vietnam to one of the best.  My new unit, the 1st Bn, 92nd Field Artillery had been in Vietnam a couple of years and was full of really well trained and motivated men. 

We were in  the Central Highlands near Pleiku.  It was located on the plains kind of like Denver with the mountains nearby.  Our job was to go to a lot of different places and provide backup Artillery fires for units located there.  For the most part, it was units of the 4th Division with a lot of Special Forces thrown in for special operations.  I spent time in locations on or near a major base and on mountain top firebases.  It didn't mater where we were, we fired a lot of fires in support of units out on the ground and then at night we fired Harassment and Interdiction fires on points out on the ground that the Intelligence guys said were likely locations for the enemy.  Those would be random shots from one or two guns that went on from the hours of darkness until the wee hours. 

I went to Vietnam as a Forward Observer that was to be assigned out with an infantry unit.  That first night in the field, all of the battery officers but me were wounded.  I spent the next week in charge of the unit until my transfer.  In my new unit, I was assigned as the battalion ammo officer and we had the duty of rebuilding up the ammo in the ammunition supply point (ASP) in Dak to.  It had been blown up and most of what wasn't blown up was shot at the enemy during TET earlier that year.   For a couple of months straight, we took all the available five ton trucks and convoyed  from Pleiku to Dak to.  We would spend the nights at the Pleiku ASP and the days in a convoy. It was generally a turn around for us as we went to and from each day.  If I wasn't in the convoy in my jeep., I would be in a bird dog providing air cover for the convoy. 

The guys thought it was better when I was in the convoy as for some reason we never got hit with an ambush in our part of the convoy.  If we were in the back, the ambush would hit the front. If we were in the front, they would ambush the middle of the back.  On one occasion, a pretty god sized element probably a Company of at least 100 ambushed the convoy and I was in the air.  The good news was there was a battery of 155's in Kontum just up the road.  I almost immediately got them set up firing on the ambush site and then chased them into the jungle.  On the top of one of the overlooking mountains, I saw what looked like a radio relay point for the enemy and blew it away.  I set up a line of artillery fire behind the enemy's withdrawal and the helicopter gunships and the A1E Sky Raiders (Fixed wings) really worked them over.  I never did hear a total body count but I imagine most of the enemy were killed.  I think my battery had one driver wounded when a bullet went through the door of his truck and a few of the fragments hit his leg.

For most of the next 4 months, My job was to provide bullets to our units and an occasional trip to the field with some outfit that needed temporary help.  Lets see, I was the forward observer with a basic training company, with a Montagnard unit with South Vietnamese advisors and finally the 3rd bat, 503rd Abn (173rd guys).  The last unit was supposed to be a very short stint while their FO went home as his father had a Heart Attack.  While home, he had an attack of Malaria and it was 6 weeks getting away from that unit.  All in all, I have been shot at, rocketed, mortared and either bored or scared half out of my wits.

One of the luxuries of being me in Vietnam was the times I got to fly in one of the bird dogs of the Head Hunters.  Most of the time we would go out and fire one of the firing batteries at some bend in the river as an adjustment.  That was to help tie the unit's map location to an actual location. This greatly increased the accuracy of the unit and was a lot of fun.  At the end of the adjustment period, a lot of times the Bird Dog pilot would fire one of his rockets under his wing to help make his accuracy improve.  His grease pencil mark on the windscreen  was his aiming point.

It was always pretty neat to see how accurate the Maps were and how the actual bends in the rivers would match the maps.  The only problem with the maps was north of Pleiku where the maps converged and the grid squares on our firing charts didn't match exactly.  No matter how hard we tried to cut the firing charts down to match, there were always a few errors that changed the accuracy.  
On one of these flying missions, the pilot decided to see what was just over the next hill.  By my map, it was the border and along it ran a stretch of the Ho Chi Minn trail.  As we calmly flew without a care in the world, that next hill was blocking our view of a convoy.  Just as we cleared that hill, the pilot said don't do anything, hang on and we'll report it when we get in a safe place.  The truck convoy had a ZSU-4  at both the front and back of the convoy.  They had stopped and most of the drivers and crew members were walking around and taking a break.  I saw one of the ZSU-4's start to swing his quad guns at us just as we slipped back over the hill.  In another minute we would probably would have been shot down and all of this blog would have not been.  I immediately got on my radio and relayed the location of the convoy.  The Pilot did the same on his channel and all hell broke loose for the next hour or so.  The Field Artillery units were not supposed to shoot into Laos or Cambodia but the 175mm units had a lot of pin holes in their charts over there.

When we got back to Pleiku, we were sent to the operations room of the unit and attended a briefing on the results of that mission.  It seemed that the convoy had a lot explosives in the trucks and there were secondary explosions as that ammo blew up as the trucks burned.  The Air Force got into the play and I'm sure that there was another stretch of the trail that was cleared of trees for a mile or two. That was the odd thing to me, the trail was not on a map but you could follow it for miles and clearly see where the B-52's blew the hell out of it.  There was a path of dirt probably 1/2 mile wide devoid of trees.

Oh well, better get on with my day.

MUD


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