This is the view from the back seat of a huey looking forward. It is two pictures taped together.
This is skinny Dennis after a few months "In Country" (Vietnam 68)
One of the blog sites I visit has "Base camp" legends or stories about adventures in the wild. I thought I would share with you a time I was as scared as I could be.
In the middle of my tour in Vietnam, I was called into the Tactical Operation Center (TOC
) in our Base Camp in Pleiku
. I reported to the Battalion Executive Officer as ordered and he gave me the straight skinny on an assignment that I had not expected. I had expected to be made the Executive Officer of a Gun battery and here I was going out as a Forward Observer (FO
) like some brand new 2nd
LT. They gave me orders to report to the 3bn
, 503rd Inf (173rd Airborn
Infantry) clear the heck down by the coast and south of Saigon. I had been in the Central Highlands for most of my tour and had high hopes this had nothing to do with the swamps and the delta down south.
I flew to Saigon and then hopped a ride out to the coast and found the 173rd headquarters along a runway and near the beach. They told me that a Forward Observer from Augusta, Kansas had been called home on emergency leave when his father had a heart attack. He was due back in 10 days or so.
The Operations section got me a ride out to the forward staging area and because they didn't have an FO
they had been on perimeter duty around a Howitzer battery. As soon as I arrived the company was sent out to the bush and another company came in for some time on the fire base. We crossed out through the wire and mad good time getting to a location where there had been some reported activity. To me is was a walk in the park and great to get out in the jungle with a good recon team, a map and good radios. I worked with the team to make sure that they were squared away and found them both well experienced and knew their stuff. I had the Company Commander bring in one mortar Sergeant at a time from the platoons and made sure they were good at map reading and calling fire. By the end of the second day out in the jungle I reported to the Company Commander that he had a good team and I felt it was the best bunch of gunners I had served with.
On the third day, I woke up with a bad feeling. In spite of all the well trained people I was with, there was just something gnawing at back of my brain all day and I was on alert for possible ambushes and places that we could be in deep stuff quick. About 10 AM an Aerial Observer saw an enemy resupply group with elephants. Damn, big old gray smelly elephants, Should have been a fun day but I'll be dammed if somehow between the Guy in a plane spotting and us blocking most of a valley if we didn't draw a blank. There must have been some good caves somewhere and we just lost those damned elephants. That took us most of the day and I still felt like someone was watching us at every turn.
As it was getting late in the day, the Captain selected a nice gentle rise to be out night bivouac position. Not the greatest place to defend but it was mildly OK. After setting up our positions and assigning fields of fire most of us broke out dinner and started to eat. Damn pretty green snake there looking at me. Damn, it was a Bamboo viper if that sucker bites you there is no time to get you in to the hospital in time. Whack with my machete and then I hear someone over by the medic say snake! and you could hear him whacking it with an entrenching tool. Then someone by the command group killed one and danged if we didn't load up and move out smartly of that area. There must have been 10 or 20 of them little snakes killed in s a short time.
That put us in the move without a lot of time to get somewhere before it got dark. Even then we wouldn't have time to set up as good as we could and it just left me with a dark cold empty place in my stomach. After 45 minutes we found a good place and stopped. The commander set up his outposts and because it was almost dark we didn't do as god a job digging bunkers and fighting positions. I just felt naked and alone.
About 10 PM, one of the outposts reported movement in the jungle out in front of his position. I called up the battery supporting us and shot a few rounds out in the direction of the movement. No more than the first rounds hit and one of the outposts to our east reported movement. I got on the radio and got a second unit to shoot a few rounds out that direction. About that time the 105 Howitzer battalion commander got on my fire net and he gave me all three batteries of support. I had them firing all around us and the outposts were still reporting movement. About that time the Artillery battalion told me that they had a 155 howitzer battery that could also shoot. Man, I had the hee
bees so bad that I included that battery of big boys and commenced to rain steel on the jungle.
One of the outposts reported that they were about to be overrun and a hand grenade went off right out side of their position. One of the guys was hit by the shrapnel and had a finger almost blown off. Shit oh dear, the next thing we knew, the trip flare on that side of the perimeter went off and that whole damn team was running in to our position. Those trip flares work great to illuminate things if needed but absolutely kill your night vision and as soon as that sucker burned out it was so dark that no one could see anything. You could hear the artillery all around us but not one machine gun or rifle was fired. I shut the guns down one battery at a time and kept them on hold until someone could sort out this mess.
It seems that one of the guys on the outpost thought he saw something and threw a grenade without telling the other two guys. When it went off and one man was wounded they ran back to our position. No one had thought to bring the machine gun, the claymores or anything. I thought the Captain of that unit was going to have a heart attack he was so mad. The platoon responsible for that outpost was ordered to load up and get out there and find that M60 and re-establish that position. Right Damn NOW!
Need less to say, I didn't sleep at all that night. I was on edge and so was most of the Company. At first light, we sent out squads to see what it was that had been making all that noise. According to the reports, there were blood trails all over the place. The artillery had made short work on what ever had been out there. Then the first report came in that they had found bodies. It seems that a pack of monkeys had tried to cross over our position and we had probably spent $50,000 worth of artillery, lost a nights sleep and all we had to show for it was a bunch of dead monkeys. We sent the wounded soldier in by helicopter with explicit orders that he was not wounded by enemy fire and there had better damn sure not be any Purple Heart Award made.
I don't think I was ever that scared again for the rest of that year.