My View the First Couple of Weeks

I was a young 2nd Lieutenant when we went to Vietnam.  I had a recon team assigned but when we got to Vietnam, there just weren't enough places that they needed a new lieutenant and I was stuck with the battery until they found a place for me.  As hard as I try, I can't remember the name of the sergeant assigned to my team.  I do remember that a young Private, Sal Agri was given to us about the time we got in country but we all were green and raw.  I went through the "In Country" Forward Observer school and renewed my skills but learned only a few new things.  I sat through the 2 1/2 days of classroom where we were given the official position and a lot of war stories.  It wasn't until we went out on the perimeter to review illumination and night fires that I saw the Artillery in action in combat.

We had set up and were right in the middle of shooting illumination rounds when a Viet Cong (VC) mortar team opened up on our camp.  Were they just dumb or what?  We were shooting in their general direction and if they had waited a couple of hours, we would have finished and they could have fired without our shooting back.  All you have to do is hear one mortar round going out of the tube and you will never forget it.  Imagine taking a roll of Christmas wrapping paper and hitting your hand flat on one end.  Thunk, with that deep bass sound that tightens the sphincter of  us old soldiers.    Until the time the first mortar round was dropped down the tube, we were shooting targets made up by things called White Elephants in the open, or some such thing.  The team that was shooting at the time just changed the nature of the target to VC Mortar team in the open and shifted the fire about 750 meter left and let them have it.    We fired for effect on that target and then started to creep the fires deeper away from the base until it was clear that they had Di-Di'd out of there .  

The next morning, the class was sent out on what we called a walking shoot.  We left the perimeter and called up the Battery to have one round ready at all times.  We shot one about a 1,000 meters out and kept moving it out in front of us.  It wasn't a walk in the park, but it was one hell of a good experience.  We crossed the old mortar firing position in about an hour and found that our rounds had spoiled their party big time.  There were several baskets of mortar rounds there on the ground.  The team had removed some of their equipment and we found several pairs of rubber soled 'Ho Chi Min" sandals and a couple of those round conical hats.  They had picked up the wounded and killed and the mortar tubes but ran off without taking the mortar rounds.  I often think about the poor slobs that carried those damned rounds all the way down from North Vietnam and how wasted their efforts were.   

We saw that the VC had taken banana stalks and peeled them into about 1 foot strips to mark the trails the needed to follow to get out of there fast at night.  That banana plant pieces must have been like a giant marker along the paths and it was clear that they followed  the trial as far and as fast as they could.  Typical, there were only blood trails where they carried off the wounded and dead.  We followed the trail for several kilometers but never found a grave or a wounded soldier.  End of mission and end of training.

When I got back to my unit, we spent the next few days loading our gear on trucks in the anticipation of a move to a location where we would become a real unit in combat.  One night we were alerted that bright and early the next day we would move up the coast to a new location and support an operation being conducted by a Korean Division.  The excitement level was high and I just had no idea what to expect.

The next morning, my recon team and I were in our jeep and we were ready to move with the battery to god only knew where.  All I really knew was that it was a road trip down to the coast and up highway 1 to some place picked out by our leaders.  I have read the name Landing Zone (LZ) Crystal or LZ Ivy but all I really knew was it was the biggest mistake I ever lived through.  We drove and drove and drove to arrive just about dark at a big assed field just off the main road.   They put us in a battalion position with 18 tubes spread out across the field.  There were Engineers there stretching out wire along the perimeter and it was pretty damned clear they weren't halfway done.   The engineers had a D-8 Cat and it had pushed out a hole and mounded the dirt up into a 10 foot pile.  Right on that damned dirt mound was a searchlight jeep that went around the perimeter and absolutely spoiling the night vision of all the poor guys trying to get anything done.  An elephant could have walked up on them and they couldn't have seen it.  

Our battalion fired a couple of missions and the one's not involved in the firing were moved away from the guns and told to prepare to be there for a couple of days.  That meant dig holes and fill sandbags By about midnight we had a wall around our position that was five or six sand bags high.  Sal asked if he could go over to his old gun and see if they needed anything.  He had spent the day in the back of the jeep sleeping so what the hell, I let him go over to his buddies.  

All night long, that damned searchlight jeep continued to light the perimeter and provided a really good aiming point for everyone to say, "Here they Are!!"   Shoot here and there be lots and lots of soldiers to hit.  It wasn't until much later that I found out that one of the Fire Direction Centers had put their tent up in the hole right beside the searchlight with disastrous results.  Somewhere about 3:15 the first thunk of a mortar woke most of us up.  I found out that the gun crew Sal was with started to swing their tube towards the flash of the mortars when the second round fired hit right in the middle of their position.  In the next few short minute, another 30 to 40 rounds landed and the carnage was horrible.    If you have a weak stomach or really don't want to know details, stop reading here and wait for tomorrow.

Sal was sitting on the trail in the gunner/s position when the round hit.  It wounded everyone on the gun and he was told to get away from the gun and find a safe place until a medic could tend his wounds.  He saw a jeep trailer over at the edge of our position and he ran and slid under that trailer.  Some time during the next minute a round landed in that trailer and killed him.  The really bad thing was that the trailer was filled with 5 gallon Jerry Cans of gasoline and that lit up the area with a fire like a bunch of boy scouts with a bon fire  roasting marshmallows.   I was in my little bunker as as soon as the rounds lifted and shifted away from my position, I went over to the guns.  There on the ground was the battery XO and the battery commander.  I assumed command of the battery and tried to organize the remaining guns and people into some form of a unit. 

I was running around like mad and some short major I had never met came over and asked me how many people we had lost.  I told him that I wasn't sure how many people we had able to do our job and as soon as we got our shit together we would start counting the dead and wounded.  He shouted at me to get that damned fire put out and I ordered three soldiers to go over to the gun trucks and get some fire extinguishers. I was talking to the gun chiefs when I heard some one shout, "Oh Shit, there's a body under there."   They continued to  use the fire extinguishers but the damned rubber tires kept flaring up.  It must have taken them five more minutes to put the flames completely out and I was trying to get a count of the dead and wounded.  According to our medic, there was only one dead but a whole shit pot of wounded to include the Battery Commander and the XO.  We started moving the wounded over to the battalion evacuation point and that damned Major showed up again.

Yes, I know that it seems important to you to know how many wounded we have but all you have to do is go over there and count the men on the ground at the evac point.  The only dead I knew about was the one body under the jeep.  The Major wanted that body out of there right now.  He was adamant that it be out before sunrise so the guy would not see it.  I told the guys over by the trailer to drag the body out and one of them said, "Not now LT it is still glowing from the fire."  I went over ans saw a set of metal packing strips on the ground and made a loop to drag out what was left of the body.  "Someone get a damned poncho and cover this poor guy up."  I noticed that the poncho was melting on the lower part of the body from the heat but I was pretty sure it no longer mattered.  The Field First Sergeant from the gun sections came over and he and I tried to identify the body by flashlight.  It was just burned almost beyond recognition from the chin down.  It was pretty clear that the mortar round had almost blown the head off and most of the chin was missing.  On one of the hands that was curled up was a ring with three initials and the last one ended in an A.  I thought about  Sal But I knew those weren't his initials .  He was SJA.  Somewhere in the next few minutes one of the gun crew members said that he and Sal had gone in town and Sal bought a ring and was wearing it.  he was going to have the initials changed but he was wearing that ring.   Shit oh dear, Damn, Damn and double damn.  The first time I had to identify a body it was my Radio Telephone Operator and I didn't recognize him.  When we got the body over to the evac point, one of the medics searched the body and found his dog tags.   Yep, Sal was the KIA from A Battery that night.

I later heard that we lost 7 KIA. and almost 40 wounded so bad they were evacuated to a hospital. The worst unit hit was the battery whose FDC was right beside that damned searchlight.  When the first round landed in the battalion, the Fire Direction Officer went over to the chart table to look at a map.  He, his NCO, a couple of chart operators were standing looking at the chart table when a round came in through that tent and hit right on the chart table.  Those poor guys didn't know what hit them.   I was told that the Lieutenant had just put his helmet on and the next day as they were cleaning out the mess, the front of his head was found still in that helmet.  Someone told me that the blood was an inch deep as they were carrying the bodies out.  

When I was trying to get a count of the wounded, I saw one of the young soldiers from the guns laying there on the ground moaning.  I asked him where he was hit.  He said it was in his groin and he was worried that it had severed  part of his dick.  He told me that he had just gotten married right before we went over like I did and he was hopeful that the medics could save his dick.  I have no idea what happened once the wounded left our position.

Because one of the battery FDC's was gone, the battalion consolidated the FDC's and pretty soon the only officer left was me.    This ends the carnage part of the story.  More of the relocation and repercussions tomorrow.

MUD, Battery A, 6th Bn, 84th FA, Acting Commander. April 68



  1. I don't often leave a comment because I read everything in google reader...but this is important stuff and I wanted you to know that at least one of us is reading. Really reading. Thanks for sharing your stories from so long ago. I think about how young you were...and the huge responsibilities you took on...love you...Your very, very proud niece.

  2. I trained with Agri on the same gun in Ft. Irwin. He was assigned to you and I went into FDC on our way over to Viet Nam. Agri was only 18 when he was killed that night. I was one of the wounded and was dusted off, spent 10 days in the hospital at Quin Nhon. The initial helicopted move of the wounded put us in a small Mash type location on LZ Uplift ( at the time I did not know it was Uplift, but during my tour I spent time there and recognized the location). We, somewhere between 40 and 50 guys were triaged, repaired and left to sit there until the morning when enough choppers were available to move us to the hospital. Some guys were in pretty bad shape and should have been moved sooner.
    I was supposed to be trained in FDC at Ft. Sill, but was offered OCS. I refused for a number of reasons, the first being I did not feel I was anywhere near ready to be responsible for other people. I was then left on the guns which was fine with me, until I got to Irwin and had to handle the larger 155's. Much more of a chore. I once broke two toes when the base plate of the gun fell on my foor. I believe the base plate weighed like 98 pounds.

  3. Lz Crystal was a previously used location by the ARVN and had a landing strip for c-130's. This is where we were set up and was almost impossible to dig because the ground was rock hard and dry. No one had overhead cover. A Battery FDC operated in a tent with a hole dug next to us by the engineers. We hit the hole when the mortar rounds starting landing.
    Shortly after that the FDC Lt. (can't remember his name) asked for any volunteers to resupply our section of the perimeter with m-16 ammo, m-60 ammo and grenades. No one would do it. I asked where the ammo was located, as we knew very little on this first location. He directed me and I made two trips hauling the ammo boxes to about 3 or 4 perimeter locations we had. I couldn't continue as I was exhausted carrying and running. When I got back the FDC tent was lit up and semi-operational. As I approached it I could see hundreds of holes letting light out. Had we remained in there much longer, we probably all would have been seriously wounded or worse. When I got back into the tent the LT. was checking for wounds and asked me why I was bleeding from the forearm. I didn't know I was and he pulled up my sleeve and there was a large chunk of shrapnel embedded. He told me to get to the aid station and from there I was worked on and dusted off.