Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ernie Dublisky – The Father of Battery B – Part Two

The Boys of Battery B

 Ernie Dublisky

The Central Highlands
The Central Highlands

When I came to Vietnam I was delivered to Phan Thiet from Saigon. We were assigned to the First Field Forces, but we were further assigned to the 101st Airborne and were authorized to wear the 101st patch on our right shoulder.

Talk about weird, the organization of the 5th battalion was like a composite division artillery. We had three 105 batteries, a 155 battery, an 8 inch/175 battery, a battery of air defense weapons, 50 caliber and 40 mm, we had our own met section, we had our own counter-mortar radar section, and a search light section. We were spread out from Qui Nhon to Nha Trang.

At Nha Trang we had two guns, which by the way were out of B battery permanently at Nha Trang for defense of the airfield. When I got there Lt. Rich Sinnreich, a West Pointer, was in charge of those two guns. He retired a full colonel and is a well known military writer.

Then there was the rest of the battery. At the time I commanded there were no firebases. We went where we had to go and created gun positions where we had to create them. So you moved all over the Central Highlands around Qui Nhon and Nha Trang; that was essentially the central part of the country. There were no firebases, which I’ve always been thankful for. We kind of looked at firebases as a boring setup. You didn’t get to see any of the country.

The battalion was spread out over a huge area and we went all over the place. We moved from operation to operation, and area to area. We supported the Korean White Horse division, the Korean Tiger division, the Korean Marine brigade, the 22nd ARVN division, the 1st Cavalry division. It was set up I thought very smart. It was an area thing. Anybody who came into our area we supported. They picked us up as their artillery support.

It was near the Cross Road (west of Tuy Hoa) just before my time that Marsh was killed in a mortar attack. A part of that event that I thought was kind of funny – not funny but we all laughed about it – a Medevac helicopter that was taking guys who had been hurt in that attack down to the hospital in Nha Trang crashed in the sea. Can you imagine? Here you are wounded and all of a sudden you’re in a helicopter crash. I wasn’t there so I was able to laugh about it. I’m sure those that went through it weren’t laughing.

Other batteries lived in tents pitched above the ground. We used to laugh that some guys got Purple Hearts because when they ran out of their tents at night they ran into the tent ropes and tripped on the stakes. Before I got there B battery was so poorly trained they knew they were liable to a mortar attack, but still they had tents pitched up above the ground. From the whole time I was with the battery we dug in and nobody got hurt.

At one time we had a typhoon come through. We were just west of Tuy Hoa up on a ridge, I’ll never forget it. We’d dig in and then put the these Yukon tents, small conical things, over the hole. I was under one of these Yukon tents, and it rained so hard that it just came right through the tent. It was like being in a waterfall. All the canvas was ruined. I had an ammo sergeant who was a scrounger, everybody has a scrounger. I got ahold of him and said, Hey, I want you to go down to Tuy Hoa airfield, and you get yourself on an Air Force aircraft. I don’t care where you have to go, but you go find new tentage for the battery. And he did. He had all new tentage for the battery.

It’s amazing. I’ve always thought afterwards when I think about the things we did, if you had the right talent you’re going to have a great battery. If you have a good scrounger, you’re gonna have a good battery.

There’s a funny story about General Boatwright’s deputy. He had a reputation as a prick. Nobody wanted to see him comin’. By that time I had a new first sergeant, his name was Shepard, and we were waiting at the helipad where this guy’s helicopter would come in on an inspection. I heard this Sergeant Shepard say, “Crash, you son of a bitch, crash.” (laughs) I thought that was hilarious. By the way, I ran into Shepard years later in Germany. This guy probably was a drunk when he was a first sergeant in Vietnam. He was drunk in Germany and got into all kinds of trouble. I was sorry for him because of our Vietnam experience together.

Munnelly told me to ask you some questions.

About the rice! I don’t know how it was brought to my attention, one of my cooks or somebody, he said, “We only got ten pounds of rice to feed the battery.”

I didn’t know anything about the standards. I said, “Ten pounds to feed 110 guys? Come on. You gotta be kiddin’ me.” So I went to Munnelly complaining loudly about the ten pounds. He brought in the S4 warrant officer. They had this table there and it said so many men, and ten pounds was the authorized amount. It was very embarrassing to me because I had been so vociferously complaining about ten pounds of rice.

He tells the story of how you used the starlight scope.

Ah, I had forgotten that. Yea, we got a starlight scope, it was one of the first out in the field. So I set it up in the center of the battery where I could see the perimeter. At night I used it to check the perimeter, the guys on the outposts. One night I’m checking the perimeter and there’s this guy with no shirt on. We were in a malarial area and we had to wear shirts, and at night we had to put our sleeves down. I picked up the telephone, I called his outpost and said, “Put your shirt on.” And I’m watching the guy, and he starts looking around thinking, How could anybody possibly know I’m out here with no shirt on? I watched him and he put his shirt on, but that guy thought there was a ghost.

I heard you could read the name patches off the uniform shirts.

Oh yeah, it was a weird green light but you could actually see.

We had a moustache growing contest. Guys were growing moustaches and they were in various states of disrepair, and they were getting to being pretty crappy looking. I got the battery together and said, “OK guys, we are going to have a moustache growing contest. The winner will be allowed to keep his moustache and everybody else will have to shave theirs.” My driver, a guy named Schacherl, he won and was allowed to keep his moustache. Everyone else had to shave his moustache, including me.

Schacherl later was injured. We were evacuating a position and when we evacuated positions in those days we’d pile up all the trash in one big pile and burned it. Schacherl threw some gasoline and there were embers in there and it flashed up and burned him so badly that he had to be medevac’d all the way to a hospital in Japan. But I saw him at a reunion many years later and he didn’t have any major problems.

I had a Vietnamese man, an old man, who was my batman. That’s from the British Army, a batman is a valet. I had this Vietnamese man that we paid, and he was my batman. He used to clean my weapon, he’d set up my hooch, and stuff like that.

This was when you were back at battalion.

No, he traveled with us.

You were a battery commander out in the field, and you had a valet?

Well, that’s what I called him (laughs). He was an employee, and his job was to take care of me. I didn’t have time to take care of myself. He cleaned my weapon, he set up my hooch whenever we moved, did all those little things that a valet would do.

I lost him for a long time to malaria. He came down with bad case of malaria, and I felt so sorry for him. It’s a terrible disease. I lost him for quite awhile. He finally came back and I was in good shape again.

I’ll tell you what we did that I’d never seen done, that I really liked to do. We had these defensive concentrations, direct fire defensive concentrations. Where we were was kind of mountainous terrain, and we were usually in valley. So there’d be a series of hills around us and there would be some natural approaches to the battery that you would want to have a defensive concentration on. So when it was daylight the gun chief would lay in a concentration point on a trail coming down the mountain, direct fire, mark it on the howitzer, chalk it on the howitzer, the data to that point. Periodically through the night he would fire these defensive concentrations. They were like a few hundred meters away from the battery. What a noise that made, that crack! I used to like that.

I remember a mission where B battery at night … let me get this right … a howitzer on one side of the battery misheard a command and the data they put on the gun was 3200 mils out (180 degrees).  In other words it was exactly the opposite of what it should have been. It was because of procedures we used at that time. We used to precede the firing command with either LEFT or RIGHT … I have forgotten how all this went exactly. But one gun misheard the orientation and pointed in the opposite direction. So what we had was five guns shooting in the right direction and one gun shooting the opposite direction god knows where. It turned out this gun was firing in the direction of an Engineer unit down the road. Each time an adjustment command was placed on the guns, this one gun went closer and closer toward the Engineers. They started to scream that they were receiving in-coming. We eventually figured out it could only have been us, because we were the only unit firing. We were able to stop it and nobody got hurt. It was close. I remember it happened at night, so all you could see was the flash at night and you didn’t really know what direction the tube was pointing.

The 4th Division came in and we were their sponsor unit. We did everything we could to help them get oriented. The B battery commander of the 29th Field, which was the battalion we were sponsoring, the first time he went into the field, he was sitting in his jeep with his vest on and it was open. A sniper shot him right through the heart. You know we didn’t have any kind of casualties like that. We didn’t have anybody killed. Then all of a sudden this guy comes in, his first time in the field, and BAM. That’s fate.

It very ironic for me, because my first tour in Germany I took the 3rd Armor Division to Germany to relieve the 29th Field of the 4th Armored Division. And then in Vietnam at Tuy Hoa when the 4th Division came into Vietnam, the 29th Field Artillery was the unit that came in our area.

In my whole Army career I’ve only been so pissed off at an officer one time that I relieved him on the spot and kicked him out of my unit, and eventually out of the Army. My Fire Direction Officer in B battery … I’ve forgotten the guy’s name … we were conducting a registration and we were in the middle of an operation. In the middle of an operation a registration is a hell of a lot more important that it would be routinely. Well, I didn’t discover, because we were in an operation, I was in the FDC listening and watching, and I discovered that this guy did not know what he was doing. He was completely screwing up the registration. I got so pissed off that I relieved him and had him sent out of the battery. And I think he was eventually sent out of the battalion. That would have been in ’66. Well in 1970 I got back to Ft. Sill after a tour in Europe. I went from Vietnam to Europe and back to Ft. Sill. On the post staff is an ordnance officer. This guy, he was now an ordnance officer. In other words, he couldn’t make it as a field artillery officer, so he branch transferred to Ordnance while he was still in the Army. I relieved one guy in my whole 22 years as a commissioned officer, and it was that guy.

Then John Munnelly, damn him, came up to me one day. You know John is a logistics guy; that’s his thing, logistics. He was desperate for an S4. So he comes to his favorite battery commander and says, “I want you to take over service battery and become my S4.” So I did. First of all, number one, any artillery officer who wants to be an S4 is out of his goddamn mind. But I really loved the guy and he was desperate for an S4 so I did it. And I hated it. I used to go out on the helicopters and make the deliveries just to get out.

Did you get back to B battery much?

The one time I was pleased to get back to B battery, they were up on a mountain somewhere out in the boonies. They had been put in in fair weather, and the weather changed drastically. It must have just slipped into monsoon or something, because they were wet and they were cold. We went out and scrounged up sweaters. It was pretty had to find sweaters in Vietnam.

I don’t think I ever saw one.

We went out and scrounged up sweaters and I flew all day long in a Chinook helicopter delivering stuff out to the battery. I remember this because at the end of the day, since I was the only one who knew where all the positions were, I would stand between the two pilots up under the front transmission and tell them where to go. Well, by the end of the day I was deaf, because of the noise from the transmission. I was literally deaf. I could not hear anything. When I got off the helicopter and I couldn’t hear I panicked, and they took me to the medics and the doctor said, “You’ll be alright, just wait awhile.” Within a couple hours my hearing came back. I remember that so well because it was so scary. So that was when I got back to B battery.

Featured in (614) Magazine

Thank you to (614) Magazine for featuring Ed Gaydos and Seven in a Jeep in their September issue.

If you’re in Central Ohio, be sure to pick up a copy of (614) before the month is out.  The issue features a sample chapter from Seven in a Jeep as well as Ed’s bio.

Find the full article here.

A special thank you goes to the article’s author, David Lewis, for taking the time to check out Ed’s book.  We appreciate it!

Ernie Dublisky – The Father of Battery B – Part One

Ernie Dublisky Picture - blogThe Boys of Battery B

Ernie Dublisky

A wall in his family room is covered with combat and campaign medals earned over a 22-year Army career. Among them are three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

To celebrate his 80th birthday just a year earlier he went up nearly three miles in a light airplane, jumped from the door, and stayed in free fall for two miles before deploying his chute. “I was airborne in the military and had already made 22 jumps, but nothing was as thrilling as this.” Ernie has to get a hip replaced in a few weeks and says, “Then I’m gonna do it again.”

B battery had been in Vietnam only eight months when Captain Ernie Dublisky took over. He found men who were poorly trained, and worse, were demoralized over a firing mishap that killed a U.S. soldier and resulted in dismissal of their battery commander. Within months Ernie made the battery, in the eyes of General Linton Boatwright, commander of artillery forces for nearly half of Vietnam, the best battery in all of corps artillery.

It stayed the best throughout its six years in Vietnam, always going by the name that Ernie had given it early in his command – The Bulls. After Ernie’s departure the battery became a showplace for visiting dignitaries. It was not always well led, but it kept its reputation as the best battery in the battalion, proof that a military tradition of excellence has a momentum that can survive a few lousy leaders.

By any definition Captain Ernie Dublisky is the father of B battery.


I showed up in June of ’66. At the time I had a troubled tour in Korea as a captain. I got into a big harangue with the assistant artillery commander. He and I went round and round and he gave it to me good in my efficiency report. So I got passed over for promotion. I said to myself, Well the only way I’m going to get a promotion – I was a career officer even though I was reserve – is to go to Vietnam and get in command of a battery and do well. That was my purpose. I volunteered.

I was in Germany and every night a twit would come in from the Department of the Army and pick officers out of the division and send them to a training base in the states mostly, and some to Vietnam. I said to myself, Hey I’m not going to any training base in the states. I want to get to Vietnam, so I volunteered. I said, “How long do you think I’ll have between the time I volunteer and the time they send me to Vietnam?”

They said, “Oh, you’ll have a few months.”

I had my family in Germany, so I was looking for a little time. One month after I volunteered I was in Saigon. Not long at all. They didn’t tell me that.

So I show up in Saigon and said, “I want to get to a field artillery battalion.” I just kept moving north and finally I ended up at the 27th. I  was plunked down on the beach at Tuy Hoa, which was the base camp. The battalion commander’s name was Jack Hoffmann. He was a pretty boy, a West Pointer, all his creases were in order. I don’t think he ever left the base camp. He was a typical West Point Lt. Colonel who was in Vietnam to get promoted. There was a lot of that going on in Vietnam then. He really didn’t care much about the battalion, or the batteries, or the troops. He cared a lot about himself. He was a very handsome guy, resplendent in his uniform, and about one inch deep. But I can’t say anything bad about him. He treated me well. I had my interview and I just told him frankly, “I’m here to take command of a battery. That’s what I came for.”

It just so happened there had been a firing accident and the battery commander had been relieved. When I got there he was gone, and the battery had a terrible reputation. They were lolling around, rotting away in the base camp. They didn’t even send them out in the field on operations. They had a terrible reputation.

I guess Hoffmann didn’t think he was doing me any favors, but he gave me the battery. He said, “I’m giving you the battery, and you’re going out on an operation today. I want you to go over to the S3 Operations tent. They’re going to give you your goose egg (landing site), then we’re going to take you down to your battery and introduce you to the battery, and you’re going to take the battery out on an operation.” That was operation Nathan Hale which began the next day. I went and met the S3, got my goose egg, got into a jeep, went down to the battery, met the 1st Sergeant.

I was lucky. I was a little older. I was commissioned in ’55, so I’d been around for 10 years. I had four years in Germany in the 3rd Armored Division. I had a lot of battery level experience. All of that training just flooded back through my mind, and I knew exactly what to say to the 1st Sergeant. “First Sergeant, I’m gonna be back in 20 minutes. I want you to have the advance party ready. We’re going to go out on an operation.”

I went and put my stuff away, went back to the battery and when I got there they had an advance party ready to go. Took the advance party and we went to a place called The Cross Roads. Again, everything that I did, it was like doing an exercise in Grafenwoehr – just like doing it all over again. Except that things that I did were kind of by-the-book. It was hurry up, get ready and go.

This floored the battalion commander and the XO and the S3 because nobody was doing these things. Doing it like it was supposed to be done. Like filling sand bags and making the battery safe for the troops, filling empty ammo boxes with sand and putting them up around the tubes. We did all those things the way I knew it should be done.

It turned out that this suddenly converted the battery. They found themselves. They recognized what they should be doing, and they began to do it. The bad reputation they had quickly disappeared.

It was an operation at The Cross Road (west of Tuy Hoa) in support of the 502nd of the 101st Airborne. They were being overrun and from the FO we got the danger close alert (firing close in to U.S. troops). I remember walking between the guns telling these guys what danger close was all about. The battery was not well trained and these were guys who were down in the mouth a week before. Well, we stopped the attack just by the accuracy of our fire. The battalion commander – Wasco was the guy’s name – mace a special trip to visit us and say, “You saved our ass.”

We were out in that position for about a week when the S3 came to me and said, “Hey, do you know anything about air assault operations?”

Just luckily my previous assignment had been with the 18th Airborne corps, and I had been an umpire and an observer on air assault exercises. I had been through many, many helicopter lift operations.

I said, “Yeah.”

He said, “You’re gonna reinforce the 19th Artillery of the 1st Cavalry division. You’re going to air assault into a position for Nathan Hale. Be ready to go in two days.”

This battery had never been in a helicopter air assault operation. But two days later we rigged up all our equipment, lifted out, and air assaulted into our position. It went like clock work, it was just perfect. That was the beginning of B battery’s reputation as the best battery in the battalion. They began to become proud of themselves.

The operation was so successful that the brigade commander made a special trip over to tell us thanks. He was General Hal Moore who later became famous. He wrote a book about his fight up in the Asau Valley the year before and which they made into a movie with Mel Gibson playing Moore. We Were Soldiers was the name of it. General Moore was so pleased with the support we gave reinforcing the 19th Artillery that he made a special trip.

Early on I designated B battery The Bulls. I thought, Hey, it’s a great morale thing. I don’t know where I found them, but I found this set of horns. I thought, We’re The Bulls, and I’m gonna mount these horns on the commander’s jeep. So we mounted these horns on the jeep. I didn’t find out until years later that what I’d mounted on the jeep were goat horns. Had I only known!

I’ll bet those goat horns on the jeep were still there (during your time).

No, the horns were gone. But The Bravo Bulls stuck as the name of the battery. We were proud of that.

For the six months that I commanded the battery the most wonderful time I had, the most wonderful operation besides that first air assault, was an operation west of Tuy Hoa about 15 or 20 kilometers out in the boonies. That was December of ’66, when monsoon season had just ended. I went out there in a helicopter to do my recon. From the helicopter looking down on the ground, all I could see was greenery. I picked out a position for the battery to go in.

When we arrived there by road, it turned out that it was submerged. I mean it was just full of water. You couldn’t see that from the air, all you saw was grass. This was really terrific. I said, “OK guys if we drive our vehicles into this area we’re gonna be livin’ like dogs for the whole time we’re there. We’re gonna carry the battery in. We’re not gonna get off the road, but we’re gonna carry all of our equipment in.”

We had PSP planks (10 foot pierced steel planks used for portable runways). I said, “We’re gonna use the PSP like a tank tread. We’re gonna lay the PSP down. We’re gonna drive the prime mover (truck used to tow howitzers) up on the PSP, pick up the piece that we drove over and put it down in front, and keep moving forward.”

So that’s what we did with the prime movers and got all the howitzers moved in. We put the guns on the PSP. Everywhere we could we built up PSP platforms. And then we carried all the section equipment in: every piece of equipment, every round of ammunition was hand carried into the position. It took us all night to get into that position. No vehicles were permitted to come into the position.

The whole area was rice paddies, so there was no elevated ground. There were two or three other batteries out there, and we were the only battery that made the effort to stay dry. As a result General Boatwright, who was the II Corps artillery commander, made a visit one day and when he left he said to me, “This is the best battery I’ve seen.” And boy the troops really ate that up. By the way, that really pissed off all the other batteries, but who cares. (laughs)

That was my last operation with B battery.

General Linton S. Boatwright was not the type to say what he didn’t mean. He had served in WWII under General Patton in the sweep across Europe: at the Battle of the Bulge, across the Rhine River and into Austria. During the early phases of the Korean War he had participated in the defense of the Pusan Perimeter, the link-up with MacArthur’s amphibious landing at Inchon, the drive north toward the Yalu River and the retreat from North Korea when the Chinese entered the war, eventually driving the Chinese and North Korean forces out of South Korea. He then coordinated artillery fire support in the successful assault upon Heartbreak Ridge, one of the toughest campaigns of the Korean War. Later he would be the presiding officer at President Eisenhower’s funeral.

Jim Vipond – Gun Crew, Forward Observer, Ammo Section

The Boys of Battery B

 Jim Vipond

Jim Vipond

Jim was at LZ Sherry on a gun crew for four months with Mike Lauricella showed up in September of 1969. They have remained friends ever since.

I sit with the two of them at Mike’s place, in his motorcycle shop, now quiet and empty, no longer alive with the clank of wrenches, the walls covered with silent motorcycle memorabilia. Mike is the talkative one. Jim is content to listen while Mike talks through his slides. An hour goes by and I begin to worry that I will miss Jim’s stories, so when there is a break in the action I turn in Jim’s direction and say, “Jim, tell me about your time at Sherry.”

The day that I got to Sherry (in May of 1969), it was like 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I was down at the chopper pad and just got off the chopper when this big explosion goes off. I did not jump because I was so new I did not know what was happening. Come to find out it was a big rocket.  I was not even smart enough to be scared at that point. I thought maybe it was a gunshot, one of ours. It hit outside the wire and didn’t do any damage. But it was a hell of a big rocket, the biggest they had ever seen, and we never took in another one the whole time I was there. The big rockets were not very accurate.

We got mortared all the time, and I was on the gun right next to base piece when it got hit. Pyle died and everybody else in the pit got wounded. And a guy on Gun 2 also died. There’s nothing in the day reports about that incident at all. It was August 12. I was on Gun 6 I think, so I know what happened. That night, I won’t get into it, but that is part of my trauma. One of them anyway.

I say, “You told me on the phone that you volunteered to go out on an FO team with the infantry. I have a selfish reason for asking. I did the same thing and wonder what was on your mind.

Right after base piece got hit I volunteered because I was so sick of sitting at LZ Sherry and getting mortared and so many guys wounded. I was in country about three months. I got to be friends with the RTOs who would come down through Sherry. So I would ask them, ‘What do you do?” And I though I would like to get out of there. So I put in for it, but my orders never came down until later and I am not good on dates.

I say, “Same with me. I hung out with the FOs when the infantry set up on our perimeter and figured I’d like to do that.”

My mind is so bad during that time I had to find out from Mike that I went out with the 1/50th and we were out in the Central Highlands somewhere. It was worse than Sherry. I saw a lot of guys hurt. The Medevac chopper would come in but not get anywhere near the ground. So we tied the wounded to slings, under their armpits, and they hung beneath the chopper and got shot at some more as they swung in the air.

My memory of the 1/50th and the guys that were in the group that I went out with, I remember none of them. I know it was a young infantry squad they had put together. After I got to know people, I would ask them how long they had been in country and they would say, “I’ve only been in country about three months.”

They would ask me and I would say, “I been in country about 10 months.”

And they would say, “What in the hell are you doing out here? Are you crazy? You ain’t supposed to be out here.”

So then I got to thinking about it and about that time I come down with malaria. I went into Cam Rahn Bay to the hospital there.

I was getting better and out on a walk when I saw a bulletin board where they would post all of the early outs. By God my name was on it. I was supposed to be going home early, and it was only a day off. This was on a Sunday. I go back in and I told the nurse, “I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out of here today. I got to get down to Phan Rang.”

So they got a doctor and checked me out and I got down to Phan Rang. They said, “You missed it. It’s gone. You gotta wait till your regular date now.”

I’m not even supposed to be out of the hospital and I’m still not fully recuperated, but they say, “You have to go back out to Sherry for the rest of the time you’re here.”

So I went back to Sherry, and they want to put me on a gun again and I refused. I said I wasn’t going to stand out in the open anymore with mortars coming in. So they put me in ammo and that’s where I stayed for the rest of my time there.

That’s why I was at LZ Sherry on May 3 when Betty got overrun and we took all that incoming. I wasn’t supposed to be there, I was supposed to be home. I thought I was going to die that night. I was probably hiding in a corner someplace, being that short, and having been out with the infantry. I was scared shitless.

I say, “That was my second night at Sherry, and I was scared shitless because I was so new.”

I left for home just a little after that.

A picture appears on the screen of a group of young Vietnamese children. They belong to the ARVN force that is stationed at Sherry. Jim gets up from his seat and walks up to the screen. He points to the kids and says,

This one over there I think is Captain Parker’s. This one here belongs to Mike.

Mike says, “Smartass!”

I say, “The ARVNs left right after I got to Sherry. We were glad to see them go.”

All they did was tell the VC where their mortars hit. That’s what we believed. We could tell that they were communicating with people day to day, and out on patrol. 

Mike interrupts. He says, “There is a story behind that that will never get told.”

I say, “Well, can you tell me?”

Mike says, “I’ll put it this way. There was an ARVN that was shot on the compound. He was shot pacing off Gun 1. I don’t know how many people would tell you about that. There was a guy on a Duster squad that we called Hawkeye. He and a couple other Duster guys and some guys from the battery were watching this ARVN pacing off, and somebody from the battery shot him. They found a map of our compound on him. In the end nothing was ever said. That was when I was on Sherry. In fact I have a picture of him laying face down on the ground.”

Jim is paging through a book I had given him, a memoir of my time in the military which had just been published. He says,

I opened the book and went right to a section on Sergeant Davis. I knew him. I says here, “On April 16 at LZ Sherry gun crewman Jeffrey Lynn Davis dies instantly from massive head injuries incurred in a mortar attack.” That was Sgt. Davis. He was a friend of mine. He went to Hawaii for R&R to see his wife, he went back to the states for a while, was a little bit AWOL, got busted and sent back to Sherry, and two days later he got killed. He was a Shake ‘n’ Bake just out of school when he got sent to Vietnam. But he did not have it in his heart to be a sergeant.

I say, “When I got to Sherry two weeks after he died they told me he went home, discovered his girlfriend had dumped him, and then reenlisted to come back to Sherry. And just two weeks back is killed.”

Oh, maybe that’s why he went all the way home because he was supposed to meet her in Hawaii. He was a three year man, and the way I understood it at the time he extended so that this time around he was done with the Army. I don’t think he went home and reenlisted, I think he extended in Vietnam. After he extended he took an R&R. Then for some reason he went all the way back to the states and went AWOL.

Do you know what gun he was on when that happened? It seems to me that it was Gun 2. I was there the night that he got killed.

I say, “I don’t know the gun, but he was in the doorway of the ammo bunker when the mortar found him.”

Yeah, I think that’s right.

We are standing in the driveway saying our good-byes. Jim tells me of his battles with the VA to get treatment for dealing with the emotions still raw from Vietnam. Mike talks about the commitment he made to his recently deceased wife to keep doing the things that put his life on the right path. Jim and Mike do not see each other but a couple of times a year, but the sight of them standing together now tells me they lean on one another. Still buddies.

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Mike Lauricella – Gun Crew – Part Two

Mike Lauricella

Part Two

Mike the Warrior
The Warrior

One night we were on duty, I don’t remember what the date was, I only know it was terrible. We

heard it coming, we heard the mortar tubes go off –phump, phump – and somebody yelled incoming right away. They always targeted Gun 1 because it was the illumination gun and it was easy to target with the barrel way up in the air and the muzzle flash so high. And then they could walk the mortar rounds in on us.

They called for illumination on the telephone. The telephone was just inside the ammo bunker at the gun pit. We grabbed a couple rounds. I was the loader and pulled off a couple of rounds, when a mortar hit at 5 o’clock behind the gun pit. And then a second mortar hit right on the wall that surrounded the gun pit, right about 4 o’clock. You could hear the shrapnel splatter on the gun. And I never got a scratch.

But I was so scared that when they called for cease-fire I would not stop. I just kept firing illumination.  I’m not giving up because I want to see what’s coming. Lieutenant Clarke came down from the tower and grabbed me and told me to stop. The next morning I found the tail fin sticking into the top of the sandbag wall and the other one was just outside the gun pit at 5 o’clock sticking in the ground. No offense but I wet my pants I was so scared. That was the closest I ever came to getting hurt.

That was the same night that the guy on Gun 1 took off running for his hooch right across the road. He was a tall thin guy, and he dove behind the wall outside his hooch and he hit his head on one of those steel posts and got a cut right on his forehead. Honest to God, they gave him a Purple Heart. I thought, you son of a bitch, where was you when the shrapnel was hitting the damn gun. You got a damn Purple Heart for cutting your damn head on the post. But it was combat, and it had been a while since anybody in the battery got a Purple Heart, so they did it.

We had just gotten a starlight scope and they had it in that tower by the gate. The guys who were on guard duty that night in the tower called in and said they saw movement in the wire. So Sgt. Durant the next morning got up a squad and we made a sweep around the perimeter. We did not normally do that, but every once in a while Durant would get crazy about certain things. We found a 50-gallon barrel at a spot if you are looking out the gate about a 45° angle off to the right. It was full of CS gas, or phu gas, or whatever you want to call it. The gooks had rolled it up and got it almost to the wire, and that’s where they left it.

The first sergeant said, “We’re going to blow it.” So we went back and told the firebase to get your gas masks. Everybody had a gas mask. Some of the guys were like, “Screw this.” So they set a time to put gas masks on, and the barrel exploded and the gas came blowing over the battery. The guys who thought it was a joke did not think it was a joke in two or three minutes.

I say, “Sometimes the Vietcong would blow gas as the start of a ground attack.”

Well that’s what we thought they were setting up to do. But we seen it with the starlight scope. They did not see the barrel but they seen movement. The gooks rolled that barrel – you could see where the grass was laying down – all the way from them damn woods up to just outside the wire. So we ruined their ground attack idea if there was one.

I was half way through my tour when I got sent to LZ Betty at Phan Thiet to process supplies and people out to Sherry. Understand I did not want to go to Betty. I did not volunteer. How I got there is kind of a story.

They gave us this detail to spray the wire with herbicides. There were two 50-gallon drums that were black and had a red X on them. It did not say Agent Orange on them, it just said herbicide. And on top of the drum it said to dilute 1 to 10. And they gave us all these little one-gallon hand sprayers. Either Sgt. Durant or Smoke said just put it in the sprayers and spray it without diluting it.

So we are out there for a half a day, and it is miserable. And we are out there hand spraying, and we have to watch because we’ve got our own trip flares and Claymore mines in the wire and we are walking around there between the wire. I like, “This is bull shit.” So I say to First Sergeant Durant, “You don’t got no damn farmers on this base. Why don’t we just make a spray rig and spray the damn wire?

He says, “What do you mean, make a spray rig?”

I say, “We’ll take one of them 50 gallon barrels, because we are not going to dilute it, and we will make a spray rig out of it.” I didn’t know that he did not know anything about farming or anything.

He says, “Well what do you have to do?”

I say, “With a couple of pieces of pipe and the air compressor on the deuce-and-a-half truck. The top of the barrel says not to exceed 5 pounds of pressure so I’ll need an air regulator. Then some fittings and we can make a spray rig.”

He says, “You’re going to Phan Thiet and steal whatever you need.”

I say, “Steal it? I don’t know anything about LZ Betty. How am I going to steal this shit?

And he says, “Go to the engineering section on the south side of the Betty.”

So I went back to Betty on the ration helicopter. I went around the whole base, and I had never been there except when I got in country. I found the engineering area and scrounged up everything I needed. I did not have to steal it. I requisitioned it.

He smiles.

Well we built the spray rig, and we put the 50 gallon barrel on the back of a deuce and a half truck. We ran an air hose from the air compressor on the truck back to the barrel. But you had to watch the air regulator. I put a little guy we called Projo in charge of watching it.

So we are on the truck, and it’s bumpy out there, and we’re joking and laughing because now we are not hand pumping. We’re driving this big deuce-and-a half truck between the wire and we are using the sprayer back and forth. The hose that came off of one of those little 1 gallon sprayers was not that long, so you had to stand close to the barrel. Well Projo was not watching the gauge and the barrel got more and more pressure on it and I heard the barrel starting to make noises. We hit a bump and the rubber hose that was connected to the barrel blew off. It did not blow the barrel, it just blew the bunghole open and it sprayed that herbicide all over us.

So we pulled back in and said, “This isn’t gonna work.”

We were covered in the stuff, so we took showers first off. Then we took a smaller truck, a ¾ ton jeep, and we got the compressor from the mess hall and put that compressor in the back of the jeep with the barrel of herbicide, hooked it all up and we sprayed the whole rest of the perimeter in two days.

The spray rig was so successful that not long after that First Sergeant Durant says to me, “We need a bigger generator.”

We had a little bitty generator and (only enough electricity to light hooches) for only one hour a day. So I went back to LZ Betty and got a big generator. It was not huge, but it was a bigger generator than we had. I conned them out of it.

We had it for awhile, and then they were going to do an IG inspection on LZ Sherry. For an IG inspection your logbooks better be up-to-date on all your trucks and all your vehicles and all your equipment, and you better only have what you are supposed to have. The next thing I know we had this generator and we had to hide it. I don’t know if we ever had the inspection, but there was a big commotion about making sure everything was up to date. We were even talking about burying it.

I guess that’s what all led to them sending me to Betty permanent. I was at Betty the night it got overrun. The day before that happened I got into a lot of trouble. I was in deep shit. I don’t remember the base commander’s name, but he was a drunken son-of-a-bitch. The order had come down that we were expending too much ammunition and being too aggressive. We were there for support, and we were not to fire unless fired upon. And we would not carry our weapons locked and loaded. The commander at Betty took it to heart. He put out an order that everyone would turn in their M-16s and their weapons, except for those that were on guard duty. He even took the ammunition to the ammo dump.

When they told me I had to lockup my M-16, I told them to go get fucked. I said, “You’re out of your mind, there’s no way.” One of my jobs was to take the laundry that came in on the helicopter from Sherry and take it downtown. And I was not going downtown without a weapon. I told them I’m not giving it up. And we had to pull guard duty when they brought the cargo ships in and dropped supplies on the beach. Well I was not going to give up my M-16. Then this officer came down said he was going to give me an Article 15. And that was on May 2. I said, “I don’t really care what you do to me, but we’re not giving them up. And that night is when we got hit and overrun.

Our designated position was below the 101st Quonset huts on the ocean side, which was opposite from where the gooks came in. It was Roger Ramey, Paul Ryan and myself. Everything was happening behind us, so we left our position. The three of us were pretty tight and we stayed together. We came around the CONEX buildings, and we took a position right on the side of the runway. And it was pretty bad. It was not good … it was not good.

Anybody that tells you that from the minute the shit happens he can remember everything that happened, he’s got a hell of a lot better memory than I got. All I can remember is that it got pretty up close and personal that night. It was just a chaos. My memory is not all that great, but I will tell you it was sheer panic. I was a sergeant and you had to stay cold and calculated and you had to be in control, but I’ll tell you what, it don’t work so good. Apparently I did a pretty good job, but I don’t know.

The next morning I was in a daze. I had shot my M-16 so much it shot the rifling right out of the barrel. They reissued me another M-16. I had 12 magazines and in ammo pouch and another ammo belt, and when I got done I had one magazine left with ammo in it.

I went back and got my camera. I took pictures of the grenade that did not go off, with the circle drawn around it on the ground in front of the 1/50th huts.

GrenadeI took pictures of the fire department putting the fires out on the tents of the 101st. The helicopters melted to the ground on the runway. The three-quarter ton truck that got blown up and the guy got killed. It went down to get ammo during the attack. The first trip it had the black lights on, but the second trip the regular headlights were on and it got hit with an RPG (rocket propelled grenade).

I find out our four guys from Sherry who are two FO teams all got wounded. They were with two companies of the 1/50th Infantry. There was a command switch going on, one company coming in and one going out. Lieutenant Osborne was coming in from the field and he was going home the next day. He turned in his M-16 but not his .45 because he was an officer. Big Willey was a radio operator and got shot up pretty bad. They pulled him up against the side of a sandbag wall and the gooks ran right past him. The other lieutenant was Pierce and I can’t remember the name of the other radio operator, but I want to say Johnson.

After that my memory is bad. The next thing that I can remember about Vietnam is I woke up in Cam Rahn Bay in the hospital.  This was in July. I did not know where I was and I had IVs stuck in my arm. I will never forget this, I woke up and there was a nurse about this wide, about this tall, with a butch haircut.

She said, “Oh, you finally woke up.” And she says, “Do you feel like talking?”

I said, “Where in the hell am I?”

She said, “You’re in the hospital in Cam Rahn Bay.”

I said, “OK, what’s going on?”

She said, “Do you feel like talking?”

I said, “Yes, I guess so. Why?”

She said, “You need to call home right away.” And they brought a landline telephone into the room.

I said, “Why do I got to call home?”

She said, “Because your parents have been notified that you are missing in action.”

Before I made the call a lieutenant came in and said, “You have specific instructions on this phone call. You are not to tell them where you are in the hospital or where you have been. You just tell them that there was a misunderstanding and that you are fine.”

So I called home, and my mom answered the phone, and I talked to her for a few minutes. She said it was 11:00 at night when they came up to the door and told them I was missing. I told her I was fine. Whatever the lieutenant told me to say, I said. And then I hung up.

I don’t know how many more days I was there, but I have the orders that take me out of the hospital and send me back to Betty, and that was 12 July.

At Betty they had packed up all of my stuff in a box and sent it home, so I had nothing. Lieutenant Meeks comes along, he was my lieutenant from headquarters company, and he and I did not get along. He was a jerk.

He said to me, “We’re putting you in for a metal.”

I turned around and I was pissed off and I looked at him and I said, “You can keep your mother fuckin’ medal, because all I want to do is go home in one piece and I am not relying on you.” I don’t know why, but I was hot. I really climbed his ass, and walked away. You don’t talk to an officer like that, but he didn’t say nothin’.

I say, “Were you wounded? Is that why you were in the hospital?”

No, I was never wounded in Vietnam. I don’t remember why I was there. Everything between May 3, when I was fine because I remember taking all those pictures, and when I woke up in the hospital is a blank. They told me I had some sort of food poisoning. And I don’t remember much after the hospital. I didn’t write any more letters home. I carried a camera most of the time when I could, but after that my picture taking stopped. I came home four months later with 600 slides, all from before the hospital.

But it gets more complicated than that.

Indeed it does. Mike takes us out of his workshop over to the house, where he pulls out the contents of the box sent home to his parents. He shows me official orders, picture albums, patches and service ribbons.

Most of this stuff I don’t remember and I don’t know what half of it means. I have orders somewhere in here taking me to a Vietnamese riding school. Now why would they do that? In the hospital they said I could not talk about where I had been, but when I asked them where I had been they wouldn’t tell me.

He retrieves a large patch that is not a standard military uniform patch. He does not remember it or how he came to possess it. It has a raised fist on the upper edge, and in the body of the patch is a sword and horseshoe. The Latin slogan is grossly misspelled, suggesting the patch was created by a Vietnamese. Loosely, very loosely, translated it means: it is not good for man to live solely for himself.

I showed this patch around and nobody knows what it is. It’s not U.S. military, that’s for sure.

We walk back over to the workshop. On a folding table are three photo albums from the box sent home to his folks. He pages through them and points out the people he cannot remember. Also on the table are all of his slides. Half are in carousels and the other half in bundles with rubber bands around them. Written neatly on the edge of each slide are the names of the people in the picture and the location. Mike insists on giving all of them to me and says,

Maybe you can figure out the gaps.

Capital Offense – Web Serial by Kurt Stevens

Columbus Press, publisher of Seven in a Jeep, has released a first-of-its-kind serial novel on the web.  Capital Offense by Kurt Stevens hit the web with its first installment yesterday, September 2, 2013 at

Kurt Stevens was the executioner for the state of Ohio Department of Corrections.  When his wife is murdered, he’s fingered as the suspect.  He must find the killer before the police catch him.

The full book will be released online, completely free of charge, in daily installments through January 31, 2014.  Once the web release is complete, the book will be distributed through normal channels and be available as a print book and e-book from all major retailers.

Don’t miss a beat of the action.  Head over to today!

P.S. Seven in a Jeep is still a Top-100 Kindle Book about Vietnam.  Find it on here.