Monthly Archives: December 2013

Bob Selig – Part One

The Boys of Battery B

Robert Selig

Commo Sergeant


Staff Sergeant Selig Second Vietnam Tour
Staff Sergeant Selig
Second Vietnam Tour

Bob spent over eight years in the Army, including two tours in Vietnam. The first was with B battery for over a year and a half. He arrived in December of 1965, when the battery had been in Vietnam for less than two months and when it was still learning how to fight … and keep guys alive. Bob returned to Vietnam in 1969 with the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, where he says he “experienced much death and devastation.” For years he tried to forget Vietnam. Then on May 8, 2007 he wrote a letter to his old battery commander, Captain Paul Marchesseault, and that began a cascade of memories.

I blocked my memories for so many years. My wife still wakes me out of nightmares. It has only been recently that I can face the demons and put it all in perspective. I think what helped was about eight years ago my wife and daughter dragged me to the traveling wall where I wept profusely. I returned to the wall two weeks ago and it has allowed me to finally take control and attempt to bring the memories back. I feel really good about it.

I Remember

After arriving in country in ‘65 I was shipped to Phan Rang, issued a very rusty M-14 rifle, and then choppered to B battery in the field. I remember scrambling to clean my rifle on the chopper, as I had no idea where or what I was getting into.

Some of the best times in B battery were sitting around chit chatting with the guys and learning about them.

Baby Cakes, an African American, used to talk about riding around the roads back home in his red convertible feeling the wind flow through his kinky hair.  He was in love with it. He was a gentle and kind human being that I will never forget.

I remember First Sergeant Shepherd, had a lot of respect for him. He was always there when I needed him.

There was Hedron, our company clerk, from Canada that lived on a ranch.

I remember Smokey; he was quite a character, definitely a take-charge soldier.

Wasn’t Grumpy Craig in charge of the motor pool?

I remember Lt. Colonel John Munnelly, but never had any face to face with him.

Michael Bell from Columbus, OH would keep us entertained with his imitations of James Brown.

Specialist 4 Young talked of nothing but his beautiful wife waiting for him in Tacoma.

Sergeant Wing from Arizona, had it not been for him being at HQ for the day, would have won the battery mustache contest with his bright red handlebar.

Scottie was from Bonegap, Il. We would entertain him with a little ditty we made up about “Go’n back to Bonegap”.

There was Sacko from a farm in Ohio.  He was proud of his ‘64 purple T-bird that he had performed some kind of chemical process to all the chrome and made it gold. My god, it was atrocious!

Archie Clark from Brooklyn was always the clown with that strong NY accent.

Straus and Fause enlisted together and I believe were related by a marriage to a sister. The two were inseparable.

Dave Eves was the original commanding officer’s jeep driver, and later a member of the FO team.

Lieutenant Jim Walker from my home town turned into a banker. I visited him at my parent’s bank when I returned home and made him change a twenty for me. He looked so different sitting behind a desk and wearing a dark blue suit. He was a good guy.

Then of course there was Stretch. We were bathing in a stream one day and someone yelled, “Oh hell, this place is full of leeches.” We had leeches all over our legs, and one fellow had one about four inches long on his scrotum. He got part of the leech loose and was pulling on it trying to get it off. Leeches are like rubber bands, they stretch beyond belief. And a man’s scrotum can be stretched just as far! Swear to god, each stretched a foot. We called him Stretch after that.

I remember supporting the Korean Tiger Division. Couldn’t get supplied and ate Spam for two weeks, three times a day. Can’t look at Spam in a grocery store to this day.

I remember how the Koreans would parade thru villages after an encounter with the Viet Cong and display body parts they had severed to show villagers what they would do to VC or their sympathizers. The Vietnamese believed it was unlucky to have parts removed in death.

I remember taking vehicles to assist locals with rice harvest. They would bag and we would haul.

I remember getting our daily ration of two hot cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Sure was good once ya got used to it.

I remember eating tons of C-rations from 1947/48. Ate many C-rations in the early days, especially when we were on the move. I know many vets are probably dying off because of those nasty things. Then at the mess tent it was water buffalo and rice, or rice and water buffalo. The powdered eggs were a real challenge too. When I soak my food today in Tabasco sauce, my friends ask how and why I do that to my food. I just say, “Hey, I was in the field in Nam.”

My favorite water came from a well in a village where coconuts were basking in the water. They had fallen off of a tree above the well and the villagers left them floating. The water was sweet and refreshing. The other places we used to get water from, heaven help us. There were the rivers, and we purified the water with chlorine or nasty iodine tablets. Many times we drank from running springs and sadly we didn’t purify it. What were we thinking? I’m still waiting for more effects from Agent Orange.

The All Important Combat Patch

The first place you looked on a guy’s uniform, after figuring out his rank, was the right sleeve. That’s where he wore his unit combat patch, which was a source of pride for most soldiers.

Many of the battery personnel looked at B Battery as a bastard unit. That is, we shot artillery for what seemed like everyone. We supported the Tiger division and the White Horse division of the Republic of Korea. For awhile we supported the 5th Special Forces, but to many disappointed soldiers, Special Forces would not allow us to wear their combat patch, the bastards. Hell, all I wanted was a beret. Then we were assigned to the 101st Airborne, and we all wore their patch.

101st Airborne Patch
101st Airborne Patch

When the 101st left in January of 1970 their patch went with them. Today B battery veterans of those years display the 101st eagle on caps, vests, jackets, and anywhere someone is likely to look. 

Too Many Graveyards

In the days that I was with the B battery Bulls we were constantly on the move. We set the battery up in wet rice paddies, dry rice paddies, hill tops, mountain tops, beaches, deserted villages, inhabited villages, and many, many, many cemeteries. I hated the cemeteries as I always seemed to get stuck placing my sleeping accommodations on top of a “ripe” plot. We always dug in a foot or two. I still have night mares about it and I can still close my eyes and smell the stench associated with it.

I remember moving the guns to a graveyard outside Tuy Hoa. No markers, just mounds, and the graveyard was surrounded by rice paddies. We set up the guns and established communications. I remember running miles of wire along the road to Tuy Hoa and hooking up a switchboard. I think our call sign was “Scrappy White”. We then proceeded to dig in and fill sandbags with the dirt. The dead weren’t buried too deep, and they weren’t in coffins. I remember uncovering a half decomposed skull. I never will forget the smell. I think it was three days before I could fall asleep.

At the same graveyard, we received sniper fire for about a week. No one got hit, but we had to be careful during the day. We joked about hearing the bullets go by, cause if you could hear it, you knew you were safe. It was the one you couldn’t hear that would send you home.

Talk about a lasting impression, I avoid cemeteries to this day.


The Montagnards

On one of our missions with the 5th Special Forces we flew to the top of a mountain where there was a Montagnard village (mountain tribes friendly to U.S. forces). We flew in with all our equipment on C-123 cargo planes. I was on the first plane in, which headed for a spot where there was no airstrip.  I remember taking a quick plunge out of the sky; the wheels touched down and immediately the pilot braked so hard I thought his feet had to be digging into the ground to stop the plane. We unloaded and waited for the next plane to come in.  Holy cow, when the plane touched down it immediately started braking and pitched forward so far the nose section was actually scraping the ground – it was one with the grass. I did not realize a plane could stop in that short of a distance. Talk about scary, yes it was!

Army Special Forces were training the Montagnards to fight for us. I was amazed at the age of these soldiers being trained. Many were as young as 13 or 14, kids with guns. How ironic.

The Montagnards were friendly and welcoming to us. One afternoon they held a celebration and provided the meat for the evening meal. A large group of us gathered around as they ceremoniously took a knife to the cow’s throat and bled him out into a bucket. While the blood was still warm they drank the blood and offered it to us. I can’t remember any of us trying it, because I eased my way back behind the crowd of my fellow soldiers. Being from the Midwest I preferred my animals well-done.

John Santini – An Original – Part Two

The Boys of Battery B

John Santini

An Original Member of B Battery

Part Two

John traveled up and down the coast with B battery from Tuy Hoa south to Phan Rang, a span of 180 miles. His stories tell how the boys of B battery did more than fire howitzers. They manned patrols, they sat in pot bunkers at night under enemy fire, and sometimes they endured the wrath of the high seas.

Back on the Ocean

I remember going on LSTs twice from the Nha Trang beach.

Landing Ship - Tank Under Threatening Skies
Landing Ship – Tank
Under Threatening Skies

The first time we were on a special mission and had the whole battery loaded on board, howitzers, trucks, troops, everything. We got out on the ocean and a typhoon came in. We were bouncing around  so much we lost a couple of trucks over the side. We almost lost a howitzer. The gun was hooked up to a truck and both were going over, so we released the truck to save the gun. One of the trucks that went over had all our personal gear. Then the mission was called off because of the bad weather. After that we only had what was on our backs.

From Nha Trang we worked our way up to Tuy Hoa. Every 50 miles or so we’d set up for a fire mission. In that area we supported the 101st Airborne, the 5th Special Forces and the Korean infantry, whoever needed artillery. After we lost all our gear off the LST we only had what was on our backs. Out in the jungle we washed our underwear and socks as best we could. For 30 days we were out there and we stunk. The enemy only had to wait for the smell and they knew we were there.


The Hesitation

This was later in my tour when we were further south around Phan Rang with the 101st. One of our observation posts was under attack. I made an ammunition run out to it and on this occasion I stayed with the OP. Most of the night we were under attack. Daylight was coming in when I saw the brush move, the jungle coming alive, somebody coming. At that point you’re ready to shoot anything that’s coming at you. You don’t even hesitate. I was locked and loaded ready to take out whatever it was. For some reason my brain made me hesitate, and I saw a brown face, not a while male or a Vietnamese. He kept on coming and when he got close I said that old bullshit, “Halt, who goes?” And he didn’t know nothin’ and just kept coming. He was drunk. So I got up from the foxhole and went out to him and discovered he was an American. He didn’t know the password because he was out all night. We talked for a moment and I let him by and did not see him again.

I mean I had a loaded weapon ready to go. If I thought he was VC he’d been gone. Could of been a child, any Vietnamese would have been gone. I was scared to death. I was going to shoot anything that moved, but something made me hesitate. I saw he was an American in military fatigues.

When I saw the jungle move I could have took him out right there. I was a distance shooter. They needed something shot at a distance, they’d call me. I could put a bullet where they wanted it. I had qualified for long distance shooting. If we had a target out there, they’d say see what you can do, hit that target. They’d look out with binoculars and tell me to raise or lower it, and I’d put the shot where they wanted it. We’d shoot at an area because maybe they saw something and didn’t want to open up with the howitzers.

Some years later I was working for Shaker Rapid Transport in Cleveland. I was sitting in the bull pen where we hung around and waited for assignments. You sit around, drunk coffee, talk and wait till the dispatcher needs someone to move a train. Here comes a new guy and at first we didn’t talk, we just stared at each other. Then when we were driving a train together, at the end of the line we had a conversation and he said. “I know you from somewhere.”

I said, “I know you too, you look familiar.”

He said, “You were in Nam with B battery, 5th of the 27th.”

I said, “Yeah” and pretty soon we figured out that he was the guy I almost shot coming out of the jungle. He remembers when I was going to shoot him. We laughed and said “crazy son-of-a-bitch” a lot.

Leaving Vietnam

John’s departure from Vietnam was almost as complicated as his getting there.

We were at Tuy Hoa. It was late at night, between midnight and three in the morning, and our OP was overrun by the enemy and abandoned. We had to get the OP back, and I was part of the support team to go get it. In the process one of the soldiers got bitten by a snake, I can’t remember where. He was screaming his head off out there. We’re trying to cover his mouth and shut him up. He kept screamin’, “I’m gonna die … I’m gonna die.” There was no medic, so I took a flashlight and saw that where he was bit was red and swollen. I cut it open and let it bleed, and he’s screamin’ and screamin’. Then I did the John Wayne thing and sucked on the spot and spit it out of my mouth. And that’s all I did.

After we secured the OP and got back to base, the medic said the guy’s got to go to the hospital. We called a Medivac helicopter that night. I was already scheduled to go to the hospital the next day for dental work, so they told me not to go back to the OP but to go with him.

I’m at the 8th Army Field Hospital in Nha Trang. I was a bleeder and I had a high fever. They told me all my teeth had to come out. I was already scheduled to have my teeth taken out. I don’t know if the snake was poisonous or if it had anything to do with my teeth. All I know is I stayed in the hospital for a long time. After my teeth came out and I stopped bleeding, they would come in and take my temperature and say I had to stay. Two weeks later you’re still in the Army hospital, every day you still got a thermometer in your mouth, and they’re still saying you ain’t going back to your outfit.

While I’m in this Army hospital I wrote a letter to my mother telling her where I was at. Meanwhile my mother got a telegram from the Army saying PFC Herman John Santini is missing in action, or he’s AWOL (away without leave). My mom knew I was in the 8th Army Field Hospital. So she called the number in the telegram and tells them. Then she gets another telegram to CONFIRM her son is missing in action or AWOL. Now my mother goes to a congresswoman named Frances Boatman and tells her the story, and that brought some pressure.

In the hospital they made an arrangement for me to talk to my mother. I was ordered to go to go to a certain area so I could call home. I talked to my mother and said I was all right and “Don’t be writing no more letters.”

I rotated out of the country from the hospital. It was my last duty assignment. I was only in Vietnam three months, but my two year commitment was almost up.

Still they couldn’t send me home because I did not have a shot record; it went overboard in the typhoon with everything else. So they gave me a jeep driver and we went back to the 101st Airborne in Phan Rang. I couldn’t get the shots again because you couldn’t get them all at the same time. The lieutenant told me to find someone who was close to my dates of rotating in and rotating out, and we’d copy his record. So that’s how my shot record became my shot record. Then we drove back to the hospital.

One of the hardest things coming home from Vietnam …I never told my family, my wife, my daughter, or anybody that knows me personally how long I was in Vietnam. Whenever I got the question I said I couldn’t hear you, and worked around the issue, and never answered the question. I have lied. One time I did say I was there for a year. But I was not there for a year. I was very embarrassed to say I was not in Vietnam for a year. I suffered for years over that. It got to me. I busted my ass to go with my unit to Vietnam. Almost got court martialed for everything I did, and those are my boys. I was one of the earliest to come home. It was heartbreaking to leave. You socialized with these guys, you slept with them, you went downtown together, you did everything with them. You didn’t get along with everybody every day of the week. They used to beat me up, tie me up at night, they used to put shaving cream in my pants. In the end we were all one family. We’d do anything for each other.



My father survived his heart attack. When I came home he was the proudest man in the world. I’m thinking of it right now, coming into the kitchen and seeing him sitting there, an old Italian with his coffee cup. He greeted me at the door and hugged me.

John Santini – An Original – Part One

The Boys of Battery B

John Santini

An Original Member of B Battery

Part One

PFC John Santini Ft. Lewis, Washington
PFC John Santini
Ft. Lewis, Washington

Nobody worked harder than John Santini to get to Vietnam with B battery. He was assigned to the battery when it was formed at Ft. Lewis, Washington on November 23, 1964 under the 5th Battalion. However his path to Vietnam was complicated.

John trained with B battery for almost a year and grew close to the other guys in the unit. “The original B battery was like a melting pot of all different people,” John says. “We had our stragglers, but B battery was a strac unit (strategic, tough and ready around the clock). We could do any mission the Army wanted of us.”

When orders came down for Vietnam, John was on a temporary assignment to the National Trophy and Pistol Matches being held at Ft. Perry, Ohio. He was told he could not deploy with his unit because it was already at full strength, and furthermore he was not to return to Ft. Lewis. But John was determined to join his buddies and showed up at Ft. Lewis anyway. There he was assigned to a new unit with the 30th Artillery. Again disobeying orders he refused to report for duty, saying he would only serve with B battery. The authorities warned he would be arrested, but in time relented and assigned him back to his beloved B battery.

Records at the National Archives indicate that when the battalion deployed to Vietnam on October 23, 1965 it was four enlisted men short of full strength. Perhaps the Army found a spot for this young hothead rather than throw him in the brig.

Today John talks of B battery with a passion the years have not cooled.

From the Heart

Legally I volunteered for Vietnam because I was not ordered to go. That’s how I got back into the unit, by volunteering. I said to the commanding officer, “Sir, wherever my troops are going, my boys are going, I’m going. We stick together, we sleep together, we shower together, we do everything together. They’re going over there, then I’m going over there.”

At that time I had orders for a hardship discharge because my dad was dying in the hospital. He had suffered a major heart attack and they believed he wouldn’t survive. The hardship would be on the family, and I would have to go back home and go back to work. I went to see him and said, “Dad, these are my boys. If they go to Nam, I’m going to Nam.” I told my father, “Dad, I love you, but I gotta do what I gotta do.” The words came out of my heart. He cried like I’m crying right now. He never did understand, he worried so much. I would never abandon my troops … never.

The Nine Rules for Vietnam

From Ft. Lewis we got on busses for Sea-Tac airport in Seattle. Walking through the terminal we were in full combat gear, with our helmets and M14 rifles. People stopped and looked at us, some of them applauded. We boarded a plane and went to Oakland, California. As we were getting off the plane, every man on the airplane was given a kiss, whether he was black, white, Hispanic, or whatever he was. Every one of those stewardesses lined up at the door and gave each one a kiss, and they were crying their eyes out. It was heartbreaking.

From there we went directly to the ship, the J.C. Breckenridge. Everything was on the ship, our gear, the guns, trucks, everything. I think we stayed in port for a couple days. Then we were off. We went underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, looked up and it was the most beautiful bridge in the world. We went out on the ocean, and the official record says it took 19 days. The ship broke down outside Hawaii, and it took two days for the swabbies to get it fixed. We never went into port there, you could see the island in the distance. Then we went on to Okinawa, where we stayed just one day. We were able to get off the ship and tour the city. From there we went to Vietnam.

On board the ship we had to exercise on the deck of the ship until it got too hot. We did target practice with our M14s out into the ocean, to stay familiar with our weapons. And on the ship you had to work, you were given details. But I brown-nosed my way out of them. I would walk around and watch the Navy guys chipping away at the grey paint – chip it, paint it, chip it, paint it. That’s all they did: chip it and paint it.

I remember the good Navy food.

We used to go up on deck at nighttime and watch the waves. It was the scariest thing you’d ever want to see. Here you are a little ship in a gigantic ocean. You wouldn’t see a ship, nothing for days. There was nothing out there. If that ship would have sank, you’d have died.

We had classes from Captain Johnson. He had been to Vietnam before and that’s why he was our captain. He was telling us how to stay alive over there, he was telling us about what to expect. We had classes about respecting the Vietnamese. Don’t go out there and fuck everything that walks, their mothers and daughters, don’t do stuff like that. They’re human beings, not sluts and trash. They want you to respect the culture. They want you to go in there and do your job and obey your commands and treat people right. They gave everybody a little card that I kept.

9 Rules Front9 Rules Back


The Early Days

We arrived at Cam Ranh Bay and stayed outside port for two days. We were on the deck in our combat gear with live ammunition, still maybe 200 yards from the port. Some of us had the clips locked into our rifles, and they told us to remove them. They said, “As soon as you get on the ground, put the clip in your gun.” We left the boat on ramps, loaded the ammunition and equipment on five-ton trucks, and then hooked the guns behind the trucks.  On our first day we joined the 101st Airborne Infantry at a rubber plantation off Highway 1 on our way up to Nha Trang. There we set the battery up and stayed for a little while.

Here’s how we used to do it. We’d go into a position and first thing the guns would go up, get ready for a mission. Then we’d set up a perimeter with concertina wire, set the Claymore mines, and then go clean the brush, get the area opened up. Then you’d dig your fox holes and then you’d dig the equipment in. You’d dig the trucks in, their noses stuck down in the ditch. That’s a hard job.

The 101st would send out a patrol and if we had the manpower we’d send a couple guys with them. The patrol was to find out how far away the enemy was from you. You’d go out and see if you could draw fire. You’d drop down and return fire and hope someone was behind covering you. We’d send guys out with the patrol to teach them how to run the patrol. But they weren’t going to send a gunner out, in case we got a fire mission. They’d send FDC, a cook, an ammo guy like me, or anybody. Remember we didn’t know anything about Vietnam. We were all green horns.

Stateside I was an artillery man, but to join the unit I became ammo. In Vietnam I did something different every day. Some days I went on the guns, especially if someone was sleeping, so I wasn’t just ammo. I volunteered for every patrol that came down. I was a weapon in the states and a go-getter in Vietnam. People would say to me, “You’re trying to get yourself killed out there.”

I’d say, “I’m not trying to get myself killed. Somebody’s got to go, so let me go.”

I have a picture of my ammo bunker. The live ammo rounds, with their detonation fuses attached, are all stacked up under a tent.

Ammo Bunker

If Colonel Munnelly would have seen this he would have died, because there are no sandbags around that ammo.

When Lieutenant Colonel Munnelly took command some months later he made sandbagging a top priority for all units of the battalion. Korea had taught him it wasn’t optional. 

Manning the Observation Post 

The OP was a hole in the ground for three men with maybe a couple sandbags in front.

Observation Post Under Construction
Observation Post Under Construction

We stuck them out far enough to protect the perimeter, and close enough to get back to the compound. We manned the OPs all night, usually with two guys and an M60 machine gun. At night is when we usually got hit, and 90 percent of the time we got hit.  You didn’t sit around your foxhole and talk and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. That didn’t happen. They’d fire at you and keep you awake all night. Or we had fire missions all night long.

We never had enough ammunition at the OPs. I’d have to race out there with ammo and sometimes stay to support them. You’d put on two bandoliers of M14 ammo, grab two boxes of M60 machine gun ammo, and you’d go out. And don’t forget you got to carry your own personal weapon. Sometimes we’d have to abandon the OP because we didn’t have enough firepower to force back the enemy. When you run out of bullets you’re retreating. Later you’d have to go back out and get your guns back. Can’t leave that M60 machine gun out there.

When that sun came up you survived another night. The next day all you’re guaranteed is four hours of sleep … if you could get it.

Trying To Get His Four Hours
Trying To Get His Four Hours


First Fire Mission

We’re in Vietnam about a month and it’s Thanksgiving day. We had just joined up with the Korean marines outside Nha Trang airport. We had our perimeter set up, we’re in combat mode, and we’re waiting around for orders.

Now everyone is bitching, because here it is Thanksgiving and we’re eating C-rations out of cans. Soon choppers landed and brought us a real Thanksgiving meal. We hardly started when a fire mission came in. A Special Forces unit was in trouble on a nearby mountain, they were pinned down. We started the mission before the sun went down with only a few rounds, but it went on for most of the night. That was our first combat mission, to support the 5th Special Forces on Thanksgiving of 1965.