The Boys of Battery B
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.
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.
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.
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.