B Battery sent two guns on an airmobile operation to a rocky hilltop called Outpost Nora. Only one thing about Nora has stayed with him.
The only thing I liked about Outpost Nora was a baby girl named Chi (pronounced Chee). She was a favorite of mine. That little girl stole my heart.
Acting Battery Commander
In May I was the XO. Hank Parker came back to the battery and they made him assistant XO since we already had a Fire Direction officer. Our new battery commander, who was fairly new to the battery, was either back in Phan Rang for extended periods or invisible in his hooch – the men called him The Ghost. He was gone so much Hank and I basically ran the battery. I wasn’t close to this guy and could never understand why he was given a battery to command. After I left, toward the end of July, Hank Parker became XO.
I heard that the battery commander was relieved of his command shortly after the mortar attacks on August 12 and Hank Parker moved into the battery commander slot.
Just before leaving Sherry for home Lieutenant Monahan experienced a close call which he does not remember, but which others guys remember in detail.
Dave Fitchpatrick, Gun 5 Section Chief:
“I was at the gunner’s sight on Gun 2, and Rik Groves was standing beside me. We were maybe a foot apart, and saw VC running way out there. Could see them running around some bushes. We’re standing there and hear a pfffffft. What the hell was that? We didn’t know what it was. And then we hear another one, and it goes bing, bing, bing, bing – it hit something. Then we realized we were getting shot at, and we no more than turned around and Lieutenant Monahan comes out of his hooch. He was getting ready to go home in a day or two, and like all short timers took a special care not to get killed. Another round hit behind him and you could see it kick the sand up. He leaped I’ll bet 20 feet. I’ll never forget that sound, when a bullet comes that close. If it was any closer one of us wouldn’t be here today, or both of us would be gone – or hurt bad. The First Sergeant told us to shoot back, even though we didn’t see any weapons. We shot back into the brush pile with the howitzer and killed all of them.”
The last thing I remember about LZ Sherry was the chopper coming to get me. I am on the chopper and I asked the pilot to circle the firebase. I looked down and felt bad about leaving. That I do remember. I felt like I was letting the guys down. I cared about the guys. I wanted to get home safely and I wanted them to get home too. Unfortunately, for some of them, that did not happen.
I was home just a few weeks when I got a letter from Rik Groves telling me Howie Pyle had been killed. Howie Pyle was the section chief on Gun 3, our base piece. He was officer material, a good leader, quiet, humble, very efficient, got the job done. He ran a good section, which is why he was on base piece. I was so sorry to hear he had been killed.
About four months later I got a letter ordering me to report for reserve duty. I had to do three years active reserves. I was 29 days short of having three full years of active duty, so I had to do the reserves. I was pissed. They assigned me to a unit in Boston, an artillery unit in Roslindale, so I had to drive from Springfield once a month (about 100 miles) and then go away for two weeks during the summer. Most of the guys who got into the reserves were avoiding the draft. The guys in my unit had no military bearing. They could care less. As much as I hated reserve duty, I still I loved the guns, the smell of the gunpowder.
During the spring of 1969 I wrote a letter to Springfield College asking if I could come back. I got accepted and returned to school in September 1969 on the GI Bill. I finished up in two years, but my senior year I was getting married and I didn’t think I had enough money to stay in school. I worked in the registrar’s office and when I told them I was going to withdraw, they said not so fast and got me a full academic scholarship my senior year.
I remember the mortar rounds coming in, the illumination rounds going up, and trying to get a back azimuth from the incoming mortars. Yet there is so much I cannot remember. One thing I will never forget, and that is the dedication of the gun crews and everyone who supported them. No doubt about it. They humped their asses twenty-four hours a day. Some nights they fired all night, and one night we nearly ran out of ammo. So they decided to increase what we could hold and built another ammo bunker. We had close to 4,000 rounds after it was built. Still we fired so much it was tough to get us resupplied, especially at night when most of the fire missions took place. I can remember nights the guns would get so hot that when you threw a round in the chamber the gun would fire by itself. We had to follow a DO NOT LOAD, FIRE ON COMMAND protocol (projectile loaded only when ready to fire). There weren’t many batteries in Vietnam that shot as much as we did.
When there weren’t fire missions at night there was guard duty. Then in the morning there was more work: gun maintenance, ammo resupply, sandbag duty, barbed wire repair, and all the other endless jobs that kept a firebase operating and secure. It was tough work on those guns.
B Battery guys were serious about what they were doing because they knew guys in the infantry were depending on them. Most of our guys were good guys, who cared about what they were doing. If they didn’t the gun crews straightened them out.
Those were the thoughts going through my mind as I circled LZ Sherry for the last time.
Maybe those are the memories that matter the most.