Monthly Archives: March 2016

Mike Jordan – Duster Platoon Leader – Part One

Into The Army

I was going to school majoring in Engineering at what is now the Missouri Science and Technology University in Rolla; it was the University of Missouri at Rolla in those days (and a highly respected engineering program). I was in the ROTC program, but not by choice. In those days, in 1964 when I started at Rolla, if you were an able bodied male student you had to take ROTC. It was mandatory for your freshman and sophomore years. It stems back to the Land Grant College Act from World War One. (The original Land-Grant legislation passed in 1862, with various extensions over the years until its final expansion in 1914.) The federal government said, Hey states, here’s property. You can go out and build a college, agricultural or technology, and oh by the way in payback it’s mandatory that all of your freshmen and sophomore able bodied male students take ROTC. If their grades are good enough at the end of their sophomore year, and they want to apply for the advanced ROTC, that’s a separate personnel action and we’ll consider it.

My first summer home my uncle had a surveying company in Creve Coeur and I went to work for him. I was not able to save up enough money to go back to Rolla in the Fall so I kept working and went to the University of Missouri in St. Louis, and then went back to Rolla in January. That Fall I went on probation because I was having too much fun playing pinochle every night instead of studying. When I went on scholastic probation the draft reclassified me to 1-A (top of the list). To keep from getting drafted I decided to enlist, because that gave you some choices.

Enlisting to avoid the draft was a familiar story during Vietnam, weakening the statistic that only 25% of those who served in Vietnam were drafted, and giving the lie to the idea that most of the guys in Vietnam wanted to be there.

When you enlisted you got three choices for which branch of the Army you wanted, one of which had to be a combat arm. For their other two choices guys would usually pick things like Intelligence or Supply or Personnel, places where you didn’t get shot at. Still everybody at that time all around me were getting infantry, and that was the last thing I wanted. So when it came down to making my choices I put down three combat arms instead of just one. Corp of Engineers at Ft. Belvoir was my first choice. Armor at Ft. Knox was my second because a couple college buddies went there, and Artillery at Ft. Sill was my third. So now the Army could always come back and say we gave you what you asked for.

When I was home for Thanksgiving I went down to the Mart building in downtown St. Louis and took my induction physical the day after Thanksgiving. Classes back at the university didn’t start until the Monday afternoon following a holiday weekend, so I went by my draft board Monday morning and said, “I took my physical last Friday and I’m 1-A, when are you going to call me?”

They said, “Probably in February,” and they were good to their word.

Advice To Last a Lifetime

I married Mary Beth, my high school sweetheart on February 4th and two weeks later left for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood. My dad dropped me off for my induction, which happened to be his birthday, the 20th of February. We’re sitting out in the car and it’s six o’clock in the morning in downtown St. Louis and it’s colder than hell. My dad was in the Navy in WWII and he says, “Let me give you some advice before you go in there from an old Navy guy. I know you want to be an officer. So let me tell you this. We used to call them chiefs, in the Army you call ‘em sergeants, and let me tell you right now, even if you’re a lieutenant, do what the sergeant tells you to do. Second, don’t ever volunteer for anything. Third, there’s a war going on right now and you’re probably going to end up over there. So let me warn you now, keep your ass down so you don’t get it shot off.”

In ’94 when my dad died, my brother-in-law who was a minister was going to conduct the memorial service. He called me up a couple days beforehand and said, “Tell me some things your dad told you that had a long lasting impact on your life.” I told him this story word for word and when we got to that third piece of advice he said, “Well, we probably ought to change that last one to ‘keep your head down.’” To this day I cite those three things he said to me as the most sage advice my father ever gave me, especially given that I ended up staying in the Army for twenty years.

A Winding Road To Artillery

When I got to Ft. Leonard Wood for basic training I applied for Officer Candidate School. I had been majoring in engineering at Rolla, so I asked for Combat Engineering again. After I finished basic at Leonard Wood I went to Ft. Lewis, Washington Advanced Individual Training in mortars. If all went well I’d go to Ft. Belvoir right out of AIT.

Our AIT company at Lewis was different. We only had sixty-three guys in the company, instead of the two hundred that you normally had. Half of us were wanting to go to OCS, and the other half were National Guard and Enlisted Reserve from Alaska, and they were mostly Eskimos. So we ended up with one platoon of guys who were OCS oriented, and the other platoon was the Guard and Reserve guys. Every morning the drill sergeants would flip coins to see who would take us to training and who would stay behind and shoot pool in the dayroom.

The funniest thing, when we would go to the rifle range the squatting position was one of the hardest firing positions to maintain. Well these Eskimos used to go out on the ice flows and wait all day for a shot at a polar bear. These guys could go out there and squat forever. When the firing range instructor announced the next firing position would be the squatting position, for them is was, Okay, bang, bang, bang.

I should have gone straight to OCS after Ft. Lewis, but my OCS application got lost and I had to apply all over again. And I had to take an OCS physical. When I graduated from AIT I still didn’t have my OCS assignment, so I talked the First Sergeant into letting me take a two week leave back in St. Louis. I told him I had been married only two weeks before leaving for basic, and I think that helped. I got back to Lewis on a Friday afternoon. The First Sergeant called me into the orderly room and said, “You got your OCS orders. You’re going to Ft. Sill for artillery OCS and you’re leaving Tuesday.” So much for getting my first choice.

I cleared post the next morning: running around for paperwork to finance, personnel, shot records, etc. Those were the days of Westmoreland when everybody had to work five and a half days, making Saturday morning a duty day. Later on when I got to be a captain and battery commander of a HAWK battery (Homing All the Way Killer) in Germany, guys would come in and say, “Hey captain, I need two weeks to clear post.”

“Bullshit. I know how to clear post in half a day, but I’ll be a good guy though and give you a whole day.”

Kim Martin – Fire Direction Control – Part Three

Waiting for the Next One To Land

When we got mortared there were usually three, one after another, then it would be over.

Sherry was so quick to return fire on mortar sites that the enemy just had time to  pop off a quick round of mortars, and then had to clear out. Usually.

We got mortared one night and they all hit near a radar installation right across from FDC. After the third one hit and things got quiet, I went to go check to see if they were Okay. Everybody was fine, no damage, so I started heading back to FDC and another volley started coming in. The first one hit in front of me maybe sixty feet away. Then the second one hit closer. I hit the ground thinking the third one is going to hit right on top of me. I figured, okay, this is it. When it hits what’s it going to do to me, am I going to survive? Maimed, injured? All those things go quickly through your mind. I don’t remember being particularly scared. Just when’s it going to hit? I’m lying there listening and nothing happened. The third one never came.

Last Fatality at LZ Sherry

Jeffrey Lynn Davis was killed in a mortar attack on April 16, 1970 while manning Gun 2 next to the FDC bunker.

I was on duty in FDC at the time. The mortar just missed the FDC shack and went into the top of the ammo bunker. The explosion was really loud, and I remember sand falling onto the roof of the FDC bunker. It came really close to blowing up everything. It lodged between the inner frame of the bunker and the sandbags, so it didn’t get to the ammo inside. However the shrapnel from it caught him.

The mortar round that caught Jeff Davis Picture courtesy Bob Christenson
The mortar round that killed Jeffrey Davis
Picture courtesy Lt. Bob Christenson

Bob Christenson took this picture to send home. On the back he wrote, “This is the outside of Gun 2’s ammo bunker. In the middle is a mortar fin which hit and stuck during a mortar attack. One guy in the bunker was killed and the other one hurt badly. The section decided to leave the mortar fin there.”

I remember Lieutenant Christenson, more of a down to earth, affable guy that was really easy to talk to. He’d come into our hooch to visit, almost like he had little regard for rank. He was a good guy and well respected.

The Last Scare

 Due to the reduction of troops I got an early out of 30 days. So my tour lasted eleven months rather than the full year as I had expected. I had my Snoopy puzzle calendar almost completely filled in, feeling good about my world, and definitely very short.

Typical Snoopy Short-Timer Calendar (Arkansas Vietnam War Project)
Typical Snoopy short-timer calendar
(Arkansas Vietnam War Project)

One week before my tour ended this happened. It was after dark, probably about 10:00 in the evening, when the battery was abruptly alerted to a potential charge through its perimeter near one of the guard towers. A red star cluster flare had been fired from the tower signaling that a Viet Cong sneak attack was under way.

I was off duty, being on the twelve hour day shift in FDC, and so was abruptly awakened by the battery siren alerting everyone to their protective battle positions preparing for an attack. I immediately grabbed my M-16 and flack jacket and proceeded to our assigned bunker just outside the FDC bunker with a fellow FDC buddy who was also on my shift. I think he was Lynn (Curley) Holzer, but it has been so long ago that I cannot be sure. As I settled into the bunker, illumination rounds were being fired all over, lighting the night sky like a Fourth of July celebration. Men were running everywhere to take their positions. As we settled in with our M-16s pointed to shoot anything that moved, my thoughts momentarily reflected on the sudden feeling of the futility of it all for me. Here I am with only one week to go until finally getting back to the world of friends, girls and hot showers. Instead, we are going to be overrun and killed or taken captives for who knows how long under unimaginable conditions.

Suddenly the melee stopped and all was incredibly quiet. I was puzzled and prepared for the worst when soon we were all told by the battery commander to stand down and to go back to our regular assignments. It had all been a false alarm.

As it turned out, a new officer had arrived in the battery that week and was checking the flare guns at each of the guard towers. This process involved firing an illumination flare to insure the flare gun would work properly in the event of a need for its use. Unfortunately, the officer had inadvertently taken a cartridge from the red star cluster box rather than the white round. In so doing, he had signaled an attack, consequently sending the entire battery into an emergency battle mode and scaring the hell out of most of us.

I went back to my hootch very exhausted, but extremely relieved. In just one week, I would be “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

The song Back Home Again In Indiana was published in 1917, and while it is not the official state song, it may as well be. Since 1946 it has been a pre-race tradition at the Indianapolis 500.

Lieutenant Bill Cooper maintained that he picked up the wrong flare by mistake that night. Today he explains that he purposely shot off the flare signaling a ground attack to test the readiness of the battery. He had not told anyone of this exercise,  and on reflection did not want to get court-martialed.

Going Home

 When I processed out of the Army at Ft. Lewis, Washington they gave us counseling sessions, and in one of them this fellow told us the best states to live in because they paid the highest state benefits like unemployment. I thought that was interesting. I remember getting a new uniform and an overcoat. You’d never wear them again unless you were in the reserves. I wore the uniform home to Indianapolis, and never put it on again. I still have it, although I’d never get into it.

I got all the way back to Chicago without a hitch. I called my father to meet me at the Indianapolis airport. It was an evening flight, around 9:30. I had about an hour and went into this bar for a drink. I had just one drink and got to talking to this guy, and oh my gosh I got to get to my plane. I got to my gate and they had just closed it, so I missed the flight. I just sat in a chair until the next flight left in the morning. The irony of it all, I’m almost home after a year in a combat zone and I miss my last connecting flight.

Kim Martin – Fire Direction Control – Part Two

Just Out of Curiosity

Then we got a new battery commander. He was what they call a ring-knocker, a West Point graduate. He was one of those people, my impression was he definitely knew he was the battery commander and in a superior situation, but the way he over reacted to it made me think he wasn’t all that sure of himself. He was one of those people that wanted to be “with it.” He played his guitar to try to fit in, but he did not know how to communicate with people in general. He was not generally liked as I recall.

He was all about impressing important people. Some brass were coming into the battery and he wanted to make sure they were impressed with is administrative and military and disciplinary skill sets. He made sure everything was super cleaned up. We had to get used to not being so slovenly. We had to have much more spit and polish, and that kind of irritated everybody. He also had us make all these charts of ammunition usage, missions, and that kind of stuff. We had all these useless charts plastered all over the walls in FDC.

But the funny thing was, he was going to put on a tour for the brass. So for two days he would drive around in that jeep pointing to things. He was going through his presentation, but in the process he was driving around talking to himself. It was really a strange watching this guy. That’s how driven he was. He wanted to make sure he was down to the gnat’s ass.

I’m a pretty easygoing guy and try to get along with everyone, but for some reason I got a case of the ass about this guy. I decided I was going to push him a little bit. Looking back I realize it was both immature and not professional. But anyway, I knew how he was really big on military discipline, courtesy, formalities and all that. I heard him coming and I was operating the radio. I intentionally loosened my shirt up and turned around and put my feet up on the desk when he walked in. I was presenting an attitude of total casualness, and probably borderline disrespect.

Martin In his total casualness attitude
Martin In his total casualness attitude

In comes the captain, sees me sitting there and just blows up. He says, “Martin, sit up. You’re a disgrace to the military and to this battery.” He goes on and on reading into me. Then he storms out. We had a new Fire Direction Officer, a mild mannered nice guy, who was standing there along with two other people. Everyone was just jaws hanging down, they couldn’t believe it. It was so bad the new FDO said to me, “Look, I’m really sorry that took place. None of us feel that way. You do a good job.” Of course I put the captain up to it by doing what I did, just because I wanted to see what he would do. He was entertaining to me. You needed something to keep your mind entertained, and he was what you’d call a real trip.

I will say this for him, my last week at Sherry we all had to get a talk to encourage us to re-enlist and make a career of the Army. When I got called to the captain’s hooch I thought I was in trouble again, but he just wanted to give me the “re-up talk.” He was very professional about it and did a very nice job of it, even though I suspected he did not care for me.

Metro Marty

Here is how Kim picked up the nickname Metro Marty.

 From Seven In A Jeep, A Memoir of the Vietnam War, by Ed Gaydos:

A computer the size of a baby rhino was another piece of advanced technology from the Pentagon. It was a Field Artillery Digital Automated Computer, or Freddie FADAC as we called it. In theory Freddie would compute firing data more quickly and accurately than our manual slide rulers, protractors and charts. But it needed a lot of attention, beginning with its own dedicated generator. With the flip of the power toggle it wheezed as it turned itself on, and when fully awake it let out a low, steady groan. If a computer could be constipated, that is how it would sound. The thing breathed out heat and made the FDC hooch even more oppressive. 


Freddie doubled our work, because everyday we had to type in weather data, along with six-digit map coordinates for friendly nighttime positions and over a hundred fixed targets. For all the information in its circuitry, Freddie sometimes gave out crazy results. And it was slow, particularly when we had to run out to fire up the generator and wait for its blinking lights and digital readouts to come to life. We came to calling it that “Fucking Freddie FADAC” and wanted to haul it to the trash dump.

That’s when Charlie Snider in FDC stepped in saying, “We got orders to use it and somebody’s going to notice if it’s in the trash dump. We at least have to turn it on during fire missions. Top comes in here during a mission, it better be on. And as long as it’s on, we may as well try to make it work.” So Charlie spent half his career feeding numbers into Freddie. He had help from Kim Martin, a quiet guy who acquired the name Metro Marty for his patience with putting in the mountain of meteorological numbers of wind, temperature and humidity for every 50 yards of elevation up to the moon.

In the end we shot computer numbers when they were close to our manual calculations, and ignored them when Freddie gave out wild data or when the infantry was screaming for rounds in the air and Freddie sat blinking at us.

We took data from meteorological reports and we just entered the data in the right fields in the computer. I don’t remember it being particularly anguishing. I think I did it to give me something to do in a way that contributed.

Corporal Patterson

This story involves a rather resourceful young corporal who as I recall was from Detroit, Michigan by the name of Patterson. I can’t remember his first name. We just called him Patterson. He was a very friendly guy who was one of those people that seemed to get along with everyone and befriended many. He also seemed to always be wearing sun glasses.

Patterson just managed to build his hootch next to the bunker where the battery flatbed truck was parked (a large five ton vehicle). They shared a common wall. The truck as I remember played an important role to transport supplies from our army supply post near Phan Thiet out to our battery. Now Corporal Patterson was very much into music, or jams as he called them, and managed to secure a phonograph. Every night he would mellow out listening to his music for many enjoyable hours. There is one very important item that needs to be known at this particular point in my story. There was no electricity available to our hootches. This came later. Only the FDC bunker and the mess hall had electricity then, and that was provided by two large diesel engine generators positioned behind the mess hall.

This however did not hinder the inventive Patterson. He was the only person at the time I recall who could play records, and that was a pretty big deal. So how did he do it? Actually the scheme was very basic. He simply ran wires from inside his hooch through the common wall, into the adjacent truck bunker, going up the front of the truck, and feeding into the truck battery. The system worked great. In the morning after getting up, he would just remove the wires.

Patterson continued this escapade for quite some time without being found out. The mechanic that took care of the truck could not figure out why the truck’s electrical system kept draining the truck battery every night. Funny thing is that when Patterson left to go back to the World, the problem disappeared.

I often wonder whatever happened to Corporal Patterson. He was one of those colorful characters that helped to make a very long year entertaining and endurable. I am glad he had been assigned to our battery.


We called this little dog in the battery Wrinkles because every time she would look up at you she got this expression on her face that would cause her forehead to wrinkle up. Mike Leino is the one who named her Wrinkles. She would spend the night in different hooches, and every now and then she would spend the night in our hooch with Mike and me. Many nights Wrinkles would come in and curl up next to Mike’s bed. He really liked that dog and tried to take her home with him, but was not able to get that done. He had to leave her there and I guess it really tore him up because he was so attached to her.

Mike Leino and Wrinkles
Mike Leino and Wrinkles

Kim Martin – Fire Direction Control – Part One

Sixty Words A Minute

I graduated from Purdue in the summer of 1968. Knowing I was going to get drafted I had signed up for artillery Officer Candidate School at Ft. Sill. But first I had to go to basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri, or as they called it: Fort Lost In The Woods. It was winter and that was something else. I remember on overnight bivouacs they told us to put our clothes inside our sleeping bags. The first night out I forgot and in the morning had to put on these cold, wet, icy clothes. Then we had to put cold water in our helmets and use that to shave.

I remember our drill sergeant as being a frequent smoker. When he stopped us for a break, he would put us at ease and announce, “Smoke if you have too, and if you have two, give one to me.” Immediately a volley of cigarettes would fly through the air at him from our formation. I don’t think he ever bought a pack of cigarettes during our time in basic.

After Leonard Wood I went to Ft. Sill for Advanced Individual Training in fire direction control, with the plan to stay there for artillery officer school. But there were a handful of us who got sent to Ft. Belvoir in Virginia for Combat Engineering. I don’t know why that was, maybe had to do with the fact that I graduated from Purdue, although I was not an engineering graduate. So the summer of ’69 I went to Ft. Belvoir, Virginia for Combat Engineering OCS.

Combat engineers built roads, bridges and air strips – often in remote, exposed locations.

There were three stages to the training, eight weeks to the first stage, and then eight weeks intermediate, and eight weeks of being a senior candidate. During that first eight weeks – here again I was a kid without a lot of sense I guess – I realized I’ve got to serve an extra year, and I’m gonna be out in the boonies in Vietnam without a whole lot of protection. The impression I got from people was you got sent out on these missions to build things with very little support. That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I thought, I don’t think I want to do this. If I drop out of OCS I go back to my primary specialty of Fire Direction Control, which seemed like a better deal and I get out earlier. Plus the war was so unpopular it was hard to get my mind in the right set to serve as an officer. And I was not looking at the long term. During that first eight weeks you could choose to leave. Funny thing was that during those first eight weeks people were getting kicked out, and when I decided I wanted to leave they tried to talk me into staying. I did what they called “wimped out” when I left OCS.

Going to Vietnam we were in the air a long time and when we finally reached the coast I looked out the window and I was scared to death, not knowing what to expect. I’m looking down and thinking, Is this thing going to be shot out of the sky? I am looking for any antiaircraft activity or weaponry. Of course there wasn’t any. It was very tropical looking and I did see little artillery layouts in the clearings, you could see the guns. My initial reaction was one of concern for my personal safety and the safety of the plane. When we landed at Cam Ranh I was surprised at how big the airbase was. How sprawled out it was.

When I processed through Cam Ranh Bay, it felt like I was there forever, but it was probably for only a week or so waiting to be assigned. If you scored well on a typing test you could get a job as a Rear Rank Rootie and I could type sixty words a minute. When I was in junior high school, they had this award for typing sixty words a minute. All these girls were getting the award except for this one guy, and that was me. It didn’t do a bit of good however. Everybody who was a college graduate was trying to do that. They had more clerks than they knew what to do with.

Deluxe Accommodations

We flew into LZ Sherry on one of those helicopters they called  a Slick (Huey helicopter – the workhorse of Vietnam), and the one thing I remember they kept the doors open. You’re sitting there with your foot about an inch from the door and you look straight down on the whole country side. Lot of jungle. A clear space every once in awhile with a military installation of some sort. I remember seeing a shrine, very old looking. I see LZ Sherry coming into view, and it looked like just a large slum. I thought, My god, I’m going to be here for a whole year?

When I first got there everybody was already situated, except for Lynn Holzer who arrived about the same time I did. We were the new guys. They assigned us to the FDC section chief, Harlan Hansen. He said, “This hooch right here is the one that belonged to the guy you are replacing.” I looked in, this hooch was half sunk into the ground, there had been a lot of rain and it looked like a swimming pool.

I said, “You got to be kidding me, I got to sleep in this thing?”

He said, “Well, that’s what’s left.”

I think I ended up moving in with someone temporarily. That was my first day at LZ Sherry – not the greatest welcome I’ve ever had. You’re on your own!

I ended up building a new hooch with Mike Leino, which turned out really great with nice paneling. After we got the shell built we stripped down some ammo boxes and made paneling for the walls. Then I got a blow torch and scorched the walls just enough to bring out the grain. It was really nice.

Mike Leino on hooch construction
Mike Leino on a construction break
Kim in their new hooch Note elegant paneling
Kim in their new hooch
Note elegant paneling

No Trump

The battery commander was Captain Kevitt and I really liked him. He had been an enlisted man and then gone through OCS. He was career military. He had a good rapport and understanding of the people he was responsible for. He was a disciplinarian, but reasonable and not arrogant. He was a good officer. The men really respected him.

There were two guys in FDC that had been there awhile and had become really good buddies. One was Bill from Atlanta. He had been accepted into law school at Emory University while he was in Vietnam. The other guy, Fred, was the son of a career military officer. They were both pretty bright guys, well educated, and kind of knew it. Nobody wanted to be on their shift, so of course that’s where I ended up.

The captain liked to play bridge. The first day I was there he asked me if I played. I said, “I know how to play, but I’ve hardly played at all. But I know the rules, I know how it works.” So we decide to play bridge – the captain, Bill, Fred and I. I hadn’t realized it, but these two guys Bill and Fred were hugely competitive. They were bright, they were driven, and they had no use for idiots. Anyway, we’re playing bridge and I just screw up right and left. These two guys were both disgusted with me and from then on I was looked down upon as not on their level. Well, that was the last time I played bridge with them. They were nice guys, they weren’t rude or anything, but they sort of shunned me. That was the atmosphere. I was really glad when I got off their shift, but until then I kept to myself and read a lot of books when nothing was going on.