The Sniper Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight
We had a sniper out to the west. A new battalion commander, it might have been Colonel Beal, flew in, landed on the pad. The helicopter shut down and we’re just standing there talking. I said, “This is not a good place to stand because over there in that wood line is a sniper. He doesn’t hit anything, but he bothers us a lot.” All of a sudden you heard this little whisp into the ground about six feet in front of us. I said, “Yeah, there he is again.” We walked away calmly, because the guy never hit anything.
The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight
This is one of the all time funny stories, involving all the military firepower at Sherry. The gun sections had to go out to this well south of us about a hundred yards to get their shower water for the day. I was having lunch with Colonel Beal in the mess hall, and one of the gun sections was out there pulling water, and all of a sudden there was an explosion. The kids had gone out to get water, and backing up the truck drove over a mine. The truck was destroyed but thankfully nobody was hurt
About a month later early in the morning when it was just beginning to turn light, according to the old military term begin morning nautical twilight: BMNT.
Nautical twilight is when the rising sun is still below the horizon, officially six to twelve degrees below. The term dates to the time sailors used the stars to navigate the seas; during nautical twilight most stars are visible to the naked eye. The United States military uses nautical twilight, called ‘begin morning nautical twilight’ (BMNT) and ‘end of evening nautical twilight’ (EENT), to plan tactical operations.
The definition of BMNT and EENT I heard in Ranger school was when you could see an enemy soldier in the dark and shoot him, and that distance was about the practical range of an M14 rifle, which in those days was three hundred feet. During that time in the morning twilight someone saw a Vietnamese running from that well. The guy had about two hundred yards to get to the creek bed that ran southwest of our perimeter. Everybody opened up on this guy: the Quad-50s cut loose, the Dusters opened up with their two 40 mm canons, the guys in the towers shot at him with M-60 machine guns, guys went up on the berm and emptied M-16 clips. Of course nobody hit him.
Two Tense Moments
I suspect if I were asked about tense moments during my tour at LZ Sherry when the adrenaline really flowed, it would be these two instances.
Tense Moment #1
From time to time we would get intelligence about an attack that was planned against LZ Sherry. This intelligence always had a rating, which consisted of a letter and a number. To the best of my memory the letter stood for the quality of the source and the number stood for its feasibility.
One afternoon we got a message that an A-1 report that a VC force of over three hundred was poised to attack the fire base. As would be the case, every soldier on the base sometime that day went to the berm and test fired his weapon. Every gun section rechecked direct fire lanes and reviewed their Firecracker loads. We redoubled our reviews of everything we had in our defensive plans. For example, we had C Battery at LZ Sandy north of us re-register all our TRPs around the firebase.
TRP stands for Target Registration Point: targets that are pre-determined using live fire to establish settings for the guns. Once confirmed TRPs could be fired immediately upon command without adjustment or use of a forward observer. Their value was in both speed and accuracy, however they had to be re-fired periodically to maintain their currency. The FDC at Sherry maintained close to a hundred of these TRPs for defending its sister batteries at Betty and Sandy, and for friendly units in the area. Sandy likewise maintained a set of TRPs around Sherry.
This was to make sure we were ready, and perhaps show any forward VC troops that we would be a formidable fight.
As late evening began to come on, the Air Force flew bombing sorties over free fire zones around the base to flush out any enemy formations that might have been out there. This was my first experience of being close to strafing runs by jet aircraft. As darkness came over us I imagined the pilots back at their air field in an air conditioned club having a beer.
By ten o’clock the tension across the firebase was very high and nerves frazzled. Sometime about one o’clock an AC-130 gunship arrived in the area.
The AC-130 carried as many as three Gatling mini-guns, each with six rotating barrels capable of a hundred rounds per second. It had two nicknames: “Spooky” and “Puff The Magic Dragon.” Often it went by just “Puff,” a gentle name not at all fitting its true nature.
We were instructed to start fires at prominent points on our exterior berm, which I suspect looked like a trapezoid from the air. We could hear the aircraft overhead but could not see it. We were aware that a six second burst from this airplane would put a bullet in every square yard of ground in an area the size of a football field. With fires lit, the plane went to work. The unmistakable sound of a mini-gun with its trail of tracer rounds left one in awe and rattled the nerves even more because you could see this “flying dragon peeing down on the earth.” That’s a description from a book I later read about the AC 130 gunship.
It was a long, tense night. Sleepless for almost everyone. In the end it was quiet all night, no trace at all of an enemy force, and just another page in the history of LZ Sherry.
Tense Moment #2
We received a number of ‘suspended lot’ notices concerning small arms ammunition as well as 105 mm howitzer rounds. This meant that the lot could not be used. In addition we had dirty M-79 grenades, unusable belts of M-60 machine gun ammo, and heavens knows what else that we determined on our own had to be destroyed. We decided to gather it all up, haul it to a spot some five hundred yards north of the base, and blow the whole mess up. The XO was so excited, he salivated at the thought of going out there and blowing all this up.
We notified all the right folks of our plan, and put the information on a special artillery warning network that all pilots were supposed to monitor. Come the day we trucked all the ammo to the site and set the blast time for ten o’clock. All hands were up on the berm to see the giant explosion. The XO and his crew proceed to the site, set the explosives and timer, and returned to the base. There was now just about ten minutes to the blast.
Off in the distance we saw a Chinook helicopter coming towards us from the north. Damn! The charge has been set and could not be stopped. We called Phan Thiet frantic, and they called every network these guys might be on. But to no avail. Obviously they were not monitoring the artillery warning network and on they came. The Chinook passed directly over blast site and was probably about two minutes past when the blast erupted. To this day I wonder if those guys ever knew how close they were to a serious issue.