We had this ten round rule. When a mortar attack came you stayed under cover, but after ten mortar hits you had to come out on the guns because it could well be a ground attack disguised as a mortar attack, and then you’ve got Bangalore torpedoes and hand grenades coming at you.
This rule to stay under cover during the first wave of mortars came about from the heavy casualties suffered at Sherry during the previous summer of 1969, when crewmen manned their guns at the first mortar.
I remember the mortar attack starting. I threw my flack vest on, I threw my belt on with my .45, I put on my helmet and my boots, which were not laced, and I came running out of my hooch. I look over and see Sergeant Kelly, a big guy E-6 gun chief. He’s coming out of a hooch with two young soldiers by the back of the neck in each hand dragging these guys onto the gun and he’s yelling, “That’s the tenth round, we’re out of here.” He looks over at me and laughs. I must have been a sight in my untied books, my belt and .45 pistol, my flack vest, my helmet, and ready to fight … in my underwear. He tells me later I looked like the funniest thing in the world.
A crazy colonel at First Field Force Artillery in Nha Trang imposed a motto on us: Not All Are Privileged To Be Artillerymen, I guess to send a message to the infantry. My battalion commander, Colonel Carl Beal, said this guy is coming down in a couple weeks and we’ve got to get that up on signs. So we make all these signs with NAAPTBA on them.
The signs were scattered around the firebase where the colonel was likely to see them, including one outside the wire facing the chopper pad.
Not surprising the motto did not catch on. The signs persisted but in short order most of the people on the firebase couldn’t tell you what the letters meant.
Singing In The Rain
Our showers were from fifty-five gallon drums filled with water on top of a rickety frame. The water never lasted very long, especially when it had heated up a bit from the sun and was nice and warm. During monsoon season, when heavy rains came every day at almost exactly four o’clock PM, there was a daily bathing ritual with unlimited water.
Gun crews would fashion the canvas covering on their hootches to channel water into a small waterfall. We discovered that by taking Styrofoam and pouring gasoline on it, it would become a liquid for a few minutes and would then harden. It was normally used to repair leaks, and in this case to make a rigid water channel.
It was strange to the untrained eye to see soldiers standing around in the late afternoon under a hot sun with a towel, washcloth and a bar of soap in hand. Sure enough, the rains would come right on schedule, and the battery was replete with folks singing in the rain while taking a shower.
An American armored infantry platoon was patrolling through our area. They came into the firebase; we fed them and told them they were more than welcome to spend the night. Their lieutenant said, “No thanks. You guys get hit too much. We’re going out and set up five hundred yards away.”
We said to him, “Whatever you do, and however you operate, please do not put up a red flare.” A red flare meant a ground attack to us and triggered an automatic mad minute, firing everything we had and saturating the entire area around the firebase. Well that night someone in that infantry platoon did something that put up a red flare, and of course we cut loose.
The lieutenant came into the firebase the next morning. They had fortunately been inside their armored tracks. But they were right in front of one of our Quad-50s, which shot their vehicles up pretty good, including destroying their radio antennas. I was surprised we didn’t kill anyone.
The Gibson Jumbo
Before leaving Nha Trang to take command of Sherry, I stopped at Special Services and signed out a Gibson Jumbo 200 guitar. I wanted to bring the guitar because as a commander you always want troops to kind of like you, that you’re not just another officer coming in. You want to have some endearing attributes. I thought they might enjoy that the old man can play a couple of chords.
At the end of my tour when I got ready to turn it back in, the Special Services offices in Nha Trang had already been closed. So I left the guitar behind at Sherry for the next person. Part of me regrets leaving such a beautiful guitar behind; today it would be worth something. But I did not have the heart to take something that did not belong to me.
An Ear Inside The Fire Direction Center
Chuck ends his stories with something special, a recording taken inside the Fire Direction Center probably sometime the first half of 1970. It captures the chatter associated with a routine fire mission. Mid mission the battery comes under a mortar attack and a siren sounds bringing everyone to battle stations. The distinctive sound of the siren alone, not heard these many years, will bring a fresh chill to any guy who was at Sherry.
A cassette recorder was somehow on in FDC during a mortar attack. Unfortunately I don’t know who gave it to me or when exactly it was made. You can hear the normal talking going on for a routine fire mission, with FDC figuring up the firing data and sending it to the guns, and all of a sudden you can hear someone yell, “INCOMING.” And then you can hear the siren go off and increased activity. I am not sure anybody would understand what was going on who had not been through it; you wouldn’t know what the various sounds mean.
Below is a sound file of the recording. The recording requires that you listen carefully. Remember it was made almost half a century ago on a primitive cassette recorder, one no doubt plagued with dust and mildew. Before clicking on the sound file it would be helpful to have some hints of what to listen for:
- FDC personnel computing, checking and sending firing data for a one-gun fire mission (Gun 1)
- Someone announcing INCOMING in the background
- The siren going off alerting the entire battery to an attack
- The Dusters and Quad-50s in the background saturating the perimeter, in the event of a ground attack
- FDC personnel figuring up counter-mortar firing data involving the entire battery of six guns, two rounds each
- Eight rapid bangs which sound like a Duster. It may have honed in on the mortar site from the commands to the guns
- BATTERY FIRE command, followed by the almost simultaneous sounds of all the howitzers firing. The recording ends before the second volley.
- Note the calm, efficient atmosphere even in the course of the mortar attack
To Listen Right Click on the external link below, and select Open Link .
Let me know if this does not work for you. I will send you the link within an email.