Monthly Archives: February 2019

Paul Stagg – Gun Crew / FDC – Part Five

A Little Piece of Home

Basketball was a great evening activity before the siren went off and we had to put on helmets and flak jackets. I enjoyed basketball, but my real passion was baseball and softball. I played baseball in high school and college, and summers I played competitive softball in the Richmond, VA metro area. I talked to some guys on the firebase and found out there was interest in softball, so I wrote to my Mom and asked her to contact the manager of the softball team I played on before Vietnam. She talked to my manager and he took it to heart; he solicited donations from all the teams in the league and the local fans who attended our games. Shortly a shipment of boxes arrived packed with balls, bats and gloves. I gathered some guys together the first Sunday and laid out a softball field in the open area just outside the first strand of barbed wire. Thereafter my Sundays were filled with softball, a little of piece of home in the Nam.

Me fielding a grounder
Me fielding a grounder
Doc Mason legging for first
Doc Mason legging for first

The Last Casualty

George Beedy, Charlie Schneider and I trained at Ft. Sill together and came to LZ Sherry on the same day. When Charlie and I went into the FDC, Beedy remained on Gun 1. Because we arrived in Vietnam the same day, the three of us had the same DEROS date to go back to the states: January 9, 1971. An Army tour of duty in Vietnam was 12 months. As time passed the three of us were offered the opportunity to extend our tours in country. If you extended so that you had 150 days or less in the Army upon returning to the states, you got an early discharge. If we extended our tours 67 days, we would go home and no more Army.  The alternative was to leave Vietnam as scheduled and spend seven months at a stateside Army base pulling duty until August of 1971.

Charlie and I made the decision together that we would stay in Vietnam the added days to qualify for the early out. Beedy decided to go home as scheduled in early January, 1971. He did not want to stay in country any longer than necessary. Towards the end of our original tours, Beedy received orders that he was going back to the states even earlier as part of the troop withdrawal by President Nixon, and was to leave Vietnam in early December, 1970. Charlie and I were happy for him, but we did not regret our decision.

It took a couple weeks to process out of Vietnam, and we said our goodbyes to George in late November as he left LZ Sherry for the rear. A few days later we received word at the firebase that George died in a plane crash on his way to Cam Ranh Bay to board the “Freedom Bird” back to the States. We were told his C123 flew into the side of a mountain on a foggy morning. All of us at the firebase were stunned. Here was a guy who had survived mortar, rocket and small ground attacks for 11 months only to die on a flight going home. Charlie and I often wondered whether we would have been on the same plane if we had not extended our tour in Nam. Fate!!!

George Beedy just days before his departure Photo Ed Gaydos
George Beedy just days before his departure
Photo Ed Gaydos

Twenty-one year old Specialist 4 George Beedy from Springfield, Ohio was the last boy of Battery B to die in Vietnam.

…………

S&SBy PFC DAN EVANS
S&S Staff Correspondent
CAM RANH BAY, Vietnam

Rescuers Friday found two survivors at the crash site of a U.S. Air Force C123 transport after a frustrating six- day search which saw helicopters repelled again and again by low-hanging monsoon clouds.

The men were lifted out of the jungle by an Army helicopter Saturday after lying injured without food or medical aid for nearly a week. They were among 44 persons whose fate had been uncertain since the plane disappeared Nov. 29.

Air Force S.Sgt. Vincent Fairbrother, 20, and Gary Aldredge, 22, were both tangled in the wreckage of the C123 following the crash.

“When I finally got unpinned and tried to get up I realized my left leg was broken,” Aldredge said as he waited to undergo surgery here. Fairbrother was pinned in the wreckage until the rescuers arrived Friday.

“Both Vince and I yelled and knew each other was alive. It took me two or three days to get to him. I crawled to him but couldn’t help. We stayed together for several days. Then I tried to crawl for help, I was weak and kept passing out.” Both men said they heard helicopters flying near the crash site several times, especially during the latter part of their long wait. Aldredge said he never gave up hope. “I laid up there and screamed for all I could scream,” he said. “It was a nightmare.”

“We are the only ones alive,” said Aldredge. A spokesman for the U.S. Command in Saigon reported Sunday that search teams had not accounted for all of the 44 persons aboard the plane.

The plane encountered heavy turbulence just before the crash, Aldredge said. “I realized it was going to happen, I don’t know why but I knew.” He said.

“The only thing I had to drink was rain water I got by laying my handkerchief on my chest,” he said. “1 chewed the handkerchief dry and then laid it on my chest again,” he, said. “I guess the only water Vince got was dripped in his mouth from the rain.”

The rescue team was lowered into the jungle some distance from the crash site by an HH53 helicopter, according to sources here. The team consisted of about, five Americans and 10 Vietnamese, Aldredge said.

When the team arrived late Friday afternoon, Aldredge said the first man he saw was a Vietnamese carrying a rifle., *’My imagination, started playing tricks on me,” he said. He said he first feared the man was a Viet Cong.

The two men were carried up the side of the mountain and had to wait nearly 24 hours to be airlifted out due to bad weather.

Doctors here said Aldredge suffered a broken left leg and abrasions while Fairbrother received leg injuries and infections of a hand and foot, both men were in satisfactory condition physicians said.

…………

Short Timers

The last couple of months were routine at LZ Sherry: the usual daily fire missions in support of the infantry, all of them South Vietnamese forces at this point, and the mortar attacks at night. Funny how you got to calling mortar attacks routine when they came two and three a week for most of your tour. However two stick in my memory as not routine at all. When I was still out on Gun 6 I was coming out of my hooch toward the gun when a mortar landed just outside the gun parapet, and I could hear the whistle from shrapnel going by my head. It felt like a close encounter, but you never really knew. It certainly felt very, very close. Then late in my tour I was walking at night from FDC back to my bunker adjacent to Little Doc’s hooch on the south perimeter. I had just passed Little Doc’s bunker and WHAM, a rocket exploded where I had just passed.

Charlie and I enjoyed being short timers and the veterans on the base. During this period we were promoted to Specialist 5thClass (E-5). March arrived and we received our orders to report to battalion headquarters at Phan Rang to begin processing out of Vietnam. We took a Huey helicopter from the firebase to Phan Rang and rode on a convoy from there to Cam Ranh Bay. No way were we taking a C123. Within a few days Charlie and I boarded the Freedom Bird in Cam Ranh for our trip back to the states. We made a stop in Tokyo and then flew non-stop for 13 hours to Tacoma Air Force Base just outside Seattle, Washington.

View of Mt. Fuji flying home
View of Mt. Fuji flying home

We mustered out of the Army at Fort Lewis. The process took a few days and on March 17, 1971 I headed home to start my next chapter in life. Two months home on June 5 Linda and I got married.

Paul Stagg – Gun Crew / FDC – Part Four

The Missing Gun

I mentioned that the battery fired all five guns at the enemy battalion, but my old gun was designated Gun 6. The reason is because there was not a Gun 3 any longer. One night well before I arrived Gun 3 took a direct mortar hit that killed or injured the entire crew. The gun was so damaged it was taken out of service, and when it was replaced it went on loan to LZ Sandy, a sister heavy artillery battery to our north. The gun was used to shoot illumination and nighttime H&I, random perimeter harassment and interdiction fire.

Corporal Howard Pyle, age 20, died on Gun 3 August 12, 1969 in a late night mortar attack that also injured the rest of the crew. Earlier that day on Gun 2 in the small hours of the morning Theodus Stanley, age 21, died in a mortar attack that also severely injured crew chief Rik Groves and Paul Dunne. Paul would die three months later from a road mine.

Gun 3 came back to Sherry midway in my tour but did not go into its old parapet. That had become a kind of sacred ground and never held another gun.

Unwanted Visitor

One night in FDC there was a fire mission, and we had to use all of the guns to complete the fire mission. As we sent the adjustment data to the guns, my old Gun 6 called in and said the gun was out of commission. This was a very unusual circumstance, and the FDC officer wanted to know what in the hell was going on. The reply came back from Gun 6 that there was a cobra in the ammo bunker, and no one wanted to go into the bunker; and they certainly did not want to fire a rifle at the snake because of the shells. They tried to find the snake the next day but were unsuccessful. That crew was apprehensive about entering the bunker for some time.

Snakes were often on the firebase, especially during monsoon season because our firebase was slightly elevated above surrounding rice paddies and had drier ground. The two most common snakes were cobras and the banded krait, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. Usually they did not survive long.

Banded Krait
Banded Krait

Party Hooch

Charlie Snider and I became really good friends and decided to build our own hooch and bunk together. This process took several weeks with help from the FDC crew and others. We mixed concrete for our floor slab and we used empty artillery ammo crates filled with sand bags to form up the walls. Our roof was interlocking sheets of metal used to make landing strips for helicopters and planes. We layered two rows of interlocking sand bags on the roof, topped off with a canvas tarp to keep the rain out. The exterior walls were a single row ofinterlocking sand bags. Counting the bags inside the ammo crates, the exterior walls and the roof, the number was around 1500. Charlie and I thought we had the best hooch on the firebase, and we bunked together the remainder of our time on LZ Sherry. Our hooch became the holiday party bunker.

Party Hooch
Party Hooch

Jeff Davis

I was in FDC at the time of the mortar attack that killed Jeff Davis on Gun 2 right outside the FDC bunker (where Theodus Stanley died just eight months earlier). A tower guard heard the WUMP WUMP of mortar rounds leaving their tubes, and then the warning siren went off and we heard the WHAM. Everyone was responding on the guns, and when it got quiet I heard there were injuries on Gun 2. I went out to see if I could help. When I got there Davis was lying in the bunker. He had severe head wounds and upper chest wounds around the neck. There was a new medic there, a tall, lanky guy with glasses. He had just come in to replace Big Doc who was nearing the end of his six-month field assignment. Doc was giving Davis mouth to mouth, trying to get some air into him because he was bleeding profusely from the mouth and face. The new medic was trying to get an IV in and was not being very successful. His hands were shaking, and he was very nervous. Meanwhile I was assisting another crewman who was peppered with shrapnel over his back, I suspect because he was not wearing his flak jacket. He was just standing around and looking in shock. He was walking wounded. The new medic was having such a hard time with the IV on Davis I asked Doc if he wanted me to try an IV in the other arm. He shook his head, paused CPR, and inserted the IV needle himself. A Medevac was on the way and when it arrived we loaded both crewman. Jeff Davis was still alive when he left the firebase. Later in FDC we heard that Jeff died on the way to Cam Ranh.

Big Doc earned a Bronze Star for his efforts that night (well deserved) and so did the new medic (go figure). It wasn’t long before the new medic rotated back to the rear. I do not know if it was because of his difficulty in this incident or they thought it best for him to spend some time in the rear first before he went back out to the field. His replacement came in to work with Big Doc, and he became known to us as Little Doc because they looked like Mutt and Jeff when they stood beside each other.

Little Doc Mason
Little Doc Mason

Agent Orange

I got to know Jeff when I was still on Gun 6.  He was in charge of tightening up the tangle-foot barbed wire around our perimeter and spraying herbicide to keep the vegetation down. I was the new guy assigned to him and spent a week with him out on the berm. He was very easy-going and relaxed, made me feel comfortable. I got to know him well enough to be sad when he died.

Later I found out the herbicide we sprayed was Agent Orange. I have battled two health conditions for the past ten years I believe are due to exposure to this chemical. One is trigeminal neuralgia which is a severe nerve issue on the right side of my face. I have had two gamma knife procedures to alleviate intense, shooting nerve pain. The procedures helped, but numbness and a tingling burning sensation may continue for years. The other is inclusion body myositis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the muscle cells and causes a slow, progressive and incurable muscle weakness. The treatment plan is to medicate with immunosuppressants that hopefully will slow its progression. Neither of these conditions does the VA recognize as related to Agent Orange. Therefore my first contact with the VA was discouraging and I said to hell with it!

Herbicide came to Sherry in 55-gallon drums in highly concentrated form with instructions to dilute 1:50. Crews at Sherry typically ignored the dilution instructions and took the chemical directly from the barrel, using hand sprayers or a jerry-rig sprayer attached directly to the barrel. They likewise ignored guidelines to spray only in low wind conditions and never after 10:00 AM.

Paul Stagg – Gun Crew / FDC – Part Three

Pack Extra Pants

My flight experiences in country were more exciting than I wanted them to be. I am still new in country flying on a C123 cargo plane going from Phan Rang to Phan Thiet. Just after takeoff there is a huge bang, and the plane veers immediately to the left. Change my pants! Something is wrong with the left engine. I don’t know exactly what is happening, but the pilot reengages the turbo boosters I’m guessing. We finally level out and return to the airbase.

Another thrill comes on a trip on a Huey helicopter from the LZ to Phan Rang. We are approaching the airbase for a landing, but the pilot is having trouble bringing the chopper down because of a hydraulic issue. The crew chief yells for us to hold on tight as the pilot initiates the autorotation procedure.  I am not sure what is happening, but the rotors are slowing down and I cannot hear the engine, neither of which are good. We hit the runway with several bounces, and the chopper finally stops in an upright position on the tarmac. Change my pants again!!

The thrills just keep on coming. I am returning from Phan Rang on a Chinook helicopter after a three-day pass.  The Chinook is flying at a low altitude when suddenly there are pinging noises and holes appearing in the floor. The crew chief yells into his headset and the chopper gains altitude quickly. Change my pants again!!! I ride the rest of the trip to Sherry sitting on my flak jacket and steel pot.

After all this I decide not to leave the firebase until my final ride home, even not going on R&R.

Swede

Excerpt from Seven In A Jeep by Ed Gaydos

For the moment Swede was a corporal. Over a 12-year career he had been up and down the enlisted ranks, working his way up to sergeant and in a single act getting busted down to private. Just before deployment to Vietnam he slugged a staff sergeant, whom Swede insisted had it coming. Now he was on the rise again, having worked his way back up to corporal. Swede gave no thought to regulations, and he worried even less about getting caught. 

He was a huge guy with a shock of blonde hair. Two large front teeth came out when he smiled, the dental work of a rabbit mounted in the head of a water buffalo. He was a simple guy who laughed with his whole body and was quick with his fists. Swede spent his evenings drinking and playing poker. He told me the reason getting busted never bothered him was that he made more money at cards than he ever earned in military pay.

I played poker with the Swede and I was one of the few who came away from the table with some money in my pocket. He played a lot of hi-low games, which are split the pot games where you can have two winners. I would always try to go the opposite way that the Swede went, unless I had a pat hand. I came out one night with close to 200 bucks. That money lasted me a long time. I played with him a few more times and then I decided I wasn’t going to stretch my luck and I just walked away. He kept getting after me to play again so he could win the money back.

I remember going on a convoy to Phan Thiet with the Swede. He’s inside a brothel on a bad street, and I’m the new guy guarding the jeep outside with my M16 and ammo looking all around to make sure nobody’s coming up on me.

FDC

After just a couple of months I was summoned to the fire direction center (FDC) along with Charlie Snider from Gun 2. I knew Charlie from artillery training at Ft. Sill. We came in country together and ended up together at Sherry.

Lieutenant Anstett, the fire direction officer, said he was assigning us to FDC. He said he was short of fire direction crewmen, and after reviewing all the personnel files he wanted me and Charlie. In high school I took algebra, plane geometry, solid geometry, trigonometry and calculus. I did not take any higher math courses in college because college math was a breeze after all of that. And I have always scored high on aptitude tests, the college SAT for example. I assumed it was the same kind of thing with Charlie’s personnel records.

Charlie and Paul in FDC Picture by Bob Christenson
Charlie and Paul in FDC
Picture by Bob Christenson

I don’t know about Charlie, but I did not want to go to FDC because it had a reputation of being snobbish, and the guys thinking they were better than others. They were mostly college graduates and did not associate with gun crew members at all. They were in their own little world. We told the lieutenant that we preferred to stay on our guns. He immediately informed us that we didn’t have a choice and for Charlie and me to get our gear and report to FDC.

We had to leave our gun bunkers and relocate into bunkers assigned to FDC. As soon as we stored our gear we went into FDC to meet the guys there.  The only names I remember out of everyone were Mac, Fred, Kim Martin, and Mike Leino. Mac and Fred were short timers we were replacing, and they did our training. We learned all the duties in FDC by progression, slowly but surely. The first thing we learned was how to handle the three radios: the call signs, radio codes, the correct radio language, the radio alphabet and how to handle fire missions. There were two crews manning the FDC bunker 24 hours a day. Each crew worked 12 hours on and 12 off. Every two weeks the crews shifted between day and night shifts. Just as you were getting adjusted to days or nights, you had to shift.

All fire missions came in by radio from the tactical operations center in Phan Thiet.From this location we received the type of mission and target map coordinates. After this information was received, a gun or several guns were alerted to the upcoming fire mission. With this information we were taught how to plot this data.

FDC Radio Jockey
FDC Radio Jockey

There were two tables, each with a large grid map of the surrounding area with the firebase located in the center. One table contained the primary chart and the other the backup chart for a double check system. Each table was manned and as the target data came in it was plotted on the two charts. From this each plotter would determine the powder charge (1-7), direction or azimuth, and distance or range of the target from the battery. Once ready, the person on the primary chart would call out the data to the person at the computation tables. The person on the second chart would yell check if he agreed. If not, you would have to start all over again until each person had the same data. There were also two computation tables for a double check system. The two men at the computation tables would compute the firing settings for the guns using specialty slide rulers and charts. Again, there was a primary table and a backup table to double check the information. The person at the primary table controlled the guns by calling out the necessary adjustment data via the battery radio system: type of shell, type of fuse, powder charge, direction, elevation, and firing sequence.

Tools of the Trade
Tools of the Trade

The FDC officer oversaw all the operations and, when the guns were ready, issued the fire command, which was relayed to the guns by the primary computation person. I performed each of these duties at any given time during my tour in the FDC. I have to admit that I found this assignment challenging, interesting and satisfying.

B Battery had 105 mm howitzers, the lightest and most responsive of the artillery arsenal in Vietnam. The gun crews and FDC at Sherry were a well-oiled operation, capable of putting rounds in the air two minutes from the initial call for fire. It was no wonder the men in the field preferred calling for help from LZ Sherry when they had a choice of firebases.

It is completely in character that Paul found a home in FDC as one of its core professionals, he was always accurate and blinding fast. Charlie too became an anchor within the FDC operation, possessing an almost supernatural feel for the equipment, tools and electrical machinery essential to the operation.

Fire Direction Control had the reputation of being the most difficult of the military specialties. Its training schools were highly selective, and even then experienced a significant drop out rate. Paul and Charlie, pulled without ceremony from their guns, learned through immersion by way of their innate capacities and a conspicuous pride in doing a good job.

Night and day we fired on targets for the South Vietnam Army and American forces in our area of operation, a seven mile radius around the firebase. Fire missions were too numerous to recall but there is one that I vividly remember. We were aware through intelligence reports that an enemy battalion of around 600 troops was operating near our firebase. We were a total of about 120 men at full strength, and we were rarely at full strength. We went on high alert for a possible ground attack, which if it came would be at night beginning with a mortar attack. One day a forward observer in a spotter plane caught the battalion in the open and called in the coordinates. In the FDC we immediately alerted the full battery and within minutes were ready to fire. One gun fired a marking illumination round and when the FO indicated we were on target the full battery unloaded under a FIRE FOR EFFECT command, all five guns firing as fast as they could until told to stop. As we fired, the FO made minor adjustments, which we computed and sent to the guns. Finally the END MISSION command came. The FO surveyed the area and indicated there were a great many casualties he could see on the ground. The entire battery was quite charged up. Later, the intelligence report revealed the battalion had moved out of our area. I especially remember the relief we all felt on this particular occasion, and I am reminded of the constant anxiety we lived under of being attacked by an overwhelming ground force.