John Munnelly – The Father of the 5th – Part One

The Boys of Battery B

John Munnelly

Part One

Lt. Colonel John Munnelly
Lt. Colonel John Munnelly

In a recent email Colonel Munnelly commented on the above photo. 

The 5/27 existed in rather primitive conditions. One day I saw a photo shop adjacent to the dirt road I was on. I went in and took this photo. I’m surprised at how clean I was that day. When I was a second lieutenant I was labeled “that baby faced lieutenant.” I was 37 years old when the photo was taken. As I look at it now I see a youthful looking lieutenant colonel.

The 5th Battalion, home of B Battery, was in terrible shape when Lt. Colonel John Munnelly arrived in September of 1966 to take command.

He was no stranger to combat, having been one of the first to set foot in Korea in 1950, leading an engineering platoon all the way up to Pyongyang in the north, surviving 40 below temperatures and frozen C rations that had to be strapped to truck radiators to thaw, facing the entry of the Chinese into the war and leading his men south in retreat as part of a demoralized army, blowing up airfields as he went, and finally under General Ridgway turning and beating back the enemy to the 38th parallel. This hardened veteran was just what the 5th Battalion needed.

He lived among his troops. “People used to ask me were my headquarters was. I would tell them it’s where I drop my helmet at night.” He pauses for a moment and says, “I’m proud of that.”

If Ernie Dublisky was the father B Battery, John Munnelly must carry the distinction of the father of the 5th Battalion.

A nagging problem when I took command was that most of the troops were deployed to Vietnam without jungle fatigues. They were in rags, stateside fatigue uniforms. I had guys with shoes that were almost falling apart. Boots – leather boots – no jungle boots. Their stateside fatigues were in rags. Ragged uniforms, unsuitable to the tropics led to indifferent duties and poor mission performance. Things had to change.

Before taking command I had written to the previous battalion commander and asked, “What’s your biggest problem?” I’m thinking ammo, I’m thinking gunnery, I’m thinking met data. I’m thinking survey. He wrote back his biggest problem was no ice. I was taken aback by that. The former commander rotated back to the states before my arrival. I came to realize the problem was he had neglected the battalion. When I arrived and took command It was so bad, my guys are running around with worn out fatigues, and worn out leather boots in Vietnam.

Normal channels were too slow or did not work. Our needs were urgent. It got so bad I decided to   take drastic measures. I had to get new uniforms, boots and other clothing for our guys. So I found the best NCO scrounger I could find, assigned him with two other notorious scroungers, a truck and sent the team down to Cam Rahn Bay. They were given a list of our most urgent needs. I told them, “Come back with our stuff. Keep me informed.” They delivered our critical needs and more. After that I kept a permanent detachment at Cam Rahn Bay. They became very resourceful using a clip board and requisitions, going warehouse to warehouse getting what we wanted. They knew their way around and acted like they belonged there. It worked and continued to produce results for the battalion during my time in command.

So my first task there was getting the guys into decent uniforms – and also getting sandbags. It took 25,000 sandbags to adequately prepare a battery. My motto was that had to be done the first day we occupied a position. We were constantly packing sandbags and building revetments. And I insisted our men be dug-in or having sandbag protection at night.

The first visit I made as battalion commander was to B Battery. One occasion stands out in memory. B Battery was on a hillside, on a ridge, just west of Tuy Hoa. It was a barren place. I remember a lot of dust. There was an engineering company spread out on the lower part of the ridge. They would go out and do 12 hours of work and come back and they slept on top of the ground. Our guys were covered. During a mortar attack the adjacent engineer unit took casualties and we didn’t. There was that much difference. I think my people appreciated positive changes. They were very good filling sandbags, building revetments, and organizing defensive and personal positions around our guns to protect the battery. We moved frequently, Soldiers like to complain but our guys willingly did what was needed to secure each position we occupied. We insisted on protection first.

Back in Tuy Hoa at battalion headquarters there was a softball game going on. And I’m wondering, Softball? Aren’t we in a war here? There was a lot of cheering and the ball game is proceeding under combat rules, meaning no rules at all. I’m listening to my radio and I hear, “Fire mission, fire mission, got ‘em on the run now, add 50, fire for effect.”  I’m thinking, Wait a minute, this is going on and I’m at a softball tournament here. The fire mission is more important. I couldn’t believe it. B Battery was fighting the war and the rest of the battalion was not. Well without hurting anybody’s feelings, that was the last ball game we had at battalion, because now we started fighting the war and everybody’s involved in fighting the war, not softball. B Battery was doing its job. Everybody else is indifferent, had nothing to do with them. That had to change.

I went out to B Battery and walked in on Dublisky, the battery commander. I was newly in command. I was accustomed to young captains. Ernie was a seasoned officer, experienced with impressive command presence. I thought, “How come you’re still a captain . . . captain?” He proved to be a leader who inspired confidence, a master artilleryman who made mission accomplishment look easy when it was not. He wasn’t spit and polish. He was a guy who said, Let’s get the job done. Rounds on target in two minutes anytime day or night was his mantra. And 25,000 sandbags (the number needed to protect an artillery battery), get my guys taken care of.

Your kind of guy.

My kind of guy! Completely. We talked the same language.

Ernie was B Battery commander for three months when I arrived. At that time he was kind of old to be a captain. He’d been badly handled in the past and not allowed to really spread his wings as a leader, which he really was an effective one. Ernie had the capability. I think he had limitless possibility in the service. But he was a reserve officer, he was not regular army. Only two officers in the battalion were Regular Army Officers. Ernie had been passed over for major. He earned an outstanding efficiency evaluation. I gave him a blisteringly favorable efficiency report which got him promoted to major, and he went on to make lieutenant colonel as well.

Ernie gave B Battery the name of the Bravo Bulls.

Yeah he did. That stuck, did it?

B Battery was so good it did not take a lot of our time. I spent my time where there were problems. Other attached batteries, One-Five-Five Howitzer, eight-inch and 175 caliber batteries needed my attention.  I did not have to worry about B battery. They were going to do everything right. I’m glad I thought of that, because it’s true. I had a lot of problems, but B Battery was not one of them.

Dublisky was responsible for setting the pace at B Battery. And it continued on.