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.

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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.

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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.