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.