Ron Walker – Gun Crew – Part Two

August 12, 1969

That summer we got mortared not only at night but during the daytime too. It was just raining 81s on us (81 mm mortars). It was on Gun 3 and late at night when Pyle got killed. Two Medevac helicopters come in. We was there loading the wounded, and I was one of the guys on the stretcher carrying Pyle. He was dead before he went out. A real good friend of Pyle’s, Mulvihill was his name, he took it real bad I remember. The whole gun crew was wounded. A friend of mine I came in country with, his name was Ruben Wagner, he was wounded. He had a flak jacket on, but I remember he got wounded in the spine right below his flak jacket. He was a big guy and he must have had a small flak jacket.

In addition to Gun 3, early that morning at 1:30 AM Gun 2 also took a mortar hit. It killed Theodus Stanley and wounded two: crew chief Rik Groves and Paul Dunne. First lieutenant Hank Parker, soon to become battery commander, describes the state of affairs following the August 12 attacks.

“Now we are dangerously shorthanded at LZ Sherry. We lost ten men on August 12. That on top of the losses from the pounding we’d taken during July and early August. So out of a full strength battery of six guns and 120 guys, we’re down to five guns and 67 guys at Sherry. A full gun crew is eight guys, and we are struggling to find four for a gun.”

We had a couple of real good medics that saved a lot of lives. The medics always took good care of the wounded and got them on to Medevac’s. Especially that night. I think most of the guys wounded on that night recovered and came back, because a couple of them ended up on Gun 6. I remember because the next day or two they moved a bunch of guys around and took me from Commo onto Gun 6.

Humping ammo with Willie Wheat (on right) – Gun 6
Humping ammo on Gun 6 with Willie Wheat

Rik Groves had just thirty-two days left on his tour when he was wounded. After  recuperation he managed a brief, bittersweet visit back to Sherry but did not return to duty.  Paul Dunne did return.

Death of Paul Dunne

They were asking for volunteers to go on a mine sweep, and I guess I volunteered. We were slated to do the mine sweep and then go all the way into town with the convoy. There was a new Commo sergeant who was in charge of the mine sweep. He was the one who had the metal detector. I remember him sweeping all the way up to the bridge. The jeep stopped in the middle of the bridge and everybody got off. It might have been a C4 (plastic explosive) mine planted there, because he did not pick up anything. The sergeant gave the all clear and then we all piled back on the jeep. I went to the left front bumper and I set there on the front of the jeep. Something told me to turn around and look, maybe it was divine intervention, and when I turned around nobody was sitting in the passenger seat next to Dunne who was driving. I got off the front, went and sat down in the passenger seat. Jim Kustes he was on the back of the jeep, he went up there and took my spot.

The jeep began to move, and just as we got off the edge of the bridge we hit the mine. My eyes went black and my ears was ringing so bad from the explosion. After I come to my senses I somehow stumbled around on the other side of the jeep and I seen Paul laying there. I seen his jugular was cut. The first thing I did was put my hands down over his neck. It was just gushing out so bad. Then the Commo sergeant, he run up to where Paul was at. He always had this green towel around his neck. He took the towel off and pressed it down on Paul’s neck.

I stood up and then I heard Kustes hollering for help. Maybe twenty feet away I seen him laying in the creek down there off the side of the road. There was water in the creek up to his chest. I ran down and pulled him out of the creek. The first thing I noticed around his thumb area, I cannot remember which hand, it was peeled back pretty good. And there was a big hole in his leg. From those first aid pouches they gave you that I had on me I bandaged him up as best I could and gave him a shot of morphine. I said to him, “Well, it looks like you got a ticket home.” I wish I had not said that because he said back to me, “Oh don’t tell me that.”

We did not have a medic with us.

After Kustes and Dunne were Medevac’d out, they were the only two wounded as I remember, we went back to Sherry. They pulled the jeep back to Sherry and if you look at pictures of that jeep it did not have a windshield.

Picture by Andy Kach
Picture by Andy Kach

I do not know why they took them off. I think a part of the hood is what cut Dunne’s throat. If there had been a windshield on that jeep he might be alive today. It was just an inch or two on his jugular that was cut. I do not know if his lower body was injured, it probably was. But I am almost a hundred percent sure he died because he bled out from his jugular.

My ears rang for three days is all that happened to me. I was fortunate.

The Medals Were Purple

I came into Sherry in April 1969 as a PFC (E3). In December a bunch of us got promoted to corporal (E4) all because of one guy. His name was Cleaton, the guy who carried an M-79 grenade launcher out on that perimeter sweep with Parker. So many guys out on the guns were PFCs. If you were a gunner you were supposed to be an E5 sergeant. An assistant gunner was supposed to be a corporal. I was a gunner, I was an assistant gunner, I was a loader, but still a PFC. And I was not the only one. Cleaton was always bitching about not getting promoted. He said, “What do we got to do around here to get promoted? We do everything these people ask us to do. We run out in the middle of the night getting rained on by mortars, we return fire, we do our jobs.”

A colonel was coming in one day. I remember we were sitting around playing cards. Cleaton was good at cards, he always took our money. He said, “I’m fixing to either get promoted our I’m going to be court-martialed.”

I said, “What are you talking about?”

“When that colonel comes I am going to march down to his hooch and have it out with him about getting promoted.”

And he did. I do not know what he said to that colonel but it was not long after that all the PFCs who had been at Sherry for a certain amount of time got promoted to corporal.

Besides promotions there was a bunch of guys deserving of Bronze Stars and probably even Silver Stars. I was put in for an Army Commendation medal, but I never got it. We would get out on our guns to return fire with mortars still coming in. There should have been a lot more medals awarded. Instead we got Purple Hearts. I got mine on September 6 from mortar shrapnel. I caught a little bit on the knee and shoulder. It was not bad enough to get Medevac’d out. I was fortunate again.

Things You Thought You Forgot

Bacon Sandwiches and Cigarettes

The mess hall always had good, hot food. I especially remember the bacon sandwiches in the morning. A couple of kids worked in the mess hall and lived on base, a girl named Cindy and a boy we called Slick. They got caught one day in Phan Thiet selling black market cigarettes, which they probably got from those SP packs we would get every ten days. (Sundries Packs contained writing paper, envelopes, pens, foot powder, toothbrushes and paste, candy, chewing gum, and cartons of cigarettes.) The mess sergeant, a great cook but not a great guy, was in charge of dispensing the SP boxes. When Cindy and Slick got caught I think he got into some kind of trouble right along with them.

B-52 Alarm Clock

Bet some of the guys still remember getting rolled out bed one morning from a B-52 bombing mission on the mountains west of us. All you could see was smoke and dust. The ground shook like an earthquake.

Aiming To Please

I remember a fire mission one night when we had three guns firing a perimeter defense for a squad of a Army Rangers surrounded by the NVA. We fired all night long around their perimeter. For some reason they did not call in choppers, probably because it was too dangerous at night. The next morning here comes a dozen tired and lucky bunch of guys walking into Sherry. I don’t think they had anyone wounded. We fed them, helped them get some much needed rest, and that afternoon a couple of choppers picked them up. All courtesy of B Battery.

More Important Than Donuts

I remember the Doughnut Dollies that came out to cheer us up.

American Red Cross “Donut Dollies” were young, college-degreed women who spent a one-year tour in Vietnam as morale boosters for American troops. They traveled to front-line landing zones and base camps to bring games, snacks and a touch of home to soldiers.

ARC volunteer in the mess hall at Sherry Picture by Andy Kach
ARC volunteer in the mess hall at Sherry
Picture by Andy Kach

The only ones to get any personal attention from the Donut Dollies were the First Sergeant and the officers. I never actually talked with one of them. And never did anyone from Sherry go see a USO show with Bob Hope. Seems we were forgotten in many ways. But thanks to our memories from that far away place we can always say, “I served at LZ Sherry.”