Monthly Archives: October 2013

Peter Antonicelli – Jeep Driver for Lt. Colonel Munnelly

The Boys of Battery B

Peter Antonicelli

Peter In His Jeep
Peter In His Jeep

He was not trained to drive a jeep. At Ft. Sill he was about to enter Officer Candidacy School but dropped out, because it was  “full of college fraternity types.” He went instead to the fire direction course.

On the phone he is quick-witted and articulate, speaking in finished sentences and polished paragraphs, enhanced by the sharp edges of a Long-giland accent. Yet he says of himself, “My entire life I’ve always been a quiet guy. If there’s a group of guys I’ll stay on the fringes of the group and add a little or just observe. I don’t dive in by the bar. That’s just not me.”

Colonel Munnelly said of him, “Peter and I talked a lot in the jeep. He and I shared some pretty hairy moments together. I got along with him real well, and he would tell me things that nobody would tell me.”


When I first got to Vietnam and assigned to the 27th Field Artillery, I was one of the guys assigned to headquarters battery. I was a PFC at the time, taking line item reports, doing ammo resupply, etc. I did not care for that too much.

The tent that I was in had this guy who was the colonel’s driver, just a coincidence. This guy was always talking, “Me and the colonel did this, me and the colonel did that.” I did not even know who the colonel was. I never saw him, did not know his name, didn’t know anything about him.

This guy was a little bit of a character. From Florida. One night he and somebody else got the colonel’s jeep by telling someone in the motor pool that the colonel wanted the jeep. He wanted to go into town and get some boom-boom. He was drunk at the time and the other guy was drunk. On the way to town they ran off the road into a drainage ditch by rice paddies. The jeep was wrecked and they could not get it out of the ditch. They got on the horn and said they were out with the colonel and under enemy attack. They gave a half-ass location, not a map coordinate but a spot along the road outside the gate.

Ernie Dublisky was running the service battery at battalion and remembers the incident. “Over the radio it really sounded like he was under attack. Colonel Munnelly told me to gather a group of guys and a couple of gunned vehicles and go get him. When we got there it was apparent the guy was drunk and had put people in danger. Going out into the boonies at night was dangerous and it took guts … all over a goddamn drunk. We were pissed and I started to beat the crap out of the guy. My jeep driver, Spec 4 Krieger, pulled me off and said, ‘Officers aren’t supposed to do this sort of thing. Let us take care of it.’ I said, ‘OK.’ Then they beat the crap out of him.”

Soon the guy was brought back into our hooch. The colonel came in, which was the first time I ever saw him, and read the guy the riot act.

Reflecting on the incident today, Col. Munnelly says “The radio net was monitored by the command net of our supported 4th Infantry Division. It was enormously embarrassing.” Then he says simply, “Somehow the perpetrator got rouged up. Courts-martial charges ensued.”

A couple days later the sergeant major approached me and asked if I wanted to drive the colonel. I did not know anything about the job, but you have a certain amount of restlessness and you want a little change of pace from just going all day between your hooch and operations tents.

When he asked if I wanted to drive for the colonel I said, “Why me?”

He indicated that the colonel wanted someone with an education. Not that I’m a rocket scientist, but they went through the records and I might have been the only guy with over six months to go who had graduated from college.

I drove for him from the middle of April ‘67 – I had been there about a month or so – until he left in August of ’67. Most of the time it was just the two of us in the jeep. We had the two radios in the back with two whip antennas. We had our subdued insignia on, but who cares whether it’s subdued or not, you’re an important guy in this jeep. This isn’t a laundry run with two whip antennas on it. People observing would know this is someone important driving up the highway now, let’s do something about it.

One time we took a ride up to Qui Nhan which was where B battery was at the time. It was a long haul, because headquarters was in Tuy Hoa. We took highway 1 up to Tuy Hoa, just the two of us. We visited A battery along the way, and another battery between Tuy Hoa and Song Cao, an 8 inch unit of the 6/32nd or 6/36th, that was attached to us, and then on up to Qui Nhan.

It was quite a ride up to B battery. B battery had the high ground and the guns were spread out a bit. From there it looked down on the whole area of fire. It was not a flat ride, the elevation shot up quite a bit after Song Cao. I don’t want to say it was in the middle of nowhere, but a lot of the time you felt vulnerable. You always wanted to know where you were and who could support you if you were fired upon or you had to call in choppers or artillery support. I used to think of it as a ride through the pretty country, a nice pleasant day, nobody bothering me. But the highway was interdicted, you’d see holes in the highway where you’d have to almost stop to negotiate them, and you’d think I might be in somebody’s sights right now, I’m gonna die in however long it takes for the round to hit me in the head, that’s how much time I have. You just scrunch down a little bit, say your three Hail Mary’s and just keep on going. Nothing happened, but the colonel said to me at the end, “How many command detonated mines you think we ran over that did not detonate?” There had to be some. Some Vietnamese guy must have said, “Oh shit,” because a wire came loose as we just drove over it.

I felt very fortunate. I was a young guy, I didn’t know any better, you’re drafted, you go through basic and AIT. No other training and you ship out and you go someplace and you’re with a bunch of soldiers, some your age, some enlisted, some you like and some you don’t like. I was with a lot of guys from the south. I have an Italian last name and I’m from New York, so in the culture wars I was automatically the enemy. I was not a yahoo like a bunch of people. I had a different demeanor about me than some of the fellas I was with. So it was a nice experience for me to hook up with somebody like the colonel because he was a very decent man, very down to earth, approachable. I was a great thing for me.

I don’t know what the conditions of the battalion were prior to me getting there, but I remember one time when I started driving for him he was having a command inspection in one of the firing batteries. I thought to myself, a command inspection, that’s something you do in basic training or AIT; why are you doing it in the middle of a combat zone where they have to lay out their boots and uniforms. I thought it was penny ante. Of course I didn’t say that. I might have asked him coming back, “How come you did that? Doesn’t that detract from readiness when everybody’s spending time doing this?”

He said that the situation that he saw when he first got there was people with ragged boots, ripped uniforms. And people were not doing their jobs. He was the battalion commander with the responsibility to make sure that people are well fed, that they have uniforms, boots, the tents don’t have rain coming in and you got your canteen, your pistol belt, and all the other stuff and you shouldn’t look like a homeless man because you’re out in the field. He addressed himself to that and whatever people needed to be effective they got.

My initial thing was that it looked like harassment and penny ante, but it wasn’t. He had the mature mindset, he had been through this before, and he knew what it was like in the field with bad equipment, and he didn’t like his soldiers being taken care of like that. He did something about it. When he explained it that way, all you could do was respect the guy.

You’re a young guy, and you think these things are automatically done. My five months of military experience up to that time there was always food in the mess hall, everybody always had a uniform, everybody had boots, and I just thought that whoever is supposed to be taking care of things, is taking care of things. But then you go into the middle of nowhere and you find out that maybe the supply sergeant isn’t doing it, the colonel isn’t addressing himself to the men, who knows what it is? It was broken and he fixed it.

He said to me when he was leaving, “What do you want to do when I’m gone?”

I said, “Maybe I’ll drive for your replacement.”

He said, “You might not like doing that because you are used to working with one person and you are going to be working with someone else. Sometimes it’s not a good mix. The Army spent a lot of money training you to do FDC work. If it does not work out driving for the new colonel, why don’t you go out to a firing battery and do what you were trained to do?” He was very serious, looked me in the eye. That weighed with me

I did not know what he was talking about until I started driving for the second person. I did not care for his style. I felt like I was his valet. I thought, I’m in a combat zone, but more like a chauffer. I drove for the new guy maybe a week or so and then I went to the sergeant major and said maybe I should go out to a firing batter. They said OK and checked around. I went down to Nha Trang and became the chief of a two gun crew. It was the special forces headquarters, and we shot for the special forces teams that were in that area. The guys on the guns would rotate from the 5th battalion firing batteries to my crew in Nha Trang because it had more creature comforts.

When I drove for Colonel Munnelly he and I would saddle up and we’d sometimes have a guy with an M60 machinegun for extra security. But a lot of the time it was just the two of us. We’d go out into the field a lot. He liked to see things from the ground and I got to see a little bit of the country. It was good for me. I really liked him a lot.

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

The Boys of Battery B

John Munnelly

Part Two

Fire Mission Courtesy Joe Mullins
Fire Mission
Courtesy Joe Mullins


I shake hands with Colonel John Munnelly at his front door in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We figure out that we met at the last regimental reunion but never talked. The colonel and I retreat to his office on the lower level. The walls are filled with awards, citations, diplomas and photos from 33 years of active military service and three command positions in two wars.

He pulls out the field maps he used in Vietnam. Unfolded they cover half his desk. At 84 he can still point out the locations of artillery bases and areas of combat operations. As of old he measures distances on the map with the spread between his thumb and pinkie finger, marking the range of a 105 mm howitzer, which was about 7 miles.

He warms easily to the conversation, his voice taking on a forward-march cadence. He picks up his narrative less than two weeks in Vietnam.

October, 1965. When I assumed command of the 5th Battalion we were attached to the First Brigade, 101st Airborne Infantry Division under the First Field Forces. As a parachutist I knew most of the 101st commanders, especially my good friend Lieutenant Colonel Bill Madden. At that time my 5th Battalion was largely independent, no one looked over our shoulder. I knew what needed to be done, and I did it. I dealt with the threat.

The First Field Forces, commanded by General Linton S. Boatwright, was new in those days and had very little structure. I had only a vague idea I needed to report to them. My only experience with them was – I never told this to anybody – we were in a big firefight west of Nha Trang with B battery and an attached battery of the 3/18 artillery. I got a call, “Get you ass back here, we want to talk to you.”

So OK, “I’m busy!” Fortunately my executive officer was a guy I had gone through Command General Staff College with, Major Bill Manning. He was a great XO. He usually took care of the housekeeping. I took care of the mission.

I left Manning in charge and got into a jeep with my sergeant major and my driver, and we went back to Nha Trang, headquarters of First Field Forces. As I drove into the concern I hear my name being broadcast on the loudspeaker throughout the area. I reported to Boatwright’s executive officer. He said to me, “Colonel, you got lousy radio security.”

And I thought, We’re busy. Stuff is going on. Fire missions. We got casualties. Busy, busy, busy, busy. But I said, “Yes, sir.”

He said, ‘Straighten it out.”

“Yes, sir.”

Getting back to B Battery we’re going through hostile territory. It was TET and there was a lot of banging going on. And fireworks. And as I am going through a village this kid pulls out a pistol and points it at me. I almost gunned him down, but I didn’t. Couldn’t kill the kid. It turned out it was a toy. These things are close sometimes.

I get back to my command post, which was wherever I laid my helmet at night, and arranged that Nha Trang could never find us again on the radio. I ordered that every 20 minutes we change to a different frequency. We bounced from one frequency to another – bang, bang, bang.  As far as Nha Trang was concerned we were silent from then on.

But that didn’t change a thing regarding security. Hell, the enemy knew we were there. I did not want to curb the freedom the people had to call for help.

The 5th was a big battalion. I had the three batteries of the 5/27 and lots of attached units.  I had 155 mm, 175 mm and 8 inch howitzer batteries, and I had twin 40 mm cannon units. I had a radar attachment later on. At one time I had a battery from the 101st of 105s. I counted a total of 54 guns under my command. It was really a battalion group, but it was one battalion. Now, there was no battalion fire direction center. They were all in the batteries. It was always done that way.

For one time, once only, I had all three batteries of the 5/27 in one place. We did a fall-of-shot calibration in the South China Sea, where you coordinate each gun so that all the rounds fall on the target. From then on we were never together again. I had people in batteries that never saw a guy from another battery. Battery commanders that didn’t know the other battery commanders.

During my command B battery had six guns, and they stayed together the whole time. It went to The Crossroads area west of Tuy Hoa. It was joined there by the 3/18th with its 8 inch and 175 mm howitzers, side by side with B Battery. That was where Bobby Joe Marsh died before I arrived. I know where that happened. It happened just north of The Crossroads. (Goes to map) This was a contested area. I had a battery right there, can’t remember which one. The Crossroads was highway 6B on this map and route 1. I’ve been to The Wall twice and I’ve seen Bobby Joe Marsh. He’s Bobby Joe. I didn’t know that until I saw it on the wall. We named that base camp at Tuy Hoa Camp Marsh after him.

When I left In August of 1967 B Battery was up near Tuy Phouc northwest of Qui Nhon. I know that because the temporary president of Vietnam was visiting Qui Nhan and we were on standby to provide artillery support in case there was an attack while he was there. He was the president prior to Diem. Qui Nhon was in artillery range.

He verifies this on the map with outstretched thumb and pinkie finger.

I had people up on Chap Chai mountain near there. It commanded the whole area. You could see everything from there. I put that mountain to good use with radio relay equipment. I never lost radio contact with all of my firing batteries, to include the attached batteries, because that’s part of command. You have to be able to talk to your people.

Now most of the guys up there ended up with Purple Hearts because they were attacked almost every night. There was a time when a private first class up there controlled the fire of B battery from that mountain top because he could see the enemy and the battery had nobody out there that could see as well.

On Chop Chai Mountain Courtesy Gene Lord
On Chop Chai Mountain
Courtesy Gene Lord

One thing I liked about B battery when they were up near Tuy Phuoc is they instituted a mad minute. Every weapon in the battery would fire at once announcing our presence to anyone who wanted to attack us. Paul Marchessault was commanding B battery at that time. He continued the real fine performance of B battery while he was in command. He was offered a regular army commission was debating whether to accept it or not. I did not talk him into it or out of it. I spent a lot of time talking to him about that. He eventually decided not to accept the RA commission and went back and worked for Ross Perot and did a good job, and did alright.

I wanted to visit B Battery up at Tuy Phouc.  I normally had a helicopter, but none was available, so I said to hell with it, I’m going to drive. From Tuy Hoa it was a long reach to Tuy Phouc (70 miles by road) and a hazardous trip.

People said, “You’re nuts.”

But I had to see the battery, do the job, and the job came first. Peter Antonicelli my driver took me up, just the two of us. I didn’t think anything of it, except it made them give me a helicopter from then on.

I used to brag about this. I had a battalion that was doing a good job and we knew it because we saw the results. I used to say, “We never passed an IG inspection. Good!” We had ragged canvas on the trucks. There were bullet holes in truck windshields. That’s my windshield. Don’t change the windshield. The soldier was proud of that. It didn’t hit him. (laughs) The reflectors were cracked. Little things like that. To pass inspection we’d have to get new canvas, fix all the reflectors, get rid of the bullet holes in the windshields. I ran a battalion that put the mission first, and everything else was second.

My motto was, “You don’t have to practice being uncomfortable.” And the Army a lot of times has the men practicing being uncomfortable. Wasted effort. Why are you doing that? A guy’s got his shirt off and it’s 100 degrees outside and he’s feeding a howitzer, you’re worried about him wearing his shirt? Really? How about rounds on target within two minutes day or night?

We had this colonel who came and wants to see the mess hall. The mess hall? He could not stand the food! “You’re cooks aren’t trained properly,” he said.

You know that’s the last thing I was worried about. We had enough food. We weren’t concerned about the taste. This was his big concern. The variety wasn’t right and we didn’t have fresh fruit, or something. He was from a different planet than we were from. He was in the Army, for god sake. He was a full colonel, I was a lieutenant colonel, and he made me feel bad about the food. What are you doing about the food? Well, I wasn’t doing anything about the food. And people leave the Army thinking that’s the Army, and it’s not.

There is one other dimension I have not yet mentioned. I remained a devout Catholic. The question came up about danger. I made a deal with God. I said, It’s up to you. You decide. I’m not going to worry about it. Your decision. I go where you decide. It took away all the fear. I never worried about anything after that.

Except once. About a week before I left I am taking a survey team that is map making and I take them to a peak with a bunch of ARVN soldiers. There was only one flat place to land and we landed there. I got out of the helicopter and looked up and there are all these guys yelling and waving their arms. The message finally gets to me, this place is mined. And I’m standing there. I tiptoed back to the jeep, got to the helicopter, got up and put down someplace else. I thought, My God, I came close that time, didn’t I?

We went in on another assault after that days before I am supposed to leave. I was touchy and fearful. I saw the landing spot and thought it can’t be as good as it looks. So I had the pilot put the helicopter in another spot.

He said, “What, are you nuts?”

I said, “Put it over there.” I’m counting the days now and I never counted days before. But now I know when I’m leaving.

My best day in Vietnam was the day I got on an airplane to go home, I guess at Cam Rahn, and they passed out these cold towels. I put the towel on my head. How could anything be so nice and pleasant? It was heaven.

For Your Convenience –

For your convenience, you can now use the domain name to go directly to Ed’s content for his next book, The Boys of Battery B.

The Boys of Battery B is a work in progress, and Ed’s been posting experimental content to this blog like a madman.  While Seven in a Jeep was primarily filled with Ed’s personal experience in Vietnam, The Boys of Battery B provides a complete history of Ed’s unit in Vietnam, as colored by dozens of interviews he’s conducted with fellow artilleryman, many who served before and after him at LZ Sherry.

No release date has been set for The Boys of Battery B yet, but in the meantime don’t miss all this free reading that Ed’s giving away.

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.

Capital Offense Releases Part One (of 3) to Amazon Kindle

Capital Offense Part One FlightIf you haven’t been following Capital Offense, now is a great time to jump in.  Capital Offense is a novel which is release online, for free, one chapter at a time at

At this point, the first third of the complete novel has been released to the web.  For those that prefer the comfort of reading on a Kindle or other e-reader, the first third is also now available as an e-book.

Find the E-book on here.

The complete novel will be released as a print book and e-book on January 31, 2014.

You can also check out daily installments of the book at

Capital Offense is published by Columbus Press, the publisher of Seven in a Jeep.


Ernie Dublisky – The Father of Battery B – Part Four

The Boys of Battery B 

Ernie Dublisky

Part Four

 Before I leave Ernie’s home he gives me a stack of stories he has written about his Vietnam experiences. They are the products of a course in creative writing he teaches at a local college.

He says, “Whenever I give an assignment to my students I do it myself to give them a model. That’s my training as an officer; I don’t ask them to do anything that I don’t do.”

This story is my favorite, here published with permission. 

Cinderella in the Rain

   I saw a pop-eyed, disbelieving expression on the pilot’s face as he looked out through the canopy of the jet fighter screaming over the rice paddies at what seemed like a shoulder-high altitude. He was on final to drop his bombs a few hundred yards east of our position. We were being attacked by mortar fire almost every night and the Air Force was finally getting around to a strike we had requested a couple of days ago. As the F-104 hurtled towards his target I turned my attention from the movie, “Lord Jim,” playing on the white bed sheet handing from the ammunition truck in the center of the howitzer position. In the blackness of night, the pilot could see the moving images on the illuminated projection area of the makeshift screen.

I imagined him asking himself, “What kind of war is this when I’m bombing and strafing while the troops I’m supporting are watching a movie?”

The answer was, “It’s that kind of war!”

It was June 1966. We were in a Vietnamese graveyard in the middle of a vast area of rice paddies just west of Tuy Hoa in Phu Yen Province on the central coast. “We” were a battery of six 105 mm howitzers from the 5th battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment in direct support of the 320th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. In this relatively flat piedmont, between the shimmering white sand beaches along the South China Sea and the foothills of the heavily vegetated jungles and mountains to the west, almost all the area was cultivated in rice paddies. It was difficult to find suitable terrain to emplace a cannon battery when each weapon weighted almost 5000 pounds and there were many other large and small vehicles and equipment. The graveyards were the only available firm and dry ground. So long as we were respectful to the ancestors, we were allowed to use them.

Occasionally movies were delivered to our tactical field locations in a pathetic and fruitless attempt to improve the morale and welfare of the troops. The movies were a link to normal life back in what soldiers termed “the world.” The “world” being any and every place outside of South Vietnam. Thus, Vietnam was defined as not of this world. In the soldiers’ mind, there was the nightmare place called Vietnam and then, there was the world. Movies were delivered when they became available, regardless of the title, content, weather, or enemy action. The decision to play the movie was left up to the local commander. It would take a cataclysmic event to preclude the showing of a movie, any movie that finally made it down to the combat units in the field.

You might be thinking that this is about watching a movie in the middle of the rice paddies in the middle of a war. That may be true, but it’s not the whole story. There are two key elements that must be understood. The first is the weather. In Vietnam, there are two seasons: hot and rainy. The rainy season is called the monsoon and lasts about two months. During this time it rains nearly every day. The rain is usually heavy and the large pelting drops bounce off the soldiers’ protective steel helmets, echoing in their ears like a waterfall on a tin roof. The ponchos and the rain suits become saturated and leak like sieves. There is no place to escape from the wetness. Everything is always wet. Mildew and rot are everywhere.

Another aspect of the soldiers’ life is soldier language; the vernacular, the argot, the slang, blue language, cussing, whatever you want to call it. There is that certain F-word used by any soldier worth his salt at least once in every uttered sentence and in every grammatical form of the English language. It is used interchangeably as a noun, a verb, an adverb or an adjective, and can be declined, conjugated or modified to meet any grammatical need. With those insights on weather and language, here’s what happened one day in 1966.

The Huey helicopter skittered and yawed across the rice paddies and flared over the landing pad engulfed in billowing red smoke. The red smoke grenade was thrown to mark the site where helicopter should discharge its cargo. The doors slid open and the door gunners heaved out the bright international orange mailbags followed by the olive drab film-shipping container. It had been three weeks since the last movie. During that time the battery had been attacked by Viet Cong mortars twice, resulting in one man killed and several wounded. It was high time for some recreation and the movie was a welcome prospect.

Once darkness fell, the gun trucks would be driven into a semi-circle at the center of the battery to form a small, enclosed area that would contain most of the diffused light and allow the movie to be watched in as secure an environment as possible. As the day wore on the monsoon clouds gathered, and the rain began. There was no question that no matter how hard it rained, nothing would interfere with watching this movie.

I slipped my .380 caliber Beretta pistol into its black leather pocket holster and shoved it into my soaking wet rain jacket. I never went to the movies in Vietnam without it. Donning the rest of my equipment, including my steel pot, I grabbed my M16 and crawled out of the damp, heavily mildewed, but relatively dry protection provided by my badly leaking Yukon hexagonal tent. I made a mental note to dispatch my supply sergeant on an Air Force cargo plane from the Tuy Hoa air base with instructions not to return without replacements for our worn out, nearly useless tents.

Looking forward to the movie, I walked to the area of our makeshift cinema. Most of the battery, about 100 soldiers, was already there. Some were sitting on empty wooden ammunition boxes; some perched on metal fuse cans that doubled as water tanks for our homemade showers; some on folding chairs plucked from various elements of the battery operations or from visits to the villages in our area of operations. Others were sitting or sprawled on the wet ground. All were huddled under their ponchos or bundled up in their cumbersome, rubberized rain suits, and all seemed to disregard the torrents of rain hammering down on them. The excitement of seeing a movie was palpable allayed any discomfort.

When we had a movie, a chair was reserved for me in the best location, and the movie did not start until I was in that chair. It was traditional and respectful homage to the battery commander. The old comic adage, “It’s good to be the king” was never as true or meaningful as when being the commander of a small unit conducting independent field operations in combat. The shorthand expression was RHIP, “rank has its privileges.”

I sat on the wet, cold metal folding chair, and looked at the scene around me. The huddled soldiers seemed like a living tableau from a Bill Mauldin cartoon of Willie and Joe on a misty, rain-soaked, muddy battlefield of WWII. There they were in their camouflage ponchos and olive green rain suits. The rain was pinging off their steel helmets.

I leaned forward and asked a soldier slumped on the ground in front of me, “What’s the movie?”

He slowly turned and looked at me. With the rain splashing in his face, he plucked a dripping wet cigar butt from his mouth and bellowed out the answer, “Cinder-fucking-rella.”

His contempt for whoever had sent this movie was clearly as great as his utter disgust over having to sit in a monsoon storm to watch it. That profane, but magnificently expressive answer to my question has since that time typified the humorous eloquence and indomitable spirit of the soldier, and Cinderella in the rain became an avatar for my Vietnam experience.

“SPOOOKY” Flash Fiction Contest

We are pleased to have donated three autographed, limited-edition Advance Review Copies of Seven in a Jeep to Columbus Creative Cooperative to use as prizes in their “Spooooky” Flash Fiction contest.

Get all of the details about the contest here.

Columbus Creative Cooperative ( is a fantastic group to support.  They provide lots of resources to writers of all skill levels, and frequently run fun contests to stimulate your creativity.

The top winner of this contest wins an Amazon Kindle!  Check it out.

Ernie Dublisky – The Father of Battery B – Part Three

The Boys of Battery B

Ernie Dublisky

In 1972 Ernie went back for a second tour in Vietnam.

I was the G3 (Operations) advisor for the 1st ARVN Division, which was the premier division of the Army of Vietnam. I was a major by then, in a job that usually went to a lieutenant colonel who had graduated from the Leavenworth staff course, which I had not gone to because I was a reserve officer. It was kind of interesting. We had a small advisory team, and an aviation battalion, and that was all. We were advising the ARVN and providing aviation support.

We were up in Hue (near the North Vietnam border). I got there for the Easter Offensive in 1972 when the North Vietnamese came across in force. It was like World War II, not like Vietnam. It was multiple corps versus multiple corps. It was not counter-insurgency. Coming at us were tanks and artillery in-coming all the time. There were days when we took 6,000 rounds of in-coming. It was hellacious. A hell of a war.

North Vietnamese Artillery Easter Offensive
North Vietnamese Artillery
Easter Offensive

We were taking in-coming every day. We had to sleep in bunkers. It was fantastic. But it was a really great experience.

Is that where you earned your Purple Heart?


You didn’t run into a tent pole did you?

(Laughs) It was from an in-coming artillery attack. And that was really funny. There was in-coming artillery and I dove for a ditch and the round went off and blew me down in the ditch – thank goodness – I didn’t get any fragmentation, but it broke my arm. They evacuate me to the field hospital at Da Nang.

First of all I say, “I guess I’m going home, right?”

The guy says, “No, you’re not goin’ home.”

“What do you mean I’m not going home?”

He says, “Well, if this had happened two weeks ago you’d be going home, but the policy now is if it’s not a life-threatening wound you stay here and finish your tour.”

I say, “OK.”

And he says, “But we can’t cast it. You have to wrap an ace bandage around your body and hold your arm like this with an ace bandage.”

I say, “Wait a minute. We’re under artillery attack every day. What am I going to do when in-coming starts comin’ in?”

He says, “Just stay in the rear area where there’s no artillery.”

I say, “There is no rear area.”

I was on the last plane out March 22, 1973. Two planes left that day, one from Da Nang, one from Saigon. I was on the one out of Da Nang. So I always like to make light of the fact. I’d say, “You know I was in Vietnam when there were only 200 guys.”

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Surplus the Long arm of VietnamHave you read Surplus: The Long Arm of Vietnam, the companion book to Seven in a Jeep?

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