Monthly Archives: November 2013

James (Joe) Mullins – Gun Crew Chief

The Boys of Battery B

James (Joe) Mullins

 Gun Crew Chief

Sergeant James (Joe) Mullins
Sergeant James (Joe) Mullins 

His name is James, but he goes by Joe. He still lives in southwestern Virginia near where he grew up, in the heart of the Appalachian hills and close enough to spit into Kentucky. He was only twenty years old when he went to Vietnam. He spent over a year and a half with B Battery, working his way from private to sergeant. He was the crew chief on a gun with BUSHWHACKER stenciled on the barrel, following the artillery tradition of beginning the name with the letter of the battery.


Ring Finger Purple Heart

 He was in my gun section and I think he was from Texas. He was real young, maybe 17 years old. In my picture he’s the one on the right.


“First tell me about the Mohawks.”

Not much to tell. Three of them decided one day, and what one of them done the other one done. Those were the only three that I remember.

Anyway, we was in the hooch and getting ready to load up on the back of a truck. He has his rifle leaned up against the railing of his bed. When he jumped down the barrel was just about even with where he stuck his hand, and his ring slipped over one of them fire suppressors (three pronged device on the end of an M16). His finger was just barely hangin’ on when he got down to the ground, and he is screaming. They sent him back to the rear area to get fixed up. The best I remember they saved his finger.

Here Captain Marchesseault picks up the story.

After they sewed him up he came back to me saying, “There was some officer came through the hospital just pinning Purple Hearts on everybody. They gave one to me but I didn’t want it. Somebody told me to shut up and accept it.”

I said to him, “Good. Keep it. Tell your grandkids the story of how you got it.”

Mullins soon discovered the story he was really telling.

He’d been up on guard duty that day and I had to relieve him for the night watch. I was still a private then so I had to pull guard duty. I got to the bunker before dark and I seen all these wadded up pieces of paper laying there. I didn’t have nothin’ to do so I just started to open one up and see what somebody was writing, what they’re saying to their girlfriend or whoever. And it was him writing. I can’t remember who he was writing to, but he told them he got a Purple Heart for having his finger shot off by the VC.


Waitin’ To Hurt

I ‘bout got shot by my own buddy, missed me by about a half inch. We was in a bunker one day. I think we was moving from north of Qui Nhon back to Tuy Hoa. We was in a bunker, knee to knee, and he was cleaning his rifle. He pulled the magazine out and raised that rifle up and had that sucker pointed at me. He done it real fast. There was a round in the chamber and that sucker went off and it just barely missed me. He’s waitin’ for me to fall over dead I reckon, and I’m waitin’ for it to hurt.

Somebody come and said, “Who fired that shot?” I covered for him and said, “Accident.” But that wasn’t too smart. You don’t point a gun at somebody when you’re clearin’ it.


Another Close Call

One night I was sleeping in the parapet by the gun, layin’ up against the sandbags in the wide open. I was so tired and wore out and just killed and laying on the ground.

I did not hear the first mortars come in. The other guys did. It’s good I didn’t, because if I’d a jumped up I could have got killed, because the last one hit straight across from where I was layin’. When it came down, all the stuff came down on top of me. It startled me real bad. That was the last one to hit, and I didn’t hear any of the others. Why? I was so tired and I guess it was just where I was used to the noise. You’re used to the BANG, BANG, BANG all night. I heard someone say they was hit. I went and check and two guys were hit, Thomas one of them. I always said war is strange. I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re either destined to die, or destined to live.

The mention of Thomas pulls forward another story.

Things started changing in the battery toward the end of my tour. The Black Power started and the Ku Klux Klan started, and we started having racial problems. Black and white, one just as guilty as the other. Seems like things was never as good as the cohesion that you needed.

It got real nasty. Thomas can tell you more about that because one of the tougher black guys said something to him and Thomas had him down and ‘bout choked him to death. James Thomas was a hoss, a tough nut. He was a college football player for Appalachia State and he held the school records for points scored in college and high school. He was triple A Virginia state wrestling champion. Me and two or three others finally got Thomas loose.

And I got in trouble for that. Somebody said I kicked him in the rear and I did not. I was not a racial type guy. The Ku Klux Klan and the Black Power, I didn’t like neither one of them. I had good black guys in my section, and they was always from the south. They was real good soldiers that I worked with. That black guy that Thomas choked was a good soldier Even after he still was a good soldier.

That night someone got hit over the head with a bottle as they were walking from one bunker to another. And that was not the worse part of it. While that was goin’ on here come a black guy with an M16, but we got it calmed down before any officer knew anything about it. I just tried to be fair when I was a sergeant and a corporal. That’s all I can say. I’m not sayin’ we was a bad outfit. That’s just a hard thing to deal with.

“Sometimes we forget how young we were over there.”

You got that exactly right. You take 90 to 100 men stuck in a barbed wire prison I call it. It was about like being in prison, to tell the truth about it. And you get on each other’s nerves.

James Thomas would leave Vietnam a sergeant, and with two Purple Hearts. He was wounded at LZ Betty and in a mortar attack at LZ Judy.

It was a good outfit, good guys went through there. And good captains and good lieutenants. I didn’t care much for one chief of smoke, a sergeant first class. I didn’t dislike him or hate him, just didn’t have a lot of respect. He never came around the section to ask if we needed anything, never asked is there anything I can do for you guys.

My gun in particular was moved a lot. I asked Capt. Marchesseault one time, I said, “I’m just curious. When ya’ll send a couple guns out, did you have any method or do you just send the worse crew you got?”

He said, “No, we send the best crew.” So he made me feel good. (laughs) … if he wasn’t lying.


Memories That Last

Lieutenant Higgins was one of our forward observers. Higgins was such a gentleman. I know he’s got one good story, if he’ll tell it. We were somewhere west of Phan Thiet by LZ Judy. We had made a move, don’t know if it was all the guns. The lieutenant was with a group of South Vietnamese as their forward observer. They got overrun and he had to call the artillery in on top of them. And we killed a bunch of them South Vietnamese that day with our artillery. They brought them in the compound and they just laid them around. They never covered them up. I went over and looked because I wanted to see what artillery done, and flies was all over. I thought we did not show a lot of respect. It bothered me a whole lot. I still think about it today. I can still see the bodies.



Today Joe’s memory of places and facts is beginning to dull, but still burning hot is his devotion to fellow veterans. He officiates at military funerals with the American Legion and VFW, testimony to the man the boy grew into.

We’ve had as many as 28 guys at a funeral. Now we’re lucky if we got 12 or 13. All the old timers is died off. I go to so many funerals I can’t tell you. I done three of ‘em last week. It’s tear’n me up. It just about kills me but somebody’s got to do it.

When I first started doing it I just held the flag (from the coffin), standing out of the way. Now I present the flag to whoever gets it, and it tears me up. It’s up close and personal now, when I stand and salute and I look at the wives and see the tears falling down and hittin’ that flag. Or when you start burying your friends.

We try to ease the family, make them feel more proud. I go to as many of the family members as I can. I always hug the wife, shake the son’s hand. I learn what her first name is. If everybody calls her something else like they do me (Joe, not Jim) that’s what I will call her. I’ll say, “Wife, Joan, on behalf of the United States government, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, we are proud to present you this flag which your husband so faithfully fought under and served.” I always reach down and hug them. I reckon everyone’s always accepted the hug. And I hug all the family members. We’re huggers down here. Then I go out and shake hands with as many people as I can.

They say, “We thank you.”

And I say, “It’s an honor.”

Traveling this week? Take Seven in a Jeep with you!

Are you traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday this week?  Need a great book to read in the car or on the plane?

Try Seven in a Jeep.  If you don’t have a copy yet, you can instantly pick one up for your Kindle or Nook, or you can find it on the iTunes marketplace for your iPad, or from your favorite e-book retailer.

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Happy Thanksgiving!  Travel safely.

Paul Marchesseault – The Flying Battery Commander – Part Three

The Boys of Battery B

Paul Marchesseault

Part Three

Tragedy At The Trash Dump

In one of his first letters home Paul empties his heart over the struggles of Vietnamese civilians.

My whole outlook on life is changing rapidly. The people here are so desolate and backward that I’ll feel guilty having so much when I go home. Many of the little kids over here go around naked for want of clothes. The older people look sickly & penniless. We have some working for us at the unbelievable rate of 10 piasters per hour. That’s about 8½ cents an hour. Most of them couldn’t earn 1/10th of that in a day on their own. You can’t imagine the feeling that goes through me whenever I see hundreds of locals charging across a trash dump to an army truck about to dump garbage and other trash. They swarm over the trucks like ants – fighting, pushing, & grabbing at empty tin cans, cardboard, which they use for shingles, or plain old garbage, which they sort out & eat whatever looks tasty. It’s disgusting and it’s also quite an education.  Need I say more?  They’re starving & we can’t do enough for them.                                                                    (October 20, 1966)

Boy Wearing a P-38 Can Opener from a C-ration packet
Boy Wearing a P-38 Can Opener from a C-ration packet

Later, not far from Qui Nhon, Paul would learn of a tragedy at his own trash dump outside of the B Battery perimeter.

A little kid was trying to get on our truck that was out at the trash dump. He fell off and as the truck was backing up it ran over his head – killed him. They reported it to me when they came back, and we reported it up the chain. But there wasn’t anything we could accuse the driver of. Very unfortunate incident. Joe Mullins witnessed what happened and you can ask him about it.

Joe Mullins was 20 years old in Vietnam, fresh from the mountains of southwestern Virginia. He talks of the events at the trash dump with feeling.

I was on guard duty that day, in a bunker on the side of the ridge. The garbage dump was so far away that if I had hollered they could not have heard me. There’s a bunch of children there and they was trying to get on the truck. I seen the danger as soon as the truck started backing up. As it started backing up and the kids started getting on, the truck started going faster backward, and then the driver hit the brake. It was almost like he was doing it intentionally but not meaning to hurt nobody. But you can’t keep speeding up when your looking through your rear view mirror and you see them climbing on, and then you hit your brake. I seen that if somebody didn’t get hurt it was going to be very lucky. I couldn’t holler because it was too far away.

Up until Marchesseault told me, I didn’t know the boy got killed. I always thought they just hurt him real bad. I remember a bubble helicopter landed not long after that. I have no idea if it was the colonel coming in or they took the boy out because I was at the bunker and couldn’t see everything.

Tell the truth I didn’t want to see it and I didn’t want to remember it. Because there was one thing that disturbed me in Vietnam – the children. I come up through the hard road of knocks, in the ol’ Appalachian mountains here. I didn’t live too much better at one time than what they did. I didn’t know their lives was tough because that’s all I knowed.

I didn’t always have sympathy for the South Vietnamese soldiers, but I had a lot of sympathy for the children. I can still remember a little girl that was about four or five year old when I was at Song Cau. We’d have to walk inside the perimeter for guard duty, inside the barbwire. Of the daytime the children would come down around that barbwire and guys would throw things to them out of their sundry pack. I always noticed this little girl, she’d always stand back behind the rest of the children, would never come up there. She didn’t hold her hands out or ask for nothin’. She wasn’t greedy, just stood back. I started throwing her something and learned her name was Mun. There’s no story to that. It’s just something when I first got in country.

(There will be more from Joe Mullins next week.)


Paul’s Trouble With Grenades 

It happened on the single lane bridge across the river near Tuy Hoa. In addition to the flow of military vehicles there were always civilians carrying stuff, baskets on the ends of poles or balanced on their heads. Traffic across it flowed very, very slowly. The bridge had over 25 sections so you had to wait about an hour just to get your turn to cross. Every now and then Charlie would try to take out part of that bridge and occasionally he’d knock down a span. But it was fairly well guarded and kept open most of the time.

Tuy Hoa Bridge Courtesy Jim Lord
Tuy Hoa Bridge
Courtesy Gene Lord

We were the lead vehicle of a group of three military vehicles. We came up on a group of civilians, and one of them was an old woman wearing a conical hat and black pajamas. As we approached her I saw she had a grenade in her hand. I thought, Holy shit. I chambered a round in my M16 and was getting ready to shoot her. The driver saw me and said, “What are you doing, sir?”

I said, “She’s got a grenade.”

He said, “Oh, she’s just fishing.”

And sure enough, as I was about to fire she tossed that grenade over the side into the water. BOOM! Next thing you know a bunch of little kids floated out from under the bridge in woven baskets to pick up all the dead fish. I swear to god I almost shot that woman.

That’s got to be something you think about a long time.

Yeah, I did. I had another grenade incident months later on the road to Qui Nhon. The road was really, really rough. You couldn’t do more than two or three miles an hour on it in places. Marlowe, my driver, was driving the jeep and I’m just kind of relaxing, leaning back in the jeep with my M16 across my lap. I heard a klunk!  It was a metal-on-metal sound and then something hit my foot. I looked down and here’s a grenade with no top on it rolling around in the wheel well. I thought, Damn, that thing’s going to explode. I yelled at Marlowe, “Get out of the jeep.” I rolled out to my right, bounced on the ground, and tore up a knee.

Marlowe stops the jeep and looks back at me wondering what the hell’s going on. What I did not know was that this was one of the grenades that we had hanging by their handles from the defroster on the windshield. It had vibrated itself unscrewed and the grenade part fell off the blasting mechanism, which was still hanging from the defroster. I thought for sure that sucker was about to blow. If we had been going any faster I’d have killed myself. Marlowe just shook his head and did his best not to laugh. I often wondered what he told his buddies after we returned to the battery.


Held At Gun Point


This is a picture of one of my enlisted men standing with some young kids who were around our barb wire in Song Cau all the time begging for candy and cigarettes. He came to us directly from Mannheim Prison in Germany by volunteering for combat duty. He was in jail for burning down a government warehouse after receiving a Dear John letter from his girlfriend in the States. She had just joined a convent. Lo and behold he landed in B Battery.

Lucky you.

Lucky me. He was an all around jerk, a lazy son-of-a-bitch who couldn’t keep his gear in order and a poor soldier. He was often in trouble and found himself pulling extra duty as we as we moved up and down the coast. We’d been in a place called Binh Thanh for several days, just a little north of Song Cau. Once again, he was on some kind of extra duty; I don’t remember the details, except that he was pissed.

I had a hex tent located half way up this hill and away from everything else. I was alone in my tent when I heard a guy outside call me by name. “Captain Marchesseault, can I come in and talk to you?”

I said, “Yes.”

In he comes and he’s got his M16 with him. He pulls the charging handle and chambers a round and points the weapon right at my chest and says, “I’m going to kill you.”

I’ll be honest with you, it frightened the hell out of me. I pleaded, “Hold on. What’s going on? Let’s talk about it.”

I started to get out of the chair I was in and he yelled, “Sit down!” And so I sat down. He started going through a list of his complaints, that I had been so hard on him. He couldn’t take it anymore. And since I was the cause of his problems he was going to kill me. I tried to tell him, “Hey, you do it to me, you can’t kill the whole battery. Somebody’s going to get you and you’re going to end up in prison again.” You could see that this guy was a nut case.

While I’m talking with him, trying to get him to calm down, First Sergeant Shepherd comes strolling up the hill and hollers, “Captain Marchesseault, can I come in?” He doesn’t know what’s going on inside. Before I could answer, Shepherd comes in. Our boy turns the gun on him and tells him to sit down, and he sits down next to me on my ice chest.

Shepherd was a lot calmer about it than I was. He convinced this young man that all he really needed was a break and that he’d get the rest he needed. Shepherd told him he’d probably be able to go on R&R if not just a rest at a hospital, and we both promised to send him to the rear. He didn’t take long to think about it and handed Shepherd the weapon. Shepherd took the magazine out, cleared the round out of the chamber, and walked him down the hill. I never saw him again. The Military Police evacuated him to Tuy Hoa and later battalion sent him somewhere for psychological analysis. I don’t know what happened to him. I suspect he was treated as a Section 8 mental case. There was never a trial or anything. I remember discussing it with Colonel Munnelly – about why he was sent back to the rear, and Munnelly understood.

Ernie Dublisky remembers the young man in a different light, one that softens the picture that Paul carries in his memory. “When I was battery commander before Paul, the young man was in supply back at battalion. I knew he had come from prison in Germany. The story was that when he got the letter from his girlfriend he was very upset and asked to be excused from guard duty. His sergeant refused the request and that was when he retaliated by burning down the supply depot. I remember that he always tried his best to get us the supplies we needed. He seemed to me a hard working and sincere young man. I guess the strain in the field got to him.

The effect on Paul went beyond the hour he spent looking down the barrel of an M16.

The kid really shook me up. Munnelly came up for a visit and realized I was still a bit rattled. He said, “You know what, you need a break too.” He ordered me to go on R&R, which I had not planned. But I was able to get a message to my wife and she was able to get a flight and meet me in Hawaii.

The day I left a guy picked me up in an H-23, a three seater helicopter with a bubble nose. The pilot sat in the middle seat, with a person on either side of him. The helipad was way up on top of the hill, and as soon as we took off the engine sputtered then conked outsome 500 feet in the air. We just auto-rotated (rotor blades disengaged from the engine, allowing them to spin from the downward fall and thus helping to slow the descent) into the swamp right in front of the battery position. (Laughs) I figured I was never going to get out of the damn battery area the way things were going. Somehow the pilot figured out what was wrong and got it going again. So off we went.


A Nice Bookend 

Coming back from Hawaii I flew into Cam Ranh Bay, where they told me I’d have to take a jeep or a truck back to Binh Thanh. This was a ride of 125 miles on terrible roads that would take three or more days and require permission to move from strong point to strong point through areas controlled by the South Koreans and ARVNs. Instead I was able to hop on a Caribou cargo plane that was going to An Khe, which would get me most of the way. On our approach to the An Khe airstrip the pilot warned us that the nose landing gear might not be locked down and that we could have a problem. He landed us tail first with the nose up in the air and rolled as far as he could before letting the nose settle down. Sure enough the landing gear collapsed and we nearly flipped over. A nice bookend to the helicopter decent into a swamp a few days earlier that began my Rest & Recreation.


The Mad Minute 

Sometime after my R&R in Hawaii we moved the battery further north to a hill at Xuan My. This was the last move for B Battery with me as the commanding officer.

When Munnelly and Dublisky handed B Battery over to me it was a smooth running machine. Morale was super high and we had a great crop of NCOs. That’s probably one of the reasons Munnelly did not hesitate to have me keep flying. But as guys rotated out the new people they brought in were not as skilled as the guys we lost.

We stayed at Xuan My too long as far as I was concerned. Guys were no longer used to picking up and moving, to having everything where they needed it at the right time – weapons were not being cleaned properly, people were forgetting things. And it had been quite some time since the battery had been hit and I felt that people were becoming lax. You’d find things that were screwed up and people would make excuses for those screw-ups. I was really concerned.

So I got together with my exec, a few NCOs, and the commanding officer of the Koreans who were our perimeter security. We drew up a plan to simulate a night attack while most of the battery was asleep. I wanted a lot of noise all at once to jar people awake. So every manned piece of equipment we had started shooting at the same time. We fired the H&I gun, all of our perimeter machine guns, a handful of M-16s, our Claymores, the fougasse barrels the Koreans had dug into the hill side, everything.

I arranged to have this damn thing kick off at 4:00 in the morning, and I had positioned NCOs out at observation posts to make sure there were no screw ups. My chief of smoke fired a single flare into the air that set the thing off. We fired for about five minutes; the machine guns firing until three out of four jammed. And it worked: the troops thought we were under attack. And then we had a critique the following morning.

When Munnelly heard about it I thought I was going to get in trouble. I think he heard about it through the Special Forces who wanted to know if one of his units had been hit the night before. The Sneaky Pete’s (Special Forces Rangers) who were a few miles out in the swamp in front of us didn’t know what was going on. They must have thought, Jeez, how do we get these guys help? So when I found out that Munnelly was pleased, that made me feel a hell of a lot better. I thought I was going to get in trouble.  I did meet with the Special Forces team and promised to give them some warning if we ever did it again.

Col. Munnelly told me you started the Mad Minute.

I did. It was my idea. Because of the things I had seen going on. I just said, “We’ve got to sharpen these guys up.” And it woke up a few of them, I tell you that much. Our overall readiness improved a bunch after this stunt. But that was the only time I ever did it.

It continued after your time. It became standard procedure once a month. When the howitzers and machine guns were going off guys would go out to the berm and fire off their M16s. It was party time.

Wow. I did not know that. Of course our purpose was to make sure nobody knew it was going to happen ahead of time. You could only do that once.

Paul Marchesseault – The Flying Battery Commander – Part Two

The Boys of Battery B

Paul Marchesseault

Part Two

Ten of Paul’s letters survive. He wrote them to an older brother with the intention of being candid about the war, and with strict instruction not to share them with his wife or parents. He had been flying just five weeks when he wrote on November 19, 1966:

I get tired of telling everyone at home that all is quiet and the VC are being nice little boys. It’s quite far from the truth. The “graves registration” office is about 300 yards from us & they had a very busy week. So did I. I had 13 flights in the last 9 days.  I now have over 50 hours in the air since the 10th of October.

The flights themselves are fun, until I think of where the hell I am.  I feel even more jittery in a helicopter.  In those H-13s we have no armament whatsoever & only a big plastic bubble around us. No, it’s not bulletproof. Stewart Alsop said recently in “Post” magazine that “If you ever want to feel like a quail during hunting season, fly over VC territory in an H-13.” Guess what, he’s right!  I wonder how he knows. Yesterday we got caught in a rain squall in an H-13 and ended up flying 15 miles about 10 feet off the ground at 110 mph in Charlie territory. It makes the old rear end pucker up.

Here’s what an H-13 looks like:

Drawing of H-13

If & when I’m through flying I’ll probably let them know. I’m getting sick of writing the same old crap every day. I’ll let you know if & when I do let the cat out of the bag.

Three weeks later he took command of B Battery.

Letter of December 29, 1966

First we moved about 20 kilometers north of Tuy Hoa to a place called Tuy An in support of the 47th Vietnamese Regiment (ARVN). We camped on a hillside from the 15th to the 22nd & chalked up about 55 kills, 6 sampans and an untold number of wounded. The people we were supporting suffered 9 killed and 17 wounded.

On the afternoon of the 22nd my entire battery was airlifted by giant Chinook (CH-47) helicopters into the village of Song Cau. I came in on a small helicopter and directed 16 Chinook loads into the area. We are now 63 kilometers from our battalion and can be resupplied only by chopper.

The village itself is small (pop. 400) & the principal industry is lobster & shrimp fishing. The village is in a small valley near the sea and surrounded on 3 sides by mountains.  Currently 2 VC battalions are known to operate in these hills. We were no sooner on the ground when we fired at the VC & we’ve fired over 4000 rounds at them since we got here.

Our battery position is in the middle of an athletic field next to the village grammar & high schools.

Picture Included in the Letter
Picture Included in the Letter

On the day before Christmas, I got the district chief who speaks some English to accompany me to the grammar school & we passed out a case of assorted candy that had been collected from the men in the battery. You should have seen the faces on the kids. They’ve never seen Americans in any number before and they went wild. They sang for us off & on all day right next to our position. That night (Christmas Eve) they had a big candlelight procession through the town that was very pretty. They even sang Silent Night, Hosanna In Excelsis, & other hymns in Latin. It reminded me of the old days at Assumption. 

Included in the letter is a picture of a soldier standing among the children. 



That soldier would later hold Paul and his first sergeant at gun point for an hour, threatening to kill both of them. (That story to appear next week in Part Three)

In the meantime, Paul himself could be dangerous with a gun.


Nearly Shooting My FDO in the Middle of the Night 

In Song Cau I had a conical hex tent, and in the tent I had a little spring bed, a work table and a trash can, which was a five gallon potato chip can. It seemed like every other night I’d hear scratching around. The damn rats would get into that can looking for stuff. I had a .45 under my pillow. One night I heard that thing scratching away and I was just about to shoot the trash can which was near the opening of the tent, when I saw the face of my Fire Direction Officer, Tommie Malone. He had come into my tent to tell me he needed me in the FDC. He had to pull up the tent flap to get in and came in leaning over. The trash can was only two or three feet from his head where I was aiming. If you talk to Malone he’ll tell you he was looking right down the barrel of my .45. He thought I was going to shoot him.

Tommie Malone Eating Lunch

Today Lieutenant Colonel Tommie Malone has that .45. The story of how he came to own it begins in Germany.

I knew when I was in Germany that I was going directly to Vietnam. I was not going with a unit; I was going over alone.

I had a friend who was a member of the Munich Rod and Gun Club. He introduced me to an enlisted man who had a customized Army .45 for sale. It was a special gun. Normally a .45 had plastic hand grips; this one had carved wooden grips. A regular .45 was a dirty grey; this one had special bluing, a nice steel blue weapon. The slides had also been modified for it to fire more smoothly. I test fired it and that thing was accurate as hell. It was a fine weapon.

I bought it just before I left Germany and took it with me to Vietnam, which you weren’t supposed to do. I broke a rule. Whether I violated a military regulation or not, I don’t know.

When I got into Saigon there were only two officers on the plane, me and Bill Manning (who was about to be named battalion Executive Officer). The customs MPs took us aside to examine our bags and told us to declare any weapons we might be carrying. I admitted I was carrying the pistol and it was immediately confiscated. I thought I’d never see it again but happy the MPs hadn’t given me any grief over it.

I was then sent to the 5/27th battalion base camp in Phan Rang for in-processing.  A couple of days later I was flown up to Tuy Hoa, where I reported into Colonel Munnelly. As I saluted him I spotted my .45 right there on his desk. It was easy to recognize. I figured the MPs had given it to Manning, and that’s how Munnelly got it.

The first thing out of the colonel’s mouth was, “Boy, this is some start, captain.” He was acting angry. “This is some hell of a start. You violate a rule before you even get here.”

I was standing there at attention, expecting to be welcomed by the man who’s going to be my boss for the next year, and all of a sudden I realize I’m in deep shit. After he calmed down he said, “We have no point in keeping this here in the battalion. Since you’re going to have to draw a .45 anyway – here, use this.” And he handed me the pistol.

Then he eased up a little and talked about the battalion and the job I was going to do. But I still thought I was screwed. I thought I was going to get an Article 15 (non-judicial punishment) the way he was going at it over that pistol. He could be angry when he wanted to be and I felt uncomfortable in his presence for some time to come.

Were you able to bring the .45 home?

No I did not. I was concerned about it when I left, all the crap they were giving us about taking things home. I sold it to Tommie Malone.

Years later I located Tommie via the internet. He was still in the service, had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and was then head of the ROTC program for the San Antonio schools. We had dinner, with him and his wife, Rena. The subject of the weapon came up that evening, and he said he still had it.

Seven in a Jeep for your Holiday Gift Giving

Seven in a Jeep Ed GaydosBooks are a great Christmas gift.  It’s true.  They might be the most overlooked Christmas gift in the world, too.

When you’re picking out gifts for friends and family this year, don’t forget to consider what books they might like to read.  Books don’t go bad, they’re always the right size, and even if they don’t get read right away they look nice on a shelf waiting for a rainy day.

This holiday season, consider giving Seven in a Jeep as a gift.  The recipient will enjoy it, and even if they’re not a heavy reader, Seven in a Jeep‘s episodic format, with short standalone chapters, are great for readers who only pick up a book every once in a while.

Find the book on here, or find more buying links here.

Paul Marchesseault – The Flying Battery Commander – Part One

The Boys of Battery B

Paul Marchesseault

Captain Paul relaxing during a pre-flight inspection
Captain Paul relaxing during a pre-flight inspection

There is no better introduction to Captain Paul Marchesseault than the following quote from his own account, posted on the web as Paul’s Story, and available in its entirety at

I was an aerial observer in L-19s and H-13s in Vietnam from October, 1966 – September, 1967. I flew a total of 104 missions out of Tuy Hoa (north & south fields), Song Cau, and Qui Nhon. I still have my folded 1:250,000 Joint Ops Graphic sections dated 1965 covering the coast from Nha Trang north to the Phu Cat airstrip a few miles northwest of Qui Nhon.

On these maps you will see some hand written notations. Our maps at the time did not always reflect reality … as on Map 00 and Map 02 where the red pencil line that I had to draw in myself indicates the true route of Highway 1 along the coast. … Other notations of mine include blue ink spots which represent either runways or artillery positions.

Paul has over 2000 photos, his own and from the collections of his Vietnam buddies. Add to this an impressive memory for detail, and Paul is a treasure trove of historical information. In preparation for our phone conversation he sent me a list of his stories, each with a tantalizing title.


Running out of Gas in Mid Air … Twice!

I had two jobs in Vietnam. For the first three months I was battalion Liaison Officer tasked with keeping our headquarters informed of the actions of the 101st Airborne Brigade, the Korean Capital “CAP ROK” Division, the 47th ARVN Regiment, and some Special Forces teams operating in our area. Following that I spent seven months as commanding officer of B Battery, 5th Battalion, 27th Artillery.

Told the Liaison Officer had the secondary duty of aerial observer, I learned I was going to fly several times a week registering artillery, conducting airborne fire missions, and performing visual reconnaissance (which we referred to as trolling for Charlies.) I had only been in a light plane once before – on a date with my first wife – and had enjoyed it, so I looked forward to this part of the job. Little did I know that the hazards of flying would bother me for the rest of my life. I still wake up in the middle of the night dreaming I’m about to crash, get shot down, or be expected to land a plane by myself.

My first sobering moment came on my very first flight. The pilot was intent on teaching this aerial novice Piloting 101. He took us up to 5000 feet and proceeded to train me how to fly the plane from the back seat with just a joy stick and trim tabs. You have no instruments whatsoever. I practiced level flight, climbs, dives, and eventually graduated to stalls and spins before he declared me ready to be his GIB (guy in the back seat). This picture gives you some idea of the back seater’s view:

My view from behind the pilot

Over 95 percent of my flights were in a tiny, single engine plane, designated the L-19 by the Army, but affectionately known as the Bird Dog. Usually a flight began as a registration mission of a howitzer battery (105s, 155s, 175s, or 8-inch) but quite often we’d receive a fire mission in midair. The pilot would fly to the target area and dive low enough to see exactly where the friendlies were and pray no one on the other side was taking aim at us. Then you’d climb to about 800 feet and tell the battery to start shooting. When it was all over you’d drop back down to almost ground level to check the results for an after action report. When you’re tooling around a hundred feet off the ground, it’s frightening as hell. Years later I asked one of my regular pilots, a guy named Jim Stanley, if he knew we were ever shot at. He said “yeah.” On one of his ground inspections after a mission his crew chief pointed out a bullet hole in his wing, just inboard of one of the wing mounted rockets.

Paul getting into his L-19 Bird Dog

One of my most exciting flights occurred on November 23, 1966. During a registration mission we heard a “May Day” call from another Bird Dog that had just crashed in the Central Highlands northwest of Tuy Hoa. On board were the Pilot, CPT Disbrow and his back seater, 1LT Whiteside. There is an X on my map (Map 02 ) that marks the spot. I had met both men through my liaison role, but did not know either of them personally. My pilot notified crash rescue at Tuy Hoa south field and before long an HH-43 “Huskie” helicopter arrived to pull these guys out of the jungle. I talked with the chopper pilot after the mission and he told me he had let out nearly 80 feet of cable but never once saw the men on the ground during the extraction.

Below is an excerpt from Vietnam Air Losses describing the event. This book contains a detailed review of all the fixed wing losses suffered by the USAF, USN and USMC over a 12-year period. It documents over 575 Bird Dog losses. The O-1 is the Air Force version of the L-19 Army Bird Dog.

23 November 1966 … An O-1 flew a visual reconnaissance mission in support of the 101st Airborne Division over hilly terrain 30 miles southwest of Qui Nhon. The aircraft was hit by ground fire and crashed a few minutes later. Both crew were subsequently rescued by a USAF helicopter… Capt D.E. Disbrow (survived), 1Lt. Whiteside (survived).

Unfortunately my pilot had stayed in the area throughout the rescue and was now dangerously low on fuel. So instead of returning to our base at Tuy Hoa south, he diverted to Tuy Hoa north hoping to get back on the ground before we ran out of gas. Sure enough, the engine quit as he banked onto final approach. I remember thinking, Oh Jesus, we’re not gunna make it. We’re out of gas. That prop was straight up! I held my breath until our plane rolled to a stop. The next thing I recall is that we had to climb out and push it off the runway, because there was a C-123 coming in right behind us.

This type of thing had happened once before. Jim Stanley admitted to me in an email that he wasn’t aware of his fuel situation at all times. Once we were 25 miles away from base out over the Central Highlands looking for targets when the engine quit. Everything was quiet all of a sudden. You have no idea how quiet an L-19 can be when the prop stops. The plane is mostly engine, and the rest seems like a giant vibrator; it’s a very noisy aircraft. All of a sudden you’re not hearing nor feeling anything. You’re a glider above a hostile jungle with who knows what waiting below.

What had happened, he had his fuel tanks on manual. There was a left tank and a right tank in the wings. He ran his left tank dry and hadn’t switched tanks. It scared the hell out of me. Not only me, I believe it scared the hell out of him, too! We were probably a good 30 seconds just floating leisurely toward the ground while he attempted to restart the engine. He finally realized the switch setting and got the damn thing started again, and we landed safely.

Here’s an excerpt from the email I received from Jim after I asked him if he recalled running out of gas twice with me on board:

I do remember a bad habit of not watching fuel. An observer was flying with me on two occasions that are memorable. We were flying South just west of Tuy Hoa about 50 or 100 feet over the jungle canopy. About the time we got to the River valley and the terrain began to slope down toward the river, the nose got heavy and the prop stopped straight up and down. I had run one of the fuel tanks bone dry and the engine quit. Managed to get the engine restarted before we got to the ground. Another time, same observer, we were landing at Tuy Hoa North. The old D models we were flying were a little heavy so we usually landed with a little power to soften the landing. Don’t remember which happened first, but just shortly before touchdown I realized I had full throttle and nothing was happening and, again, the prop stopped. The landing and rollout went OK. After that, when we flew together, I had very good assistance with fuel management. I often wondered how I would have effectively explained either of those situations to an accident investigation board.

I breathed a big sigh of relief when told I would be replacing Ernie Dublisky as commanding officer of B Battery effective December 11, 1966. I wrote in one of my letters home, “Man, I’m glad I am finally done with this flying stuff.” I’d get anxious over it. The shoot-down of that airplane on the 23rd of November stuck in my mind. I was glad to be away from flying.

It wasn’t more than a week or two after I took over the battery I was told by Colonel Munnelly, “Hey, we have a shortage of people that know how adjust artillery from the air, so you’re going to have to continue doing it as a sideline.” So I did it from then on until the week I left, flying two or three times a week.

Just before the Christmas truce in 1966 the entire battery was airlifted by Chinook helicopters in to the village of Song Cau. Less than a week after we arrived, an Air Force Bird Dog crashed 600 yards from our battery position. This is one of several pictures I took of the crash site.


Air Force O-1 Bird Dog crash
Air Force O-1 Bird Dog crash

I had to take off and land over this scene for several weeks until the wreckage could be removed. But would you believe it? The two guys in this plane had walked away from the crash! They were extremely lucky, or maybe not so lucky. A gust of wind had blown their plane towards the water’s edge during landing. It was high tide at the time and they dipped a wheel into the water causing them to flip upside down. The aircraft was ripped apart but the crew had survived.

Here’s what Vietnam Air Losses” says about this incident: 

0-1 s/n 51-11955 from Nha Trang crashed 30 Dec 1966. No casualties. Ruled pilot error.

My life as Battery Commander was far less exciting. Fortunately I had the battery during a relatively quiet time. Though the battery had been mortared numerous times before I took command, and many more times after I left, it didn’t happen once during my entire time in command.

Best of Ohio Short Stories by Columbus Creative Cooperative

Best of Ohio Short StoriesColumbus Creative Cooperative has produced another great anthology.  Check out Best of Ohio Short Stories, which includes phenomenal stories by 18 Ohio authors.

Columbus Creative Cooperative consistently produces first-class anthologies, and this one is no exception.

Learn more about the book here.

The book is available from all major online retailers as well as digital book retailers, and is available from many brick-and-mortar locations around Central Ohio.

Kudos to all eighteen authors with work included in this phenomenal book.