Monthly Archives: June 2014

Dave Fitchpatrick – Gun Crew Chief – Part Two

Dave Fitchpatrick


Ground Attack

 I was still on base piece when the January ground attack happened. I remember LZ Betty also got hit that night. They blew the ammo bunkers up and I have pictures of that. You could feel the heat flashes where we were, it was that hot, maybe five miles away.

Wrechage at Betty 1:12:69
Wrechage at LZ Betty 1-12-69

When they attacked us at Sherry someone spotted them coming at us through a starlight scope and we just lit them up. I stayed up all night. I think the whole battery was up all night.

The next morning Rik Groves and I both went out to the wire and took pictures. Then we went and had breakfast and loaded up for an air mobile operation. First Sergeant Farrell said one thing to us, “Just remember, it could have been you laying dead out there.” He put it in perspective. Nobody freaked out because we had some guys that were used to seeing death and they were career soldiers.

How did you react?

Business as usual. 

First Sergeant Farrell

Sergeant Farrel liked me and he liked Tommy Mulvihill. Some guys he didn’t like, and I don’t know why. I was older and I didn’t kiss his ass, but I did not disrespect him either. If Farrell didn’t like you he’d pull all kinds of shit on you.

A guy by the name of Jesse was the battery punk, a punk kid. He wouldn’t cut his hair, and he had his pants pegged tight (tapered at the bottom). So some guys one night cut his hair and broke his nose. The First Sergeant had to come out and ask everybody who did it. And I know he put two guys up to it, one of them my sergeant. That night this sergeant come up to me and says, “I need you to pull guard for me for about an hour. I got to go do something.” I know what he did and I know Farrell put him up to it, and I guess he figured I was old enough and smart enough not to say anything.

Farrell had to investigate the incident and came around with an investigator from the rear, an Inspector General guy with him. Farrell knew how to ask the questions. He asked me, “Did you see who did it?” Well of course not, nobody saw it. If he had asked if I knew who did it, I’d of said I got a good idea, but he didn’t. Farrell had his ways, but he was a great guy and I had nothing against him. He was a character and a good first sergeant, let’s put it that way. I liked the guy.

We had a colonel come out, a full bird colonel, he was from the states and he was going to come and give us an inspection,. We were all set up for this goddamn inspection, it was going to be like a stateside inspection. And all of a sudden we got mortared, and we did a mad minute, with all the howitzers, machine guns going off. That colonel had a chopper come get him soon as it quieted down and he took off and he never come back, because we scared the hell out of him. To this day I swear to god we didn’t get mortared, but Top threw some grenades out in the wire. I swear to god he did that. Top Farrell used to pull shit like that all the time. He knew how the system worked.

I’ll tell you one thing Farrell did for me, a very nice thing. My wife was pregnant. It happened the last night before I left for Vietnam and I found out about it a few weeks later. This wasn’t a surprise, because we planned to have a kid while I was in the service. I wanted to go on R&R to Hawaii to see her, but she had to go before she was six months. They didn’t want her flying after that. Getting an R&R would have been pretty tough, because it was first come first served, and I wasn’t in country long enough. Farrell put in for an R&R for himself, and when it came through he turned it over to me, which you could do. He did that for me, and I was only a PFC at the time.

He liked me and he helped me get rank. It was like anything, I never gave him any problems and I did a good job. I was 24 ½ and all the other guys were 18, 19 years old, they’re still kids, they didn’t have any idea. And the career guys, they were dumber than a hoe handle. Farrell was good to me. I’ll never say anything bad about him. 

Steve Sherlock

Just before I went on R&R to see my wife I got promoted to corporal, and when I got back went over to Gun 2, where Rik Groves was chief. I was at the gunner’s sight and Rik was standing beside me. We were maybe a foot apart, and saw VC running way out there. Could see them running around some bushes. We’re standing there and hear a pfffffft. What the hell was that? We didn’t know what it was. And then we hear another one, and it goes bing, bing, bing, bing – it hit something. Then we realized we were getting shot at, and we no more than turned around and Lieutenant Monahan comes out of his hooch. He was getting ready to go home in a day or two, and like all short timers took a special care not to get killed. Another round hit behind him and you could see it kick the sand up. He leaped I’ll bet 20 feet. I’ll never forget that sound, when a bullet comes that close. If it was any closer one of us wouldn’t be here today, or both of us would be gone – or hurt bad. The 1st sergeant told us to shoot back, even though we didn’t see any weapons. We shot back into the brush pile with the howitzer and killed all of them.

Another day I was standing there and I remember the explosion that killed Sherlock and Gulley. From Gun 2 you could see it. I remember Pee Wee Watson flying back into the battery in a jeep for all it was worth, getting Doc Townley and taking off again. I never saw a jeep go so fast.

Steve Sherlock On Mobile Operations With The 101st Airborne
Steve Sherlock
On Mobile Operations With The 101st Airborne


I am in contact with Sherlock’s brother. He’s an ex-Marine. He has a motorcycle group, and every time they have a body he escorts the coffin. I never physically talked to him, because he doesn’t want to talk. But we corresponded a lot. I sent him stuff that his brother would have had if he’d of come back, like a 101st Airborne service patch that we wore. You see his parents never got over it. He was young and he had to do all the funeral arrangements, though he was probably under aged to do it.

He never knew much about his brother.  One day he asked me, when his brother died, if the body was intact and if his brother suffered. They had a closed casket because they didn’t want to open it up and see. I was really uncomfortable and was going to lie to him, but I said, “Jeez, I don’t know.” I called Doc Townley and he told me Sherlock’s body was kind of intact and he died instantly, where the other guy was riddled, in parts, and didn’t die right away. I was able to tell Sherlock’s brother that he went quick and didn’t suffer. So he didn’t know this all these years, until five or six months ago – until I told him. It’s a sad thing.

Dave Fitchpatrick – Gun Crew Chief – Part One

Dave Fitchpatrick


Dave On Duty Courtesy Rik Groves
Dave On Duty
Courtesy Rik Groves

 I was older when I went to Vietnam, 24 ½  years old with a wife and a kid on the way. Plus I had a degree in finance. They put me on Gun 3, the base piece. The crew chief was Emory Smith a career staff sergeant who fought in Korea. He was the prima donna of the battery and liked to party. He really didn’t want me. He wanted another fellow who could play the guitar. But the guy was a screw up, and they told Smith, “No, you want Dave because he’s older.”

A lot of guys on Gun 3 at the time had less than 90 days left in country, including Smith himself, which was lucky for me. He asked me, “Do you want to be a private your whole tour or a sergeant?”

I said, “A sergeant,” and he put me right away on the gunner’s sight. Normally a new guy had to hump ammo and cut powder charges, and couldn’t so much as touch the gun, much less work the sight. That’s where I did all my learning. I learned how to sling out the guns for helibornes and I trained a lot of new guys that were coming in. When Howie Pyle showed up I trained him how to be a gunner.

Two or three days after I got there we went on an air mobile operation along the coast with the 101st Airborne. There was no firebase that could reach them way up in the jungle. The only thing that could reach them were jets, and they were not in abundance at the time. Usually we took three guns and played hop scotch through the jungle with them. They would go so far and sweep, and we would drop the guns behind them. Then they would go further up and we’d come up behind them again. And we were fast; we could get something to them within 30 seconds. We did a lot of shooting but we didn’t get any incoming. A lot of fire fights, you could hear them in the distance, but we did not get into any direct combat ourselves.

All together I went on about four air mobile operations. I was fortunate, or unfortunate to go on that many, because that’s why I don’t know a lot of guys. When you’re gone a month or two and you have a new guy come in, then you go on R&R and you come back and he goes, so you could be there a year with somebody and not know him.

What You Never Learned in Training

 There were things you didn’t learn until you got to Vietnam. Like the first time you’re mortared. It’s the worst thing ever. Your heart rate goes straight through the ceiling, you get dry mouth, and your adrenalin is going like hell. Then after that you almost get complacent, until one hits close to you. Then it starts all over again.

I’ll tell you something else that’s weird. When we were shooting H&Is rounds at night, you wouldn’t hear them when you were sleeping even when they shot them over your head. But I heard mortar rounds leaving the tube, could hear them before they hit the battery. It would wake me up. You could hear it leave the tube, that puff sound. It’s an eerie thing to wake up in a cold sweat and hear that thing and know it’s coming in. By the time you get up and react to it, it’s already hit.

Nobody ever got enough sleep at LZ Sherry. You were either on duty, on guard at night, under a mortar attack or shooting a mission. At night we used to have 50% guard, four guys on and four guys off. You could be on guard duty four hours, and then be up four hours shooting. So I would go sleep in someone else’s bunker, and when Top came around and said, “Where’s Fitchpatrick?” they’d say I was at the latrine. Top would look in my hooch and see an empty bunk and figure I was at the latrine. They’d quick sneak and get me and say Top was looking for me and I would get up and go find him. We figured there was no harm because you still had three guys up. That was our plan, and we worked it on a rotation system for guys to get a little more sleep.

You learned how to deal with cook offs. When we’d shoot so much on a long fire mission, usually at night, the tube would get so hot that when you loaded a new round it would fire as soon as you closed the breech. So you wanted to make sure you got the quadrant and deflection set before you loaded, and you’d better close it quick.

An Artillery High

You had to keep track of the temperature of the powder charges because it determined how hot the powder would burn, and FDC had to figure that into firing data. Base piece was used for registering all the guns, because it was in the middle of the “lazy W” configuration of six artillery pieces, so that’s where we measured the temperature. We always had a thermometer stuck into one of the canisters in the ready rack. That’s where we kept the rounds after we took them out of their shipping tubes ready to fire when a mission came in. All except the one with the thermometer of course. Knowing this someone decided to hide a stash of marijuana in there thinking it would be safe.

During a fire mission you grabbed rounds off the ready rack, set the fuse and got the round in the air as quick as you could. On this occasion, in the heat of battle, someone grabbed the powder temperature round off the ready rack. When it fired it made a funny sound. Sparks flew out the muzzle of howitzer and a cloud of sweet smelling smoke drifted over the battery. We never found out who it belonged to. Even so there’s not much we could have done about it, due to lack of evidence.

Tommy Mulvihill – Gun Crew Chief – Part Six

Tommy Mulvihill


Unfinished Business

 I was at Ft. Bragg serving out the rest of my commitment when I found out my ex-fiancé was getting married. I told my sergeant, “You got to cover for me for a couple days.” It’s a 12 hour ride from Bragg up to New York. I wanted to be there that night.

I knocked on her door Friday night and she answered. She took one look at me and closed the door. Her father and mother came to the door and said, “Come in, Tom.” I mean, they were like my second parents. She was eighth grade, I was ninth grade. She was in the bathroom and I could hear her crying.

She finally came out and I just said, “Sue, I had to see you. Couldn’t you wait?” She had no answer. I only stayed a few minutes. I just had to get it off my chest. I finally asked her father because he was in the Marine Corps. I said to him, “Did you know your daughter was going to send me a Dear John letter?”

He broke down like a baby … like a baby. He shook his head, “No, and if I did know I would have told her not to.”

I said, “Thank you, that’s all I wanted to know.” You know, you never forget your first love. Believe it or not to this day I’ll go over and see the parents. 

Racing Against A Jeep

 When I left Vietnam I got orders making me an E5 buck sergeant. But then I got busted when I went to Bragg. I beat the shit out of a couple MPs down there. I was down town drinking, and later was back on base and trying to get into the wrong car. The MPs stopped me, and I didn’t take any shit. Neither one of them had any stripes. They wanted to take me in, and I said you ain’t fuckin taking me nowhere. I took the night stick from one of them and beat the shit out of both of them. They got up and ran back to the barracks, and the next thing there are two jeeps coming after me. I take off running. A jeep comes up side of me, and one on the other side. A guy yells, “You ain’t gonna outrun us.”

I said, “Well, I’m gonna try.”

When they got me they beat me down and handcuffed me. From that I got busted and when I got out of the Army I was a PFC again.


 Tommy married Alice 20 years after his return from Vietnam. Alice nurtures him through the aftereffects of that year, and shoos away the hauntings that never go away for good. She has documented Vietnam for him with scrapbooks of unbelievable detail and creativity – each page too wonderful to describe except to say that one holds a tiny Army dress uniform. She made rugs depicting his tour in Vietnam, designed for the floor, but for me too difficult to put on foot upon. On Veterans Day 1996 she gave Tommy another surprise, a written account titled Viet Nam Experiences of Thomas Robert Mulvihill. Here are excerpts.

In this first excerpt Tommy made corrections on his copy in red ink, which appear in parentheses.

Boot camp wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be (it was worse) and for the most part he enjoyed (hated) it.

Alice goes on, without correction from Tommy.

I was able to feel an anguish from within his soul as he talked of Nam. I listened, I mentally noted the stories, locked them away in my heart and mind and then as a Veteran’s Day tribute, I was able to put it all together as a story of him and for him. I listened intently enough to know that being surrounded with Vietnam mementos made him more calm, it kept away the ghosts.

Tom always faced those ghosts, never once did I see him give into the fear of the past… we even went to the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C. to chase away anything that might be looming over him. We walked to that wall hand in hand, and in total silence, then the silence became deafening… but once we got to it, I backed off and gave Tom some space to reach out, to touch that wall and to whisper silently to the buddies he lost that he still loves them and misses them. I watched other Vets there, completely breaking down, sobbing, choking back tears. I saw a Veteran that was as big as a tree, stoop down and sob, while rubbing his finger across the name of his dead buddy. One man cried out loud that he was sorry he never got to say goodbye to his friends, he sobbed as he asked for forgiveness. The Vets seemed so fragile to me. I felt that the monument unites Vets with themselves, it is their history.

Tom now was completely choked up and cried, and then reached back for my hand and we cried together. Then the weight was lightened and we were able to look at that black, glistening wall with pride and curiosity. We took a paper “rubbing” of his buddy’s name, Howard McDonald Pyle. This young, handsome soldier was Tom’s closest buddy and he died in Tom’s arms. This is one side of Tom’s Viet Nam experience that I don’t know very much about. Maybe it’s because I was hesitant to ask. He doesn’t speak of Howie much at all, maybe that is the way he likes it.

Alice ends describing something of herself.

Did I always want to hear the war stories… well, no, not always… did I listen to the gore, yes, if I had to… and will I ever dream his hellish dreams, no… but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a pulse on these matters. I always told Tom I know him better that he knows himself, and he has always disagreed with me, but maybe after reading this, he might have a dramatic difference of opinion. Happy Veteran’s Day, Tom. You’ll always be my brave soldier! I Love You.

Tommy Mulvihill – Gun Crew Chief – Part Five

Tommy Mulvihill


Two Cigarettes

They send me, Andy Kach and Jensen to teach the ARVNs in a big village outside the MACV complex near Phan Thiet (a large administrative center).  We’re teaching them how to fire the howitzers, sling them up for air mobile operations, and things like that. We are done by 11 o’clock in the morning and I say, “Come on, let’s go downtown.” Jensen did not like to go downtown to much because he was married. So me and Andy go, but we’re not allowed to carry our M-16s into town because it’s a friendly village. We’re drinking, we’re partying, and for two cigarettes I could have a girl. We’d walk around, drink some more and I would go back and give her another two cigarettes. But now it’s getting dark. We have to be back in the MACV complex before the sun goes down.

This is after Howie died and the Dear John letter, and I say, “Andy, I got to get another piece of ass. You stand outside the hooch and watch out.” He was not happy about it.

After a little while it’s getting dark and the girl goes, “VC, VC.”

My eyes get big and I go out and say, “Andy, we got to get out of here.”

He says, “Good, thank God. And it’s about time.”

Now we get back to the MACV complex and it’s pitch dark. We can’t get in because we don’t know the password. We are hiding down on our hands and knees behind something and I’m yelling, “This is Corporal Mulvihill. We don’t know the password.”

They end up opening the gate for us and as we’re walking through Andy says to me, “You know, we could’ve been shot by our own guys.” 


Coming home was great. The night before I left there were a bunch of guys in my hooch drinking beer, screwing around, laying on top of each other, hugging each other. All that good stuff.

Then getting on the Freedom Bird. A long trip, we stop in Japan for a short layover. We fly over the state of Washington just as the sun is coming up. I look out the window and call the stewardess over. I say, “Whoa, are we back in Nam?” With all the trees it looked like a jungle.

She says, “No, no, calm down. We’re over Washington. You’re the first person who’s said that.”

I get to JFK airport in New York two days early. I did not tell my folks I was coming because I wanted to surprise them. I’m getting off the plane, I’ve got my duffle bag, and it’s raining out. I go up to a cab driver and ask, “How much you want to charge me to take me to where I need to go?” At this time my folks had moved further out on Long Island, about an hour and a half or two hours away. The Long Island Expressway stopped at exit 57 and where they lived was at what is now exit 63, so there was six miles of back roads. He wants to charge me $130. “Are you crazy? I’ll hitch for that.” Now I’m walking through the airport and he’s following me. I go up to a limousine service and ask how much you guys charge. They are like $70. That’s still a lot of money. The long and short of it I should have called and had my dad pick me up. I figure I made it through Nam, I can get home.

The stupid cab driver is still following me. Then this guy walks up, he’s big and wide, in a black trench coat and carrying a suitcase. He comes up to me and sees me arguing with this cabbie and says, “What’s the matter son?” So I told him the story. He pushes me to his side, then goes up the cab driver and says, “Leave him alone.” The cab driver said something to him and BOOM, this guy knocks the cabbie out cold.

I get in the car with him and he says, “Where you got to go?”

I say, “Farmingville.”

He says, “Oh, I’m going to Ronkonkoma.” That’s still another twenty minutes from where I got to go. He says, “I got to meet a guy in a bar there, a friend.”

I say, “OK, you get me to Ronkonkoma I can take a cab from there.” We drive and we drive, and it turns out he lost his son over there. So that’s why he stepped in.

We get to Ronkonkoma, we pull off the expressway, go into the bar. He’s waiting for his friend and he says, “What would you like?”

“I’ll take a scotch,” I say.

He buys me a scotch and soda, his friend shows up and is talking, and he buys me another one. Now I want to go home. I don’t know this guy and he’s trying to talk his friend into coming and taking me right to my doorstep. His friend did not want to do it, but he finally convinces him to come. No GPS, and they don’t know where they’re going any better than I do. I don’t know exactly where my folks live. They moved further out on Long Island about six months before I went into the service.  But I spent most of my time with my fiancé in Hicksville before going in, so I had an address but couldn’t remember how to get t here. Three of us in the car and I’ve already had three or four scotches.

Somehow he gets me home. He pulls into the driveway, he flashes the lights, beeps the horn, it’s like 12 or 1:00 in the morning. BAM, BAM the lights go on. My brother comes to the door. He looks out and I can hear him scream, “Mom, mom, Tommy’s home.”

I can hear my mom to this day yelling at the top of her voice, “Don’t you dare tease me like that. I’ll beat you till there’s nothing left. Don’t you tease me like that.”

I open the door and I go, “I’m home.” Everybody comes in. I’m the oldest of six, so they’re all younger. Everybody comes down and the two guys come in. My father gives them a drink. The guy gave me his business card and says, “If you ever need anything you call me.” That was a nice gesture.


Paul Dunne was another good friend of mine. He was a big Boston guy and I’m from New York. “Fuck you and your Boston Red Socks,” I’d say to him. I got of picture of me with a headlock on him in the parapet. A letter came that Paul died sweeping for mines two days after I left Sherry. And I’m the one that taught him how to mine sweep.

Paul Dunne and Tommy
Paul Dunne and Tommy

I remember Paul for a lot of things, but mostly for what he did during a fire mission. Paul was the loader. The round (weighing 42 pounds) slipped out of his hand, hit the gun trail, and came down point first on my foot. I was barefoot, no boots or flip flops or anything. It hurt like hell. I’m surprised it didn’t go through my foot … or go off.

We continued the fire mission and we’re pumpin’ out the rounds. After the fire mission I went up to the medic. It was probably Doc Townley. He stitched me up. I remember Sgt. Groves coming in and being upset because he had to help clip the stitches as Doc was sewing me up. He said it was the first time in his life that he had to cut the stitches and the first time he had to watch somebody being stitched up. No pain killers, no nothin’, just get up and go. Even when I was hit in the head it was the same thing, they didn’t give me nothin’. I said, “Just give me another beer.”


 Tommy was awarded two Purple Hearts. They came the two times he was medevac’d to the rear for treatment: wounded in the head during a mortar attack and just two months later hit in the leg at Outpost Nora. The oak leaf cluster on the ribbon denotes a second Purple Heart.


Purple Heart With Oak Leaf Cluster
Purple Heart With Oak Leaf Cluster

However he could have earned another two Purple Hearts. A third should have come on August 12 when he was sprayed with shrapnel. That was a chaotic day when two died and others were seriously wounded. In the excitement no one paid attention to a guy with a few pepper wounds on his back. And Tommy wasn’t thinking about medals after Howie had died in his arms.

Another Purple Heart could have come from having an artillery round stab into his foot during a fire mission. Any injury sustained during engagement with the enemy qualified. But during those awful months of 1969 having a round drop on his foot was seen as an accident, not a medal-worthy wound.

In addition to a unit Commendation Medal for Valor, Tommy also came home with a Bronze Star. This medal was for meritorious service over his entire time in Vietnam. Despite his occasional disciplinary lapses, like shooting a round at the feet of his crew chief, this medal recognized what Tommy meant to B Battery over the long haul. The Bronze Star was not given lightly, going to a little over 1% of those who served in Vietnam. It is proof there was more to Tommy than the crazy Irish kid who attracted metal and didn’t take shit from nobody.