Monthly Archives: July 2014

Andy Kach – Ammo Crew Chief – Part Three

Andy Kach


Farrell’s Monkey

First Sergeant Farrell and I never hit it off from the very beginning, which was mostly my fault, for questioning his judgment of not utilizing my gunnery skills. Once while walking past First Sergeant he immediately noticed one of my shirt buttons was unbuttoned and put me on a detail building the command hooch. They were always looking for a reason to put us on detail – probably in an attempt to keep our minds busy so we wouldn’t do something stupid. The location of the command hooch was in a flood zone and it would flood during monsoon.

When Sandage and I completed our new hooch, First Sergeant came down to inspect it and said, “I really like this hooch. We might just take it over.” I looked at Sandage and said, “If that SOB thinks he’s going to take this hooch, we’re going to have an issue.” It never happened.

First Sergeant Farrell had a pet monkey that he would walk through the battery on a leash, like a dog. Occasionally the monkey would get loose and climb up on the gun aiming stakes and move them around, which meant that the gun crews would have to reset the aiming stakes to be ready for a fire mission. Once when the monkey was loose I jokingly put him in an illumination canister and wanted to send him into orbit, when the chief of smoke commented it wasn’t a smart thing to do. I’m the only one pictured actually having that monkey by the neck.

Within my first few weeks at LZ Sherry I got a virus where my throat swelled up to where you couldn’t see my chin. The weather was extremely hot, I had a high temperature, and Doc Townley was really concerned. He ordered some medicine from the rear for me and said, “If this doesn’t work, you’re out of here. I can’t do anything more for you.”  So while I’m lying in that underground hooch, that monkey came in and got up on the roof and pissed on me. I was so out of it, I couldn’t do anything about it. If anyone had a reason to choke that monkey, I did!

Friendly Choke Hold
Friendly Choke Hold

I heard somebody hung the monkey.

He actually hung himself. Nobody hung it, but everyone thought I did. The First Sergeant was walking his monkey when we got a mortar attack. He threw the monkey in its cage up by the Fire Direction center. It must have gotten excited during the mortar attack and when the smoke cleared the monkey was swinging by the leash inside its cage. That was the best news – everyone was celebrating.

Civil Wars

Not My FlagWhen I first arrived at LZ Sherry, there were a few issues; there was kind of a north & south thing going on. There were a few guys from the south that didn’t like the northern guys. But as the normal rotation of gun crews occurred, that group of guys left and that friction dissipated.

Judson and I went out on the perimeter one evening to test fire and aim our weapons. We were green and we wanted to make sure our weapons were in good working order. When we returned from the perimeter a couple of guys from the south asked us, in that southern drawl, what we were doing out there. When we explained it to them, they started giving us a hard time and grabbed at our weapons. I told the one guy, “Look, this weapon is still loaded.” That guy was a little strange and had a reputation for giving new guys a hard time.

While on guard duty in the tower one night, he was drunk and told me he was coming up the tower; I said, “You can come up, but I’ll guarantee you one thing. I got a weapon up here that’s loaded.

He said, “Now Johnny, I wouldn’t hurt you. Come on now. I’m just going to come up there.”

I said, “You just come on up. You make the decision.” 

He never came up, and he left for home shortly after that.

We got a new Lieutenant; he was a Field Observer, Hank Parker. Sergeant Bowman assigned me to a detail to help build Lt. Parker’s hooch. I went up to the motor pool and got a five-ton truck and loaded it with PSP so we could put it on his roof, and we got the job done. Lt. Parker seemed to be a squared away guy.

On the way back to the motor pool from that detail, I hit an engineer stake that was sticking out of the ground, which obviously I didn’t see, and blew the front tire out of the truck. The motor pool sergeant at the time was a heavy-set guy from the south. He walked up and said, “You just bought yo self a tire.”

I said, “What?”

He said, “You just bought yo self a tire, son.”

And on payday, when the paymaster came out to Sherry, he took $80 out of my pay and gave it to the Motor Pool Sergeant and handed me a receipt for the tire. I thought, something’s not right about this. I should have had him ship the tire home for me since it was mine – what a souvenir that would have been. But too green to know better or know what to do.

Recently at a battery reunion, I learned that First Sergeant and the Motor Pool Sergeant played cards together; that’s probably where my money went.

That same motor pool Sergeant was up in one of the towers one night and saw a bunch of lights moving out in the tree line. We fired some rounds out there. The VC had tied flashlights to the legs of their water buffaloes and ran them through the woods, just to get us shooting. We killed a few water buffalo that night.

Andy Kach – Ammo Crew Chief – Part Two

Andy Kach


Deluxe Accommodations

My hooch was a little two-man job dug into the ground. For the first couple weeks I was by myself because my hooch mate, Sandage, was up at LZ Sandy on our illumination gun. The hooch was right on the perimeter, in the line of fire of Gun 5. They would shoot  right over the top of that hooch, which is why it had to be so low. Dave Fitchpatrick was the crew chief on Gun 5 and he said, “Do not stand up when you come out of your hooch. When we’re shooting a fire mission or H&I at night we might be firing over your head, but you can’t take that chance.” So we had to low crawl out of my hooch until we were out of the field of fire.

There was a platoon of ARVNs with their families on the other side of the wire, and at night I could hear them talking, and I didn’t know if it was VC or ARVNs. I was all by myself, didn’t know anything, and scared shitless. I would sleep in my helmet and flak jacket with my M16 across my chest. I told Bowman, “They’re going to come in and cut my throat, and I wouldn’t even know it.”

I can remember Bowman coming in one time, and he put his foot on my rifle, right on my chest, and he says, “You gotta stop doin’ this, man. People are afraid to come in here and wake you up.” We had to pull a couple hours of guard duty every night, or else you worked on an illumination gun. He said, “People are afraid to come in here and wake you up. You’re scaring the Hell out of everybody here.”

I said, “As long as I’m here, this rifle is going to be here.” So they’d throw trash in at me rather than come in and wake me up.

Casualty From Michigan 

I put a Michigan flag up right outside my hooch. It went up on a pole I made from rods out of ammo boxes (used to ship artillery rounds). Fitchpatrick came down and he chewed me out and said, “You take that damn flag down.” It was up on a short pole and I told him to go to hell. The next night he aimed his howitzer at the flag and took out a chunk. But he only got the corner. Lucky the round did not hit more of the fabric or the pole. It would have gone off blowing the hooch apart. He claimed he was aiming for the corner he hit.  We loved Fitz, he was a great guy.

Perimeter Hooch and Wounded Flag
Perimeter Hooch and Wounded Flag

Ground Attack 

My hooch mate Sandage came back, a hillbilly from Kingsport, Tennessee. He was just a good ol’ boy and happy go lucky.  He taught me a lot; how to rig the guns and sling the ammo, everything we did in Ammo section. But I’ll tell you, when he took his boots off in that little hooch the smell was so bad I couldn’t stand it. I made him keep his boots outside.

The Ammo section was issued an M60 machine gun, an M79 grenade launcher and a starlight scope. Of course we also had our M16s. When the battery got attacked we took up a position in a little fighting bunker on the perimeter. Sandage taught me how hand flares are different from illumination rounds. A white flare means there’s movement outside the wire. A red one means they’re in the wire, and a green means they’re inside the perimeter and you shoot anything that moves. He got me acclimated so that eventually I didn’t have an upset stomach and wasn’t scared witless all the time.

Andy, Blondie and Sandage
Andy, Blondie and Sandage

Thank God Sandage came back from Sandy when he did, just before the January ground attack. I was at Sherry only two weeks or so and still real green. I’ll never forget it. We got a fire mission to shoot for Sandy. All the guns had turned to shoot, and were maybe ten rounds into that mission when we were hearing the tanks firing. The tanks sounded totally different from the guns, and they were out of battery (firing separately from the simultaneous fire of the howitzers). We were saying, “Who the hell’s out of battery?” There were two BOOMS.

Well one of the tank guys had called FDC and said you got people moving around out here. FDC tells them it could possibly be an ARVN infantry unit on patrol. Well the tank commander radioed back and said, “This asshole is right up on the tank with a B40 rocket.” The tank beat him to the punch. The tank fired one of those canister rounds that they had, like a big shotgun shell. When word got around of a ground attack everybody started firing into the perimeter. I am brand new and scared out of my mind with all the firing. Sandage basically told me what to do getting ammo around to the guns. We went to our perimeter bunker and I remember him saying, “Don’t let this get to you.”

The next morning Sandage and I were part of a detail to pick the bodies out of the wire. We lined up all the bodies that we collected, and there was a mess of them. We’d bring ‘em out, put them on the road and line them up and try to match arms and legs. The only thing that was left of the guy hit with the B40 rocket was his head and shoulders stuck in the wire; that guy got the nick name of Head and Shoulders. Sandage and I did not deal with him. Maybe it was Fitz’s crew that had to pull him out of the wire.

The Mess Sergeant came out with lunch for everybody. Sandage and I were sitting on part of a tree stump eating and we look down and here’s a guy’s leg. It was like, “What the hell are we doing?”

And then they blew a big hole in the ground out by the trash dump and buried them. They were all buried out there. I imagine that half those guys came from the village that was right down the road. And the mama-sans would come out there and cry, and it was nerve wracking to hear them.  That went on for a little while. It was getting to be tragic.

If it were not for the tanks, we would not be here. Fitz and Rik Groves will tell you the same story. The VC had enough explosives on them to take the whole battery out. There were two tanks firing out there. But that initial blast is what saved us; it alerted us that we had issues other than shooting a mission.

The next day the Brass came out and gave the tank crews awards. They got some kind of field ribbon issued to them. The Brass came right out to the field and decorated them.

After the ground attack everything changed. The battery command wanted all the hooches off the perimeter and moved into the battery so the guns could fire directly into the wire. That’s when we built new hooches. It took a month to get them built. We had to do it all before monsoon because the perimeter hooches that were dug into the ground flooded during monsoon. I was so happy to be away from the perimeter wire.

Buddy Holly’s

Buddy Hollys

I had a pair of military issue glasses, but I wore my Buddy Holly’s whenever I could.

Andy Kach – Ammo Crew Chief – Part One

Andy Kach


Where’s The Movie Theater?

 I turned 19 in October of 1968.  My Mom died a week later, a few weeks before Thanksgiving.  I hardly had a chance to digest that, with the demands of deployment.  A few weeks later, on Christmas Day, I’m sitting at the bar drinking a Hamm’s beer on Bien Hoa Airbase.  I was 19 and able to drink beer; I was thrilled.

Christmas Day – Bien Hoa
Christmas Day – Bien Hoa

I was such a dummy.  I thought, Bien Hoa isn’t so bad.  They said, well this isn’t where you’re staying.  Then we went to Nha Trang, and wow!  They had movie theaters and stuff; a nice airbase.  I thought, OK, I could stay here.   And they said, No, no – you ain’t staying here.  And then we took a jump to Phan Rang, which wasn’t as nice, but still OK.  And I thought this isn’t so bad.  But they said, No, no, this ain’t the last stop for you.  You’re going to B Battery.

In Phan Rang, we got all our gear and weapons and got ready for the field.  There were a bunch of us that came in together.  Judson, Kaufman, and me were all assigned to B Battery.  We’re sitting there when a guy named Conn (?) came in, who was a battery runner, or a carrier (someone who runs between all the batteries with messages to and from the rear).  He said to us, “Man, you guys are going to B battery out there at Sherry.  It’s been quiet out there. You lucked out.”  We looked at each other and said, Wow, we’re getting a break.

We went right from Phan Rang to B Battery, because they needed replacements right away, so we got all our stuff and prepared to leave.  They told us about LZ Betty where our forward command post was, but said you’re not staying at Betty, you’re going right out to the field because they need replacements.  So we thought, OK.  And then we got a look at LZ Sherry, and WHOA.  What happened here?  Ain’t no movie theaters out here!

LZ Sherry - During Dry Season
LZ Sherry – During Dry Season

There was a sign at the helipad that said WELCOM TO LZ SHERRY.  There was another little sign on it that said, WHAT SHADE OF PURPLE DO YOU LIKE?  Implying that everybody that ever went there left with a Purple Heart.

First Day at Sherry

 The Chief of Smoke, Sergeant Certa, met us on the chopper pad. When the chopper took off we’re standing there and he says to Kaufman, “Gun 1”.  He says to Judson, “Gun 4”. And to me he says “Ammo Section”.

I looked at him and said, “Ammo section?  I’m a gunner.”

He said, “We need someone in Ammo and that’s where you’re going.”

I was kind of upset about that because I was tenth in my class at Ft. Sill and I did well enough at sighting the guns that I got sent to Self Propelled School (artillery mounted on a tracked vehicle, similar to a tank).  Right after AIT the top 100 guys in the graduating classes all went to SP school, and I was in that group, so I was miffed about getting assigned to the ammo section.

“Sergeant, you are not using my skills,” I say.

“Son,” he says, “Let me tell you how it works around here.  You go where we need you, not where you want to go.”

The Ammo section chief was a hillbilly sergeant from North Carolina named Bowman and he could not say my name. He called me Johnny Cash all the time I was there.’’

He said, “I don’t know how to pronounce that, but ya’ll gonna be Johnny Cash.”

I said, “it’s Kach. 

He said, “Its Cash”.

I complained to him too about my skills not being used in the Ammo section, and he said he couldn’t do anything for me.  He said, “You’ll have to talk to the First Sergeant. He makes the assignments.”

And then to my surprise he looks at me and said, “Do you know how to drive a truck, Johnny?”

I looked at him and said, “Uuuh……No.  The only thing I’ve every driven is a 1962 Dodge Dart with a push button transmission, where you push the D button and it goes.”

He started cracking up and says, “Well Johnny, Corporal Bagemore over there is going to take you around the battery area for about 20 minutes and teach you what you need to know.”

I said, “I don’t know nothing about trucks, or shifting trucks, or anything like that.”

He said, “Well you got 20 minutes to learn, because you’ll be on that road convoy going to Betty.  You’ll be getting ammunition for them guns you wanna shoot so badly.”

I thought, “Are you kiddin’ me?  Can I take two minutes and write home to tell them you’re killin’ me my first day here?

We drove into Betty and I was so stupid about military vehicles or any vehicles, for that matter.  My truck got loaded with ammunition but we had to refuel before heading back to Sherry.  They told me to go over to the motor pool and fuel the truck.  So I drove over and down into this well where the refueling was done.  I put gas in the tank, then found out it was a diesel truck.  That’s how much I knew about the truck.  So now I have the truck fully loaded with ammunition, stuck in the well, and it wouldn’t start.  Bowman was mad because I did that.  He had a five-ton truck, and he slammed into the back of my truck and pushed me out, cussin the whole time.  But they knew what to do.  They had to put so much oil in the gas, because it was a multi-fuel engine, and we got it going again.  But I’ll never forget that because it was traumatic for me.

Sergeant Bowman
Sergeant Bowman

Back at Sherry after all the ammo was unloaded I went to see First Sergeant Farrell.  It was getting dark and he was sitting under that parachute canopy he had over a picnic table outside his hooch.  I walked up to him and said, “I don’t want to be in the Ammo Section.  I want to be on one of the guns where I can do what I know how to do.”

He sat me down and set me straight.  “We put you where we need you.  I got 80 gunners here who can do what you were trained to do, and they do what we tell ‘em to do.  We need you in Ammo and that’s where you’re going to stay.”

That’s when I finally got the drift of how the military works.  They don’t give a damn what your MOS is, or what you’re trained for. 

That night Sergeant Bowman sent me to the beer tent to arm-wrestle with Sergeant Smith, I think was his name.  Every new guy had to do it his first night.  If you lost you had to buy a case of beer for the battery.

I looked at him and then at my pipe stems and I thought, No way.  So I said, “How much is a case of beer?”

Sergeant Smith Courtesy Dave Fitchpatrick
Sergeant Smith
Courtesy Dave Fitchpatrick

Dave Fitchpatrick – Gun Crew Chief – Part Three

Dave Fitchpatrick


Blood Stripe

 At only 13 months in the military I made sergeant and took over as chief on Gun 5. Normally the minimum to make E5 was 18 months. It was a blood stripe. They called it that because at one time when a sergeant was killed they needed to have the bodies to run the show. In my case this Commo sergeant got busted for something and lost a stripe, which I got. I had scored third highest on the sergeants board, but lost points for time in the military and time in grade. I was at the right place at the right time when the blood stripe came along.

I took the gun over from a guy named Smitty, a black guy. Tommy and the guys always referred to it as Smitty’s gun, even after I took over. 

A Michigan Casualty

One night I looked into the scope, the pantelle, and saw a flag waving in front of my aiming stake. So I went down to see what it was. It belonged to this young punk from Detroit, a street kid just out of high school and a wise ass – Andy Kach. I told him to take the damn flag down. He told me to go to hell, it’s the state flag of Michigan. He was a private and didn’t know any better. I thought, OK, I’ll fix your ass.

Later that night we’re doing H&I perimeter fire. You take a round and put it in the chamber and shoot it at will anywhere in your firing sector. I turn my scope on the flag and for a little fun I shoot the corner off. It was so close to his bunker that it woke him up and scared the shit out of him. I knew enough to do it and get away with it. I told the first sergeant the flag should not have been there and I just shot too close. I told Kach next time I’d shoot off the corner of his bunker.

Andy still has the flag with its tattered corner. It comes out for reunions with Andy and Dave standing for photos on either side.


 The Helmet Cure

 When I was on Gun 3 with Emory Smith we kidded around a lot. We did our jobs an we had fun at the same time. I tried to keep things light when I got to be gun chief. We had this guy who was always falling asleep on guard. He claimed he had narcolepsy. So one night when he was asleep on guard his helmet was beside him and we filled it up with water. We come up to him and yelled INCOMING. He jumped up and the took that helmet and dumped it on his head. It was funnier’n hell. We didn’t know if he was milking the narcolepsy thing, but he never did it again.

Melted Memories

On August 12 the two other guns I was on both got hit. Gun 2 got hit early in morning. Theodus Stanley died and Rik Groves, my old crew chief was medevac’d out. Then that night Gun 3, my first gun when I got in country, took a direct hit and it killed Howie Pyle. My Gun 5 was the closest to Howie’s the way the “lazy W” was laid out. We had so much shit coming in that I don’t remember a lot. I can remember when I found out he was dead. People running around helping people. But you’re shooting, so you can’t stop to see what’s going on. It’s a morbid thing, but that’s what happens. They’re running ammo to you and replenishing the guns. It’s like a race car when you pull in from the track and fill up. The war doesn’t stop when somebody gets killed. It happened and there was not much you could do about it, and then you’re busy.

Not long after this my gun took a mortar hit and I lost two guys, not through death, they were wounded. We were on 50% guard (four on, four off) and the mortar hit the top of my bunker. I was awake but I was not on guard. I was lucky, if I had been out on guard I would have been hit. The mortar blew out the tires on the gun and we had to lift the gun to turn it around to shoot back.

Never forget that night. But afterward I don’t remember much, not even the guy who was my hooch mate. Before that I could remember conversations with guys like I was there with them yesterday. They say that when traumatic events happen around certain times you forget. I can’t remember who bunked with me for three months. At one of our reunions Jim Kustes told me it was him and I didn’t even recognize him. I can tell you Rik’s mother’s name, his sister’s, how many kids he has – but I can’t remember Kustes to save my soul.

Family Man

My daughter was born on June 13, 1969 – with three months left on my tour. When my time came I was anxious to get home, which is why I did not extend in Vietnam to get a drop from my overall military obligation. It would have required that I stay in Vietnam an extra 70 days. And we had a lot of shit going on. I had rank and I had my wife and my three month old daughter. I could take it for the seven months left on my military obligation.

Sergeant Fitchpatrick Celebrating the Birth of His Daughter
Sergeant Fitchpatrick Celebrating the Birth of His Daughter

I remember when I left for home. I had a Yashika camera, which at the time was a very good camera. Hank Parker, our Executive Officer, also had one and the batteries were hard to get. He asked me how much I would sell my batteries for. I told him I wanted one day out of there early, which he arranged. But I didn’t get out of Vietnam any earlier because I had to stay at LZ Betty an extra day. I became a training sergeant at Ft. Sill. I met up with Sergeant Farrell there and some of the old gang, so it wasn’t so bad.