I reported to the 512th Artillery Group in Dalat, and the next day flew south to Phan Rang to join the 5th Battalion of the 27th Artillery Regiment. I had a long talk with the battalion XO (executive officer and second in command: usually a major at the battalion level) and told him I wanted to be at a firing battery, I wanted to be on the guns. Then I made the mistake of mentioning my supply background, and his eyes lit up. His supply officer had been sent home after going down in a helicopter. He said if I helped him out he would see to it that I got to a battery.
Adventures In Supply
I inventoried the entire battalion and discovered there were some strange things that needed to be straightened out. Four helicopters sitting at battalion were not accounted for anywhere on the books; that is, nobody owned them. Everyone I asked, including the pilots, said, “There were here when I got here.” I would hear that excuse a lot. The Army has a special category for such equipment called Found On Post. So I declared them FOP and added them to the battalion inventory.
After dealing with the four extra helicopters, I discovered we were missing a lot of equipment, one of which was a ¾ ton truck. The battery commander had signed it out, but now had no idea where it was. In the course of looking for missing items I made a visit to the air base at Phan Rang to verify the existence of air conditioner units that were on our books and supposedly being repaired by the Air Force. I took along some strip steaks from the mess hall as my calling card and introduced myself as the new supply officer. They showed me the units in the repair shop which were waiting on parts. Then someone pops up and says, “By the way, can we keep the truck?”
“You’ve got one of our trucks?”
“Yeah, they gave it to us for personal use, to run into town and to the beach.”
And there it was parked in back, the battery commander’s missing ¾ ton with all the right bumper markings. The Air Force was fixing our air conditioners as a favor, not as something they had to do, and the jeep was a return favor. I did not want to blow this situation and said, “Of course the Air Force can keep the truck for now. I’ll have you sign a hand receipt and all will be fine.”
I went back to the battery commander who had signed for it and said, “I found your missing truck.”
He perked up and said, “Wow, great, where is it?”
“You’ve loaned it to the Air Force and here’s the hand receipt to reconcile your books.” He was thrilled there would be no report he had lost a truck.
Then there’s a funny story about an Air Force jeep. I inventoried the equipment at all the battalion firebases, and when I was doing Charlie battery near Dalat I went to enter the numbers from one of their jeeps into my inventory log and saw that I had already accounted for it. It seems that I had two of the same jeep. The battery commander had no idea what was going on. So I went back to battalion to talk to the supply sergeant in charge of the rear operations for the batteries. “A jeep you have here, that same jeep is out at the firebase.”
He got a weird look on his face that said, “Oh crap.” We went out to the vehicle yard and found the jeep. The USA numbers on the hood, the bumper markings and everything matched the jeep out at Charlie. I took my Zippo lighter and scraped a little on the bumper number and under the olive drab paint it was blue. I scraped a little bit more and found a different bumper number.
So here’s a jeep that obviously belonged to the Air Force. The supply sergeant pleaded ignorance, “I don’t know. It was here when I got here.”
I took the jeep back to the Air Force, to the AP station. I got the runaround from a sergeant there. He said, “What’s up, lieutenant?”
“I got a jeep out here that belongs to you and I want to return it.”
He said, “I’m not missing a jeep.”
“Well the Air Force is missing a jeep and I’ve got it outside.” He started fiddling around and finally I said, “I am getting in my vehicle outside and leaving. You do whatever you want with the jeep.”
Lots of shenanigans went on at that Air Force base.
Then there was always the combat loss option for firebases. I’m not sure what battery it was, but they got an incoming mortar or two and afterward reported that a 1 ½ ton trailer and all its contents were destroyed. They wrote up the combat loss with enough stuff that it took three trucks to deliver it all. Even a generator – oh yeah, a generator was on that trailer. Whatever they needed at the time was on that trailer. Cracked me up.
Another fun situation started with that supply officer who was medevac’d and I replaced. My first duty was to gather up all of his stuff and send it home to his wife, except for his Playboy magazines. Under his bunk I found a box with three M-16 rifles wrapped in cosmoline (a brown waxy rust preventative). I checked and they were not on the books. I kept the rifles and glad I did.
A lieutenant came in one day with one of his men who was in trouble. He was riding on a helicopter with his M-16 sitting on the deck, and when the chopper banked the rifle slid out the door. Losing your weapon was a big deal. He would have had to pay for it and probably would have received some kind of disciplinary action. I told them to come back after lunch and we’ll see what we can do. I went and got one of those M-16s and did what’s called an inventory adjustment report. I dropped the serial number of the weapon that was lost and substituted the number from the un-inventoried M-16. The lieutenant and his E-4 came back after lunch all worried about what they were going to do. I reached down behind my desk and handed the M-16 to the E-4 and said, “All you got to do is not lose this one. Now get out of here.”
The Smell of Junction City
In addition to all my supply duties they made me the battalion paymaster, a job nobody wanted. At the end of every month I would go to Cam Rahn Bay and pick up $150,000 in military pay certificates, the paper script the military issued in lieu of greenbacks. It took me three days traveling by helicopter to pay everybody in the battalion because we had people spread out over a large area.
I was paying the people at B Battery out at LZ Sherry, sitting at a folding table outside the first sergeant’s hooch under a canopy with my paperwork and suitcase of money and soldiers in a line coming up one by one. A young man came up to the table, saluted and said, “Specialist Meis reporting for pay, sir.”
I looked up and said, “I smell Junction City, Kansas on you, soldier.
He said, “How do you know I’m from Junction City?”
“And your father says Hello.” Then I told him how Lieutenant Colonel Meis had helped my family find housing on short notice and that he had given me the card with his son’s unit on the back. “I promised your dad if I ran across you I’d do whatever I could to help you, and I will. Don’t forget that.”
Running into the colonel’s son was the highlight of my paymaster job. I asked the battalion executive officer how much longer I had to put up with this pay officer crap. He said until another dumb ass 2nd lieutenant shows up.
I loved being away from battalion out with the troops. I especially enjoyed visiting the firebases. I never asked them why they needed things, just how much and when. I would stay overnight a lot, which shocked them. They said other rear area officers would never think of staying overnight at a firebase.
On one of my overnight visits the battery commander said I could use the extra bunk in his hooch. The motor sergeant overheard him and later said to me, “Don’t do it. You can sleep in the motor pool area.” I thought this was strange but took him up on his offer. That night someone threw a hand grenade into the battery commander’s hooch. The dumb ass who threw it had pulled the pin but not the shipping safety wire, so all it did was scare the crap out of the captain. Seems he was not well liked.
I made a lot of jeep trips to Cam Rahn Bay, because that’s where everything came into Vietnam. I made friends with the people there and got access to every type of chopper and fixed wing I needed. On one of those trips my driver and I were fired on from the roadside brush. The driver slowed down and I had to yell at him to get moving. Later I said, “Don’t ever slow down to see who is shooting at you.” We had a hole in the front of the jeep just below the windshield on my side. I don’t know the caliber but I could stick my finger through it.
The battalion XO did not like my being on the road so much. When he got wind of this incident he told me to curb my trips off base. His exact words were, “Cut that shit out.”
A Favor Returned
One day Specialist Meis came into my office saying he needed help. He was going home and the rear area supply sergeant was giving him grief about missing gear. I took him into the back and loaded him up with what he needed. I then had my driver take him by jeep to Cam Rahn and stay with him until he was loaded onto a plane for home. He was very grateful and promised to give his dad my best.
“At” Did Not Count
I had been in Vietnam for three months now and it was time to pressure the XO about his promise to get me to a firing battery. The supply job was great, but I was an artillery officer, not a supply officer, and it looked bad on my record not to be shooting. Being shot at did not count.
The XO and I used the Air Force officers club every chance we got. After more than a few drinks I pushed him about getting to a firebase and he finally said to see him in the morning. I was in his office first thing. He had a hangover but fortunately remembered our conversation. He said he had a great deal for me.
The motor officer was going home right before a big inspection in a few weeks. If I would take the motor officer job through the inspection he would be very grateful and would make good on his promise. What could I say? The motor officer slot called for a captain, which would look good on my record to hold this job as a second lieutenant.
I took the job, but ignored the order to stay out of the field. I still visited the firebases; the draw of firebase action is what kept me interested. That’s how I got the idea to create a mobile maintenance rig. It involved a trailer and mechanic that could be airlifted to the firebases for fast on-site vehicle repairs. The battalion commander and XO ate it up, especially since we passed the inspection with flying colors and the inspecting colonel was impressed with our flying maintenance team.
Now I got the XO up to the Air Force officers club again. He was soon to go home, and after the required number of drinks he cried, and I did too. God bless him he said I could have any firebase I wanted. I picked Bravo Battery at LZ Sherry because it was the firebase with the most action and was in a remote location. I was glad to finally be part of the real action and on my way to shoot. Before leaving I was given the Army Commendation Medal for my work as supply and motor officer. It was nice to be appreciated.