Monthly Archives: December 2015

Chuck Monahan – Executive Officer – Part Three

Outpost Nora

B Battery sent two guns on an airmobile operation to a rocky hilltop called Outpost Nora. Only one thing about Nora has stayed with him.

The only thing I liked about Outpost Nora was a baby girl named Chi (pronounced Chee). She was a favorite of mine. That little girl stole my heart.

Monahan and Chi Picture courtesy Rik Groves
Monahan and Chi
Picture courtesy Rik Groves

Acting Battery Commander

In May I was the XO. Hank Parker came back to the battery and they made him assistant XO since we already had a Fire Direction officer. Our new battery commander, who was fairly new to the battery, was either back in Phan Rang for extended periods or invisible in his hooch – the men called him The Ghost. He was gone so much Hank and I basically ran the battery. I wasn’t close to this guy and could never understand why he was given a battery to command. After I left, toward the end of July, Hank Parker became XO.

I heard that the battery commander was relieved of his command shortly after the mortar attacks on August 12 and Hank Parker moved into the battery commander slot.

Leaving Sherry

Just before leaving Sherry for home Lieutenant Monahan experienced a close call which he does not remember, but which others guys remember in detail.

Dave Fitchpatrick, Gun 5 Section Chief:

“I was at the gunner’s sight on Gun 2, and Rik Groves 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 First 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.”

Chuck Monahan the day he left LZ Sherry Picture courtesy Rik Groves
Chuck Monahan the day he left LZ Sherry
Picture courtesy Rik Groves

The last thing I remember about LZ Sherry was the chopper coming to get me. I am on the chopper and I asked the pilot to circle the firebase. I looked down and felt bad about leaving. That I do remember. I felt like I was letting the guys down. I cared about the guys. I wanted to get home safely and I wanted them to get home too. Unfortunately, for some of them, that did not happen.


I was home just a few weeks when I got a letter from Rik Groves telling me Howie Pyle had been killed. Howie Pyle was the section chief on Gun 3, our base piece. He was officer material, a good leader, quiet, humble, very efficient, got the job done. He ran a good section, which is why he was on base piece. I was so sorry to hear he had been killed.

About four months later I got a letter ordering me to report for reserve duty. I had to do three years active reserves. I was 29 days short of having three full years of active duty, so I had to do the reserves. I was pissed. They assigned me to a unit in Boston, an artillery unit in Roslindale, so I had to drive from Springfield once a month (about 100 miles) and then go away for two weeks during the summer. Most of the guys who got into the reserves were avoiding the draft. The guys in my unit had no military bearing. They could care less. As much as I hated reserve duty, I still I loved the guns, the smell of the gunpowder.

During the spring of 1969 I wrote a letter to Springfield College asking if I could come back. I got accepted and returned to school in September 1969 on the GI Bill. I finished up in two years, but my senior year I was getting married and I didn’t think I had enough money to stay in school. I worked in the registrar’s office and when I told them I was going to withdraw, they said not so fast and got me a full academic scholarship my senior year.

My Memories

I remember the mortar rounds coming in, the illumination rounds going up, and trying to get a back azimuth from the incoming mortars. Yet there is so much I cannot remember. One thing I will never forget, and that is the dedication of the gun crews and everyone who supported them. No doubt about it. They humped their asses twenty-four hours a day. Some nights they fired all night, and one night we nearly ran out of ammo. So they decided to increase what we could hold and built another ammo bunker. We had close to 4,000 rounds after it was built. Still we fired so much it was tough to get us resupplied, especially at night when most of the fire missions took place. I can remember nights the guns would get so hot that when you threw a round in the chamber the gun would fire by itself. We had to follow a DO NOT LOAD, FIRE ON COMMAND protocol (projectile loaded only when ready to fire). There weren’t many batteries in Vietnam that shot as much as we did.

When there weren’t fire missions at night there was guard duty. Then in the morning there was more work: gun maintenance, ammo resupply, sandbag duty, barbed wire repair, and all the other endless jobs that kept a firebase operating and secure. It was tough work on those guns.

B Battery guys were serious about what they were doing because they knew guys in the infantry were depending on them. Most of our guys were good guys, who cared about what they were doing. If they didn’t the gun crews straightened them out.

Those were the thoughts going through my mind as I circled LZ Sherry for the last time.

Maybe those are the memories that matter the most.

Chuck Monahan – Executive Officer – Part Two

LZ Sherry

 When I got to Sherry in late October of 1968 it was mostly tents. Maybe there were a few hard structures, but it was mostly tents. Willie J. Ridgeway was the battery commander, a pretty easy going guy and a good battery commander. Very soon Captain Gilliam became battery commander, another competent officer I enjoyed working with.

First Sergeant John Farrell was tough, by the book, which I liked. If you didn’t have discipline out there, managing the battery would be difficult. He was forceful, aggressive, and a good First Sergeant.

Sergeant First Class Cerda was Chief of Smoke. He was a seasoned veteran who knew his stuff and was respected by everyone.

During my time at Sherry we had great NCO’s which made life a lot easier for everyone. The gun chiefs and other section chiefs took their responsibility seriously, looked out for and treated their men fairly.

First Lieutenant Monahan at LZ Sherry
Monahan at LZ Sherry

 January, 1969 Ground Attack

I was the Fire Direction Officer at the time and was in FDC because we were in a fire mission. The tank on our perimeter called in and asked if there were any patrols out. The guy who was on the radio in FDC looked at me and I said, “No, we don’t have anything out there.” So the tank guy came back and said there’s something in the wire. The radio operator said, “Then fuckin’ fire.” It was over as quickly as it started. Saved a lot of lives. I remember walking around seeing all the bodies, especially the body people called Head-and-Shoulders. I remember two guns went out that morning on an operation, and I don’t remember much about the cleanup.

Lieutenant Colonel John Crosby, Battalion Commander, remembers the aftermath:

“I got the report the night of the attack and I went down early the next morning. The Task Force South commander also came down that morning. I took pictures of all the dead VC, their rockets, their AK-47s and other ordnance. We knew that we wiped out the entire sapper unit because the leader had a roster of all the sappers in his loincloth, and so we were able to count the people in his sapper unit, the KIAs and the one guy that was captured. We got ‘em all. We counted them off and every single one of them was laying out in front of us. I think it was 14 KIA.”

Monahan over mortar site
Monahan over mortar site

February Loss

The night that LZ Betty got hit (February 22, 1969), Captain Wrazen was supposed to come out the next day to Sherry. I had invited him out to see and visit the guns because he had never been on a firebase.

I used to stay up a lot at night, so after breakfast I used to crash for an hour or so. The First Sergeant came in and woke me up and said, “Your buddy’s not coming out.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

He said, “He was killed last night.”

Lieutenant Hank Parker, who took Monahan’s place as forward observer with Delta Company, fought beside Captain Wrazen that night.

“Wrazen tells me to take up a position at the gullies. I rip an M60 machine gun off a jeep and Wrazen tells me where he wants me to go, just down from a bunker he is occupying. I am close to him, maybe ten feet away. He is in the open on the top of a French bunker, a concrete bunker with ports. You got enemy fire and mortars coming in and tracers both green and red flying in all directions. I look over and see his body jerk and then go down. I run over to him and arrive at the same time as First Sergeant Horn and another lieutenant. Wrazen is already dead I think. They get a jeep and take him to the battalion surgeon. I continue on doing what he told me to do securing that part of the perimeter that was in front of the tower with the steep incline in front of it. 

Snakes Beware

In April, six months after arriving at Sherry, 1st Lieutenant Monahan became the battery executive officer, second in command behind the battery commander. His new title did nothing to warn away the local wildlife.

My hooch was a pretty good size hooch. We had three or four people in there, officers and First Sergeant Farrell. One day there were snakes in my bunk. I hated snakes. I always had my .45 pistol with me and I grabbed it and started shooting. It was stupid to do obviously, it could ricochet. I remember Farrell being in the hooch behind me and he had to stop me.

This incident, told so simply by Monahan, has worked its way into the lore of B Battery.

Tom Townley, battery medic:

“Farrell slept in the same hooch with the XO, 1st Lieutenant Monahan. It was the beginning of the wet season, the rainy season, so it must have been around June or July 1969. I remember because that’s about the time I went to the rear. The rain came at 5 o’clock every day, you could count on it. And it rained so hard you could not see. One night Monahan – a big guy – went in his hooch to crawl in bed. We all had mosquito netting, especially during the wet season. He crawls into bed and pulls the mosquito netting around him and feels this movement. He did not know what it was. He pulls back his sheet and there is a six-foot cobra in bed with him. My hooch was next to his, and all I heard was a .45 pistol going off. Boom. Boom. Boom-boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Farrell was there and had to stop him. I don’t think Monahan ever did kill the snake. I don’t remember seeing it afterward, so I don’t think he ever did kill the snake. But he sure put a lot of holes in his bunk.”

The snake incident even made it back to battalion headquarters in Phan Rang, to Lieutenant Colonel John Crosby, who has his own version of the story:

“When I took over the battalion a guy by the name of Farrell was the First Sergeant. Captain Ridgeway was the battery commander, a darn good one. Later on the executive officer was a sharp kid from Boston and had a New England accent big time.

A typhoon with heavy rain came through one night and hit right there at Phan Thiet. LZ Sherry had a little bit of elevation to it, not much, but some. The lower surrounding territory got flooded, and a whole bunch of cobras came from the wet area into the battery.

The XO was in his hooch in his bunk and he felt something hitting him on the rear end, a bump-bump-bump kind of thing. He got out his flashlight and looked at the wall, which was made out of ammo boxes, and he saw this snake’s tail between the ammo boxes. So this kid reaches in there, grabs the snake, pulls it out and it was a cobra. Shocked into action he pulls out his .45 pistol and starts shooting. His hooch mate Sergeant Farrell came in and calmed things down, but Farrell was really afraid of snakes. He just had to look at them and he’d get sick on his stomach.

Six or seven cobras were killed in the firing battery area. None of the snakes were real big. It looked like a whole family that was just born to a mother cobra; her nest got flooded and they all came up into the battery area. That was the excitement for the night.

The next day after the typhoon I went out with a supply of anti-venom serum.”

Chuck Monahan – Executive Officer – Part One

The Road to Nam

I was in school at Springfield College in Massachusetts in pre-med, but I was a party-hearty student and after two years they asked me to leave. Through the local selective service I found out that I was coming up quickly for the draft and seeing as how I was interested in the medical field I enlisted to be a medic. I went to basic at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina. One of the training officers took a liking to me and asked me if I wanted to go to Officer Candidate School. I thought, what the hell, I’m in the Army I might as well make the best of it. I graduated from Artillery OCS at Ft. Sill, and from there went straight to Germany as a fire direction officer on 155 mm self-propelled howitzers.

Being in Germany was great with the exception of winter maneuvers. After a year in Germany I volunteered for Nam, and then thought about how crazy that was. I went to my colonel who was able to pull it back, but a week later I came down on a levy for Vietnam anyway.

Funny to You Maybe, But Not To Me

When I landed in Nha Trang I got assigned to 27th Field Artillery Regiment and I said, “What the hell’s that? What kind of guns?”

They said, “What kind do you want? The 27th has everything.”

I requested 155 mm Self Propelled because I was familiar with them. They told me that I would like 105’s. So at the 27th headquarters down in Phan Rang they assigned me to 105s at B Battery. But I didn’t go to the firebase right away. The rule was new lieutenants had to spend time as a forward observer, so I went up to Pleiku for forward observer school. Outside of the FO training at Ft. Sill I did not have any experience calling in artillery, and I don’t know how much the school helped to be perfectly honest.

I’m getting ready to deploy with Delta Company of the 3/506 Airborne Infantry out of LZ Betty. I’m 22 years old, green as can be, and in Vietnam for just a couple weeks. They said, “How much ammo do you want?” I must have taken half a dozen bandoliers with me. (An M-16 bandolier held seven ammo clips and was worn across the chest.) When I got on the chopper they laughed at me saying I was weighing down the helicopter.

They choppered me out to Delta Company in the field. I don’t know where I’m going, and they’re hovering over this elephant grass, and I see smoke, and they’re telling me to jump out. I say, “No way.” The Delta company First Sergeant is on the chopper with me and he pushes me out. From the ground I look up at the chopper and give him the finger, and he just laughs. The chopper takes off, I am all by myself, I don’t see anyone, and I am more than a little nervous.

Welcome to Vietnam. Then two guys come out of the brush and get me. What goes through my mind is, Why didn’t I study harder?

A couple of nights later we were set up in our nighttime position. It was September during monsoon season. I had called in rounds on one of the defensive targets I had set up around our perimeter, and it was wet and dark but quiet. Later that night one of our perimeter trip flares goes off right in front of us. I freeze. I look around and nobody’s moving. How come nobody’s moving? Then our Claymore mines go off. Not being familiar with claymore mines, I’m thinking that this is the end of the world for me. I jump into a foxhole and get ready to call in artillery, but it’s over before it started.

Captain Gerry Wrazen was my salvation. He had a great way about him, just exuded leadership. Confident in a mild mannered way. He was a natural. I was a very green and inexperienced FO in a tough infantry unit, and it was Captain Wrazen who helped me get along. He let you know he trusted you and I got close to him quickly.

Captain Gerry Wrazen
Captain Gerry Wrazen

ADD 500

We had little skirmishes and small firefights during my time with Delta, and I had one bad night. It was still September with heavy monsoon rains, and from constantly trudging through the rice paddies everybody’s feet were beginning to rot. You never walked on top of the rice paddy dikes where it was dry, you always walked down in the paddy. It was so bad they brought the whole unit back into LZ Betty for three or four days of recuperation.

When we went back out to the field, October 4, that night around 7:00 we went to the southern end of Betty and were waiting for darkness to fall before heading out. Just as we are about to leave, word comes back from our point telling us that he thought he heard movement out in the rice paddies ahead of us. We looked at the map and it was a no-fire zone; there were a lot of those no-fire zones. If you were not in contact, it took an act of Congress to get permission to fire. We looked at each other and Wrazen said, “To hell with it. let’s just move out. It’s probably nothing.”

We started to move out. But this time because we had just recuperated from our feet being messed up, he said to walk on top of the dikes. We’re walking on the dikes and all hell broke loose. They had us in a cross fire with automatic weapons, and they started mortaring us. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. Everybody dove into the rice paddies. I got separated from my radio operator. I reached for my maps, and even though there was plastic on them, they were covered in mud. I am trying to get my bearings on the map to call in artillery. Meanwhile, Wrazen thought I was hit because he had yelled for me and I didn’t hear him, so he called for gunships. I got my RTO back, called to B Battery, and threw out a grid for them to fire on. I think I called for a white phosphorous round. I was laying on my back in the rice paddy – I remember this like it was yesterday – looking for the WP round to come in and there was nothing. I saw and heard nothing. I told the firebase to ADD 500. Now where did that come from?

Add 500 meters to the last shot. This was a daring adjustment, over five football fields, especially since the first shot was nowhere to be seen.

They fired and now I saw it and it’s close enough, so I started to adjust high explosive rounds on the target. The rounds started to land on the side of a hill close in front of us. I got real cautious since we in danger close range and I was leery of bringing them in any closer. About this time the gunships were coming in, which meant we had to wave off the artillery. The gunships quieted things down, allowing us to get to the side of a hill and dig in for the night.

I remember the next morning I had these huge blisters on the inside of both arms opposite my elbows. They were like large bubble gum bubbles. I called for the medic and then said to Wrazen, “I’m going home, baby; see you later.”

He looked at doc and said, “Bandage him up, he’s coming with me.” Doc poked the blisters, put some type of cream on, wrapped them, and that was it. I know we took casualties that night, but I don’t know how many and don’t remember the Medevacs.

Almost Famous

Monahan b&w

A photographer from  Stars and Stripes embedded with the 101st took this picture of me as we were crossing a rice paddy. I had no idea there was a photographer with us, much less that he had taken a picture of me. One afternoon Captain Wrazen called me in and handed me a large glossy of this picture and said, “You created quite a stir.” He told me they were going to publish it in the paper, that is until the general got wind of it. The general went ballistic because the picture showed I had cut my sleeves off just below the shoulder, which I did because of the heat, but he thought defaced the uniform. Wrazen said, “The general yelled at the colonel, and the colonel yelled at me.” Of course it didn’t bother Gerry Wrazen at all. He shook his head and said, “Don’t ever do that again.”

I was an FO for just a month or two before going to Sherry. Most guys were out there for four or five months, some longer. You either hit it right, or you got screwed, and I hit it right. It was just the luck of the draw.