Monthly Archives: April 2016

Mike Jordan – Duster Platoon Leader – Part Five


I had two Duster positions at Sherry (on the East and West perimeters) that we occupied on and off. I was also responsible for looking after the two Quad-50s at Sherry, even though they were not under my direct command. The Quad-50s belonged to Echo battery of the 41st and were attached to my Duster battalion, the 4/60th. The Quads did not have a lieutenant in that area, and because I was the senior officer from the 4/60th battalion, as such I was a kind of liaison to them. It was nothing formal, but I looked after them, mostly to make sure they were supplied with parts.

Quad-50 parts would come in by chopper to us at the command post at Betty and I would take them out to Sherry, usually parts for the 50 cal machine guns, which were very hard for them to get, especially the parts for the turrets. After I left they replaced me with a captain and gave him full command authority over the eight Dusters, the Quads and the searchlights up on Titty Mountain. He was kind of a glorified super-platoon leader. It gave all of them more horsepower when it came to getting support.

There was one unique event at Sherry that I remember. There was one troop out there from one of the Quad crews. The night he was scheduled to DEROS, or leave Sherry, they were having a going away party for him in the Quad-50 hooch. They started taking mortar fire at roughly two o’clock in the morning. Everybody at the party who was from the Quads left and ran out to be on the gun to return fire. Even though he was scheduled to leave the next morning, he went with his crew and was running across an open area, and a 82 mm mortar round landed right at his feet. After things settled down and the firing stopped they called me for a dust-off (evacuation by Medevac helicopter). I met the dust-off at the chopper pad when they rushed him in, and then they had to turn around and evac him to Cam Ranh. I do not remember either his name or the exact date, I want to say April or May of 1969. They ended up having to amputate both his legs.

Duster Sunrise

 LZ Betty was on a bluff overlooking the South China Sea. The chaplain decided to have the Easter Sunrise ceremony on the bluff and asked each of us to bring down a significant piece of equipment from our organizations. So I took a Duster and caught a picture with the sun rising behind it.

Duster Sunrise Easter 1969
Easter April 6, 1969

 Up North

 After I left the 1st platoon and went back up north to the 2nd (early summer June or July of 1969) platoon at Tuy Hoa. I had a section of two tracks at Ninh Hoa just north of Nha Trang. We commonly called it Tuy Hoa, but in reality Tuy Hoa was an Air Force base. We were about half a mile outside the perimeter of the Air Force base at an Army airfield called Phu Hiep.

We were sitting again with an 8 inch / 175 mm battery belonging to the 6/36th and that was their battalion headquarter. My battery headquarters was co-located with them. We ate in their mess hall, we partied with them on Friday nights, we escorted their convoys wherever they need to go. In reality we were almost part of that 8 inch / 175 mm battalion.

We were on one hilltop, and there was an NVA company or battalion across the valley on the next hilltop. They would lob mortar rounds at us and we’d fire back long streams of those 40 mm tracers at them. You’d sit there and watch them go Boom, Boom, Boom – a solid stream.

Spent ammo casings after one minute of firing at the NVA Courtesy Joe Belardo, from Dusterman: Vietnam
Spent ammo casings after one minute of firing at the NVA
Courtesy Joe Belardo, from Dusterman: Vietnam

No Thank You

I left Vietnam in January of 1970, a year after I arrived. But not before I had the occasion to remember my old platoon leader, 1st Lieutenant Frank Hewitt. He had suffered the head injury that put him in the hospital while on a six month extension. My battalion commander tried to do that to me too, “You come back, you’ll make captain, I’ll give you command of Alpha battery.”

I said, “That all sounds good sir, but if I come back I’ll come as a divorced man.” I went home and went on to Ft. Bliss.

Mike went on to a twenty-year career in the Army, including teaching in the ROTC program at Seattle University. He passed up an assignment to the Pentagon, and a sure promotion to lieutenant colonel, choosing instead to retire. He then worked for a succession of large defense contractors and became a civil service employee. Along the way he returned to college for his bachelors degree, and then proceeded to earn three masters degrees. He said, “My basic philosophy was if someone else will pay for it, I’ll go to school,” a good piece of advice for anyone.

Mike is still married to Mary Beth Jordan after 49 years and still lives in Albuquerque, NM.

Mike Jordan – Duster Platoon Leader – Part Four

Early Warning System

 At Betty it was routine for me every evening to take a shower and put on a clean uniform and go to supper. After supper I would go to the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) and sit in on the 3/506 Infantry briefing where they outlined the plans for the next day. They also covered in that briefing the free fire areas, and that was most important to me, so that I could let the Dusters know what azimuth sectors they had free fire in. Whatever unit we were with we would fire H&I, harassing and interdiction fire, randomly throughout the night.

The final part of my routine for the night on my way back to the platoon I ‘d drive along the top of the bluff overlooking the Phan Thiet bay. Usually the bay was black, with just a few scatterings of lights out over the water, a late fisherman maybe or somebody running contraband. But sometimes it would look like Times Square, there would be so many lights on the water. Everybody who had a boat or sampan was on the water and away from town because word had gotten around that there would likely be an attack that night against the city or LZ Betty. And that was our first indication we were going to get hit that night. Those were the nights you went back and kept a flack jacket next to your bunk.  It was right seventy-five percent of the time.

Not Feelin’ The Love

With the battalion headquarters for the 4/60 four hundred and fifty miles away up at An Khe, I became the battalion senior officer for the Phan Thiet area, and I operated very independently of my battalion headquarters. In the six months I was at Phan Thiet I got just a single visit from two different battalion commanders who stopped in just to say hi, to look and see how we were doing. I’ll never forget one of those visits.

I had just attended the evening 3/506 briefing and gotten our free fire zones for the night. There was this infantry captain who was in a slot they called the Assistant S3 Air, the guy who was responsible for all of the 3/506 airborne assault operations. This guy came up to me after the briefing and said, “You’re the Duster guy, huh?”


“Well your goddamn Dusters – his words – they give away our position every night. The VC know exactly where our perimeter is because all they got to do is look at where you’re firing from.”

I said, “Hey, sir, (I was a first lieutenant) I’ve got my mission.”

He said, “Well, you don’t tonight. I’m not going to give you any clearance to fire.”

“Okay, if that’s the way you want it.”

I knew my battalion commander was coming in the next morning. I had the two Duster tracks at Betty pack up everything, load their trailers, hook the trailers up to the back of the Dusters, and waiting at the chopper pad when the battalion commander arrived. He said, “Jordan, what the hell’s going on?”

“I was told by the infantry last night they don’t want us here. You and I both know there’s a great demand for Dusters all over South Vietnam. I’m just waiting for orders for someplace to move to.”

“Stand pat. Don’t go anywhere.”

Come to find out that my battalion commander and the battalion commander of the 3/506 went to the Command and General Staff College together. He borrowed my jeep, went straight over to the 3/506 battalion headquarters, walked straight through their S1 section with not so much as a “Hey captain, I’m here to see your battalion commander,” and walked in there and said to his old classmate, “What the hell are you doing telling my officers they’re not wanted down here?”

The infantry colonel was just in shock. “Of course we want your Dusters here.”

“Well apparently your staff doesn’t see it that way.”

I had it on good report later that day that my captain was on his way out to one of the line companies in the field, no longer at his cushy TOC job  (Tactical Operations Center).

Only three battalions of Dusters went to Vietnam, for a total of no more than two hundred Dusters in the entire country, and that’s counting the ones down for maintenance.  Having the protection of a Duster on an operation was a luxury.

It’s A Good Deal When Everybody’s Happy

The only person I worked with on fire missions was a Marine Corps gunnery liaison lieutenant at the LZ Betty TOC. He found out I could shoot indirect fire with the Dusters (lobbing rounds vs. shooting directly at a target), and I found out he could talk to the battleship New Jersey and any other ships on station near Phan Thiet. So we exchanged fire missions. There were some places he called me to put fire in, and I routinely called him and asked for help, but of a different nature.

The 40 mm guns that we had on the tracks were also the Navy anti aircraft guns they had on the ships from WWII – like you’d see on Victory At Sea. These were 40 mm BOFORS guns (Swedish manufacture and first used by the U.S. in WWII). The Navy still had the full stock of repair parts for those guns. Whenever I came up with a part that was hard to get I’d call up my Marine Corp buddy and I’d say, “Hey, who you got on station?”

He’d tell me and I’d ask, “Do they still have the 40s mounted?”

He’d say, “Yeah.”

And I’d say, “Can you call out there and see if they have such-and-such a part?”

He’d say, “Sure.”

But the Navy would always come back with, “What have you got to trade?”

The guys out on the firebases loved to make phony VC flags and stain them with ketchup to make them look like blood. So my Marine pal would tell the Navy, “How about a genuine, authentic VC battle flag?”

“Oh Yeah,” they’d say, “Yeah!”

Then on chopper trips out to these ships to coordinate with the gunnery officer my Marine would bring back a box of gun parts for me. For sure those flags are hanging all over the Navy.

During the war there was a white-hot market for VC battle flags, most of them fakes produced by U.S. soldiers, South Vietnamese military and enterprising civilians – anyone with a needle and thread and a jar of pig’s blood, or in Jordan’s experience, a bottle of ketchup. The demand for VC flags intensified after the war and continues today. According to one expert there are a miniscule number of genuine VC battle flags in existence, and for every genuine one there are ten thousand fakes.

VC battle flag complete with bullet holes and blood Is it genuine or fake?
VC battle flag complete with bullet holes and blood
Is it genuine or fake?

Mike Jordan – Duster Platoon Leader – Part Three

Duster Details

I had eight Dusters under my command. Four of them were at LZ Betty, two down on the airfield and two at the 105 battery up on the hill that we called the OP (outpost). And I had my platoon command post and support units at Betty.

1st Lieutenant Mike Jordan sporting an M-79 grenade launcher in front of twin 40 mm Duster canons
1st Lieutenant Mike Jordan
Sporting an M-79 grenade launcher in front of twin 40 mm Duster canons

I had my other four Dusters up at LZ Sandy, the 8 inch and 175 mm battery. At Sandy I had an E-7 platoon sergeant, Tanker Smith, in charge as my primary second in command. He was an armor guy from Europe so he had the nickname Tanker. We covered all four sides of the firebase perimeter. When someone tried to get into the place it was up to the Dusters to saturate all four sides of the perimeter with the 40 mm and keep them out. I had an arrangement with the various artillery battery commanders at Sandy that as soon as we started taking any kind of incoming my four guns would open up and saturate the perimeter. And since the crews on the howitzers couldn’t do anything, because they didn’t have beehive rounds, they ran to the nearest Duster and started breaking open ammo cans to feed ammo into the track. The ammo came in four-round clips, four clips in a can. The cans were safety wired shut and it took a hammer to unlock the lid, and then they tossed the clips up to the guys on the back of the track.

Joe Belardo with 40 mm ammo clip From his book Dusterman: Vietnam
Sergeant Joe Belardo with 40 mm ammo clip
From his book Dusterman: Vietnam

I always laugh, you pick up any kind of history and you read specs on the Duster and it says 240 rounds a minute when firing full automatic with both guns. Well I never did encounter a crew that could do that. The Duster had two automatic loaders, one for each gun.

Twin automatic loaders From Dusterman: Vietnam
Twin automatic loaders
From Dusterman: Vietnam

A cannoneer would take a clip of those rounds and push it down into that loader, and once the first round got picked up in the loader it sucked up the other three automatically. Very few PFCs and Spec 4s that were slotted as cannoneers that could keep up with the gun.

The Daily Mundane

The roads around my battery headquarters up at Tuy Hoa were such that they were rarely able to use a piece of equipment called the M-578 Vehicle, Tracked Recovery (VTR). It was a light crane mounted on the same chassis and track as the 8 inch howitzer. The old man asked me, “You got a use for it down there?”

“Hell Yeah.”

I did depot level maintenance at the platoon level, which was unique. We would pull the Dusters in with the VRT, or haul them in on lowboys.

 M-578 Vehicle, Tracked Recovery (VTR)
M-578 Vehicle, Tracked Recovery (VTR)
Duster on a lowboy
Duster on a lowboy

When we had to put in a new engine, which we did frequently, I’d go up to the maintenance company with the paperwork. The company commander or maintenance officer would sign the requisition which I had already filled out. I was not authorized to make the requisition, but they were. When the engines came in they were in these big sealed steel boxes, and they’d call me and say, “Hey Mike, we got your Duster engine in.” I’d send my deuce and a half truck, alone with the VTR with the crane on it, and they’d pick it up, put it in the truck, bring it back. Then we’d use the VTR crane to lift the old engine out and put the new one in. We did all that ourselves.

The other thing we did, our ammo was so unique and not used by anybody else that I got the ammo supply point there at Betty to requisition it and stock it for us, and whenever they needed it out at Sandy I had this one old deuce and a half that had no canvas on it, no windshield, it was just a flat bed. We’d load up those pallets of ammo in air sling cargo nets, drive that truck out into the middle of the helipad and the Chinooks would come in and hover and we’d hook up the sling and they’d fly it out to Sandy.

So I got to know the Chinook guys pretty well. Whenever I needed to go up to the battery headquarters at Tuy Hoa, I’d call the guys from the Chinook company up at Cam Ranh to find out what they had coming down to Betty. At the end of the day before they left to go back to Cam Ranh I’d meet them at the chopper pad and we’d drive my jeep up the loading ramp into the Chinook and they’d fly me as far as Cam Ranh. I’d spend the night in the transient BOQ there (Bachelor Officer Quarters) and then drive into Tuy Hoa the next day.

Mike Jordan – Duster Platoon Leader – Part Two

The Wives Always Know

I graduated from Officer Candidate School at Ft. Sill and got my commission in January of 1968. Just before Christmas – we hadn’t gotten our assignment orders yet – our training battery commander said to us, “Wherever you are when I get your assignment orders I will come and tell you.” So we’re sitting in class one day with this major up front trying to teach us about engineering tactics, how to build bridges and clear mine fields and that kind of stuff, when our battery commander came into the back of the room. The room started to buzz and the major said, “Captain, obviously you have something these candidates are more interested in than what I am trying to teach them about engineering tactics, so why don’t you take over.”

They had told us all along, You will not go directly to Vietnam, you will get an assignment here in Ft. Sill, or Europe, or CONUS (Continental United States), but you will not go directly to Vietnam. Well the wives had a wives club in conjunction with the officers’ wives. Mary Beth came home after one of their luncheons and said, “Your class is going to send guys directly to Vietnam.”

I said, “No, no, no, no. That ain’t gonna happen.”

Well our battery commander gets up there in the front of the class and the first thing he says is, “There are seventeen of you going directly to Vietnam.” The wives knew more than we did. He read those seventeen names first, and then he started reading the rest of them. There was one other guy and me went to St. Louis to the Nike Hercules battalion.

Safe In Grafton

The Nike Hercules missile site was above Grafton, Illinois at Pere Marquette State Park (across the Mississippi River from St. Louis). At that time there were four Nike Hercules missile sites protecting the city of St. Louis. Throughout the nation at that time we built these missile sites around all the big cities as a carryover from the tactics of WWII assuming that the Russians were going to do the same things to us that we did in Germany. We sat there waiting for huge flights of Russian bombers to come over the North Pole to shoot them down, which needless to say they never came. Thank goodness.

When I first got there it was funny. The captain and all the lieutenants and warrant officers said, Oh man, you’re lucky being here in the Nike system, it’s the best thing that ever happened because we don’t have any Nikes in Vietnam. We got some HAWKS, but no Nikes, so you’re safe. Ten months later in the Fall of 1968 I got orders to go to Nam because they were closing the Nike site. There were two other cities that deactivated their sites in ’68: Kansas City and Dallas/Ft. Worth. These sites were the deepest into the interior of the U.S. and they felt that if we ever had to shoot at Russian bombers coming over, by the time they got to these cities it was too damn late. Over the next several years they proceeded to close all of the Nike Hercules sites down.


But before Vietnam I went to Ft. Bliss in Texas for six weeks of Duster school, after which I picked up a new MOS of 1174 (Light Air Defense Artillery Unit Commander).

The First  Kind of Promotion

In those days you could go from 2nd lieutenant to 1st lieutenant in one year, and then to captain in another year. I made 1st lieutenant two days after I arrived in Long Binh, Vietnam. I did not yet have my promotion orders, but they told me to go ahead and just sew the 1st lieutenant bars on my uniforms. It was three or four months later that I finally got my orders, along with a pretty significant chunk of back pay.

The Second Kind – A Blood Promotion

I arrived at LZ Betty in January of 1969 assigned to the 1st Duster platoon, Alpha Battery, 4/60 Air Defense Artillery battalion. I was initially the assistant platoon leader under another 1st lieutenant, Frank Hewitt, who had won a Silver Star and was on a six-month extension in Vietnam. One day he left for Nha Trang to see one of our troops who was in the hospital, and that was the last I saw of him. He was loading his jeep into a Chinook helicopter in Nha Trang, and instead of using an enlisted driver, as called for by policy, he drove it himself and proceeded to roll it over. Frank was injured severely with a major head injury. He was driving with the windshield down, and even if it had been up I don’t know that it would have done much to protect him. They evacuated him to Japan, and subsequently to the Army hospital in Denver next to Stapleton Airport. He was from Colorado Springs, so that’s where they took him to be close to his family. I never saw or heard from him again.

It was February when he had the accident, and I got a letter late in the Spring from his parents wanting to know why we had not sent his property back home to him. “Dear Mr. Hewitt,” I wrote, “I’m sorry Frank’s property has not arrived, but they left here.” There were guys who sorted through packages and certainly if there was any kind of war trophy in there, that stuff would always disappear.

TET 69

I took over as platoon leader from Frank, and assumed the unofficial commander’s radio call sign of “Duster 6.” Shortly after I took over the platoon the Second TET hit. The last night of the declared truce LZ Betty came under mortar and sapper attacks – the morning of February 22, 1969. We were sitting right next to the infantry’s four-deuce (4.2 inch diameter) mortar company. A sapper crawled through the wire and threw a satchel charge into the ammo bunker at the four-deuce mortar position. It started a fire and then caused a massive explosion. I don’t know how many hundreds of those four-deuce mortar rounds cooked off simultaneously. The blast wave and the shock wave just leveled everything in my platoon area.

At the time of the initial attack, before the ammo bunker explosion, I evacuated my platoon area and was doing a retrograde movement back toward the airfield one building, one structure, and one anything-to-hide-behind at a time. I was on my hands and knees behind the latrine when the blast went off. The back wall of the latrine blew out and landed on top of me. Thankfully I was not injured. I now have a shadowbox that I made upon retirement for all my awards and decorations, and I am very proud of the fact that there is no Purple Heart up there.

Engineers had just built for us four or five SEA huts (South East Asia huts), corrugated roofs, screened-in windows in the upper half, and solid walls behind sandbags on the lower half, all on a slab of concrete. They were prominent throughout Vietnam at base camp type places. The concussion from the secondary explosion was so bad that it just leveled those SEA huts.

Dave Fitchpatrick, Gun 5 section chief at Sherry, said he could feel the heat flashes five miles away.

Betty the morning after Picture courtesy Dave Fitchpatrick
Betty the morning after
Picture courtesy Dave Fitchpatrick

 My primary means of communication with my battery headquarters up in Tuy Hoa (two hundred miles north) was an AN/GRC-106 radio. It worked off of a doublet antenna, a long wire strung between two poles. You had to put it up 90 degrees to the direction you wanted to transmit to. Well, the two poles that held my antenna got blown down that night. So first thing in the morning I can’t even call the battery commander to tell him that we were hit, that we suffered damages, that we had a couple injuries, but not bad enough to be Medevac’d. I didn’t have any communications. So I am wandering around all over Betty that morning trying to find anybody that’s got a 106 AM radio. I ended up at the MARS station and a guy over there said, “Why I can make you an antenna. Just give me some WD-1 wire.

While I was at the MARS station I put in a call to my wife.

The Military Affiliate Radio Service used phone-patch connections over shortwave radios to place personal calls to the States.

I said, “You’re probably going to hear about this, that we were attacked last night, but I’m Okay.” Of course she had not yet heard about it. Here she gets this MARS call where you had to do the OVER nonsense and me telling her that I’m Okay.

She said, “Well I really didn’t have any reason to think you weren’t Okay, till you called.”

We finally strung up an antenna and late in the afternoon I called Tuy Hoa. “Guess what, guys. We kind of got blown away last night.”