A wall in his family room is covered with combat and campaign medals earned over a 22-year Army career. Among them are three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
To celebrate his 80th birthday just a year earlier he went up nearly three miles in a light airplane, jumped from the door, and stayed in free fall for two miles before deploying his chute. “I was airborne in the military and had already made 22 jumps, but nothing was as thrilling as this.” Ernie has to get a hip replaced in a few weeks and says, “Then I’m gonna do it again.”
B battery had been in Vietnam only eight months when Captain Ernie Dublisky took over. He found men who were poorly trained, and worse, were demoralized over a firing mishap that killed a U.S. soldier and resulted in dismissal of their battery commander. Within months Ernie made the battery, in the eyes of General Linton Boatwright, commander of artillery forces for nearly half of Vietnam, the best battery in all of corps artillery.
It stayed the best throughout its six years in Vietnam, always going by the name that Ernie had given it early in his command – The Bulls. After Ernie’s departure the battery became a showplace for visiting dignitaries. It was not always well led, but it kept its reputation as the best battery in the battalion, proof that a military tradition of excellence has a momentum that can survive a few lousy leaders.
By any definition Captain Ernie Dublisky is the father of B battery.
I showed up in June of ’66. At the time I had a troubled tour in Korea as a captain. I got into a big harangue with the assistant artillery commander. He and I went round and round and he gave it to me good in my efficiency report. So I got passed over for promotion. I said to myself, Well the only way I’m going to get a promotion – I was a career officer even though I was reserve – is to go to Vietnam and get in command of a battery and do well. That was my purpose. I volunteered.
I was in Germany and every night a twit would come in from the Department of the Army and pick officers out of the division and send them to a training base in the states mostly, and some to Vietnam. I said to myself, Hey I’m not going to any training base in the states. I want to get to Vietnam, so I volunteered. I said, “How long do you think I’ll have between the time I volunteer and the time they send me to Vietnam?”
They said, “Oh, you’ll have a few months.”
I had my family in Germany, so I was looking for a little time. One month after I volunteered I was in Saigon. Not long at all. They didn’t tell me that.
So I show up in Saigon and said, “I want to get to a field artillery battalion.” I just kept moving north and finally I ended up at the 27th. I was plunked down on the beach at Tuy Hoa, which was the base camp. The battalion commander’s name was Jack Hoffmann. He was a pretty boy, a West Pointer, all his creases were in order. I don’t think he ever left the base camp. He was a typical West Point Lt. Colonel who was in Vietnam to get promoted. There was a lot of that going on in Vietnam then. He really didn’t care much about the battalion, or the batteries, or the troops. He cared a lot about himself. He was a very handsome guy, resplendent in his uniform, and about one inch deep. But I can’t say anything bad about him. He treated me well. I had my interview and I just told him frankly, “I’m here to take command of a battery. That’s what I came for.”
It just so happened there had been a firing accident and the battery commander had been relieved. When I got there he was gone, and the battery had a terrible reputation. They were lolling around, rotting away in the base camp. They didn’t even send them out in the field on operations. They had a terrible reputation.
I guess Hoffmann didn’t think he was doing me any favors, but he gave me the battery. He said, “I’m giving you the battery, and you’re going out on an operation today. I want you to go over to the S3 Operations tent. They’re going to give you your goose egg (landing site), then we’re going to take you down to your battery and introduce you to the battery, and you’re going to take the battery out on an operation.” That was operation Nathan Hale which began the next day. I went and met the S3, got my goose egg, got into a jeep, went down to the battery, met the 1st Sergeant.
I was lucky. I was a little older. I was commissioned in ’55, so I’d been around for 10 years. I had four years in Germany in the 3rd Armored Division. I had a lot of battery level experience. All of that training just flooded back through my mind, and I knew exactly what to say to the 1st Sergeant. “First Sergeant, I’m gonna be back in 20 minutes. I want you to have the advance party ready. We’re going to go out on an operation.”
I went and put my stuff away, went back to the battery and when I got there they had an advance party ready to go. Took the advance party and we went to a place called The Cross Roads. Again, everything that I did, it was like doing an exercise in Grafenwoehr – just like doing it all over again. Except that things that I did were kind of by-the-book. It was hurry up, get ready and go.
This floored the battalion commander and the XO and the S3 because nobody was doing these things. Doing it like it was supposed to be done. Like filling sand bags and making the battery safe for the troops, filling empty ammo boxes with sand and putting them up around the tubes. We did all those things the way I knew it should be done.
It turned out that this suddenly converted the battery. They found themselves. They recognized what they should be doing, and they began to do it. The bad reputation they had quickly disappeared.
It was an operation at The Cross Road (west of Tuy Hoa) in support of the 502nd of the 101st Airborne. They were being overrun and from the FO we got the danger close alert (firing close in to U.S. troops). I remember walking between the guns telling these guys what danger close was all about. The battery was not well trained and these were guys who were down in the mouth a week before. Well, we stopped the attack just by the accuracy of our fire. The battalion commander – Wasco was the guy’s name – mace a special trip to visit us and say, “You saved our ass.”
We were out in that position for about a week when the S3 came to me and said, “Hey, do you know anything about air assault operations?”
Just luckily my previous assignment had been with the 18th Airborne corps, and I had been an umpire and an observer on air assault exercises. I had been through many, many helicopter lift operations.
I said, “Yeah.”
He said, “You’re gonna reinforce the 19th Artillery of the 1st Cavalry division. You’re going to air assault into a position for Nathan Hale. Be ready to go in two days.”
This battery had never been in a helicopter air assault operation. But two days later we rigged up all our equipment, lifted out, and air assaulted into our position. It went like clock work, it was just perfect. That was the beginning of B battery’s reputation as the best battery in the battalion. They began to become proud of themselves.
The operation was so successful that the brigade commander made a special trip over to tell us thanks. He was General Hal Moore who later became famous. He wrote a book about his fight up in the Asau Valley the year before and which they made into a movie with Mel Gibson playing Moore. We Were Soldiers was the name of it. General Moore was so pleased with the support we gave reinforcing the 19th Artillery that he made a special trip.
Early on I designated B battery The Bulls. I thought, Hey, it’s a great morale thing. I don’t know where I found them, but I found this set of horns. I thought, We’re The Bulls, and I’m gonna mount these horns on the commander’s jeep. So we mounted these horns on the jeep. I didn’t find out until years later that what I’d mounted on the jeep were goat horns. Had I only known!
I’ll bet those goat horns on the jeep were still there (during your time).
No, the horns were gone. But The Bravo Bulls stuck as the name of the battery. We were proud of that.
For the six months that I commanded the battery the most wonderful time I had, the most wonderful operation besides that first air assault, was an operation west of Tuy Hoa about 15 or 20 kilometers out in the boonies. That was December of ’66, when monsoon season had just ended. I went out there in a helicopter to do my recon. From the helicopter looking down on the ground, all I could see was greenery. I picked out a position for the battery to go in.
When we arrived there by road, it turned out that it was submerged. I mean it was just full of water. You couldn’t see that from the air, all you saw was grass. This was really terrific. I said, “OK guys if we drive our vehicles into this area we’re gonna be livin’ like dogs for the whole time we’re there. We’re gonna carry the battery in. We’re not gonna get off the road, but we’re gonna carry all of our equipment in.”
We had PSP planks (10 foot pierced steel planks used for portable runways). I said, “We’re gonna use the PSP like a tank tread. We’re gonna lay the PSP down. We’re gonna drive the prime mover (truck used to tow howitzers) up on the PSP, pick up the piece that we drove over and put it down in front, and keep moving forward.”
So that’s what we did with the prime movers and got all the howitzers moved in. We put the guns on the PSP. Everywhere we could we built up PSP platforms. And then we carried all the section equipment in: every piece of equipment, every round of ammunition was hand carried into the position. It took us all night to get into that position. No vehicles were permitted to come into the position.
The whole area was rice paddies, so there was no elevated ground. There were two or three other batteries out there, and we were the only battery that made the effort to stay dry. As a result General Boatwright, who was the II Corps artillery commander, made a visit one day and when he left he said to me, “This is the best battery I’ve seen.” And boy the troops really ate that up. By the way, that really pissed off all the other batteries, but who cares. (laughs)
That was my last operation with B battery.
General Linton S. Boatwright was not the type to say what he didn’t mean. He had served in WWII under General Patton in the sweep across Europe: at the Battle of the Bulge, across the Rhine River and into Austria. During the early phases of the Korean War he had participated in the defense of the Pusan Perimeter, the link-up with MacArthur’s amphibious landing at Inchon, the drive north toward the Yalu River and the retreat from North Korea when the Chinese entered the war, eventually driving the Chinese and North Korean forces out of South Korea. He then coordinated artillery fire support in the successful assault upon Heartbreak Ridge, one of the toughest campaigns of the Korean War. Later he would be the presiding officer at President Eisenhower’s funeral.