Mike Leino – Fire Direction Control – Part Two

Smart Enough

One day someone came to my hooch and told me the captain wanted to see me, and I said, “Why?”

“Don’t know,” he said.

I went to the Captain’s hooch wondering what I did wrong. In his hooch he asked me if I was interested in going into Fire Direction Control. I said, “What?? Why me?”

He said my test scores showed I was smart enough. Whoa! That’s a first. He said there was a shortage of trained FDC people, and we have FDC people leaving and we needed someone now.

I said, “I can’t leave the gun and I know nothing about FDC.”

He also said, “You would be protected during mortar attacks.”

I still said, “I don’t think so.”

He said, “I can make you, so think about it for a day or two.”

I finally said I would go into FDC. But all I could think is the guys on Gun 1 are gonna hate me. I just figured being in a sandbag hooch is safer for the remainder of time I had left at Sherry.

It was not easy for me going into FDC. All the guys in there were older and seemed a little too brainy and serious than what I was used to.

So the training began. Charts, maps, calculating, deflection, wind direction. What??? I was terrible at math in high school. I think the brainiacs didn’t have too much patience with me. Then I had to learn the radios and giving the commands to the guns on fire missions. I picked up on that pretty quick. Learning the codes for ordering supplies and ammo from the rear areas. I liked working the radios the most.

Mike Leino on his radios
Mike Leino on his radios

As time went on and the older guys were going home, younger guys were coming into FDC and it was becoming more comfortable and less stressful. It was a little crazy when getting mortars coming in and I had to go outside to the generator shack to switch over to a different generator, because one was about to run out of gas. Sometimes I’d just go and talk to the guys I was with on the guns. It was like a break. It broke up the boredom of just being in FDC.

The guys that were in FDC at the end of my tour were great. Ed, you and Kim Martin I liked the best. Kim and I had built a new hooch together. I have to say it was a good one. Another one I really liked was Lieutenant Christenson. He was not like any brass I had encountered. It’s like he was one of us. I got a couple little stories about him I don’t think I should tell! Medics were cool guys too.

I have to say I’m glad we were allowed to have a beer there. I know it put my head in a different place. There was also another tidbit that would put my mind somewhere else too. The rut of fire direction and sleeping really got to me, so I had to party anyway I could. I know Smoke knew I was doing something, but I was always a step ahead of him.

Leino in party mode
Leino in party mode

Comment from Kim Martin, hooch mate and fellow FDC guy:

Mike and I got to be pretty close in Nam. He gave me an embroidered ribbon-like cloth about twelve inches long and two inches wide with the word VIETNAM stitched in the middle which I keep in my den on an antique table from my mother.  It reminds me of those days long ago in Nam with Mike in particular, and other friends I made there. Mike had a great sense of humor and was a really good guy. I was lucky to share a hootch with him, which we built together.

Mike Leino resting on new hooch – Version 2

Mike and Kim taking a break Pictures by Kim Martin
Mike and Kim taking a break
Pictures by Kim Martin

Comment from 1st Lieutenant Bob Christenson:

 I remember Mike as kind of a quiet, introspective guy who didn’t say a lot but was taking it all in. In retrospect he was probably like the rest of us trying to figure out, What the hell am I doing here? He was an integral part of FDC though, and you could always count on Mike. I’m glad he had my back.

 When I think of Mike, two things stand out. First, I remember the firebase dogs, who were great judges of character. They liked Mike a lot. I recall that Tag was particularly close to Mike and vice versa.  Smoke, our FDC dog, was the son of Tag and Crash. Everyone on the firebase was really bummed the day Top had most of the dogs killed, and I think Mike was particularly upset. I think it took him a long time to get over it.

My other recollection is the day Mike saved someone’s life when they were out burning trash. Apparently the guy doused the trash in gasoline and splashed some on himself. When he lit the trash he lit himself. As I heard the story, the guy started to run and Mike tackled him and rolled with him to put the fire out. Mike was OK but the other guy was seriously burned and was sent back to the states. Mike never hesitated to put himself in danger to save this person, and I think that tells you everything you need to know about Mike. I put him in for a well-deserved medal, but was later told the battalion commander nixed it because he was afraid it would look bad if someone in his command broke Army regs by burning trash with gas.

Mike was a solid guy and an integral part of the FDC team.  Hard to believe that we were there over 45 years ago.

Picture by Bob Christenson Written on the back: “Mike Leino’s gear, now home and out of the Army”
Picture by Bob Christenson
Written on the back: “Mike Leino’s gear, now home and out of the Army”

Comment from Ed Gaydos, FDC section chief:

When I arrived at Sherry in early May of 1970 there were three guys in FDC brought in from the gun crews. All of them had learned the complexities of fire direction on the job. This was one of the most difficult specialties in the Army, and I was impressed.

Mike always had a dreamy, screw-the-Army attitude about him. Yet he took particular care about everything he did, sometimes moving in what seemed to me slow motion. He built the tightest sandbag wall on the firebase, each bag arranged like large bricks. This deliberate approach served him well in FDC. Working the radios or figuring firing data from charts and graphs and slide rules, I don’t remember him ever making a mistake or losing his cool under pressure. And of course, he was more than smart enough.