Steve Bell – Gun Crew – Part Two

The Wild Life

There were cockroaches and rats everywhere, and poisonous snakes: cobras and kraits. One of our guys shot a six foot krait snake from underneath a hooch.

Gary Sears with banded krait
Gary Sears with banded krait 

The krait is one of the world’s deadliest snakes. It’s bite injects a powerful neurotoxin, and if untreated is fatal within six to twelve hours. There is little or no pain at the site of the krait bite, creating a false reassurance in the victim. If bitten at night while asleep the victim can die without ever waking.

The rats were so bad that one night a guy on Gun 5 from Wisconsin woke up with a big rat chewing on his toe. One night I set a spring trap in my hooch, and every time it sprang on a rat I’d throw the rat out the door and reset the trap. Five minutes later it would go off again. It was BANG BANG BANG all night long.

There was an old hooch we tore down, and when we pushed over the first wall the rats and cockroaches rolled out like a wave and we had to jump to get out of the way. You didn’t want to set your beer down very long because the cockroaches would be all over it.

Haunted Hooch

Sgt. Rock was the new Gun 5  crew chief and a real nice kid. He was built like a brick shithouse and worked out all the time to stay in shape, and I supposed to fight the boredom of life on our base.

Sergeant Rock
Sergeant Rock

Shortly after coming to Gun 5 he decided we needed to build him a new hooch. This hooch Rock wanted was going to be twice the size of the normal hooches, and would hooch three people. So we collected ammo boxes. We rounded up god knows how many sand bags and piled into the back of our deuce-and-a-half. Where we needed to get the sand was outside the wire a ways. We went with our shovels and M16s. This new hooch was going to take days and days of sandbag and shovel work. As our hole got larger and deeper we started running into all these wooden planks. Big deal, right? Well we just kept on digging. Come to find out LZ Sherry was built close to a small village that had long since disappeared. All around our sandbag dig we could see bits and pieces of the village just showing above the dirt.

Remnant of the villagee
Remnant of the village

As we kept digging and filling the sandbags, we started to run into bones. First a femur, then a few ribs, and the next thing I know I dig up a human pelvis. Well that just about freaked us all out. We scrambled into our truck and called it quits on that hole.

The next day we were told that was the only place with good sand where we could dig safely, so here we went to dig more bones. When you’re nineteen years old not much bothers you though. Any bones we dug up after that we buried in the end. To this day it still does not bother me, I don’t know why. After that hooch was built I always thought of it as the haunted hooch.

The Best Birthday Present

This story starts two days before my twentieth birthday, when my gun chief came to my hooch and told me to pack for a short trip to Cam Ranh. He told me I had been chosen to become the battery projectionist. They wanted me to attend a two day class to learn to operate different movie projectors. Well I was new to LZ Sherry and thought movies would be fun for everyone. And I had a hometown friend in Cam Ranh that was a photographer for the navy and I might get to see him. I was all for this trip. I soon  found myself in a one day crash class for projection operation with no spare time to see my friend.

On my birthday I jumped on a Chinook for the one hundred mile trip back to LZ Sherry. We had about four other guys coming along with us. They were going to Phan Thiet after the chopper dropped off at LZ Sherry. Being that I was new in country and liked to take photos of everything, I spent my time hanging out the back port window taking pictures of the landscape from the air.

As I was hanging out the window I heard over the noise of the engines a series of very loud bangs, like someone was beating the chopper with a sledge hammer. I just turned my head in time for the crew chief to grab me by my shirt and throw me to the floor. The Chinook went into a ninety degree bank and started losing altitude. We were going down fast and everyone was on the floor. Finally it dawned on me we were taking fire and were hit. I really was scared shitless and if we kept losing altitude we were going to crash. Now this all happened all in about thirty seconds. The crew chief told me we were hit and losing hydraulics.

We finally leveled off, but we were not out of the woods yet, as we did not know if we would make it back to LZ Sherry. I was thinking: Great, three weeks in country and I was going to crash in the rice paddies in the middle of nowhere. Everyone was pretty amped up as we flew low and limped our way back to Sherry. We did make it and I almost kissed the ground when we landed.

The Chinook was damaged and could not take off for Phan Thiet. Sherry had a few extra guests that night, and we were put on yellow alert that night because the chopper was a prime target for attack. Those photographs I took out of the Chinook window always remind me of how I almost bit the big one on my twentieth birthday.

Picture just before chopper hit with machine gun fire
Picture just before chopper hit with machine gun fire

It’s A Guy Thing

The strongest memory I have about coming home on the plane is the stewardess going down the aisle spraying air freshener. She told us we smelled. I couldn’t smell anything, but I guess she did.