2 April 1971
2:15 AM - I'm tired. The battery is moving today - to an unknown destination. All hell has broken loose over here as of the night we took our mortar rounds. The ARVNs have left Laos. I'm sure that made the papers at home, but they probably forgot to mention that they didn't leave voluntarily. Not too far behind them are a number of fresh, well-equipped NVA regiments. Right now they're as far south as Kontum and Ben Het - the tri-border area where Wagner was. We were suppose to go to Ben Het (I'm staying here [at Schueller] with a "security force"), but that set of plans was loused up royally when Charlie decided to overrun the ARVN firebase that supports Ben Het (known as Firebase 6).The ARVNs were run off the firebase and left 4 105mm howitzers behind them - in operating condition. To make a long story short, Ben Het started receiving 105 rounds at a fantastic rate. A Battery (one of ours) put 57 175mm rounds on Firebase 6 and stopped the shelling for about two hours. That includes 31 secondary explosions. The latest change has us going to Dak To II, in the same general area about 70 miles from here.
As if that weren't bad enough, they've got such a strong foothold, they're bring in their own artillery - 130mm and 152mm guns (Russian made). Our battery will probably be met by everything in the book as soon as they pull into position. I'm glad I'm not going.
They estimated 200 NVA on or around (within 1000 meters) that firebase. A Battery is at Athena, near Tanh Canh, just down the road from 6. There was also a firebase overrun south of Da Nang. Charlie's fighting our agreements. About all we can do now is hang on until our withdrawal is complete. I'm afraid the Laos invasion showed that the ARVNs aren't ready yet even with US support. I strongly suspect that the US public is being told just the opposite. Typical.
7 April 1971
The move was completed last Friday. They went first to Weight Davis, south of Pleiku on QL-14 near LZ Lonely. Lonely had been overrun - 2 killed, 14 wounded, 2 guns destroyed. When they got there, they caught the NVA unloading people and supplies off of trucks. Our battery now has almost 100 (maybe more) kills to its credit. Yesterday, they moved north to Kontum. I don't know if they'll stay there or not - they may move on north to the Firebase 6 area since it has been recaptured by the ARVNs. The newspaper here [Stars & Stripes] reports that up to 1800 NVA were killed on Firebase 6, but they only supposedly had committed only one battalion - about 500 at the most - to take that place.
I think it's time for us to move to the coast and pack up. While we're defending the South Vietnamese, we're leaving our own tails hanging out. Nothing I can do about it, though.
LTC ******, commander of the 1st/92nd FA, was down Monday to bitch about the living conditions he men were forced to live in. They're in our empty rooms. Apparently, he feels his people are too good to live with rats, fleas and roaches. Needless to say, we didn't hit it off too well. After listening to him for most of an hour, we went (rather, he came) to the orderly room. I sat down in my (temporary) desk and he sat down opposite it. Then I read him my bitches, and his jaw lowered to his waistline. To think of a 2LT doing that the a colonel! He did promise to take action on my complaints, though. AND, he apologized for his initial attitude. Actually, now, I think he might be fairly easy to work with - at least he does listen - if you've got the guts to tell him what you think. That's more than I can say for others. Oh, the life of a commander is so hard! I'm having a hard time finding things for my 25 people to do.
8 April 1971
Heard Nixon's speech this morning. What he had to say about the ARVNs and Vietnamization is a load of Shadwell, but the increased reductions do sound pretty good - that brings it to 1000 space reductions per day if we're to be down to 65,000 by 1 December. That's the equivalent of two battalions a day. Maybe I will be home by September like I thought. Somehow I find that high a rate hard to believe, but.... I just hope we don't withdraw some of our people into a rather deadly corner. Time will tell, I guess. I did hear a rumor that after 1 May, when a unit folds, everyone will go home with it. Not much faith in that rumor, though. Still, it would be a comforting feeling.
10 April 1971
The withdrawal rate is 500 a day, not 1000. Still, we're stretched mighty thin over here. They're still fighting over and around Firebase 6. One or two of the Americans on it escaped, and a couple are missing. Found out why, too. The NVA were spotted moving in on the firebase too late to catch them away from it and use the artillery to advantage. The American FO called for fire actually inside the perimeter where they were massing, and could probably have taken care of the problem easily, but the ARVNs wouldn't give clearance to shoot anything within 200 meters of the perimeter, much less our 175s. As a result, one ARVN firebase lost, with ammo and weapons still intact and usable. That FO was still there when they were completely overrun by the NVAs. He called in fire on them and managed to get out during the confusion. By the time he finished shooting the place up, the entire NVA regiment was around the firebase. The last I heard, he was still missing, but he was believed to be out of the area and heading for Ben Het.
Just got more news about the missing FO from one of the Duster LTs. He's no longer missing - he walked back to Firebase 6 yesterday alive and, aside from being sick, tired and hungry, well. Word is that he's been recommended for a Medal of Honor. [He was later awarded the Medal of Honor for the classical move of calling in fire on himself. see http://www.bravecannons.org/History/hst1_moh.html] I'm getting a funny feeling that artillery is going to end up fighting this war for everybody.
COL Tuck (IFFV Artillery commander) and the new 1/92nd commander were down the other day. Apparently LTC ****** was "released" from his command for some reason. LTC ****** is the one the guy in Pleiku tried to kill just before I went to Nha Trang. He wasn't very popular.
11 April 1971
Remember that ARVN operation around Firebase 6? Our liaison officer in Dak To II was wounded (a piece of a 5-ton truck hit him and broke a couple of ribs) - so you-know-who was selected to replace him. At least I'm not going to be an FO - 52nd group decided that wasn't to cool an idea after the last fiasco. At least I get to work inside under a few sandbags. Cancel what I said about the US taking Firebase 6 back - the MACV people here say it was the ARVNs after all. I even saw an ABC newsman here - didn't recognize him though. I think his name was Bell, but I couldn't swear to it.
I am now at a place called Tanh Canh, north of my battery and at A battery's position. Dak To II is about 5 klicks from here on a river. I'll be up here for a while - at least until this operation's over. I'll go out there [to Dak To II] tomorrow morning.
I should get a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry out of this assignment - more lettuce. I was happy with only one ribbon, but now I've got three and prospects of more. Just so long as there's no Purple Heart. I'm just a little scared. I'll be at a regimental headquarters (47th ARVN Regiment), and those upper-crust type ARVNs aren't about to let anything happen to them.
Just for the record, I've had some interesting call signs recently. I think I left off last time with January's or February's. Anyway, in early March, I was Gray Fathom 40R; then at the end of the month I became Fitful Stuffer 39R; then Scooter Carpet 60R. Now I'm officially Scooter Carpet 115. Great.
13 April 1971
Last night, just before dark, someone noticed a fire in an ammo dump about 250 meters away from the TOC I'm in. Well, the ARVNs weren't too worried - it wasn't their ammo. My sergeant and I went down to investigate (keeping out heads very low). We got to within 50-60 meters or so and confirmed that there was no one in the bunker next to it and also that there were a large number of 2.75" rockets (for gunships) in the area. The fire at that point was confined to two conexes and wasn't too close to any of the artillery ammo. About the time we decided that, and that it would blow in the next ten minutes, two of the rockets took off and exploded out on the runway, so we decided that it was time to head back to the TOC. When we got back to the parking area in front of the TOC, she blew - sky high! I was standing between two jeeps with Walker right behind me. The next thing we knew, we were on the ground next to the TOC - 15 feet from our last position - with a large number of pieces of hot metal raining down on us. The fireball was about 150 feet high and the shock wave from it was pretty strong for being as far away as we were - as I said, it apparently move us fifteen feet, because I don't remember jumping. I guess I was hit by fifteen or twenty pieces of flak, but no sweat - only a couple of small scratches - flak vest and pot, you know. Anyway, I got on the radio to let my people know what was going on and then stuck my head out the door again to see what had happened. (Very carefully) To my great horror, I discovered two more fires - in artillery ammo dumps a lot closer to us, apparently started by a couple of rockets. By this time the ARVN CO, COL **** had stopped playing mah johng and decided he should investigate - without going outside. LTC *****, the artillery commander, did go out - in fact, he was on his way out before any other ARVN. Anyway, he got the area evacuated and got the secondary fires put out. We left the main fire to burn itself out. Losses: 9 ARVN wounded, 3 US wounded (I didn't count me); and an undetermined amount of ammo lost. Several bunkers were heavily damaged and one or two blown away completely. This morning I looked around to see if I could determine a possible cause. There isn't anything to prove it, but I think maybe one of the ARVNs managed to shoot a flare into the conexes - they had been shooting them in that direction a couple of hours earlier.
I don't like to complain, but that stuff's still burning, and we've still got live ammo all over the place. I just hope there aren't any rockets in the bunker that's burning now. If there are, it's going to be just like last night all over again.
RAIN! Maybe that will help - cool it down around here, anyway. At least it will keep the fire itself from spreading. So far there's been nothing but small arms and hand grenades - hopefully there'll be no more rockets or claymores
EOD (US type) cleaned up a little of it today, but had to cut the operation short when the fire started up again. They're going to check out the possibility of sabotage for us, but I still hold with the hand flare theory.
Just for the record. Firebase 6 is about nine or ten klicks west west of here. This is one of the places that took 105s when 6 was taken. We haven't had any incoming since I got here - maybe I'm some sort of a good luck charm? Or maybe Chuck ran out of ammo for a while. More likely, he decided he'd shot at us enough from one side and is moving around to another. No one is really too sure.
We had three reporters through here - trying to get up to 6. Needless to say, they weren't too impressed by the debris all over the place. Tough. They'll just have to put up with it. Two of them decided to walk up the road. The other went back to Tanh Canh and was going to try to find a ride. None of them were very appealing personalities.
14 April 1971
Today I've been busy. I awoke this morning to hear the freight train roar of a 122mm rocket coming in. Just as I was going out to see where it came from, I heard another one. There I was, flat on the ground, listening to it come in. I wasn't about to run for a bunker - too far. A few minutes later, when no more came, I found the second one - the one I heard come in. It landed about 15 meters from the 20 by 25 crater. Fortunately it missed the remaining rockets and didn't set of any secondaries. Just after I finished analyzing that one - I wasn't sure what it was, but I knew it was big and where it came from - another Cincinnati Express came in - I almost dug my way down that 20 by 25 crater, but a small ditch was much closer - and I was sure that thing was headed right for me, which isn't the most secure feeling in the world. It missed (obviously), and landed on a revetment in the POL point. That crater was easy to figure out - the rocket motor was still intact, sticking straight up in the air. Unfortunately, it punctured two blivets (expandable rubber gas tanks) and we lost a few (more) gallons of fuel - 3 or 400 more. Just after I came in from that (carrying the rocket - the 3 or 4 feet that was left of it), we got another one - right where the second had landed, but still no secondaries. Well, that was all for a while. During the afternoon, we took four more rounds of undetermined type, but they landed outside the wire, so I didn't bother going out to look. If they're outside the wire, as far as I'm concerned, they don't count.
Nothing else exciting has happened today. I did get the go ahead to "advise and suggest" on anything regarding artillery and the ARVNs. Now I don't have to sit back and wait for them to come to me. Tonight "we" requested about 100 rounds in the mountains to our south (where the rockets came from). I think I'll get 40 or so, but I did get ARVN clearance - I think today convinced them. Now, if I can just talk them into letting me bring it in closer.
15 April 1971
One mortar this morning. This afternoon, we took one ricky rifle round, still in the wire. It rather scared me at first - I found the fuse first and identified it immediately as a 105 fuse - US type, made in 1952 at the Joliet Arsenal (IL). No magic involved - it's stamped into the base of the fuse. Then I started digging out fragments, and they didn't look like 105 fragments. I finally went out and took another look and satisfied myself that there was no rotating band, only a gas-check band. Hence, it couldn't be a 105. That same fuse is used on the 75mm ricky rifle, so that must be what it was. It still bugs me that we're getting one round at a time. That just doesn't make sense at all. The only thing I can figure is that they're trying to sight in on us - my dusters, in particular. They're coming close enough to make them keep their heads down, anyway. Aside from that, it's been another typical dull day here in the sunny tropical paradise of Viet Nam.
I have come up with some observations of the ARVNs: (1) they're not stupid, but are frequently ignorant of better ways of doing things; (2) they often initiative; (3) some of them will steal anything and everything, unless they know you; (4) many of them are so casual as to be downright messy; and (5) they often lack leadership. The big problem with the 47th Regiment is COL **** - he's totally incompetent. Every time something happens, he starts yelling and wants to know why no one has done anything. LTC ***** (artillery commander) is the opposite. He is calm and surveys the situation. Unfortunately, he lacks initiative. Instead of asking me for advice, he wants me to tell him what to do - and he invariably does it without question. That's the whole problem. It's like this afternoon. We saw the ricky rifle fire, but no one returned fire (except for the dusters) until I told LTC ***** that I thought he should shoot at it. Then they fired on it - beaucoup fired on it - about seven times as much as I expected. Then they found trenches, tunnels and caves on that hill (they didn't know there were there - after they went all over the place and killed fifteen NVA just two weeks ago). I guess I'm making some small progress, but not very fast. It's like tunneling through rock - it can be done, but....
(While thinking of it, I don't thing COL **** is a relative of Ho Chi, but I'm not sure...)
16 April 1971
I'm not too sure I like this place. Today so far, we've gotten 5-7 ricky rounds and 10 or so mortar rounds. The only damage: another leaky blivet - the same one again.
I was going to say that I thought I might have gotten the ricky when I called in the 8 inch on it this morning. Unfortunately, I can't - we just took another ricky round, from the same place - that's 3 different times today. I think he must be well dug in. Maybe we can get an observer in tomorrow and get a closer look - maybe find his cave or something. I don't know though, he's survived ten 8 inch rounds already. One thing about it, though - I'm sure he's not shooting at my dusters now - he almost got a chopper that last time. He did manage to put 13 holes in a pipeline, though. Maybe the choppers will take the hint and land at Kontum like they've been told. Maybe we got the mortar - we'll see.
The ricky has struck again - almost got another chopper - 2 rounds this time, and another pipeline gone. This is getting to be boring - every time I call 11 (senior liaison officer) with a report, he knows exactly what to expect - more ricky rounds. I don't even bother to go look anymore - I just take someone else's word for it and go out half an hour later when it's over.
Shot up the ricky position again. No more fire out of him this time - he was probably asleep 50' underground. He'll get a few more rounds tonight. I've also gotten them talked into some night fire within 1000 meters of our perimeter. Progress, even. LTC ***** is starting to suggest using heavies - today he even outright requested one mission! Then it took us almost an hour to get through the red tape - even though we had all necessary clearances when we called the mission in - this time the US fouled it up - I can't call a mission to a battery - it has to go through 22nd division headquarters in Tanh Canh. That's ridiculous - all they do is talk to 11 and he takes it to the battery - an hour to pass a message several times, when all I have to do is call them myself. Arggggh.
17 April 1971
Now quite so much incoming today - only 4 or 5 ricky rounds and 1 or 2 mortars. I can actually see the ricky position now. We tried to get clearance to fire on it this morning, but we couldn't - 22nd Division wouldn't clear it - too close (2000 meters) to one of their battalions. So instead, we let him keep taking pot shots at our choppers. One of these days, he'll hit one.
I'm making progress, though. LTC ***** brought me more targets - the rangers (ARVN type) found some new trenches south of us, and he wants us to shoot them.
There are problems, though - some of the ARVNs keep burning up the telephone wire to the dusters - which means I have to go out there or get them to come up on the radio if I need them. They seem to think it's funny to build their cooking fires on top of the wires.
This place has lousy weather. It rains every afternoon, just as the ground is drying out from the day before. I suspect the rain has something to do with the lack of the other (explosive) rain. (Maybe I shouldn't complain?) I guess I've just gotten tired of walking on muddy boots.
I did get a letter from my dad yesterday - dated 12 March. Some idiot sent it to the wrong APO.
Thought I just heard another mortar round come in - I was wrong, though, thank goodness. There's no real reason for me to be worried - I've got about 9 feet of overhead cover and about 12' on all sides. It's only when I'm outside I need to worry about ducking, but then I can usually hear them coming in. I say "usually" - I missed a ricky round yesterday - he missed me, too, but only by 50 meters and two revetments. I'm glad the two revetments were there - I heard the fragments whiz over my head (a very unsatisfactory sensation, believe me). Oh well. I simply refuse to go near the chopper pad while there's a chopper there. I suspect that's where the mortars are aiming, too. American choppers don't land here except in extreme emergencies and more - for obvious reasons.
When I start really worrying is when we have a ground attack or artillery coming in. Mortars, rickys and rockets are really more of a nuisance than anything else. Rockets are very inaccurate; mortars are usually unobserved (which makes it hard to zero in) and very predictable; rickys are direct fire weapons, so now I keep an eye on the position and I can see him fire - which leaves me about 8 seconds to clear the area.
I haven't been writing home much recently. Some things seem so much more important now - like getting that ricky position before he gets me. I've never been in a situation like this one before. I "sleep" about 18 hours a day. I say "sleep" because if I really sleep, I could end up not waking up if something happened. I end up staying in a very light sleep whenever I'm not up and walking around. It's impossible to stay clean out here. My appetite is going. The water tastes like iodine and the flies are more numerous here than anywhere I've ever been. In fact, I don't think I've ever been this miserable. I don't even know how long I'll be here, but it will probably be until at least the end of the month. The only thing I have to look forward to is (probably) a three day leave when I do get out of here. At least I'm not walking through the jungle.
19 April 1971
Another exciting day at Dak To II. We took 30 mortar rounds this morning - and I was out there for most of them (more scratches). No Purple Hearts yet - just barely. After they stopped falling and I was out making a detailed check, my BC decided to come out and bring me some mail. It's nice to know the real world still exists out there somewhere. I just hope someone doesn't get mad and blow it away before I can get back to it. I wonder if I can get the world to eliminate loud noises, particularly those which go "ka-thwump!"?
It's starting to get more than a little flaky here. General consensus is that tonight may be the night for a ground probe or sappers. At least sappers are usually unarmed except for satchel charges (doesn't mean we can't shoot them, though). Maybe not, though - they've harassed us enough. One of the two mortar positions was where the ARVN rangers were supposed to be. Maybe they're not on our side after all. We did finally decide there were two mortars - I managed to confirm it a little while ago. And instead of "walking" the rounds this time, they had an FO observing them - which is a very frightening thing to be on the receiving end of - it's really not at all predictable. Again, I was hit by a bunch of stuff, but only a couple of slight scratches. Scratches don't count.
20 April 1971
No ground attack last night. I guess we're just being harassed. About 8 AM today, Juliet (MACV advisor to the rangers) called in and requested 8 inch fire on a position that was mortaring them. The ARVNs put out lots of shells first - all of which missed by over a klick. Juliet sent in the corrections, and the rounds landed in exactly the same place, time and time again. Finally, we got clearance to fire US artillery and silenced the mortar - 800 meters from them. I'll bet those little people were shaking in their boots. The NVA crew probably isn't doing anything. We think it was the same crew that mortared us yesterday - or maybe I should say one of the same crews. At least that's a good way to start out the day. I just hope the other one doesn't decide to drop us a few presents - I don't feel like analyzing more craters today. Oh well.
Aside from that little adventure, it's been a very uneventful day so far - but it's only 9:30 AM. No matter how eventful or uneventful, it's another day that will be gone when the sun sets. That's something. Right now the thing that would do me the most good would be to have this tour curtailed (sans Purple Heart) and be sent home early. There's really no telling when I'll go home. It may be the full tour, or it might be next month. There are rumors flying all over the place now. One says that everyone goes home with the unit after 1 May. Another says one of our batteries is preparing for stand-down now. A third says the whole battalion will go after this operation is done. I don't know what, if anything, to believe. If it looks like I will be here past September, I think I'll take a 2 week leave to the US, probably in August. That'll cost me about $700, but should be worth it just to see civilization.
21 April 1971
[As a side note here, this date is significant. This day was the day that John Kerry - supposed "war hero" sat before a Congressional committee and labeled us all as war criminals and baby killers. I thank the Creator every day that his bid for the presidency was in vain.]
Well, I missed my prediction of a ground attack by 24 hours. They hit us at about 3 AM this morning - we estimate a full company of sappers - 50 or so. They decided to try and pick off the 105 battery at the west end of the compound, apparently since it is rather isolated from the rest of us. Anyway, they came through the outer wire in three places before anyone saw them. When they were spotted, they opened up with AKs and B-40s and hand grenades - which is rather unusual, since sappers usually aren't armed at all, and an AK weighs 11 pounds! I'm still not too sure what to make of it. They weren't NVA - half of them were Montangnard, which is also rather strange, because, in general, the Yards hate the VC more than they hate the ARVNs. To get back to the story: when the grenades and B-40s started going off, we thought we were being mortared, but when the LT (ARVN) at the battery called up, things got straightened out fast.
I called 11 and told him we were under ground attack and that I was going to the Duster frequency. Then we moved one of the Dusters to cover the road from that battery to our area. For the next hour or so, there was an awful lot of firing - the bad guys kept coming back to try to retrieve their dead.
When the sun came up, I went up there to survey the damage (crater analysis, you know). It was, to say the least, rather eerie. There were, of course, bodies all over the place. Five ARVNs were killed on the spot - 3 in one bunker that a B-40 hit. (I say "bunker" - it was a pile of empty ammo boxes and not at all what could be considered anything other than a rain shelter.) One of them lost his head, literally. Later, one of the wounded ARVNs died because we couldn't get a dustoff in here in time - we called in at 6 AM - he died at 8:30 - the ARVNs wouldn't pick them up, said it was US responsibility. We finally commandeered a chopper for the rest of the seriously wounded (5). Losses for the ARVNs - 6 KIA, 7 WIA. US losses - none.
Meanwhile, back at the battle site, they were still policing the area. It gives me a very strange feeling to walk around an area strewn with bodies - or what had been bodies - and suddenly discover a leg or an arm with no owner even nearby, much less attached. I will say this - a number of those sappers died quick and painless deaths - about 1/3 of them had about half of their heads missing. The M-16 is a very effective rifle. Having seen those bodies this morning, I won't trade mine for anything. If you have to kill someone and be sure of doing it the first time, the M-16 is the weapon to have. Of course, the .50 cal machine gun did a pretty good job, too. I have a feeling I'm going to be having nightmares about this morning for a long time. Last night didn't bother me - I was too busy to be scared. This morning, I don't think I'll ever be able to forget. I hope I don't have to see a scene like that again - ever. If anything, I guess I can be thankful it was VC and not Americans I was looking at. The final results: 18 VC bodies, 8 AKs, 2 B-40s and 1 B-41 captured. There were also enough parts of bodies to account for several more VC.
As for the rest of the war in this area: apparently the VC are withdrawing across the border to lick their wounds. That suits me fine. (And the group that hit us last night won't be back for quite a while. It's a good bet that we killed over 1/2 of them and captured most of their weapons.) Another couple of weeks, and I should be able to go back to Schueller. That would be a nice, pleasant place to be right now - a very secure place, Schueller.
Enough stomach-turning news for now. There isn't much else, though, except that I am becoming more optimistic about getting home early. We have 284,000 as of a couple of weeks ago, and were supposed to be down to 184,000 be 1 December. MACV has about 1/3 of the Army troops here now. They'll stay - about 40,000 or so. USAF will have 50,000 or so - that's half of the 184,000 right there. 1st Logistical Command has about 50,000 - most of them will stay. The people in Long Binh/Bien Hoa will stay until the end - another 50,000 or so. That's 190,000. II Corps should shut down this summer and I Corps later. I figure my battalion may stand down in the next two or three months. Barring a major reinvasion by the NVAs, there's no real need for us. Oh well. It's nice to think about.
24 April 1971
Another uneventful day. No more war stories. As a matter of fact, nothing much has happened around here since the sapper attack (maybe they're trying to regroup). I think the show may be about over for this year - the wet monsoon starts in a couple of weeks. The big job now is getting Firebase 6 rebuilt, and that's up to this regiment. They have a full battalion up there now, and we sent twelve chopper loads of building materials and two 105s up there today.
Yesterday, I was able to see my battery drive by on the way to Ben Het, finally. Apparently they took along a couple of lengthy target lists and will go back to Schueller when they complete firing them - another week or so. They can easily shoot into Laos from there. It is presumably fairly safe, or we wouldn't send the battery up there and risk having them cut off from the rest of us.
I found out why the NVA took Firebase 6. Their battle plan called for them to take 6 and then Ben Het and Tanh Canh. With that foothold, they could move south along QL14 and take Kontum and maybe even Pleiku. They had two full strength divisions to do the job. That may be why the ARVNs aren't too upset about losing the 42nd regiment - although I still think it was an unnecessary loss. If a regiment is going to get wiped out, it should at least be at one time, and not piece by piece. I also found out that it was the sole remaining battalion of the 42nd that lost Firebase 6. They ran again, as did their brothers in the other battalions of the 42nd.
The newspapers reported that they had "spiked" their guns. They didn't. But I did find out how that story got started. The survivors said they brought the breechblocks with them, but they got too heavy, so they threw them down beside the road just west of here. A breechblock weighs about 40 pounds, but there were several dozen ARVNs and only 4 breechblocks. Unfortunately, a half hour later, when they reached Tanh Canh and someone came out after the breechblocks, they were nowhere to be found and 105 shells were falling in here from Firebase 6. Thus, the story that the NVAs "fixed" the guns. The only problem with that story is that the NVAs had to find the breechblocks and then take them back to 6 on forty minutes or so at the most. Firebase 6 is at least 10 klicks from where they supposedly dropped the them, all up a very steep hill. Typical ARVNs - trying to make themselves look good again. Big show, no effectiveness. They're so impressed by lots of firepower, but they have no concept of accuracy. One of our 8 inch shells, properly adjusted, does more damage than their hundreds of shells in the wrong place, but they just don't seem to grasp that.
25 April 1971
Well, we had an event, of sorts. This morning, General *****, commander of the 22nd division, came out here to promote and/or decorate a couple of dozen soldiers. The area must be pretty safe - he looked like another Ky - unwilling to risk his own safety for anything.
I don't think I'm going to require any great readjustment to civilization. I've seen this place at its worst now, and I don't think I've changed. It has affected me, but it really hasn't changed me. The general effect of this place is that of fire on raw steel - it tempers and refines it, which is about the only thing I can be grateful for over here. If nothing else, I'm glad for that. The things I've learned about myself here would be impossible to even guess at under other circumstances, and I feel much better knowing them.
The rumors are still flying about our battalion. Apparently B battery at Oasis has no guns. I do know that battalion asked for the date of last rebuild on all of our guns - all 13 in the battalion - so something must be up. I just wish they'd tell us what's going on. I know that some of our guns are approaching the point at which they must be rebuilt or scrapped. I also know that there aren't any in country to replace them with. And somehow, an artillery battalion without guns doesn't seem too practical. I could be sent just about anywhere - one of the other three battalions in II Corps; one of the several in I Corps (most probably 108th Group on the DMZ, but they're standing down, too); 5th Mech Division; or one of a half dozen other units. But I still say that, no matter where I go, I'll still be surplus. Maybe I'll get lucky and end up in an air-conditioned office someplace - like maybe club officer at Nha Trang or something. More likely, I'll go north. One bright note, though - supposedly all American troops are supposed to start moving into enclaves, but no one really knows when we're supposed to move. Maybe I should write OPFA (Office of Personnel for Field Artillery) and ask.
The trouble is that no one at the top tells anyone farther down what to do until the last possible minute. When 5/16th stood down, they were told to prepare - three weeks later, they simply didn't exist. The same thing is probably going to happen to us. We'll be told to prepare, then poof!, no more 7/15th FA. When we do stand down we (officers) get a "dream" sheet if we aren't going home. I'll think I'll ask for USARV or some such instead of another battalion, but I'll probably end up in the only unit that stays in the boonies after everyone else is in the enclaves.
Whatever happens, this has got to be just about the worst of it (famous last words). [It turns out these were famous last words - a couple months later we spent several weeks at a little district headquarters called Phu Nhon, south of Pleiku. It made Dak To II seem like a dream vacation. Phu Nhon is on the eastern edge of the Ia Drang Valley, where most of the major battles in II Corps were fought.] I guess I'll know when it happens and not before.
I think the thing that bugs me the most here is the one ARVN who keeps looking over my shoulder like he's trying to read what I'm writing. Typical ARVN - just trying to be friendly, but....
I've run out of books again. Every time I go into Tanh Canh, I try to pick up a couple of new ones (exchange for old ones), but I don't get in often enough to keep supplied. I did find a copy of The Godfather to read, but have barely started. I've read Love Story twice.
27 April 1971
We're losing 14,600 - 15,000 marines by June 30. By April 30 (3 days away), we're supposed to be down to 274,000 instead of 284,000. During May and June, half of the withdrawals will be Marines. They're always happy to claim "first in" but seldom acknowledge that they'll be "first out" as well. Strange. MACV is being cut back pretty seriously, too. The rumors about B Battery turned out to be wrong. B Battery went down to Phu Nhon when my battery left. My battery is still at Ben Het with a huge target list in Cambodia and Laos - otherwise known as Base Area 609. Chuck apparently has decided to regroup for the rains. If he follows his usual pattern, he'll go to the southern end of II Corps for the summer campaign. My battery will return to Schueller when they finish shooting - still another week or so. I still don't know when I'll go back, but it should be about the same time.
30 April 1971
Well, I've received permission from battalion to return to my battery (they're already back at Schueller). Now all I have to do is get the ARVNs' permission, which shouldn't be too much of a problem now. I will be glad to get back to my own battery, even if we do have seven LTs now. I wish I knew what we'll all be doing - we're only supposed to have two. Maybe I can have an assistant motor officer now. The situation is really ridiculous. I now know what they do if they can't find a slot for you when your unit stands down - they send you someplace anyway. Oh well.
The operation here is winding down now. Firebase 6 is "secure" again and almost rebuilt. I was up there a couple of days ago - probably one of the few Americans to have set foot up there recently. Once you get up there, it's pretty obvious why they chose 6 instead of 5 or 13 (Ben Het) to take. Six has a magnificent view of the whole area: you can see into Laos, Cambodia, Ben Het, Dak Mot, Dak To I, Dak To II and Tanh Canh - including all the friendly military installations, which are well within range of artillery and rockets from there (except Tanh Canh). It is also a very poor target for artillery because it's on the top of a high narrow ridge. You can get to it only from north or south - the other two approaches are almost vertical. The NVA came up from the south ridge and the ARVNs ran off the north ridge, right past Dak To II. Hopefully, with the rains just another week or two away, they won't be back. They did return to Base Area 609, and the B-52 raids and my battery shelling them all day and night should have helped keep them fairly disorganized. If they follow the usual plan, they'll reorganize and move to the southern end of II Corps for the rainy season (it's dry there). Then they won't be our worry. [This turns out to be a continuation of my "famous last words." My battery ran into parts of the same units later in June, when we moved down south to Phu Nhon.