The Second and Last Time I Cried in Country

*See attached audio

After eight months in the field as a forward observer, I became the executive officer

of a 105 mm battery.

 

We were on a fire base north of Hue, just off highway 1.  Beautiful views but piss poor infrastructure.  The gun positions were haphazardly placed around a small hill and what bunkers were there were filthy and rat invested and to top it off we had just been told that this was going to be our home until after the monsoon season.  

The old man was going to Hawaii on R&R and had just left.  I decided to do something about our deplorable working and living conditions.  I displaced the battery to a rearm/refueling pad and got the Seabees who had a compound about three miles down the road from us to bring a dozer up and knock off the top of the hill.  They also lent us a 5 ton truck to haul the supplies we would need to rebuild the gun positions.   

Just prior to this time we had found a stray puppy which was about two months old and adopted it. One day I sent a couple of guys with the 5 ton to pick some materials at the Seabee compound.  Someone decided he was going to take the puppy and as they pulled out they were standing in the back of the 5 ton up against the cab with the puppy on the roof.  As they started down the hill the driver put on the brakes and the puppy tumbled from the roof of the cab onto the hood and then onto the ground.  The fall broke the puppy’s neck and it died instantly. 

That was the second and last time I cried while in country.

Friendly Fire by Michael Ireland

We had been sweeping the mountains west of Hue for the last eleven days.  We were so far out our only artillery supports were 8 inch guns and sometimes 175’s.  

We were moving along a ridge line coming out of the mountains when we made contact.  This lasted about 20 minutes and then everything was quiet. 

The Company Commander decided to roll off the ridge line and pursue those individuals we had just been in contact with.  We were following a trail that looped back and forth down the side of the mountain.  The CO wanted to prep the valley we were getting ready to slide into and see if it wouldn’t stop or slow down the people we were tracking. 

Because of the 8 inch batteries location this put us a short distance off the gun target line.  We were still in the safe zone because we were moving vertically and not horizontally.  The trail looped back on itself as we descended which spread us out in a loose horseshoe configuration. 

 As we moved I adjusted fire using two guns until it was where the CO wanted it.  I then called for battery fire.  They confirmed firing and added expect two late rounds.  The next thing we knew the world erupted around us as two 8 inch rounds landed in the middle of that horseshoe.  There was noise, screaming and confusion.  I remember screaming into the radio to cease fire. The guy in front of me and the one behind me were wounded.  Tears were streaming down my face and I remember thinking what had I done wrong.  We called for a medevac and waited for what seemed an eternity but in reality had only been less than 5 minutes.   Because we were on the side of a mountain there was no place to land.  The next thing we knew this Huey which was not a medevac came slowly into the side of the mountain and placed the leading edge of his skids against the hill and held that position while we loaded the most critically wounded.  He didn’t do this one time he kept coming back until all the wounded and dead were evacuated.  He carried out nine wounded and seven dead.  

As we resumed our mission we were told that an investigation had found that two guns and been laid in wrong at the battery.    This exonerated me but it didn’t make me feel any better as the artillery had made a mistake and I was the artillery’s representative on the ground. 

We spent one more night out which meant I had to plot defensive fire positions.   Normally I would fire one or two air burst WP or HE rounds to check the locations.  This night I just plotted them and wasn’t going to fire them until the Artillery Battalion Commander intervened and told me I was to fire in everyone I had plotted. 

That was one of the hardest things I ever did as an FO, it was even harder on the unit but nobody said anything they just hunkered down and got a little lower to the ground.

No one spoke of our losses that day.

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My First 30 Days in Vietnam by Michael Ireland

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After flying half way around the world and being dropped in an environment that seemed to embrace chaos; we were bused to the 90 Replacement Battalion located at Bien Hoa which was part of Long Binh logistical support area located 33 km east of Saigon and a first stop for newly arrived U.S. Army personnel.  

Long Binh Post was reported to have dental clinics, large restaurants, snack bars, special services crafts shops, Post Exchanges, an Olympic size swimming pool,  pools, basketball & tennis courts, a golf driving range, University of Maryland extension classes, bowling alleys, nightclubs with live music , laundry services, and a massage parlor.

Since we were newbies we saw none of this.

 For those of us who already had orders assigning us to a permanent unit in Vietnam

this was just a short layover.

 

After a few days to complete in processing those of us with orders to the 101st ABN Division boarded a C-130.  We flew up country to Camp Eagle located in I Corps 7 km southeast of the city of Huế and 9 km west of Phu Bai combat base.

 I reported into the 320th Artillery Battalion and was issued a weapon, ammunition and field gear.  I was then told to be ready at 7 am to accompany the Battalion Commander for the next few days on an inspection tour of the Battalion which was spread throughout I Corps.

The next morning I met up with the Battalion Commander and we drove to the helipad.   Sitting on the pad was a Hughes Loach, which was a single-engine light helicopter with a four-bladed main rotor used for transporting up to five people plus pilot. It was also used for escort, attack missions, and observation.  

Since I was a pilot, flying didn’t bother me like some newbies.   We flew over villages, rice patties, mountains, plains, rivers, bays and inlets of the South China Sea. You could glimpse sometimes the grandeur and beauty of a past Vietnam.  For the most part you saw the devastation and destruction that war had inflicted on this land and its people.    There were white dead areas that have been treated with Agent Orange, everywhere there we bomb and artillery craters most of them full of water.  There were abandoned buildings and villages which had seen the ravages of war.  The only area that seemed to be pristine was the beaches and the South China Sea.   I guess it’s hard to screw up water and sand.

We went to every unit in the Battalion and at the end of third day I was told to be ready to deploy the following day. 

The next day I was literally dropped into an ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam) mechanized unit.  

It was just me, an American military advisor, an Australian military advisor and whole bunch of Vietnamese troops.  I had been in country a little over ten days and this was now my reality check and wake up call.

 That first night I curled up next to one of the tracked vehicles and had been asleep about an hour when I woke up to most god awful noise that I couldn’t immediately identify,                                                         my first thought we were under attack. 

 I finally got my head around what was going on; it turned out that one the Vietnamese sentries decided he was bored and tuned on a radio with Vietnamese music, so much for noise discipline.   

This music was loud, twangy and when you added vocals it sounded like someone was killing a cat.  Nobody seemed upset by this so I went back to sleep as best I could.

 I spent the next eighteen days learning about Vietnamese, music, culture, food and their military. 

 I had my first Vietnamese food which was fish and noodles and quickly learned to be careful because the fish had metal particles in it.   The reason for this was the way they fished.  Their field expedient method for fishing was to use a hand grenade; then scooped up the fish as they floated to the surface.  

The only normal things were the sunrises and sunsets which were absolutely beautiful. 

During those eighteen days Christmas and New Year’s 1968 came and went.    Those two days were very hard on me as I was really homesick and very lonely.  

The one thing I will never forget was how beautiful the night skies were.  Because there was no light pollution the night was aglow with stars the Milky Way and galaxies from horizon to horizon. 

On the eighteenth day the Battalion commander swoop in, in his Loach, policed my ass up and dropped me in Delta Company 2nd of the 502 Inf. 

This was to my home and family for the next seven and a half months.

We All Died in Vietnam by Michael Ireland

*See attached audio

When you are 20 years old you think you are invincible and can do anything.  You have dreams, aspirations and expectations and all the time in the world to fulfill and accomplish them.  

When our country called us we answered that call, for most of us serving in the military and going off to war were not one of our dreams or aspirations, but we were invincible and could do anything.   

This attitude only lasted till our first fire fight and we faced our own mortality.  Our dreams, aspirations and expectation of what we thought our lives were going to be died in that far off country.

  The only thing we had to hang onto were our memories of what had been. 

The next thing we lost was our moral virginity.  We found ourselves doing things we never could have imagined just to survive and take care of each other. 

We were not fighting for god and country we were fighting to save ourselves.   

With this new reality came the start of the insidious psychological Wounds of War that have been a part of us for the last 50 years.  These are festering wounds that we all carry in some form or fashion.

  We have carried this burden for so long that it has become a part of who we are, yet we yearn for something more.

With the advent and introduction of new VA programs centered on the individual and the Arts and Humanities we may have a chance to set our burden down and start to heal from these Wounds of War. 

Only time will tell.

Who Am I by Anonymous

No longer a leader

No longer a medic

No longer an Infantry man 

No longer a soldier

No longer a breadwinner

No longer able to work

No longer able to shape my destiny

Will I be a better husband

Will I be a better father

Will I make my grandkid and great-grandkids proud

Will I drown in self pity

Will I control the past and shape my future

Will I get over being in a structured environment and take the lead once again

Will I be able to break out and live once more

Will I be able to be my sunshine

T.O.R.M.

What Do I Feel by Anonymous

I feel the pain of a worn out body

I feel the pain of memories that won't go away

I feel the want for the simple things

I feel the want for lost innocence

I feel the want to be understood

I feel the want to control my emotions

I feel the want to be a whole person

I feel the want to understand the voices

I feel the want to understand why I'm here 

 

Author

A tired old ranger medic with too many sleepless nights 

Arrival by George Durden

After a 24 hour trip to Bien Hoa Air Force Base the plane doors opened to the smell of human waste being mixed with diesel fuel in cut down 55 gallon drums, a smell none of us would ever forget. We loaded up and were bused to Long Bin, the embarkation point to the various units in Vietnam. The bus had bars and chicken wire over the windows like a prison bus to prevent grenades being tossed inside. The ride through Long Bien was terrifying. The driver was pedal-to-the-metal-damn -anyone in his way.  More than one small child wandered out to see the bus on roads too narrow for them to be there. I couldn’t wait to get to the base. We were assigned a barrack and told to settle in for the night. The cockroaches were huge and all over the place. There was outgoing artillery and incoming rockets that night. Mortar flares never seemed to stop. A bunch of us were unable to sleep, so we sat for a while on the blast barricade looking at them as if it was a Fourth of July fireworks display. Once I did go to bed, I was awakened to reveille at 0500 watching rats the size of cats on the rafters scurrying around.

 

My first emergency landing came after dropping off a load of supplies to the furthest firebase in our sector while returning for another mission. The pilot yelled into his mic: “Chief, number two has lost oil pressure!” I looked out to the rear and saw red everywhere. My first instinct was that we were on fire and I alerted everyone to it. As the pilot reached for the fire bottle handle, I yelled, “Don’t pull; it’s oil,” and directed him to take the engine to ground position and stop. The Chinook can fly on one engine but has a tendency to overheat because of the strain. The pilot asked all of us to look for place to put down safely. The gunner saw a landing strip to the left and that’s where we set down. Once on the ground I opened the #2 engine cowling and discovered that the oil filter had popped out. One of the tabs holding it in was missing.

 

This set me off, since my bird had the “25 hour” crew do a service the night before that included changing engine oil.  We buttoned up inside the bird and made calls on the emergency channel in hopes of being heard and getting assistance.  Vietnamese children showed up from nowhere. We knew better than to give them anything, but they were persistent and began tampering with the sling load hook on the bottom of the helicopter. The pilot shot a couple rounds from his pistol which drove them off. Since our home station had not heard from us in over six hours, they announced that all helicopters be on the lookout for us. That night, we heard an aircraft. We called and were heard this time, informing them of our situation and what we needed. Early the next morning, they arrived with parts and oil. I fixed the engine and off we went.

 

I was later called to the flight platoon office for reasons unknown to me, selected to try a new approach to killing VC in their tunnels. I was there with another flight engineer called Murphy. We would become bombardiers of nine 55 gallon drums filled with foo gas which was mostly used as a perimeter effort to explode and coat attackers with the sticky goo. This would either burn or suffocate them to death because it robs the atmosphere of oxygen. They wanted us to spot the target without practice. We were to hook our internal winch to one corner of the netting holding the barrels. The other three corners were hooked in normal fashion to our sling load hook, which we could open at our discretion.

 

We’d be flying with a Cobra loaded with white phosphorus. It would shoot its rockets to spot the location where we were to drop our load. I had the second mission so I waited for my turn. After Murphy’s bird landed I noticed his large bushy mustache was scorched and singed. He told me they’d been flying at 500 feet at a slow rate of speed when he dropped his load. The first barrel exploded after reaching the white phosphorus and the flames cascaded up the barrels towards the helicopter and came up through a hole in the floor. If it hadn’t been for his goggles and flight helmet, he’d been scorched even more.

 

I was informed that the procedures were changed as a result of this. We would fly at 3000 feet and at 75 knots, higher and faster than the first mission. We arrived at location and I readied myself. On the first pass, I wasn’t convinced I’d hit the target. I didn’t have much time to determine angle and speed for impact after the pilot indicated the site was approaching under the nose of the bird. I asked for a second pass and this time I released the barrels. I was off target, but the Cobra ignited the barrels and we saw VC running around in the flames.  

Music from the Sky by David Rozzell

We all knew it was Christmas Eve. No one mentioned it. There was a no resupply helicopter with mail call due for a couple days. There were no presents or cards. The Chaplain held special services on base camps, but we were in the jungle a short terminal trip from anywhere, the company broken up into eight-man ambush teams for the night. We sat down in heavy brush to eat supper and wait for twilight so we could move safely into our ambush site.

 

The site we were assigned, a newly cut road as wide as I-95 into Florida, left me more than a little uneasy. There was no pavement and no tracks or prints to indicate recent heavy traffic, but the ghosts were around.

           

We placed our mechanical ambush devices and armed the deadly things. We formed a tight circle with some new growth elephant grass, eighteen inches tall, for concealment and protection. The anxiety surrounding this campsite pushed thoughts of my other family – back home, gathered around a warm fireplace, exchanging gifts – to a back burner.

           

It was a cloudless night. There was enough moon to light up the area, and I got to sleep in good order. When my guard shift started at midnight, I got quickly orientated, decided which direction was most likely to produce enemy activity and settled into the routine of classifying and categorizing the night sounds and sights.

           

At 12:41, I heard the prop noise of a helicopter. It didn’t take long to find the form of the lone chopper moving high and slowly across the sky to my front. The helicopter was well past me when I heard its mission for the night. From a strong speaker, on board the plane, came music. The first tune was “Silent Night.”  All the emotions I had stacked so high and deeply on that back burner fell heavily on the soft parts I was protecting.

 

I’m sure the officer in charge of the music mission had good intentions, and I hope the songs brought good feeling to the other soldiers in the area, but I could have done without it.