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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