MY FIRST DAY/NIGHT

IN VIETNAM

 

Webmaster's Note:  Many of us, if not all, remember our arrival in Vietnam.  Whether it was first reporting in, going through a Reception Station (RecSta) such as Camp Alpha or elsewhere, reporting in to the 2/9th BnHq (wherever it was), or that strange first day and/or night "in the field".  We didn't know what to expect. Our stories and experiences may vary greatly, but it's an event that we'll never forget.  If you haven't already done so, please send your "first" experience for posting.  We've got some dandy contributions!!

CONTRIBUTORS

Sgt John Anderson Lt Don Blankin Lt Jim Brother
Sp4 Joe Cook Sp4 Steve Cox Lt Dennis Dauphin
Lt Jim Deloney Sgt Rick Ericksen Sgt Steve Gorecky
Lt Frank Herbick Lt Don Keith Lt Mike Kurtgis
Lt Bert Landau Sp4 Max T. Leach Lt J. Fred Oliver
PFC William "Tom" Surratt SSG Charles Wahlquist Sp5 Danny Yates

Sgt John Anderson 

My Arrival
I flew into Bien Hoa Airbase in September, 1967. I spent about two weeks "in country orientation" at Bien Hoa (I got my first taste of RVN when the perimeter was breached at the dump), convoyed from Bien Hoa to An Khe to pick up convoy elements, then on to Duc Pho. We left Duc Pho and headed for Camp Enari.  I spent some time at Pleiku before heading by "chopper" to LZ Mile High. I am still piecing together the timelines).  We got up there as the EOD was clearing the LZ. I was put in the AN/MPQ-4A Radar section as a Radar Mechanic, in support of what later became LZ 14 (the designator changed a few times due to "Charlie" and "Nathan").  Originally the "Herd" was on LZ 14, our 3/8th Infantry and eventually our "C" Btry 2/9 Arty.  During our stay on Mile High our CWO was Emil Franklin and our section chief was SSgt. Tabonnamah.  We were with "A" Btry 2/9 Arty for awhile. Other members of the Radar Section were Sp4 Patterson, John Toucharde, Dudley our generator mechanic (only knew him by his nickname), SSG James Starley (photo below; he replaced SSG Tabonnamah)  and 6 other operators. 

Lt Don Blankin 

My Arrival: Greeting a snake
M
y first assignment was FO for A/2/35 which lasted about a week (that was long enough for me to see the biggest snake in all of Southeast Asia) in fact I very nearly sat down on him or it. I went to C/2/35 when (Lt Roger) Fulkerson was KIA to tend to his personal effects and remained there as his replacement.  Fulkerson didn't have an RTO, so I had to account for his SOI-SSI, radio, etc. When I was with A/2/35 I didn't have an RTO either, so I carried my own radio. I got Raymond Wesley as my RTO when I got to C/2/35. This all happened in August and September of 1968.    

Lt Jim Brother 

My First Dinner Meal in Vietnam

I flew to Pleiku Air Force Base with B/2/35 as their artillery forward observer in early January 1966.  We trucked to the 3/25 Base (3rd Brigade, 25th Inf Div) Camp where we set up tents.  The 2/35 field kitchen that had flown in with the advance party prepared us the evening dinner.  When I was served a hot creamed chicken meal, I noticed a trooper looking at his food and crying.  I asked the GI what the problem was.  He told me that he had been in country for seven days and that he had been served creamed chicken for every meal.  Apparently each of the trucks loaded with food had been loaded with similar sized cartons, and one of the planes had developed engine trouble enroute so that the one truck that did arrive carried only creamed chicken, which the cooks had dutifully prepared.  I do not know exactly how long it took for them to arrange a trade of foodstuffs with another unit, but I don't recall being served creamed chicken on successive occasions.  Later, eating C rations in the field, I would have happily eaten lots of creamed chicken without complaint.  

Sp4 Joe Cook 

Uneventful
My tour - 1966 - 1967 was really uneventful. I trained in Fort Jackson,  then at Fort Sill and was assigned to Hawaii. I think I was in Hawaii for about two or three months maybe even six. Who knows? Anyway, I was a 13E20 in FDC ran charts and the radios.   We left Hawaii for Viet Nam in Dec of 1965.  I arrived in a C-141 with water tank, jeep+ trailer (we called the "Pink Kitty").  Also on board was another vehicle of some sort and I think a platoon of men. We were carrying our M-14 rifles.  The runway we landed on, in the Central Highlands, was dirt and the plane turned around and took right off.  Boy, it then got real quiet and we saw the Cav pulling out as they were there to pull security and now, we were on our own.  That night was Pup Tents.  No one dug a fox hole.  

Sp4 Steve Cox 

A "new boot" on the ground
I arrived in Vietnam around 12Dec68, at Tan Son Nhut air base. Two days later, I was at Camp Enari, headed to the 4th Infantry Division 3rd Bde. One day later, I was standing in the 2/9th Artillery Headquarters Service Battery. In just hours I was told that I was going on a convoy down south to Ban Me Thout. This was my first convoy riding as shotgun on a 3/4 ton. We were going down south to bring a gun battery back to Enari. Before we reached Ban Me Thout, one of the APC tracks was hit by a B-40 rocket . …. THIS IS WHEN I LEARNED A LESSON, THAT I WAS A NEW BOOT ON THE GROUND. You need to clean your M-16 when you get it out of the Armory…(you better clean it).. IT WILL JAM UP. The round would not eject. I learned that gasoline will work to clean it good and fast. And I kept a cleaning rod taped to the stock of that M-16. Loading up the gun battery, the next day we made it back to Camp Enari; no problems.  

Lt Dennis Dauphin

First reporting in to Camp Alpha, Nov. 1966
The first protocol of reporting in to any new duty station is to present your set of orders.  I learned that I was not the only soldier given 25 copies of the same sheet of paper from the States to bring when reporting in.  I had just landed at Tan Son Nhut airbase and walked over to Camp Alpha.  About 20 of us, of all different shapes, ranks, and sizes and mostly wearing short-sleeve khaki uniforms, were shown to a ramshackle building made of plywood, galvanized sheet metal roof and lots of chicken wire.  It had two large windows covered by green shades with layers of sandbags stacked to the bottom of the windows.  There was a single screen door to the building.  Inside, we were tersely greeted by a "Speedy Four" standing behind a very l-o-n-g counter like a bar in a Texas dance hall.  We were told to stack our sets of orders in neat piles on the  counter.  We all complied; obviously, "Speedy" was in charge here.  There was no discussion, no explanation...just do what he says.  Our "straw boss" now proceeds to position himself at one end of the counter and pushes each and every stack of orders into a gigantic trash barrel positioned at the opposite end.  Then he announces...with magnificent authority..."You'll go where the units need you!"  Then he dismissed us.  It quickly dawned on me that we were the expendable replacements there to fill vacancies...both temporary and permanent.  That was my "welcome" to Camp Alpha and the start of my tour.  A week later, I flew out to Pleiku and met with the 2/9th Headquarters.

First day in the field
I was told I'd be the replacement FO for A-2-35, reporting to Captain Charles Murray.  

My mentor and "happy guy" leaving the boonies was Lt Doug Turner.  He began the process of training and turnover.  Ft Sill never got around to teaching you how to be an FO in a jungle environment.  Instead of sitting on little cots facing some rusted tank bodies below Signal Mountain, we were in the real target zone, my friend.  It would certainly help to know how all this is supposed to work!

Doug begins teaching me how to set up "defensive concentrations" around the company perimeter.  First thing...and most important thing...says Doug with great emphasis...always call for a smoke round to insure you are hitting your target area.  Adjust as necessary...and then call for HE.

He begins by selecting a general area outside the perimeter, getting the coordinates from his map, and calling the FDC of "C" Battery.   "This is Lanyard 51, Fire Mission, Delta Tango, first round smoke, coordinates xxxxxxxxx".  The FDC works up the firing data and calls: "Ready"; Doug says "Fire".  FDC says "Shot, Over".  Doug says "Shot, Out".   We stare out at the horizon waiting to hear the "pop" of the smoke round, ejecting the chute and the smoke canister.  But....all we hear is the distant "boom" of the base piece.  What we see is.....nothing.

Oh, well...musta been a dud smoke round.  So Doug calls the FDC with the command: "Repeat".  Again we hear the distant boom of the base piece but we see.....nothing.  Doug re-checks his map coordinates...looks okay...calls the FDC for another repeat.  Again...the boom...again...the nothing.

An NCO of A/2/35 watching us hollers out: "Any of you Lieutenants calling for smoke?"  "Yes," Doug replies.  "Well," he says "It's over here" pointing us to the opposite direction.  Doug committed the most basic of artillery miscues...the 3200 mil error.  What did Doug do next?  He simply turned around as if nothing had gone wrong at all and proceeds to adjust and complete the mission.   I'm thinking, "How in the holy hell did this guy survive in Vietnam this long?"

At first I was shocked to my socks.  But then I realized: this dude is cool, unflappable.  That's how he survived.  I learned a very important lesson from that day forward.  You play the hand that you are dealt.

Lt Jim Deloney

No experience? Don't sweat it; catch the plane, buddy!

DA had a policy, so I was told, that prior to shipment to Vietnam to a combat arms unit you were supposed to spend a minimum of six months in a combat arms unit.  So I called DA and asked them about this policy and informed them that I had not spent any time in a combat arms unit after receiving my commission as a butterbar.  DA told me to move out...that there was no time for me to go to a combat arms unit stateside, so I did.  
 

Upon arrival in Pleiku, I was assigned to an infantry rifle company as a ground FO.  We made an air assault from Huey's into a swampy area.  The Huey's couldn't land in the swamp; they just hovered and we jumped out.  It was only a few feet to the ground, so we didn't even need a parachute.  Having successfully completed "Jump School",  jumping only 5 or 6 feet from an aircraft was not a problem.  All in all, it was a great plan that really came together quickly, my free swamp training in Louisiana, jumping out of aircraft with shoes on armed with mosquito repellent (there were a whole lot more them than there were NVA's), etc. 
UPON ARRIVING
When I first landed in Vietnam and was sent to Pleiku in August 1966, I was assigned as a FO with the infantry.  We made an assault into the jungle and spent the next 89 days in the field, the longest sustained ground operation in Vietnam in 1966, according to the Army Times.  We had a gung-ho Infantry Colonel, the Brigade CO, (Shanahan) who wanted to make Brig Gen, and thought this would help him with the promotion.

ALL WET
I remember being soaking wet for two weeks without drying out in the mountains of the Central Highlands along the Cambodian border in late 1966.  At night the temperature would get down into the 40's.   We (that is, me and the infantrymen) slept one night wrapped around trees in the Central Highland Mountains because the terrain was too steep to sleep any other way.   Insects were so bad in the Central Highlands that you had to take your mosquito repellent and spray a circle around your C-rations after you placed them on the ground to eat.  Otherwise, insects would be all over your food before you could eat it.

Sgt Rick Ericksen

I arrived...and the shooting started

I had just arrived at LZ Mary Lou and got off the truck/convoy and asked a guy who looked like he was from there where I could find my unit. He said head straight down the road.  When you come to a line of containers/Conex's, on just the other side of that is a row of tents. He said just look for your unit's name/insignia above the opening. 

As I rounded the containers, I heard two men running really hard from my right.  As I turned to look, they went flying by me. There was this black guy/GI with a look of anger on his face and he was frothing around the mouth like a mad man. I froze up instantly as he was aiming his M16 at what first looked like me, but was actually pointing at the two men that were running away. He let of two quick bursts and dropped both of them in their tracks. One was not moving and the other was just moaning and rolling around. He then refocused back on me.  Just about the same time, a guy came from his right and behind him from a bunker. He immediately swung to where the guy was coming from and let go with another burst.  At this point his M16 went dry and he turned and ran up the road towards the gate. Next thing I know is someone gave me a shove forward and yelled out, "Stop that MF'er, he's crazy.  He shot the LT. .... he's dead and he wounded the sergeant. At that point I guess instinct took over cause I remember pulling a mag out and locked & loaded and started running after the guy and was joined by two other guys who came out of nowhere along side me.  The road leading back to the gate was full of trucks that I had just arrived on and other GI's were milling about. Suddenly the guy popped out from between one and that's when all hell broke loose. He spotted us the same instant we spotted him and he opened up on us.  We returned fire meanwhile taking cover in the drainage ditches alongside the road. He then made a run for it, dodging between and behind the trucks and we in pursuit trading fire as we went. It seemed like forever but we were headed straight for the gate and I could now see the MP's at the gate turning to bear on us with there 16's & 60's. I knew then if we did not end this soon, it was going to be an all out firefight with our own guys who had no idea what the hell was going on. I grabbed the two guys in the ditch and made a hasty plan. I told them I just got here and this is not what I expected or planned on and did not want to go out this way.  So, let's break on three and spread out so we could draw his fire in three different directions.  It would make it easier to move and not give him one target to bear on. I remember all the time though, hearing the supersonic sound of bullets whizzing over head. 

As soon as I heard a break in the shooting, I gave the command to break out and move. One guy went to the opposite side of the road and the other laid flat in the middle and myself stayed put in the drainage ditch on the right. When he saw the guy on the left side, he stood up in the middle of one of the trucks. Suddenly he broke out in the middle of the road and winged a few shots and started running up the road. I remember as we opened up on him, he turned once to return fire and then as he turned back and ran forward, there was a burst of three M16's going off all at once.  He dropped in the middle of the road and his weapon went flying forward. I jumped up with the other two guys in close pursuit, but I was the first one to reach him. He was screaming at the top of his lungs and rolling around. When I finally got to him, he was face down.  I grabbed his shirt by the shoulder and flipped him over. He had this big wound in his left shoulder, one of the rounds hit him high and blew out his whole shoulder. It was really nasty. Before I knew it, there was several MP's standing over us telling us to put our weapons down. At that point they pulled us up and handcuffed all of us. Next thing I know, there are medics working on this guy and  putting him into an ambulance. That's the last time I ever saw him. Next thing we are loaded into a jeep and taken to MP HQ's to sort this out.  Once they sorted the whole thing out and got all of the stories straight, they cut us loose. I never did find out what happened to the shooter but I was told later by some guys who knew who he was that they had just come back from two very nasty operations. One I believe was the Chu-Pa mountain and the other was Dak To north of Mary Lou in Kontum Province. They were up against the 141st NVA regiment; they were seasoned hard core regulars. They were in heavy contact and lost a lot of guys in both of these operations and he managed to survive both. When he was ordered back out again to the same areas he said he had enough and then they told him he had no choice.  So I guess that is what set him off and he went bullshit and started going crazy and so it went.

This was my "welcome" to Vietnam and to the 2/9th Arty.

Sgt Steve Gorecky

I arrived during "Tet"
I arrived in Vietnam during "Tet ", February, 1968.  Most memorable was the VERY abrupt landing that our "707" made.  Apparently they were trying to  minimize the ground fire, so they brought the jets in quite fast and short. I think my ears are still popping. 

My first night at the 90th Replacement Depot ("Reppo Deppo") was spent under cover due to some mortar activity.  I am sure that no one knew that the entire country was being hit at the same time.  Heck, we didn't even know what "Tet" was.

Upon arrival at Camp Enari the next day, all us new guys (FNGs) were suited up and sent out on this huge [200+ guys] patrol south of Pleiku -  no training, no nothin'.  Being I was a Sergeant,   I was given a squad.  Talk about the blind leading the blind!!!  How many of us "redleg" guys had any business out on patrol, huh??  We walked many miles, spent the night out in the bush and had to set up "claymores."  I never heard of a claymore until that day.  Lucky for us, we pointed them the right direction!!  No action - no problems.

When we got back to Enari, we were then led to a makeshift firing range to get used to our M16's! Great!  My M16 would not even function.  That would have been real slick if we had gotten hit while on patrol. Hated that weapon!!  Or should I say "stick"?

That, boys & girls, is the first real night that I remember.  I did not arrive at "A" Battery for about another week  - they were over on the coast at LZ English.

Lt Frank Herbick

Training & Orientation? What's that?

Having been in the Army for over 10 years as an enlisted man, I knew the army would never send me out to battle without a lot of training and orientation. Ha!  I arrived in Pleiku fall of 1966 by Caribou aircraft, picked up in a jeep and off to base camp.  Seemed like a movie set, dirty and deserted.  Dropped off at a GP medium tent, where I was greeted by a Captain who took me to a mess tent for coffee. Then on to a supply tent. On tables piled high with weapons, ammo, and all other gear, I was told to take my pick of anything I wanted. Then on to another tent where I was given a locker to store my duffle bag. 

All this took about an hour or two, then put back in a jeep for ride to helipad.  The chopper was running, and two guys were throwing full duffle bags into it, and signaled to me to get aboard.  Never having a copter ride in my life, I got aboard, surrounded by duffle bags, and off we went !  Where to; don't know...

What seemed like 10 minutes later, we were hovering over the same spot and chopper pilot signaled to me to put headset on, and told me to look down and I'll  see why we were waiting.  As it was almost dark, I could see tracers coming and going in the landing area.  All of a sudden we dropped to about 6ft off the ground and door gunners started to throw off the duffle bags and told me to jump also.  Once on the ground, some troops were crawling around a sandbag parapet, so I grabbed on guy and asked where the 2/9 Arty was, and he pointed to a sandbagged bunker about 100 yards away.

There was lots of noise, yelling and gunfire, but I safely arrived at Battalion TOC.  I crawled in and was stared at by three officers, the Bn Cdr, Bn XO, and S3.  The BnCo came over and said to sit in the corner till action calmed down. I observed at least four radios squawking at once; and thought to myself how much training I needed and when would it start.  Reminded me of old John Wayne war movies.  After what seemed like eons, LtCol Holbrook came over and said the FO for C/1/14 was coming in shortly to the perimeter with what was left of the company, and I would be his replacement.  So we stepped out of the sandbagged hole and he pointed in a direction and said that's where the 1/14th was...so go there.!!! 

Since the CO of C/1/14 was KIA, I would have a new CO to work with as well, and he returned to the bunker. So far treated like I had leprosy. Oh well, headed to 1/14th area and was met by the remains of "C" Company returning.  Some  skeleton-looking guy asked if I was his replacement.  I nodded yes, he smiled and handed me a map, and said "Good Luck" and walked off.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME??  This is really not happening, is it?? Standing there in shock; a clean shaven West Point captain showed up and said, "Guess we'll be starting out in the morning Lieutenant. 

I could not believe 4 or 5 hrs ago I was landing in Pleiku, and now I'm in the middle of nowhere without a clue.

What the hell???

 ....Welcome to Vietnam; tag...you're it. 

Lt Don Keith

I arrived; my "stuff" went
I ate breakfast and then went to the LZ to get a chopper to some unknown hill.  We waited most of the day for the fog to lift.  Then the pilot yelled, "We have an opening. Lets Go!"  I was on my way to my first field assignment as the new FO. The pilot must have told the doorgunner to get me ready.  I could not believe what I was seeing: he was just hovering and put one of the skids on what appeared to be a log dock built out of the side of this hill.  That, obviously, was my cue to jump out. I walked up to the Captain Neeland, the Company Commander of B/2/35.   He looked at me and without even a handshake, he said, "Give me your canteens." I had 3 at that time. He took two of them, took a small drink, and handed both to the 1st Sergeant to give water to the group of grunts that had formed up to have a drink. I was told they had been out of water for days with no resupply due to being fogged in.  He then asked what else I had in my TWO packs.  One of the two was my old boy scout pack I had brought from home.  He emptied out the contents of both.  He called over a grunt from hell and said, "Here…now you now have pants." He then gave another grunt my extra boots. I stuck two socks full of C-rations to bring with me and, of course, those disappeared.  Neeland told me that "I was overloaded…that I could never hump the bush with that much stuff.  And, if push came to shove, I could never run if I really had to." (BS to that, but it made me think). I must have been a real sight for these guys…an FNG, one with clean clothing, bags of gear, food and water, and even a Bowie knife.  They must have thought that somebody at Headquarters was sending out the S-4 instead of a new FO.  

My First Night in a combat zone
After catching a ride to the location of B/1/35 where I was assigned as the new FO for their company, it was getting dark.  We were settling in for my first night in a combat zone.  I asked Captain Neeland if he wanted me to shoot DEFCONS (defensive concentrations) to protect the unit location with pre-planned artillery fires.  I was sent out without a map or compass.  On top of that, I did not  have the FOGGIEST  idea of where the hell I was.  I got this "LOOK" from Neeland. He said, "We don't shoot DEFCONs."  I went on to tell him (despite what my predecessor told him) the 2/9th artillery tubes were OK.   I knew better then to try and bullshit him by saying they had been replaced.  That would just make him believe the prior BS that the tubes were worn out. Well, we were not overrun that night. 

The next day, I got my 1st assignment.  Capt Neeland said, "You're going down to the valley to the 1st Platoon to replace the FO. We can now  get a bird in to take him out.  Just go down that trail; it will lead you to the platoon.  It's about 3 clicks. He then added, "Don't let the 4 Dinks upset you, they are dead."   I said, "When do we go?" He told me any time I wanted to start out.  I asked who was going with me and he looked at me and said, "Just you."  Big   joke, ha ha.  He said he couldn't send anyone with me and it was safe for me to go alone.  Well, then... HOW COME THERE WERE 4 DEAD ENEMY  SOLDERS IF IT WAS SO SAFE??? 

I shit you not, I did go down that trail alone, my 4th day in country,  no radio, no map...green as grass.  I was told they would be looking for me. Sure, just shoot the new guy that was scared shitless or just maybe they would smell the fear before I got to them.  Well, I found all 15  of the grunts that made up their 1st platoon. An E5 Sergeant was in charge and the FO I was replacing was waiting for me.  I didn't get the old FO's name, just his compass and map.  He loaded on the chopper and was gone.  I had been told  he was to stay 3 days to show me the ropes.  Just as well that he left, I guess, for if he was scared about the worn out tubes, he wouldn't be much use to me. The good ol' Sergeant took me under his wing and I was on my way to pound the enemy with so many rounds out of  those "good old 105mm worn out tubes" from the best Artillery unit in Vietnam, the 2nd of the 9th.

Lt Mike Kurtgis

I arrived too...in the middle of the night! (July, 1968)
Cam Ranh Bay

More than most, I was ill prepared for my entrance into Vietnam.  Having completed OCS I was assigned to the Aviation Command at Fort Sill awaiting orders for fixed wing flight school, since I was already a commercial fixed wing pilot and flight instructor.  I was assured of receiving orders for Fort Stewart Ga. and so was upset (to put it mildly) to get orders for primary rotor wing helicopters at Fort Wolters, TX.  I went to the Colonel at the Aviation Cmd, Ft. Sill (my boss at the time) and effectively tore up my orders.  Now mind you my mind set was to be a fixed wing Army Pilot, and Artillery was just a means to an end, I thought I was done with Artillery. As for tearing up the orders to helicopter school, it turned out to be a good thing as I got home in one piece, after all “helicopters were dangerous” as far as I was concerned (a bit of fixed wing pilot ego?). Suddenly on a fast track, 10 days later, I got my orders to report to  2/9th Artillery Pleiku RVN. At  the time, Artillery was the last thing on my mind, and who can remember the call for fire anyway a year later after school. Without further ado or training I shipped out.  So with my mind back in the States, and still stewing about the “Army Way”, I arrive in the Nam at Cam Rahn Bay.  Talk about being totally oblivious.  Mentally, I was not even there yet, It was like I was just going along for the ride, with not even a clue of what was in store.

Pleiku 1st Attempt
After a couple of days and a lot of crying in my beer, they put me on a C130 with about a 100 plus other guys going to Pleiku and then Camp Enari.  It was my first introduction to a C
-130 Combat Load, and the feeling of being just “Red Meat”, which meant we sat on the floor of the plane shoulder to shoulder separated by a web strap stretched across the width of the plane, in front and in back of each row.  I guess it was supposed to keep us from piling into one another when he hit the brakes or made a sudden stop.  (I remember thinking this is some seat belt).  I was sitting just aft of the wing and about in the middle of the row.  I could look out the window and see the underside of the wing and outboard engine.  Just as we were about to land at Pleiku, I happen to look out the window and I see the outboard engine’s propeller slowing down and feathering (turning edgewise to the direction of travel) and finally stop! Hello? (see photo)    

                                                      

Wow, I came all the way here to die in an accidental plane crash? Didn’t they put enough fuel on for the trip? When I looked out the other side thankfully the other engines were still running and I started to breathe again, about this time they make an announcement that we are turning around and going back to Cam Rahn Bay, on three engines, no less.   Well we get on the ground and I am looking at this broken engine thinking, is this some kind of omen or a harbinger of things to come? (As it turned out it was a harbinger and the first of two more engine failures in the Nam, but that is for another war story)  

Pleiku 2nd Attempt-Camp Enari
I get to Pleiku and Camp Enari the next day on another C
-130, with no mishaps.  I report in to “B” 2/9th Arty. and I am informed I will be going out to “B” Company, 2/35 Inf. as an FO.  I am also told I had to be ready to go out to “B” Company in the field, as soon as they arrange a resupply bird.  Well, I got my back-pack from the quartermaster, and when I asked about web gear and rifle.  He informs me that my combat gear was with the Infantry Company and I would get it in the field.  So there I sat with a back pack with frame and no web gear or rifle, waiting to go out on a re-supply slick to where I don’t know, and with no map to tell me where I don’t know.  To say the least, I am quite alone and nervous hanging around the barracks.  My buddy Lt. Roger Fulkerson (later KIA), went to “C” Company, 2/35 Inf. as an FO around noon time that day, but I was still sitting and waiting alone.  I didn’t feel much like eating dinner and figured I would hit the rack early.  But as it is the Army “hurry up and wait” am told to stay at the ready which I take to mean stay dressed. But hey, its night time they wouldn’t fly out in the jungle at night now would they?  I dozed off on my bunk, (fully clothed and ready to go) around 2100hrs when I am woken up at 2300hrs and told a Huey will pick me up at the pad in 30 minutes.  Walking out to the pad I’m thinking they got to be kidding...its nighttime. At the pad there are some “C” ration cases and some ammo cases and a mail bag.  A private tells me you get on after we load up.  The Huey came in right on time at 2330 hrs. the “C’s” and mail are loaded and I climb on top of the boxes.  It is a dark night and there are two door gunners with face shields down; the pilot and co-pilot are bathed in a red glow of instrument lights up front, and I’m alone in the back.  There are no lights that I can see on the ground as a matter of fact I can’t see anything...it is all black, my adrenalin is pumping and my heart is racing.  After about 30 minutes, or so we start to descend and the door gunner motions to me to get ready, (I’m thinking ready for what? Like a combat assault or something sans rifle?).  The Huey comes to a hover and he motions me out the door we are about three feet off the ground in elephant grass I slowly stepped on the skid and then… pushed/jumped to the ground.  I moved away about 10 feet from the boxes that came out after me.  My heart was going a mile a minute and the glow from the helo’s running light cast eerie shadows among the waving grass , and then the roar of the  Huey left was replaced by the roar in my ears which happens, as my heart was pounding. The shadows disappeared in the ink black night and I swear I could put my hand out in front of my face and I would not see it. There I was standing near midnight somewhere in the middle of Vietnam all alone, wondering what the hell do I do now much less where do I go?  I had no weapon and no way to communicate….help!  Then came a “thud”, a heavy hand on my shoulder, and a whispered voice “straight ahead Lieutenant” after I jumped at least a foot off the ground and about crapped in my pants. I think to this day whoever he was, he is still laughing and telling the war story about the dumb butter bar LT he scared the crap out of. When I got my voice back, I said “straight ahead where?”  He replied "Up the hill”.  So up I went wondering if I would be challenged or shot as I approach the perimeter, but it was anticlimactic after my helicopter assault on the elephant grass. I asked the first soldier I saw where the Captain was, he pointed the way and I reported to Captain “Chuck”.  His greeting, as I remember it, was a classic first question to an Artillery FO. He said, "Tell me where we are."  (Right...like I would really know). My thoughts were, “Captain, if you don’t know, I sure as hell don’t know...except we’re somewhere in the middle of Vietnam”.

Lt Bert Landau

What to bring?  Heck, bring it all
Units deploying to Vietnam brought their TO&E (Table of Organization & Equipment).  Individual replacements going to Nam didn’t have a clue.   So it really bugged me.  It was the "little things" that you might need that could drive you crazy. For example, would I need a year’s supply of toothpaste or not? Would I ever see a PX during that year?  I had better plan on “living out of a suitcase”. The little bit of information we did get had you believing to bring everything except for guns and ammunition.  I still remember when DivArty, 1st Armored Division at Ft Hood sent a note to all battalions about underwear:  “You need to bring OD underwear with you when you depart CONUS.  Do not bring white underwear to RVN.”  

Well, crap --- if you can’t buy underwear there, what else can’t you buy? The possibilities staggered me. Bring it with you if you plan on wearing it! And if that were true, all of the other stuff we need or use for day-to-day existence probably should be taken, too. Socks, toothpaste, deodorant [Hell, what did I know then about life in the boonies?], shirts, shoes, stationary, pens, stamps, handkerchiefs. Well, the list gets pretty big. And it all sounded necessary.

About a month before I was scheduled to go, I started building a pile of the things I thought I would need.  Letters sent home from guys already there  to girlfriends and wives began to surface, suggesting things I hadn’t considered yet.  A good waterproof flashlight and batteries. A portable radio.  And spare batteries. A couple of civilian outfits for those times when we might have to relax in a rear area. And it seemed like everyone else I knew who was headed there was going through the same process. There were 5 of us getting ready to go from 1/73 FA; all 2nd LTs; all without a clue about what we would soon face. Unfortunately the other officers and NCOs didn’t know either. Same for everyone else in DivArty.  

We each began hoarding stuff we thought we would need sometime in the coming year and not be able to buy.  My family, not knowing that you could buy OD underwear at any Army surplus store, dyed a half dozen boxers and half a dozen briefs…..but they weren’t OD. It was something like mottled and splotchy pea green ~ not something I wanted anyone else to ever see. But it sure was a thoughtful gesture and waste of otherwise good underwear. A dozen t-shirts were destroyed the same way.

I have to admit that I packed some things that seemed frivolous. When Mom was dying the underwear, she so thoughtfully tossed in a couple sets of sheets for "emergency use".  So I had 4 sheets the right size for a military bunk bed and two pillowcases, all the same mottled and splotchy pea green as the underwear. Mom made me promise to take the sheets even when I protested that we would probably be using cots [like I knew something!]. After all, she reasoned, we wouldn’t be out tin the field all of the time and when in a rear area, wouldn’t I like to have nice, clean sheets from home? Now who could argue with logic like that?

When I began actually putting my stuff into suitcases, it became clear that mere suitcases would not be adequate to the task. I bought a standard issue foot locker and about half of my stuff was jammed into that wooden box. Next, I got my Army issue duffle bag. Between the foot locker and the duffle bag, I could get everything I thought I would need packed and ready to go. The standard, black, indestructible, 3 ¼” Samsonite  briefcase completed my traveling ensemble.  The footlocker weighed, according to Braniff Airlines, 73 pounds. The duffle bag added 58 more pounds. But I had everything I needed. Everything. Hell, I was packed for a PCS to Viet Nam.

It was a horribly long, exhausting flight into Cam Ranh Bay. We landed at night and my first sense of being there became a jumbled blur quickly as we were whisked away from the airport and into some “repo depot”. I remember the OD bus with the wire over the windows driving through thick crowds of strange looking people.  I remember the strange smells of Viet Nam; the wood smoke that permeated everything but didn’t quite mask the smell of jungle and jungle rot. The smell of cooking strange foods was everywhere.

When we arrived at the repo depot, we were dropped off at a bunker line with instructions to dive inside in case mortars start falling. Then the bus drove off, leaving about 40 of us in pitch black. With no gear other than what we brought with us. One of the guys wandered around and discovered there was a mess hall about 1/10th of a mile away. A really pissed off Major who was a member of our little group of lost souls took charge, selected someone to guard our bags and sent the rest of the group to the mess hall. We had a feast of cheese and/or peanut butter sandwiches. When we got back to the bunkers I tried unsuccessfully to find my flashlight in the darkness, punctuated occasionally by flares popping about a half mile away. Some of the men saw the flares and thought we were under attack. They fled for the safety of the bunkers. I slept fitfully on top of my bags. They were just too heavy to move and I was too tired to do anything else. It rained. I couldn’t find my spare poncho in my bags.   

A truck pulled up before daylight and the driver called out names of people who were supposed to go with him. I was one of the names he called. A couple of guys helped me get my bags into the truck and off we went back to the airport. The driver handed us a mimeographed sheet of paper that, when it got light enough to read, was a listing of our unit assignments. I was heading for 4th Infantry Division DivArty – Camp Enari – Pleiku.  "Upcountry", as the driver said, "where the Indians were always attacking the forts" More trucks appeared loaded with people from my group as well as other groups.

"Camp Enari !" someone called. "If you’re assigned to 4th Division or anything at Camp Enari, get your asses over here"! Other destinations were called out by other people. There weren’t many of us headed for Camp Enari ~ only three. The other two guys were not FNGs. Their uniforms were worn and tattered.  Their "baggage" was just a backpack. They helped me drag the bags to a waiting C-123 transport aircraft.  

After a rough flight, we – I would really like to say "touched down" but that wasn’t what happened – slammed into the PSP runway at Camp Enari. The pilot brought the plane to a quick stop and turned it around. The door opened and the crew chief told us to get out. All three of us tumbled out, dragging my baggage as we left. We were out in the middle of the airfield, maybe a mile from whatever they had as a terminal beyond sight. The C-123 took off. The other two said that, if I waited, they would send a vehicle back for me and my bags.  And then they left. It was about 1030hrs. Rain was coming. I waited for about 30 minutes and then decided to walk in the same direction as the two guys on my flight.

Then the fun began. I would drag the duffle bag 50 feet and put it down, returning for the foot locker. Being an official issue footlocker…..the wooden kind with NO HANDLES, dragging it across the PSP just wasn’t going to happen. Lifting it, as tired as I was, also wasn’t going to happen. I had to remove the tray from the locker and carry that separately. Without the tray, I could lift the end of the locker and drag it across the PSP.

So that’s the way it went: walk about 50 feet with the duffle bag and briefcase, drop them and walk back to get the footlocker tray and carry it up to the duffle bag, walk back and get the footlocker and drag it up to the duffle bag and tray and briefcase.  I wasn’t out there alone. Planes were busy landing and taking off all the time. I waved every time one passed me, hoping that one of them would notify the tower that there was some crazy guy out on the runway with big bundles. Sometimes, the helicopters would slow up so they could get a better look. It must have been pretty obvious what had happened. From one look at my stateside khaki uniform, anyone could see that I had just teleported from CONUS into the middle of the airfield landing pattern for the 4th US Infantry Division. With bags.

I had gone about half the distance to the terminal…..i could actually see the tower…..when a small truck came flying down the runway. After the excited exclamations [“Are you plumb fuckin’ crazy??!!  Don’t you know you’re in the middle of the busiest airport in Nam??!!”], the driver and the guard, both armed for combat, allowed me into the back of the truck, with bags and they took me to DivArty. 

A day later, I was in Duc Pho with the 3rd Brigade and was assigned to 2/9th FA, The Mighty Ninth. I had the good fortune to be there when Ed Thomas, a legend among the FOs, was in base camp. He saw me drag my bags into the small tent where I would spend the night, bit his tongue as hard as he could to keep from laughing, and offered good advice. "If you haven’t needed it by now," Ed said, "you probably won’t need it out in the field."  

Thanks, Ed...I really needed to hear that.  Where were you a month ago?

Arriving in the field as a new FO
Lt Ed Thomas was not only the guy I replaced, he was a good friend and mentor.  Ed saw how skinny I was and told me that a real combat pack might kill me.  He suggested that I shouldn't try one until I got into better shape for humping through the hills. So he fashioned a sandbag into a small backpack with straps and suggested I use it for a while. You have to remember how skinny those sandbags were.  After telling me to dump the extra clothing, including dyed underwear, he loaded the pack with a poncho liner, a poncho, spare ammo clips, a few hand grenades and some C rats. I snuck in some of the underwear.....but threw them away by week #2. It was a full load for those first weeks.  

Sp4 Max Leach
{After an initial assignment to a Battery FDC, Max was sent out with an FO Party,
only...there wasn't any!}

(After the FDC), I was assigned to the infantry outside our firebase, which "B" Battery supported.  As I recall, there wasn’t an FO or RTO team.  Someone had told me that there would be an FO at a later date. No one told me if the prior one was KIA. It turned out I was acting FO and RTO for a short while.  I called in fire a few times, first round smoke then if it looked good and didn’t have to adjust, HE was called next.  I was scared as hell.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  I used my experience while in FDC to remember what to do.  I don’t recall the name of our infantry unit.  I was just sent out with no briefing or information.  I don’t recall who finally came to serve as an FO. The Captain of the infantry unit, as I remember, always smoked his pipe while looking at a map. He always had a worried look on his face.  The point men in our infantry were stressed all the time.  We encountered a few Vietcong in which our soldiers took care of. Thank God we encountered no heavy enemy engagement.

Lt J. Fred Oliver

It was a "pissy" beginning
I will never forget my first day in the field.

In March of 1968, I arrived in country, was assigned to the Mighty 9th, flew to Pleiku, had a night orientation in triangulating the stars in the Southern hemisphere.  I had too much to drink at the O-club and went to bed by 2130hrs expecting another easy day of orientation the next day.

Instead, the first of the "unexpected in Vietnam" happened next morning.  I was awakened early and hurried to a transport helicopter for a ride to Bong Son near the coast.

Upon arrival, I was quickly processed by a Capt Jones who had been my last CO while in OCS.  He quietly reaffirmed his dislike of my antics while a cadet.  I got my Quartermaster gear (recycled gear with different size boots), and was put on resupply bird for a 20 minute ride north to a sandbar on the Bong Son river.

As we approached Alpha Company, 1/14th,  I noted from the air that the men were spread out about a hundred meters, sitting in small groups along a sand bar.  I, along with the crew chief, shoved out boxes of C-rations, some ammo boxes, a box of flares, mail bags, my rucksack, and reluctantly me, given the temperature was suffocating as compared to my short visit to the highlands.

 Once on the ground, I noted that the men I was to serve with ranked of body odor (like homeless men).  They were unshaven,  in tattered salt-stained uniforms, and had an almost shifty looks in their eyes while sizing me up like an ear of corn.

I was chastised by the Company CO for saluting him (risk of sniper ID), and was informed that I had "big shoes" to fill, given that their previous FO was exceptional.

Shortly after being introduced to my RTO and Recon Sergeant, three machine guns and small arms opened fire on the company from a ridge line across the river. The company OP further down and across the creek began to return fire, I noticed all the men around me quietly put their helmets on, grabbed their ammo bandoliers, and mad a dash for a line of Nipo palms about 50 meters behind me.

I just sat there dumb founded, like in some surrealistic dream, with my senses in overload.

I heard someone yell at me, "Hey, asshole, get over here." I started to run towards the voice in the Nipo palm, and another voice told me to grab my rifle, helmet and radio, (that the RTO had left behind), just as the company began to return fire.

I made it to the palms, found my RTO, was asked by the CO to call for a fire mission. I looked briefly at the Recon Sergeant's map, hyperventilated, and passed out. I awoke 15 minutes later, with artillery being expertly called in by the Recon Sergeant, and my pants wet.  I had peed on myself.

Over the next couple of weeks, it took a lot of hard work to earn the confidence and respect of Alpha company's men as their FO after such a "pissy" beginning.  I think I did eventually  fill the "big shoes".

Maybe my success in business is related to the that drive for respect from my peers after such a humble, embarrassing, and "pissy" beginning as an FO over 46 years ago.

 

PFC William "Tom" Surratt

The "gates of hell" We landed in Cam Rahn Bay during the heat of the day. I actually thought I had reached the gates of hell when I stepped off that airplane. Damn, it was hot. I sent a couple days I guess there before they put on a plane to Pleiku. After arriving there, I was sent to a replacement company for about a week. All I remember about that was they took us out on a day patrol, and we returned without any incidents. At the end of the week I was sent to HQ Btry 2/9th, and spent about another week there before going to "C" Battery. While at HQ Btry, they sent us along on convoys, and we actually went out to "C" Battery's fire base. They were maybe a mile from Camp Holloway which was an Air Force base. We took incoming fire that night, and that was my first time.

SSG Charles Wahlquist

A different perspective: training makes a difference
I enlisted in the Utah national Guard during my senior year in High school. Co G (Sig) 19th SFGA, 1stSF. After graduation from High School I enlisted RA, Airborne, to escape Utah and serve my country. Viet Nam was not a dirty word in 1966. Everyone was still remembering President Kennedy's “Ask not what your country….”. 

I arrived at Ft. Campbell in 1966 as a 13A. They decided that I had some potential and I retrained as a 13E.  By then I was already determined that the Army was the career I wanted and I had reenlisted.

 

When we received advance notice of our deployment, I volunteered to be in the FO party. When we deployed I was assigned as a Sp4 RTO with my three man team. I remember that my FO turned out to be the  dumbest 2Lt in history, but it didn’t show until we hit Vietnam. The four FO teams were tight knit and optimistic. We had all been together for about a year by the time we deployed.

 

The training in the US was extensive. We dropped into the “Land between the Lakes” in KY and into Ft. Bragg to conduct training.

I remember regular, endless map reading sessions and range "guesstimation" exercises and competitions that we conducted on post at Campbell.  Some specifics:

It was expected that, as an RTO I could, and should, be capable of performing the duties of an FO if necessary.

{Webmaster Note: SSG Wahlquist joined the 2/9th on his 2nd tour; he has provided us with a thorough account of the battle at LZ St. George.  His pre-Nam training was provided prior to his 1st tour}

Sp5 Robert R. Wilson

Hot, muggy, and smelly

I guess my first memory was of the 90th Replacement Battalion in Bien Hoa. It was hot and muggy, and I was put on garbage detail while there.  I remember awful stench and the little kids rummaging through the garbage pile for scraps of food among other things.
 
Shortly after arriving at the 2/9th, I was sent to the Oasis near the Tea Plantation and Operation Paul Revere.  The most ingrained memory I have was the cave clearing in the Hon Noc mountains at Bong Son, reference the Denver Post article included in Danny Yates' memories. The memories of that never left me. I served with Danny during my time in country, and have to thank him for filling in the details with the Post article.

Sp5 Danny Yates

I learned that sleep was "optional" in a combat zone
Upon arrival in  Vietnam , I joined the 2/9th at the base camp in Pleiku, where I immediately underwent a week of intensive jungle training.  At the completion of that training, I was sent into the field participating in Operation Paul Revere II, about 20 miles south of Pleiku.  I was put in a two-man tent along with another artillery surveyor. 

Just after  midnight  , I was rattled from a nervous sleep by a loud, nearby explosion.  I jumped out and peered out of the tent into the darkness, to see what looked like a small mushroom cloud.  “Holy crap!” I thought, or something to that effect, "we're under attack!"  As my brain finally awoke, I realized the “mushroom cloud” was just a tree against the darkness of the night, and, as I was to learn later, the “explosion” was one of our tanks, about 50 yards from our tent, firing H & I missions (Harassment & Interdiction fires).  The H&I's were there to stay; any sleep you got was optional.

I went back to sleep thinking that this was going to be a very long year.

 

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