Lt Don Blankin

Forward Observer, A/2/35, August, 1968
Forward Observer, C/2/35 (replacing Roger Fulkerson, KIA) Sept 68 - Feb 69
Fire Direction Officer, B/2/9, Feb 69 - June 69
XO (shared duty), June 69 - DEROS

Tour of Duty

My 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 Sept. of 1968.  I stayed with C/2/35 until February of 69 then went to "B" Battery as FDO.  I was the only FDO there until May of 69 when Lt Russ Owen left D/2/35 and joined "B" Battery as FDO. Prior to my turn as FDO, Lt Charles Stout had been with the FDC in "B" Battery.  Lt Ed McNew was XO of "B" Battery when I got there.  Ed DEROS'd in June of 69 and me and Russ Owen split the XO duties but primarily ran the FDC.  Capt Horsewell was the BC and pretty much took care of the firing battery but he really didn't care for duties of the FDC so it was a fairly even deal as far as Owen and myself were concerned.  I know we all feel like we worked with the finest people in the military and I have to say that Russ Owen was the perfect partner.  One of us had to be present in the FDC at all times and we were...without ever discussing who was going to be there.  We had a good relationship and fully trusted each other.  A lot of people didn't know about this, but Russ was actually considered and interviewed to be the 4th Division Commanding General's aide in 69.  He claimed he didn't get the job because he associated with me and of course I claimed that I was the only reason he was even considered.

Memories

Casual outfits not accepted at Camp Enari
It was early 1969; I was the FO for C-2-35 and told to report to  Enari.  I was scheduled to become the FDO for "B" Battery. I left the field with my Infantry company early one morning and came in. I got a chopper ride to the airfield and caught a ride on a 2-1/2 ton truck full of guys. They delivered me close to the area but still had a decent walk. I had my CAR 15 locked and loaded and a Boonie hat on. My steel pot was on top of my pack. The shirt I was wearing had a MACV patch on it and the trousers didn't even reach the top of my boots which resembled Hush Puppies. I looked like a mess, which was normal for someone spending time in the Boonies. I was strolling down the street minding my own business when a SFC came out of a building and locked my heels for not wearing my steel pot and having a loaded weapon! He proceeded to rip in to me for a while before he asked me where I was headed. We gradually got around to where I had been, where I was going, and who I was. it would have been amusing had he not promised me an article 15 and a firing squad. We ended up in their mess hall drinking coffee.  He got me a new clean uniform, then everybody thought I was a FNG.

TRIBUTE TO RTO RAYMOND WESLEY

My RTO in Nam, Raymond Wesley, doesn't deal with Vietnam very well.  He and I are 2 of 5 survivors of an ambush on Sept. 30, 68 at Duc-Lap.  C/2/35 basically lost the 2nd Platoon on that day.  I was WIA on that day, but the physical wounds are nothing compared to the mental anguish of seeing so many young soldiers killed and maimed in horrendous fashion and not being able to stop it.  I'm not sure Raymond or myself will ever make peace with that days events. Hopefully Raymond will visit soon and get in touch with some of the other 2/9th people and begin to realize that the good guys didn't always win. Oddly Raymond became my RTO as punishment for getting in trouble with the B battery 1st Sgt.  I had Raymond sent back to the Battery after he had only been out for a month. He was a good person and RTO, but that was much too serious a job to have someone doing it as punishment. 

                                                                                       TRIBUTE TO THE "35th GUYS"

I miss the 35th guys.  (Lt) Bill Burdick was recon Platoon leader when I was with C/2/35.  Bill and his Recon guys got us out of a couple of tough situations.  Joe Henderson was the TOC NCO while I was with C/2/35 and Terry Savely was a member of the TOC with Joe.  Burdick was B/2/35 CO when I went back to B/2/9 as FDO.  Their FO was Lt. William Wallin. We were in the Chu Pa and B/2/35 got in a tight spot one night.  Lt.  Wallin asked if I would shoot a Firecracker round "Danger Close" to help them out.  We had only fired those rounds for area coverage until then.  I had no idea if I would be allowed to fire it, so I didn't ask.  We worked up the mission and I gave the gun a pep talk about making sure the bubbles were level and they did a good job lining up on the aiming stakes.  We fired the round and I said major prayers until I heard Wallin come back on the radio. Apparently we did major damage to the bad guys and they left B company alone for the rest of the night.  Wallin was at the 2000 reunion and mentioned the mission.  When the B Company guys found out I was the Arty Guy that fired for them, they insisted I have my picture made with them.  They're convinced we saved their behinds. I don't know about that but they certainly made me feel good about it.  I had a lot of faith in Wallin and he deserves the credit for any good that came of the mission.

                                                                                              JOKER IN THE FDC

CALVIN T. GARRETT - Yep, I remember Houston as his hometown but I thought his middle name was "Pest".  I still have a phobia when it comes to Polaroid cameras. It was amazing how often he could be there when you tripped over something, or banged your head on the top of the door opening going out of the FDC. If you did something "uncool" the first thing you heard was Calvin laughing and you immediately knew he had a picture and was going to show it to everyone. He would sneak up behind me with his camera to his eye, focused and everything and when I would turn around there he was!!! Sometimes I would yell at him "Quit Calvin" and that seemed to inspire him even more. He was one of those guys you couldn't stay mad at, even for all the grief he caused me; he kept things bearable for everyone. 

                                                                         IT "GOES WITH THE TERRITORY"

(Firing 3200 mils out) Every FDO's nightmare I guess, and FO's. I was fortunate when I became a FDO. Shortly afterward Bravo battery got the new 102's and it became a "non-issue".   I remember hitting a hootch one time with H&I fire because the maps didn't show anything at that location.  Big surprise when a Major from DivArty showed up the next morning requesting the data from the missions and the opportunity to look at our charts and the situation maps. Obviously everything was good or I would have been writing this from a stockade somewhere and trying to blame Tom Roman (FDC Chart Operator). The hardcore Arty  types would have proclaimed "it goes with the territory."  The hootch was occupied and I was told the US would make appropriate contributions toward the survivors' well being. That didn't make me feel any better. Missing the target is bad enough, but hitting the target and having it turn out wrong is the "Pits". 

A battery from the 5/17th buried an Illumination round literally feet in front of me one night during a blinding wind and rainstorm because someone on the gun crew left the nose plug in the round instead of fusing it. I hoped that made me a better FDO, but the ugly truth is the "goes with the territory" does apply and every time a round was fired a FDO and FDC guy was sending his reputation with it. Tough way to make a living I guess!!

                                                         EXTENDING THE RANGE OF THE M-102 HOWITZER

Russ Owen and myself started noticing there was a lot of data missing from max elevation low angle to the point where the gun was considered as shooting high angle.  The max range for the M102 was 11,500 meters. With Lt William Wallin adjusting for us we actually hit the right spot at over 13,000 meters. We interpolated to get the right elevation for the gun and used a little Kentucky windage to compensate for the extra drift past the max "book range".  We thought about bringing this to the attention of the Artillery branch at Ft Sill, but Owen said he didn't think they would be happy with us doing R&D with the taxpayers bullets and probably less happy that we were questioning the information they had provided for us.  The M102 with the base plate seemed to repeat better round to round than the older version with the split trails.  Anyway we were just low-life Lieutenants,  so who was really going to listen to us.

                                                                         THE FIRECRACKER ROUND

The "firecracker round" was the 1969 version of the current CBU (cluster bomb unit).  If my memory is correct there was 40 sub-munitions in a 105 round.  It had a timed fuse that set correctly would give you an airburst over the target thus distributing the sub-munitions that burst when contacting the ground or the top of a tree.  I don't know when it was developed, but I remember "B" Battery using it on one occasion in September of 68.  The sub-munitions sounded like firecrackers going off so I guess that is where the name came from.  Lt Roger Fulkerson (KIA) decimated an NVA company one night using it.  The unit was moving down highway 14 so they were in the open.  I was with A/2/35 and fairly close to the NVA unit.  I listened to the mission and was close enough to see the multiple flashes as the sub-munitions detonated.  The initial sound was like an Illumination round going off then came the multiple "POPS" as the sub-munitions went off.  When we fired the round for Wallin it was the first and probably the only occasion it was used in close proximity to friendlies. We used the normal chart data but added some time to the fuse setting to give it a lower air burst thus making the coverage area smaller (I hoped).   My recollection is that there was a lot of concern by the military about the round and accountability was horrific. I suppose the concept was unique and the military didn't want a dud round to end up across the fence.  Some other FDO's told me they used the round for counter-battery fire.  The sub-munitions had a small kill radius (less than a fragmentation grenade) but I suppose things falling out of the sky and going off seemingly everywhere was bad for morale if you were on the receiving end.  When we fired it for Lt Wallin we used 1 gun.  I would not like to think you would use a full 6 gun battery firing a round from each gun unless it was for something like counter-battery. 

                                                                                    THE CONEX-FDC  

The CONEX-FDC was a terrific concept.  In May of 69 we relieved a 105 battery at an LZ belonging to the 101st. Their CONEX had a hole in one side about the size of a basketball.  It was made by a B-40 rocket and I was told no one had survived the hit.  We always had a hole dug for our CONEX, so it was mostly below ground.  At the LZ I mentioned the NVA fired RPG's at our antennas on a couple of occasions just to let us know they were around.  They always missed.   I thought the CONEX was a normal piece of equipment for all 105 batteries. I didn't realize it originated in the 2/9th.  In 68-69, everybody seemed to have one for the FDC. Those things sure heated up during the day and when the battery moved our CONEX probably doubled in weight from all the stuff we carried in it mostly for other people.   The Battery Commander treated it like a personal storage container.

                                                                          THE RUSSIAN HELICOPTER
                                                                 {An exchange of notes with Lt Mike Kurtgis}
 

I remember the talk about a (Russian) helicopter.  I was at the Oasis the day following the ground assault and one of the Armor guys showed me some photographs he made with a Polaroid of the NVA bodies on the airstrip. They were killed by the .50 caliber machineguns on the tanks. Made a big mess. Someone showed me the bunker where the NVA trapped and killed 8 guys. There was some guys taken prisoner from an OP on the perimeter also. Didn't you {Lt Kurtgis} locate an NVA company trying to get back to Cambodia and dumped a bunch of Arty on them? That was a wakeup call for everyone. No one would imagine the NVA would attack a Brigade base camp. I remember, on several occasions, riding from Camp Enari to the Oasis in a jeep with only a driver and myself, prior to that attack. They probably quit doing that!! 

                                                                         THE SOVIETS VISIT FT SILL

The Soviet reporter provides his take on the "cruelty" of Ft Sill's Artillery course.  This was during the height of the Vietnam conflict and training officers in E&E.

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