A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW

{Well, at least the Infantry Commander thought so! An earlier FO
assigned to hi
m was injured in a chopper crash, now he was 
just
  getting used to his replacement, and he had 
no desire to break
in yet another new one.}


Lt Munden reporting, Sir!

My original orders to Vietnam were cancelled when I arrived in Saigon.  (Like practically everyone else's...we were replacements for those departing...one way or the other!} Instead of going to the 1st Calvary Division, I was sent to the 2/9th Artillery in Pleiku.  It was the 105mm direct support artillery battalion assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. (Later "swapped out" to the 4th Infantry Division). The Battalion CO, LTC Holbrook,  allowed me to stay in Pleiku for a few days before sending me out to the field.

Early one morning I was told to report to LTC Holbrook.  He told me I was being sent to "A" Company, 1/14th Infantry as a Forward Observer and that I was to catch a ride out to the company on a supply run.  On arrival, I was to report immediately to Cpt Ora Lee Boss, "A" Company CO, and to tell him to send his present FO, Lt. Kieon, back to the base camp.

On arrival, I reported to Cpt Boss.  He was not expecting a replacement FO.  It was easy to tell that he was not happy, or to put it better, he was really ticked off!  He ordered me back on the CH-47 and told me to tell LTC Holbrook that he was perfectly happy with the FO that he had, Lt. Kieon.  He had only had Kieon for a short time and to let Holbrook that he did not want to break in a new FO.  As ordered, I got back on the supply chopper and flew back to Pleiku. 

I reported back to Holbrook, told him what happened, and what Cpt Boss had told me to tell him.  To say that LTC Holbrook was angry is an understatement.  He let me know in no uncertain terms that an Infantry Captain was not going to tell him, a light Colonel, who he was and was not going to assign to him.  He radioed Cpt Boss and told him that he would be on his way shortly to Boss’s LZ and he was to meet us as soon as the OH-13 landed.  He also told CPT Boss to have Lt. Keion packed and ready to return to Pleiku with him.  I knew that this was not good.  Cpt Boss was going to take out his anger on me, which, of course, he did.  I was an unhappy camper when LTC Holbrook and I piled into an OH 13 with all my gear and took off for "A" Company’s location. 

On arrival, LTC Holbrook took Cpt Boss aside and “set him straight”!   I was very lucky that a friend of mine from Ft. Benning, Lt. Terry O’Brian, was one of the platoon leaders in "A" Company.  Terry explained to Cpt Boss that I was a friend of his from Ft. Benning, and he asked permission to take me to meet all the platoon leaders and senior NCOs.  Terry told me that one of the reasons that Cpt Boss was so upset was that a few months before "A" Company had lost their, FO, a Lt. Shinseki (later to become a four-star general and head of the VA), due to injuries in a helicopter crash and that Boss was very fond of him.  The company’s popular 1st Sgt was killed in the crash. I was told that Shinseki was a West Point graduate, that he was sharp, and that he was going to be a hard act to follow (another understatement). 

It was only later that I realized why he was so upset about being given a new FO.  Like all the other FOs, I was trained to adjust artillery by sight, not by sound.  They are two totally different skills. Had we made a serious contact with the NVA in the first couple of weeks I would not have acquired the skills needed to adjust artillery by sound.  We would have really been in deep trouble. 

We moved out on patrol the next day and it seemed like Cpt Boss asked me every five minutes to show him on my map where I thought we were.  This went on for two or three days and slowly, he stopped asking me.  I had been introduced to reading topo maps in ROTC and OCS. Ranger School, which puts a lot of emphasis on map reading, reinforced my map reading skills.  I learned about pacing to help with estimating distances and taught me to look for checkpoints along the way to reinforce my “guesstimates” about our location.  After his initial anger, Cpt Boss became friendly and I never got on the wrong side of him for the 3 months I was assigned to A/1/14.  He didn’t even chew me out when I dropped a round between an Op XXX and our encampment one night. I had not been with the company very long and I was calling in a DEFCON.  Our maps did not show that the area was swampy. The impacts were muffled and sounded much further away than they were.  Other than scaring the crap out of all of us and putting a few holes in our poncho tents, that was it.  Miraculously, there were no injuries.  For a while, I took a lot of ribbing each night when I was calling in my DEFCONs and encouraged to keep them well away from our Ops.

With three exceptions, I never saw targets that I was firing on my entire time in Vietnam. One exception was when I was challenged by a 4-deuce crew to see who could put a round close to a tree that was in an opening on a mountain across the valley from us.  With Cpt Boss’s permission, I accepted the challenge.  The 4-deuce beat me by one adjustment in hitting the target.  Of course, I thought it was because of the time of flight.  After listening to their razzing me for a while, they agreed that had I been allowed to “fire for effect” I would have been able to obliterate the target before they got started.  The second target that I could see was when I was a fire direction officer (not as an FO).  Through my BC Scope, I saw a NVA unit moving along a trail at the base of a mountain at dusk and I fired on them.  By chance, the night before I had fired a DEFCON at that location and we used that data and fired for effect on the first volley.  The XO of the firing battery I was assigned to was none other than Dennis Dauphin (The Mighty Ninth webmaster). Lastly, I flew as an Air Observer as my last assignment in Vietnam and of course, I had to see those targets.

 

submitted by Lt Dennis Munden
Sandy Beach

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