DROPPING THE HOWITZER
This "War Story" is, by far, the most heavily documented
event by our brothers of the 2/9th.  The eyewitnesses
agree on almost every detail.  The pilot had no
choice but to punch out the howitzer

The last entry covers another lost howitzer

Our story Contributors:

SSG Charles W. Wahlquist
SGT Rick Ericksen
Lt Joe Hanigan
SGT Herb Ables
SGT Walt Shields

SGT Larry Engels

 

SSG Charles W. Wahlquist --- "...we were worried about a strong NVA presence..."

Shortly after the action at firebase St. George, I was with "A" Battery, 2/9th, and assigned as a crew chief.  Forty-six years later and one day Iím thinking ďI wish I could remember the name of the hill we were on and the date of the actionĒ. Then I start thinking I should write about why I remember itÖÖ 

Of course, the name of the peak was probably just an elevation above sea level, but it would be nice to know what we called the firebase if we called it anything at all.  It was a pretty good hill for a firebase as hills go. It had the advantage of really steep sides. No one was going to mount an uphill attack in mass. 

It had the disadvantage of having neighboring peaks (two, or three?) that I remember were slightly higher but at least five hundred to one thousand feet away at the level of the gun pits on the peak.  Memories get twisted by time and Iím not sure if this is the same base that started life as a four or five day miserable stay in the rain and cold for those of us in the advance party. If it was, the weather socked us in with rain and fog immediately after we landed in the Hueys and didnít let up for days. We had no resupply and only a few ponchos and some plastic sheeting for cover. 

Two memories stand out from that period: 
First, we had to be careful of punji stakes, but not too careful. It seems the NVA were lazy the day they put them down and their sergeants were asleep. They were all in the open and easily seen. If you stayed in the grass and low brush you were Ok. Go figure. We cleaned them out in a few hours. 

The second was sitting back to back under a poncho with another guy while we waited for his last cigarette and my last matches to dry out enough to smoke it. We had them in our armpits for the warmth and it took them a long time to dry.  I remember that shared cig as being one of the best I ever had. I wish I could remember his name. 

Finally the weather cleared and the Chinookís brought in the guns and the rest of the Battery and the remainder of the Infantry Company. 

I remember that we were very worried about a strong NVA presence in the area and that we worked hard to button up against rockets and mortars. We sent work parties down some very steep slopes to cut trees for overhead support. We watched the adjoining hill like hawks because the work parties were so exposed.  I donít remember that we had any enemy contact during our time on that peak as we fired support for the ground pounders around us but I remember that we remained worried. And then, like always, it was over. As it usually happened, we got the word to march order and within an hour or so the guns were ready to sling out and we were waiting for the Chinooks. 

Charlie must have thought the Chinook they fired on was carrying the last M102 Howitzer out of our position. I remember that the adjoining hillside erupted in heavy gunfire and we saw the Chinook take heavy fire.  The pilot dropped the Gun and ammo slings, I saw them fall, and then he evaded as best he could.  I should remember, but I donít, if it went down. If it did, it was out of my line of sight and I was already too busy to wonder. 

Someone started yelling for help with moving the one remaining howitzer over the crest of the hill to where it could be brought to bear on the enemy. I donít know who was directing the effort. It could have been Top, or one of the Officers, but it might have been the crew chief of the remaining howitzer. It was a hell of an effort and carried out in record time.  You have to visualize what the top of that hill looked like. You could not walk a straight line over the crest let alone roll a howitzer. Most of you have seen the results of building up and tearing down a Battery position. I think 13,000 sandbags was the suggested number of bags required for a finished battery position. The dirt comes out of holes. When we broke down the firebase, we emptied the bags but we didnít refill the holes or worry about the landscaping. There were a lot of holes.  Iím not sure how many men it took to move that howitzer. I know it weighed about three thousand pounds.

I have a prized memory of a lot of highly pissed cannoncockers carrying it over holes and mounds of dirt and logs as if they were not there.  Before the movement of the gun was finished, the rest of us were breaking ammo out of tubes and moving after it.  They dropped it where there was a good view of the opposite hillside and I think the first round was fired while it was still on the wheels.  I remember that there were no optics. The chief was bore sighting on targets and we were firing charge seven, fuse quick. We fired a lot rounds. 

Did we kill any enemy? I hope so. Itís hard to tell what is happening under a high canopy. I know we made the effort and that sometime later we slung out the last gun and went on to fill the next thirteen thousand sandbags. 

I have a memory that may be incorrect, that we lost the gun crew that was in the Chinook. I hope Iím wrong. 

 submitted by 
SSG Charles "Chuck" Wahlquist
 

Webmaster's Note: Our "TAPS" page, thankfully, does not indicate that we lost a gun crew.  

*******************************************************

SGT Rick Ericksen --- "LZ Tuffy was one hellish hill............"

After reading Chuck's story I can tell you firsthand about that day...I was there. I was with the FO Party assigned to "B" Company, 1st/14th Inf and we were sent there for a stand down.  Big Mistake. The name of the LZ was LZ Tuffy and very appropriately named. It was one hellish hill with very steep sides and in a very nasty terrain to say the least. I remember it well for it was a Sniper's paradise.

The adjoining hill was directly across from us and was a perfect place to be if you wanted to take pot shots at someone or something. It was extremely densely vegetated and you could not see anything or anyone for that matter. From the day we got there to the day we left, it was like clockwork every morning.  Usually just around the time everyone was up and moving around, shots would ring out from the other hill. They would only fire a few random shots and usually be way off except every now and then.  They would get a little too close for comfort and everyone would go scrambling for their bunkers. Then every evening they would do the same thing, usually just around the time you would be settling in for chow. Seems like they had this plan to disrupt your day from the start and then again at evening to ruin your dinner. In any event, I remember there was a 4-Deuce Mortar unit set up on the side of the hill facing the one that we were taking the shots from. As soon as the sniper started, they would start firing rounds in the direction of where they thought the snipers were and would pound them for a while.

{One day when this was happening, a weird thing occurred and scared the living daylights out of me. One of the mortars had a cocked round in the tube and when it fired it came out like a bell ringing and clanging against the inside of the tube. This caused it to come out in a very erratic way and was wobbling upwards at a very slow pace and you could see it wasn't going very fast or high and then when it got about maybe a hundred feet up or so it flipped over and down it comes.  Need less to say myself and everyone else was making a beeline for cover. Luckily I wasn't too far from my hole and dived in head first. To my amazement and relief, there was no explosion. A short time later I heard someone giving the all clear and came out to see what had happened. They retrieved the round and realized it had never armed. Thank God for the safety system built into it.}      

Let the Games begin. As usual, as soon as the next morning arrived and we started moving around, the shots flew. And so did the 4-Deuce.  I remember that as soon as the sniper shots stopped, the 4-Deuce opened up on them again. Then the word came down that we were all moving out and off this nasty hill. Next thing I know, we are all scrambling to get are stuff together and the choppers start arriving to pull out the guns and cargo, ammo etc.  If memories serves me correctly, we were in the process of hooking up the gun I was assigned to when I was with "A" Battery,   2/9th.  Last I remember, I left LZ St. George and went out with the FO party/Grunts. The pad man was hooking up to the chopper and as it started to go up, I could see it pulling up the gun which was in a sling and the cargo net below in tow with it. Some of the guys who were assigned to it had already got on the Chinook and were sitting inside when it took off. 

Now the shit really hits the fan. For unknown reasons, the chopper goes straight up and instead of just going straight, the pilot banks a hard turn and hooks a half circle but right over the adjoining hill where we were taking all of the sniper shots from. Well, this was just too much temptation for Charlie. So, as soon as he's directly over the center of the hill, they started peppering him and the chopper with small arms fire. He immediately started to climb upwards but in vain. He had taken too many rounds and starting losing altitude and going straight down. Next thing I see is that he releases the cargo hook and there goes our gun, a net of ammo and all of our personnel stuff. As soon as he released it, the chopper started to regain altitude and took off.  Next thing I hear is the XO screaming to push the guns that were left to the top of the hill and the side where the other hill has facing. Soon as we had the remaining three guns set in place, he ordered us to direct fire on the other hill nonstop. We then went all out and expended every round left, leaving nothing to spare. It was like the end of the world. We blasted that hill to oblivion and then some. I do not know if we got any of the little bastards but we sure as hell gave them something to think about.  Soon after we got everything together and were picked up, that was the end of LZ Tuffy. 

Amen, Brothers.  

 P.S. One footnote to this story. I later met up with the Squad of grunts from our unit that were sent out to find the Gun we lost. They found it stuck straight down half way with the trails sticking straight up. They packed it with C-4 and blew it in place. The remaining stuff/personnel items were scattered all over and they did not want to hang around in case Charlie showed up. All I remember is getting back a cigarette lighter. On another note, I heard back from the guys who were on the chopper when it got hit. They were like a bunch of Mexican jumping beans inside. There was nowhere to run as the rounds came blowing through the under belly. The pilot got hit in the legs and the hydraulic lines were hit, causing him to lose power, so that is why he dumped our gun to save the ship and the guys on it.                                             

submitted by 
SGT Rick Ericksen
 

*******************************************************



LT Joe Hannigan ---  "...the sniper shot either the pilot or co-pilot...
"

I read Chuck Wahlquist's story and believe I have  pertinent information.  In the past couple of years I have been in touch with some members of "Bravo"Co, 1/14th Infantry, to which I was attached as a FO.  The following is from a timeline I had prepared about my experiences:
"A day where a large tragedy was narrowly averted came when we were clearing out of an LZ, and Iím not certain if it was LZ Schueller, but I think more likely Toughie (LZ Tuffy).  A CH 47 was hoisting out one of the guns from the artillery battery, with a sling load of ammo, and numerous members of the artillery battery as well as Bravo company personnel.  As it was starting to gain altitude and slowly circle up and away from the firebase, a sniper on a nearby ridgeline shot either the pilot or co-pilot, who slumped forward over the controls, causing the helicopter to start nosing down RAPIDLY.  The other aviator managed to hit the release and drop the sling, and then pull the other wounded flier back off the controls and regain control of the chopper, which barely cleared the ridge.  The howitzer and ammo were last seen heading off on their own."  

The Infantry platoon leader recalled:
"I remember this vividly.  They sent my platoon down into that valley to try and find the howitzer.  We did not find it, but a platoon from another Battalion who was in the area did find it.  The platoon leader happened to be a friend of mine; I was a TAC Officer in OCS with him.  We came in country on the same flight from Travis AFB.  Lt Gary Cassidy found the howitzer and we found him and his guys.  The gun was buried in the muck at the bottom of the valley.  Only a bit of the barrel and the breech were showing.  Lt Gary Cassidy and his guys took the breech off and he or we took it, I don't recall.  They then went off in the direction his Battalion told him to and we returned back up to the firebase in the middle of the Jungle.  As I recall there were limited fields of fire as the jungle came just about up to the edge of the perimeter of that FB. The area near one end stank of CS gas. 
 

We provided perimeter security after we all got back up to the firebase after looking for the howitzer.  For the rest of the day, everyone continued to be ferried out by helicopters and then when it was getting late and we were the last ones there.  We began to relocate our platoon.  Everyone was on a helicopter on their way back to another firebase and we watched the last helicopter coming in to pick us up.  (It was Dave "Doc" Brown, my RTO, one M-60 team and me).  Our helicopter started to fart large puffs of white smoke and the pilot told us he had developed hydraulic problems and was headed back to base.  Whether he was hit by a golden bullet or something just broke it was a sad and scary sight to watch that helicopter turn around and head back (later info: five (5) .50 caliber rounds).  Higher ups told us there were no more birds flying that night and they would be back to pick us up in the morning.  We were on that abandoned firebase all damn night.  So, I learned what "expendable" meant and I don't feel guilty about taking my retirement and disability payments.  We made a big FuGas bomb out of a 55 gal. drum, mud and JP-4 and a claymore.  I'm glad that we didn't have to set it off, but I've always wondered what damage it would have done.  A helicopter came just after dawn and married us up with the rest of the platoon.  It was a very long and very dark and scary night.  I don't think any of us slept.  I sure didn't."


Joe adds:  I also spent the night on the mostly empty firebase.  I called in some extremely close DT's that happily weren't needed and was glad to fly out in the morning with the remaining infantry troops.  I was later told by the LNO, Max Rishell, that the wounded aviator was going to recover.  The quick action of the other aviator in dumping the howitzer undoubtedly saved numerous lives, as it was obvious the helicopter was not going to clear the ridgeline with such a heavy load.
 

submitted by 
Lt Joe Hannigan

*****************************************************

SGT Herb Ables:  "...I remember the chopper dropping the cannon..."

Losing that howitzer brings memories flooding back. The LZ was Tuffy and properly named. I was in the Advanced Party for my section. I remember the LZ well because of the rain. Wasn't many dry days there. I also had to hump down the bottom of the mountain.  Helluva a climb.  

Lots of stories about that LZ. I remember the chopper dropping the cannon. Chopper didn't crash, but remember being told the pilot getting hit in the leg from the bottom of the chopper. Grunts salvaged some personal belonging for the crew and then blowing up the gun and ammo. Was a wicked LZ. Had sniper fire almost daily, but nothing serious. Like "12:00 Charlie" on the M*A*S*H TV series. Knew it was coming, but not from where. We spent almost a month there. Went up right after New Year's Day. Had to wait on a decent day to fly in.  Slept in my helmet with a little plastic over us.  

Remember someone falling in the "shit" latrine while it was burning and how they got him out in bad shape. Medical chopper flying up to get him when nothing else would fly up there. Wish I could remember names or had pictures, but my camera was stolen from St George. I'm sure Rick remembers more. 

submitted by 
SGT Herb Ables
 

                                         **********************************************

SGT Walt Shields:  "...I got on (LZ) Tuffy...I didn't like it..."

I was assigned to "B" Battery, 2/9th and to A/2/35th. We were north of An Khe on a firebase named Armageddon. I never like that place with a that name. This was in January of 70. Things had been picking up in the area and it really picked up for us a little later.

Alpha company was guarding the firebase, so I was staying with the battery and helping out on fire missions. It was fun being being on the guns even if all they would let me do in hump ammo and RTO. I still to this day love to watch a howitzer fire, see the tube flying back and then back into battery, hearing the breech open and the brass fly out. But it wasn't to be. I got called to FDC and the Battery Commander told me to grab my gear as I was being flown to another firebase to help run a relay as the grunts were out a ways in some valleys and couldn't get radio contact with the batteries.

I grabbed my gear and I was cussing the whole time. They were yelling at me to hurry as the Loach was on the pad to pick me up. I was approaching the bird from it's right side. Now, I have to tell you that the Loach is a small 4 seater and when it was on the pad, the blades were about 4 or 5 feet off the ground on the side I was approaching from. You guys know that when those blades are flying, it's hard to see them???? I'm running up to the bird and the pilot is jumping around like he has fire ants in his crotch. Then I see he is pointing to the blades spinning at a million miles a hour and I fell to the ground. Yep, I almost ran into the damn things. I got stopped about 5 or 6 feet from them. I will tell you that my ass puckered on that one. I went around the bird and got in the back for my trip to I had no idea where. And it took me 44 years to find out the name of that firebase. LZ Tuffy.

When I got on Tuffy I didn't like it. You can see why when you read what the others said about it. Anyway, the other guy I was with was called Toy. Can't remember his real name. Well he outranked me so he got day shift from 0600 to 1800 hrs. I got 1800 to 0600 hrs. Anyone want to guess which shift is the busy one??? I knew no one would guess the night shift. Now there were 3 companies of grunts and they were split up into platoon size units. That's 9 units and we had 6 different batteries firing: 105's, 155's, 175's and 8 inch. Everyone had different call signs, so that makes 15 different call signs not counting mine. I work good under pressure. I had no problems relaying to the guns and everything was good. My last day there, I was being flown back to my battery, I got off at 0600.  Around 0800, I think I'm being gagged to death. Toy found some ants and took out his Right Guard deodorant, held a lighter in front of it and made a torch. Too bad that it also makes some wonderful C.S. I think I tried to kill him. Well getting on toward my time to fly off there, I'm outside our bunker watching the CH47's, we call them shithooks, come in and watch "A" battery hook their guns up. The bird was hovering over the gun and got his load and stared to lift the gun with the crew inside and a sling load of ammo off the LZ. It started to take off and it was heading toward the other mountain from which we took sniper fire from. As he is gaining some altitude and banks a little to the left, a whole lot of gunfire opened up from that mountain top. I heard the rounds, saw the bird punch the gun and watched it fall to the jungle between that mountain and the one we were on. I almost shit a brick on that one. Then, as I was standing there, a 4.2 mortar dropped one down the tube to fire on where we heard the fire coming from. I'm about 15 to 20 feet from that tube and it didn't sound right. That big round came out so slow, like in slow motion. I new it was going to be a very short round. I just fell to the ground and waited for it to explode. It didn't. Thank you Lord. By now the only 105 on the LZ was getting the firing stakes into the ground for some direct fire. The next thing I know is that there are 2 F-4's right above us firing their chain cannons on the hill top. I sure was glad to leave that place.

submitted by 
SGT Walt Shields
 

*****************************************************
*************************************

ANOTHER LOST HOWITZER:

Moving from Short to Bunker Hill

submitted by SGT Larry Engels
 

The story occurs, I believe, on the move from LZ Short to LZ Bunker Hill.

At approx 0830 hrs, the first shithooks were coming in to take our guns off of LZ Short and move them to LZ Bunker Hill. From the time that first shithook came in, Charlie started firing mortars at us. One shithook would fly in and here came the mortar attack. At approx 1630 hours, here come the fly boys and their toys. They continued dropping bombs all around LZ Short until all the M102's were off the hill and on LZ Bunker Hill. We left some guys from the 1st/14th on that hill only because it got dark after the last M102 was lifted off LZ short. As soon as we landed on LZ Bunker Hill, sighting (firing) stakes were driven into the ground and we started firing at the perimeter of LZ Short to protect the guys from the 1st/14th. It wasn't until the next morning that they got off LZ Short and joined us on Bunker Hill.


I was with "A" Battery from Jan 69 to Jan 70 and I'm pretty sure this is where we lost that 102. As for getting off LZ Bunker Hill, that is another story altogether. We ran out of food and water. We were so high up that we were looking down on the clouds that kept the shithooks and slicks grounded as monsoon was setting in.  We moved from LZ Bunker Hill to Kontum for a stand down before we trucked it to LZ Saint George. After about 5 days when they finally got the birds off the ground, the first thing they dropped on Bunker Hill was a blivet of water. Great move on someone's part because no one had any water. As for food, we were digging around in the sump below the mess tent looking for anything to eat.

 

Back