Saturday, May 7, 2011

What I Really Did In Vietnam -- Part 5

So, after coming back late from R&R, relieved that my polished rocket hadn't been responsible for the mayhem which was everywhere, my primary concern was to find out exactly what happen and if everyone I knew was alright  -- even Valentine.
Consequently, the first thing I did was secure my personal belongings. My hooch as closest to the main road leading into the Battery area. And since everyone was up or around ground zero, technically I wasn't back yet. Which also meant, offically, I was counted as missing in action.
Guess I better explain that one. Okay, yours truely had built a reputation of being either up on the flight line or silently working on making sure everything and everyone was happy. So the powers that were assumed I was either there that morning when the attack occurred -- 2:30 am and got vaporized or I was just no where to be found. Which also meant I KIA or killed in action.
I can assure you that a ghost is not writing this.
Luckily, no one got killed that morning. That was a big relief. But we were missing a hanger, about 5 Cobras, a TOC, and around 500 2.75 rockets.
Okay, actually, we weren't missing them. They were everywhere they weren''t supposed to be.
Indeed, almost every hooch was decorated with a rocket or two.  Some managed to penetrate through the metal and sandbags others just logged themselves into the sides.
It was as though someone from hell decided to decorate the unit with a new kind of porcupine art only the devil himself would appreciate.
There was some noise coming from the hooch across from mine. Heavy foot steps barely audible cursing. I recognized the voice. It was Pennsylvania. He and I had bcome friends and he had just gotten back from his 30 leave. He was a tall man and built. The kind of guy you would want on your side if there was any real fighting to be done. He was our truck mechanic.
"Hey Jersey. See what I've got to come back to." He pointed to the hole in the wall just above where his body would be lying down on his sleeping cot. "Damn thing missed me by inches. Hit the floor and started spinning around."
There were burnt marks on the floor.
"Jeeze, what did you do?"
"Kicked it out of the door."
I'm thinking the reply to that one, "I regret to inform you that your son was killed when a 2.75 inch rocket entered his hooch and belew it up to smithereens.  You son included. Oh, forgot to mention the they were the US Army rockets?"
"Anyone get killed?"
"Nope.  Hell of a night, hell of a day.  Gies was looking for you.  They thought you were dead. Says he's got a job for you. One you might like...if you were still breathing."
"Well, I guess I am. Thanks."
"Yeah, yeah. Go find Gies."
Walking up to ground zero was like walking onto a movie set.  It just didn't seam real. The two minute section Cobras were where they were supposed to be, they just didn't look like Cobras any more. In front of them was the smoldering ruins of our hanger.  The TOC was a porcupine.
I was staring at the mess when a voice behind me brought me to attention. It was our commanding Officer.
"Specialist Edwards."
"Yes, sir"
"You are live."
No sir I'm a born again holograph.
"Yes sir."
"Great! Lt. Gies has a job for you, Report to him ASAP."
"Yes, sir"
I my mind at that moment I wasn't thinking in terms of anything but, what is it this time another shot gun job. Anyway, its not hard to spot Gies out of a crowd. And a lot of them were snapping pics of the wrecked Cobras.
"Lt. Gies, Sir."
He pulls me over to the side and says, "Dick, I have a job for you."
Okay, only time someone calls me that is when we've created a serious commitment to getting something done.  Something that isn't in the rule books.  Something that has to get done. Something that crosses the boundries of rank and Army rules and regulations.
"See that jeep over there," he points, "Its yours. I'm fitting it with a radio." He pulls his CEOI book off from around his neck and hands it to me. "Carry this. Put it around your neck"
"Your job from now until completion is to help me rebuild this unit. You are to beg, borrow or steal anything you can get your hands on that will get us back up and running. If you get caught stealing, I'll bail you out of jail. Go, do your thing."
Its amazing how finding one pair of split cone bearings and persistance impacted not only this moment in time but the rest of my life.
May 4th and 5th
My new job found me running back and forth from my new home to my old one about a half dozen times in one day. Going empty and coming back with tech manuals, helicopter parts and logbooks.
So there wasn't too much time to get sleep and only time to adhere to SFC Valentine's mid day roll call. But I was there when he told us that the unit officially was in stand down mode. And after formation, I convinced CPT Douglas N. Winfrey that I would pay him back for a cold Coco-cola.
Winfrey was one of a few officers who actually would talk to an enlisted man as a human being. And as we got closer, he showed me pictures of his nine month old girl and wife.
Anyay, later in the evening of May 4th, I grabbed a cup of coffee from the pot in the logistics section over at A Company, 5th Trans and conducted my usual social conversations to warm them up into saying yes to my request for parts and  supplies.
I never got to that point in the conversation because two seemingly insane words came over the radio: "Fire Mission".
The longer version of this is essentially was. "You have a fire mission.  The grid coordinates are the following...."
By the time he got to that, I was in my jeep and on my way back over to the flight line. In less than two minutes I was on the flight line and watched Jeffery Johns leave the pad without a front seat. Winfrey was yelling at me to get his front seat.
The was the Warrant Officer 1 - - we call a "wobbly one" which was having a hard time of it getting his flack jacket and such by the name of WO1 Dean L. Bonneau. I picked him up and brought him over to the Cobra. I then closed the gunner canopy. While closing the pilots, I said,  "When you get back, I'll buy you a coke.  Winfrey smiled as I secured the latch.
I had no idea that I would be the last to see him smile. As I watched the helicopter fly away I thought it odd that the anti collision lights were not on but then realized we might not want to raise that kind of attention from the enemy.
I went back over at A Company, 5th Trans and started chit chatting with the guys behind the counter.
"I thought you guys were stood down?"
"Yeah, so did I. Apparently DIVARTY didn't get that message."
My problem with my radio is I can hear more from the air than I can from the ground over distance. I would not have heard the Division Artillery call had that signal been a normal radio transmitter.
I'm also capable of hearing two conversations at once and reacting to both. After going to the R&R Center and talking with Johns, hearing his voice on the radio...there was something terribly wrong.
CPT Douglas N. Winfrey
WO1 Dean L. Bonneau
Thua Thien Province

B/4/77 ARA
Mid-air with flare ship UH-1 68-16244. Nav lights were not operational.
"I've got to go."
I was weird not having a hanger to guide my way at night over on the flight line.  Just as equally eerie the deathly quiet. But I found my way over to the mini officers club turned into our Battery's tactical operations center(TOC).
Since it was our TOC and since I usually don't knock on TOC doors, I swung open the door and was about to say something stupid like what the hell is going on. Instead, I saw something I was not supposed to see.  Our CO and a huddled bunch of officers were huddled around the radio.  Some in shock, others with tears rolling down their faces.
Of course, the CO saw me starring and yelled for someone to get me out of there. I just let myself out.
"Yes, sir."
"You know what just hapened."
"You okay?"
"No. but I'm pissed so, that will work in my favor at the moment, sir."
"Good, you're 13 Echo.  Use your lights to bring in Jeffery. Have him land and put the Cobra park the Cobra. I'm giving you a command order to pull him out of the helicopter if you have to. Take him over to the field Dispensary and bring him back. Go to bed.  I will tell Valentine to leave you alone. Get some sleep."
"Yes sir."
So, I sat in my jeep in the middle of our pad waiting for a call and feeling kind of weird about having to deal with Jeffery.  But I did. And sure enough, I had to tell him to get out of the Cobra.
Now, you got to figure a guy with a 45 who just witnessed two of his friends get killed in a mid-air over Firebase Nancy is not going to be somone you want to pull rank on. But I managed to pull it off.  Got yelled at all the way to the dispensary and back about how E-4s don't talk to officers that way....blah, blah, blah.
Finished up tying down the Cobra and went to bed. I think I was barley asleep when some jerky PFC kicked my cot. You don't kick my cot. You never kick my cot. I looked up at the PFC.
"Sergeant Valentine wants...
I didn't let that ##$#@$ PFC even finish.
"You tell Valentine to go get $@@$."
"I will..." and he went running out the door. Okay, I got back into present time and realized I was still in the Army and telling your favorite SFC to get #$#$# wasn't exactly a good career move.
I could hear Valentine, "He said WHAT"
I was then ordered into the orderly room where Valentine proceeded to do the I'm not putting up with this #$#$.  Upon completion of his rat, the First Sergeant told him to get out of his orderly room.
"Future Specialist Edwards.  I know what you did last night. They're putting you in for some awards.
So, I'm only going to tell you this once.  You ever tell one of my senior NCOs to get #$#$#, I will throw the book at you. Is that clear?"
"Yes, First Sergeant."
"Good, now, get out of my orderly room and do what Lt Gies has order you to do."
Implying get some sleep.
I came to attention, saluted and walked out. Went back to bed.  From that point on Valentine was no longer my boss.  Criag Gies was.
BTW, 7 people were killed that night on a practice Red Alert over Firebase Nancy. The two Cobra pilots and the five people on board the UH-IH flare ship.
Jeffery Johns did apologize for acting like a horses ass that night and my last encounter with him was indeed chummy. He apparently decided that a Cobra that wasn't signed off yet as being worthy had to go on a mission and -- despite protest by the mechanics -- flew off with it.
Five minutes later, he brought it back with one of the rocket pods hanging down.
He got out and proceeded to chew out the mechanics.  I just couldn't stop laughing...same old Jeffery Johns. As he walks by me.  "They trying to kill me. I've got 2 weeks left in country and they're trying to kill me."
Snicker, snicker, and in a low voice he could only here.  "You did it to yourself, Jeffery Johns."
"Yeah, I know....," he said tapping on my shoulder.
We never saw each other again.
The rest of the month was pretty much a routine of going back and forth to A Company, 5th Trans, moving our Cobras over to that location and making sure both me and Craig didn't get thrown into jail for some of the crazy antics we pull off.
I'm not quiet certain on some of the dates but between May and the middle of July, I basically rebuilt the Battery from the Administration side and the Sea Bees built it back from the physical side.
Also during that same period of time, I moved the two minute section over to A Trooop, 2/17th Cav and fabricated a 3/8 inch hydraulic line, flew up to the CCN pad in Quan Tri and replaced the line that took a round in it with the fabricated one.
When the new Transportation Commander took over and asked if my job was really needed anymore, Craig Gies looked at me and I knew from that look that a new job was perculating in his head.
As it turned out, I became the public affairs stringer for the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery.  A job that would eventually have me record the Cobra's development and deployment as a TOW Missile firing platform in Europe.
There's more to come from Vietnam. Six more stories must be told before closing what I did in Vietnam. And I'm about to tell you them. 

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