Monday, June 20, 2011

Vietnam -- the enemy profile

As my good friend, LTC Craig Geis (retired) has point out, the enemy came into our rocket, mini gun and grenade launcher sights at various levels of professionalism, training and expertise.

But the most dangerous enemy were the civilians who lived just outside the gates. These were men, women and children either sympathetic towards the Viet Cong's purpose or who were forced into performing various activities from compromising our initiatives to simply becoming suicide bombers.

By day, this kind of enemy would smile at you and perform a wide variety of tasks at Camp Eagle.  At night, they'd cut your throat from ear to ear without blinking an eye.

Now, that's not to say that all Vietnamese were bad guys or bad people. They weren't.  We, too, had soldiers who played both sides.

Indeed, some of our own soldiers did a really good job of injuring and/or killing fellow soldiers.
Anytime you have a situation where both sides have enough time on their hands to play out all the various game plan possibilities, opportunists are going to exploit all of them.

In previous posts, I've pointed out that this wasn't a war or a conflict and, therefore, you couldn't pin a win or loss to it. If you stick a pencil in the middle of a bunch of hungry termites, would you say the pencil lost the war to the termites?

You might if you had the IQ of the pencil eraser. What a mature conclusion would be is that your experiment with a bunch of hungry termites was a success because the pencil wood was, indeed, eaten by the wood eating termites.

Did anyone ever see the movie the Green Berets? They did, essentially, the same thing. Put themselves in the middle of a a bunch of Charlie Cong, let themselves get over run and then blew the crap out of them.

We did the same thing -- it wasn't a movie but real -- when we evacuated fire base Ripcord.

Hard to tell exactly how many enemy you killed when there wasn't enough pieces of them left to count.

A pencil can't win against termites if it were made out of wood and was not able to fight back against the termites. One is alive -- the termites -- and the other is made from dead trees -- the pencil.

On the other hand, it could if it was filled with nytro glycerin and blew the termites into kingdom come. Perhaps, too, if we made the pencil out of plastic, it wouldn't have been of interest to the termites at all.

So, if we weren't there at all, none of the 500,000 names would have been on a wall and I would have nothing to talk about.

So, you stick a unit like the 101st Airborne Division (Air Mobile) in the middle of an environment where American soldiers were the pencil and all others were the termites, what kind of conclusion can you derive from that?

I'm hoping that you will come to the same conclusion most of us who served in Vietnam came to. We simply had no business being there in the first place. But because we were, America lost a lot of men to a bunch of termites whose only mindset was to kill us at all costs.

I just realized that termites are killed with pesticides.  And we sprayed allot of foliage with Agent Orange.  And like the pencil, we weren't in Vietnam with a sufficient size force to go toe to toe with the Viet Cong or anyone else who wanted to kill us.

In fact, the truth is, neither were the South Vietnam soldiers. And if the South Vietnamese soldiers were at the level of forces equal to the North Vietnamese and fought like them, it would stand to reason that we would have been more protected by them,  would have been able to learn from them -- since they should have been the jungle warfare experts -- and we would have had a better time at not being the pencil and more time being focused on applying our newest technology against their North Vietnam enemy hot spots.

Unfortunately, the South Vietnam soldiers weren't at that level of training or skill.
Simply put, the South Vietnamese army was suffering from identity issues and was relying on outside help -- such as the French and American advisers. They simply weren't aggressive enough or capable enough to stand on their own without outside support.

You can't teach an Army to win when they have their tail tucked b etween their legs.

Vietnam -- Starlight, star bright, tell me there ain't no Charlie Cong tonight

Motto, "Keep it clean and the batteries fresh, a starlight scope can save your life."

Well, its pretty hard to keep a starlight scope clean since the ones we got out on outside parameter guard duty never seemed to work as promised. And, of course, it would have been nice, to know how  to use them before we went out on guard duty.

The one I had in Nam wasn't mounted on a rifle, in fact, it wasn't mounted on anything.

There was a good reason for this.  It wasn't the easiest accessory to mount on a rifle.

Furthermore, with less than a few seconds between you a crazed enemy soldier hell bent on ripping you a new asshole, you don't have the luxury of securing it to a rifle, aligning it with the barrel of your gun and adjusting the forward magnification and back focusing lens.

The starlight scope was a piece of equipment a sniper would love and a guard on guard duty would hate.

However, that is not to say the scope didn't have is place on guard duty. The idea was to focus the scope between 50 and 100 feet out and then scan that area for possible movement. At the first sight of any movement, hand flares would be popped, making the scope useless anyway, and if there really was an enemy trying to turn our claymores on us, well, he'd be pushing up rice in his rice paddies.

Starlight scopes work off the premise that a certain amount of ambient light is generated from the stars and the moon and reflects off of objects as it normally does in daylight.  Problem is, there isn't enough of the light normally at night to actually see much of anything with the naked eye.

The starlight scope takes that ambient light and intensifies it. It is this intensified light that is projected on the back eyepiece that a soldier would see and could use to discern between nothing and an enemy soldier.

Again, training was an issue here. How can you know you were looking at an enemy soldier if you weren't trained to know what to look for?

All too often, what a guard on duty really saw wasn't a man at all but a monkey. Which meant, we spent a lot of time and sent ammo on monkeys and not on enemy soldiers.

Vietnam -- You know you've been to Vietnam when

you left a world behind that isn't anything like what you remembered.

you call the mall the local PX.

you call K-Mart the local commissary.

you think all women are blondes.

you notice women are taller than you.

you expect to get yelled at.

you dive for cover when a loud noise starttles you.

you got up, went outside, turned on the hose and took a shower buck naked.

asked your wife for SOS and she wanted to know what that meant.

you stopped shouting out your RA or US number when someone asked your name.

someone shouted "Watch out!" and you dove under a car.

you still call everyone with oriental eyes slant eyes.


you call every civilian chopper a huey.

you see a CH-47 and call it a shit hook.

you purchase a portable radio and call it a prick seventy-seven.

you explain what a Willey Peter round is.

you look for your dog tags.

you call everyone one joining the army a cherry.

you want to pay for things using APC.

you cook your barbecue meat with a home made napon bomb.

you can in an air strike on your neighbor to settle a long term family feud.

you tell your wife she's number one...which kind of means there's a number two, three and your out the door.

the dog house looks good.

you say "yes ma am" to your wife.

you say "yes sir" to your father in law and mean it sincerely.

you inspect the pizza man and his boxes with a metal detector.

every Cajun you meet you call Frenches.

you roll your cokes on ice even though you own a refrigerator.

Bobby Daren is your hero and you play Dr Norman over and over again.

you call everything by its nomenclature.

you wake up you kids with M-80s.

you spit shine your sneakers.

you polish every piece of metal in the house with brasso.

you starch your underwear.

you perform a white glove inspection of your children's rooms.

a friend of yours taps you on the shoulder and in a blink of an eye, he's on the ground with a bonnie knife at his throat.

you fight the meanest worst bully in town just to keep your fighting skills well honed.

you put your kids on kitchen police duty just because you know you can.

you paint rocks for a living.

you sit in a dark corner and shake.

you put a black ace of spades into the unconscious hand of a guy who thought he could beat up a Vietnam vet.  Then pissed in his face.

you can smile when the rest of the world hates you guts knowing the only man standing would be you.

you rushed a kid to the hospital because he was bleeding to death and both the mom and the doctor thank you for saving a kid's life.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vietnam -- Ponchoes sucked

If there ever was one piece of military TA-50 gear that made you more miserable than the cold drizzly rain, hands down, it had to be the poncho.

I'm hoping and praying that piece of equipment was replaced by something more sensible than what we had in Vietnam. It consisted of a hood jacket and a pair of pants that had suspenders which never seemed to stay on your shoulders.

The poncho was a rubber coated fabric. And was dyed -- as most Army clothing was dyed -- olive green. It was not made out of Gore Tex which would have made it lighter and breathable.

Meaning, it trapped body heat.  Unless you were doing guard duty or something that required you to wear it during the winter time, anytime before or after those months, the poncho was really hot to wear.

You could bear to wear it as a temporary rain suit -- say for from 5 to 10 minutes to get you from point A to point B.  However, having to wear it for hours on end would get you just as wet from perspiring than not wearing it at all.

Meaning, if you had guard duty on a warm rainy night, you brought your poncho out with you and never wore it until you had to.  The bunkers were relatively dry -- although most smelled like pea -- and since most of us stayed in the bunkers until the Officer Of The Day (OOD) made his rounds to your station and you had to come out and challenge him.

Today, with both sexes out in combat zones, I'm hoping that kind of misery has been replaced by a breathable material such as Gore Tex and doesn't smell like BO plenty after you're wore it for a while.

Vietnam -- Mud, mud, glorious mud

Okay, it might not be so glorious. But it was mud.

A glorious brick red clay like mud.

Did you know that during the monsoon season all of the trenches fill up with mud.

Now, for some of you, its just mud.  A pain in the butt to remove from boots and you're never quite sure just how deep the mud is as everything around a drainage ditch possesses the same color and consistency.

So, this brings us to a quagmire (pardon the pun), what does a mud bather like myself do when
the monsoons come along and provide ample places where you can wallow in the mire and release some sexual tension?


That's for sure.

But it was mud.

Did I say I happen to like mud baths?  Sorry if I'm repeating myself. I'm just a stick in the mud and stuck on the subject. 

Nothing like one. Thick, creamy and cleans your pores.

Only problem, you are supposed to be a professional in a military uniform. Just try sneaking out at night and going to one.  Some frag crazed refer head might just mistake your muddy body for being a satchel carrying Charlie Cong wanting to drop his load on their weed smelling drainage culvert.

"Sorry, ma am, but your son was found naked covered in clay with a smile on his face. But shot dead by a fellow soldier who thought he was an enemy soldier."

What a hell of an epitaph: "Here lies Richard Edwards with a bullet through his heart. Found, naked, covered in mud in a drainage ditch. RIP."

Of course the opposite could have happened. I could have fantasized about being RAMBO and was about to do battle with 50 Charlie Cong and been caught by an officer.

Stars and Stripes would have had a field day with it;

Soldier found naked covered in clay. 

A soldier from the 101st Airborne Division Air Mobile, was reported to have this crazed look on his face and was carrying nitroglycerin charged arrows with a compound bow.

He's being charged with the destruction of government property.

However, he will probably get out of the service with a general court martial and be required to get psychiatric care.

Plus, you really didn't know what might be in that mud.  Dog turds, human waste, leaches, pesticides, and all sorts of stuff that could kill you later could have been in that stuff.

The point is, no matter how much the urge to do something as insanely fun as mud bathing is, while the red clay was inviting, it wasn't something you would do if you wanted to live and not die slowly over the next 60 years of your life.

But it was mud

Vietnam -- My personal rendezvous with destiny

If someone were to come up to me and say, "So, okay, who are you and what do you do?" I'd have to tell them the simple truth and say that I'm an x-Microsoft employee working for Nuveen Investments as an IT - Consultant.

But if that same person came up to me and asked , "You were in the military for ten years, what did you do?", I'd tell them to come over to my blogs and start reading this one first, then the military intelligence center and school one;,  The Fort Huachuca one;, the Sanders and Luck one; , the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion one; and, finally, going back to Fort Campbell blog;

But I'm almost done with this blog and the others will have hundreds of stories behind them, too.

So, instead of having you go to all those blogs, imagine an E-5 who worked as a stringer from 1975 to 1979 for a battalion level units who had"

    5 stories accepted by Soldiers
  27 stories accepted by EurArmy Magazine
  60 articles published in the Fort Campbell Courier
100 images published in the Fort Campbell Courier
  12 photo-features published in Frontline
  12 photo-features published in Pillar and Post
  12 photographs published in AARES
    3 photo-features published in Army Aviation Magazine
    3 photo-features published in the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle
    3 photo-features published in the Hopkinsville New Era
    2 articles published in Stars and Stripes
    2 articles Army Aviation Digest
    1 photograph published in Army Magazine.
    1 photograph published in Lake Charles American Press
Add to that TV coverage from Hilery Brown of ABC News and photographic support for Time Magazine and you have some -- not all -- of the credits I generated for the Army.

As a stringer.

For a battalion.

There was a request for three ARCOMS over this period of time. I received 2.  I also received a Commander's Certificate and a personal letter from MG John N Brandenburg.

But the greatest honor that I could bestow on the military was when my article in 1980 was published in Saga Magazine.  The subject?  What else:  Aviation Tank Killers.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Vietnam -- We didn't lose. We moved on.

I am way sick and tired of hearing about Vietnam as being where the American Armed Forces lost the war.

If any history can be written about Vietnam, I'nn sure the tone and words will paint a single summary pointing out that we lost the war. So, for the record, for all you soicalite bullshit mother fuckers out there who think we did, do us Vietnam Veterans a big favor and go into alnother line of work..

Same goes for all you NVA  and  ARVN yellow men who have the audicity to come over here and tell our kids we lost the war to you. Tell you what, if you've become a US Citizen, let me know your name, I'll  will prsonally make sure your ass is shipped back over to the rice paddies where you belong and you can smell your own shit..

There wasn't any war to lose, no conflict to win, oly thing the NVA or south Vietnamese gained was the abilit to join North with South Vietnam. Wow, like the only reason why we were there was to stop them from doing this?

I suppose we just lost the war in Lybia becuase we were there and gave a damn about the rebels but didn't kill Gadhafi.

The military was told to leave Vietnam. The military didn't decide to leave on its own.

Few people remember that Ladybird Johnson owned shares in Sealand, Bell Helicopter and a few other well known businesses.  Businesses who profited well from the war. The wife of the late Presedent Lyndon Baines Johnson.

But the President's wife wasn't the only ones profiting from the war, all one has to do is realize there was at least one trailer in Saigon for each Senitor to relize flow of wealth from the war was flowing through Vietnam and into the pockets of a lot of people throughout the course of our military presence there.

Vietnam as well as many  -- if not all -- of the REFORGER exercises in Germany were ways we showcased and sold arms, ammunition, and equipment to almost anyone in the world.


You shouldn't be. What better way of proving the products of war work then to show them off in situations where they display their abilities. Its the politics of weapondry and its been going on as far back as they day man used products of war to gain an advantage over his "enemy".

This may surprise you as well. 

We weren't the agressors. 

We were there to provide support.for the ARVN Army. While it is true we actively engaged the enemy, for the most part, it was only when we were were being shot at that we responded with force.

So, you can't say we won or lost when the only thing we did do was react to hostile fire.

Another aspect of the situation we were involved with was the notion that many of the ARVN officers were working for both sides and would compromise our every move.

Today, with cell phones, GPS and modern computers, it would be much harder for the NVA and rogue ARNN commandes to completely eliminate the element of surprise. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, using radios to communicate intentions and the movement of soldiers compromised the elment of surprise and placed equipment and men in harms way.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Vietnam -- Famous And Not So Famous Quotes

Below are some quotes I picked up over the years.  I'll add more as they come to me.

"There ain't no wrong time to do it right."

"Sometimes you will win and sometimes you will lose. The trick is to learn how to win from your loss."

"In the face of scrutiny, admit to nothing and lie about everything else."

"Will Rogers once said, 'I never met a man I didn't like.' He wasn't an enlisted man in Vietnam when he said it."

"Son, have you ever seen a Cajun filled with fire water to go one on one with Charlie Cong. It ain't pretty for Charlie Cong."

"Lord help us if we ever had an Italian Master Sergeant as our master cook.  We've be served spaghetti and meatballs, everyday instead of roast beef."

"I'm just here on vacation."

"I hate being here, I just love the women."

You been sitting in a perfectly good helicopter at flight idle for the last 5 minutes. Pilot jumps back in. "Didn't you hear what I said? I said incoming.  Should I get out now?"

When the rotor blades of an OH-6 departed from helicopter, a single pilot, calm as hell said, while staring death eye to eye, "Tell my wife I love her."

"Anyone body know what's for dinner?", a Cherry once asked. Everyone else past one month said in harmony, "Beef Stew."  He felt all alone in the chow line.

The First Sergeant asked of his new soldiers, "Anyone know what the words non-potable means?"

"You can't smoke pot there?"

 A month goes by and he's in front of some more new soldiers, "Anyone know what the words non-potable means?"

A voice not too far away with a paddle in his hands, alerts the men, "Don't say 'You can't smoke pot there. You'll be burning shit along with me for the rest of your time in Vietnam."

Another month goes by and he's in front of some more new soldiers, "Anyone know what the words non-potable means?"

A voice not too far away with a paddle in his hands, alerts the men, "Don't say 'You can't smoke pot there. You'll be burning shit along with me for the rest of your time in Vietnam." 

"And with me,' said another soldier, "I laughed at him when he said he found out the the hard way and drank from non-potable."

"When I signed up to be a field sanitation specialist, they didn't tell me there would be no running water."

"The nozel goes into the fuel tanks, not into the cockpit."

"What do you mean there's no wine available?"

"How many times have I got to tell you, that ain't the way to do it?"

"As many times as the way you say it sound humorous to me."

"Go find me a bolt expander." Said to new mechanics too dumb to realize there was no such thing.

"Sergeant, it is too hot for me to do anything but go back to bed." This one never worked out the way the soldier thought it would.

"I signed up to be a mechanic and get a college education," complained a soldier who was toled to pick up a hooch maid.

"You get in that jeep and I promise you'll be getting a college education called Course 1 on highway 1."

The general asked an E-1 why was he in Vietnam. The E-1 said, "I'm here to kill the yellow man."

The general ordered the man arrested immediately. 

When the E-1's commanding officer heard what happened, he said, "I'm sorry, sir, he meant to say, 'I'm here to kill the Viet Cong.'"

The E-1 didn't realize he was talking to an AVN general officer who was also a yellow man.

"This is the only place where I've been in the world where you can get killed standing in the same spot for a year. "

"Dead men can't follow orders."

"I was to young to be that smart and to old to be that stupid."

"I hate following orders doggy style."

"Doesn't anyone have an ounce of common sense?"

"Sorry, Sarge, it left on the last C-130 headed for Da Nang."

"I'll pay $5,000 dollars to the man who brings me chicken man's head to me on a shit stick."

"They dry your clothes with cow manure."

"Why cultivate around your mouth what grows naturally around your ass?"

"Boy, you are a body bag waiting to happen."

"Helicopters want to crash, planes want to fly."

"Have you lost your mind?"

"Can I plead on the 5th?"

"Sticks and Stones break my bones, sex has surely deserted me."

Ashu Valley, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me"

"Its hard to fly by the seat of your pants when its full of lead."

"Resistance is pointless."

"I suppose a refund is out of the question."

Vietnam -- Remembering CSM Jones

First, off, I can honestly say CSM Jones was one of the most impressive CSMs I have ever met. 

Not only did he like to pull pranks on you, he was also very much a soldier's soldier. 

CSM Jones was also a very proud black man and pulled no punches at telling you exactly what was on his mind.

When Command Sergeant Major Jones, 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery called you into his office, you were either in trouble or there was something he wanted you to do for him. From the sound of his voice, this was one of those times when he had something he wanted me to do.

I walked into his office, "Yes, Sergeant Major?"

"Have a seat, Specialist Edwards," he said not looking up.

"You know, you look just like your father," he smiled.

"I get that a lot Sergeant Major," I confessed.

He laughed, then shook his head, "This is off the record and between you and I. The reason why I didn't tell you I knew your father was because I believe a soldier should fulfil his own destiny.
Besides, you are nothing like him.

"Your father used to run movie theaters. I knew him in Korea. He used to invite the Army and Navy teams to his theater before they played in Philadelphia."

"I smiled, " all of what he said was correct.

"You father also possessed a gift of charm and a radio DJ's voice. It got him in trouble. It was the first time he couldn't get himself out of trouble.

"To be perfectly blunt, your father was an egotistical lose cannon."

He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head and said, "Just went through your records. You, have proven time and time again that you are hell bent on total devotion to duty, your unit, the mission of this battalion and the US Army.

"Son, those are phrases that get put in for the Medal Of Honor.

"Unfortunately, only soldiers in infantry units can be awarded that honor. So, you'll be going home with just an ARCOM and Bronze Star but there is also nothing negative in your record.

"You're twice the soldier your father was. Stick to your guns. Believe and stay true to devotion to duty. That above all, wil take you places in this man's Army you not thought possible."

"Thank you, Sergeant Major," I said.

"This will be your last assignment for me and this battalion.

"We're going up to an orphanage in Hue. Take pictures and write a story when you have time. Grab a projector, a projector screen and some movies from Division Audio/Visual department. I know you can run a projector. You helped run your dad run his movie theaters."

He then went back into his CSM role. "Now, get the hell out of my office, " he said, "And tell Sergeant First Class Ford I'll see him now."

"Yes, Sergeant Major," I got up and saluted him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vietnam -- The Day Men from 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Were Overcome By A Force that Won Their Hearts

I can't remember my exact words I wrote. All I knew was the article was published in Screaming Eagle, Stars and Stripes and Army Times. I couldn't pen it because I also included myself in the story with quotes. Below, is the closest I'm going to come to the original article:

Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery knew they were out numbered, despite the fact that they were armed to the teeth with plenty of delicious ammo.

The opposing forces knew just where they were the weakest.  The Nuoc Ngot Orphanage childrens' eyes glued on the bulging pockets and the enticing scent of sweets motivated them into action. The attack was on! It was all over before it got started. Not a drop of blood was shed. But in the end, a few tears were.

The air was filled with the screams of glee as the soldiers opened up their pockets and started pulling out from their ammo pockets bar after bar of Hershey's chocolate.

"These children need our help", said Sp4 Harold Roberts, a Cobra crew chief for B Battery, 4th Battalion, 77th Artillery, 101st Airborne Division ( Air Mobile), from Spokane, Wa.

"They didn't choose to be here. They can't feed themselves. They can't defend themselves.

"They are as human as you and me, and we're here to show our support."

The 101st Airborne (Air Mobile), has been supporting Nuoc Ngot Orphanage in Hue for the past three years. In-other-words, since the unit arrived in the area.

Once a month a unit from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Mobile), comes to the orphange to show support; they bring food, clothing and money. They also provide the children with some laughs and good times.

In a place where the world saw Hue on TV as a place where the NVA fought our military during the TET offensive, its hard to believe a year and a half later, that same city is the refuge for orphaned children from all walks of life.

The 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery briught with them some special treats for the children as Sergeant Franklin Spencer, A Battery, 77th Field Artillery, from Chicago, IL, had the children gather around him for 30 minutes worth of magic tricks.

This gave SP4 Richard Edwards, B Battery, 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery, from Moorestown, NJ, time to set up the projector, thread the film through it and set up the portable projector screen.

"It was amazing to me to see 30 children of all ages sitting on the ground and spell bound while watching Tweety-bird cartoons on the silver screen.

"I only wish I could have brought more cartoons for them as they seemed to enjoy them. They may not have known English that well, but they knew when to laugh at.

"Just to see that sparkle in their eyes, the smiles on their face was enough to know the extra effort to bring the projector, films and projector screen to the orphange was well worth it and rewarding."

With everything packed in that was going back to Camp Eagle, the soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery, gave each child a hug, handed each another Hershey bar said goodbye to the children of the Nuoc Ngot Orphanage, got back into their vehicles and started their trek back to Camp Eagle.

The mens' mood had changed. Some where quite, some reflective, a few had tears rolling down their cheeks of otherwise hard nosed faces. All that day realized those children had won their hearts with the innocence of their smiles.

On the "freedom bird" flight home, I read this story published in Army Times on October 27,1970. I rolled up into a ball beside the window and felt the tears of pride weld up in my eyes. I was, in fact, nothing like my father. I had flown with the eagles.

I fell asleep with those thoughts and wondered how I would write the next chapter of my life.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Vietnam To Europe, The 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Lives On!

Up to now, I may have hinted to the fact that the Vietnam version of the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery presented the world with the the notion that the AH-1G Cobra could be used as an artillery platform from which 36 pairs of 2.75in rockets, 1,500 rounds of mini gun ammo and 400 M-40 grenades.

The next logical step was to use the concept of a firing platform, add some more power, put some TOW missle racks on those wing stores and add a gyro stabalized sighting system that could track a tank as the TOW missles closes the gap between its total destruction.

As we like to call it, pop the top off the tank.

Knowing they were going to go to Germany on REFORGER of 76, the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery found themselves becoming an anti-tank battalion rather then close combat artillery support.

So, basically, about the same time, the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion (CAB) was spending 1975 trying to figure out what would work best  -- serving as a test bed to prove the Army's aviation concept -- the 4th Battalion, 77th Feild Artillery already knew how to do it. It was a brillent move on behalf of the Battalion being run by an equally brillent commanding officer, LTC Tom Denny.

In fact, on December 1975, and the new unit was officially formed and designated the 4th Battalion (Attack Helicopter),  77th Field Artillery (Provsional). 

It consisted of 831 soldiers, 60 Cobras, 24 OH-58 Kiowas, and  9 UH-IH Hueys. Between it and the 2 Squadron, 17th Air Cavalry,  during Reforger 76, 315 confirmed tank kills were recorded from the total of 464 TOW engagements.

The ratio of destroyed Cobras to completely -- okay, it was on paper only -- destroyed tanks was 14 tanks to 1. Meaning 34 Cobras were deployed, fired their TOWs and 22  came home with out a scratch.

Pretty amazing stuff when you figure in the Cobras being used still had the French curve canopy and didn't have the home field advantage that we did -- we being the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion (CAB).

During REFORGER 77, the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion crippled the Orange side's armor inventory to half within one week without one AH-1S Modified TOW Cobra recorded as being destroyed.

Umpires were so fustrated that they stopped the advancing forces, had them get out of their Armor vehicles, made them use their field binoculars and told them if they could see an unmasked Cobra, they would be able to record a destroyed Cobra....They couldn't.

The age of the Cobra as being an anti-tank TOW Missile firing platform had arrived. But I honestly doubt the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion could have done it without the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery.

When I arrived at the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion, I said hello to a few El Toro Vietnam pilots I knew. Warrant Officer Joe Maxsom and Fredrick Cappo.

Also assigned to the battalion were SFC Joseph "TI Joe" Freedlove and a SP6 Frank James were also there.  Men I had met and worked with both while assigned to A Company, 5th Transportation Battalion.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vietnam -- The night the NVA killed seven homeward bound soldiers in front of my eyes

It may have happened late one evening or early the next day, in July, 1970. All I know is it happened and I watched every minute of it in horror. It was like watching a Vietnam movie only every second was real.

We have a lot of units around our area. From my hooch next to the road, I can see the 159th Chinook pad, the slicks from the 101st Aviation battalion and watch them all come into the refueling point.

Usually, when the air is calm of all the helicopter blades popping and chopping up the air, I listen to the ADA 175mm guns firing out going rounds in stereo and try to tune out the steady generators screaming hot exhaust into the air.

Sometimes, too, when local life hasn't been bombarded with all the man made noises, I listen too the crickets and frogs in the swamp, and smack the crap out of the Kama Cazzie vampire who attack as fiercely as we do with our Cobras.

That night was one of those hot, muggy summer nights where you couldn't fall asleep until you were to tired to care if the devil himself was in your hooch cooking your pitch forked body in hell like a marshmallow.

A clear night, you could see the stars.

It wasn't the first clunk of the B-40 motor firing that got my attention. It was the third that told me these rounds weren't ours and they were being fired very close to our outside parameter where our guards were. I counted a total of 15.

Our troops hit those bastards so fast, hard and furiously with everything they had that for one split second, my focus was not on the 2/320th stand down area.

But when the first round hit inside the CQ's building of the 2/320th, I realized the rounds weren't coming our way. And as the rounds continued to hit the area, the red fire of the round silhouetted men trying to run into bunkers.

I watched and listened to the hot metal fragments fly through the air and penetrate metal and flesh. Screams seared through the thunder. The air grew cold, heavy. Death was on the door step as the reaper harvested their souls.

The sirens of an attack finally filled the air of Camp Eagle and I went back to work diving  Lt. Craig Geis around our interior guard positions.

"Okay, Dick, you don't look your usual self. What's going on."

"What's going on," I said, not giving a damn about rank, "is I just watched a mortar attack hit the 2/320th across the street.

"In-other-words, Craig," I turned and looked him dead in the eyes, "I just watched men die. Men who were about to go home."

The next day, I took Lt. Crag Geis and Captian Denny Kramp over to where the attack occurred. Men were puking their guts out at the sight inside the orderly room where the CQ got his head blown off.

The men I saw running through the mortar rounds were dead men.

The smell of blood permeated the air.

This was not the kind of thing you would write a letter to your mother about.  


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Vietnam -- And The Rocket's Red Glare

Dear Mom;

Well, its official, I finally got my orders to go over to the headquarters, 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery (AFA) as the battalion stringer.  I report to them on Monday, August 3rd, 1970.

I have no idea what being a battalion stringer means. 

So far, I've been able to adjust rather quickly to new jobs given to me. But as you know, I'm not the best writer. But I will do my best, I always do. Hows Jean, Paul and Robert?  I hear Dad is now a Chief Stewart and off shore somewhere near Saigon.

Anyways, they have already given me a camera to practice with.

It is not one of those newer types of cameras they call a see through the lens reflex cameras.  Its an older kind known as a viewfinder. I fear that I will leave the lens cap on it as you're not looking through the lens and I won't know I forgot to take it off until it would be too late.

I've been taking pictures with it and learning something about cameras, film, shutter speeds and F-stops from the Recreational Services Photo-lab here at Camp Eagle. The instructor is really smart and has been giving me some really good tips on taking images.

So, I've been buying film from the local PX.  I'm using Panatomic X, Plus X, and Tri X. Apparently, each film serves different purposes.   Panatomic X is a slow speed film rated at 25 ASA. Plus X is a medium speed film rated at 125 ASA and Tri X is the fastest rated at 400 ASA.

The instructor told me to use Tri X and to set the speed to 250 ASA.  Told me to bring the film in and he would show me how to under develop the film for over exposure. Whatever that meant.

Anyway, as I was walking to the photo-lab, I took a picture of a 1 star General as he took the time to pose for me. His name is Sidney Berry. I made sure I took the lens cap off for that shot and the image came out just fine.

Thanks for the brownies and home made fudge. That really hit the spot.

Before I go into what I'm about to tell you, I want you to know that I'm perfectly fine and I didn't get a scratch.  So, quit worrying, Okay?

As I was walking back from the photo-lab with my proof sheets and images, two 122mm rockets flew overhead and overshot our camp. The sirens went off and I had to run all the way over to my hooch at B Battery. 

Lt Craig Geis was honking the jeep horn and looking into an empty hooch for me. The door was closed so he couldn't tell whether or not I was in there.  Guess he thought I was hiding.  He was not happy.

He said, "Where have you been?"

I said, "Over at the photo-lab learning how to take pictures."

He said, "Well, you're supposed to be here taking me around our inside parameter?"

I just looked at him like he was plum loco.  How was I supposed to know when incoming rounds were going to happen?

He said, "Oh, alright, go grab your gear and let's go."  

I grabbed my gear and Lt Craig Geis drove me around making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be on the outside parameter.

As we started coming back in, I said, "Sir, I don't think those are the last rounds we're going to see tonight."

He said, "What makes you say that?"

I said, "The rounds were fired too early in the afternoon and they over shot Camp Eagle.  Something tells me they were trying to hit some civilian targets and cause us to react in the process. This day is not done?"

He said, "If you're right, that's all the more reason why I'm going to keep the jeep up here with me."

So, I had all my gear right beside me. Just waiting for those rounds to come in.

And they did.

Now, to even the score on whose waiting for who, I had to first make sure the last of the incoming rounds had come in, allow for one minute delay and then run up to the jeep, start it and honk the horn.

So, I waited, heard no more incoming rounds, swung open the hooch door and started running up the dirt pathway between the buildings and realized I hadn't counted long enough.

A quick rush of noise and BOOM! No more than 200 feet in front of me, this huge red flash -- bright enough to tell me exactly where it hit exploded in front of me.

After getting up, I finished my run to the jeep, turned it on and honked the horn. Lt Craig Geis sheepishly comes out of his hooch with his sleeping bag over his head.

"That was really close," he said.

"Yes, sir, I know exactly where it hit."

A few minutes later, he came out and I drove him to where it hit.  WO1 Joe Maxsom was already throwing dirt on the leaking JP4.

"Nice crater, " I said.

"You've seen one, you've seen them all," said Lt. Craig Geis.

Our CO came over to where we were, "Damn, that was close," he said with a smile, "Where did that hit?"

"Right here, Sir, " I said.

His smile turned into rage as he slammed his helmet down on the ground. The smell of leaking JP4 told him we just lost another Cobra.

Anyway, I'm going to bed now. Everything is back to normal and my jeep is parked back in front of my hooch.

Tell eveyone I said hi!



Vietnam -- Radio Operator

Below is the job description from the US Army recuriting site:

As one of the largest ground forces in the world, the U.S. Army needs to make sure that all forces can get the correct information. The Army communications maintenance team is responsible for making sure that all communications equipment is in top working order. This equipment allows the Army to track and direct troop, aircraft and watercraft movements.

Radio Operator-Maintainers are primarily responsible for all maintenance checks and services on assigned radio communication equipment. Some of your duties as a Radio Operator-Maintainer may include:

  • Maintain, test and repair communication equipment and security devices
  • Prepare and transmit messages
  • Receive, record and process messages
  • Operate and perform preventive maintenance checks on assigned equipment
  • Install, operate and perform preventive maintenance checks on assigned power generators


Through your extensive Army training and experience, some additional study and two years of electronics experience, you'll have the opportunity to qualify for certification as an Associate Certified Electronics Technician.



Job training for a Radio Operator-Maintainer requires nine weeks of Basic Training, where you'll learn basic Soldiering skills, and 13 weeks of Advanced Individual Training and on-the-job instruction, including practice with equipment. Part of this time is spent in the classroom and part in the field. Some of the skills you learn are:

  • Mechanical, electronic and electrical principles
  • Preventive maintenance procedures
  • Line installation and wiring techniques
  • Communication security policies and procedures

Helpful Skills

Helpful attributes include:

  • An interest in working with electrical, electronic and electromechanical equipment
  • An interest in solving problems

Advanced Responsibilities

Advanced level Radio Operator-Maintainer provides guidance, supervises and trains other Soldiers within the same discipline. As an advanced level Radio Operator-Maintainer, you may be involved in:

  • Supervise and perform the operation of single channel AM radio, radio teletypewriter, Army Special Operations communications equipment or net control station assemblages
  • Supervise and perform authorized maintenance on assigned equipment
  • Control and use Signal Operating Instructions
  • Implement communication security, operational security and physical security policies and procedures
  • Recognize and implement electronic countermeasures

Related Civilian Jobs

The skills you learn as a Radio Operator-Maintainer will help prepare you for a future with civilian companies that design and make communications and electronic equipment or with the federal government. You'll be qualified to work as a communications equipment repairer, radio repairer, radio mechanic, teletype repairer or station installer/repairer, depending on your specialty.

Vietnam -- Army Aviation Officer

This description is from the military occupational skills:

The Army's Aviation Branch is critical in so many of the Army's operations. From providing quick-strike and long-range target engagement during combat operations to hauling troops and supplies, Army helicopter units are key in getting the job done in many situations.

An Officer within the Aviation Branch is first an expert aviator, but is also responsible for the coordination of Aviation operations from maintenance to control tower operations to tactical field missions.

All Aviation Officers lead Soldiers and Aviation units and work with the following Army helicopters; OH-58 Kiowa, UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook, and AH-64 Apache.

The responsibilities of an Aviation Lieutenant may include:

  • Coordinate employment of Aviation Soldiers and aircraft at all levels, from platoon to battalion and higher, in U.S. and multi-national operations.
  • Provide Aviation coordination
  • Instruct Aviation skills at service schools and combat training centers


Training in Aviation School begins with basic flying skills, where you will spend many hours in the classroom studying and learning rotary-winged aircraft inside and out. You will learn basic flight physics, flight systems, emergency procedures, flight map reading, flight map drawing and more.

After your basic flight skills, your classroom becomes the helicopter where you will learn your basic combat flight skills, which covers combat maneuvers used by Army pilots. After you pass both of these sets of courses, you will be an expert in all of the Army's rotary-winged aircraft, but also specialize in piloting one of the following helicopters:

  • OH-58 Kiowa
  • UH-60 Black Hawk
  • AH-64 Apache
  • CH-47 Chinook

Helpful Skills

Being a leader in the Army requires certain qualities. A leader exhibits self-discipline, initiative, confidence and intelligence. They are physically fit and can perform under physical and mental pressures. Leaders make decisions quickly, always focusing on completing the mission successfully, and show respect for their subordinates and other military officers. Leaders lead from the front and adjust to environments that are always changing. They are judged by their ability to make decisions on their own and bear ultimate moral responsibility for those decisions.


Advanced Responsibilities

Aviation Officers can continue in the Operations career field, serving in the Aviation Branch at ever increasing levels of leadership and responsibility.

Responsibilities of an Aviation Captain may include:

  • Commanding and controlling Aviation platoons.
  • Coordinate employment of Aviation Soldiers at all levels of command, from company to division level and beyond, in U.S. and multi-national operations.
  • Develop doctrine, organizations and equipment for unique Aviation missions.
  • Instruct Aviation skills at service schools and combat training centers.
  • Serve as an Aviation advisor to other units, including Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve organizations.

Related Civilian Jobs

Aircraft Pilot, Aviation industry Manager or Administrator. Additionally, the leadership skills you acquire as an Army Officer will help you in many types of civilian careers. An Officer in the Army is most closely related to a vital manager in a corporation.

Vietnam -- We were the original breakfast club

    To:  General William Childs Westmoreland
From:  Everyone who was between 19 and 24 and was E-1 to E-5

Dear Sir;

It has come to our attention that you may be concerned and confused as to why we smoke weed, overdose on beer, run around topless in broad day light and pretty much question every order someone who is 10 years older or of higher rank than ourselves shoves under our noses.

While it is true we are ornery, hate wearing a military uniform, love having a good time, go to church, have this insatiable desire to left alone and have sexual thoughts about every seven minutes, we still get things done.

We come to you in all shapes and sizes, all colors of skin, all levels of education. We are writers, poets and artists, we have PhDs, we have GT scores from 60 to 150, we love listening to Credence Clearwater Revival and we don't want to be here.

But we are and we'll do our best to make the time go away as quickly as possible.

I'm sure from your perspective, this all sounds pretty horrible. The truth does have a way of slapping you around like finding a live cobra snake in your bed.

Based on your impressive long life as a well disciplined officer and leader, you've seen your fair share of us and know we either get out and get just as disciplined as you over time or we stay in and join your flock.

There's just so many of us now all in one spot and we're just about the most unruly lot you've ever seen in your life. You can blame it on the school system. They taught us we had the right as Americans to be individuals.

They didn't teach us how to be soldiers.

Welcome to Vietnam!

Sir, unless you have a problem with this, we do burn your human waste, we fill your sand bags, we paint your rocks, we peal your potatoes, we go on guard duty, we get shot at, we watch men die, we have no idea why the enemy loves firing 122mm rockets at us,  know when women are in the immediate vicinity, we brush our teeth and swallow a pill the size of a 30 odd 6 bullet.

Could you get rid of chicken man?  Guess that's too much to ask.

We make sure the NVA doesn't tear us a new asshole, go on patrol, watch other friends die or are so mangled they wish they had, and get fired at by our own men and helicopters.

Pardon my French, sir, who was the freaking idiot who thought clean pressed fatigues, spit shined shoes, and polished brass in a combat zone?

Does that have anything to do with our ability to kill the little yellow man?

Why do we use choppers whose rotor blades can be heard coming as far as 5 miles away think that's the element of surprise?

Its surprises, us sir, that we have enough common sense to realize you don't ever compromise your position as that is the element of surprise. And always, always get the first punch in. We learned that from our street fighting days.

You should know that based on our own intelligence gathering process that you are underestimating the intelligence of your enemy as they are constantly listening to our radio chatter and the civilians working on post are constantly ratting us out.

What do we know?

We love loud music, wild people like the Rolling Stones and have people with emotional issues -- they like Simon and Garfunkel.

Despite all the crap about segregation, the blacks sleep with the blacks, the Mexicans with the Mexicans, the Puerto ricans with the Puerto ricans, the refers with the refers, the mifia with the mifia, the alcholics with the alcholics and the undecided with the undecided.

Did I bother to mention this was by their choice and one us white boys forced on them.

Only ones left are....this may come as a shock to you ... the gays.

Is it true that the government was conducting genetic experiments with babies born in 1949?

We got some wide hipped guys with thin waists running around here with no hair on their chest and never shave...just asking.

We bleed like you, too. We've got cuts, bruises, and body parts missing. We breath oxygen. We party hard, and tell you to take your Army system and tell you to shove it up your ass.

That probably gets us into more hot water than anything else. Point is, we aint your boy scouts and this aint on jamboree.

We also die hard and in the process make our mothers weep, or friends cry and our world safer.

Isn't that what you wanted from us?

Hand me a gun, have the enemy come at me, he's going to drop like a turkey.

Speaking of witch, why is it that every patrol I go on, its the tallest guy that gets the job of carrying the radio?

You need to make a policy that the smallest guy -- about the size of boots and helmet on top -- should have to carry the radio.

You all take us too seriously, we're just a bunch of RAs and USes that either were too stupid to read the fine print or got drafted. We're just as confused as you are about us as we are about ourselves.

By the time you read this, some of us will be in body bags, some of us will be wounded in action, some of will be walking dead and die before our time from agent orange.

And some of us will live to tell our stories to our generation, our children's and even some of theirs.

We are your rag tags, you slackers, your goof balls and your heroes. And when it comes time to work as a team, no matter what hooch we come out of, sometimes kicking and screaming, we do work as a team without thinking of the consequences.

We get it done.

Well that pretty much sums up what I wanted to say.

Sincerely yours,

The Original Breakfast Club

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Vietnam -- Five Days In May

May 1, 1970

President Nixon orders several thousand American troops into Cambodia to wipe out the “headquarters” for the entire Communist military operation in South Vietnam.

He stressed in a speech that this was not an invasion of Cambodia.

President Nixon agrees to meet with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is trying to find a means of halting U.S. military operations in Cambodia.

Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird warns he would recommend a renewal of bombing of North Vietnam if the Communists respond to U.S. actions in Cambodia by “significant” invasion or infiltrations across their boundary with South Vietnam.

Vietnam – U.S. Air Force bombers wipe out part of the Cambodian rubber plantation town of Mimot after Army helicopters were fired on by North Vietnamese troops.

May 4th:

Four students are shot to death on the Kent State University campus when national guardsmen, believing a sniper had attacked them, fired into a crowd of rioting antiwar protesters.

At least 11 were wounded before order was restored. The town of Kent was sealed off and a judge ordered the university’s 20,000 students to leave the campus by noon the next day.

May 1st

I get off a train that doesn't take me all the way over to Camp Zama.  I call the Navy MPs who pick me up and drop me off at their police station.  A call is made to the Army MPs who come in, pick me up and proceed to get lost.

Because of this, I can't leave until May 2nd.

I play golf, hear about the invasion and know all hell is going to break loose in the states.
I take in a show at the NCO club, and go to bed.

May 2nd:

Instead of flying into Da Nang, the plane out of Yakoto AFB lands in Siagon. Two hours later I'm catching a plane up to Da Nang.

Landing at Da Nang at 3:30, I hear about another C-130 leaving at 4:30.  I don't go.

Instead I go across the airfield and spend the night at the 24 hour Air Force Mess Hall.

May 3rd:

With no sleep for 24 hours, I take the 4:30 C-130 up to Phu Bie. The C-130 never takes us over Camp Eagle on final. 

This one did.

To my horror, I realized why.

There was no hanger anymore, smoke was still billowing from our TOC, the two minute section looked like someone had run into one helicopter with a tank and the second would never fly again either. There was debris everywhere.

I figured I caused all of that as I had finished polishing up a 2.75 inch rocket before leaving and left it in the back of the hanger. 

I don't look good in pin stripes.

A combat dump truck from the 20th Engineer Battalion had picked up two infantry soldiers. I hailed the driver and asked if he was going to Camp Eagle.  He told me to hop on board.

The two young men in the back of the back of the truck were huddled together up near the front.  They both looked worse than I did.

"Man, you two look beat," I said. "Where are you located?"

"Yeah, we haven't gotten any sleep for days. We're over at Fire base Bastogne. Ever since Richard Nixon got a hair up his ass and invaded Cambodia, we've been getting hammered."

"Well, you much have been getting some support from our artilery Cobras."

These two went from foot in the grave stuppor to Jumpin' Jack Fash Rolling Stones excitement  in 1 second.

"Are you with B Battery, 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery?"

"Yes, I am."

"Then, you don't.." the look at each other, "He couldn't know, he just got off that ..." they look back at me. "Your unit just got wiped off the face of the earth.

"Rockets went everywhere"

"Yeah, it looked like the 4th of July."

"A whole bunch of 122s rolled in on them. Got the hanger and just about everything else."

Why did I feel comfort in hearing this? Oh, that's right, my rocket in the back of the hanger isn't going to land me a job at busting rocks after all.

"Geeze, anyone get killled?"

They shrugged their shoulders, "Don't know."

The truck stopped in front of the road leading in to B Battery.  Someone already put up a sign, "Rocket Alley".  You could smell that acrid stench of spent rocket motor fuel. My hooch was the first one closest to the road.

I was glad it was. I entered it, threw my duffel bag on my bed and put all my personal belongings up overtop of my bed in my secure ammo box and locked it.

The grumbling and noise coming from the next hooh over told me Pennsylvania was back from his 30 day vacation awarded to him because he extended.

I opened up the hooch door.

"Do you see this?"  he was pointing to the floor,  "Do you see this? This is what I extended for? To get blown up by our own rockets." he shook his head.  The plywood floor told of something on fire in the center of the hooch.

"Come here,"  I did.  "Do you see that hole?" How could I miss it. "That's where one of ours came through the PSP, the sand bags and past my face. I had to kick it out of the hooch!"

I was going to tell him he looked like he needed another 30 day vacation, but knowning our senior vehicle maintenance Irish temperment, I wasn't about to cross the path of that black cat.

"Lt Geis is looking for you. You need to go see him now. He's got a new job for you. Good luck, its your turn to shine."

Whatever that meant, I guess I was about to find out.

I grabbed my hat, put my glasses on and was wearing my new watch I purchased from Tokyo, Japan on my left side. I'm left handed.

The first person to greet me was our CO who told me he was glad that I was alive and he didn't have to report me as being an MIA anymore. He laughed and told me to report to Lt. Geis.

Lt. Craig Geis and Captain Denny Kramp were always joined at the hip.

I swear! 

Where ever one went, the other followed. Lt. Geis saw me out of the corner of his eye, looked directly at me and gave me the grinning finger.

I walked up to him and saluted.

"Now, Dick, this is very important that you..."  Geis gave Kramp a sharp look and the Captain walked away.

Which was really a good idea due to plausible deniability concerning what was about to be said, "You've got a new job. Beg, borrow and/or steal anything you can and get us back up.
If you get caught stealing, I'll get you out of jail."

"Yes, sir," I said.

"Here's my CEOI, there's your jeep, I'll have a radio put on the back. You're now 13Echo."

"Yes, sir," I said.

"You still have to play Sergeant Valentine's games until I get him off your back tomorrow. After that, you report directly to me. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," I said.

Prior to going on R&R, I got my hair cut short because I had to go up in front of the review board for promotion to Specialist 4. I looked more like an officer than an enlisted. Looking back at the picture below, I look rather creepy. 

Where else would I go to find out what really happened? To my crew chief friends.

They told me that the only one who got seriously hurt that morning was the crew chief that got my job.  Apparently, he was doing something on the Cobra in this picture and was thrown 30 feet into the air. 

We learned later that he came out of the comma and was in good health.

Two pilots -- besides Lt. Geis burnt hand -- suffered some minor injuries. One was Captain Winfrey. The rest of the pilots went to Eagle Beach.

I gave Captain Winfrey a sob story about not having any money and he purchased for me a ice cold Coke.

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.
May 4th:

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.

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".

While racing back, This is insane, RT. I know, I know, You're only on two wheels, slow down.
In less than three 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 watched them take off without anti collision lights. I thought about it.  Neither did Lt. Johns.

But it did make sense to not let the enemy know we were still launching Cobras from our pad.

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.

"Have to go."

"Hey, you just got here."

"I'll be back tomorrow, I promise."

"You better.  I want to hear more about what happened last night."

"You got it!"

I was weird not having a hanger to guide my way at night over on the flight line. The whole El Toro flight line just didn't feel right.

Eerie how death and quiet cuts sharp to the bone.

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."

"Do you know what just happened?"


"You okay?"

"No. but I'm pissed so, that will work in my favor at the moment, sir."

"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 medics  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 Fire base Nancy is not going to be someone 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.

May 5th:

I think I was barley asleep when some jerky PFC kicked my cot.

You don't kick my cot.

I come unglued when you kick my cot.

Never kick my cot.

I looked up at the PFC with knives in my eyes.
"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 Four 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 Geis 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.

Lt.Craig Gies was.

BTW, 7 people were killed that night on a practice Red Alert over Fire base Nancy. The two Cobra pilots and the five people on board the UH-1H flare ship.

Vietnam -- Aircraft Repair Specialist

Unlike the Cobra crew cheifs, generally, aircraft repair specialists worked in stable environments where the only affect incoming rounds had on your work was that of having to run to the bunkers.

Of course, where I was at, you were worrying about what affect those 122mm rockets would have on your life.

Normally, though, not the case.

Furthermore, depending upon the level or support your unit provided, you may be on an aircraft carrier or repair ship that never heard or was a single hostile round.

Our hanger before

 Our hanger after

In terms of technical and maintenance support, our Transporation Corps detachment assigned to B Battery, 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery (AFA), provided both first and second echelon maintenance.
These are the levels performed by the aviation unit and the technical manuals were number TM-55-1520-221-20 for the Cobra. at this level. It is this level of support that would put you into our kind of maintenance misery.

The Field maintenance category consisted of third and fourth echelon maintenance. 

This is level 30 and 40 is closer to what I was doing with A Company 5th Transporation Battalion. Our technical manuals were TM-55-1520-221-34 for the Cobra. 

Level 40 was out on a ship five miles out from China Beach. Technical manuals were TM-55-1520-221-40 for the Cobra.

Your toolbox included combo wrenches from 3/8 to 1 inch, a mirror, socket wrenches from 3/8 to 1 inch, a socket wrench or rachet, various sized socket extensions, one extension that had a flexible extension, wire cutters, a roll of #30 safety wire, a safety wire pliers and electrical tape. You may also have a flash light, ballpeen hammer, an impact hammer and a regular hammer.

The regular hammer was used on yourself to tighten up the lose screws you had thinking being a helicopter mechanic was going to be a walk in the park.

Terms used included cherrylock rivet guns -- never use this as a weapon, it doesn't work  on the enemy, castle lock nuts, Z fasteners, and torque wrenches. 

One of those torque wrenches was 6 foot long and was used on the mast to torque down the nut on the main rotor blade. the measurement was in foot pounds.

Conditional flight terms included: Red X -- no fly, Circled Red X -- conditional flying restrictions, diagonal -- must be fixed before the next flight and dashed -- can fly but a known issue. should help those of you who are not in the field of aircraft mechanics to gain a better understanding of what you have to know to be an Army Aviation Mechanic.

Vietnam -- Aircraft Refueler

This is one of those thankless jobs that could kill you if you sneezed too hard.

In general, an aircraft refueler's job depended upon the location, size of the refueling point and how permanent it was.

Where permanency was the environment, much of the job involved making sure hoses didn't leak, the grounding lines worked, the filters were clean and functional, the spider manifold didn't leak and the fuel nozels worked.

In-other-words, everything was safe and secure.

A perfect job in a perfect world.

That wasn't Vietnam.

If you were really lucky, you did all of the above, if you were assigned to a najor refueling point, and you added secondary parameter guard duty, maintenance checks and refueling of the generators that pumped the fuel, you checked for debris on the refueling point and you ran the radio that ran the refueling point.

You always perpared for wose case scenarios. This included fire extinguishers, eye wash and full body shower points.

You also had to deal with starched fatigues, polished boots and brass if you were in areas such as Camp Eagle.

Of course, you could deal with all of that, right?

Welcome to my war.

You have a 500 gallon hard tank -- bladders not included -- filled with JP4 and tied down to a duce and a half.

You've got 24 trigger happy pilots, crew cheifs that eat nails for breakfest and armament specialists who delight in firing off a round or two just to watch you piss in your pants.

With half a tanker filled with JP4 at 90 degrees farenheit, sloshing around everytime you hit a bump,
one spark could put you on the front page of Time Magazine vaporized in a huge fireball.

You'll love over it here.

Especially when one of those screwball 101st Aviation Battalion's defoilent Hueys perform a flare right overtop of you while your refueling.  Not only do you get dosed in JP4, you get exposed to Agent Orange.

Isn't the Bull Pen a lovely place to work?

Seriously, my hat -- need one these days with my bald head -- goes off to you for not only having to deal with 122mm rockets but with having to deal with all the above.

We couldn't have done our job without you.


Army Photo-journalist what made me different

From a journalist perspective, in Vietnam, I was just an Specialist 4 running around with a camera and a notepad trying to do my job while learning what that job was. My skills as a writer and a photographer weren't where they are today, but good enough to see daylight in a variety of publications.

Which equates to not even enough jelly to cover a piece of toast.

But I did try and I did accomplish something.

By the time I was done with my military career, I sold an article to Saga Magazine on Aviation Tank Killers.

So what seperates me from all the other photo-journalists is the fact that I honed my skills as both a distinguished writer and photographer while covering the historical development of the Cobra as a platform of choice.  I witnessed and reported on the use of the Cobra as an anti-tank TOW missile firing platform from provisional to fully operational units in Europe.

I wrote hundreds of articles, took thousands of pictures and saw articles published in dozens of publications including:
  • AARES -- A Holland Publication
  • Army Aviation Digest
  • Army Aviation Magazine
  • Army Times
  • Army Magazine
  • Clarksville Leaf Chronicle
  • Eurarmy Magazine
  • Frontline
  • Pillars And Posts
  • Rendezvous with Destiny Magazine
  • Soldiers Magazine
  • Stars And Stripes
I was also directly responsible for TV coverage of the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion during REFORGER 77 when Hillery Brown did a piece on our unit for ABC news and for half the photographic content published in Time Magazine by David Allan Burdette.

During REFORGER 78, I was ordered to be the Official Task Force photographer. The Official US Army Photographer assigned to it, got his leg crushed between a tractor and a trailer.

Also, in 1978, I took pictures of the annual Army Aviation Association conference in Arlington, VA.

My focus was on Army Aviation and my purpose was to promote it every way I could.

What really distinguishes me from everyone else is I was never a official Army photo-journalist, I paid for all the work that was published and I was just a stringer for the units I was assigned to.

That's what made me special.  

Vietnam -- Freedom of press with limitations

Not that I ever really had to cover a situation where our friendly forces -- or any of us, for that matter -- died due to direct contact with the enemy, one of the limitations to writing about events that occurred was the fact that you couldn't include friendly deaths.

Also, even if it were true, you could say anything negative about the way troops were being treated or the fact that your boss was a total ass and made piss poor decisions the taxpayers thousands for.

Another rule was you couldn't just be a writer, you had to live and play the roll at the pay grade you were in. Which essentially meant you might have been able to devote about 30 percent of your time to writing articles and taking pictures.

The last one that was restrictive was recording kill counts. The NVA was a amazing at removing their dead from the battlefield. And we were too good at blowing them up into pieces that it was hard to get an accurate kill count. Add that to the fact that no one wanted to stick around a "hot" environment long enough to access the damage on either side, you can pretty much figure out from all of this that writing about the amount of NVA killed in battle was next to impossible.

So, from a writer's perspective, you focused on people, places and things that might perk enough interest by editors to want to accept your work and publish the articles

I found this to be incredibly easy. There were many rich and rewarding resources available.  And when I did find a story between the conversations I had with the people, I interviewed, I focused on using that theme as being part of an even bigger feature about why that concerned people.

One of those threads involved unit identification.

Why were we who we where and why didn't the press understand it? This was one of those threads. So, when I started work on the article about the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery (AFA), I wanted to make sure the who were we and why didn't the press understand it was addressed in it.

I wrote it like this:

You might think an AH-1G Cobra "snake" helicopter is just another "gunship".

You would be wrong.

In the hands of the 2/17th Air Cavalry, this might be true, but in the hands of the 4/77th Field Artillery, the Cobra is an artillery platform from which tube launched rockets are fired as artillery rounds supporting ground forces when the enemy gets uncomfortably close.

Just the distinction between the unit names alone should tell you something about the differences in rolls. But if that were not enough, the Cavalry didn't carry 36 pairs of rockets and use grid coordinates to perform their mission. As one pilot pointed out:

"We proved artillery support for friendly forces facing an enemy so close you could smell his breath. The Cavalry uses Cobras for a kill count."

I think the territory between the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Cobra and the 2nd Squadron, 17 Air Cavalry was well marked by the above article snippet.