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!



No comments: