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.

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