Field Artillery gives the enemy his greatest opportunity to sacrifice his life for his country.
It was helpful simply to share the little I did with you. It helped me to put some things in perspective–to determine for myself what was important to hold sacred and what to let go of. Life is a real trip. I guess I have learned more about myself in the last 15 years, as I have reflected on my Nam experience. I was not ready or able to do it in those years immediately following. I’ll share more about this in the future. I am proud of having served. I had and still have mixed feelings about the war. I pushed people hard sometimes, I know. But, I figured if I could get “steel on target as quickly as possible,” maybe, just maybe, we could bring someone home. I love the part in “Saving Private Ryan,” where the older sgt says to the cpt. “maybe if we get Ryan home, it will be worth it”–or something like this. That is the only thing that really mattered to me–helping someone out of a really nasty spot and getting their ass home. We weren’t always able to do this. I remember firing half the night over at Trung Lap. A listening post or night lagger got overrun by an NVA unit. Bad, bad deal. We just couldn’t keep them off the guys. I had a friend with the Manchu Warriors. We supported them while at Devins. I hope I (we) helped bring his ass home. I don’t know if I (we) did or not. I’d like to think you and I and all the rest did get him home. If that is the case, then all the other stuff was worth it.
Bob, you can share all this stuff. Maybe it will help bridge the gap between those of us who served as section chiefs and gunnies. It may be me, but I still feel a little strain in that area. We all fought the same war. We just had different roles and tasks. We are still all brothers. It is a weird family we became.
Gun 1 Section Chief: George Gilland
Day1 – After a 17 hour flight, we’re here, now there are only 364 days to go. The first thing we are told is that if mortars start landing around us that we need to hurry off the plane so they can get out of there. We are bused through a village and they did not issue us our M-16’s yet, I guess you could say we were sweating bullets.
Day2 – When I wake up, I notice a big hole in the roof. I find out that a mortar round had hit it a couple nights previous to our arrival. I notice a lot of campfire smoke around, even in all the heat. I ask about it and find out it’s not campfire smoke. There are no flush type toilets, only outhouses. Instead of digging holes in the ground, there are cut off drums for that stuff. On a regular basis the drums are filled with diesel fuel and burned, hardly a campfire. We will not be roasting any marshmallows. I’m glad there are only 363 days to go now.
Day3 – Shipped out to the firebase, the new guy or ‘cruit’. I’m made the ‘jo’ man and given guard duty that night. Had a bullet fly by my head pretty close. Beginning to believe I’m in a war zone. 362 days are starting to look good.
Day 10 – I notice that there are no weekends off, all days are the same, and we are on a 24 hour shift. The short timers say you get used to it.
Day 20 – Fire missions are all times of the day and night and all days of the week, I am losing track of weekends. Plus we have resupply, sandbags to fill, cleaning the gun, guard duty, phone watch and other assorted duties to perform.
Day 30 – Fire Missions are always a big rush, we have to hustle because someones life is on the line. When we get the call in, the RTO(radio, telephone operator), yells fire mission into the land lines, it would be the same as someone yelling “fire” in your home; extreme urgency is demanded. The faster we can get the rounds out, the sooner we can get rid of the enemy.
Day-40- I think I’m getting the hang of this, on those late at night fire missions my eyes were actually open a couple times. I never know what day of the week it is anymore, guess I,m not such a ‘cruit’ now. Got to go into basecamp with the convoy today and have my haircut, went to the PX too.
Day 50- Two of the guns are sent to an ARVN (Army Republic of Vietnam) camp. They are in need of fire support and our guns can’t shoot that far from Fire Support Base Devins. We really had our rear sticking out there but thankfully we got the job done and made it back ‘home’ in about a week. On guard duty there I saw the biggest rat so, far, it was as big as a small dog, just walking along in front of the concertina wire. I nearly shot it but didn’t want to cause a panic for a rat.
Day 60- Thank God for mosquito repellant. Even with that we had to wrap mosquito netting around us to keep the mosquito’s from carrying us off at night.
Day 70- I guess we did a good job because two of our guns are needed again. This time it’s at Tay Ninh, it lasts about a week also, and we are back ‘home’. We had what ended up as a funny mishap, happen. Higgenbothem comes in the hootch after a fire mission half dazed and looking a bit strange. He had went to sleep on the gun placement sandbag wall, nobody saw him there before the fire mission. Ends up, he is right in line, and not that far from the muzzle blast of our 109 and it blows him off the wall when we fire. He was partially knocked out and dazed, that’s why we didn’t see him til after the fire mission. If you could have seen the look on his face when he came in the hootch saying ‘I can’t hear, I can’t hear, my head is ringing’.
Day 100- March order—this is for the entire battery, when we get that order we have one hour to be all packed up and ready to go. We find out we are going to Cambodia, we are not enthused about it, it’s just our job. After almost a full day on the road, we make it to Fire Support Base Mini, right on the river between Vietnam and Cambodia. There is a platoon of grunts(infantrymen) staying here too. We have to do some fire missions in high angle because we are in a hole in the middle of the jungle. On the third day, we start taking incoming mortar rounds and small arms fire from the treeline which is only about two hundred meters out. FDC immediately is on the radio calling it in and requesting clearance to fire. We eventually get the clearance for direct fire into the treeline (200 meters),with our 109. I hope it went off right next to ‘Charlie’ (nickname for the enemy; Vietcong, VC). Puff the Magic Dragon (nickname) soon arrives, a small plane with a minigun(a water cooled, five barrel machine gun capable of firing about five thousand rounds per minute). When it fires, it sounds like a chain saw running. Since it was near dark by now, it looked like a solid red flame from the plane all the way to the ground. Its actually from every fifth round being a tracer, the rounds per minute is what made it look like a powerful red flame. He circles for a while, fires quite a few bursts, and then is gone. We hope none of the enemy got away. This all came at a high cost to those of us defending Fire Support Base Mini, two grunts next to us killed and others wounded, we have one gravely wounded and three others, Hunt included, with minor wounds from shrapnel. Snider dove under a deuce and a half when the incoming started, it took a direct hit from a mortar round. He looked pretty bad, covered with shrapnel from head to toe, blackened from powder burns. Dennis Way and Top,(First Sergeant), pull him out from under the truck so our medic could work on him. Medivac’s(medical evacuation, dustoff), arrive to take the dead and wounded.
Day 101-We have a defensive fire that is used occasionally called a mad minute. Its when everyone in the battery takes their weapon to a predetermined area on the burm (perimeter of the firebase),and on command, fires it for one minute at anything they feel might be where the enemy is. We used it this evening just when it got dark. If anyone was out there it would definitely have been a bad day for them.
Day 120- A near miss on a slick (Huey helicopter) today. A FO (forward observer) was adjusting our artillery fire from the air when he yelled ‘cease fire’ over the radio. Ends up that one of our rounds went in one side and out the other without hitting anything or anybody. They always flew with both cargo doors open, definitely saved them. They got off course a little and were between us and the impact area. There was a slight delay in that fire mission for them to land and change their drawers.
Day 130- We were up half the night firing illumination rounds. They are very bright and burn for about a minute. Because of the increased enemy activity, elements of the 1/5 Infantry (Mechanized), conducted a RIF(recon in force) on the village that was less than two kilometers from our fire support base. It netted three or four VC and a few weapons. We supplied the light for the operation.
Day 150- We shot out on a fire mission today. This means one or more of the rounds we fired did not explode where it was supposed to. This can be caused by deflection or quadrant being wrong, wrong powder charge, wrong fuse, wrong time on a fuse, or mechanical failure. We are given a cease fire order until the guns can be double checked for accuracy. This happened three times which resulted in serious wounds to our fellow soldiers.
Day 190- Our battalion CO is killed today, he was on his way to our firebase when the LOH helicopter he was in got shot down.
Day 210- We had a soldier killed accidentally today. He was new to the battery and was outside the burm filling sandbags when the 548,(basically a truck with tracks instead of wheels), that we were using to haul the sandbags, caved in on the sandbag pit. He was buried under the dirt, crushed and killed from it.
Day 230- Two more soldiers critically injured and dusted off(medivac) today. They were out by the powder pit,(used to burn up unused powder from the guns), and accidentally tossed a cigarette in the powder. (We’re talking a hundred pounds of gun powder) They were badly burned and burned their lungs badly from it.
Day 240- Dennis Way cut loose with the 50 cal on guard duty tonight, a couple hundred rounds. We did have to be careful of how and when we fired it because the bullets could travel over 4 miles. We had this thing with seeing lights late at night while on guard duty. He had seen enough. We didn’t find out until years later that the VC would use lights like that for harassment. They put the light on a long stick and would turn it around to make it go off, they would lay low so any fire would go over their head. Turns out, Dennis did the right thing, it takes a lot to hide from a 50 cal round.
Day 270- A mission of mercy today. A frantic mamason comes into our fire support base today carrying her little boy. He was about three years old and had stepped on a land mine, he was blackened from powder and barely clinging to life. Doc didn’t want to have to tell mamason that the boy wouldn’t make it so we call a dustoff for him. We could only hope and pray he might make it.
Day 365- Time to go back to the world (USA, home). The plane is ready for boarding so in we go. As each GI comes in and sits down, he is completely quiet. After the plane is filled, still not a peep out of anybody, you could have heard a pin drop. We all knew that being in this plane on the ground didn’t mean we were safe. We taxi and get ready for takeoff, once the plane lifts off, the noise of everyone yelling at the same time must have given the plane an extra 100 knots of speed! We’re going home.
17,697 American soldiers were killed in these two years; 1969 and 1970. The 3rd battalion participated in all twelve of the 25th Divisions Vietnam campaigns. The battalion received a Meritorious Unit Commendation, three awards of the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm and one award of the Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Honor Medal First Class. Battery B also received a Valorous Unit award for Binh Duong Province in 1969.