Beginning note: During my tour I carried a "short timer's" calendar for the year of 1971. I recorded major events that I experienced. What I would like to do here is start from the day I arrived in-country in an out line form.
April 5, 1971 -- Arrived in Vietnam.
April 13 -- Assigned to B ? Battery of the 1st Bn 83rd Arty on Firebase B-Ham
May 21 - 1st 83 Arty stood down
May 24 -- Reassigned to D Battery 2nd Bn 94th Arty on Camp Love
June 23 -- D Battery 2nd Bn 94th Arty on Camp Love stood down (not enough arty personnel to man the 175 gun battery)
June 24 - Reassigned to HQ Battery 2nd Bn 94th Arty at Dong Ha
June 26 -- Reassigned to HQ Battery 8th Bn 4th Arty at Dong Ha
June 27 -- Reassigned to C Battery 8th Bn 4th Arty on Alpha 4 (Con Thien) DMZ assigned to Gun Section #2(8 inch gun) of a 4 gun (8 inch) unit. This firebase was the closest American firebase to North Vietnam.
|July 4 - Alpha 4 Firebase starts to get incoming. It was reported that "Charlie" was planning a major assault on the units on the DMZ. Apparently, the NVA was coinciding its assault with the 4th of July. We received continuous incoming of 122mm rockets and mortar rounds normally starting at 4 or 5 pm every day. See photos attached to this letter. The incoming continued until we were able to get a fix on NVA gunner's position and call fire missions. Once we returned fire it took only a few rounds from our guns to silence the NVA guns. We also received small arms fire to our bunker line during the nights from NVA probing our defenses around the firebase. We had Dusters and quad-50 gun trucks from the 1st Bn 44th Arty (duster unit) along with ARVN units pulling guard duty on our inside and outside perimeter wire respectively, however we did not trust the ARVNs.
Once, 3rd Gun Section discovered a uniformed ARVN soldier in their bunker while the gun crew was asleep (Note: this will be the subject a future story that I have to tell. It caused a major riff between us and the ARVN troops assigned on Alpha 4. Of course, this was never disclosed in any after action army reports.) It was determined that this soldier was doing a little forward observing for the NVA. They needed to know the location of our ammo bunkers so they could be targeted. I like to hand it to the crew of Gun #3- they did a "job" on that ARVN.
Anyway, Charlie continued to hit us. We were taking casualties from 81 mm mortars and 122mm rockets.
The first week our unit took 4 KIAs and a number of wounded mostly from shrapnel wounds. It was on July 14, 1971 that I found out what it was like to get hit. We had just finished a fire mission to silence NVA guns. I had just come off the gun and was the last member of 2nd Gun Section to enter our crew bunker. As I was rounding the blast wall of the bunker I heard the swish sound of an incoming mortar round. The round landed about 30 feet behind me and went off. I was knocked to the ground. As I was falling, I felt a sharp pain in the small of my back. I knew what it was. As I got up and jumped inside the bunker, I started yelling for the others. When I got to my senses, they sat me up on the floor of the bunker expecting to find the worst. But to everyone surprise there was no entry wound and no blood! I took off my flack jacket and took a look. To my surprise there embedded in the middle of the back of my flack jacket was a large (1" x 3") piece of steel. The piece of shrapnel had been too large go through the layers of kevlar of my flack jacket. To this day I have that piece of shrapnel encased in plastic on my desk to remind me how close I came to "buying the farm" and becoming a statistic. From that point forward I was very careful about how I handled myself.
Anyway, the 8th Bn 4th Arty all across the DMZ continued to take the incoming. During this time it was reported that 29 Americans had been killed during one of the days we took the incoming. The information we got and according to my calendar all the men were killed on Firebase Charlie 2 when a 122mm rocket scored a direct hit to a gun bunker on the base. It was reported that all the men who died were from Bravo Battery of the 8/4.
On or about July 16, 1971 Charlie Battery had lost its executive officer, Stu Binkley. He was a well-liked officer and the entire firing battery was saddened for the loss. I am sorry, But time has clouded my memory- I don't remember the Officer's full name. I think he was from Michigan through. What I do remember was Lt. Binkley had just exited Gun Section #3's crew bunker when an 81mm mortar round landed directly in front of him. The explosion knocked him backwards. Everyone heard the calling for a medic, but by the time we got to him he was already gone.
The next day the Commanding General of I Corps and all of his short skirted donut dollies flew into the firebase to make his appearance and remove the Lt's body. The entire experience of that day was so cheap. Here we were down to about 87 American arty soldiers on the firebase, and this General flies into Con Thien firebase with enough Cobra gunships to finish the war. He gives us poor slobs a pep talk about what a good job we were doing, then he loads up all his "round eyes" and they fly south. They left us there to fend for ourselves. That General reportedly flew back to Danang and gave everybody in his entourage a medal for service in a combat zone!!
We knew what was coming from the NVA and sure enough we lost more guys during the coming weeks. Finally, July 16 through July 17, 1971 Firebase Fuller was over run by NVA regulars. It took all the guns from the 8/4 and 2/94 along the DMZ firebases and the B-52s to retake the loss ground. During the siege, Charlie Battery of the 8th Bn 4th Arty located on Alpha 4 was "ordered" to fire direct-fire into Firebase Fuller. We knew what this meant, Americans were on Fuller at that time and their commander had ordered 8 inch howitzer artillery fire on his own position! We were assured that the Americans units had withdrawn a few clicks to the south of the firebase, but in the back of everyone's mind, we were firing on Americans - live or dead? Later, it was learned that some of our guys had been killed. Our battery was completely down when we found this out. We were so bummed out that Battalion finally decided to end "the saga of American GIs on Con Thien." Americans had fought and died on Alpha 4 for years and for what? They pulled Charlie Battery off Alpha 4 for good! It is believed, that Charlie Battery was the last American unit to occupy Alpha 4 (Con Thien).
The 8/4 moved off Alpha 4 on August 2, 1971. We convoyed to Firebase Charlie 1 where we set up shop and used this firebase as a staging point. We were used in arty support for operation Lom Son 719 near the Rock Pile. With the Dusters and the Quad-50s of the 1/44 arty in the lead We convoyed to the "Valley" and shot 1,000s artillery rounds at the NVA. We received information that over 1,500 NVA had been killed during the siege at Firebase Fuller. It was reported that after the operation to reclaim Fuller, the Seabees had been called in to the mountain top firebase with bulldozers. The Seabees had to use the tractors to cut long ditches in fuller's bunker line to bury all the NVA bodies. I have no info about how many Americans were KIA. Apparently, that was another one swepped under the rug!
During the entire month of September, 1971 Charlie Battery of the 8/4 stayed in the bush on operation at the "Rock Pile" along HWY QL 19. On October 7, 1971 8th Bn 4th Arty returned to Firebase Charlie 1 from operation Lom Son 719.
On October 13, 1971 the 8th Battalion 4th Artillery in Vietnam stood down. All artillery personnel who were formerly assigned to the 8/4 just changed patches on their uniforms to the 2nd Bn 94th Artillery attached to the 101st Airborne Division. We all wore the "Screaming Buzzard" patch. It was later reported that early in 1972 Charlie Battery of the old 8th Bn 4th Arty under it's new designation -- Charlie Battery 2nd Bn 94th Arty fired the last US heavy artillery rounds from Hill 34 near Danang. It was also reported that the same General who came out to Alpha 4 for our pep talk also came out to Hill 34 to witness the last heavy rounds being fired. I wonder what kind of medal he gave himself and his groupees after that visit?
I was getting "short" and it was the policy of battalion -- I guess that when a soldier was getting "short" and had been assigned to the firebases for as long as I had then he was reassigned to the rear area. My new assignment was a truck driver in the Service Battery of the 2nd Bn 94th Arty located on an old "I" Corps supply base at Dong Ha. In my new job I drove a 5-ton ammo truck to the firebases. There were still a large number of firebases occupied by Americans at that time and the need for ammo was great. For the next several months, life was scary on the roads with "Charlie"! ... that' s another story. "Life on the truck convoys!"
Note: it was reported that during the "Vietnamization of the American firebases on the DMZ in 1972 where we were ..."turning over our big arty guns to the south Vietnamese army"...this is a sham! When the arty units 2/94, 1/39, 8/4 stood down, some of the guns...the 8 inch and the 175mm guns were "left' in place on the firebases with the pretense of the US turning over the artillery guns to the ARVNs so they could continued to fight for their freedom! My response to that is "bull s---!" First, the guns that we left in place on the firebases were either turned over to the ARVNs or were turned into BN. We found out early during the "Vietnamization process" that the ARVNs did not want to fight and they resented us for being there! Towards the end, the ARVN troops were abandoning tons of the equipment that we had turned over to them in 1971. It was found that the average ARVN solder was close to 5 ft tall and maybe 100 lbs in weight. With this in mind, when we asked the ARVN army to receive our guns ( the 8 inch and the 175mm) which fires a 206 lbs and a 147 lbs projectile respectively, they could not fire those guns in a combat situation. The ammo was too heavy for the ARVNs to move! The American soldier on the other hand had no problem picking up the 8 inch artillery projectile during a combat situation. It's amazing what one can do when you're that scared. If you had to "hump" a 206 lbs 8 inch artillery shell to get it to your gun for firing to stop the incoming, then you had to do what you had to do. On the other hand, the ARVNs could not or would not go to the trouble to keep the big guns on line and in firing condition. So those guns were abandoned in a repairable condition for the NVA to take and turn against the ARVNs and us. It was a shame to see NVA operating American equipment that still had our old unit numbers on it and/or stamped "Made in the USA". I remember seeing a news bulletin of the fall of Siagon in 1975. During the rolling of tape I saw an NVA soldier driving an American duce-an-half truck that still had the letters "2bn 94" stenciled on the front bumper.
The 2nd Bn 94th Arty Service Battery was the transportation unit of the battalion and in early 1972, we not only delivered ammo to the gun units, but we also moved personnel and equipment off the firebases located on the DMZ. During my time driving service 47 (a 5 ton, multi-geared, diesel enginned truck with the words "Mother Truckers" stenciled on the front hood) I saw a lot of things that just made me sick. One day, just after we had completed a run delivering artillery personnel from a DMZ firebase to Dong Ha (2nd Bn 94th Arty rear area). I looked over on the side of the road and saw a large blazing fire. The fire was located in a very large hole in the ground that army engineers had dug out with their earth moving tractors. The fire was roaring out of control. As we pulled off the road to get a better look, I saw something that I will never forget. As I looked into the hole, I saw just about every type of us military equipment that one could think of -- everything from trucks, jeeps and guns. I also saw a 50 ft "mike boat' burning in the pile. For those who do not know what a "Mike Boat" is, then I would like for you to remember the movie "JFK". Remember the boat, PT-109 John Kennedy's boat was cut in half by the Jap destroyer-- well that's a "Mike Boat'. These boats were used in the delta and river areas in Vietnam for patrol duty and generally to kick "Charlie's" ass. When fully armed and outfitted, this boat was a beautiful sight that only a soldier could love. The boat had been pushed over the side into the hole and was burning profusely. It was totally sad to see that beautiful patrol boat going up in flames! It was a sad sight to see our equipment being disposed of in this manner. At that point in time, it became very clear to me that we had lost the war and that we were hauling a-- to get out of there. I prayed to the lord that I did not want to be the last KIA!
Spec. 4 Charles Adams, both "DEROS" and "ETS" from Vietnam...a free man!
Note: there were no celebrations, crowds or a thank you note waiting for me when I came home!!