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Reminiscing about the
Rock Pile, A Battery,
and 8th Battalion 4th Artillery
By Bela Csendes

A Battery
8th Bn 4th Arty
at the Rock Pile

To be accurate, no artillery was ever located on the Rock Pile. The Rock Pile was a cliff-like mountain located about 2000 meters directly to the North of Fire Support Base Elliot. Because of Fire Support Base Elliot's close proximity to the Rock Pile, a major geographic landmark, fire base Elliot was affectionately called by those who served there as the "Rock Pile". Fire base Elliot was actually just to the South of the Rock Pile on a plateau. The firebase was split in two by Highway 9 as it meandered toward Vandergriff, Ca Lu and the abandoned Khe Sanh Combat Base. The Sea Bees worked day and night to black top QL 9 in early to mid 69. Just after ribbon cutting Vandergriff was abandoned and the road was destroyed. Soon afterward Rock Pile suffered the same fate.

According Col. Lee and Col. Cartwright of the 108th Artillery group, during late 68 and 69 A Battery at the Rock Pile fired the heaviest volume and had the best readiness rate in the 108th Artillery Group. At that time Rock Pile was co-occupied by a USMC M-109 Btry, a platoon from 5th 8" and 5th guns who initially were "Long Toms" and later becamea 6-gun 175mm battery. These were the very same 175mm guns, and were not from the 8th Bn 4th Arty that participated on site in the first and second artillery raids. The fact is the 8th Battalon 4th Artillery planned and technically commanded the artillery raids, but had no tubes forward at the raid sites. Before the artillery raids Rock Pile was also the departure point for numerous platoons to company size USMC grunt operations/patrols that were initially lifted out by those old ancient helicopters that resembled giant "grass hopper" as shown in the Rock Pile pictures. Later the USMC used CH-46s the downsized version of the Army CH-47 and/or the "Jolly Green Giants".

There was also a USMC "grunt" company rotated in and out for perimeter security. Perimeter security was helped out by 1st Bn 44th Arty Artillery composed of the Dusters, Quad 50s and a section or two of searchlights. At times we even observed the initial pilot runs of the TV survival series in that at least once a month we had to disrupt a "John Wayne movie" in the mess hall to watch some dumb NVA fire into the perimeter on his way up to the top of the Rock Pile to visit the Radio Relay station. Of course I do not blame the NVA/VC from being annoyed it was a tough climb to the shear cliff top and the searchlights, Dusters/Quad 50 fires crisscrossing the mountainside simply ruined their day and their expectation of a long and prosperous life. As the rock climbers took on the Dusters and Quad 50s in vain well beyond the effective range of the NVA/VC small arms it became an excellent fire power display. As it was we could safely sit on the bunkers, drink beer (small quantities) and watch the tracers and at times close support aircraft do their magic. If it were not for the first class view of this and other local area firefights, being rocketed, watching the "Cobras" and "Spooky Work" out and/or U.S. mail being dropped on LBJ and Razorback by F4s, our life might have been quiet boring. Humping ammo, maintaining the guns, filling thousands of sand bags and retubing from 175 to 8" or back to 175 every other week would have been quite boring without the routine fire works between Charlie, the USMC, and the RVNís north of the Rock Pile. One should not forget Charlie also entertained us close up and personal, if not daily, at least periodically, right about chow time. As time permits, I will relay a funny story about routine shelling around chow time, a three-hole latrine, a young over-excited soldier and the USMC Jolly Green Giant chopper.

At any rate the Group and General Pixson (the 24th Corps Arty Commander) liked us, and several times the Corp Arty CO flew a couple hours just to bring us ice cream. We never did dare nor wanted to tell him that we had hard ice cream and not just warm mush in the ice box compliments of LTC Kulick, later LTC Smith and the sticky fingers of the Bn S4. The S4 was either German or Dutch ancestry who, regardless of what has been claimed was undoubtedly the greatest barterer and five finger acquisitioner in the history of the 8/4th. Having said that, what kept us from letting on about the ice cream was that General Pixson cared and wanted us to know we were not forgotten -- the thought meant a lot to us even if the ice cream did not.

Sgt. Baker's #4 Gun Section was the trained and most knowledgeable gun section I ever saw. Conveniently we built the helipad for visitors next to his gun. As you all know the mark of a good gun crew/gun is speed and accuracy. In A Battery it was a sin if the gun crew did not have his spade dug in before the XO could hit the aiming circle.

As I recall one night we fired Charge 1 and 2 all night, and the next day we had enough powder to fill a 2 1/2 T truck and a 3/4 T Truck and trailer. The young Lt. (AXO/FDO) thought he would start a bond fire by piling it several feet high over a significant area. He failed to inform anyone -- after all burning powder is a routine job. The problem became the fireball that resembled an "A Bomb" and sent all scrambling. Even at a thousand feet or more the heat was shocking.

The fact is, we in A Battery enjoyed firing all day and all night. Getting high damage assessment or a few KIAs made our day. But we did observe Sundays. Sunday after police call we normally had all you could eat steak, free beer and pop. Of course a day did not go by without Top telling the XO and me about the "good ole days". As to Sundays only the ready crews were prohibited from partaking of alcohol. We had fun but if you showed up for duty having taken the privilege to excess an Article 15 waited, no ifs, ands, or buts. Fortunately the learning curve was minute and we all quickly came to a definite understanding as to how things were to work.

A Battery was one of several of my combat commands from 1968-72. I worked North (DMZ) and South (along Cambodian Border) but I have never again met an equally high quality energetic and talented group as I saw on the Rock Pile in 1968 and 1969. Actually the same statement equally applies to the quality folks of the 8/4th Arty. As to A Btry's Guns #1, #2 and #3, there should no doubt that they were great folks and great gun crews. I would take them over any other guns crew that I later saw or had experience with. The bottom line, in every group there has to be a so-called "best," but in A Battery only a razors edge separated the best from the rest.

I have several pictures from the first of two artillery raids. To Big Al, Ron Naples and Major Prisk, I have pictures of you also. For Harold, the artillery mechanic, I have several stories where artillery mechanics put themselves at high risk to keep the guns going and several stories about generators, generator parts and two 40-foot trailers of float ASL (DS/GS level repair parts), which conveniently appeared or disappeared as needed. It may be interesting to note that the battalion maintenance operation became so elaborate that at times the DS/GS forward maintenance detachment traded their next incoming spare parts requisition for items maintained in the battalionís unauthorized ASL. Yes our operation was unconventional, but we shared all parts with the 2nd Bn 94th Arty, the USMC 8 inchers and guns. We cross-trained our best mechanics with the DS/GS forward detachment in their forward facility and thus our folks frequently repaired the guns of the 2/94th Arty using parts from our unauthorized ASL. We pushed the envelope but made sure no tubes were down because we hoarded or had unauthorized parts.

Our old crusty maintenance warrant and motor sergeant (Chief Tidwell and Sgt. Smallwood) built a maintenance shop that could handle three guns and had maintenance pits. The 8/4th Arty did not lack in repair skills either. The battalion maintenance section was knowledgeable and skilled to refurbish an 8" or 175mm minus the mount and fuel injectors. With two wreckers the Battalion maintenance team could pull and replace a tube and cannon in 15 to 18 minutes which was 30% faster than was the best time of the maintenance detachment whose function was tube/cannon assembly replacement. Even the fuel injectors were not a problem, we had a cooperative/bartering agreement with the Marines and Sea Bees.

I have a picture of the Captain (S4 in 68) who I believe was the greatest barterer I have ever known. I will try to put in writing the stories of him acquiring 2 ea. 100 KW generators, 100s of tons of building materials and other unauthorized but needed equipment, etc. I hope someone based on the picture will provide the name of the person and as the information unfolds may even agree with me that he was most likely the greatest barterer in the 8/4th Arty.

To the Vietnam War period music lovers. I like the idea of songs from the past in fact I have several of the songs you mentioned. As "Private Andrew Malone" my brother bought a corvette while I bought a 66 GTO convertible with factory air, which I just had refurbished. The car looks great. Only a few convertibles in 66 had factory air. The only reason I kept the car all these years is because it was my very first car and my wife loved the old "muscle cars". I am also glad that unlike Andrew Malone in the song my two brothers and I who served concurrently in Vietnam from 68-72 all made it back. One of my brothers was shot down several times and was shipped home, shortly after I returned state side in March 1972. Following, sometime later he was medically discharged with 100% disability. To the music, the Vietnam era music was great and probably pleases us "old horses" if played loud and accompanied by the greats -- Jim Beam, Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels, etc. However, after an hour or so the ladies may object to getting down and reliving our previous lives.

To Ronald Suden of the USMC: Early to mid-69 the USMC in the DMZ received the new 175mm guns to replace the old "Long Toms". In fact the USMC probably had the newest guns in the DMZ. The 8/4th and the 2/94th received new or rebuilt guns as they "shot out the chassis" and/or lost a gun to combat loses. The new USMC 175s and their tough gun crews were one of the reasons that in the first two artillery raids, raids, we were able to shoot over three thousand plus rounds in a matter of days. As to 175mm guns, advancement in the 8" arena and the introduction of MLRS made the 175mm obsolete. The 8" survived longer because it had a reliable nuclear round but computer projections even in the mid 70s made both the 8" and 175mm unsurvivable on the future battlefield. The fact is, we needed systems that could "shoot and scoot" and thus survive dedicated "Warsaw Pact" counterfire. Using the Bradley Vehicle chassis/armament, an on board computer and the now somewhat antiquated GPS -- MLRS became the ideal general support weapon system of the 80s, 90s and for sometime in the future with the aid of numerous new product improvements. In the late 70s (1976-1978) I worked the testing and training issues of the newly emerging MLRS. As is, the 175mm gun, the best at the time has gone the same way as you and I.

I hope you all enjoy the pictures. As to the person in charge of the Photo album please place the pictures and Saint Barbara in the photo album in sequence as stated above or as sent with the attached titles and/or perhaps provide me with some OJT on how to get the job done. Saint Barbara's picture should be the first picture followed by the 9 Rock Pile pictures.

Thanks and best wishes to all for the holidays.

Bela Csendes
HHB & A Btry 8/4th (68,69,70); HHB 2/94th (68)