Travel Back to Vietnam - May 2001
By Dick Sugg

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I am standing in the middle of the old Camp Carroll. It is now planted with coffee and tea, covering the barren ground we occupied; no clear fields of fire. I have a rusty 12.5mm bullet picked up from the ground there. The NVA who fired it when taking the base from the ARVN in April 1972 are celebrated in a monument close to where I was standing. The one feature that you can recognize easily is Fuller (Dong Ha Mountain) behind me. This is just the first of several photos I will send. Dick
We did not go to Hanoi or anywhere very far north of the old DMZ. We started in Ho Chi Minh City (the official name, but still Saigon to most who live there, even our baggage tags read SGN). These are pictures of a 175 at the War Museum there. After originally calling it the War Crimes Museum, the name has been changed to the War Remnants Museum, but it still contains photos of U.S. and ARVN "atrocities" -- none of NVA or VC atrocities, of course. Except for this museum, it was hard to find reminders of the war that ended in April 1975. When we were there as soldiers, North and South Viet Nam had a total population of about 24 million; it is now 80 million, the vast majority of whom were born after the war. Most of that majority do not remember the war, and don't remember anything before 1986, when the Communist government made a lot of liberalizing changes--much more economic self determination for the people. The first photo shows the U.S serial number of the gun "US Army 12P 412". Does anyone recognize or remember it? I think it was very likely one of the guns we handed over to the ARVN when we were standing down in late October 1971. The second photo has a sign that shows a 175 firing near the DMZ; some, maybe all, of our guns which were turned over were at Camp Carroll, which was overrun in April 1972 just six months after we left there. I have slides from most of the trip, too. I hope to make the 2002 reunion and show them in a then (slides from 71) and now.
The attached photo is looking west from what at one time was the middle of the very large base south of the town of Dong Ha. Within the base perimeter were marines, U.S. artillery, and ARVN units. In August - October 1971 the 8-4 elements were the only U.S. forces left: HHB, Svc Btry, and A Btry's HQ and 4 175's. All of A Btry wasn't there continuously--went on artillery raids and then moved to Camp Carroll to join B Btry. Because Fire Base Mary Ann had been attacked at night a month or so before August of 71, we got visitors from Corps and Corps Arty very concerned about our security, out there all alone. We had a good perimeter defense (the old one) to the northwest, but our position was only a couple hundred meters deep and all we had behind us was some barbed wire and some outposts we manned ourselves. We never were hit by rocket fire at Dong Ha during the last two months there (lots, however, at A2, A4, and Carroll), and to discourage any ground attacks we held a "mad minute" - everyone firing all personal and crew served weapons (except the 175s) and the twin 40s and quad 50s of our supporting duster platoon. The view towards the hills to the west should look familiar to anyone who was there. The old air strip just south of Dong Ha and north of our position on the northwest edge of the old larger perimeter is no longer in use. What used to be the big base has been covered with agricultural plantings as in the photo. Just a few days after we left, the people from Dong Ha came in and cleaned out everything of value to them; even dug out the RR ties that formed thecommand bunker built by the marines and used by us. While the base area was being converted to agriculture, the town grew along Highway 1 and 9 and generally north; it is now the largest town in Quang Tri Province at 80,000 population. It is still mainly poor, as Quang Tri Province is the poorest in the country.
Attached is a photo of what A2 looks like today. This view is from Highway 1 looking back to the south east. The outpost building in the photo is where our observation tower used to be; I couldn't actually go on to that ground and take pictures because it is now a Vietnamese army base. Like all the other places where we were that had been cleared of vegetation to give us good fields of fire and observation, A2 is completely overgrown. Highway 1 did not got through the old DMZ as it does now, but the old bridge across the Ben Hai river that we to used to see through the 20 power binoculars on our Integrated Observation System (IOS) is still there. The huge red Communist flag that we used to see at the other end of the bridge is long gone; I will send a photo of what the flagpole base looks like now. The Ben Hai river flood plain that was no man's land in the DMZ is now completely covered with rice paddies; no one would ever know that had ever been torn up by war. VN is now one of the largest rice exporting countries in the world.

Because they knew that the rules of engagement did not allow us to shoot into the North Viet Nam unless fired on from there, the NVA had their flag and their outpost inside the DMZ just across the Ben Hai. We had another OP at A4; both OPs were used to adjust our fires on registration points in the DMZ on the south side, and also to adjust fires on any targets of opportunity. As a heavy FA unit in a GS and GSR role, we had no FO parties on our TO&E; had to man the OPs out of our hide, although we did have a couple of lieutenants attached to us to fill those jobs. One afternoon when I was at C Btry (Gordon Arabian BC) to pull the lanyard to fire the ceremonial 450,000th 8-4 round in VN, our observers spotted NVA in the southern part of the DMZ; the ceremonial firing became a live fire mission resulting in 14 NVA KIA.

This is what the old Khe Sahn airstrip looks like now; I was about in the center looking at the higher end. I was standing on the edge of the only ground that looked like a bomb crater I saw on this trip. The PSP is long gone, as is every scrap of metal worth salvaging. The whole area is one huge coffee plantation; VN exports coffee as well as rice. There have been many injuries to people, mostly children, in Quang Tri Province blamed on American anti-personnel mines. We did not use or leave behind many mines; most of those injuries are the result of other exploding ordnance that scavengers try to recover and sell.
The first picture is the Ben Hai Monument. This photo shows the flag base in the foreground, and one of the concrete supports for cables that were attached to the pole is between the base and the monument--the Ben Hai is on the right. If the monument is to NVA soldiers killed in and near the DMZ, it is also a monument to the effective shooting of the 8/4th because there was no ground combat north of the Ben Hai. The second picture is the Ben Hai Bridge. This is a photo is of the old bridge near the flagpole looking south across the Ben Hai. Vehicle traffic now uses a new parallel bridge, but pedestrians and bikers still use the old bridge.
This is what the main street of Dong Ha looked like in May of 2001. Even with a population of 80,000 now, it is not nearly as crowded as any street in Saigon. Like the rest of the country, most of the people are on motorbikes rather than bicycles. Note the man in the center of the photo; he has two rear view mirrors sticking out from the sides of his motorbike. In Saigon, everyone folds their mirrors in because the streets are so crowded that they must reduce the widths of the bikes to avoid hitting one another with them. The most people we saw on one motorbike was a family of five.
The first photo is of Firebase Elliot, now completely returned to agriculture; the south slope of the Rockpile is on the right. The second photo is of the Rockpile, also almost completely overgrown with vegetation; very little vegetation was on it when we were there because the marines used the top of it as an OP and cleared the slopes to provide observation and fields of fire. We never could have used Elliot as a firing position if the Rockpile had not been secured from enemy use. Both of these photos were taken from Highway 9, which follows the Cam Lo River west from Dong Ha.
This photo was also taken from Highway 9, looking up at the top of Sarge. It was also bare when we were there, for the same reasons. Weather permitting, the OP up there commanded a great view of the Cam Lo valley; the Khe Sanh airstrip was visible with the naked eye on the horizon to the west.