The Day We Blew U.S. Senator
Chuck Robb's Mess Hall Down
And How We got to Hill 65
In The First Place
By Alec D. Wade

Hill 65 in 1968

The temperature must have been in the low 80's that night in the old French bunker we used as our Fire Direction Center (FDC) at B Battery on Hill 10 right outside of Da Nang. As near as I can recall it was late May or early June 1968 and about 1:00 AM when I received a phone call from a Marine Colonel. He asked if I could move two guns (175s) to Hill 65 later that day to replace a couple of old worn out Marine "155 long Toms". I remembered the appropriate response to Marine Colonels at the time was "Yes sir" so I answered "Yes sir".

After I got off the phone with the Colonel I asked where in the world Hill 65 was. At first light I informed the Battery Commander what had been requested of us and what I had told the Marine Colonel. He was a good man and full of wisdom and promptly told me to take a platoon of 175s out to Hill 65 and plan to stay about two weeks. It actually turned out to be closer to seven months. He then told me it would probably be a good idea to try and line up some sort of Marine escort since the road out to Hill 65 was only open about two hours a day. It seemed the VC mined it at night and the marine engineers cleared it during the day leaving only about two hours of daylight before the VC mined it again.

There was a marine tank company located around the hill from our Battery in Da Nang. It seemed like the logical thing to do would be to ask whoever was in charge over there to help us out and escort our convoy out to Hill 65. After all we were going out there to fire in support of the marines. The most senior marine I could find around the tank company was a very senior gunnery sergeant. I told him the whole story about the call from the marine colonel and the difficulty in getting out to Hill 65 and that I needed to get the guns out there that same day. He listened with a sympathetic ear and advised me that he would certainly like to help but that his schedule wouldn't permit him to help us get safely out to Hill 65 for at least two weeks. I thanked him for his time, noted a certain lack of activity around the tank company, and hiked back around the hill to the battery area.

By that time in my short military career I had learned the importance of a well funded appeal. I tracked down our first sergeant and asked him what kind of trading stock we had. He directed me to the cook sergeant who in turn supplied me with two cases of beer and one case of steaks. I rustled up a jeep and driver and made my way back to the tank company. After locating the very senior gunnery sergeant I said that I was sorry that his schedule wouldn't permit any help for two weeks since I had two cases of beer and a case of steaks that I now would have to find another use for. He said "two cases of beer and one case of steaks". I replied "two cases of beer and one case of steaks". He said he would check his schedule again. He excused himself and was gone for about five minutes. Upon coming back he advised he had been earlier mistaken about the schedule and asked if three Ontos would do the job. I recalled that the marine Ontos was a small scout vehicle equipped with five 90mm recoilless rifles . They fired high explosive as well as flechette rounds. The gunny sergeant said the three Ontos would be in our battery area in 15 minutes. It was always a pleasure to do business with the Marine Corps.

Our convoy to Hill 65 was uneventful as were our first two weeks there. Our gun positions were surveyed in by a marine survey team and we settled into the routine of occasionally firing for whoever needed our kind of help. It turned out that the marine company that we shared Hill 65 with was commanded, at the time, by Chuck Robb. He was a very capable and well thought of marine captain who had the good fortune to have married one of then President Johnson's daughters.

After we had been on Hill 65 for about two weeks or so we received a contact fire mission 3200 mills out of the direction we usually fired. We got the guns turned around facing back toward Marble Mountain and the coast to the south east of us. It was about 11:30 in the morning. Captain Robb's company mess hut was about 20 to 25 yards from the end of the 175 tubes. It had never been an issue before because we always fired away from the mess hut. Captain Robb was walking leisurely down the hill towards the 175s when the first rounds went off. The rounds went directly over the mess hut. Simultaneously several things happened. Half of the window screens and half of the roof of the mess hut went flying. Marines came rolling out of the mess hut holding their ears and looking as if they had just taken a direct hit. Chuck Robb started running down the hill and yelling at me. Just as he arrived where I was standing the second set of rounds went off. I was standing just to the side of the 175s. The remaining screens flew off the mess hut and the other half of the roof went flying. Several more marines came rolling out of the mess hut in a dazed condition. Captain Robb tried to cover his ears but was too late.

When the dust settled Captain Robb said "Alec, what in the world have you done?" All I could say was "Contact fire mission". He said "What about my mess hall?"

Latter that same day a marine survey team flew in to survey a new position for us way at the end of Hill 65 past the helipad. We spent the rest of our time out there. As a post script Captain Robb got a new well built mess hall. It was always a pleasure to do business with the marines

Alec D. Wade 1Lt. B Battery 1968

NOTE: This story has been published as a feature story in the Spring 2001 issue of "VietNow Magazine."