Place: Hill 65, SW of Da Nang, South Vietnam
Time: Summer, 1970
One day in July, word came down that I was to report to Hill 65 for a new position. I was being assigned the job of FDO (Fire Direction Officer) for “Delta” Battery, 2nd Bn. 11th Marines which was on Hill 65. L/Cpl Bloom would not longer be my radio operator so we discussed what he wanted to do for the remaining part of his tour. He had spent his fair share of the time in the field and he now wanted to get into something else. He said he could type and thought he might like to get into Admin. I went to the 1st. Sgt. and asked for his assistance and he agreed to give him a shot in his admin section.
Delta was a very powerful force for the area. It consisted of 6-105MM howitzers; 2-155 howitzers and 4-4.2 mortars. Along with this, there was a platoon of (2) 8” self-propelled howitzers that worked with Delta in offering fire support for the area. Hill 65 was a very important target for the bad guys. Along with this artillery contingency, there was always a company of Marines there. We had a tower with housed a very sophisticated piece of equipment known an IOD (Integrated Observation Device). The Marines were the only troops with this device. It consisted of a very powerful telescopic device, a very large NOD (Night Observation Device) and a laser gun. They were mounted on a tripod set up and synchronized together. The concept was that when you saw a target, you could shoot it with the laser and it would give you the capability to get “fire for effect” data almost instantaneously without having to adjust artillery to get it. It was a very powerful tool that we used all the time.
The FDC was where the data computation was done to create information to be relayed to the gun crews for firing. I got snapped in very quickly with the way things were being done on a “fire support base”. We were completely surrounded by unfriendly places so we were in a “target rich” environment. One of the daily duties that the FDO had was to plan, calculate data and fire daily H & I’s (harassing and interdictory) missions. These are missions that are fired at various times normally at night. Another duty was to be present and oversee the data calculation for every fire mission. The FDO had the responsibility to make the final decision as to how to address the target for each mission. It had been my experience that the FDO normally allowed the FO to make most of those decisions because he was out there where the action was. I had no intention to change that process.
There were some ground rules for the hill that I needed to learn and get accustom to. We had a siren that was sounded when we had a fire mission. During the day, it was used to tell the troops to get to their guns ASAP and get prepared for whatever the mission was. It was different at night. If we sounded the siren after dark, it meant that were to go to 100% alert and you had about 1 minute to get to your assigned position and be prepared to do your assigned task.
There was a village by the name of “Dai Phu” that was immediately outside our wire to the southeast. It seemed to be a friendly village during the day, but it was a different story sometimes at night. One night we were plotting H&I’s in the FDC and we got hit hard with mortars and lob bombs. The FDC got close to a direct hit. I remember watching the dirt fall from the ceiling and looking at the sergeant who was staring at me. We both started to move to the switch for the siren. The sergeant got there first and he threw it. We knew what ever was happening outside was not good. Being that it was dark and we were in a bunker like complex we had no real clue what was happening. The artillery Marines knew to get to their positions and get prepared for whatever might be happening. The howitzers we had offered little when we were under attack. We would point our tubes down and put beehive in case we had to fire it. Everything was happening so very fast. We could hear the machine guns going full bore. Since I could not do too much where I was at, I decide to get out of the bunker in case I could help out being an FO again, if we needed to get fire support from An Hoa or Hill 55.
It was clear that our problem was in the eastern edge of the village. There was at least one enemy machine gun firing right at one of our M-60s. You could see everything quite clearly as a result of the white tracers (bad guys) heading toward the source of the red tracers (good guys). They were not that far apart so we did not have a good comfort level of firing our mortars. It is hard to estimate the time frame because everyone was just concerned for the Marines in the village. There was a lot of radio chatter going on where everyone was trying to figure what we were up against. We just knew it was very close quarters and we felt very uneasy. The next thing I know is that someone said we were going to get some help from a couple gun ships that were in the area. What happened next was very interesting. A gunship turned on a big spotlight and shinned it in the direction of where the white tracers had been coming from. The bad guys started firing at the gunship who immediately shut its’ light off. What I did not know at the time is that the other gunship was hovering above the one with the light and when he saw the tracers, he fired a bunch of rockets on the source of the white tracers. He took the machine gun out immediately with no collateral damage in the village! I learned afterwards that these gunship pilots did things like this from time to time. I guess it was a slow night for them and they may have been a little bored. What I do know is that it was very effective.
Things got quiet just about as fast as they got exciting. The C.O. told us to stand down because the excitement was over for another night. I went back to the FDC and got on the land lines to check with each gun crew and to tell them to secure their positions for the night. As they were reporting in, one crew chief yelled at a member of his crew to stop leaving unfired rounds lying around. The next thing I heard was someone saying, “I didn’t leave any rounds lying around.” I immediately yelled for them to stop moving and wait until I got there. This was a very scary situation that I found. There was a 155WP round lying on the ground that was within 10 feet of our ammo bunker that had over 5,000 HE rounds in it. We had been hit with a lob bomb that never detonated! I told the C.O. about what I had found, but there was no one there that really knew what it meant or what to do. We had no EOD (Explosive Ordinance Detail) personnel available to help us out. I then decide to carefully build a “bunker” around this round until we could get some assistance as to what to do. The next day, EOD came out and disarmed the round. I have often wondered what would have happened had that round went off having 5,000 HE rounds so close. Maybe I would not be telling you about that night! Who knows?