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SargeA link to the 87th Cavalry Squadron
"Carry on my wayward son, there'll be peace when you are done, lay your weary head to rest, don't you cry no more!"-The rock group "Kansas"
Artillery: Guns, cannon, howitzers, and other weapons that provide indirect fire support for military units. In military circles the artillery is referred to as "KING OF BATTLE".
This page is dedicated to all those redleg artillerymen and their support soldiers who served in the 1st Battalion, 7th Artillery in Vietnam, of which I have the honor to be one.
This nickname derives from the distinctive unit insignia (DUI) commonly referred to as "unit crest" worn by the men of the 7th Artillery. The blazoning of this crest is as follows. A red square shield divided by a silver band running from the top right corner to the bottom left corner (as the wearer sees it). In the upper division of the shield appears three silver crescent moons, while the lower division holds seven silver crosslets alluding to the numerical designation of the battalion. The primary charge of the shield however is the three large artillery red arrow heads or pheons that rest upon the silver band. It is from these three pheons that the nickname is derived. I have one of these handsome crests of U.S. manufacture in my possession, although I didn't get it while in the unit. In Vietnam the crest was worn as a colored patch on the left shirt pocket (this was before all patches were required to be the black threaded "subdued" type). I also have one of these patches. At one time local Vietnamese craftsmen turned out metal crests which were painted on thin sheet brass rather than enamaled. The soldiers called these "beercan crests" as they were easily bent out of shape. This type of crest is rare now, and highly prized by military collectors. I don't have one of these from the 7th, but I am interested in obtaining one if there are any available. The 1/7th's motto is "Nunquam Fractum" never broken.
Vietnam: Land of the Dragon
On the 23rd of June, 1965, Private First Class Gerold Worster arrived by plane in Saigon, Republic of Vietnam. Not only was Gerold the first soldier from the 1st Infantry Division, known as the "Big Red One", he was also the first member of the 7th Artillery to set foot on Vietnamese soil. Even as he climbed from the plane, his comrades were loading aboard the USNS Gordon for the trip to Vietnam. On 12 July, Charlie Battery of the 1st Battalion, 7th Artillery made landfall at Cam Ranh Bay, part of a taskforce with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. This force was the first tactical US Army unit to be deployed in the Republic of Vietnam directly from the continental United States. It would not be the last.
Orders to "The Nam"
In November of 1968 I was serving as an abulance driver and medic with the 690th Medical Company at Fort Benning, Georgia. I had spent the last eight months performing medical duties with the airborne, ranger, and special forces training committees as well as basic and advanced infantry training commands. I had learned a good deal working with these intense training units. During the time I had been assigned to the 690th I had been promoted twice, private first class and then specialist four. This rank, known as spec 4 for short, was equivalent in pay grade and privileges to a corporal, except a corporal could go to the NCO (non-commissioned officer)club. A specialist was a soldier whose job called for specialization and did not require the soldier to directly supervise subordinate soldiers. Now I received orders posting me to Vietnam. There was just enough time for a thirty day leave during which my wife Carol and I celebrated out first anniversary. I left by plane from Houston, Texas where I left Carol with her folks, and flew to Oakland Army Airbase in Oakland, California. It was there I received my issue of jungle fatiques (combat uniform) and finally flew out of California on January 1st, 1969.
Arrival "In Country"
We arrived in Vietnam amid warnings by the flight crew of our commercial jet to be prepared to run for the bunkers if we received incoming mortar fire. Nervous as the plane landed, I stepped to the doorway in my wrinkled khaki uniform and was smitten. Two things were apparent Vietnam was hot, and it stunk! We made our way across the hot tarmac of the runway, a khaki colored snake of "newbys". We met an equally long olive drab line of veterans who had done their "time in the 'Nam" and were now returning to "the world". They were joyous and unmerciful as we filed silently by. Catcalls erupted as they added insult to injury with cruel jibes at us. I even heard some of they say "You suckers are gonna die, die in the 'Nam!" I never forgot how mean spirited our reception committee was. When it came my turn to leave for home, I made a point to wish every man I passed the best of luck.
Shoulder Patch of the 1st Infantry Division
Unit of Assignment
I found myself in a "repo depot", a replacement depot, where soldiers awaited their assignment orders. I was there with two of the men I had served with in the 690th. One of them with the last name of Cribbs had served with me since basic training. We now shook hands and separated, as he got orders to an infantry battalion and I received orders to the 1st Battalion, 7th Artillery, 1st Infantry Division. I later made contact with the second fella whose name I cannot remember. He told me that a total of seven men formerly of the 690th had come to Vietnam as medics. Out of the seven, four were killed in action, and Cribbs had been medical evacuated to Japan with serious wounds. This man was also later killed in action. Of the seven, I was the only one that left Vietnam unscathed. I arrived at Dian base camp the day I received my orders and checked in with the oldest staff sergeant I've ever seen. He was gray haired and at least in his fifties. I later learned he had been retired and had opted to come back on active duty to serve in Vietnam and perhaps gain a promotion. His tour was nearly up, and no promotion was on the horizon. I don't think he ever got it. Anyway, he issued me my gear, helmet with camoflage cover, flack jacket with its own blood stains, M-16 rifle with clips, canteen and web belt, an aid bag with medical supplies, and a Colt .45 caliber pistol. Hell, I felt like John Wayne. He offered me a Thompson submachine gun, but I turned it down. It was heavy and inaccurate, but it sure looked good. The old sarge told me I'd be going to the brigade jungle school before I reported to my assigned unit. I bunked on a cot that night thinking about the school the next morning. I never went to the school. I was awakened early in the morning to the news that the medic with Alpha Battery had been wounded in an assault on their position. I was needed immediately in the field. I packed up and left that morning, after storing my khakis and other uniform items I wouldn't be needing for a long time to come.
Alpha Battery: Fire Support Base Aachen
Its funny the things you remember. I can't recall the first battery commander's name that I served under. I do recall that he and the executive officer, a 1st lieutenant, were both West Point graduates. They were extremely proud of that fact as they should have been. It did however, make them, especially the lieutenant, a little arrogant. I recall an incident involving him that was both amusing and showed how versatile the lieutenant was. Late one night the battery received a fire mission to support an infantry ambush that was ambushed itself. It was extremely dark and the only light came from red lensed flashlights. The monsoons were in full swing, and rain was pouring down. The lieutenant was strutting around on top of the sand bag parapet that surrounded each gun. Coordinates came down the land line from the fire direction control center (FDC) and were repeated to the gun crew. The "Chief of Smoke", a sergeant first class, was supervising the mission. The guns crashed as the command to fire rang out. At that moment, with rain slicked sandbags and the concussion from the roar of six 105 mm howitzers going off in unison, the lieutenant slipped. He did a perfect 180 degree flip and landed inside the gun position directly on his ass, his helmet plopping into a mud hole beside him. There was the sound of muffled chuckling and then the chief asked the lietenant what he was doing. Shining his flashlight on the wooden ammo boxes beneath the shelter of the parapet the lieutenant replied in a cool voice. "I'm checking the ammo chief."
Other things I recall from this first position I served in is that it was one of the "Thunder" positions, thus named because it was near Vietnam's Highway One "Thunder Road". So called because of the many ambushes the Viet Cong set up along its route. It was also in the Michelin rubber plantation, you know, the French tire manufacturer. It seems weird, but every rubber tree we damaged with our artillery fighting the communists, Uncle Sam paid for. We got into a hot fire mission one day as NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and Viet Cong units brought the large base at Lai Khe (pronounced Lie Kay)under assault. The battalion commander was aloft in his Loch (recon chopper) and was directing suppressing fire from the air. He gave Alpha Battery a "Fire at will" order, and we took him seriously. I was humping projos (projectiles, artillery rounds) as much as any redleg. The battery was firing as fast as it could get the coordinates laid in. The mound of brass shell casings beside each gun continued to grow apace as shell after shell was rammed home, the breech closed, and the order to "fire" called out by the gun chiefs. Rivers of sweat poured from us as we answered the call for help. Somewhere I heard an artilleryman cry out "You yell, we shell, like hell!". I was so busy carrying shells that I failed to notice the gun behind me traverse (change direction). Unknown to me, the howitzer's muzzle was just over my head. As the gun fired, the concussion blew my helmet off, and I staggered beneath the weight of the two 34 pound rounds on my shoulders and the effects of the explosion. I remained erect and delivered the rounds to the gun, but my ears rang for three days! Finally, after half an hour of six guns firing as fast as possible, the order came to cease fire. As we stood trying to catch our breath, a chopper came down and settled in our base, kicking up a large cloud of dust. We cursed the idiot causing this inconvenience and then watched as the battalion commander got out. Our captain seemed excited as he greeted the colonel and they shook hands. I later learned that after the mission the colonel had radioed each battery for a "rounds expended" report. The other two batteries engaged besides us had fired a little over 200 rounds each. Alpha Battery had fired over 700 rounds! Completely depleting our basic load. The colonel had to order us an emergency resupply by air. After admonishing us for shooting up our basic load, the colonel grinned and said "You guys have got to be the fastest gun in the Big Red One. But I'll never give you a fire at will order again." Alpha battery felt justifiably proud, we had responded to the needs of our comrades, and had done it in style!
Shells on Wheels
"High flyin' cowboy this is sparky fence alpha, over." The radio operator in the "exec post" released the key to his mike, awaiting a reply. "Sparky fence alpha, high flyin' cowboy, what d'ya redlegs need down there?" The gunship commander replied. "High flyin' cowboy, we are receiving enemy mike fire, location unknow, azimuth changing, over". "Roger sparky fence alpha, we're on the way." And the modern day cavalry, troopers in high flying steeds of olive drab sporting the crossed cavalry sabres painted yellow upon the nose of their ship, sped to the support of Alpha Battery. For several days now, American positions along "thunder road" had been coming under VC mortar fire, a fire that moved quickly and struck again and again from different positions. Thus far the enemy soldiers had avoided return artillery fire. Now, in the darkness above the treeline, like winged predators searching for a meal, came the air cav. Aerial spotlights stabbed through the darkness searching, searching, and finding. The three gunships making up the hunting pack began a ferris wheel like rotation, one ship following another in a wheel of death as they came to the bottom of the circle releasing a rain of red tracer marked death, followed by the roar and flash of rockets slashing the night. "Sparky fence alpha, we have a target, engaging." The lead ship commander stated. Too late, a slender stitched line of green Chicom (Chinese Communist) tracers arched upward in a weak and futile attempt to engage the aerial sharks. The audacious but weak fire was swiftly answered as the miniguns of the choppers engaged the enemy target, ship after ship sending a lethal rain of lead downward. Each burst appeared to be a continuous line of red tracers, but in truth five rounds bridged the gap between each tracer and its twin further behind. Now the ships paused, hovering, like giant eagles pausing and circling its prey. The searchlights played around the woodline, a shower of white light in the blackness of the rubber trees. "Sparky fence alpha, it was a Lambretta (three wheeled motorized vehicle) outfitted with VC troops and at least one mortar. They are neutralized." He continued, almost as an afterthought. "Roger high flyin' cowboy, copy one VC vehicle with mortar and enemy casualties. Nice shootin' and thanks." The radio operator replied. And as the choppers reformed and flew over Fire Support Base Aachen, the redlegs cheered.
Movin' Into the Wrong Neighborhood
Early in March we were told the 18th Infantry Regiment was moving into position a few klicks (kilometers) north of our position. They were to establish a new base of operations, so they were accompanied by combat engineers. They spent the entire day bulldozing a berm or earthen work around which they cleared away the jungle and began laying concertina (barbed) wire. As they laid the wire, they set up trip flares, a type of warning device, in between the strands of wire. These flares would go off at night if someone attempted to spread the strands apart. They also planted claymore mines, careful to turn the side that read "this side toward enemy" out toward the jungle. We were on standby in case they needed help as they worked feverishly to complete the position and close the wire before the onset of sudden nightfall. They almost made it, but it wouldn't have mattered if they had, for it was later determined that they had built their new base atop a VC regimental headquarters. As the shadows of the rubber trees stretched out to grip them in their dark talons, the enemy rose from the ground like phantoms. The fighting was hand to hand, grenade to grenade, rifle butt to rifle butt. The sound of small arms fire came to us, the quick zipper sound of M-16s, the deeper stutter of AK-47s and the deadly rattle of M-60 machine guns. The "thunk" of enemy mortars and the similar sound of M-79 grenade launchers could be heard, followed by the crash of the exploding round. Calls for help came over the radio waves as we stood by helpless, for the enemy was among or own. The fighting continued for what seemed like hours as we fired illumination rounds to bring light to the thick darkness where men struggled and died. Slowly, slowly, the 18th disengaged and while one gun contined to fire illumination, the other five cranked up high explosive rounds and finally we provided cover fire for the retreating infantry and engineers. We continued firing most of the night, while spooky (C-47 gunship outfitted with the minigun) circled above. But the enemy had done their work, and slipped silently back underground. By the time a major offensive could be launched two days later, the VC regiment had slipped away, melting into the jungle.
Despite the fact I spent a lot of my time performing as an artilleryman, I was, never the less, the battery's medic. One night a blood curdling scream, followed by cries of "Medic, medic" had me scrambling through the gun positions, aid bag in hand. There on the ground a soldier writhed in agony, both hands pressed to the right side of his head. As I arrived he screamed again, kicking wildly around. I yelled at two guys to help me hold him still and pulled his hands away so I could see his head. I had expected to see a chunk of metal in his skull, perhaps a flying fragment from the friendly shells falling around our perimeter. These shells were known as H&I, or harrassment and intelligence. Their purpose was to catch the VC by surprise, if, he was sneaking up on our position. Or I thought perhaps he'd been headshot by a VC sniper. But there was no sign of trauma or blood, in fact I couldn't see a damned thing. "What the hell's wrong with you?" I demanded as he screamed again. "In my ear, buzzing!" He cried. I looked deeper into his ear with my red lensed flashlight and could just make out the ass end of a small beetle. As I watched, he tried to fly deeper into the soldier's ear, his wings beating a furious tattoo inside the ear canal. I'd seen enough, and as the victim let forth another scream I poured hydrogen peroxide from my aid bag into his ear. The bubbling solution took no time at all in sending the beetle floating up and out of the ear. Just then the captain arrived, a little breathless, along with the first sergeant. When I explained the situation, they both left shaking their heads and chuckling. The patient was very appreciative of my medical skills.
Another time I was called to an emergency and found two soldiers lying on the floor of their tent in convulsions. They were moaning and thrashing about, and foaming at the mouth. I was perplexed, I could see one of them possibly having got past army doctors with a case of epilepsy, but not two, and they certainly wouldn't have had fits at the same time. I suspected poisoning of some type. I got the two men restrained on litters and insured they wouldn't swollow their tongues. We quickly got them to the evacuation point and medivac choppers took them away. I searched their tent after they had gone to see if I could find the cause. I found a jiffy pop popcorn package, the kind that came already sealed in its own aluminum covered popper. One of the two had gotten it in a "care" package from home. It was mostly empty. I couldn't understand how they could have been poisoned by popcorn. Then I saw they had been heating the popcorn by burning C-4. C-4 is a plastic explosive and is very effective at blowing things up. But when lighted with a match it burns like a can of Sterno. The problem was that the bottom of the lightweight aluminum popcorn popper had a pin hole in it. The fumes of the C-4 had gathered inside the closed popper and permeated the popcorn. When the two soldiers ate it, it was as if they ate C-4. Both of them were hospitalized, one never to return. The second guy came back, but he was never the same again. I believe the C-4 caused both of them brain damage, one so bad he never came back. I had radioed my suspicions to Divarty HQ (division artillery headquarters) and they passed them on to the docs at the hospital. When we got a report back from them the diagnosis was "C-4 syndrome", no shit.
One of the biggest problems I treated was "artilleryman's thumb". I don't think a week went by that I didn't have to sew up and bandage the thumb of a loader. This individual was charged with slamming the projo into the gun's breech while the gun was in full recoil from the shell just fired. As he slammed the shell home, his buddy would close the breech, the silver polished block of steel sliding past the barrel's opening in a smooth slicing motion. If the loader's thumb was in the way and he was a little slow as the handle was rotated, he got injured. Sometimes the injury was quite deep and it took all my rudimentary surgical skill to sew them up and bandage them. I had morphine available, but I never used it for minor injuries such as half severed thumbs. I did have a captain once that nearly cut his thumb slap off with the extremely sharp boot knife he carried. He'd wanted me to sew him up, but I knew his injury was well out of my league. A call to Divarty HQ brought a warrant officer sewed the captain up, but he botched the job and the captain never could use his thumb again. I felt bad about it, because after it was done I suspected I could have done a better job. Page 2
105 Howitzer in one of the "Thunder" positions.
A link to the87th Cavalry
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The 7th Artillery today.
About the author
We were young once, and soldiers
Fire Support Base Gem
Ever hear of a "phuck you" lizard? Well, they exist in Vietnam! Their mating call sounded exactly as their name indicates. I never saw one up close, but I heard them and I took the infantry guy's word they looked something like an iguana. I heard them plenty at our next position, FSB Gem, located just South of Phuc Vihn, HQ of the 1st Cavalry Divsion.
I visited Phuc Vinh once to pick up supplies and was stopped by an MP at the gate. He turned out to be a fella named David Lemon, an old friend of mine from Perry, Oklahoma. I had enlisted with David and one other fella from the same town and taken basic training with them. We had a good visit and shared a few beers. It was the last time I ever saw him, for he was killed. No, not in Vietnam, but in his bed as he slept in Perry, Oklahoma! Fate can sure be strange at times.
I spent a good deal of my tour at FSB Gem, and alot of things happened there, many of them amusing. One fella we called "The Killer" took care of our pest problem, rats! In Vietnam these hairy mammals often grew to the size of small dogs, much too imposing for a cat to handle. I once saw one that was leaning into a messhall bucket eating garbage. His hind feet were on the ground and he was bent double, easily reaching the treasures at the bottom of the bucket! "The Killer" stalked the exec post at night, with a flashlight and a machete. Deftly he checked the cracks in the walls of the bunker where the ammo boxes filled with dirt met and made perfect tunnels. With a lunge and a squeal he would add another victim to his "body count". Each morning he would have the fruits of his latest harvest laid out for the battery commander to see. The captain always nodded his thanks to "The Killer".
There was a Vietnamese woman who did our laundry. Each day she made the trip from the small village to our South to wash, starch, and iron our uniforms. She had a young daughter who always came to me for the extra soap we got in SP (supplementary) packs. She would say "Docsan, mamsan send me get soap." and I would always oblige. If she or any of her family needed rudimentary medical care I would give it. They were always grateful, especially for aspirin. I can't remember her name if I ever knew it, I just called her babysan. She gave me a Vietnamese "friendship bracelet" as a token.
Other small incidents come to mind such as the Cobra that infested one of our latrines and rose up in the face of a GI as he sat doing his business. He cleared that outhouse fast I can tell you! Then there was the fnewgy (f...new guy) who cooked his rations over C4 and then stomped it out. He lost his rations in the resulting explosion as well as the bottom of his combat boot. Luckily he wasn't injured badly, just knocked unconcious. Or there was the time enemy rockets came in and blew up our shower and water buffalo and nothing else! The commander had requested a replacement for the leaking buffalo that had been denied. He had a hard time convincing the battalion S-4 officer that we really had lost the buffalo in "combat". Another time we had a skirmish with the enemy at night when I just happened to be on tower duty with a starlight scope and an M-60 machine gun. We killed our barber that night. Seems he cut our hair by day and was a VC by night! These things were preliminary to the main event that was to take place at FSB Gem.
Uncle Ho Dies and I Get a Medal
In September of 1969 Ho Chi Minh died, his struggle was over. But the biggest fight in my short military career was about to beginat Fire Support Base Gem. A truce was called at Ho's death, and for the first time since I'd been "in country" I thought I could sleep easy that night. Wrong!
I was awakened around midnight by the sound of incoming mortar rounds. At first I thought it was the guns firing a mission, but the flat "crump" sound to the explosions alerted me to the fact it was something else. A 105mm howitzer has a distinctive "ring" when it sends a round down the tube. I woke up the other two guys in my bunker, one the battery commander's driver and the other a member of the "exec post" or headquarters crew. I told them to lock and load and fire at the first thing that appeared in the doorway of our bunker. The VC were well known to send "sappers", men armed with explosive satchel charges that move about tossing them into bunkers.
Suddenly, just above the sound of the explosions I heard "Doc, Doc, I gotta man at the FDC (fire direction control center) with his arm blown off." It was the battery commander, Captain Madden. In my haste I tossed my .45 on my cot, and grabbed my aidbag. The only thing on my mind was what to do for a severed limb. "Stay low, there's small arms fire and RPGs comin' in." The captain said as I exited the bunker. I glanced to the left in the direction of the FDC and saw numerous explosions in that area. A three quarter ton truck was parked midway between my bunker and the first of the gun emplacements with their sandbag walls. I low crawled to the truck, wearing nothing but pants and helmet, my boots left behind.
I could hear the stutter of AK 47s and the crack of rounds passing close overhead. It reminded me of basic combat training when we had low crawled through strung barbed wire while an M-60 machine gun fired over our heads and quarter sticks of dynamite exploded around us.
Scanning the area ahead of me, I crawled to the first gun emplacment and looked back for the captain but couldn't see him. About that time the truck I had just left exploded as an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) struck it and ignited its fuel. Now I moved quickly through the warren of sand bags stopping behind each position before moving ahead. Laying on the ground and peering around a corner I was suddenly lifted from the ground, my ears ringing as a hand grenade exploded just on the other side of the sandbag wall I was hiding behind. "I've been spotted!" I thought and got to my feet, sprinting the last few yards to the entrance of the FDC. As I arrived I saw him, a small VC soldier dressed in the usual black silk pajamas. He must have used up his last grenade, because he turned and ran. Seeing as how I didn't have a weapon, I was pretty glad he'd decided to do that. I stepped to the black opening of the FDC and yelled "Where's the wounded man?" Receiving no answer I yelled it again. Still no one replied to my question. "Oh God, they're all dead." I thought, and moved into the bunker. The sharp stench of cordite, that telltale smell of a recent explosion, was so strong it burned my throat.
I pulled my red lensed flashlight from my aidbag and immediately saw a casualty at my feet. It was the soldier with the serious arm wound. It wasn't completely severed, and I reached and pulled his arm into my lap. Someone held the flashlight for me as I applied the tourniquet. His blood rose in long ropy strands to splash on my bare chest. I adjusted the tourniquet, made from a medical cravat and a stick.