noooo! With only about 11 months to go, meaning I could only do a
max of 10 months overseas duty before my discharge, the Army puts
my name on a levy to report to Vietnam via Ft. Lewis, Washington.
I had settled into Army life nicely and
even considered making the Army my career. I had made rank (E-4 at
this time), been the Outstanding Soldier of DivArty 1st AD and had
a letter of Commendation from the Battery Commander for my FDC performances
in the field (they actually let us fire the dang things). I had learned
the ropes, made the system work to my advantage and managed to scheme
up a few ideas that got me out of guard duy, KP, and going to the
boring motor pool everyday, while still staying out of trouble . .
. then bang, boom, fizz, it was off to the 'nam on a levy.
at home in Minneapolis was a blast and fast, then it was on a plane
to San Francisco where my Dad lived at the time for a three day visit
before I had to be in Ft. Lewis on Thanksgiving Day of '67. Nice of
them to time it that way. Now if you know that period of the war (Nov
'67), all hell was a poppin' in a place called Dak To. It was on the
news and in the papers everyday. If I remember correctly my orders
only said I was going to a place called 52nd Group Arty and/or Pleiku.
No specifics. I was just a warm body with a 13E20 MOS that the Army,
in its infinite wisdom, had some inspecific plan for that would only
unfold itself to me in due time. "No use in telling 'em, you'd just
spook 'em" I think was their theory. But I had a sneakin' feelin'
that if I put two and two together, I'm a replacement, there's this
big battle goin' on . . I was headed for someplace called Dak To.
Where the hell is Dak To?
So, I had Thanksgiving Dinner at my Aunt
Pearl's place in San Rafael, got a ride to the airport from my Dad,
said my goodbyes, and the next thing I know I'm off to the great unknown.
. . Ft. Lewis and beyond . . a hop across the pond. On the second
day we departed Ft. Lewis but that was okay. I didn't like it at Ft.
Lewis, cold, damp, and didn't know no body. But then there's your
unforseeable future to look at. Talk about being between a rock and
a wet place. The repacement system during the Vietnam War kinda sucked
in a few ways. You had a piece of paper in your had that told you
nothing much except that you were going to 'nam, and in your other
hand you had your duffle bag. Just you and a piece of paper doing
the duffle bag drag. Alone in a crowd of others in the same boat.
I named my duffle bag 'Bob,' that way I had a travel companion. The
only problem with that was I went tourist and 'Bob' always went freight.
The only consolation we had was that all the troopers with you were
doing the same thing (I don't think they all named their duffle bags
though) but you didn't know them and they didn't know you. Kind of
hard to make long term friendships when you don't know where you're
going and they don't know either.
plane was a commercial airliner which was chartered by the Military
for my 'grand debut' in the war. Nice of them to do that and we took
off in the a.m. sometime. I was really figuring on in-flight hot meals,
maybe a drink or ten? But all we got were pre-made bag lunches which
contained some fairly untasty sandwiches. The airline crew were nice
to us though and there was the scenery. Bue. It was blue for a long
time. Blue sky, blue ocean and a little white stuff thrown in to keep
it from being completely un-interesting. That went on for hours. If
I remember right it took me 17 hours total to get to 'nam with a stop
over in Japan. We left one day and got there the next but it all took
place from morning to night. That date line thing can really screw
you up. On the way over I arrived within one 24 hr. day, but actually
got there the next day. On the return trip I actually got back to
the states before I left I think, or was it . . I out thunk myself
Ahhhh, Tokyo. Now there's a place. But
I couldn't tell you much about it. Except a Quonset type hut where
we parked the plane had a coke machine in it. I don't know much about
Tokyo. Thats it. Thats what I seen both times. On the way there and
on the way back. Both times at night. Both times the same Quonset
hut, the same coke machine. I have been to Tokyo Japan twice and all
I can tell you is they had an airport with a Quonset hut with a coke
machine. Talk about your world traveler.
Cam Ranh Bay was next. I remember it being
a sprawling, sandy place. No trees. Just inexpensive corrugated metal
roofed structures set up in a grid of roads. Bright! during the day.
All that sand seemed to give it an intensity I wasn't used to just
coming from a cloudy fall in Minnesota, a foggy trip to San Francisco
and a rainy Seattle/Tacoma. But 'Bob' and I were 'in country.' The
next day I do remember that I did found out for sure where me and
'Bob' are going. They tell me that I will be going to 52nd Group Arty
by Pleiku in the Central Highlands. That ain't Dak To. Closer, but
not Dak To. So I'm put on a C-130 with a brand new bunch of guys that
I don't know either, told to sit on the floor and stay sittin'. This
time 'Bob' rides with me. The engines start, the plane starts vibrating,
and we just sat there. Couldn't see out the little windows. Just sat
there for a long time. Then someone dared to looked out the window
and said we were off the ground, waaaay off the ground. I always wondered
if I was the only guy there who didn't even know we took off. I thought
we were still sitting on the runway, vibrating. Next stop, An Khe.
Very short stop. Drop a few off, picked up a few and never shut the
engines down. Now I'm getting wordly. This time I actually knew we
took off. Pleiku Airport. Holy smokes, there's a regular commercial
jet aircraft there. Somehow it seems out of place in a combat zone.
I'm told later that it flys in and out on a regular basis to Japan
I'm on my own again, but its not for long. A driver is sent from Artillery
Hill to pick us up. Yep! its an 'us' now. Me and 'Bob' and there's
another guy going to the same outfit. I can't remember his name though
because after only a few completely useless days at base camp he's
sent to C Battery and I'm on a convoy to B Battery.
I should mention that the Army lost my
finance records. No records, no pay. I don't know for sure, but I
think that HHB lost them. I think thats why, after only a few days,
I ended up in the back of a 2½ T. truck headed away up there
to B Btry in the Dak To Area. My theory, if you can picture this,
is that I was a member of HHB until someone who was maybe getting
short either lost my finance records of found out they were missing.
What to do? They didn't want to deal with it so, send the problem
some where else. The 'if they ain't here, no problem' Theory.
Having said goodbye to 'Bob,' there I
was on a 2½ Ton Truck, open in the back with two other guys headed
north. Up the Central Highlands Super Highway (14?). Headed towards
Kontum, Dak To and eventually my new home with B Battery FDC. If you
seen me then with the other two guys you'd guess right away who the
FNG was. They looked crusty, green fatigues faded, torn and disheveled,
haven't shaved in a week, and just laying there, shirts open and not
even paying attention, or keeping their weapon close at hand. There
I was resplendent in my brand new clean and very, very green fatigues,
my shiney new rifle and like I was taught, in that new fangled two
day Vietnam Combat Training Center in Texas, keeping ever diligent
and on guard for ambushes while on convoy. Maybe they could relax
seeing me there figuring I was doing a good enough job for three men.
At one point along the way, it happened
. . . for the first of too many times. I was shot at! Dang it, and
apparently in anger, and heck I haven't even said anything to piss
anyone off yet. The whine of the round followed with a quick report.
Having been a hunter in the Minnesota forests and cornfields I knew
what a bullet sounds like when it goes over your head especially when
you're hunting on posted land, but thank goodness for my stateside
training which took over immediately. If you were watching you would
have been impressed. The other two guys weren't, but you might have
been. Not only did I chamber a round and pop the safety over to full
automatic, but I had the rifle up and was scanning both sides of the
road for the ambush in a move that defied the laws of gravity and
motion. True John Wayne stuff here. Then nothing . . . except for
the truck dronning on and on . . . not accelerating or slowing down,
just maintaining its monotone drone. I relaxed, secured my weapon,
getting ready to asume my attentive convoy position again and I realized
that the other two guys hadn't even moved. Then I became aware of
four eyeballs . . . two pair, staring back at me in a way that seemed
to say ' where do they get these guys?,' and 'Oh boy! Do we feel safer
with another FNG around.' I settled back down and tried to blend in
which is real hard to do when your fatigues are more of a neon green
instead of olive drab.
We pulled into the Dak To area just about
dusk and I had all I could do to keep up when I heard 'Danielson,
follow me,' I grabbed my gear, jumped out of the truck and half ran
behind 'somebody' who knew my name. I was led to a Huey which was
sitting on the ground and sounding like it was going to be airborn
any second. I followed the command of 'get in' and there I was flying
into the sunset, just me, my stuff, and some shadows I supposed were
aircrew personnel. I was the only passenger. My very own personal
chartered helicopter, wasn't that special. The Army ain't all bad,
just about dark it set down on the B Battery LZ which I quickly learned
was called Satan which, by the way, had a lovely view of Ben Het.
I was whisked away by someone and lead to the
FDC Bunker where I met my new family for the first time. Robert 'Alex'
Alexander was the section chief, Barr
from Vegas (can't recall his first name but he loved those tropical
bars), and then there was Greg Lee from Colorado, Peter 'Max' Smart
from New Hamshire I believe, and Jim Cameron from the Chicago area.
Greg, Max and Jim had all been in country for only about a month before
I got there. Alex and Barr were old hands who I think came over with
the unit. Lt. Allen was the FDC Officer and a Captain Daugerty (spelling?)
was the CO.
I was in my new B Btry home and feeling
a little uncomfortable. I didn't have the heart to tell them that
at the moment I was next to worthless. I was just a warm body with
a 13E20 MOS that had been in Texas shooting Honest John Rockets and
chasing armadillos for about the last year. I didn't know anything
about firing a cannon, let alone a 155mm Howitzer. I sure as hell
wasn't going to top that off by mentioning that I out ranked them
and then compound the insult by dropping the hint that Greg, Jim and
Max would still be there for another month when I was going home.
They were a great bunch of guys who worked
together well as a team and I am proud to have served with them. Me?
I did manage to learn a few things about the 155mm Howitzer and how
to endure playing endless hours of 'Hearts' between fire missions
and moves. Ten months later I teamed back up with 'Bob' and headed
'Alex' Alexander was KIA on 2/16/68
on LZ Hambone. He was manning an OP on top of the FDC Bunker in an
attempt to direct fire on enemy postions while the Battery was taking
incoming mortar and RR rounds. He died shortly after the OP took a
direct hit by a mortar round.
Greg Lee, 'Max' Smart, Jim Cameron and Barr all made it back safely
to the best of my knowledge.
'Bob' is on a shelf in my garage. You could say he is enjoying his