The 1/92nd Field
Rocket Attack on FSB Kelly
Short Timer "
By Sargeant Steven Ollerton
I liked being awake early in the morning. I liked watching the Earth wake up while I planned the day ahead. I had been in Vietnam for over a year now. I had been section chief on gun 6 since July of 70, and for the past three weeks I had been ammo chief. All I had to do was make it to the end of January, and I was out of the Army. The ammo section ran itself; I was there to make sure none of its members wandered off out of boredom. Mid-December and I still liked sitting out behind the gun 6 section hooch, and watching the sun come up. Watching the sunrise, and dreaming of home.
It was a still and sunny morning. The first of the men were entering the mess hall that stood about fifty meters behind me. Charlie Battery was starting another day. I usually didn't eat a big breakfast. Maybe some cereal or a bowl of oatmeal with some coffee, and I always waited for the rush to get over in the mess hall before I went in to eat. It was one of those mornings where you could see forever, and so I sat at my favorite spot, and looked towards the mountains to the north, towards Kontum.
There had been some trouble close to a Montagnard ville a few nights ago, and I was looking towards that village when I heard a familiar noise. It was the soft "crump" of a 122mm rocket launching in the distance. There are several survival skills that a person needs to learn in Vietnam. One of the first is the sound a rocket makes coming off the launcher. For a 122, you have seven seconds to get hidden before impact. If you don't hear it until its arrival scream, you have a little over a second. Needless to say, it is best to give yourself the most time. This time I did, and was behind some sandbags almost without thinking about it. I yelled "incoming," but I wasn't the only one that had heard the launch. A few seconds later there was a short scream, and an impact just inside the wire at the bottom of the hill about three hundred meters in front of me. Almost immediately there was a second impact a little closer to me, followed by the sound of another launch. The third one hit about half way up the hill in a direct line towards me. I was out of there!
My first instinct was to get to my old gun to fire back, but I was ammo chief now. The guns began a counter-battery fire, so I went around to see if anyone needed any ammo. I had never felt so helpless in Vietnam. There was really nothing I could do, so I went to see if I could spot the launch area, but there were no more rounds fired that I could see. Soon the guns stood down, and people returned to the day's routine. I gathered my section up, and we replenished the gun pits. The adrenaline took about four hours to run its course. I was too short for this stuff.
I would get a months drop on my extension. I would be home two weeks after this incident. Between this day, and my leaving, a Cobra gun ship would be shot down near the hill, and there would be two more rockets fired at us three days before I left. They would land outside the wire, but it was still too close, and the adrenaline would rush through me again. Thirty years later and I still, sometimes, hear that soft "crump" in the distance.
A Day in the Life "
By Sargeant David Powell
After a troubled night's sleep, interrupted by the sound of heavy gunfire, your mind climbs slowly back to consciousness. You lie there with your eyes closed and use all your senses to find out where you are.
Your sense of smell tells you that there is gun powder burning somewhere, mixed with the smell of diesel fuel, of human defecation, of rifle bore cleaner, of food cooking, of dirty sweaty clothes, of dogs and of war.
Your hearing catches sounds of a foreign tongue, of American voices, of dogs barking, of artillery fire. You hear the sounds of someone outside your door saying "Chow in ten minutes, Sergeant Powell." You open your eyes and suddenly realize where you are-six feet underground in the living quarters of an U.S. Artillery unit. You throw back the covers and swing your feet over the side of the bed where they are met with a gentle, wet, lick from a dog's tongue.
You jump out of bed and slip into some clean clothes and a pair of clean boots. You step out of your room into a narrow passageway formed by rough unfinished lumber. You head for the stairs that will take you aboveground. Mans' best friend falls in behind you.
When you throw the topside door open, you are hit with a blinding light from the sun, with the heat and humidity that never penetrates to your room; and, as on every other morning, you wish you had stayed in bed. A feeling in your stomach pushes you to the chow hall. The dog runs ahead to meet his friends who are gathered like a pack of wolves in front of the chow hall.
You join the line of tired, bleary-eyed GIs and you exchange animalistic grunts and groans as a substitute for good morning or hello. Once inside the door, you follow the same steps you take every morning, noon, and night. You pick up your cup, glass, tray, silverware, napkin, and head for the food. The same thing every morning eggs, pancakes, bacon, toast, coffee, and milk. You sit at the same table you always sit at with the same people that were there yesterday and the day before. After exchanging grunts and groans with the people at the table, you discuss what lies ahead for the rest of the day. Before you get two bites of food in your mouth, a deathly silence falls over the chow hall, and then you hear a sound resembling that of a train coming down the track at two hundred miles an hour. You realize there isn't a train within a thousand miles.
Somebody inside the chow hall screams "Incoming" and at the same instant the door bursts open; and someone yells "Fire Mission." Without thinking or feeling but acting on pure instinct, reflexes, and training, you find yourself being thrown toward one of the three exits that are jammed with people, scrambling as if in mass confusion. As you burst through the door, you see people headed in all directions and dogs frantically trying to get out of the way. The trains are still coming down the track.
When you come running into the gun pit, someone yells the azimuth-six, four hundred-at you and you jump onto the trail of the big gun as men wrestle the six-ton monster into place. As soon as the gun is laid on azimuth six, four hundred, you're ready to shoot.
All six guns of the battery are pointed in different directions, and they are all firing on suspect and known enemy locations. They are all firing prearranged data, and as soon as one round is fired, they are given new data; and they fire again. Choking gasps are coming from your lungs, and tears are running from your eyes as the smoke and gasses mixed with the dust from the concussion cause an impenetrable fog inside the gun pit. The dust slowly settles down, on and around everything and everyone. You look at your watch and see that you've been shooting for an hour. A look of relief comes over the R.T.O.'s (radio telephone operator) face as he hangs up the phone and says "End of Mission."
Guns two, four, and six are to stay where they are in case of more rocket attacks; the other three guns are to finish their breakfast. While you wait your turn, you and the others clean the gun and get the only thing you had to do that day out of the way.
In your turn, you go to the chow hall and get yourself another tray of by now cold food. Suddenly you're very tired and not too hungry. You wrap your bacon in the napkin and take it out to your dog that also has been waiting for his breakfast. Head down, arms hanging limp at your side, you go back to the room for some cool, quiet rest.
Back in the room you notice that the bed has been made, the dirty clothes are gone, and so are your dirty boots. The room has been straightened, and you sense the faint aroma of Vietnamese perfume. You lie down on the bed and close your eyes; with the aroma of perfume in the air, you think of home, of girls, and of better days.