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The 1/92nd Field Artillery
Association - Vietnam

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On the Ben Het Airstrip

by Chuck Gall

There is one thing I vividly remember of my first trip to Ben Het . . . I was already planning my hasty departure long before I got there. I don't remember the dates of the mission, but I would put it somewhere in the area of late May, early June, 1969. For several weeks we were getting information about Ben Het and none of it was good.


They were getting hit up there, very frequently, very badly. The airstrip would be hit as any plane or chopper approached, with mortar or small caliber artillery. Any time our guns or the 3/6th (I think it was them) would get a fire mission, they would get hit. The incoming was always right on time, and very accurate. A counter-mortar radar unit was sent there, and just like our guns, they needed a survey crew to 'place' their piece. 

Burice Toomey (2me), Vern Mandelkow (Jr.), and I were sent up there to do the job. We took a slick out of Dak To, and were advised to sit on our flak vests. We were also told to be ready to bail out over the airstrip as the pilot had no intention of setting his chopper down. Flying tree top level added a feeling of hauling ass on this trip, and a real sense of urgency.

As promised, we were taking mortar rounds as we grabbed our equipment and 'left' the aircraft. We took shelter in the nearest bunker and the incoming ceased. We met with our contacts and received our instructions. It sounded like it would suck immediately, as we were warned not to venture out in daylight. We had a pretty good MOS up to that point. We had to work in the daylight, so it was off to the airstrip to get started. There were just the three of us, with a tiny amount of equipment that wasn't very big, and we started taking RR rounds. The NVA was watching that place every minute.  A jeep was hit, and burned, but we did eventually get our job done and headed back to the safety of the bunker.

Once we finished there was not much to do. The post was well dug in and sand bagged, so we did not have to do that detail. The only time to venture out during the day was to the mess bunker, and latrine. You did not want to spend much time in the latrine. During the day you could read a paper inside as there were so many shrapnel holes to let in the light. As three lowly Arty Surveyors, we did not have a huge amount of clout for any pilot to fly in and get us out, so we were sort of just sitting back waiting for an opportunity to arise. As luck would have it, we found out about a Captain who was waiting for a ride out to take his R&R. He was surprised to have company, but there was no time to chat, as we left in the same manner as we arrived. Our Chief of Section put the three of us in for some award, but the paperwork was 'lost' somewhere, so our reward was just getting home in one piece.

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