Remembering The Elephant – Day Two

Wednesday, March 31, 2004
I woke up sometime very early on March 31st. I was still a bit drunk and hung-over but I was feeling too lousy to stay in my sack. Phu Bai was my parent unit, and before I had been sent north I had been stationed there so I still had some stuff stored. I found a clean set of jungle fatigues and went to the shower stalls. It had been some time since I could shower or bathe or even shave for that matter, so I made the most of it. After I finished and dressed I needed something to eat. I don’t believe that I had eaten for a couple of days, and remember how much I appreciated the C ration I scrounged up. Usually C rations were considered something less desirable than eating dirt, but that morning it tasted very good. I even managed to heat up a canteen cup of C ration coffee and I recall that helped settle my headache.

Looking around the base of Phu Bai, to say that there was a growing case of chaos would not do justice to it. Phu Bai was a pretty big place, and there were still quite a few American GI’s there but I don’t think anyone was looking forward to slugging it out with those NVA. The rumor (and it turned out to be true) was that the NVA were running Armor over the DMZ and down Highway One. Soviet T 54 and T 55 tanks, and at that time there was nothing available to stop them. From the DMZ to below Quang Tri the South Viets were in full retreat … or as some called it then, a general route. Everyone was counting on the Air Force to fly some combat missions up there to blunt the NVA Armor but for some reason nothing happened yet. Before being sent up to Camp Alpha 4 I had been assigned to our site in Quang Tri. We were part of a base called 3 Star that was the site of a MAC-V team, 155. MAC-V meant Military Assistance Command, Viet Nam. They were Americans and the site was just off of Highway One, several miles from the city of Quang Tri.

Now I had mentioned that Phu Bai seemed to be in a state of impending chaos. Well it was, and to explain it consider this. You are in a whore house, a big one … that is suddenly engulfed in a Four Alarm fire … just as the Vice cops are raiding it. That was Phu Bai. For some damn reason I decided that I had to get back to Quang Tri. Don’t ask me why, because I couldn’t give you a reason now. On that day however I was determined to get up there. By the way, I was in kind of a funny position then. I didn’t have anyone giving me orders. I was actually my own CO. I had not been re-assigned to Phu Bai, I had come to A 4 from Quang Tri, so for the meantime I was on my own. I found some young lieutenant and told him I was looking for a ride up to Quang Tri. He informed me that our site at 3 Star had been requesting incendiary grenades to destroy the equipment up there, and they had a chopper scheduled to fly up in several hours. I could get a hop then and take the grenades up to them. I said “sure, no problem.”

It was sometime in the afternoon when the chopper that was scheduled to fly up there showed up. I had been issued a wooden case of incendiary grenades and slogged it onto the chopper. I remember that the case was very damned heavy. I noticed something else that suggested the urgency of the moment. The chopper was sporting two Browning .50 caliber machineguns instead of the more common M-60’s. Allow me to explain what this meant. The M-60 machinegun was a .30 caliber gun. The M-60’s had been mounted on helicopters since we went into combat in Viet Nam. It was a powerful .30 caliber gun, but nothing like the .50 caliber. The .50 caliber machinegun was a real beast. It was introduced to the Army back during World War I and it is still in use today. It fires a huge round that chews up anything it hits, and it fires lots of them. Aircraft, vehicles, people, buildings have all fallen before the Browning .50 caliber. The reason that the .50’s were not mounted on helicopters was because they had a terrible recoil and it was feared they could shake a Huey chopper apart. But suddenly here was a chopper that sported TWO of them. I knew for sure knew that the “stuff” had hit the fan.

The pilot took off and there was him, his co-pilot, a crew chief, a gunner and me. He flew up to Quang Tri at tree top level … flat out. He did not want to give the NVA any free gifts at shooting us down. We just lifted off and started north when he gave the crew chief and gunner permission to test their guns. They both fired a couple of bursts from the .50’s and oh brother, did that chopper shake and roll. I was sitting on the grenades clasping my rifle very tight. I was not strapped in and my biggest fear was if someone started shooting and the pilot started taking evasive maneuvers I might fall out. Thank God that didn’t happen. As I looked out the side door of the Huey I could see explosions in the distance that turned out to be our base in Quang Tri. We were just a couple of minutes out from 3 Star when the crew chief motioned me to get ready to jump off. The flew into the chopper landing pad, hovered a few feet off the ground and I jumped in with the grenades. The chopper immediately took off, flying back south.

I lugged the incendiary grenades into our bunker and saw the “Old Man.” (The CO) His name was Wilson and he started to chew my ass for a minute or two because I had come back up to Quang Tri after what happened at A 4. He was happy to get the grenades however, so he told me to find a place to hole up at as we were being shelled. The guys in the commo bunker were rigging everything to blow if it looked like we would be overrun, so I decided they didn’t need me in there and I went out to help provide security for the perimeter. Our biggest concern then was an attack by NVA sappers, guys who would attempt to breach the wire carrying satchel charges filled with high explosives. We didn’t get hit by sappers that night, but they shelled us around the clock. The next day was April 1st, or April Fool’s day. One day before Easter. That would prove to be a very interesting day.

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