Place: An Hoa, Vietnam
Time: February, 1970
The unit assignment finally came in after about 3 days at the 1st. Marine Division Headquarters in Da Nang. I was going to join “E” Battery, 2nd Bn. 11th Marines and they were at An Hoa which was about 18 miles SSW of Da Nang in Quang Nam Providence. An Hoa was the base camp for the 5th Marine Regiment.
Transportation to An Hoa was by way of a CH 46 “Sea Knight” helicopter. Going by road was too dangerous. As we flew into An Hoa, I took note of its’ surroundings. It had a small airstrip and a helo-pad. There was a battery of 105 howitzers on the north side of the compound as well as some 175 guns were there. I figured the 105s were where I would be heading. An Hoa was smack dab in the center of “Indian Country”. It reminded me of the quote from Chesty Puller, “We’re surrounded. That simplifies the problem.”
We came in high and fast and then started to circle around and descend. I know we went down a whole lot faster than we went up. There were several of us on the chopper and we all were looking around to see what was happening. Smoke was rising from several places in the near proximity of An Hoa. I soon learned that it was some form of a fire mission going on, whether it is air or artillery, someone was firing at the bad guys. I took a couple pictures so I had something to send home to my wife. There was armed security all around the helo-pad. The situation was real now. No more practicing.
When the chopper landed, everyone one moved fast. No one wasted any time getting off. Just like in Da Nang, when we got off, someone else was getting ready to get on. The difference this time is that everyone was running and carrying weapons. Choppers were fondly known as “mortar magnets” so no one wanted to be around them when they were sitting on the ground. Things were getting more serious. I headed for what I thought was the head of “Shore Party” so I could get directions to where Echo Battery was. My guess was right; it was on the north side of the An Hoa compound and that was where I was headed.
When I got to Echo Battery, I asked directions to where the commanding officer could be found. It was pointed to me that he probably would be in the FDC (Fire Direction Center). The FDC was a very fortified location built out of numerous layers of sandbags. Upon entering the FDC, there were several Marines working on plotting charts. These charts were what were used to calculate data to go to the firing line for the gun crews to use to prepare the howitzers to fire a mission. There was a tall thin Marine there and I went up to him and asked where I could find the C.O… He stated that he was the C.O. and his name was 1st. “Spike” Jones. I introduced myself and indicated that I had orders to join this battery. He said he was expecting me. Wow! My first commanding officer, in a combat role, was a 1st. Lt. just like me. Questions were beginning to form in my mind. Lt. Jones told me to stick around and observe what happens in the FDC.
Later on, Lt. Jones took me around the battery area to get a feel for what combat artillery battery looked like. It was somewhat different than what I remembered from training. The entire area was “make shift” with what was available. The gun pits were surrounded by sandbags. Each gun pit had a small enclosed area for rounds and fuses to be prepared to be fired. There were helmets and flack jackets in a place they could be put on quickly. There was an open area in front of the guns until you got to “triple concertina” wire. Everyone has an assigned fighting position in case of a ground attack. The rest of the battery area was in bad shape, it was a slum.
After the tour, I was told to stay with Lt. Jones as he went in the FDC and preplanned the night’s H & I’s (harassing and introductory) fire missions. Every night the battery fired preplanned targets based upon intelligence; based upon past experience or just plainly the gut feeling as to where the enemy might be according to the FO’s or FDO. The intent was to keep the bad guys off balance. It was hoped that they would interrupt their sleep at night or something other sinister plans they might be trying to do. At “zero-dark-thirty” in the morning, these missions would be fired. What I did learn early on, is the there was a lot of confidence and faith put in the FO. What that person felt was needed was what was usually done. The FO was the eyes and ears of the battery. Each battery had several FO’s depending on the infantry unit being supported. E/2/11 supported the infantry companies of the 3rd Bn., 5th Marines. These companies would be scattered out all over the general area running typical “search and clear” or “search and destroy” operations.
It started getting dark so Lt. Jones took to where I would be bunking for a couple days before I got sent out to the field with my assigned infantry company to start doing my job of FOing. He said “let’s go get some chow.” We headed to what was called the mess tent. I cannot remember what we had in the way of chow, but I am confident it is to my benefit not to remember. The time in the mess tent did not take too long. As we were walking back to the battery area, Lt. Jones asked me if I played bridge. I told him that I did not. He stared at me and said, “You are going to learn.” He told me that they had been short officers for some time now and I made the fourth officer in the battery and they desperately needed a fourth for a game of bridge. I said, “What the heck, teach me.” So, for my first night in my new assignment in a combat zone, I learned to play bridge. The real thought and the real question I wanted answered was, “Why are you short of officers?”