Wednesday, April 8, 2009
I'm not exactly sure when I made my first trip into Khe Sahn. It was sometime in April '68, and I believe it was the second convoy that went into Khe Sahn after the siege had lifted. I had just gotten to C Btry 1/44th Arty and was still in my orientation phase. Being a newbie young 2Lt I had never seen anything like it.It was eerie to look at bomb crater upon bomb crater, torn up jungle,and so on. I couldn't imagine how the North Vietnamese could sustain such a horrific bombing and still keep at it.( I later learned, that at Khe Sahn, the NVA had lost 10,000 men to our approx 275) I remember talking about this and calculating that this war had been going on w/ us and the French for a generation, and the North could keep it up indefinitely just by having more and more children that could grow up and be fed into the hopper. It was almost more than you could wrap your head around.
It was a 99% Marine show in that area, and we Army "Doggies" (Army personnel) provided convoy security for the "Jarheads" (Marines) convoy. I can't remember exactly, but we must have been bringing replacements of people and/or ammo to the Dusters that were perimeter security for for the base. The battery CO, CPT Vince Tedesco, and 1LT Jim Sheffler were the other 2 officers that I remember along for this deal. I was so glad they knew what they were doing because I had been trained as an Artillery forward observer and here I was, orienting to be a platoon leader in a Duster battery. A duster was something that up until a week -ten days before, I never knew existed. It was explained to me that we operated something like tanks only we weren't completely armored as the gun turret was an open area. These things were designed to be anti-aircraft artillery- shooting at planes up in the air rather than close combat. Anti Aircraft ARTILLERY was the key word that got a Field Artillery officer involved with these things. They were used in the Korean War and were so obsolete that we had a hard time getting parts for them. I remember that at one time at least half of my "tracks" , as we called them, were unable to be driven and were used only for perimeter security.
Anyway, back to the convoy story. I was pretty much scared shitless. I knew full well what had been going down around there, and memories of the ferociousness of the Tet Offensive were fresh in my mind. The road was narrow and hemmed in by steep hills that were covered in jungle that could harbor a jillion bad guys just waiting to blow my brains out. At one point a vehicle broke down and stalled the convoy. "Oh My God! we're stopped! We are going to be ambushed for sure now!" Lt Sheffler was up front several hundred yards very confidently giving orders on the radio about how to handle the situation."Thank God I'm still orienting and nobody expects me to know anything. How do they stay so calm? (hyperventilate-hyperventilate) When Sheffler goes home soon I'm going to be in charge. I'm the one who will be on the radio calmly giving out commands like you see heros in the movies doing it. Oh Jesus, help me." Many times I had that same surreal feeling that "This is just like being in a movie, but it is REAL."
There had been plenty of shelling the nite before and somebody's dismembered body part had been found on top of one of our tracks. More surreal stuff to digest. It was interesting to me to see how I adapted to all this. After a while you got, of course, concerned when rockets or mortars were falling around you, but you psychologically dealt with it and went about your business. After a while I got a private chuckle out of listening to the Newbies prattle a million miles an hour as they came down off their adrenaline high after their first time of being under fire. That was me just a month or two ago. It is amazing, and in some cases horrifying, what people can accommodate to.
To read about what happened to Dusters at Khe Sanh just before I got there you may want to check out this account written By Bruce Geiger