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VietnamFrom our compound south of Danang a company is detached for security duty north of Danang at the Esso Plant and bridge. One platoon is south of the river and two north at the Esso Plant. Grunts are on the bridge. I'm a radio operator attached for air control to the company from the battalion radio platoon. 3Bn/27th Marines, 1968, I Corps.
The grunts have the fun. On bridge security you get to fire at everything floating and every hour drop a quarter pound stick of C4 in the river. Not much for us to do. Radio watch. I have 0400 to 0800. Watch is in the command bunker on the company net. We only go up on the air net when we need something. Otherwise we don't have to monitor.

The View:

I don't remember any place as beautiful as that area. As the sun would come up I would wander out of the bunker and watch the hills to the west be lit by the sun. The greens were of every shade. The city was to the south and did not interfere with the view. The bridge spanning the wide river. The ocean to the east. I would stand and watch until noise on the net would call me back into the bunker.

Convoy:

While at the bridge a platoon is occasionally detached for convoy duty from Danang north. I think it was to Phu Bai. Stay overnight and then bring a convoy back. Staging at the north end of city. Vietnamese crowding around the trucks to sell sodas, etc. Run 'em off and they are back in a minute. Sloppy security and only new Lts care.

North from the Esso Plant, up over the Hai Von pass, a long grade. Along the road north, mostly inland. Nothing remarkable, a long straight 10 miles down a valley with a low ridge inland. Called the "Bowling Alley". Occasionally a few mortar rounds. Nothing serious. And then the remarkable part; the road bends out to the coast and we starting passing thorough beachside villages. Busy villages full of people. Not relocated into some slum like the crowds around Danang. Not stooped, broken backed farmers who do more work in a week than I probably will in my life. But, villages that look to live on fishing. Groups of young people move down the roads. Watching us pass. Beautiful girls in white pants, the split top. They break your heart. They don't like us. We come through too fast, too loud. If they stepped in the way I have no doubt we would run them down and keep moving. We don't every stop.

Then out of the villages, heading north. Nothing again until Phu Bai. Nothing to do except look forward to passing through the villages going the other way the next day. I never saw another place that struck me as so untouched by the idea of an ongoing war. These were peoples homes and lifes that did not depend on the Americans, the guys in Saigon, or the ones in Hanoi. They could be killed and the homes destroyed by either side but if we weren't able to preserve the ways of these people then our war was going to be a failure whether we won or lost.

Last Act:

Shortly before we are to return south to our compound. Radio watch about 0600. Listening to the "Bullshit" net on my FM set. Above 75.0 you can find music being played over a taped open handset to listen to. Early internet without the computers. "Chat groups", different music styles, people from the same state talking. It goes from 75.00 to 75.95 by fives. Drives the lifers crazy. But on my watch I am the only one up. The company radio is on the company net so I don't miss anything. Not that anything ever happens on bridge duty.

Then the sound. I should recognize it but I don't. Jet engine? Partly. But something else. Rocket? I have heard a lot of them from our compound south as they pass over headed for the Danang Air Base. We usually sit outside and watch them going over, glad they are not headed for us. But, this doesn't seem to be that either. But I will never be sure. Then the impact. The solid wood and sandbag bunker I am in below ground shakes like an earthquake. Dirt and dust from the ceiling. I hit the floor and wait for the next. Nothing.

Outside there is a cloud over our compound on the other side of the river. I go to work. Emergency medivac. Called in over my net. Don't remember how many wounded. I get the details from the platoon and call them in to the BN HQs. Twelve dead. Something hit just outside the messhall with most everybody inside. Considerable damage. Seems so random. A lucky shot? Later the story is a plane going into Danang probably had a hung bomb and it shook loose on us. Estimated as a 750lb. I still don't know. On the way back to the compound everyones upset. Someone swings a rifle butt at a man on a bike in a sun helmet. The styrofoam helmet takes a terrific dent but the man is not even knocked down. He shakes his fist and yells at the passing trucks.
Note: by Bruce Dillingham


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