1967, LZ English, near Bong Son, about fifty meters inside the perimeter.
I woke up often at night over there, even after I learned to sleep through outgoing H&I fire. So I had searched for a watch with a generously luminous dial which would let me check the time in the dark. Why is it that when we wake up at night the first thing we want to know is, what time is it?
This time I woke up, as usual wondering what it was that had wakened me this time. It was very quiet, so it wasn't small arms, something guaranteed to bring me awake. There was no incoming; no outgoing, not even insect noise. I looked at my watch: 3:00 a.m. (Approximately, I can't recall exactly.) And since this new watch was the latest self-wind Seiko, I could also read that it was the sixth of the month, and I knew it was June--the watch didn't tell the month--so, this was the anniversary of D-Day.
All this I do remember distinctly going through my mind, and then the next thought was, How come I can read the date? The date isn't luminous! Then I really came awake, lying on a bed made of empty 105 ammo boxes and an air mattress, jerked my head around, and saw, on the other side of a considerable earthern berm which separated our area from the fuel and ammo dumps, a tower of flame that seemed to stretch higher than I could crane my neck to see. It lit up the inside of the GP large tent I was sleeping in like noontime. No damn wonder I could read my watch. The fuel dump was going up; there was one bodacious amount of JP4 in those bladders next door. And across the road from them was the ammo dump, with a week's supply of all classes of ammo, from M-16 fodder to 8-inch howitzer, grenades, flares, aerial rockets --*for the whole 1st Cav*. "Holy Jesus Christ" I also remember thinking, or saying, that.
I bolted out from under the mosquito net, grabbed my pot and .45, and ran to the next tent, where First Sergeant Reyes-Flores and some section chiefs were still asleep. I roused them and we went down the line, waking the troops and telling them to get their pots on, grab their weapons, and get on the outside of the wall. (We had constructed a hurry-up wall around each tent, again using dirt-filled 105 ammo boxes. Ammo boxes and commo wire; how could we have fought the war without them?)
About the third tent I came to, the first pallet load of arty shells cooked off, with a huge flash and the loudest sound I believe I have ever heard. I also heard, an instant later, small thumping and ripping noises as fragments from the blast began to hit the tents.
In the next tent I came to, at least I didn't have to wake anybody up.
But in the very last tent, where the ammo humpers in S-4 bunked, everybody was still asleep! If ever I needed evidence of how hard those guys worked in the daytime, that was it.
Finally everybody was up, armed, steel pot on, and sitting or lying on the side of the ammo-box wall away from the now-steady succession of blasts that was peppering the area with fragments. This meant, of course, that if Charlie decided to do anything to make our life even more interesting, say pop some small arms through the razor wire, we were on the wrong side of the wall. I was the battery CO. How would I deal with that? I never found out, praise be.
We stayed in this posture for several hours while the dumps burned themselves out. I believe I got a fair idea what a World War I artillery barrage was like. I have never been so scared for so long, before or since. But a few of the guys laid down and went back to sleep! I cannot make up my mind if they were so calm by nature or just damn tired.
Most of the explosions were low-order; that is, the shells didn't burst violently enough to fragment the casings as completely as they were designed to. This was a mixed blessing. There were far fewer fragments than there might have been (although I surveyed every tent we owned the next day--LOTS of holes), some of them were big. Every so often after an explosion, some vast thing would go howling overhead and land out in the darkness beyond the perimeter with an audible thump. And every time I heard one like that go, I was pretty sure it was going to land on my head.
Miraculously, when the explosions stopped and I went through the area checking the guys, there were no casualties. But we found half a dozen or so air mattresses that bit the dust, and the antenna mounting of one jeep was smashed, and as I said, all the tents were history.
It was at this point that I earned what I call my clumsy medal. But that is another story, and one I already told anyhow.
We policed up over two hundred pounds of fragments in the battery area the next day, from half-dollar size to several the size of my arm.
1/21 Arty 1st Air Cav Div 1966-67
Note: by Ted Gittinger