A LETTER FROM VIET NAM-September 1966
I hope youll excuse this group letter, but so many of you have written to me (and I appreciate it!) that I cant find the time to answer each one individually.
Let me start from the beginning and tell you about my tour of duty -- Midnight on 14 July I boarded an aircraft at McCord Airforce Base in Washington. With me was a small group of men, about 29 in all, from my unit. We were the units advanced party sent to find and establish a base camp for the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division in Viet Nam. When we boarded the aircraft we had absolutely no idea where we were bound -- but about one hour before landing, the pilot announced that we would soon be landing in Pleiku, Viet Nam, and the landing would be steep and rough. The plane kept its motor running and we jumped off. We found that there were trucks waiting for us (complete with sandbag lined floors and bullet holes ). After a short convoy we found ourselves in the base camp of the 3rd Brigade 25th Division. An officer from 3/25 led us down to a point on their perimeter of defense and told us this was to be our home.
We were cautioned that the tall grass may contain bamboo vipers (a deadly snake) and that this point was the only place where the Viet Cong had ever penetrated their defense. After giving him our many thanks -- the officer left, yelling back over his shoulder that we should each have a foxhole by dark (3 hours away). Well -- we had no shovels, and most had no pup tents because we were told to travel light. We searched some abandoned bunkers and found several rusty shovels -- we started digging, and digging, and digging. When nightfall came, so did the rain, and our foxholes filled up with water. We issued the men ammunition and cautioned them not to shoot unless they were absolutely sure they were shooting at a bad guy. Every time I moved about I purposely sang, whistled, or did anything to let people know I was an American. I sure was afraid of being shot by my own men so I decided to take my chances with the VC. Three days went by and we started getting a few tents by beg, borrow and steal methods. But best of all we were not attacked by the enemy while in our disorganized state. On the evening of the third day it was raining (as usual) when I heard a loud explosion followed by men yelling "Medic!" I ran out of my tent to see smoke rising from an explosion which was only 200 feet from me. I was sure this was a mortar attack. All the men jumped for their foxholes and waited for that second round to land. The medics ran to the spot of the explosion to find a badly wounded soldier who explained that static electricity had detonated three claymore mines which were near him.
About a week later we learned that our permanent base camp would be somewhere south of Pleiku -- we started searching for a good spot. We found an area about 10 km south of Pleiku and moved in. We camped in a very tight little circle so we could defend our position. We would occupy the foxholes at night and venture out with jungle clearing and survey crews by day. Soon we had a stake in the ground for every tent which would be erected when the main body of troops arrived. Still no attack. G-2 reported that the enemy was too quiet, and that we knew he had two divisions only 40 or 50 Km away (across the Cambodian border).
Then one night things started popping. Elements of the 25th Division ran into an estimated 5 regiments to our South East. Two more regiments were reported somewhere to the North West, and G-2 guessed that this was an effort to score a propaganda victory over our small advanced party before our troops arrived. Two brigades of the 1st Cav Division were quickly flown in to reinforce this area and the fighting went on for about 3 days. Then the enemy split up and disappeared. Informers reported that Pleiku would be attacked on 10 August -- the very day our troops were to arrive by air, minus equipment.
I spent a nervous day at the airfield waiting for the troops on the 10th. The last of the men did not arrive until dark, and that 10Km convoy at night was a real spooky thing. The last three Km into the base camp was on foot due to the two foot deep mud. No truck made could get through. So about 0100 hrs on the 11th a wet, muddy, tired bunch of troops closed into their new home and started digging. No attack was made against Pleiku.
The next two weeks were spent getting all the men organized, tents up, latrines dug, kitchens built, etc. We still have a serious problem with the mud. Rations, water, mail, nearly everything must be brought in by chopper. The only trucks that get through are pulled by tanks.
About three days ago we started our first operation. We are taking part in operation Paul Revere with the 25th Division to screen the Cambodian border and prevent infiltration of NVA units. One of our units is in Tuy Hoa helping protect the rice harvest against the VC.
Our base camp gets probed by the enemy regularly now but nothing big. Maybe just a few shots then they run. Our artillery fires harassing fires every night on trails roads etc. which could be used by the enemy. Only two nights ago a camp nearby was being mortared badly. Our counter mortar radar set pinpointed 7 mortar locations and we fired 24 rounds of 105 mm high explosive at three of them simultaneously. Suddenly the mortars were silent! Radar said he could see their rounds going out and ours coming in. When our rounds landed it was all over.
Sleep here is scarce because most of the war is fought at night -- and its too hot to sleep during the day. I am going to finish this up for now and get back to work in my fire direction center bunker. Thanks again for all the mail . I sure have enjoyed every letter.
Gunnar Carlson Jr.
Captain Field Artillery
copyrightę1997, Gunnar Carlson, All Rights Reserved