Vietnam Artillery Stories


Background recording compliments of Sgt James R. Claeys
("29er Charlie") Pleiku-An Khe (1969-70) 6/29 Arty & 2/11 Arty

Did You Hear…
Arty Hill Leaves Light On

The following story appeared in the February 25, 1971 Artillery Review newspaper

SP5 Denneth Osborn
1/92d Arty IO

PLEIKU – Psst. . .Psst, hey, did you know the redlegs on Artillery Hill in Pleiku sleep with their light on? . . .Yeah.

Yeah, those pencil pushers in the offices and the gun bunnies from 1st Battalion, 92d Artillery and 7th Battalion, 15th Artillery claim they feel safer with it on.

No silly. . .not their room lights. I mean that searchlight on top of the hill that has a billion candle power beam. You know, the one with First Lieutenant Michael Carmoli, Sergeant First Class James Bourgeois, Specialist 5 Robert Pierce, Private First Class Steven Newsom and the others.

Bright as Day

Private First Class Ned Evans says that it will light up an area over 20 miles away—and make the area look as bright as day. They helped out some ARVNs two miles away recently. And they sure could embarrass VC sappers (would be sappers that is).

The guards tell me they sure feel better, knowing that if they see something in the wire or hear strange sounds at night, they can just call up and "there she lights."

According to Specialist 4 Bill Botsford and Private First Class Gerald Gustafson, the Light Direction Control (LDC) and the searchlight crew are called upon to do their thing on the average of 10 times a night, but they have done it as many as 20 times. And they help out any of the allied forces that request their services.

Light Is Powerful

Talk about power—Private First Class Calvin Gunter tells me the searchlight can start a bush on fire from a distance of 200 yards.

Those guys sure must read the Bible ‘cause they "let (their) light so shine before the world that men may see your good works.." They kinda have a motto, "We Light ‘Em, You Fight ‘Em;" anyway that’s what Private First Class Don Pierce said.

Oh, almost forgot. Sergeant Dave Godwin says to tell ya that they’re from the 1st Platoon, B Battery (Searchlight), 7th Battalion, 29th Artillery, headquartered in Tuy Hoa.

Searchlight photo 1
Searchlight photo 2

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The following appeared in the Artillery Review newspaper which was published by USARMYF MRII ARTILLERY
August 25, 1971


Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, United States Army Forces, Military Region II, Artillery, will pass into history on 25 August 1971, as part of the continuing U.S. disengagement from Vietnam.   Formerly designated as Headquaters and Headquarters Battery, I Field Force Vietnam Artillery, the Unit arrived in the Republic on December 11, 1965, to control and coordinate the efforts of U.S. Army Artillery units under I Field Force Vietnam, and was responsible for providing artillery fire support throughout Military Region II.

The unit was first activated as Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 420th Field Artillery Group, on 31 May 1944 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.  During the Second World War, it participated in the Western Pacific, Leyte, and Ryukyus campaigns, and was awarded the Phillipine Presidential Unit Citation with a streamer embroidered "17 October 1944 - 4 July 1945".  Shortly after the Japanese surrender, on 8 November 1945, the 420th Group was inactivated on Okinawa, and was allocated to the Army Reserve in Boston, Massachusetts, on 1 November 1946.  It was reorganized and redesignated as XXX Corps Artillery on 10 November 1948, but was again activated on 31 July 1950.

On 30 July 1965, the unit was withdrawn from the Reserves, and was re-allocated to the Regular Army.  It was reactivated as HHB, XXX Corps Artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on 12 August 1965, and after completion of necessary training, departed for Vietnam, arriving at Qui Nhon on 11 December 1965.  Under the command of Brigadier General Charles A. Symroski, the headquarters assumed responsibility for the artillery mission in MR II (then known as II Corps), and was redesignated as Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, I Field Force Vietnam Artillery, on 15 March 1966.

During its period of greatest strength, from 1967 to 1969, the Force Artillery Headquarters controlled three subordinate Artillery Groups, with a total strength of 10 Field Artillery Battalions.   These were the 41st Artillery Group, headquartered at Phu Cat, north of Qui Nhon; the 52nd Artillery Group, at Pleiku in the Central Highlands; and the I Field Force Vietnam Provisional Artillery Group, Dalat.  Force Artillery Headquarters was in Nha Trang, first in the Lawson Building at the 5th Special Forces Area and later in a new, specially constructed building at the Ross Compound.

Because of its General Support role, a large percentage of the Force Artillery's firing battalions were "heavy artillery" units.  There were four of these mixed 8in./175mm battalions; 7th Bn/15th Arty, 6th Bn/14th Arty, 5th Bn/22nd Arty, and 6th Bn/32nd Arty.   There were also two "medium" (155mm) battalions; 1st Bn/92nd Arty, and 6th Bn/84th Arty; and four "light" (105mm) units: 2nd Bn/17th Arty, 7th Bn/13th Arty, 5th Bn/27th Arty, and 3rd Bn/6th Arty.  In addition, IFFV Artillery had the services of the twin-40mm "Dusters" of the 4th Bn/60th Air Defense Artillery, the radars of the 8th (Target Acquisition) Bn/26th Arty, and the searchlights of "b" Battery/29th Arty.

Many United States and allied units have depended upon the fast and accurate fires of Force Artillery units for both direct and general support during almost six years of operations in MRII.   Among these were the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), the 25th Infantry Division, the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), the 4th Infantry Division, the ROK White Horse and Tiger Divisions, Task Force 19, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, ARVN II Corps, and the 22nd and 23rd ARVN Infantry Divisions.  Force Artillery contributed decisively to operations during the Tet 1968 Counter-Offensive, the Siege of Ben Het, the Cambodian Incursion of 1970, the recent battles around Fire Base 6, and numerous other campaigns.

In addition to its direct combat role, IFFV Artillery also pioneered several facets of the "Vietnamization" program, helping the Vietnamese forces train to defend themselves.  This advisory effort, conducted largely at the Battalion level, was composed of three principle programs, each geared to a particular portion of the Vietnamese defense structure.

The Associate Battery Program linked a U.S. firing battery to an ARVN "sister unit".  The American Artillerymen provided training in howitzer drill, Fire Direction Center procedures, and Forward Observer techniques, as well as maintenance instruction.   Where possible, these units exchanged target data and fired in defensive targets for each other.

The Artillery Guidance Program was designed to upgrade the effectiveness of Civilian Irregular Defense Group Camps having organic 105mm howitzers for perimeter defense.  U.S. Artillerymen introduced the CIDG personnel to the indirect-fire capabilities of their weapons, and provided FDC training and equipment so that these capabilities could be used in support of CIDG and ARVN operations.

The Forward Observer Instruction Program gave members of the Regional Forces/Popular Forces (RF/PF), Revolutionary Development Cadre and Peoples Self Defense Forces instruction in forward observer tactics and procedures.  The program's goal was to give each hamlet and village a trained FO who could call in and adjust defensive artillery fires if their area was attacked.

Many of the IFFV Artillery Battalions combined these advisory efforts with their civil affairs work, bringing both their knowledge of artillery and their medical assistance teams to the villages and hamlets in their area.

As Vietnamization of the war proceeded, the battalions of Force Artillery began the long process of standing down.  The first unit withdrawn was the 6th Bn/84th Arty which packed up its gear for deactivation in July of 1969.  In November of that same year, 41st Artillery Group was withdrawn, and its remaining units divided between the two remaining Groups.   Over the past two years, most of the Force Artillery battalions have returned to the States as their Vietnamese counterparts have assumed more and more responsibility for the support role in MRII.  The changing role of the U.S. units was reflected in the redesignation of I Field Force Vietnam as Second Regional Assistance Command on 30 April 1971, and as U.S. Army Forces, Military Region II on 16 May.

With the deactivation of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, U.S. Army Forces, Military Region II, the remaining artillery battalions will be controlled by the Force Artillery commander, Colonel Russell L. Johnson, from an Artillery Forward element in Pleiku.   Although the headquarters is technically undergoing a "space reduction", "Keystone" criteria have been applied to permit return of eligible personnel to CONUS.  Other personnel are being re-assigned within RVN or retained at Artillery Forward.

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The following story appeared in the February 25, 1971 issue of the "Artillery Review", the newspaper of I Field Force Vietnam Artillery

Persuaders Have Busy Support Role

By SP5 Stan Lovelady
2/17th Arty IO

BAN ME THUOT -- "Shoot, Move, Communicate" is the slogan used often in Field Artillery and Bravo and Charlie Batteries of 2d Battalion, 17th Artillery (The Persuaders) turned the words into action recently when they participated in numerous "hip shoots" in the Ban Me Thuot and Dalat areas last month.

On January 16, at a position northwest of Buon Ho, Charlie Battery set up its howitzers in support of the 23d ARVN Division. Receiving reports of Viet Cong activity in the area from an ARVN Regiment, the weapons participated in a fire mission which resulted in Viet Cong casualties.

Nearly a week later, Charlie Battery moved out with four 105mm howitzers to a position Southeast of Ban Me Thuot. Moving with the artillery platoon were one ARVN Scout Platoon, ARVN armored cars and Dusters from 4th Battalion, 60th Artillery. After firing at numerous targets for the day, the platoon headed back for Fire Base Aquarius in Ban Me Thuot.

The following day, Charlie Battery was on the move again, this time to a position Southwest of Ban Me Thuot. Their mission again was in support of the 23d ARVN Division. The Persuaders of B Battery in Dalat moved out on four different support missions between the 24th and 28th of January. Each was a one-day operation which saw B Battery working closely with South Vietnamese units. With the aid of the South Vietnamese, the Persuaders did shoot, move and communicate, with a high degree of accuracy and professionalism.

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Below is "24th STZ Bears Down", a story from the August 1969 TYPHOON magazine.

24th STZ Bears Down

The terrain in Dak To and Kontum Districts in northwestern II Corps is rugged. Heavily laced with mountains and dense foliage, this area has seen some bitter battles. Now the area belongs largely to troops of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam's 24th Special Tactical Zone.

The 24th STZ is both an operational area and a command, with headquarters in Kontum City. As an operational area it comprises more than 1,000 square miles in Pleiku and Kontum provinces, where the U.S. 4th Infantry Division still operates in specified areas. As a command it exercises operational control over all ARVN forces in the area from a tactical command post at Dak To.

The mission of the 24th STZ is to defeat the enemy within the STZ and to stop communist infiltration across the western borders. To get the job done, Colonel Nguyen Ba Lien, commander of the 24th STZ, normally has (in addition to the organic 42d Regiment and intelligence platoons) operational control of the ARVN 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, elements of two ARVN artillery battalions, and three scout companies. Last spring, with increased enemy presence in the highlands, Colonel Lien assumed operational control of additional forces.

ARVN and U.S. units have dealt the enemy some significant defeats in the two highland provinces. More than 7,100 communists died in major battles at Plei Me, Dak To, and the Ia Drang Valley in 1967. Another 1,500 were killed during the 1968 Communists TET offensive. Operations Binh Tay 48, 49, and 50 in early 1969 accounted for another 400 enemy dead. Early in 1969 the enemy attempted to bring tanks and heavy artillery into the zone with little success.

One key to the success of the 24th STZ has been the improvement in the capabilities of the 42d ARVN Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Dinh The Thoai. An example is its record in the rugged Chi Ro Bu mountains east of Highway 14, which runs from Pleiku to Kontum. The enemy, well dug in, had been a constant threat to the security of that important supply route. In a 75-day period from August to October, 1968, elements of the 42d, with U.S. support, decimated an NVA battalion. The award of the Presidential Unit Citation has been approved for the 42d.

In 1968, forces of the 24th STZ killed more than 4,600 enemy soldiers and captured 1,430 individual and 174 crew-served weapons. Friendly forces suffered 471 killed, giving the 24th STZ troops a kill ratio of almost 10 to 1. In the Dan Quyen series of operations in the Dak To-Ben Het area, 1,564 enemy were killed between May 6 and June 24, 1969.

175 firing

Firing in support of an Army of the Republic
of Vietnam ground operation, Dan Quyen 38A,
a 175mm gun of First Field Force Artillery
blasts the enemy near Dak To

Soldiers of the 24th STZ this year have earned more than 250 Vietnamese valor awards and 20 U.S. valor awards. Both Colonel Lien and Lieutenant Colonel Bui Dac Tai, his deputy, recently were awarded U.S. Silver Stars.

"The 24th STZ is a potent fighting force in its own right," reports Colonel Alexander Weyand, former senior American advisor to the 24th. "With U.S. helicopter, artillery, and tactical air support, it has proven itself to be superior to every NVA unit it has come up against."

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Below is "The BIG Guns", a story from the Spring 1969 issue of "UpTight" magazine; published by the United States Army, Vietnam


By MAJ David L. Stanley
UpTight Editor-in-Chief

Photos by MAJ Donald Blake
USARV-IO Photo Chief

You know the blasted thing is going to go off.   You know when.  In spite of that, when it does, you bounce.  So does the earth around you.  CAR...RUMP!  The sound pierces from ear to ear!

Another 174 to 200 pounds of high explosive is on the way to disrupt Charlie's day... or night.  The dust settles for 20 yards around the 175mm gun -- or an 8-inch howitzer -- and the gunbunnies hustle up the next round for firing.

For sheer, brute firepower, there's no weapon quite like the Army's 175mm guns or 8-inch howitzers.  Firing their biggest charge -- three bags of powder standing nearly as tall as a man -- the gunner will yank the lanyard from 50 feet away from the weapon.  Explained Captain Jesse Marsano, "The 175 has the range, but for accuracy, the 8-incher is the greatest.  We don't know why its so good, but it will put round after round into practically the same hole if need be."  Veteran artillerymen are also at a loss to explain why the weapon should be so accurate.



8inchSch.gif (30551 bytes)

Photo credit:
15th webmaster

8-inch Howitzer of B Battery, 7th Bn/15th FA in full recoil at RSB Schueller, 1971

The lean, intense captain, a veteran of 26 months in Vietnam, commands Battery C, 7th Battalion, 8th Artillery.  "It is so good," he continued, "that in one case when we had to help out some friendlies that were about to be overrun by the Viet Cong, we were able to fire within 40 yards of the defensive bunkers in which the allies were protected.  Charlie never got to the bunkers."

The battery of the "Automatic Eighth" is just one of several composite gun units, able in a matter of a couple hours to convert from an all 175mm configuration to all 8 inch howitzers -- or any combination in between.

"This helps us confuse Charlie," Captain Marsano explained.  "We're pretty mobile -- in fact we were traveling 80 miles a day for a while.  But we might travel with our self-propelled units configured as 8 inchers.  Charlie knows the range to the millimeter, so he may stay just out of our 8 inch range.  But we change to 175mm tubes after arriving at our destination.  Then we can hit him easily when he least expects."

The big guns have been slugging it out with North Vietnamese artillery and Viet Cong rockets for some time.  The guns move often, when they need to.  Charlie battery has been moved from the Delta to Bear Cat to Bien Hoa within a matter of weeks.  Other units, such as Charlie battery, 5th Battalion, 22nd Artillery, moved from Dak To to Kontum to a firebase near the Cambodian border in a few months.

Corporal Roy Melton, a crew chief in Captain Marsano's outfit, typified the pride in his unit.  "We can get our gun ready to fire in well under a minute, once we know there's a mission.  But because of firing restrictions, we might not be able to go as soon as we're ready."

Those restrictions?  A friendly "spooky" gunship flying in an area which may be hazardous if the guns spoke.   Safety restrictions, to see that friendly forces are clear of an area in which the big gun's shells will impact.

"The key word is safety," says Captain Marsano.  "This outfit has fired 55,000 rounds without an incident, and it is simply because we adhere to strict safety standards."

Information from the Fire Direction Center to the guns is provided by one set of personnel, repeated back by others, thus insuring coordinates are clearly understood, and that no one man makes an error.  Even the FADAC -- the computer that provides fantastically accurate firing data -- is double checked, as men manually plot firing missions.

"Every little thing has a bearing on safety.   Ear plugs are nice, for example," said the battery commander.  "But our gunners don't wear them when working on the guns.  The plugs are a hazard to hearing vital instructions.  When the gun is going to fire the gunbunnies cover their ears instead."
Gunbunnies are cannoneers.

There's a lot of talk between gun crews about who's doing the better work... so much, that in many gun units the competition is played down.  Such is the case in Charlie battery.

"Sure competition is good, but it might not be safe, and therein is the problem," Captain Marsano explained.  "That little extra effort to get more speed might make that numeral 7 into a 9 -- and that spells wrong target.  Or short cuts in preparing powder charges can cause problems.   So safety is our big 'thing'."

The gunners look at it another way too.

"We're part of a team, and we can work together till we're doin' it just right," said one of Corporal Melton's crew.   "The worst thing that can happen is one of us being moved to another battery of smaller guns, but its just about as bad to have to switch gun crews or platoons.   But working with the guys you know helps you realize the need for doing things right."
Its just another way of being safe.

And so, the big guns speak out regularly -- on intelligence firing missions, or on time-on-target firings.  But when they speak, it is with authority: CAR... RUMP!

"Shot!" hollers the gunner.  The hustle to put out the next round begins.

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The following story, "Foxtrot Oscar", appeared in the December 1969 TYPHOON magazine.

Artillery  FO
Foxtrot Oscar

By PVT Gerhard Bartmann

The battle begins in the jungle, the thickly-canopied mountains where instinct and cunning provide keys to survival. The enemy thrives here. All others trespass.

American infantrymen lumber through in search of the foe. When the enemy is detected, one man's voice relays their location to an artillery firebase. Immediately, the artillerymen behind the tubes of the large guns on the hill miles from the enemy receive the order of "Fire mission!".

Within minutes, the battle ends in the jungle. The shrapnel, blast and shock of a heavy round kills or scatters the enemy.

The successful outcome of battles as violent and real as this hinges on the knowledge, initiative, and finesse of the Forward Observer (FO) on patrol with the infantry. The artillery FO, wheter accompanying a squad, platoon, or company must know where both he and the enemy are to correctly direct the artillerymen to the enemy. In battle, where life and death could be manipulated by seconds, he must coordinate rapidly and accurately. In emergencies, he must be able to function in place of a dead or wounded infantrymen--from the commander to an M16-toting young private. As one company commander indicated: "On patrol, Foxtrot Oscar (FO) is just one more man. But once we make contact with Charlie, he's a mighty valuable man to have around."

The platoon of weary soldiers from the lst Battalion, 50th Mechanized Infantry, slipped cautiously along a narrow trail winding parallel with a plummeting mountain creek. Stoic faces instinctively pivoted left and right for signs of the enemy.

Days of plodding through the prickly undergrowth, scouting ravines, straining up mountains, and watching mud-caked boots pounding out the rhythm of marching time showed: sweat-flushed faces, scratched hands, and torn fatigue pants. Ahead loomed yet another steep hill. As the recon platoon neared a bend in the trail, the first shot screamed through the trees. A second later a barrage of bullets ricocheted around the infantrymen who had walked into a VC ambush. Instinctively the men of the platoon retaliated with an unrelenting volley of M60 and M16 fire. While the platoon fought back, the "Foxtrot Oscar," a young San Franciscan from the 5th Battalion, 27th Artillery, yanked a wrinkled contour map from his pocket. The FO, First Lieutenant John G. Frank, studied it for an instant, glanced at the hillside and the flash of the enemy weapons, surmised their location, and plucked the radio receiver from his RTO's hand.

"Hotel Top, Hotel Top, this is Echo Palace," droned Lieutenant Frank into the receiver. "We're receiving fire from Charlie. Plot grid four-three niner five. Bring it down in intervals and fast. How's your copy?"  When a voice in the Fire Direction Center (FDC) of an artillery firebase several hilltops away acknowledged and repeated the coordinates, 23-year-old Lieutenant Frank responded "Roger transmission," dropped the receiver, and began firing his rifle at the enemy several hundred yards away.

Suddenly an eerie "WWHHOOOEEE" whistled through the air. A flash and convulsive earth shudder followed immediately. Pausing briefly to watch the dust cloud settle, the infantrymen resumed firing as now only sporadic shots from the slope whirred past them. Seconds later another blast shook the ground, and then another. The firing stopped as the platoon began maneuvering up the hill after a fifth round silenced the enemy. Lieutenant Frank again picked up the radio receiver and relayed the message: "Nice job. We're on our way up to see what's left. Thanks again. Foxtrot Oscar, out!"

Lieutenant John Frank, Charlie Company, 1/50th Infantry Forward Observer, is one of hundreds of Foxtrot Oscars operating with American, ARVN, Mobile Strike Force, and Regional-Popular Force ground units throughout the Republic of Vietnam. Neither representative nor non-representative of other FO s, Lieutenant Frank summed up his role in providing infantrymen with. artillery support: "My job, the job of any FO is to communicate with the commander in the field. I can suggest something that I think might work. But it's his option to take or leave what I recommend. More often than not he listens. The main thing though, he supplied as an afterthought, "is to keep the guy in the field alive. That's what we think of when they need support fast. Stay alive."

Short, dark-haired, and wearing an almost constant smile, Lieutenant Frank commented that "The FO's job, according to some people, is supposed to be a breeze. They think that we've got it easier than others. They don't realize that we've got to hump as much gear and walk as far as the guys we're with." Formerly a Shakespearean actor and singer in New York and San Francisco, Lieutenant Frank continued: "Other people can screw up out there, but if we ever make a mistake, not only our own lives, but the lives of dozens of guys we're out there with could be lost."

To prepare an FO for tackling the responsibility and knowledge of his mission in Vietnam, candidates for an FO's credentials must first pass a two-week Fire Direction Officer and Forward Observer school located in An Khe. FO candidates review old knowledge, build from it, and develop finesse in the tightly scheduled classes. The test ending the course consists of field simulated maneuvers in which the trainees pinpoint targets and locations and finally call in artillery.

The final test, the first real test, however, occurs perhaps a week, several weeks or even months later, when, in the grip of combat, an FO calls in his first round. . .

The 21-year-old PFC crouched between several Spec-4s sergeants. Opposite him in the crowded chopper, sat the platoon leader. The chopper flying inland from Phan Thiet was in the middle of a three slick formation. A platoon from Alpha Company, 1/50th, were to search an area where a helicopter had crashed and return with the survivors. The mid-afternoon sun, brilliant and unrelenting, shone on the PFC's face. Private First Class Doug Osborne, Norfolk, Neb., Alpha Company's newest FO, felt queezy but appeared calm. He had only been with the company for two weeks, had been on patrol before, but had not yet called in artillery.

The choppers landed one by one in a small clearing at the edge of a succession of hills. As the last of the platoon made their way from the clearing into the thickly vegetated forest, PFC Osborne studied his map and pulled out a compass. Not only did the platoon leader rely on him for a double check on their position, Osborne wanted to know where he was heading.

After an hour's march through the jungle in the sweltering heat, the platoon reached the site of the crash. All the crew and the passengers were shaken, some injured, but alive.

The pilot had made an emergency landing in a small clearing when his engines faltered. While the platoon's medic treated the wounded and prepared litters, a small squad conducted a cursory reconnaissance sweep of the crash site vicinity. Osborne and his RTO accompanied the patrol. They fought through heavy foliage for 15 minutes until one man sighted a platoon of pithhelmeted and sandaled enemy.

PFC Osborne confidently radioed an artillery battery atop a hill miles away, and, within minutes after clearance was granted, the shattering reverberations of the rounds -- direct on target -- shook through the forest. Several hours later, when the 1/50th platoon returned with the downed helicopter crew and the tension of awaiting his first fire mission order passed, Osborne, in his calm, sonorous voice recalled his feelings. "At first I was scared as hell, but once you get used to the responsibility and the fear-- well you can't let it bother you anymore. Too many guys depend on you for help. You just have to shove apprehension away and do the job."

Because of the shortage of trained officers, forward observers, normally requiring an officer's authority, must be recruited from among enlisted men. Volunteers such as Osborne, while remaining enlisted men, work like their officer counterparts charged with the same responsibilities. They become FOs for varied reasons.

"I guess the reason I volunteered to go to FO school," explained Osborne, "is because they promised me rank. Well, no that's not all of it. I heard that they needed somebody because there weren't enough FOs. I was cooped up in some FDC bunker in the rear, and frankly I wanted to get out for a while. So I thought, why not? And I don't regret that decision . . . "

Harboring the dream of becoming a professional baseball player, Osborne exudes the leadership quality and attitude in both combat or the frivolity of volleyball. As one commander put it: "We've had three lieutenant FOs and now Doug. I'd be hard-pressed rating them. Osborne's got the attitude that will make him succeed in anything he does."

During rests from patrols, forward observers are too busy preparing for the next operation to unwind. Before a sweep, patrol, or reconnaissance operation in which artillery support would be available, myriad details confront the FO: establish frequencies for communication, determine clearance necessary in the area of operations, find out about the range of artillery support, and study maps.

Responsibility is meted out to those willing to accept it and who demonstrate a capacity to cope successfully with it. In the pendulum of battle, Foxtrot Oscar, whether he is a young PFC or a lieutenant with a college degree, bears the responsibility of the foe's death and the friend's life.

Battles begin in the jungle. By helping to assure that battles end in the jungle, the artillery FO

provides the trespasser with a way home and allows the jungle to keep the foe.

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The following story appeared in the August 1969 TYPHOON

Firebase 6
Fighting the War From a Hill

  The snap of a twig 10 meters from the barbed-wire perimeter was the only warning. The ears of one of the Mobile Strike Force Montagnards on guard perked at the sound of movement a few feet away. In the evening drizzle atop Firebase 6 in the Central Highlands the men of Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion of First Field Force's 92nd Artillery were asleep, their guns quiet. The mist-enshrouded hill is usually tranquil at night, unless a late-evening fire mission shatters that silence with a thunderous volley of rounds from steaming gun tubes.

  But within seconds after the accidental warning reached the guard's ears, the calm of the night air erupted with noise as the first of several satchel charges landed inside the perimeter and exploded. Roused from their sleep, the artillerymen scrambled from sand-bagged bunkers to their 155mm howitzers through a barrage of small arms fire. Setting the howitzers at nearly maximum elevation to drop the rounds on the hillside just beyond the perimeter, the artillerymen began firing. While the Montagnards manned the perimeter bunkers, holding off the VC sapper squad's attack, the Americans on the hill fired round after round at the enemy. One young soldier from the Mobile Strike Force blazed at the enemy with an M-60 machinegun which he fired from his hip while another young defender provided him with ammo. "He didn't look like he was over 12 years old," said Sergeant Terry Klingel, Edwardsville, IL, a section chief of one gun crew. "He was determined not to let anyone in past his position."

  Before the night was over, the enemy retreated leaving 36 bodies in the nearby bushes or tangled in the barbed wire.

  This attack preceded a series of rocket and mortar shellings at the American artillery base in the following weeks. But ground probes and shellings also failed to decrease the firepower Bravo Battery pours daily into the surrounding area.

  These attacks have made the men on the hill aware of their significance: that they are a damaging barrier to the enemy's attempts to control the countryside. They know the fear and tension that accompanies their role in helping to secure the area around them.

  Firebase 6, sitting on a ridge with a view of Dak To to the east and Ben Het to the west, has become a prime artillery and air strike coordination center for South Vietnamese forces operating in this northwestern corner of II Corps. The hilltop has been the site of an artillery firebase for a year, initially supporting the 4th Infantry Division soldiers who were blocking the movement of NVA regulars from Cambodian and Laotian sanctuaries just across the borders. Bravo Battery moved to the hill in January to support the ARVN forces now operating in this area.

  Despite the change of the troops around it, Bravo Battery remains essentially static. Only the variations in meals, locations of bunkers and the directions the men point their howitzers on fire missions break the routine.

  "When we're lucky," said Corporal Anthony Peccaris, Philadelphia, "something different happens that helps us take our minds off the time. When we first got here we got invaded by rats -- I mean big ones. We had to medevac a couple guys to Pleiku to get some shots. The rats bit them while they slept. Another time, the whole sky became black with a swarm of flying bugs. They didn't bother us. They were just something different to think about other than the rounds we lug or the bunkers we live in."

  The work day for Firebase 6 artillerymen is not confined to a single day or night shift. One tired soldier, who was up most of the night, said, "If we get six hours of sleep a night, some of us feel like having a party to celebrate. Sometimes we get as little as two to four hours a night -- if we're lucky."

  In the mornings, with several of the crews still manning guns after all-night fire missions, one man from each gun crew walks to the mess hall, with its wooden walls and loose canvas ceiling that flaps in the wind. One of the cooks, a blond- and curly-haired young soldier, serves coffee, while another prepares the French toast and bacon and eggs. The man from the gun crew brings the other members of his section the coffee first. While the crew gulps the warm coffee, the crooked line that winds around the mess hall lengthens as men who managed to get a full night's sleep crawl out of cramped bunkers and trudge toward chow.

  The men of the gun section view chow time as something other than a rest period. "Most of us hate it when chow comes around," said Private First Class William Gilkinson, New York. "We get to relaxing a bit, all set to enjoy the food, when we always get a fire mission. It seldom fails. It's almost like a game with us now." Lighthearted wagering on whether an interruption will come usually accompanies the best of meals.

  After breakfast, if there is no fire mission for a particular gun section, the men begin cleaning up or rebuilding bunkers. While most of the men are busy policing the hill, burning used powder bags or cleaning their howitzers, one soldier sets up a barber shop next to one of the underground bunkers and a line of artillerymen needing haircuts quickly forms.

  During spare moments or breaks from work, the men sit around their guns and talk about what they see. "You try to find something to see, something different," one man said, "but all you can see are the same bomb craters down in the valley. You look at the bunkers: you take time out every time a resupply 'slick' comes in, hoping you will get mail or something you need. You look at the Montagnards along our perimeter, and all they ever seem to be doing is washing clothes or fixing a meal. It's always the same. You really get the feeling after a while that this is your home."

  While a serious mood prevails during a fire mission, levity and joking continue during meals, mail call, and the evenings when the men return to their crowded bunkers. They concoct mixtures of cool-ade and lemondade, mixed with luke-warm water -- "It tastes good, it really does." -- and talk about the letter from Mary or R&R they went on last month.

  The 155mm howitzers which fire all hours rattle the men's thoughts. "You can't prepare yourself or brace yourself for the firing. It seems one of the six guns on this hill is always firing; or if there is a lapse sometime, the blast of the guns will pop up at the darndest times," said Private First Class Nick Garcia, a native Californian, resting at night in his hootch. Ten seconds later a loud bomb-blast stirred him into a discourse of four-letter words.

Adjusting the deflection

With the words "fire mission" still in
the air an artilleryman adjusts the
deflection of his 155mm howitzer

  "It's unrelenting, but after a while on the hill, you get used to the shock and the dust that always falls on you from the sides of the bunker when you're sleeping," shrugged another soldier, brushing a coat of dust from his face. "It's getting to be a part of the game, it's routine," he continued, trying to laugh it off.

  "The thing is," added First Lieutenant Michael S. Walters, Westover A.F.B., Mass., "We know we haven't got it as bad as those ARVN's down there. The men feel they're really helping. One time we got word back up here from an ARVN commander who personally thanked us for saving his troops from an ambush. We gave them support when they needed it. It helps a lot knowing that what you're doing is helping to win this war."

  After lunch, the pace slows a bit as the sun drinks perspiration from deeply tanned backs. The sweat runs down in streams, drenching fatigue pants. "It's cool," one man bluffed.

  Some days, when there is no fire mission to prepare for, the artillerymen take front row seats for the B-52 bombing raids in the valleys and forests below. Though the bombs fall miles away, the hill shakes with the tremors of their impact. "It feels like an earthquake," one man said. "Yeah, or like some weird carnival ride," said another.

  When the dust finally drifts away with the wind, the conversation turns to how bad it must be down there when the bombs are falling. Then the ominous odor of "Fire Mission" stirs the watching men into action. They turn their howitzers in the right direction, load 100-pound rounds into the tube and "fire.... fire.... fire..."

  Almost daily there are the F-4 or F-100 air raids, mincing up even more of what has been bombed and kneaded by the artillery and B-52 air strikes. The artillerymen pause to watch the jets streak overhead, cavorting in the sky like a couple of kittens, playing their deadly game of diving, bombing and strafing.

  But for the men of Firebase 6, there are always more shells to carry and load, more loud noises and sleepless nights to endure. PFC Tom Neale, Detroit, Mich., said, "What I'd like to do is take one of these 'Joes' (projectiles) home with me in my hold baggage, put it over my mantel and just sneer at it all day. I must have carried thousands of them already."

  Some of the shortimers still recall names of former firebases such as Swinger and Impossible where Bravo Battery once supported allied operations. But for now, and until some new guys take their places, this vital little hill will be their home. And, as PFC Neale said, "You know, I wouldn't trade my place on this hill. I'd rather be up here than down in Dak To or Pleiku. Up here you see what you're doing; you feel proud of helping the ARVN's fight this war. Most of the guys feel the same way."

See: E. Ray Austin photo of Firebase 6

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The following story is from the Summer 1969 issue of UPTIGHT

Unique Force Guards
Southern II Corps

  "This is Blackhawk," said the voice from the chopper overhead. "Just keep cool for a few more minutes and we'll have some Redleg in there quick." Then, glancing at the artillery liaison officer beside him, the battalion commander added, "Let's see if we can give them a real Excedrin headache!  Out."

  Over the chopper's intercom system came brief, excited bursts of conversation in Vietnamese -- radio transmissions between some of the ARVN troops below. Language problems were being solved on the ground while Vietnamese observers reported or confirmed the exact locations of the hostile forces. The information was relayed through the U.S. troops on the scene to an American battery of 175mm guns far to the rear.

  The artillery officer looked up from his map and reported, "First round in the tube sir." Half a minute later a puff of smoke and dust in the carpet-like forest beneath them announced the arrival of the first round.

  As the barrage continued, a call came from the second of the two friendly recon elements a few hundred meters away. "Sir, request some of that Redleg on automatic weapons positions to our November," said the voice, identified only by a cryptic call-sign.

  "Don't worry Tango-Charlie-One," replied Lieutenant Colonel Manuel A. Alves, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 506th Airborne Infantry. "We have your number, too. Just wait your turn. Blackhawk does all things. Out."

  Doing all things military to safeguard the mountain resort city of Dalat and the southern portion of II Corps Tactical Zone is a unique fighting force. It's made up of separate and distinct American and ARVN units, which are paired off to take advantage of each other's special capabilities and to share fire support, aviation and communications resources.

  In the spring of 1968 the only American unit operating in the area was the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry. In the wake of the enemy's 1968 Tet Offensive, however, it was joined by the 173rd Airborne Brigade's 3rd Battalion, 503rd Infantry.

  As enemy activity increased, both American and ARVN units fought in the area, but there was little formal coordination. The commander of I Field Force Vietnam and his ARVN counterpart soon solved this problem with the creation of Task Force South, consisting of two American battalions, to be paired off with elements of the 23rd ARVN Division.

  This pair-off concept is used from the highest echelons of command right down the line to the lower levels of execution. In the northwestern part of the area of operations, Task Force 3rd Battalion, 503rd Infantry shares aviation and fire support with the 53rd ARVN Regiment. An identical relationship links Task Force 3rd Battalion, 506th Airborne Infantry with the 44th ARVN Regiment in the southeast.

Another example of how the Task Force South pair-off concept works in the field was provided recently at an informal afternoon conference between Lieutenant Colonel Henry H. Berke Jr., commander of the 3rd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, and his Vietnamese counterpart, Lieutenant Colonel Quach Dang, commander of the 53rd ARVN Regiment.

  As the two officers exchanged news of recent operations and the progress of training in their respective units, Colonel Dang expressed some concern over the prospect of abruptly introducing his new and inexperienced long range reconnaissance patrol members, about to be graduated from the Recondo School in Nha Trang, to the dangers of field operations.

  "If you'd like," offered Colonel Berke, "you can break in your new men with my experienced recon-and-ambush teams. I'll match you man for man. Your people can teach mine about trail reading and other things they've learned at Recondo School. My Hawk teams had to learn their business largely on the job. I think they could benefit from working together with school-trained personnel." Colonel Dang seemed delighted by the proposal, and preliminary plans were discussed to institute a program of combined U.S.-ARVN patrols.

  Later, Colonel Berke explained that he likes to apply the Task Force South principle of mutual reliance and cooperation to as many projects as possible. "I'm trying to encourage Colonel Dang to ask me for assistance beyond what he knows he's supposed to get according to established agreements. I do this simply by asking him for favors myself -- like the use of his trucks the other day to deploy Bravo Company."

  "Someday," continued the airborne commander, "he'll probably request something I won't be able to give him at the time; that's when things will get ticklish. But eventually, I'm sure, he'll understand that just because I have to say 'no' once, I won't necessarily turn him down another time."

  "When both of us learn to help each other out like this in the greatest possible number of ways, and to ask for help freely -- then, I think we will have achieved the goals for which Task Force South was created.

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The following article appeared in the February 25, 1971 Artillery Review newspaper, a publication of I Field Force Vietnam Artillery.

52d Gp Gets Valorous Award

PLEIKU -- By direction of the Secretary of the Army, the Valorous Unit Citation has been awarded to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 52d Artillery Group, and its assigned and attached units, according to a recent announcement.
The unit distinction was made in recognition of extraordinary heroism while engaged in military operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Dak To and Ben Het during the period 4 May 1969 to 28 June 1969.

Other Units Cited
In addition to HHB, 52d Arty Group, the following assigned or attached units were recognized for their heroic service: 1st Battalion, 92d Artillery; Battery A, 3d Battalion, 6th Artillery; Battery B, 6th Battalion, 14th Artillery; 2d Platoon, Battery B, 4th Battalion, 60th Artillery; 1st Platoon, Battery B, 7th Battalion, 29th Artillery; 2d Section, Battery E, 41st Artillery, 237th Field Artillery Detachment (Radar) and 254th Field Artillery Detachment (Radar).

Action Commended
In part the citation read: "Demonstrating great personal fortitude and a firm dedication to mission accomplishment, the officers and men of the battery succeeded in providing massive quantities of accurately placed artillery fires in support of manuever operations conducted by Army of the Republic of Vietnam units against North Vietnamese Army Forces.
"Although often forced to engage in hand to hand conflict with a well trained and determined foe, the men of HHB, 52d Arty Group continued to perform their assigned task by placing withering fire upon the enemy.  Their gallant efforts saved the lives of numerous friendly forces, inflicted severe losses upon their adversary and contributed immeasurably to the successes achieved in Operation Dan Quyen."

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The following article appeared in the March 25, 1971 ARTILLERY REVIEW newspaper, a publication of I Field Force Vietnam Artillery

Proud Americans
Demonstrate Skill

By SP4 James V. Durkin
6/32nd Arty IO

NINH HOA -- The Proud Americans of B Battery, 6th Battalion, 32nd Artillery, took part in a demonstration of Artillery techniques and firepower at the Duc Me ARVN Artillery School recently.

The exhibition was given to approximately 300 cadets from the Vietnamese Naval School in Nha Trang, who toured the school and received an orientation on the procedures of their Army fellows.

After opening the class with a brief history of the Artillery, the show began with the firing of an ancient Chinese cannon, to acquaint the cadets with the artillery of the past. The ARVN students then proceeded with a demonstration of the M102 (closed trail) 105mm howitzer, showing techniques of close defensive fire, adjusting fire with a forward observer, and a high angle/low angle mission, in which one piece fires two rounds, both of which hit the same target at the same time.

While this was going on, the Proud Americans were waiting in the wings. First of the heavy guns to come on was a 175mm, which took part in a demonstration of speed and direct fire. The Proud Americans demolished a hill in the impact area with two hits, leaving the students amazed at the devastating effect of the weapon.

After the 175mm gun had concluded its demonstration, one of the battery’s 8-inch howitzers came on and fired an exhibition of H.E. and Firecracker rounds.

To close the demonstration, the ARVN hosts fired a time mission with White Phosphorus rounds, showing the trajectory of an artillery round.

[2001 Update on the "PROUD AMERICANS"]

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The following article appeared in the March 25, 1971 ARTILLERY REVIEW newspaper, a publication of I Field Force Vietnam Artillery

Redlegs Decorated

By SP4 James V. Durkin
6/32nd Arty IO

THON HO DA - Seven Proud Americans and a Dusterman attached to their battery were awarded Purple Hearts recently as a result of a rocket attack on C Battery, 6th Battalion, 32 Artillery, at Firebase Freedom.

Colonel Robert J. Landseadel, Jr, Commanding Officer of IFFORCEV Provisional Artillery Group presented the Nation’s oldest award. Among those receiving the award were First Lieutenant William D. Fulgham, Maintenance Officer and Specialist Four Ralph G. Rhodes, of the Battery Fire Direction Center. Two other recipients were First Lieutenant Thomas L. Pierce and Staff Sergeant Robert C. Sinkler.

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The following article appeared in the March 25, 1971 ARTILLERY REVIEW newspaper, a publication of I Field Force Vietnam Artillery

Forward Observer Has Tough Job

By 1LT Carl Ekmark
FO/FDO School

"Redleg Four Five this is Peaches Three Four. Fire Mission. Over." Ask any Fire Direction Center crew members and they can tell you of the sense of urgency felt when these words break the squelch. They know they hold the trust to compute data with unquestionable accuracy, and when the horn sounds for the guns it’s just a matter of moments until the words "Laid and safe" are heard.

He may be Peaches Three Four or a thousand other names but to all redlegs he is known as the Forward Observer - the "FO".

Eyes of the artillery

The Forward Observer is essentially the "eyes" of the artillery. Through his efforts the artillery can be the decisive factor on the battlefield. The responsibilities of the FO are immense, and a great amount of skill is needed to perform the job.

He must be thoroughly familiar with such things as map reading, communications, artillery tactics, judging the nature of the target, and correct types of ammunition for given targets.

On his own

The FO operates differently than the rest of the artillery personnel. The firing battery, the Fire Direction Center, and the various support and command elements have numerous people in close proximity to them. The Forward Observer is on his own in the field and must be able to make critical decisions in a minimum of time. The FO often finds himself the only person trained in artillery with the supported unit. He cannot rely on other people for assistance. The responsibility is his, and one mistake can be very costly to friendly troops.

FO’s duties

To better understand the job of Forward Observer, let’s look at what he’s required to do. The primary duty of the FO is to adjust artillery fire on target for the supported unit. In other words an artillery battalion may supply a number of Forward Observers to an infantry unit. The FO’s will accompany the unit commander and request fire support as required. The "fires" an FO can call in include neutralization, registration, destruction, illumination, assault fire, and special situations to include recon by fire and TAC Air. Neutralization is obtained by projectile fragmentation on a target, causing injury to personnel or damage to equipment. Registrations are used to determine corrections for firing data. Destruction and assault fire missions are missions that attempt to destroy targets with the projectiles. Special situations include smoke, chemical, and propaganda (distribution of leaflets) by artillery fire.

Source of information

Reporting information is essential to the success of combat operations. The FO is a good source for this information, since he is able to observe much that is taking place on the battlefield. Besides enemy activity reports, he also submits published reports as required by the unit SOP. These include crater analysis reports, situation reports, and information to establish target lists. The FO reports only facts and refrains from making his own opinions.

Another extremely important duty of the FO is advising the supported unit commander on the proper use of the artillery and other fire support means. He must know the capabilities and limitations of field artillery, types of targets suitable for attack and the proper ammunition to be used for the desired effect. There are limitations involving clearances of fires and the adjustment of artillery close to friendly troops. The FO must be constantly aware of these facts.

Fires must also be planned to assist the supported unit’s mission. These fires support operation involving movement, offensive tactics, and fire support of defensive positions.

Target lists showing these predetermined locations must be planned to avoid confusion when these fires are needed. In addition to the above-mentioned, harassing, interdiction, and counter mortar/rocket fire must be considered.


The FO maintains continuous observation so that he will not be caught by surprise or miss opportunities offered by changing situations on the battlefield. When it is within his capabilities, the FO coordinates observation and fires with other observers in the vicinity.

The Forward Observer then becomes an extremely important member of both the artillery and the supported unit. The final outcome, the success or failure of the mission, can depend on the actions and proficiency of one man on the battlefield - the Forward Observer.

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