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An Oral History of Artillerymen in Combat, Writings and Poems
Do you remember your first assignment with the Artillery? It was a new, exciting, bustling and noisy world we entered when we were assigned to a battery and started working on the big guns. Do you remember falling asleep, standing on your feet, after digging in all day, filling sandbags and unloading truck after truck of ammo? Your comrades here will tell you stories about their time in the artillery. Their stories can be humorous or tragic, they may pass on knowledge or just make enjoyable reading. Every man has his own War Story. Each of these stories comes from an individual who braved the cold of Germany or the heat of Vietnam. The stories found here come from the men who manned the guns, computed the firing data, surveyed the positions, transported the ammo, treated the wounded, changed the oil filters, cooked the meals or fought their war at a typewriter. They were all HARD CHARGERS.
The two stories below were contributed by Charles L. Causey, 2/30 FA Vicenza, Italy Nov 74 - Oct 75
In November of 1974, four newly arrived SP4's were given orders to Vicenza Italy. The SP4's were supposed to go to the ASP near Vicenza, but, as luck would have it, they were kidnapped by the 30FA. I was one of those E-4's.
We arrived at SETAF HQ late at night. Instead of trying to send us on to the 559th FA Group which ran the ASP, they called the local ARTY unit to put us up for the night. They didn't have us sign in, ask us for orders or anything. The local unit was 2/30FA. The next morning we were greeted by a SP5-Mark Fall, who told us that he was supposed to help us inprocess. We didn't know any better. Our orders did not assign us to a unit, only to SETAF HQ. This was a Tuesday. We inprocessed everything except personnel. We went to PAC on Friday. To say it hit the fan is an understatement. After three hours in which both BN Cdrs talked to each other,. we were left in the 30Th. The reason this occured was that Ft Sill was not supposed to train anymore 15B's. The 2/30Th was trying to get warm bodies anyway they could. Two of the E-4's went to A Battery and two of us stayed in B Battery. I was trained as crewman #4.
The last Sergeant Missile fired by the US Army in Europe was manned by a crew of half 15B's and half 13B's. The 13B's did received 15B as a secondary MOS later. After April 1975, Ft Sill did train at least one more 15B class. I made Sgt and was transfered to the ammo section. The other 13B's were released and went to Turkey or Greece. I re-upped in Oct and went to Red Stone Arsenal and became a 27B. In 1977, I was reassigned to the 71st Ordnance Company in Hanau Germany. The last time I saw anyone from the 2/30 was in 1979. A SSg Ben Franklin was in the local Lance unit (2/72 FA). He was a former 15B. Sp5 Moreno who had been in maintenance had become a 27B, and a SP4 White, who was the Bn artist was in the Lance Unit also. I have had no contact with any of the old gang since 1979.
Don't ask how, but after I made E-6, I was able to go to ANCOES as a 27B and as a 13B/15B. Two different schools. That was 1977, my last contact with FA except while stationed at Red Stone Arsenal in 1981 when we got a M101A1 for display and I helped rebuild it.
We cleaned and packed equipment, and, since we still had a real world mission, we continued to train. The survey section decided to do some constructive training. They decided to survey areas of NE Italy that had not been surveyed since the 1930's. The only restrictions placed on them were that they stay in Italy, no alcohol, stay together, and don't lose the Lieutenant. They should have been told not to pull any practical jokes on the LT. The survey team surveyed a large area and found several major mistakes in the existing maps. The men didn't break any of the rules that anyone could prove. It went very well until the last night. Everyone went into town to eat pizza. They were in an area of Italy that spoke their own dialect of Italian. It was a mixture of Italian, German, and Slavic. Only one NCO understood part of it. The one NCO ordered the pizza and it was cooked and arrived at the table. The meat was very white and had a strange taste, but was good. After each man had eaten his fill, the LT asked what kind of meat they had been eating. The NCO asked the owner what kind of meat it was and received the answer. He gave a strange look and took the pizza out of his mouth. Everyone, but the LT, did the same. The LT with a mouth full of pizza, had to ask again. The NCO, without meeting the LT's eyes replied, "It's house cat, Sir." The LT jumped up and ran out the door. The men paid the check, and followed. They found the poor LT on his hands and knees relieving himself of the pizza. They got him up and back to camp. The next morning they broke camp to head back to Vicenza, but not before the LT asked the team not to repeat the story.
He did make the mistake of not asking that he not be harassed by the survey team. Pictures of cats began to appear on the bulletin board. The survey team would go "meow" around him. One survey NCO even marched troops using a cadence about cats and how it would have gone better with wine. This kept up until the LT transferred to a FA unit in Germany. And knowing us, someone got the info to his next unit. Lieutenant, if you perhaps read this, it was pork boiled in wine. Do you remember asking the question, going to the WC, then coming back and asking the question again? The merry men set it up while you were gone. MEOW, SIR.
Christmas and Chocolate Chip Cookies
Don Shacklette B/1/30 10/69 - 02/70
The holiday seasons were particularly depressing to me. This was my first Christmas without at least one parent alive. I grew more depressed as people began to receive packages from their families at home. I tried to put on a good front and act cheerful and to keep my morale high, but I felt that I was failing. Others were down also, so it wasn't only me. They would start talking about Christmas and home and then get very quiet.
The CARE packages were starting to arrive daily with cookies, cookie crumb flavored popcorn, candies and fruitcake. We were already so sick of C-Ration fruitcake that we could not even eat cookies packed in a real fruitcake tin. We could not even give the fruitcake away. The ARVN didn't want it, even the rats were starting to gag at the sight of a fruitcake tin.
Another problem was on the horizon. There were still people in the U S of A that supported us. They supported us maybe, but not the war. But, we were still soldiers and far from home in a hostile land and it was Christmas. We started to receive piles of mail. Christmas cards and letters began pouring in. Some were simply addressed to "American Soldier, 1st Air Cavalry Division". Some were sent by Brownies, Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, the Ladies Auxiliary of the American Legion in our home towns. Other arrived from students in English classes and church groups, people that we had never met. Some really raised your morale, others made you homesick or angry at the writer.
Cookies also started to pour in from the same sources. Cookies in shoe boxes, cookies in fruitcake tins (shudder), cookies in coffee cans and cookies packed in popcorn. Many had met an early postal fate and were reduced to crumbs when they were opened, but at least the thought was there. I don't mean to sound cynical or unappreciative because we were thrilled to get anything. Even the letters from the occasional creep meant that someone cared enough to take the time to write. The Nestle's Company stock must have risen at least 3 points from the sale of chocolate chips alone. We had Chocolate Chips Cookies, Chocolate Chip and Nut Cookies, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies, ad nauseum. By mid February when the last morsel of Chocolate Chip had been consumed, buried, burned or fired from the bore of a howitzer the humble Chocolate Chip cookie had assumed the same culinary status of fruitcakes.
Christmas evening I sat on top of the FDC with my back against the sand bag parapet that surrounded the aiming circle. I tried to enjoy what little breeze came across our area at night. It was too hot to sleep in the bunker and I was restless. The VC and NVA knew that we could not initiate contact during the cease fire and took advantage of it. As I sat and watched, a trail of flickering oil lights appeared on a hill across the river. Each light was carried by one of the enemy I was there to destroy. It brought to mind a group of medieval monks, carrying their candles and weaving their way across the fields on their way to Vespers. Or maybe it could have been a group of wise men seeking something out there in the jungle. I watched the parade until the last one had been swallowed up and dissappeared into the masses of vegetation. They would continue their trek throughout the night; at midnight the cease fire would end and we would get back to the business of killing each other. For that moment I was comfortable and at peace with the world, tomorrow was still a long way off.
SACKS OF GOLD
Bill Gregory, XO Alpha Battery 1/30 FA 1969
In Vietnam, as in every other war zone, some items were constantly in short supply. Despite a far better distribution system which included helicopter delivery to virtually anywhere in the country, the gun crews on the LZs almost never had enough building supplies or hand tools. In A Battery, 1/30th Artillery, we overcame the latter problem by the formation of a secret elite unit known as "The Night Raiders". Composed mostly of cannon cockers displaced from the urban streets and neighborhoods of NYC, Detroit, LA, Philly, etc., they had been pre-schooled in the techniques of covert operations. On LZs Grant, Dolly, and Jamie in 1969, no shovel, pick, or hammer of a 105mm howitzer or grunt unit was outside their "acquisition channels".
Another supply shortage was much more difficult to solve until one night fortune smiled upon the First Sergeant and yours truly, XO Two Five Papa. I'd been on a succession of firebases from early March to late June without so much as one day in a rear area. The command structure must have done an attitude check and noted a lack of positiveness in their young LT, because shortly thereafter I was ordered to "stand down" in Tay Ninh West for three nights. After two days of food eaten at a sit-down, honest-to-God mess hall table, a visit to the steam baths, sleep uninterrupted by H 'n' I fires, I was beginning to feel semi-civilized once again.
On evening #3 Top suggested we eat, then continue on to the NCO Club for some beers. LTs in fatigues without rank insignia who were in from the field and kept their mouths shuts were occasionally welcomed in the club by the ol' sarges. The evening started off a little slow. All of the jeeps, 5-tons, and deuce-and-a-halfs were out for repair or on the road with various troops. The smallest vehicle available for the trip around the big airfield was a ten-ton wrecker. Hours later, having re-fought every battle from WW1 I through RVN over uncounted shots and beer chasers, we faced the mile trip back to the battery area in a vehicle we could barely climb aboard. Neither of us having a valid military driver's license for anything this size, we proceeded with caution. It probably wasn't all that unsafe even though a skinny 24-year-old LT was driving his first really big truck -- together we couldn't get the mammoth wrecker beyond second gear or above 10 mph.
Rounding the southern end of the airfield at the blazing speed of 5 mph, the senior NCO aboard commanded a sudden halt. Hopping out, falling on the ground, then "running" to the rear of the truck, Top hollered over his shoulder, "C'mon, Two-Five, there's gold over there in the ditch!" I followed, knowing never to question Top when he led the charge. His legs may have been a little rubbery, but he HAD spied "gold". There were about 10 bags of cement strewn on the edge of the road and in the nearby drainage ditch. They must have fallen from trucks as they rounded the bend earlier in the day. This was a real find! It would replace many old requisitions for several battery building projects long delayed by Army supply bureaucracy.
There was never a thought of trying to back up the wrecker. To have put the big truck in reverse gear would have been an hour, minimum. The salvageable sacks simply had to be hauled the 50 feet by two totally inebriated figures in the faint glimmer of the airfield landing lights. It took over 10 minutes, plenty of falling down, and lots of laughter, but the mission was successfully accomplished.
When Top and his young charge arrived "home", the truck and cargo were simply left in the battery parking lot for others to unload come first light. For us it was a collapse into bunks with the satisfying knowledge that we had won a major battle for the battery as sure as if we had put direct fire on a battalion of NVA on our LZ's perimeter. Life teaches that gold comes in many forms.
THE FIRST MOVEMENT
by John Dynes CO, A Battery October 1964 - March 1966
A recent column in the "Hard Charger" reflecting on memorable holidays brought to mind Christmas Day 1965, when A Battery of the 30th made the initial road movement and position occupation of the battalions participation in the Vietnam War. With the First Cave's fight in the Ia Drang Valley fresh in our minds and with only about 25 days "in country", the 30th was to say the least, extremely "high strung" as we moved out at first light to occupy a position at the Phu Cat airfield, roughly 20 miles north of Qui Nhon, our debarkation point.
The Cav had asked for one of the 30th's batteries to move further north to support Cav operations along the roads connecting Qui Nhon and An Khe. We were the only medium artillery in the area, as all the artillery indigenous to the Cav were of the 105 variety. Our towed weapons had the additional advantage of the self-propelled feature, the short-lived experiment with an off-the-shelf engineer motor and the attached hydraulics.
The Christmas Day movement had come about as the result of a decision by our CO, LTC John B. Colt, to move on that day to catch the VC by surprise. His belief was that no one would expect an American unit to undertake an operation on Christmas. (Pictured as left, from Left to Right, LT Denny Smith, LTC John COlt (with back to the camera) and CPT Bob Laychak.
In spite of our concerns, the only problem encountered on the road to Phu Cat was a bridge estimated to have a capacity of 5 tons. With our guns and prime movers, we totaled a lot more than that! My XO, John Knott, was leading the column while my driver and I roamed back and forth throughout the procession, insuring that intervals were maintained and that the personnel were ready for "whatever." Suddenly, the column halted, and we raced up to the lead vehicle to see what the problem was. The trouble was the bridge. The driver of the first 5-ton, gun in tow, had stopped on the south side of the bridge and pointed out the dubious nature of the crossing. How the elleged reconnaissance by other units had missed the problem, I'll never know. But I concluded that if someone was going to go into the river, it might as well be me.
I ordered the personnel out of the truck, jumped into the front seat, shoved it into gear and started across the bridge. It held. The remainder of the column followed, confident that if the "old man" (all of 27 years old) could do it, so could they.
The battery occupied the Phu Cat position and later that day, fired the 30th's first rounds in Vietnam combat.
(Picture shows A Battery digging in at Phu Cat. On the trail, behind the individual at the left can be seen the
auxiliary power unit. Photos courtesy of John Dyne)
The conclusion to the story is that the next day, an MP jeep attempting to return from Phu Cat to Qui Nhon got to the same bridge which, as the jeep crossed, collapsed! Our column had so weakened the structure that it could no longer bear any weight at all, and two MPs got an unexpected soaking. Fortunately, neither was hurt. For A Battery at least, it was a memorable Christmas!
A SIMPLE CUP OF COFFEE!
The thing I miss the most about the military was my morning cup of coffee. We all gathered together and had coffee at the start of each day. It could have been in a mess hall, on some sandbags by a bunker or around a jeep in the field, but we always gathered there to talk over and plan the days events. It was also time to share with comrades. My family did the same thing, gathering around a big blue enameled coffee pot and matching cups at the kitchen table. This was our time together at the start of each day.
On the 11th of November I made my usual trek to the National Cemetery with one of those battered blue enamel cups and a thermos to have a cup of coffee with my brother Matthew. Matt was much older than me, he was killed in Korea when I was only six years old. For the past 10 years I have journeyed to his grave each Memorial Day and Veterans Day to share my thoughts over a cup of coffee. It had been snowing off and on for the past three days and the usual ceremony had taken place the day before, but it had been moved to a nearby VFW Hall in deference to the many WW2 and Korean Vets who usually attended.
My car was the only one in sight as I turned into the gate and drove along the perimeter road. The sun had just started to rise and a soft light softly illuminated the rows of markers. I carefully counted the rows until I was sure that I had reached the correct one. I was wearing a heavy pair of hunting boots in an attempt to keep my feet warm. No footprints marred the snow between the markers that traveled as far as I could see. I retrieved my thermos and that old battered cup that I had drank from for so many years.
I started to make the walk that I had made so many times before, the snow crunching under my boots. I had counted off less than 30 stones when I stopped, I could hear footsteps behind me. I turned to welcome the visitor and found that I was alone. It was then that I realized that the steps I heard were mine, echoing off the many stones that marked my route. More marching feet joined mine as I moved farther into the cemetery and deeper into the field of markers. By the time I had reached marker 243 it sounded like a battalion were marching in step behind this guidon bearer with a thermos and that old and battered metal cup.
I filled my cup with coffee and poured a little out for Matt. Suddenly I started to cry, not so much for my grief, but because I had not brought enough coffee for all my other brothers who had marched with me and followed me to Matts grave. I poured the rest of the thermos on the ground in salute to them. It was a small offering, not enough for what they had given. Still I stood again with friends and comrades and shared a cup of coffee on a cold winter morning. The brown stain on the fresh snow almost seemed to be an obscenity, but it was the only mark that I could see. The only mark that said someone cared enough to come out on Veterans Day in the cold and snow and say Thank You for all they had done.
I talked to Matt for about an hour, bringing him up to date about the family and what had happened in the past six months. A final salute and it was time to go.
I don't know what had happened with the snow, it was still falling lightly. Maybe the wind had changed, for I did not hear the echoing footsteps as I left, only my own. My brother and my brothers were not following me as I left, and they never will.
It will be warm on Memorial Day, Spring will have arrived and it will be warm. The grass will be green and the markers will be as white as always. Next Veterans Day I will return again as usual, but with a larger thermos. I hope it is snowing then also.
Some Clean Laundry
Col. John Stranahan (Ret)
Shortly after the Battalion got to Kodiak the War Department quadrupled the ammunition allowance for training and made it retroactive so we had plenty for service practice. After Col. Hamilton appointed me S-3 he made it a habit of putting me in charge of the op and he stood back and made constructive comments and they were always constructive. He was an "old" Artillery men who insisted that the taxpayers get all of the information out of every round. That was an education for which I have always been grateful.
One day we were getting ready to fire from our positions located about three or four miles from the air strip. The Canadian Air Force had a detachment made up of mostly recent graduates from flying school stationed on Kodiak for seasoning. Just as we got data to the guns one of the young Canuck lieutenants saw a chance to practice "dry fire" strafing runs on a live target. When we were ready to fire the safety officer reported " unsafe to fire, airplane in line of fire." It took exactly as long for him to turn around as it did for us to get ready to fire. After the third try I told the safety officer to wait until he was out of line and then fire. The safety officer took my instructions almost too literally. It looked like the concussion might have damaged the plane. In any case the Canuck went back to base for clean laundry while we continued to train. It scared the hell out of me, but Col. Hamilton thought it was funny. He was noted for doing things which would turn a Ft Sill safety officer green.
Col. John Stranahan (Ret)
When the 30th group first went into combat in Europe we had gun positions in France and were shooting across the Saar river into Germany. The Germans had three or four railroad tracks parallel to the river and one track came from a big supply base at Kaiserlauten. That track crossed the others on an overhead bridge. The Germans would run short trains from one concealed position to another. They were too fast for 155s to catch. We tried tearing up the tracks but they repaired them over night. We tried harassing fire at night with vt fuse but that didn't work either. We never did figure out what they were doing but if it was important enough for them to set themselves up in a shooting gallery it was important enough for us to stop.
When we had one battery of 240 howitzers attached we had enough firepower to attack the abutments of the overhead span. I called the battery commander and explained what we wanted to do. He agreed it was feasible but thought a 3 round preregistration would save ammunition. I got his Battalion Air Observer up so they would be on the same wave length both electronically and mentally. He did the registration on a group BP, a house by a cross road. Earlier, someone had hit it and it was accurately located on our maps. The Germans had apparently used it as a small ammo dump. When it was hit it blew up. Not enough to ruin it as a BP but it didn't do it any good as an ammo dump. You have to get lucky once in a while.
Once registered, he then did a map transfer to the bridge. It was outside of transfer limits, both in range and deflection, but since it was observed fire that was not a concern. Besides we were using copies of French military maps which had been developed from generations of fighting over that ground. They were at least equal to the maps of Ft Sill. The air observer said later that the first round was so close he was afraid to move it and decided to let dispersion do his work. That proved a wise decision since about the fifth round was a direct hit and our shooting gallery was closed for the duration.
Stars and Stripes, Southern Germany Edition Tuesday 8 May 1945, Vol. 1, No. 1.
German Forces surrendered unconditionally on this day. Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, successor to Adolf Hitler, Fuehrer, announced this long awaited news at Flensburg, Germany. Germany went down for the count for the second time in 27 years. They didn't learn their lesson in World War 1.
We, HHB, 30th. FA Gp. were in Augsburg on this day. It was a day we will never forget. We were billeted in bombed out houses when all hell broke loose. It was a fire fight externalized. GIs fired and exploded anyone's ordnance they found or had celebrating. Elation embodied, the war was over.
Members of the 30th were counting their points and getting ready to leave the continent for the good old US of A. Home Sweet Home. Points were awarded and had values for time overseas, stateside service, medals, cavados, etc. The higher number of points the sooner we went home. I stayed around for 7 more months as SSGT. "Pancho" Arizmendi, MSG. Jack Besenfelder and Major John Stranahan out pointed me by a bundle. They had more time overseas than I had in the Army. They use to say " I used more ink signing the payroll than I drank GI coffee". Believe me that's a lot, Bravo Sierra.
T/5 Joe Brown