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What we knew as South Vietnam extended down the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea from the DMZ at 17 degrees N to the Camau Peninsula at 8 degrees N. The country was only slightly larger than New Mexico in land area and the similarity stopped there. South Vietnam had only two seasons-hot and wet and hot and dry. It did not matter which season you arrived during, it was always hot.
The topography ranged from flat delta lands in the south to rugged, although not high, mountains along the northwest. The coastline varied from transitional swamp, glistening white sand to rocky coast. The 1st Howitzer Battalion, 30th Artillery would find itself in almost every area of Vietnam during the 5 years and 4 months it spent there.
The Battalion deployed from Ft. Lewis, Washington to Oakland, California. There they loaded the howitzers onto the SS Adabelle Lykes and the personnel onto the USNS Daniel I. Sultan. The troops disembarked at Qui Nhon on November 28, 1965 and moved inland about 10 miles to a temporary base camp. They became the first 155mm Towed Howitzer Battalion to enter the combat zone and the first to engage the communist insurgents.
The Battalion at that time was equipped with the M123A1 "Auxiliary Propelled" Howitzer. Each Howitzer had a gasoline powered auxiliary power unit mounted on the left trail. This allowed the Howitzer to be "driven" once it had been unhooked from the prime mover. The idea might have worked anyplace but Vietnam. The mud and unstable soils proved that an Ox would have been as useful as the "aux" to the Battalion. The SS Adabelle Lykes arrived on the 11th of December, 1965 and the first round was fired on the 26th of December. The firepower that the Battalion could produce was quickly in demand by every Division in Vietnam. On December 30, "A" Battery flew to Tuy Hoa to support the 5th Battalion, 27th Artillery; the same day "B" was deployed to Tour d' Argent to support the Tiger Division, ROK (Republic of Korea).
The first association between the 1st Battalion 30th Field Artillery and the 1st Air Cavalry Division came during Operation MASHER / WHITE WING in the Bong Son. On the morning of 4 February 1966 the Battalion scored another "first." LTC Charles C. Wigner describes it: "The 1st Air Cav, along with some 105mm Howitzer Batteries, had moved north to catch the Viet Cong coming out. We suddenly found ourselves with some of the 1st Air Cav troops across the valley where the 105's could not cover.
"We thought about airlifting our 155's in to support the troops who were going in there to establish the blocking positions. It was a joint idea between the 1st Air Cav and ourselves. We got the idea about noon one day and three or 4 hours later we said, "let's go ahead and see if we can do it." With the help of the 1st Cav we made up some slings for the howitzers and tested them by lifting a 155 off the ground with a wrecker. The slings appeared to hold, and about 1630 we got a "go ahead" on the mission." By the time the CH-54 "Sky Cranes" and the CH-47 "Chinooks" arrived it was getting dark, and too late to move the guns.
The gun crews and lighter equipment were moved that night and the next morning "A" Battery, under the command of CPT John Dynes, had its guns airlifted into a mountain top firing position called LZ Brass. The first gun was in position and ready to fire in 20 minutes. This was but the first of many "air mobile" moves by the 1st Battalion, and the first of many with the 1st Air Cavalry Division.
Other elements from the Battalion were also busy, "B" Battery was given the mission of supporting the the 1st and 3rd Marine Divisions to engage and defeat the VC and NVA. For their heroic performance of the mission from 28 January through 18 February 1966 they were awarded their first Presidential Unit Citation. Upon completion of this mission they were assigned to support the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.
During the time they were supporting the 101st Airborne, "B" Battery earned their second Presidential Unit Citation for their display of extraordinary heroism. Captain Joe Toth wrote the following account of their actions:
"In late May of 1966, we were in position next to a stand of trees at Cheo Reo. On June 1, 1966 we were flown to Dak To to assist in the evacuation of Tou Morong. Operation Hawthorne I & II with the 1st Brigade involved the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry, two ARVN Infantry Battalions and several CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) units. The artillery support was from B/1/30 and B/2/320th FA. We called ourselves "B & B" because we had operated with them before and had shared several other positions together. The Infantry and CIDG units were to go out into the area and perform a sweep in hopes of finding the NVA 24th and 88th Regiments.
"We were put into a position in an abandoned and burned out Montagnard village, the next day they flew in the Infantry. We stayed that night and part of the next day and did not fire a round, so we were moved back to Dak To. Meanwhile, 2/327 Infantry was on the ground near Tou Morong with no artillery within range. They airlifted B/2/320 into a place they called LZ Lima Zulu to give them support. We were ordered to road march to Lima Zulu, but could not ford a stream where the bridge had been destroyed. We ended up setting up a firing position about 500 meters to the left and in back of Lima Zulu. After 2 days we were ordered back to Dak To, this was on the 6th of June.
"At about 0200 on the 7th they woke me and told me that B/2/320 was being hit on Lima Zulu. We knew they were out of range of our guns and those of the ARVN Artillery as well. We all had buddies in B/2/320 so we started working out how to best help them. 1LT Mike Horstman, 1LT Bill McMakin, 1SG Johnson, SFC Logan and I quickly discussed the situation and determined, that at a minimum, we should get the base platoon ready to move. I directed that the trucks be brought into position and have all but essential firing gear and ammo loaded in preparation for a quick move. The guns were still on the ground, but we were ready to hook up at a moments notice."
"We shortly received word to move several miles to an airstrip near the Brigade Headquarters and provide fire support to LZ Lima Zulu. We quickly hooked up the two guns and took off with the lights on. 1LT Horstman was in charge of the guns and they roared down the road at top speed with no security what so ever. When they arrived they had the two guns set up and firing within minutes. Within a short time I arrived with the remainder of the Battery and we quickly got all three guns in action. We put a box of steel around that 105mm Battery and fired at the maximum rate for more than four straight hours. CPT Don Whalen, the Battery Commander of B/2/320, told me later that our fires had also been directed onto a ridge immediately to the front of his position and that we had helped greatly to break up the attack. The NVA had taken his Number 6 Gun and he had his hands full."
"Then they gave us the order to “expend all ammunition,” and cooks, mechanics, radio operators and officers began dragging round after round into the firing positions to be gobbled-up and spit out by our 155mm pigs. When daylight came the enemy was found literally blown off the hills surrounding the 105 Battery, but the 105 Battery had survived. Most of the men in my Battery merely dropped down in the mud where they had been standing and fell asleep. Empty fuze cans and powder canisters lay in huge piles everywhere and stood in mute testimony to what had been a very intense encounter. The smell of cordite was as thick as coal soot and choked you if you breathed too deeply.
"A few hours later "B" Battery shook their bone weary cannoneers awake. They "March Ordered" their guns and moved into a firing position at LZ Lima Zulu along side their friends from B/2/320. The additional fire power of B/1/30 was very comforting and the NVA never challenged the Redlegs at Lima Zulu again. The battery operated from there for the rest of the campaign. After all was said and done, including a B-52 strike, they claimed to have wiped out an NVA Regiment."
The Battalion Headquarters started construction of permanent billets and facilities at Qui Nhon. The main effort was on troop billets, especially with the monsoon season coming. The remainder of 1966 was quiet except for scattered activity. The gunners of "C" Battery fired a close support mission for 2/12 Cavalry, 1st Air Cav Division during Operation Paul Revere IV. Their fires turned the tide of battle in a deadly ambush that the "Sky Troopers" of 2/12 found themselves in. For the most part "B" Battery continued to support the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne and "C" Battery supported the ROK Capital Infantry Division. The 1st Air Cav seemed to be reluctant to give up its hold on "A" Battery.