|Deconstructing Defiance - April 1970|
|This story actually takes place a week or so before the two 8in gun sections, an
FDC contingent and assorted support personnel actually left
Ft. Defiance, and relocated to the more defensible position that
would be named FSB Burkette.
I had lost a tooth filling, and was in some considerable pain. We were very busy at Ft. Defiance firing our 8 inch howitzers in support of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment that had many units operating throughout the area. We were co-located with their 2nd. Squadron Hdqtrs. unit and 155 SP Battery, and other assorted support detachments. We were about 3 miles southeast of the Cambodian border where NVA units we were operating against used the area as a sanctuary. They had many base camps and supply depots in the “Fishook” region of Cambodia supporting their operations thru III Corps and south into the Mekong Delta area.
In other words, we were in a strategic area and the 11thACR was making mincemeat of the enemy who had become accustomed to not being challenged in this area the previous two years. We were unaware at that time that the 11th was busy honing their skills and tactics for the coming Cambodian invasion. Personally, I was very happy to be helping the 11thACR, and we in the FDC had become accustomed to firing observed missions by the 2ndSquadron commander, LTC Brookshire, who was experienced as an artillery observer and who had a colorful vocabulary.
Morale was high, even though we were being shot at regularly by snipers, mortars, RPGs, and even an occasional rocket from the surrounding triple canopy jungle. I remember that on one side of the perimeter there was a slight rise to a small ridgeline that afforded protection to these harassment operations that were designed to figure out our defensive strategy and posture. The two 8in howitzers fired 2,000 rounds during a one month period that included our stay at this location. We were busy and business was good.
I reported my tooth problem to the First Sergeant. He told me that there were others with similar problems and he would see what could be done. I was surprised that two days later a helicopter showed up to take a small group, maybe four of us, to Quan Loi for some dental work. We landed on the airstrip and were escorted to a dentist who had set up a chair, and equipment near a bunker. He was a Captain in the medical corps and asked us general questions about the problems we had. Once he was completely set up he selected me to be the first patient. Keep in mind that he was using sunlight only. I told him that some other guy might be in more pain, and he might want to start with them.
The others declined; nobody was in excruciating pain, so he proceeded with me first. Once seated, it became clear why. He said that he was not at all happy to be here because we all knew that Quan Loi was shot at on occasion. We all tried to assuage his anxiety because we knew we were keeping the NVA busy elsewhere. This didn’t work. He said he could work thru all of us faster if we didn’t use the Novocain that he had available. I questioned him more about this, and after examining me he said that all he needed to do was clean the tooth up a little and put in a new temporary filling.
I was unaware that all fillings were temporary, but some were more temporary than others. He said that we all would have a year after we returned home to see the dentist of our choice to take care of any dental problems, and the Army would pick up the tab. He was not a happy camper because all these questions were taking time and he was exposed, so he thought. Besides, my problem was very minor as probably were the others.
Dumb me; I was feeling macho so I said I’d give it a try. That little buzzy drill hit my tooth for probably less than a second. It felt like somebody with twenty small hammers were whacking at my tooth and I heard someone screaming. It was me. The doctor was now really annoyed and my fellow soldiers were absolutely rolling in the dust with laughter, I had wasted more time. I told him that there weren’t enough guys on the airstrip to hold me down tight, I needed Novocain.
I realized later that the other guys were very relieved that I was so dumb because it took all the pressure off them to do likewise. Once finished, I went looking for the 1Sgt so I could borrow the Commander’s Jeep to make a run to the PX, with the group. Before we returned, we had been in the field over a month and we were out of snacks and such. Top said he couldn’t help, the helicopter was waiting for us and we should stay together. We would return immediately once the doctor was finished, and we did.
These stories have legs, if you will bare with me: About 15 years later, my wife was preparing to take the kids to the dentist. She related a story that our children were lucky because they would be given Novocain for any discomfort during the procedure. While she was growing up her grandmother, who raised her, would not allow her dentist to use any pain killers on her. I responded as any good husband would, “ how cruel, why would she do such a thing?” She said that the dentist charged more for the shot and grandmother was trying to save some money, she surmised. I then told her I knew how it must of felt. How could she stand it? I then related the war story of the Quan Loi dentist to her, leaving myself exposed from a strategic standpoint.
My wife considered the story briefly and replied; “I’m ashamed of you for not being more cooperative with that nervous dentist. You must have been a wimp warrior.” I considered her response for about two seconds and told her that I had reconsidered; her grandmother had plenty of money but chose to get back at a granddaughter who was incapable of a little reciprocal sympathy. She broadened her attack by stating that all men couldn’t take pain as well as women who routinely gave birth without help. I admitted that she had a point. If I were expected to pass a six-pound BM, I’d need a shot for that too. Of course she withdrew speechless and I was silently cheering, “score one for the wimp warrior!”
Now back at Ft. Defiance:
About a week later, intelligence reports indicated that an NVA reinforced regiment was preparing to attack our
I had worked all night in the FDC, busy as usual, and I was ordered to stay behind with the clean-up detail. Everybody else in our unit, with the exception of maybe six of us in three deuce and a halves, left for the new location. There was a small detail of combat engineers who would oversee the work involved in taking everything apart; leaving no metal, or anything else the enemy could use.
Helicopters picked up anything useful for the new fire support base location. We were to burn or recycle just about everything else that was left. We emptied sandbags and ammo cases and loaded them onto the 2½ ton trucks along with any lumber that could be salvaged. It was just a lot of hard work. When in doubt, we burned stuff with the help of unused powder charges and anything else flammable. Each assigned detail from the other units was doing likewise. Safety was a concern from a tactical and task viewpoint since we were pulling apart bunkers that took far longer to construct. The engineers were routinely doing rounds to oversee all teams and help when necessary.
Security was maintained by two tanks and two APC’s while we worked. There were probably fewer than forty of us altogether. Security was a concern but we had confidence in the 11th ACR guys. By mid-afternoon, I had been up over twenty-four hours working hard, but starting to peter out. In my lifelong desire to be useful, I was positioned on top of the 2 ½ truck bed near the end when a shot rang out and caught me square in my thigh. I yelped as the force took my leg out from under me and I used the other leg to launch myself off the truck.
It’s funny how the mind works. I was using one hand to staunch the flow of blood and while flying thru the air awkwardly I realized that with the bone broken, I needed to catch my weight on my good leg, or I would really be in trouble. I did this by waving my other arm as a counterweight, while contorting my body to protect the injured leg. I landed in a heap, and now my hand holding the blood back felt burned. I looked down and there wasn’t a scratch, nor blood on the pants leg, but I was holding a red hot M16 bullet. It was a cook off round.
The guys nearby were running to lend assistance and I told them I was OK. Then they started to laugh… They laughed even harder amidst questions like: Lt, you never took ballet, did you? and do it again! I was now having real reservations about being bulletproof. I told them to get back to work and be more careful about what was being burned, an M79 round wouldn’t be laughable.
I sat there rubbing my bruised thigh and contemplating why twice in less than a week, small groups of Americas finest found it humorous to laugh at my pain. I concluded it was because of the sounds I made when hurt. I vowed to control this better in the future. I can now report some success in this effort. I sometimes slice myself badly during my course of work as a paper hanger, usually when tired, but you hardly hear a peep out of me now.
A short time later, a Huey helicopter came in for the last pallet to airlift. The pilot motioned that a tree was too close. The engineers called us over to help hold the tree down because the pallet was too heavy to move. The tree was 6 to 7 inches in diameter and 30 or more feet tall. We hopped on it and bent it to the ground with me taking the leverage point at the top. This task took four of us to accomplish, as the Huey hovered above us. I was in a precarious position, if anybody let go, the tree would fly up carrying me into the rotors. I realized it was a good thing they needed someone to laugh at.
We worked hard up to nightfall as things were finished, and the area was inspected. We lined up in convoy formation, tank in front, tank in rear and APC’s interspersed with trucks. An unusual night convoy followed thru triple canopy jungle over a widened trail. The mortar platoon at FSB Burkett was firing illumination rounds so we didn’t have to use the headlights. The effect of being over-tired, illumination rounds popping, and adrenaline created a surreal jungle. Our movement, coupled with the lighting movement of the illumination rounds as they parachuted to the ground created hundreds of potential targets.
Everyone maintained their cool; I guess it was NVA “square dance night” because we made the passage without incident. We were relieved when FSB Burkett came into view; the men there had been hard at work also, commencing the build up necessary to defend our position. I reported in and was ready to take my turn at FDC when somebody saw me in enough light to realize I needed sleep. It was after midnight but we were relatively safe. From FSB Burkett we would soon let the NVA know they couldn’t dictate tactics to us anymore.
A, B & HHQ 6/27th Arty
Dec 69 to Jun 71
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