I noticed that the locals consisted of far
more Cambodians than I was used to seeing. Many had enough security to work for
us in some capacity. I took a liking to these colorful fun-loving people, not
realizing that the increase in their numbers was signifying the start of their
travails, and destruction of their society by the Khmer Rouge. We didn’t stay in
Song Be much longer, moving further north and into low mountains of the central
highlands. The new firebase was near a small village known as Bo Dop, I think.
It was the northwestern most firebase in III Corps, near the Cambodian border,
the southernmost end of the “central highlands”.
After participating in the battles at Defiance and Burkett, I had developed a grudging respect for our foe. Our intelligence had shown they consistently pre-dug graves for ten percent of the number participating in an attack. As an officer I was amazed at the hubris necessary to tell my men we were going on an operation today, count noses, and do the math, and then order X number of graves dug so we could get going. I don’t think I could do that.
Anyhow, before we left Song Be, I was to change my attitude forever. One night, maybe 2300 hrs or so, we went on high alert. The small MACV compound in the center on the little city was under attack, mostly small arms and RPGs. We figured this was the start of something bigger, maybe a diversion in preparation to come after us. It lasted maybe ½ hour, then nothing . . . all night. We tired of waiting and went off alert maybe 0300 to 0400 and slept a little late the next morning. We found out about mid morning what the disturbance was all about. The enemy had mounted an entire operation in order to drag the two Vietnamese nuns who ran the orphanage situated in the center of town out into the street and shoot them dead with the orphans there to witness this brutality.
I knew that the toadies making up our elite media, reporting on the war from some girly bar in Saigon, with all their bias wouldn’t publicize this evil deed, but I sure would remember it. That act rekindled my warrior nature; I would remain aggressive in ridding the world of this evil for the rest of my service in Vietnam.
In almost a year and a half serving in Vietnam I remember twice seeing reporters or photographers wandering around looking for a story, talking with the soldiers, taking pictures. Each time these reporters were from The Stars and Stripes, the military services’ own means of providing news to its servicemen. I never saw a commercial media reporter. My opinion is they didn't exist.
I had been in Bravo near a month when one night the 175mm tube blew up during a fire mission. First thing in the morning, I was assigned the task of writing a report. I immediately gathered all the data on the fire mission, service records on the tube, propellant, and documenting all for further study. The tube was one of the new 1,000 round tubes, from the first lot manufactured under the top secret metallurgy and production techniques. The older tubes had a 300-shot limit. These new tubes were a marked improvement and saved the engineers a lot of trouble. The damaged tube supposedly had 250 to 300 more useable rounds life available.
Nobody had been seriously injured in the blast, some burst eardrums, scratches and stitches, singed hair, and first degree burns. I was gathering all this paperwork, and took some photographs, to begin writing by noon. I broke for lunch and returned to the office niche I shared with my clerk, Spec.4 D., who I got along with very well, we made a productive pair. He returned from lunch and informed me that he’d heard a rumor the explosion may have been caused by some tampering of a crewmember. We discussed the implications of this revelation. There had obviously been somebody who knew about this but didn’t wish to come forward. He was acting as a go between. I asked bottom-line what I needed to do to come up with the truth about what happened. He responded that the guys in the battery had developed a trust of me and wanted me to approach the Battery Commander and enlist his assurance that no punishment would follow for any member of the crew. I agreed to make an attempt, but made no assurance as to the Commander’s response. I told him this could go either way.
I decided to be as straightforward as possible in presenting the proposal and options to the B.C. Treading lightly, very sensitive to his response, there being the possibility that I was including myself in some “conspiracy”, there was also the need to protect my source of information if events took a bad turn. I confirmed while talking to the B.C. in his office why I liked this guy and knew he was a gifted Commander. His first response to the tampering possibility was surprise that anyone would do such a dangerous thing. He laughed that an Article 15 was nothing compared to the beating somebody received if he was anywhere near the gun when it blew. He instructed me to proceed and ascertain the truth as quickly as possible.
I was relieved and did as ordered, but never did find out who among the crew put the field cap over the fuse of the 147 pound projectile with a charge 3 propellant behind it (that’s another approximately 20-30 lbs of explosive). We found the high explosive round intact within the battery area, luckily its’ fuse hadn’t malfunctioned. I was able to use vague terms in my report, such as private or specialist, to attribute quotes to document the tampering. It was one or all of possibly three guys but I didn’t think anybody would be playing around on a fire mission again.