|The Mystery of the 35mm Slides|
It was a steamy hot afternoon in May 1969 when I and three other “gun bunnies”
reported to the “A” Battery 6/27th Artillery
Orderly Room at Quan Loi Base Camp,
Vietnam. Less then an hour before, to our relief, we had landed on the
located in the middle of
Quan Loi Rubber Plantation in the cargo hold of a
Caribou after a noisy and bone shaking flight from 8th Aerial Port, Bien Hoa Air
Base near Long Binh Post. Even after such a flight, we all knew we were lucky to have caught
an air ride rather then riding in the back of a deuce-n-half in convoy up
60 odd miles of Highway 13, also known as “Thunder Road”.
Hot, sweaty, and nervous, we reported in to 1SGT Robert Jefferson, a commanding black man in his late 50’s. He slowly looked us over, smiled and then welcomed us to Alpha Battery and asked, “Any of you soldiers know how to type by chance?”
It took me less then a half second and I responded, “I, ah . . . I know how to type, First Sergeant”.
“Good PFC Waveara”, he mis-read from the name tag on my fatigues. “Is that how you say your name?”
“Wavra, short ‘a’s like in water I replied,” knowing full well that it would take some time for this man and everyone else in the Battery to say it right.
“You three,” he said, gesturing towards the soldiers to my left, “you can wait out front until Sgt. Norris comes over from the Firing Battery to pick you up. You will be joining one of our four gun crews. Welcome to Alpha Battery 6/27th Artillery - the ‘Cannon Kings’. You have a lot to learn and little time to learn it. We’re glad to have you with us.” With that he dismissed the three.
1SGT Jefferson then turned to me as the three headed towards the door. “Now you Private Wavero, you can stow your stuff over there in the corner. Right now I need you to type up some Day Reports and a set of R & R orders; when you’re done with that, we'll see about getting you a bunk in the EM Admin Bunker. You think you can handle that?” I nodded an enthusiastic 'yes'.
With that said, I silently gave a thank you to Mr. Sondreal for teaching me typing in sophomore year of high school back in Grand Forks, North Dakota and I began my tour of duty in the “A” Battery Orderly Room. As far as I was concerned, I was a lucky bastard. For the time being, at least, I was being saved from a year on the guns – the two 8 inchers or the twin long-tubed 175 mm. Not that I felt above working on the guns. No, that wasn’t it. It was the noise, the danger and the back-breaking work that I wanted no part of. My respect for those on the guns would only increase over the next 13 months. For now at least, I was safe in an office job. I could not believe my good fortune.
I was soon to learn there was a reason for this good fortune. Working in the Administration Section had its perks, but the section also pulled its load when it came to Battery security. That meant guard duty every other night on the Battery’s forward eastern guard bunker. A week before I arrived, I was told, the Orderly Room personnel had been on guard duty on that bunker when it was hit by an RPG. Two of them were medevaced out and had not returned and there was no information if they ever would. No replacements were in sight. The Battery had been without a clerk typist for more then a week. Now if you know the Army, you know that nothing gets done without forms, forms and more forms. The 1SGT could not type and the Battery Commander just wouldn’t. Little did I know, I was a welcome addition to the unit.
As time passed, I became comfortable in the Orderly Room and even when the injured clerks eventually returned to reclaim their jobs, I somehow remained. I had made an impression on the 1SGT and BC and they kept me in the Admin Section. Over the next months I went from Training Clerk to Mail Clerk to EM Club Manager and finally, Battery Clerk.
It was about a month after I arrived, that one day I came across a packet of 35mm slides in one of the filing cabinet drawers. I had no slide viewer at the time but holding various slides to the light I could see they were photos of a 175mm gun. Something had happened to this gun. An explosion of some kind had blown the tube apart. The remainder of the tube lay beside the gun, one end of the tube and what remained on the gun were twisted metal.
I asked others in the Orderly Room to whom the slides belonged. They shrugged. “Someone who had been medevaced out a few weeks earlier,” was the uninterested reply. “One of the guys on the guns”, as far as they knew. “They were holding them in case he came back, even though that was unlikely since they recently heard that after being flown down south he had been given a ticket home via Japan. He wasn’t coming back so, yes, I could have the slides if I wanted them.”
What had happened? What were the slides of? Again, the responses were sketchy at best. “A round had gone off in the tube. The tube had exploded. Several guys were injured, not seriously and no one was killed. Someone had taken the wrap. Someone always had to take the wrap. Reports had been written, sent and filed. Article 15’s issued and punishment meted out. It was old news. It was almost forgotten until I brought it up again. Many of those involved had left for home. 1SGT Jefferson was even a new arrival since the incident.
Since I had been a history major with plans to teach high school history if I survived and made it back to the World, I decided to keep the slides. I’d like to say that I had a vision of the Internet way back then and that I would build a web site for Alpha Battery and would have a use for these slides, but you know the truth. I stuffed them away in a footlocker and time passed.
After almost 13 months in Quan Loi, my tour was drawing near its long anticipated end. Like many others I had extended an extra month in order to get an “early out” upon returning to the States. I was a “short-timer and with time on my hands I packed some belongings, including the packet of slides, into a couple of boxes and mailed them home to North Dakota.
Once or twice, maybe, over the last 33 plus years I came across the slides and looked at them in a hand-held slide viewer. They were an interesting souvenir - a souvenir of my unit but with no personal connection to me other then they showed the results of an incident that had taken place in the history of the Battery in which I had served.
In October 2002, living in Omaha, NE and recently retired, I decided to pull out all of my “Vietnam stuff” from the attic and review what was there. I hadn’t looked at any of it in maybe ten years. I decided to put up this web site on ”A“ Battery and Quan Loi and needed content. I was counting on photos that I had taken while there as well as promises of photos and stories from fellow “Cannon Kings”, Reed McDonald and Jim Hynes. The exploded tube slides were interesting, but I didn’t know enough about what had happened to use them. I would have to wait for other members of the Battery to find the planned web site to give me enough details on the incident before I could use these slide/photos.
Several months passed as I made additions to the web site. Then one day I received an email from a South Carolinian by the name of Larry Jameson. Larry had found the Alpha Battery web site and was writing to thank me and tell me how much he had enjoyed showing his two college-age sons where he had spent many months of his life. It was in Quan Loi and Alpha Battery where he had received shrapnel wounds, a concussion as well as hearing loss after being hit by an RPG during a ground attack on May 12, 1969. This led to his hospitalization in Saigon and Japan and finally to his discharge from the Army. He joked that I probably was his replacement. I agreed in a return email and we began a series of message exchanges. Larry sent me several photos for use on the site, one of himself on his 175mm gun and one by his beloved 548. I thought I recognized him, but I knew that I had never actually seen him, since he was already gone from Quan Loi by the time I had arrived.
In a subsequent message, Larry mentioned that he had been on perimeter guard duty the night his guns’ tube had exploded. Eureka! I finally had a chance to talk to someone who was there and knew something about the exploded tube incident. Maybe with information from Larry I could use some of the slide/photos. I dug them out and decided to scan them into my computer so that I could ask Larry some questions about the incident in my next message.
After I had scanned only a few slides, what should come up on my computer screen but a photo of a guy that looked just like the guy in the photo Larry had emailed me. Could it really be? I looked again in disbelief. Of all of the guys in the world that could have visited the Alpha Battery site after more then 33 years had passed, this guy, Larry Jameson, the guy that was sending me “chapters” of his Vietnam novel, had to be the owner of the slides I had “saved”. I was almost positive. To be sure I wrote to him and asked if he had taken any slides of the exploded tube?
Larry responded, “yes, he had purchased a camera at the PX just a few weeks before his injury and had shot an entire roll of slides of the exploded tube. He named some of the guys that were in the slides as best as he could recall, including himself. He had no idea what had happened to those slides, the camera or all of his other “stuff”, since he really hadn’t had any time to stop and pack a bag before he left Quan Loi on that medical chopper.”
I wrote Larry that I must have his slides. We both agreed that this fluke, this kismet, this coincidence of life that we now shared, was indeed, amazing. It brought us a little closer together - he the slide taker, I the slide saver. That I would be the guy that 33 years earlier had “saved” his slides was simply incredible. I agreed to mail him copies of the photos scanned from the slides. The mystery of the slides had been solved. Click Here to see them.
|John Wavra Then and Now|