The Fire Direction Center of Alpha Battery 6/27th Artillery during my tour in
1969 was open for business twenty-four (24) hours a day; seven (7) days a week
at Quan Loi. In order to accomplish this task two separate FDC Crews, working in
two shifts were used. Each crew was on duty for twelve hours and off duty for
twelve hours. Shifts would change at 0600 in the morning and 1800 in the
Meals were not a problem for the day shift crew in FDC. These crewmen could eat morning, noon and evening chow in the Mess Hall. The night shift crew had a little different situation. These personnel could eat evening and morning chow; however “noon” chow for them generally came around midnight. Moreover, the Mess Hall was not open during this time and no provision for late chow for the crew ever seemed to be available.
We as FDC crew members would do several different things to cope with this situation. We could ask the cooks to save the leftovers from evening chow for us. Sometimes they would leave them out for us, but most of the time they did not. At other times, we would commandeer a case of C-Rations for our noon chow. We would also eat some of the food our families had sent us from home. Last but not least, we would eat various canned goods which were purchased from the Quan Loi PX. On occasion, if the crew was especially both hungry and brave; we would break the lock on the mess hall door and raid the pantry for something to eat. Needless to say the Mess Daddy was not too fond of us doing this. The fact might also be noted that on several occasions we were going to break the lock on the Mess Hall and found the job had already been accomplished for us. Nevertheless, we always seemed to be deemed the guilty party.
Once we had the chow, getting it hot could also be complicated. Located in the FDC Bunker was a one burner electric hotplate that some crewmember had acquired. This appliance worked if the voltage from the generator was high enough. Also, some of the canned goods that we purchased from the Quan Loi PX had small Sterno heaters attached which could be used for heating them. We would also use a small Sterno Burner that my parents had sent me in one of their care packages. This burner worked fine until I did more heating than usual and I ran out of fuel. I would then either have to wait until another care package arrived and more fuel was in it or use an alternative.
When we had used all the Sterno fuel and the electric hotplate was not working; we could always use an alternative fuel that I had found. Moreover, this fuel was also readily available at our location. The fuel of which I am referring was C-4, or more commonly known as plastic explosive.
I had been told that this material would burn, so one night I tried it. I found that a small piece of this compound made a good flame which would easily heat a can of stew, beans, soup etc... Moreover, the compound was used only when the other heating sources were unavailable. One incident did occur when I was using this source of heat which I now relate.
I had about three weeks remaining before my DEROS and was working one of my last night shifts in the FDC. As usual, about midnight, I got hungry. I was not involved in the nightly card game as was the remainder of the FDC crew and the FDO, so; I decided to have chow. I had a large can of stew that I was going to eat; however the hotplate in the section was not working, nor did I have any Sterno fuel. Therefore, I was forced to use the alternative source of heat. I went to the stash of the explosive and retrieved a small piece of it to burn. As I was doing this, for some unknown reason, an FNG Lieutenant who was being oriented by Headquarters Battery walked down into the FDC Bunker. He asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was going to heat a can of stew, and if he was hungry, I would share it with him. The Lieutenant then proceeded to lecture me that if I lit the C-4, it would explode. That was the wrong thing for a Lieutenant, who was an FNG, to say to a Short-timer. I immediately pulled a cigarette lighter out of my pocket and made a large gesture of lighting the “fuel”. As I was doing this, I heard someone rapidly leaving the FDC Bunker.
When my food was beginning to heat, I looked around to see who the person was that had left in such a hurry. I noticed the FDC crew and the FDO continued to be busy playing cards and were totally oblivious to every thing except the radio chatter and the card game. The one person that I did not see was the FNG Lieutenant; he had disappeared. A few minutes later, he did reappear having perhaps realized that his Vietnam tour was not going to be cut short by some idiot in Alpha Battery FDC burning a small piece of C-4 explosive. Furthermore, the FNG Lieutenant never did tell me if he wanted to share my stew.
Norman, Oklahoma Then and Now