Gun bunnies’ days were mostly boring. Generally, we worked six days on and one day off. That depended on the number of men that were assigned to the section. If there were not enough men assigned to the section you did not get the day off.
A typical day began at night. Just as you fell asleep, FDC (Fire Direction Control) would call down on the phone in our bunker with a fire mission. We would all get out on the pad with the gun. As the newest member of the section, my job was to hump projectiles - projos. The projo for a 175 gun weighed one hundred and forty-seven pounds, and was lifted by one man into a hydraulic lift that was raised up to ram into the barrel. This was not too bad of a job, as long as it was a starlit night. When it rained, it was horrible. I remember many nights being mired up above my knees in the red mud of Quan Loi struggling to load the projo into the lift.
The projos were stored in an above ground bunker surrounded by sandbags. The fuses and powder were stored separately in similar type bunkers. As one gained seniority, the jobs held more responsibility. Another ‘new guy’ job was humping powder. The powder charge weighed one hundred pounds. If FDC ordered a charge one, then one section was loaded; a charge two, then two sections; and a charge three which was, you guessed it, three sections – The entire one hundred pounds was loaded. When a charge three was ordered, we were firing twenty miles, enough distance to hit inside Cambodia.
Another job was setting the fuses that were screwed into the projo. The fuse could be set to explode in the air over a target or upon impact. Most times it was an impact fuse. A 175 projo is deadly. We killed a lot of water buffalo. I was told that it cost $500 to fire each round, and for every rubber tree destroyed the United States government paid the French plantation owners $100. Ever wonder how Michelin Tire made so much money?
Oh, by the way, all this happened over thirty years ago, so if there are errors, the reader can blame the author’s old age, and I am thankful to be living out my old age. As I was saying, FDC called down the mission, the projos, powder, and fuses were humped to the gun. Everything was made ready and then we waited, and we waited, and we waited some more.
You see the guys in FDC do not like gun bunnies. They like to see that gun bunnies never get any sleep. Oh well, that’s life in a gun section. One night we fired all night long. That was very unusual. Even back in 1968 the generals had budgets, so most nights we waited, and waited, and waited.
Finally, at about four or five a.m., we were allowed to go back to sleep. At six a.m. we awoke for chow. Being in a base camp had a lot of advantages, one being a mess hall close by. We ate three hot meals each day. I remember the food was always good. The mess sergeant even supplied hamburger and chicken for cooking on a barbecue grill, when we asked for it.
Of course a disadvantage was that Charlie would fire rockets into the base camp, usually just as we lined up for chow at the mess hall. After breakfast, the big gun was cleaned. This took a lot of time. We took pride in the way it looked and fired. One of my jobs was to clean the fifty-caliber machine gun. I even got to fire it once in a mad minute on the perimeter. A mad minute is when everyone can cut loose and fire at will for one minute.
A lot of the guys in my section were from the South. One guy was from Mississippi and another I believe from Tennessee. These were two of the biggest, meanest guys I had ever seen. They were also very “short” ( not in height but rather - not much time left in the Vietnam). Now inside our bunker, we had electric power that came from the generators. We used that power for fans and a stereo. A fan was my first purchase at the Post Exchange. These two guys spent most of their time in the bunker listening to country music. I became a big fan of Mel Tillis because they played his album over and over.
I tried my best to stay out of their way. Another fellow, I think his name was Steve, arrived in the section at about the same time that I did. Steve was from Michigan. He was promoted to Spec. 4 (Specialist Fourth Class) during December. I did not get promoted that month, so I went to see our elusive E-6 Sergeant. He said he forgot me, but would promote me during January.
I can count on one hand the number of fights that I have been in during my life; usually I was beat up by some bully. Now that Steve was a Spec. 4 he did not consider himself an FNG anymore, and felt he could give me orders. Not only that, the other guys looked at me as if I were some kind of looser. You get the picture.
Well one day we were standing in front of the projo bunker, and Steve said something to me. In hind site, I am sure that he meant nothing by it, and I cannot even remember what he said, but I snapped. I hit him with my right fist just as hard as I could with all my strength. He went flying through those projos like a bowling ball through bowling pins.
There were astonished looks everywhere. No one said too much, but suddenly I had gained the respect of those short-timers, and I was no longer an FNG. Later I apologized to Steve, and he was gracious enough to accept. If I had not caught him by surprise, I am certain he would have creamed me. We became good friends, and you are right, I made Spec.4 in January 1969.