Mistakes and Transitions
We continued to fire in support of the 11th ACR operations as it cleared through the near-border enemy base camps from our base at Fire Support Base Burkett from April to early May,1970. Eventually, these operations, working north, carried themselves out of our effective range for the two 8in SP Howitzers. On May 6, 1970 we were ordered to join up with the two 175mm SP Gun sections at FSB Wade, located in Loc Ninh, with a small ARVN base nearby the village of that name, Northeast of FSB Burkett, and northwest of Quan Loi. Conditions remained hot and dry. We convoyed out on the same dirt road we came in on in a cloud of dust that limited visibility. I was traveling on the FDC 577 track with the medic and several of the FDC crewmembers. Security was a concern and my job was to monitor the radio and act as the commo backup for the Battery Commander, who had a radio near the lead of our column in his jeep. We were near the rear, traveling through a dried up rice paddy area of lowland when we came to an abrupt stop. We hadn’t gone more than two or three miles outside of Burkett.

The driver and passenger of the deuce and a half truck that was in front of us came running back calling for the medic who usually traveled with us, giving him access to the radios. While he gathered up his medical pack, they informed me that the 8in Howitzer we had been following had disappeared off a bridge in the dust. I immediately informed the BC and the air observer that we had a problem with a howitzer. I was told to accompany the medic and report back when I could. We both sprinted down the road forty meters or so to a small bridge. I was awestruck by the scene, almost surreal. One of our beloved 8in SP Howitzers was upside down on the opposite edge of a creek. It had flipped in the air for a fifteen to twenty foot drop, the rear half in the water, the front half in the muck of an embankment.
It had gone off the right side of the primitive bridge. The medic and I jumped down to lend assistance to the injured. I found the section chief, SSgt Archie Jones, tending to my FDC section chief, SP5 Reed McDonald, who had hitched a ride with the gun section. He was badly injured by being pinned under the edge of the track. Reed was positioned on a relatively flat dry area for the medic to tend to his injuries, and he was in much pain.
I began organizing the recovery efforts while SSgt Jones helped the medic. We needed a count of how many were on the track, and where they now were. The initial report I got was two were missing. In a frenzy, we quickly combed through the muddy water looking for people and equipment, and swept up the embankment into the bushes on the far side. We found nothing. I gathered everybody back at the start (just under the spot where the track had fallen off the bridge). I posted someone with a rifle to go into the bushes and weeds on the far side high ground to look further out and hold a spot for security.
We recounted at this time, and were missing only one, SP4 Roy Ransom. Maybe five or six of us were now on hands and knees feeling through the water and around the edges of the track. The medic came to me and reported that Reed was probably suffering a broken pelvis and God knows what other internal injuries. The medic had administered one shot of morphine. I asked if he was bleeding. “Nothing but some scratches external”, the medic replied. I asked then why does the medic need me? The real worry here was shock, we were in agreement. He wanted to give Reed another shot of morphine due to the extreme pain. We discussed the effect that this might have on shock (the medic was un-sure). I told him I didn’t have the training to make such decisions. The real problem was that after two shots of morphine, any others could be deadly. I knew that Reed had at least an hour ride in a helicopter to get to a hospital, probably more. He lay writhing in pain and we still needed to lift him up to the road to take him to an area accessible to a helicopter. I gave permission, with the proviso that he mark the number of shots in more ways than one. Reed was marked with pen and tags documenting two shots of morphine and thankfully he was asleep the last time I saw him.
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Other Stories By Ralph Porter
Ralph Porter's Photo Gallery
Deconstructing Defiance - April 1970
The Battle at Burkett, Choices Made
The Expendable Gun

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