Guard Duty Memories

Perimeter guard was a duty that everyone hated.  Each day one man was selected from "A" Battery and was told to report to Headquarters Battery where he joined two conscripts from that battery.  I never did understand why Headquarters Battery was right next to us or just exactly what they did.  They were "Red Legs" MOS 13A10, but I never saw one of them on an artillery piece.  Generally, one was selected for guard like this, "Hey Jameson, get your butt over to Headquarters Battery, you got guard tonight".  Usually you had been up all night on a firing mission and then worked all day on re-supplying projos and powder.


Not only did you have to report tired beyond belief, you had to put on a freshly pressed uniform and be inspected by the Sergeant of the Guard.  The Sergeant was usually an E-5 from Headquarters Battery and wasn’t too friendly to the guys in “A” Battery (the men that actually worked).  Well once you passed inspection he would tell you to go get some chow and report back in thirty minutes.  The mess hall was located in Headquarters Battery area, and the food was always good.  I don’t know how those cooks did it, but we always ate well.


Once back with the Sergeant of the Guard, we got to lock and load our trusty M-14s.  The infantry guys all had M-16s, but I liked my M-14 – it never once jammed.  The infantry always seemed to have lots more ammo.  I never had more than two clips, and that was only forty bullets.  In full-auto mode it would fire 750 rounds per minute, but you could not control it in that mode, and besides, I never had but 40 rounds.  There were other men selected for guard duty.  They must have come from the mortar platoon that was sometimes bivouacked next to us or perhaps infantry units that were back at the Quan Loi base camp for rotation. 


The Sergeant assigned three men per guard bunker.  These guard bunkers were basically dugout holes surrounded by sandbags.  Some had steel culverts on top covered with sandbags so that you could crawl in there in case of rocket or mortar attack.  We usually lay on top of the sandbags.  Snakes and rats liked to be crawl inside the protected area, so unless absolutely necessary you did not go there.


Guard duty lasted from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.   With three guys, one was on guard for two hours and then slept four hours, which was more sleep than I was used to.  You drew straws to see who was first, second, or third.  Third was the dreaded tour, because that meant you had to be awake the last two hours – early in the morning.


I remember my first time on guard.  I was dropped off with two infantry guys.  My fresh uniform was instantly covered with the red dust of old Quan Loi.  You have to understand something about the Army in those days.  It was divided into two groups: beer drinkers and pot smokers.  I was a beer drinker.  Unfortunately the other two guys were pot smokers, and they promptly lit up as soon as the Sergeant was out of sight.


That night was bad.  They got high as a kite, and soon were sleeping, leaving me to spend the entire night scanning the perimeter hoping Charlie was busy with the whores in An Loc and not planning to visit us.  I thought that night would never end.  I had been smart enough to fill a canteen with coffee, but it was hard to stay awake.  The next morning at daylight the other two finally woke up.  They laughed at me for staying awake, and reminded me of how cushy guys like me had it in a base camp.  “Yea,” I said, “Thank God for infantry protection.”


Once on guard, one of the guys dropped a grenade in the hole that another soldier and I were in.  He laughed, told us it wouldn’t explode, but it still scared us out of our wits.  I understand he volunteered to be a forward observer.  That is an artilleryman that travels with the infantry unit and calls in the artillery strikes. 


“A” Battery 6th of the 27th was a battery of “big” guns – two 175mm and two eight inch.  Our strikes were usually called by an army pilot of a small single engine plane called a “bird-dog.”  I used to be amazed when I would see it on the airstrip shot full of bullet holes.  That pilot was one brave soul.


The best guard duty that I remember was Christmas Eve of 1968.  The First Division was in the process of pulling out of Quan Loi, and was being replaced with the First Air Cavalry Division.  “The Big Red One” choppers would come in at dusk with red flares smoking out the back and blaring rock music.  We always cheered them as they came in – it was quite a sight.  That Christmas Eve, a soldier was dressed in a Santa outfit, and was throwing Red Cross ditty bags to us on guard duty.  The chopper was playing “here comes Santa Claus.”  It was a wonderful night because a cease-fire was in effect.  We were not quite so worried that night.  The ditty bag resembled a blue Crown Royal Whisky bag and contained chocolate, shaving gear, soap, writing material, etc.  I will never forget Santa’s visit on that Christmas Eve.  Each Christmas Eve since 1968 I have said a thankful prayer for being able to come home to America.


The guard duty that I remember most was when our gun’s tube exploded.  I was on guard duty just down from section IV (my section) on the perimeter.  The gun, much as any other night, had been firing missions.  That meant firing once or twice an hour.  The last time it fired that night we saw a flume of fire about sixty feet long come from the barrel.  We, on guard duty, at that time, did not know the tube had exploded.


Daylight came.  The mist in the valley was a beautiful sight, but as we moved up the hill toward section IV we saw large pieces of metal, some pieces two feet long.  We knew something was terribly wrong.  The barrel lay on the ground in front of gun number four.  Luckily no one was killed.  Some guys had shrapnel wounds, but all had survived. 


I always thought our Sergeant, Jimmy Kissinger, got a raw deal, as he was given an Article 15 reprimand because the fuse lot could not be identified.  We had been using three different lots.  All three lots had to be pulled from all batteries in Vietnam.  A tarp was placed over the gun, and it was transported to Long Binh via highway 13, “Thunder Road”.

Larry Jameson
[Editorial note:  The views expressed in this story are those of the author]




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