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Histories for 8th Battalion, 6th Field Artillery (1960s to Present)

FSB Rita 1 November 1968
MILITARY BIOGRAPHY OF IRA E. WHITAKER Born: 9th November 1934 in Park Springs, TX Entered military 31st October 1952 Height 6', weight 164lbs. Basic training and Advanced Individual Training: Ft. Bliss Texas. Military Occupational Specialty: Operation Intelligence Specialist. Rank private E2 March 1953 assigned to Korea, 7th Infantry Division, Battery C 15th Automatic Weapons Battalion. MOS 16160 guncrewman. June 1953 assigned squad leader rank private 1st class. August 1953 assigned section leader, rank corporal E4. October 1953 assigned Platoon Sergeant rank Sergeant E5. November & December 1954 completed AAA platoon Sergeant school Camp Moore Japan. February 1954 assigned as Battery 1st Sergeant, Rank Sergeant E5. May 18th 1954 promoted to Sergeant 1st class E6 still 1st Sergeant. August 1954 re-assigned to Ft. Bliss Texas 4070th support command. October 1954 requested to be re-assigned back to the Far East, Re-assigned to 7th infantry division C Battery 15th AWBN Rank SFC E6, Stayed until 22 February 1956. 4 May 1956 until 11th October 1956 assigned to Battery D 91st AFA Battalion Ft.Polk,LA. MOS 16160 Chief Section. October 1956 re-enlisted for 82nd airborne division Ft. Bragg, NC Assigned to 80th airborne AAA battalion. 1957 attended Division NCO school 4 weeks. During my assignment with the 80th I was sent to Ft. Stewart GA as NCOIC of summer training for all of The southern area national guard units for five states. February 1958 re-assigned to USAREUR HQ Btry 23 AAA BN as Operation Intelligence Specialist. Located at Nelligan Barrack Germany. 1958 attended survey school Ansback Germany. February 1959 unit was de-activated. March 1956 assigned to Btry A 3rd Howitzer Bn 28th FA 155 Towed. Assigned as chief section originally, then served as both chief of Detail and chief of firing battery until unit de-activated May 1960. Unit was at New ULM Germany. May 1960 assigned CO E (Patton) 34th armored Ft. Sill, OK. They found Out I was drawing proficiency pay in MOS 14160 so I had to find a new home. At this time they were forming new LaCrosse Missile BN?s at Ft. Sill and I chose one of them. I was assigned to the 5th Missile BN as security Platoon sergeant MOS 14160. I later attended LaCrosse Firing BTRY school and took over as chief of Firing Battery. MOS 16660. In December the 23rd 1960 I married Wanda Marie Marple Lawton, OK. We had three boys and one girl. Again they found out I was drawing proficiency pay and I was assigned to the C Battery, 3rd HOW BN SP as chief of firing BTRY this was a STRACK Unit and was alerted for Cuba during the Bay of Pigs era. I had less than 90 days on my enlistment so I couldn't go with my unit. I was re-assigned to BTRY F Training BN USATC Ft. Sill, OK MOS 14160 Chief of firing platoon. While assigned to this unit I volunteered for jungle warfare training and attended 1962 at Ft. Sherman Panama Canal Zone. March 1963 re-assigned to USAREAR B BTRY 3rd BN 76th Artillery Kitizen Germany. Unit was in Graffenwhor re-taking Battalion tests. Battalion Commander picked me up at the battalion mess hall. Units were in the Field. Colonel Thayer asked me "what can you do"? I replied anything he needed done. He immediately took me by jeep to B BTRY who was firing at the time. He told the BTRY commander this is you new chief of firing Battery. Put him to work now. We passed the test three days later in Good time. May 20th, 1964 we received our only daughter, (our German addition). I remained as chief of firing battery until June 1964. In July 1964 I was assigned as Battery 1st Sergeant Rank SFC E6. November 1964 I was promoted to Sergeant 1st class E7 by the division Commander at Thanksgiving dinner in the Battalion Mess Hall. 17 August 1965 I was called to Divarty HQ and was promoted to 1st Sergeant E8 MOS 13Z50. Battery B was a top BTRY in all aspects, moral, efficiency, and Discipline. March 1966 when I was due to rotate to the US my Battalion Commander LT Colonel Love extended me for six months in country. At this time we had been stripped of most of our officers and NCO's for Vietnam. Colonel Love said he needed me to stay and help rebuild and re-train the BN. We drew up training plans and moved to Wildflecken Range for 30 days of Solid training for ten hours each day after which we went to Graffenwhor for our BN test which we passed with flying colors. This was accomplished with acting NCO's and accelerated personnel promotions. October 5, 1966 assigned to Service Btry 2nd Howitzer Bn 31st Artillery Ft.Sill, Oklahoma. Remained with Battalion until 25 June 1968. June 1968 received orders for Vietnam, assigned to Btry C 8th Bn 6th Artillery 1st Infantry Division (Dynamite Charlie), as 1Sg. Rank 1Sg 13Z50 8/6th HQ was at Phuloi C Btry. Was on Thunder 4 FSB guarding the main supply route, which ended at Quanloi. Also infiltration routes to Saigon. Cpt Travis was Btry Cmdr. There was no 1Sg assigned. The firing Btry was on the FSB. HQ personnel were in the base camp Quanloi. The first day of my assignment I caught a chopper to FSB Thunder 4 where I introduced myself to Cpt. Travis, he showed me around the FSB. As I Previously stated there was no 1Sg on duty, this was evident in what I saw as I checked the Btry out. Things were lax on the FSB. Weapons showed lack of maintenance, M548 vehicles ammo carriers, which there are six assigned, half were down, tracks off missing parts, etc. I asked why so many vehicles were down, I was told no parts were available. I saw no scheduled maintenance being pulled on any equipment in the unit. That night Cpt. Travis and I had a long talk, there were no mechanics, cooks, commo or any HQ persons on the FSB. When I asked why I was told that's just the way it was done. When I had looked at the base camp I saw very little work being accomplished by any section there. I asked Cpt. Travis about bringing needed personnel to the FSB, such as mechanics, commo, supply personnel, any and all needed to support the Btry as needed in all areas. Cpt. Travis agreed this was a good idea. The next day I flew back to base camp and broke the news. You can guess I wasn't too popular. It became policy that mechanics, to include the Motor Sgt. would move and stay with the unit whenever possible. Also commo personnel, cooks as needed and 1 supply man. Supply Sgt., parts and records clerks for maintenance and unit clerk would remain in base camp and assist and supply as needed. We established maintenance policy and procedure to be used daily while in the field. We stayed on Thunder 4 approximately 30 days more. When we moved back to Quanloi all equipment was up and running. Men and equipment had improved tremendously in the way it was cared for. Moral had improved and complaining had almost ceased. We set up in Quanloi just off the airstrip. We went to work and improved the defense and looks of our position, even though we were behind the Infantry perimeter. We dug infantry style gun bunkers and deployed our 50 caliber and M60 machine guns. We coordinated our fields of fire with the infantry. While at Quanloi we were under the operational control of the 1/5th Artillery, a 105mm towed Bn. Commanded by LTC Rogers. This was my first encounter with LTC Rogers. I was impressed even though we weren't his battery he treated us like we were. I would visit NCO's in the 1/5th, LTC Rogers would sit with us and Discuss things, not only our jobs and problems, he was also very interested in us and our men's personal life and problems. As always at Quan Loi we fired insertion missions for the infantry units, as well as harassing and interdiction fires on Vietcong and NVA resupply routes and infiltration routes. One mission stands out in my mind. There was division size unit Infiltrating in the Loc Nien area. The infantry and the 1st 5th were Airlifted into the airstrip area at Loc Nien (Dynamite Charlie) C Btry 8/6th Artillery fired continuous fire from Quan Loi to cover these Insertions. The first night there were big battles in the Loc Nien area. LTC Rogers called back to Quan Loi and said he needed ammunition fast, and lots of it. C Btry had been alerted to move out at first light, to join the units at Loc Nien moving over land. / We would take 22 truckloads of ammunition with us (155 rounds). We had this to load that night, as well as continue to fire support for units under attack at Loc Nien. I divided the men in the firing battery, half firing missions, the other half with headquarters personnel were sent to the ammunition dump. We assisted the men from the 1st5 Artillery to airlift much needed Ammunition (105 rounds), to Loc Nien, which is very difficult in the dead of night. At the same time we were loading trucks to haul our 155 ammunition to Loc Nien at daybreak. Those men fired and humped ammunition all night knowing we would move out at daybreak. It was great to see the pride, moral and hard work these men accomplished. The engineer battalion assigned at Quan Loi sent a platoon minus, including one dozer, one front end loader and men to operate and maintain with C Btry to assist in more rapid ammo pits, bunkers for personnel and fortifications within the FSB. We arrived at Loc Nien at approximately noon, after a bad night of attacks. When we arrived at our position we were informed we had minutes to prepare for an insertion mission for an infantry company, for preparation of their LZ. And give cover fire. Mud was half knee deep all over the position. Our track vehicles and all our trucks had worked it into soup. Cpt Travis and the XO laid the guns in preparation for the mission. Ammo was needed fast and a lot of it. We didn't have time to unload as normal. I informed the drivers to lower their tailgates, run their trucks backwards and throw on the brakes. The ammo would slide out the back of the truck. We used axes to cut off the steel bands from the ammo pallets and powder bundles. The CO told me I should use more safety as MG Ware and other ranking officers were in our area. But there just wasn't time to slow down. We continued to off load and prepare ammunition. The Btry was ready and fired the mission without a hitch. After the mission was over and things slowed down, MG Ware came over and talked to C Btry's men. He said he had never seen artillerymen operate in such a manner. He said that was the way to get a job done. We were taken some incoming rounds and sniper fire. There was a vacant Plantation house approximately 400-500 meters to our right front where some of the sniper fire was coming from. After a few 155 direct fire rounds that stopped. About this time C Battery was coming into its own we had proved we could move, shoot and communicate with the best. This was the first operation that we took a Mess Hall minus with us to the field. It made an impression on Colonel Rogers of the first of the fifth and infantry units in our position who were eating C-rations. Commanders of the units wanted to know if they could eat with us. I said yes if you will fly your rations out to us and furnish one man each to assist my cooks. They readily agreed. At that time we feed all troops for the remainder of the operation. At some point we started to get short of ammo, we couldn't use our trucks they had been released. The Headquarters in charge called in Helicopters and C 130's which flew the ammo in to Loc Nien. Ammo was strapped on palates in the C 130's which couldn't land on the airstrip because it was being mortared. So the C130's would come in just off the airstrip surface with rear ramp down and shoot the ammo out the back by parachute which would go sailing down the airstrip being chased by our M548 ammo vehicles which the men would cut off the bands load the ammo and return it to our guns. I'm not sure how long we stayed at Loc Nien but after several days the action trailed off and the area was stabilized. We received word to move back to Quan Loi Base camp. This was not as easy as seemed. We had extra ammo at this time and no way to haul it. Choppers were called for and we piled ammo in A-bags and rope nets on the airstrip for retrieval, problem was not enough choppers and running out of daylight. Move back to Quan Loi was uneventful. Back in Quan Loi we re-established our position and continued our mission. Our next battle was at An Loc, the 11th Armor Cavalary jumped a large enemy force outside An Loc. The enemy was all over them on and around their A-Cav's (armored personal carriers). C-Battery was firing support fire for them; a continuous fire. Colonel Westmoreland their commander called C-Battery for airburst on his position. We used variable timed fuses set to burst just above the A-Cav's. we fired on the enemy for sometime. We fired several hundred rounds during this battle. After the battle was over Colonel Westmoreland landed in our position and talked to each gun section, he said he had used lots of artillery but none as accurate and timely as we had fired this day. He said ?I should be mad, you shot off the antenna's and headlights from my A-Cav's but I am not. You got the enemy off of us real good.? By this time you could see a big change in the men of C Battery. Everyone wanted to be a part of what was happening. Battery Headquarters personnel, mechanics, commo etc. chose gun sections to associate themselves with. They actually took part in that sections duties. They took their turn at manning guns as we kept 50% of the crew on the guns at all times. In most cases they stayed with their chosen sections at night and did their regular duties during daylight. Lt. Colonel Rogers and his officers and men spoke highly of them and they were receiving recognition from the 8/6th Batallion as well as other supported units. They were given the name of "Getting the Job Done", they were now a cohesive unit. FIRE SUPPORT BASE RITA Soon after An Loc we received orders to move to and establish fire support base Rita, I had no problem finding people who wanted to go. All personnel were up to the challenge. When we planned our mission we included our mess section minus. We packed just necessary equipment and a small tent in an ammo trailer. Cooks and other headquarters personnel would ride with the gun sections of their choice. The supply sergeant, clerks and a small detail were left behind to re-supply the battery. The 1st BN 5th Artillery HQ and one battery with 1st 16th Infantry would be airlifted into FSB Rita to establish the fire support base. C BTRY 8/6th Artillery with elements of Bravo Troop 4th Cavalry would move over land approximately 37 k's. Terrian was rough and muddy. The area had been bombed by b-52 bombers and huge craters blocked our way. One of the M109's slid into a crater while trying to pass between two craters close to each other. We had to cut trees and build up support under the tracks in water shoulder deep. This held the convoy up several hours. We finally cleared the M109 and moved on to FSB Rita arriving late in the evening. We set up our guns in a star formation, this gives better defense in case of attack. We began digging in and overheading our ammunition and personnel for the men's protection. We were also firing missions at this time laying in Defcon's (Defensive Coordinates) for FSB Dot and Julie as well as firing for long range patrols. It took approximately 10 thousand sandbags and several hundred steel engineer stakes to build a defensive position for a 109 Howitzer Battery. You only can use 50% of your men to accomplish this chore. The other 50% are on the guns preparing fire and firing missions. We would rotate personnel as to equal the workload. I told the men I need the mission completed by daylight this included overheading all ammo and powder, cover for personnel, ammo offloaded and prepared for firing. Personal foxholes and fighting positions, machine gun positions, built and guns deployed. I also told them I didn?t think they could accomplish this due to the late hour starting. They then went to work. At daylight the next morning, a group of men found me and said ?1st Sergeant we are ready. By now I had found out if you told them they couldn?t accomplish a mission they would do it our bust a gut trying. FSB Rita was a scary place; it was a small clearing in the jungle with just meters between our defense wire and the treeline. They were old blown up A-Cav?s in old positions from previous battles. This showed what the enemy was capable of. The 2nd day we start improving our positions in establishing supply and admit procedures. We were re-supplied by chopper from Quan Loi and other base camps. We were receiving sporadic mortar and rocket fire most days. I guess they thought our mess tent was a command post. Because every time we put it up they mortared it, we lost two sets of equipment. I would just request more equipment. We finally would raise the tent only long enough to cook the food, then drop it. Here again we had hot meals for Charlie Battery; the 1/5th and the infantry were getting one meal a day by chopper. It started out hot but cold when the troops ate it, the rest of the time was C-rations. I made the same deal as Loc Nien; if units would fly me in their rations, furnish two cooks and two helpers we would feed them. Troops had to rotate in, spread out causing us to feed from daylight till dark. We had set up a laundry system were we could do laundry while in the field. We would send laundry in on the re-supply chopper, my supply sergeant would have laundered by a Vietnamese woman who would do the laundry in one day and return to the FSB. This worked well and was the envy of the other units. I can?t remember dates well but we continued to receive mortar fire on a daily basis. We had two daylight probes on the NE corner of the FSB, which were quickly repelled. When changing infantry companies Bravo troop ? Cav brought A-Cav?s into the east entrance. One was hit by RPG as it entered the wire completely melting it down. This skirmish went on for about 30 minutes, 30 October 1968 we received a new Battery Commander; Captain D. Settle. After the change of command we walked out the fire support base. I showed him how we were set up, briefed him on our situation and brought him up to speed on personnel and any problems we had. I related to Captain Settle right away, he was a previous NCO and had a good insight into the overall operation of the Army and how things were accomplished. We were still under operational control of Lt. Colonel Rogers and the 1/5th Artillery; who was in the FSB with us. FSB Julie and Dot who were in our vicinity were both attacked pretty heavy prior to 31st October. C-Battery fired Defcons for those FSB?s. We did a lot of firing in support of those FSB?s during those attacks; we felt we were next to be hit. Because of our position and close proximity to those FSB?s. Our turn came the night of the 31st October 1968. At midnight we test fired all our weapons at which time there was a quite lull. At approximately 0100, 1st November 1968 I was setting by the command post bunker and all hell broke loose. It seemed the world had blown up. The enemy had blown our wire with Bandoleer torpedoes. They were a Sapper unit and all they carried was RPG?s (rocket-propelled grenades) and homemade satchel charges, which were made from plastic explosives wrapped in US army poncho material with a very short fuse. The Sappers were dressed in shorts and sandals so they could move fast. They had tourniquets tied around their arms and legs for use when wounded. They had blown at least two holes in the wire and were putting men through them rapidly. The holes were on the north corner by our #2 gun C-22. There were also 2 A-Cav?s and a tank from Bravo troop ? Cav. Both A-Cav?s were blown up at the same time; the tank was also hit but not blown up. C-22 gun was knocked out with 2 RPG hits, one in the motor knocking out power the other though the side into the firing compartment killing or wounding most of the crew. We had two 50-caliber machine guns in bunkers on that side, both were knocked out. One A-Cav was on-fire with ammo exploding, the driver for some reason ran the A-Cav backwards into our position still exploding. I could see all this from my position, as it was almost light of day from all the fire and burring vehicles and our own illumination fire. After calling the guns and receiving no answer from the #2 gun, I grabbed my weapon and headed for that position. I could tell that was the main point of attack. Upon arriving at the #2 gun, I met the chief of section Sergeant Norris; he was dazed but not wounded at this time. I told him to stay down and let me check the damage to his gun and men. I found the gun to be inoperative and on-fire. The rest of the crew was either dead or wounded. One man who was wounded was a replacement that had came to us that day on the re-supply chopper. He was still in fighting condition; at this time Sergeant Norris came back to the gun. The three of us set up defenses trying to stop the breech and the inflow of enemy Sappers. The north side of the perimeter were the breech of the wire happened was total chaos. The before mentioned A-Cav?s and guns were still out of commission. The men in both 50-caliber machine gun positions were either dead or wounded The enemy Sappers were all around and on C-Batteries guns. There were several dead bodies lying in front of my positions. It was very hard to tell the enemy from our own men. Me, Sergeant Norris and the wounded man were all was between the enemy and the FSB at this time. One Sapper was on top of C-22 attempting to set a charge, I shot him off. Their were other Sapper?s in the position with us, I was in one foxhole a Sapper was in another with a RPG, I would raise up to shoot him, he would do the same, we would fire and duck back down, this seemed to go on forever although it was only seconds. Finally he didn?t rise up anymore. During this exchange, Sergeant Norris was killed and I was wounded the first time. In fact the only man left on gun section 2 was the new recruit who was wounded. The Sappers who we hadn?t killed passed on into our positions doing damage. During the battle at C-22 position, Lt. Colonel Rogers showed up and assisted us in finally knocking out the enemy in that area. He was wounded during this exchange. I suggested to him he should leave that area, stay under cover; we needed him. I saw him and my CO Captain Settle several more times. They didn?t listen to me very well. I left the wounded man at C-22 with others I had gathered up to hold that position of the perimeter. I made a check of all the guns, the enemy must have rehearsed their mission, for five out of six guns were hit by RPG?s within inches of the same spot. Knocking out the motors and the power to the guns. This caused the guns to have to be fired manually. Two guns #3 and 4 sections were not firing, all others were firing direct fire into the tree line from where the attack originated. At gun 3, I found a dead solider whom an RPG had shot in the chest. He had been firing the 50-caliber machine gun on top of the M109. The RPG hit the machine gun and richoted into his chest tearing him up terribly. I called for our Medic Mark Easley; who did a fantastic job throughout the night. He and CPT Settle placed him on a poncho liner and carried him to the Medivac area. He did his best to help all the wounded as soon as possible, even though at one point I saw him sick and throwing up. I asked him if he was alright; he said yes and went back to work. He was as much a hero as anyone in that FSB. I talked to the crew and told them to get back on the gun and continue to fire. At #4 gun, which also had been hit and lost power, the crew was off the gun in foxholes. I talked to chief of section and crew, and told them the gun could be fired manually and to get back to work. They returned to the Howitzer and started to fire direct fire into the perimeter area. Five guns fired direct fire while the sixth gun, which was placed in the middle of the star formation, fired illumination for the FSB. It was the only gun not hit. All other guns had lost power and were firing manually. The battle lasted from approximately 1am until daylight. A lot happened in that time frame. At one point we had a search light unit who turned on their light toward the attack, illuminating our position and us. I told them to turn it off and they did. I could tell that another attack had started on the West Side. I had all I could do where I was. After getting all guns back online, I went and checked the rest of the area. The 50 caliber bunkers, where quiet. I checked them out. The two men in the bunkers appeared dead. I checked for pulses and couldn?t find any. Later it was discovered one of the men was alive, but didn?t survive. While checking the machine gun positions you could see the damage we had done to the enemy. There were many dead bodies and some wounded, with arms and legs shot off by the machine guns. I mostly stayed in the vicinity of the battery?s guns, as we had enemy sappers in our position for some time. We were continually exchanging fire and moving our men around to stabilize our perimeter and position area. We fired the Howitzer?s direct fire continually during the entire attack. We were running short of ammo, both 155 and 50 caliber. Ammo was called for but couldn?t be dropped on the resupply pad, which was outside our wire. A Sikorsky helicopter came with the ammo. He couldn?t land in the FSB because of tall antennas and guns shooting. We contacted the pilot and told him to come in as low as he could, watch for our signal, and drop the ammo, hoping it would land in a clear spot. It worked. I continued to check my battery?s position, give encouragement and direct fire where needed, and just assist wherever needed. We received support by helicopter gunship and fixed wing aircraft, which strafed and dropped napalm right to the edge of our wire. This action sure raised moral and helped shut down the enemy. During the course of the battle I was wounded twice, slightly. You don?t much notice your wounds, when so much is happening. Seeing the dead bodies of your men and the enemy, directing your men, trying to keep up with events and returning fire on the enemy, keeps you busy. I vividly recall the bravery and the efficiency of my men. They stood their ground and did their job, making their unit proud. A tremendous amount of ammo was fired during the battle. It was later reported that 2,0000 rounds of artillery rounds were expended. Approximately 50,000 rounds of 50 caliber machine gun, 478 rounds of mortar, along with 105 beehive rounds, and lots of M-16 fire. I don?t know how these figures where formulated, but I do know a lot of ammo was fired that night. I?m also not sure of the body count of this battle. It was reported there were 12 dead and 54 wounded Americans. Also 27 dead enemy inside the perimeter and at least 200 more outside the perimeter wire and in the woods. I felt there were more enemies killed inside the wire and taken out of the position as the enemy pulled back. I saw many dead enemies during my checking of the position, especially in the #2 gun area, which was at the point of attack. I saw some bodies being moved by the enemy as they retreated back through the wire. Bodies I remember as missing legs and arms, where not found among the dead the next morning. You don?t forget details like this. One thing I am very sure of, without men like LTC Rogers, Cpt Settle and the brave men on the guns and perimeter, there could have been a very different outcome for this battle. They stayed their ground and did their jobs outstandingly. They were a very fine group of men. The next day after the battle we carried the enemy dead outside the wire in the vicinity of the re-supply pad. A bulldozer was used to dig a trench, and the dead were buried. Assessments were made on damage to our guns, position, and loss of men and equipment. We picked up a trailer load of satchel charges and RPG rounds and weapons lost by the enemy. We also gathered up American weapons lost during the battle. There was a quarter ton trailer approximately half full of weapons from most of the FSB. They were sent back to my supply Sgt. to be identified and returned to their respective units. Replacements was brought in by chopper to replace our losses. By the end of the day we where up to strength with men, supplies and equipment. Ready for whatever came our way. The second day they started to bring new motors (PACKS) by chopper to replace the ones knocked out by the enemy sappers. The new PACKS were put in and the old flown out, putting our guns back to full operation with the exception of C-22, which we could drive but could not fire. This was accomplished by our unit mechanics, a fantastic job accomplished under field conditions. This was all accomplished while firing support missions for FSB Julie, Dot and Infantry in our area. Sometime after this mission LTC Dingus, the Bn Commander for the 8th/6 Artillery, our Bn Commander came to FSB Rita. He, Cpt Settle and I talked about our base camp at Quan Loi. We had received orders to vacate this position. LTC Dingus decided that CPT Settle needed to stay with the battery at the FSB. They decided that I would take a small detachment, fly to Quan Loi, pack up all our gear and equipment at that location and move it to Lai Kie and store it in tents until we moved out of FSB Rita. This was accomplished and while we were at Lai Khe I found out what a name ?Dynamite Charlie? had made for itself. The officers and men of the battalion headquarters greeted my men like heroes. The mess hall was closed, due to the late hour we had arrived. Some of the battalion officers took my men and me into the officers mess tent. They had the cooks prepare us some food. By their praise and questions, their respect was evident. When we arrived back at Rita, and they told the men of the battery, you can imagine how the moral and the esprit de corps rose with the men. We continued to receive mortar fire and some small probes of our position for several more days. After which we received orders to move to Base Camp Dion, for our new base camp. We were being replaced by a 155 Towed unit, when we moved out. Prior to our move CPT Settle was called back to division headquarters. We were to move back to Quan Loi with Bravo Troop Quarter Cavalry as our escort, stay over night and then move on to Dion. Prior to his departure CPT Settle told me I would ride the lead gun and lead the battery out of FSB Rita to Dion. The executive officer would ride with FDC where the radios were. We moved out in the morning toward the Michelin Rubber Plantation, which was between Quan Loi and us. About noon we received a radio message that the enemy had set up an ambush in the rubber plantation. We were told to stop and set up night defenses. While they brought the 11th Armored Cavalry from Dion to help us through the rubber plantation. The next morning the Air Force strafed and bombed the enemy positions and we were told to move through the rubber and the 11th Cav. would move in from the south. We would pass in the rubber while engaging the enemy. This was total chaos. We made it through and went on to Quan Loi in good stead, where we set up and spent the night. The next day we joined a convoy moving down Thunder Road to Dion. About noon we met CPT Settle moving north to rejoin his battery. Cpt Settle had been at a division headquarters meeting, where they were served steak and the trimmings. We stopped the convoy to receive him and to some embarrassment, he laid out a steak dinner with all the trimmings, to include shrimp cocktail, on the hood of his jeep and said 1st Sgt come have your dinner. He had stood up during the division dinner and told the division commander that he couldn?t eat like this while his 1st Sgt was in the field eating C-rations. The division commander told him to fix him a dinner and take it to him. I stood and ate that dinner while all the troops shouted and joked at me. It was wonderful to have a commander that would go to that extreme for me. After eating we moved out to Dion and set up in our new base camp. This base camp was a mud hole. There had been no improvements made whatsoever. We set up and went to work. We didn?t accept the condition of our position. CPT. Settle and I made a lot of deals and traded a lot of favors to accomplish what we wanted. We needed to get rid of the water and mud first thing. We made a deal with PA&E, an American construction company who had all the equipment, trucks, graders, loaders, etc. In Vietnam they had a clay-like soil, with a lot of iron pyrites in it. When wet it was like soup. When you put it on the roads, and gun positions it set up like concrete. PA&E graded and drained our position, laid out streets, hauled and laid out the clay soil and made a good dry position for us. None of this was legal. It cost us boxes of steak and a few bottles of liquor. We requested lumber to build personnel bunkers for our men, to no avail. Yet there was an engineer depot, with all the lumber to build our bunkers. Cpt Settle and I made a deal to trade sundry packs (survival packs for the men), which the engineers would trade or sell on the black market. For all the lumber we needed, to which they agreed. When we went to load the lumber on our trucks, we reneged on giving them the sundry packs. The trucks were loaded and we told them to move out to our position. Cpt Settle informed the two Sgt.?s if they said anything we would turn them in for black-marketing. They were both fit to be tied. Our men again showed their metal. I gave them a deadline to finish the bunkers and told them they probably couldn?t meet the deadline. They went to work, 24 hours later they awoke CPT Settle and me and said we are through. They had worked through the night as well as fired their missions. Our men?s moral and esprit, was at it?s highest. CPT Settle and I did all we could to see that it stayed high. We wrote letters and signed the right names to them so that we could purchase products from Cholon commissary and PX, which we were not authorized to use. We traded for steaks, pizza, almost anything the men would enjoy. We saw that they had all they needed and most things to keep them happy. We ran several missions from our base camp at Dion. Once B Btry 8/6th Artillery moved with the 11th Armored Cavalry into the Michelin Rubber Plantation. We were called late one evening and told to move out at daybreak to relieve B Btry. They were tied up in downed timber and couldn?t maneuver with their wheeled vehicles and trailers. We could. We had previous experience moving with the cavalry and only took track vehicles with us. We moved out at daybreak to relieve B Btry. I had to check each gun and make sure there were no short-timers on board. It was our policy that anyone with less than 10 days in country, couldn?t go on an operation. The men would hide on the guns and I would have to make them get off and stay behind. We made other moves to various FSB, such as the holiday inn and gave support where needed. We placed two guns at the regional water point for added support. They remained there for some time. C Btry had no problems, disciplinary or other during my entire tour. This was the finest unit I had ever served with. I was so proud of these men and all that they had accomplished. They were written about in the Stars and Stripes paper. They had a magazine article in Saga magazine written about them. They were well known throughout the division. My tour of duty was coming to a close, I had 30 days left in country, when I was called to division headquarters with other soldiers. We were interviewed and three were selected to represent the division at the Society of the 1st Infantry Division meeting in Lake George New York. I was one of those selected. When learning of my departure the Divarty commander Colonel Love, who had been my Bn Commander in 1965-66 sent his chopper to have me come have lunch with him and debrief him on all the things we had accomplished with C Btry which were many. As I said earlier, FSB Rita and moving with the cavalry taught us a lot. We had made many changes to how a field artillery battery operated in the field. We know carried 8 feet high rolls of chain link fence to stop RPG?s when put up around our guns. We had brackets made and mounted where the floatation devices attached. In these brackets we carried metal landing strip planks. These help deflect RPG?s as well as overhead our ammo rapidly. We mounted armored 50 caliber cupla?s such as where mounted on cavalry armored vehicles. On top of our M109?s commander hatch around our 50 caliber. As well as other tactics not commonly used for artillery batteries. When we moved down the road we looked awesome. Cpt Star from the Quarter Cav. was most helpful in accomplishing these changes. I departed this unit with heavy heart and much pride. I had no doubt these men would continue with the highest of standards. During my tour of duty with Dynamite Charlie; operations at FSB Rita and other operations I was awarded the distinguished service cross, purple heart two bronze star medals, Vietnamese cross of gallantry, air medal; and later in February 1970 I was awarded the CIV ACT HON MDL by the government of the Republic of Vietnam. I feel some embarrassed by these awards, I believe each and every man deserved these awards for the actions and dedication to themselves their leaders and their country. They made this unit what it was, they never asked why; they always did what was asked of them with outstanding ability. I honor and miss them. In august 1969 I was assigned to 8th BN 17th Arty at Ft. Sill, Ok as 1sg of SVC Btry MOS 13z50 April 1970. I was reassigned as Command Sergeant for the 8/17th artillery. My rank was 1st Sergeant. February 1972, I was assigned to the 75th group, operations Sgt. Major; my rank was 1st Sergeant. 12th April 1972, I was promoted to rank of Sergeant Major E9 13Z50. January 4th, 1974, I was selected for appointment to Command Sergeant Major. I chose to decline the appointment, for I had planned my retirement for several years. I had bought a farm and made plans for my family?s future and me. It was a hard decision for to be promoted to CSM is quite an honor. Even though I had held the position of CSM, having the actual rank is an honor reached by only a few. I left the military with mixed emotions. I was very fortunate to have had such a successful career and good loyal friends but I was ready to have a complete new future and raise my family where we would be stable and my children could build their lives. In closing I feel a great loss in not being able to tell the complete details of my career and all the great men I had the pleasure of knowing. There is so much left untold in this narrative but due to the lack of my writing ability, hazy memory and things I kept pushed to the back of my mind I feel I should just leave it alone. Written by: IRA E. WHITAKER SGM (Ret) USA.

Posted by Daniel Settle
Jun 10 2004 12:02:19:000PM

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