Our LCU is sitting on the beachhead at Hue City during the ’68 Tet offensive. Our load, like that on the other four boats, consists of 200 ton of ammo. There’s not much the crew can do but watch. We receive small arms fire from across the Perfume River, and occasional mortar fire – a very good spotter is in a tower near the east side of the Citadel. We can see him now and then with glasses, but direct fire weapons are ineffectual, and every time someone gets lucky with a rifle, a replacement takes over in a few minutes. That tower has been shelled and bombed to no effect – centuries old stonework is pretty strong.
I discovered a way to make extra money – and to help our supply system. I take pictures of combat when I’m able (like now), and sell or trade them with the Remington Raiders at Da Nang. They in turn send them home in letters to prove that they are really in a war.
There have been times in my life when I haven’t acted all that bright. This is one of those times.
I’m on the Starboard .50 when 60 mm mortars start walking down the beach toward the boats. The first one hit near a Marine guard post, the rest hit about every 10 yards, walking toward us. I take pictures. If I can capture the blossom it’s worth more. I get a very good shot of the round that hits 30 yards away. I figure to get the next one at 20 yards, than duck. I hear the round leave the tube, count to eleven and click the shutter. The world turns black, then yellow, white, red, and black.
I come to on my back in the wheelhouse where I was blown. I see white, then red. My vision clears slowly and I make out white cloth coming down to my face and going away red. Something is very wrong here.
It seems that sneaky SOB was watching me, and as a practical joke, skipped 30 yards. The round hit our M60 – blew it to bits (we saved the bits, and a Marine armorer actually fixed it!). That was about 10 feet from my head. That round also killed a sailor two boats down and wounded another of our crew.
I had been wearing a flack vest and steal pot. I had several holes in my face, left arm, and left leg, but nothing really serious. I was evacuated from the soccer stadium and rejoined the boat about a week later – AWOL from the hospital.
Oh – the camera was totaled, the film lost.
The long awaited radio message came – my extension leave had finally been approved. All I had to do was present myself to the clerk at Long Bien and pick them up. My problem? I was on a Coronado mission with the Riverine forces, and we would not be returning to Vung Tau for several days. Time was wasting. My skipper told me that if I could get – get.
I waded through a freshly fertilized paddy at the French Fort to reach the helipad and hitched a ride to Long Bien. I would be home for Christmas!
I arrived at Long Bien Headquarters and thought I was Stateside. Spit shined boots and starched fatigues. Air-conditioned buildings. Paved roads and sidewalks. I found the right building, found the right room – and there was a line stretching out and down the hall. I stood patiently at the end of the very long line. The GI in front of me sniffed the air, looked at me, and decided to get a beer. The next man sniffed and left, and the next, and the next. I soon found myself at the clerk’s desk. He sniffed and decided to take a break. I told him to go ahead, I’d just set in his chair with my boots on his desk, and patiently await his return. He changed his mind and cut my orders.
I was off! I hit Bien Hoa, stuffed my fertilized fatigues in a laundry bag, changed into Class A, and headed home to snow and ice, cold draft beer, real cow steaks, and no shells.
I had to go through Ft. Dix for my return flight to Nam. Several of us were pulled for KP. I pulled my unwashed fatigues from the bag – as did several others – and the mess sergeant sniffed, and excused us from KP. The SP4 lackey who had assigned us the detail pulled KP, along with several permanent party NCOs.
Paddy mud had its uses.