Susie, this really happened during the year I spent on Engineer Hill in Pleiku. What I didn't add was the explosion that killed 4 men just 4 days after my arrival. Death and dismemberment were the constant companions of all those who served in Nam. Thanks, Susie.
The tropical night was noisy with insects buzzing and other animals adding to the overall hum typical of Vietnam. The air was suffocating humid, and ground fog was obscuring the perimeter of the big engineer compound in The Central Highlands.
It was the winter monsoon and the sky covered by low heavy clouds -- ideal conditions for an enemy attack. All aircraft were grounded, and the men assigned to perimeter guard milled around the bunkers and guard towers apprehensive but like coiled cobras ready to strike.
This is perfect mortar attack weather -- the visibility keeping observation helicopters from their important work, leaving the task to ground troops that pulled security detail along with the men from the compound.
The night seemed to crawl by with each minute feeling like an hour. It was just past 0230 when the metallic clink of an enemy mortar shell striking the firing pin followed by the cough as the round flew in an arc toward the sleeping troops. It exploded in a frightening clump quickly followed by others "walking in steps" searching for sleeping troops.
All hell broke loose as perimeter guards opened up with m-60s, m-16s, m-79 grenade launchers, and the heavy .50 caliber machine guns searching for the mortar tube. The men jolted awake by the mortars screamed "Incoming, incoming!" and laid flat, desperately hoping to avoid the deadly shrapnel flying through the air which was now thick with the stench of fear and chordite from the exploding shells.
The Red Alert sirens screaming added to the din as men scrambled to man the secondary perimeter, the second line of defense that protected the interior of the compound. Inside commo shacks, radio operators were poised to call for artillery support or for medevac helicopters.
Lasting only 5 minutes, the barrage ended as quickly as it had begun. Now an eerie uneasy calm replaced the sounds of battle, the men at full stretch anticipating more mortars or even more deadly, a ground attack.
The whole base camp was alive with fires burning where rounds had struck and radio operators reporting to their commanders and to Battalion HQ with casualty reports and sit-reps -- radio slang for on conditions at their location. This was the life that men of the 815th Engineers faced for one terrifying year in hell.
Known sarcastically by infantrymen and field artillery men as "REMFS," these men did their work by day clearing jungles, carving airstrips out of the cliffs, and building roads and then became fighters at night when the rounds came; and they frequently did. To those out in "The Bush" living with death every day and night, "Base Camp Warriors," as we were unfairly called, weren't worthy of their dust.
I spent my year assigned to Engineer Hill in Pleiku, doing various jobs as needed, and finally spending 9 months in the commo bunker.
The accounts written here are my personal memories of my year in hell, Feb.'68-Feb.'69, and reflect as accurately as memory allows.
SP/4 Lawrence Pichulo
E-mail contact: Larry Pichulo
Web Page: When Time Stood Still