Ft Apache was an old ARVIN or perhaps French night defensive position (NDP). It was called an NDP and not a fire support base because it didn't contain any artillery. The only fire support was the mortar section of my weapons platoon. It was situated on the edge of a rice paddy right off Route 13, just north of Saigon. It consisted of three fifty foot barracks type buildings with corrugated metal sides and roofs.

Two of the buildings housed the two platoons that were resting the day after being on ambush. The other building served as the mess hall. In addition to the large buildings there were two smaller buildings. One served as a shower and the other as a pisser. It was actually a French style latrine but it was too disgusting even for infantrymen to do anything other than point and shoot while holding one's breath. The actual full service latrine was American built and was outside the bunker line but within our wire. It was a little scary to use it after dark because there was the risk of getting shot by a sentry who forgot that you were out there or who forgot to brief his relief.

I was glad to see CPT Blue and he seemed pleased too. After exchanging the usual pleasantries he took me to meet my platoon sergeant. We went over to the mortar pits and CPT went up to a heavyset man with an impressive handlebar mustache. After shaking hands he went into the building emerging a few minutes later with a mortar ammunition box that had been modified into a suitcase. When I asked him what he was doing, he said that he was going on R&R. I was stunned. I was depending on him to show me the ropes. I must have stammered a bit in my surprise and asked him if it was wise for him to leave the day I arrived. His reply has remained with me all these years and has been repeated by me many times. "Lieutenant," he said, "The army did without MacArthur!"

In the week he was gone I went on several of what we called "sweeps". We would plan a route and then move along it checking the area. I left the senior squad leader in charge and told him I would tag along and observe. It soon became obvious that the tactics used were quite a bit different than those taught at Ft Benning. Many of the techniques are doctrine to this day but seemed like innovations at the time. I watched and learned.

When my Platoon Sergeant returned, he continued with my education. He taught me how to "work" the machine guns. How to make sure that they were always able to deliver effective fire in the area of likely contact. That was the beginning of my respect for machine guns and the value of good gunners. That respect became firm the first time I was under effective machine gun fire. I still get scared thinking of lying on my back and watching the green and white tracers cutting the foliage a few inches above me.

I soon discovered that SFC Arleigh Moore had no use for officers in general and lieutenants in particular. He had been the platoon leader and had done a good job, He didn't need me and let me know it. We were able to avoid a confrontation because of the organization of the platoon. We had to man the mortars at all times while the other half of the platoon had to take their turn at sweep. I would usually take sweep while SFC Moore handled the guns. I needed the practice and he was a great mortarman.

Our area was not too hot. We had killed most of the hard corps Viet Cong and the ones that remained weren't too much trouble. North Vietnamese infiltrators didn't know the area of operations (AO) like we did. We were definitely kings of the AO. This was our turf and we didn't take too kindly to interlopers. We became so familiar with the AO that we could call in mortar fire by describing where we wanted it rather than by using standard coordinates. "Quick, give me a few rounds of HE 50 meters north of the palm grove where Delta22 got the four gooks last week!!" They sure as hell didn't teach that at Fort Benning.

The days merged into one another and time became meaningless. What's a weekend? One day CPT Blue told me to follow him. He went out of the bunker line, past the latrine and over to the perimeter wire. He pointed out several gaps in the wire where the men snuck out to visit the "short time" girls from the village. He decided that the situation was tactically unsound and told me to take care of it. I asked him if he had any suggestions. His only reply was for me to use my imagination.

What the hell could I do. Deadly force was not a good idea because more likely as not the only people hurt would be our own troops. I settled on booby trapping the wire with CS grenades. CS was a riot control agent that made mere tear gas seem mild in comparison. If you were gassed you lost interest in anything other than putting on a gas mask as soon as possible. We didn't carry masks in the field but we had them by our bunks. I soon forgot the grenades and went about my business.

Just before dusk I heard a scream from outside the perimeter. I looked out to see a troop running back from the latrine, with his pants at half mast streaming about ten feet of toilet paper and hollering "GAS!!! GAS!!!!". When it dawned on me what had happened, I raced for my bunk to find my gas mask. I has to wrestle someone for it but I managed to get it on without getting more than a whiff of gas. CPT Blue wasn't quit as lucky. He had a little trouble finding his mask and got gassed good. The all clear was soon sounded and I went to take a shower, While I was in the shower we got gassed again. We were gassed about three or four times that night. The next day CPT Blue complimented me on stopping the traffic through our wire. He decided however that the problem wasn't as bad as he had thought and that we should accept the situation. He was being kind but the cure was worse than problem.

One day after coming off ambush, the commander's Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) told me that I had a telegram waiting for me back at DiAn. "Oh My God somebody died." I had to find out. I don't know why I didn't just call rear on the radio and ask them to read me the telegram. Maybe I was afraid of what I would hear. Maybe I was just punchy from lack of sleep. I grabbed my M-16 and a bandoleer of ammunition and went to highway 13 to hitch a ride back to DiAn.

A lambretta soon stopped for me. I gave the guy a pack of cigarettes. The lambrettas were three wheeled Italian motor scooters with a truck-like bed that could hold about two Americans or about a dozen Vietnamese. We headed north on the highway. He pulled over where "ambush alley" intersected with the main highway. The road was aptly named. It wasn't a very healthy place at times. I was on a mission. I had to find out about the telegram! Luckily an ARVIN truck picked me up and took me almost the rest of the way to DiAn. A few minutes later I approached the battalion rear area. I asked for my telegram and looked for a private area to read the bad news. I tore open the envelope (my first telegram) and read, "You missed the wedding, you Jap" Signed "Schust".

Bob Schuster, you son of a bitch. I could have been killed. Actually I as relieved that no one had died, including me.

One day I hitched a ride into Saigon to go to the Cholon PX Class 6 (liquor) store. Ft Apache was located a few miles away from the Bin Loi Bridge which led into Cholon, a chinese suburb of Saigon. I had little difficulty in hitching a ride. On the way back with my booze, I saw Delta 6, CPT Blue's jeep parked near the "Green Door", a whore house right next to the Binh Loi Bridge and near the Special Forces compound. I signaled the driver of the ARVN truck in which I was riding to let me off.

Things were kind of lively in the Green Door. One of my fellow platoon leaders had fired his .45 into the floor because he had been unable to get an erection. I'm not sure whether shooting his pistol had helped but everybody seemed to understand. It was getting late and I asked whether we should be getting back to Ft Apache. There were several guarded bridges between us and home and the ARVN's that guarded it tended to shoot anything that moved after dark.

CPT Blue said that we would leave but we would take Mamasan home to Cholon first. We piled into the jeep and headed south into the city instead of north towards home. A jeep is designed to carry four people. We were slightly overloaded -- just slightly. There was CPT Blue and his driver in front. I was in the back along with the 1ST Sergeant, the Forward Observer, a platoon leader, Mamasan and two of her girls. I don't know how we all fit. It was fun holding on because of the girls though. We zoomed into town and dropped off the ladies. We then headed back north. We caught the bridges just as they were beginning to blockade the road. We were shot at at the last bridge but we finally made it back to Ft Apache. By that time I really needed the booze that I had bought in Cholon.

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