This was to be our last mission out. I drove a Sheridan tank, M-155. Sheridans were light armor tanks built for the U.S. Marines. They were designed to be light weight with an aluminum hull, air-drop-able with plenty of firepower.
My tank, C-28 had its hull twisted from hitting a landmine. There was one other Sheridan and about 26 to 30 APC’s in our hunting party,. all of us were armed to the teeth. That was the good part of being in armored cavalry. The downside was that we couldn’t sneak and peek like the grunts. Charlie always could hear where we were.
With the hull twisted as it was, we had to frequently change the idler wheel (the large wheel at the front of the tank) due to the track running askew it would wear down prematurely. The track and link pins were also made of aluminum. It was impossible to remove a bent link pin to loosen the track to allow us to remove the idler wheel. So the field method we used was to pack the leading edge of the track with a shape-charge of C-4 and blow-it. We could then drive off the old track onto a new one, hook it together and off we’d go.
I drove point on this trip out. We kept a Beehive* round in the tube with plenty of HE and some Wooly Pete stowed away inside. The plus side of driving point was that I almost never got stuck and didn’t have to eat dust. We always would run so the first track (point) would break brush and run the best-guess path to avoid hitting any mines. All the other APC’s and tanks would drive with their tracks exactly in the point tracks ruts.
Our normal S&D missions were a rotation of 21 days in the field and 7 days of standown. Standown was the time when we would repair our vehicles and scrub the mud and sand out of them, and party, sleep and drink etc. for a few days before heading out again. This trip out started out to be a normal cycle but instead extended to 47 days straight without showers, no major repairs, no PX, no comfortable (?) cot.
We left Camp Faulkner, Da Nang and headed south on Highway 1 past Marble Mountain with its’ artillery base perched on top, through the little vil
.then turned West.
We traveled familiar ground, but I couldn’t tell you where we were on a map. I would only hear in my headset, “Hill, turn right. Hill, head for that notch in the mountain ahead Hill, SLOW DOWN.” I had gotten pretty comfortable with the performance of the tank, and would drive with a lead foot, about 60 MPH on the hardball. Since the hull was twisted, it would constantly pull to the right. I had to jerk on the steering to the left every few seconds to keep her running straight.
We fired a few HE rounds from the main gun, sorta as practice, at a large rock outcropping on a hillside. Our LT then wanted to go up and look at what damage we had done. There was about 6 guys on this ‘patrol’ up this hill to recon the rock. It didn’t show much sign of being hit, maybe we missed. On the hike back down the hill, someone found a bag lying on the ground. And, of course, he had to kick it, to see if it would go off I guess. It was a bag of what seemed to be powdered CS gas. We di-di’ed down the mountain.
Once while we were running across a rice paddy, we come up on a stream with terraced banks, some momma-sans were washing clothes or something down at the stream. My TC, Sgt. Cunningham, walked down the three terraces to the stream and guided me on to each of the three levels until I reached the water’s edge. I could see that the tracks would not span the banks to climb up the other side. He insisted that I try to ford the stream. About 2/3 of the way across, the front of the tank dropped down, the driver’s compartment flooded and the gun tube speared the opposite bank about 3 or 4 feet deep.
Now I can’t go forward because the gun tube was wedged in, I couldn’t reverse up the terraces since I only had about 2 foot of traction on the bank’s edge. It took three APC’s and the other Sheridan all connected with tow cables to yank me out of the creek. Our loader then got the bright idea to turn on the evacuator fan to clear the gun tube of the mud, and he shot a clump of mud about 20 feet downrange.
About 45 days into the mission, we setup our NDP at the bend of a river. A few days earlier we were operating directly on the other side of the river. F Troop 17th Cav moved in on the side of the river we had just left. They had a UPI film crew onboard, recording “The Last Ground Combat Mission In Viet Nam”. They stayed out overnight and then went back in to camp. Some mission. We covered their butts on the opposite shore while they got the glory. I still say that C 1/1 ran the “last mission” even though they did their 2 day photo-op non-mission.
After F Troop took the film crew back to safety, we cleared out our excess ammo, rather that turn it back in. We wrapped our main gun rounds together and tossed them into the river and blew them, along with hand grenades, C-4, M-79 rounds, etc, etc. The villagers hearing the noise, rushed out to dive in the river to retrieve the stunned fish. We also shot off most the M60, .50 cal 203 M79 and M16 rounds all but a magazine or so and a belt or two.
The next morning we were to head back in to base camp, it was decided that after 46 days of driving point (without tripping any mines) I wouldn’t be leading the troop back in the front gates, past the waiting UPI cameras. SSG Spivey, who I had a fight with months earlier that got me busted, would run point in his APC. Since he and his driver were so used to tracking behind the column, he drove out in the same tracks that I brought us in on. I hollered on the radio once that he was an idiot for running in my tracks, but a few short minutes later I heard an explosion from up ahead in the column. They had hit a mine that was planted by the VC the night before, throwing a track and tossing the crew around a bit. Thankfully no one was hurt.
My headset then crackled with; “Hill, move up and run back and forth alongside Spivey’s track to tramp down the brush so they can change tracks.” Yeah, right! There we sat, like sitting ducks, with LOW to NO ammo, waiting for fat Spivey’s crew to repair their track so we can get back to camp. The UPI crew did wait for him though, ridding high in his TC hatch, looking like a black Patton hisself.
The next few days were spent thoroughly cleaning our tracks for turn-in to the ARVNS. What a kick-in-the-pants that was. We knew they would be captured by the NVA soon enough. The depot that we drove them afterwards was huge. Hueys still in crates stacked two high, Duece-and-a-halfs lined up like at a huge new car lot, conex containers piled up three and four layers high. The place was immense, and we were giving it all to the ARVNs who would loose it to the NVA.
All that was left to dispense with were us Troopers, the rule was, if you had more than 8 months in-country, you could go rotate home or to your next duty station, if you had less than 8 months you were reassigned in-country. I had 9 months, so I was going stateside to finish my 4 years re-up after being stationed in Germany.
The orders came down in alphabetical order. A, B, C, D E, F, G, H, I …Hey, wHat tHe, …??!! You forgot Hill! I, J, K, L all the way to Z. But still no Hill. I waited a day or two along with the Mess Sgt, Medical Team, First Sgt. And a couple of other admin guys that were closing up shop. I just wandered around base camp, digging in dumpsters for all kinds of supplies and goodies that I could play with, a case of Kabar knives I found became a great way to pass time using my hooch as a dartboard. I even got to where I could walk 10 paces turn and fire and hit the bull’s-eye.
Anyway, my First Shirt eventually sent me down to Personnel to check on my orders. Oh, my records were missing, and they would cut new orders for me, “Where did I want to go?” “Fort Carson, Colorado”, me thinks. “Done.” Says the clerk. All I had to do was go back to the former Camp Faulkner and wait another day and a wake-up for my orders and ride out.
At the repo-depo waiting to process out and catch our Freedom Bird, we heard that the NVA had started a major offensive push south. All I had was one of the Kabar knives that I tried to take home but had confiscated.
We loaded the Bird around 23:00 on 31 March, and sat on the runway waiting, for what, we didn’t know. Was the Army going to pull us back off the plane and give us an M-16 to fight back the advancing hoards? Nagh, we just sat there until 01:00 on 1 April, 1972, April Fools Day and the whole plane got paid $65 each combat pay for April. Our joke on the Army.