Hill 327 Danang Vietnam



Hill 327 had two clubs, one for junior enlisted and one for Sergeants and above. We would drink $.25 beers and watch a John Wayne war flick outside the club overlooking the Valley. Real firefights would spring up on either side of the screen so you could watch the movie or the real fire fight. Tracer rounds would race across the rice paddies. Puff the Magic Dragon, a large slow airplane with impressive fire power would come on to the scene and pulverize the bad guys. The guns on Puff fired so fast that it was a continuous sound. Sometimes bombing strikes and artillery would add to the mix.

Occasionally some poor NVA would be caught out in the open below our Hill. Helicopter gunships and fixed wing aircraft would swoop in and fire on these luckless individuals.

DASC RADIOS

We maintained the radios for the DASC and ASRT. The radios were on top of Hill 327 remoted two miles away to the DASC in the 1st Marine Division Command Post. The cable had been shot to hell by the Seabees who were in the valley between us and 1st MarDiv. All eleven radio circuits were filled with cross talk. When you walked into the DASC, with all the radios on speaker, it was impossible to understand, but after a while you could get the feel of the place, and listen to the radios you needed to hear.

We spent a lot of time trying to make comm better. I remember spending several days hooking up new radios with SSgt Smith and SSgt Straub and several other Marines. I then confidently called down to the DASC and told them about their excellent new radios and asked them to give the TACC a radio check. They did so. The TACC came back and said, "DANANG DASC, I cannot read you but I know it is you from the garble and noise." I was a bit deflated after that.

The Seabees dropped a 600 volt electric line across our remote cable. It sent high voltage up to 327 and down to the DASC. Fortunately it did not kill anyone, but it scared the hell out of the controllers as their equipment arced, sparked, burned and smoked. We worked all night restoring and rewiring the DASC.

One Captain called me from the DASC and told me that he could talk to the A-4's and A-6's and air force ok, but could not communicate with the Marine F-4 Phantoms. I explained to him that it must be a problem with the F-4 radios, if he could talk to all the other aircraft. He told me to fix my radios.

I spent about 20 minutes and then called him back to tell him that I had installed a special "Phantom Antenna". He called me later to tell me the new antenna was working well.

BOXING RING

I got a boxing ring from the Wing and put it up on the Hill. We had some fine boxing matches, flaying away with our huge gloves. I declared that I was King of the Hill, and encouraged other Marines to fight me for the title.  VC Jones and I went a few rounds and a number of other Marines tried it.

I also boxed Cpl Kiker at a MASS-3 party on China Beach. He was a very big guy. He knocked me down twice and I only knocked him down once, but Major Hickok told me he thought I won.

We had a fine party on China Beach. After everyone got good and drunk they threw all the officers in the GI can where the beer had been kept and where the troops figured the officers belonged. Good fun.


HARASSMENT OF VIETNAMESE

Our goal was to help the Vietnamese. But when you have 400,000 plus teenagers with guns you can have problems.  One time I saw an Army dog handler sicking his large German Shepherd on an elderly Vietnamese man. He was not letting the dog bight the man, but was frightening him. I lit up on the guy, in his face, giving him the ass chewing he deserved. Then I realized his dog was getting agitated so I calmed down. I quietly pointed out what a jerk he was. And I pointed out to him that his kind of behavior built resentment and more VC.

Another time I saw an Army Ch-47, a very large helo, settling down about 50 feet over some peasants in a rice field. The jerk was just doing it to be cruel. The downblast of those helos was very great.  I thought for a minute about shooting his windshield out but that might have killed him or his crew. So I just turned him into the DASC. Hope he got what he deserved.

For the most part we had good relations with the Vietnamese. The kids especially were fond of the GI's and we returned the favor. We were trying to win their hearts and minds. You can't do that if you have some jerks mistreating them.

GRENADE

Jack Atwater was the security platoon commander. Jack is now with the Army Ordinance Museum in the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. He once walked up to me, with one half dozen of his men standing by. He held up a grenade in his hand and pulled the pin. "What are you doing, Jack" I said. "Quit screwing around." Jack just gave me a laugh and let the spoon fly. Now Jack, his troops, and I would all die in a few seconds if the grenade was live. I assumed the grenade was empty or a dud and that Jack and his troops were not committing suicide just to scare me, so I stood there looking cool.

"BAM" the grenade went off. Startled and scared, I pulled back and shielded my face for a moment. "I'm dead", I thought, and then listened to Jack and his troops laughing. The grenade was an illumination grenade that blew up with noise but no shrapnel. Jack burned his hand to make me look stupid in front of his troops. I was not amused then, although it is a funny story now. And Jack and his troops thought it was funny then.

CONVOY

Jack Atwater was to lead a convoy to our northern Air Support Radar Teams (ASRTs). We normally supplied the ASRTs by helicopter three times a week, but the monsoon had made it hard to get aircraft. So we would resupply by truck convoy. I had never driven north to Hue, Birmingham Fire Support Base, or Quang Tri, so I decided to go along.

Just before we were to leave Jack gave me the maps and said, "I can't go. You have to take the convoy". So I did, but no one in the small convoy had ever been to these bases. We had two 2.5 ton trucks and a radio jeep. Jack gave me some frequencies and said "if you get in trouble just call these for help". Of course the frequencies did not work and we were on our own once we drove north out of the Danang Bay area and up over Hai Van Pass into Indian country.

One truck had a fifty cal machine gun mounted on the roof of the truck. The rest of the security of our little band was provided by our M-16 Rifles. I was armed with a cute and small version of the M-16 with a folding stock and plastic barrel guard. Marines did not normally have this weapon - I had inherited from my predecessor, who had recovered it from a shot down Army Helicopter. We had a total of 8 Marines in our little party.

We were all a bit nervous. None of us had driven to Hai Van pass or beyond. The slow climb to Hai Van pass with the slow trucks was impressive, providing a dramatic look back to Danang, and forward to a large beach. We would follow Route 1, known as the "Street without Joy" until the turn off for Birmingham Fire Support Base. We wandered through small villages on dirt roads and did not see an American or South Vietnamese force for many miles.

As we got close to Birmingham Fire Support Base we saw a small Army Light Observation Helicopter (LOACH) flying around slowly. They would fly around hoping that an NVA would fire at them. When the unwitting NVA fired on the small helicopter a flight of 4 helicopter gunships flying behind a ridge came up. We saw the Cobra gunships pop up and fire at the ground near the small helicopter, so apparently the plan worked.

Birmingham Fire Support Base was a muddy red hill honeycombed with bunkers and artillery emplacements. It was an Army 101st Airborne unit. Our ten man Marine ASRT team provided air support for the area. The ASRT was very popular since it could provide pinpoint bombing mission in virtually all weather. The ASRT worked by acquiring radar and radio contact with a bombing aircraft. The aircraft had normally been prepared to provide direct air support to an infantry unit on call. If nothing was happening, rather than landing with the bombs, the DASC would hand the aircraft to the ASRT, who would guide the aircraft to a point in space where the pilot would drop his bombs to plus or minus 50 meters of a preplanned target.

The ASRT worked by emitting a directed radar beam and followed the reflection of that beam from the aircraft. The ASRT would guide the airplane to a point in space where he would release his bombs. The ASRT team took into account the coordinates of the target to be attacked, wind speed, size and type of bombs, barometric pressure, etc.

The ASRT and plane would participate in a 10 second countdown. At the end of the countdown the ASRT controller would say "Standby, Standby, Mark Mark". The pilot was to drop his bombs exactly between the two words Mark Mark. " 10, 9, 8 ... 3, 2, 1, Standby, Standby, Mark Mark. I listened to a number of these missions and at one point considered trying to learn how to do this myself, but never had the time.

The ASRT guided numerous bombing missions. They were very accurate. We had, of course, little knowledge of whether we ever hit anything. The targets were provided by recon, aerial photographs, aerial observation, intelligence, etc. I think it likely that many NVA and VC were killed as a result of these missions, but will never know for sure. I am confident that all these locations were carefully reviewed by Division Intelligence and the DASC.  I am certain that no one ever purposely targeted friendly forces, including South Vietnamese Civilians. And I am also sure that most of the bombs probably hit empty jungle.

The Army was very impressed with the ASRT, and insisted that they be kept in country till the end of the Marine withdrawal. One time our ASRT did make the Army unhappy when they forgot to put the target coordinates into the computer. They ran an accurate bombing mission right on to Birmingham Fire Support Base. The bombs fell on the side of the Birmingham Hill. At least that is what I heard - this happened before I joined the unit.

After we left Birmingham I took our unit cross country on minor dirt roads to get to Hue and Quang Tri. We were too late to make it before night if I took the long road back to Route 1. We had some nervous times wandering around little dirt tracks, but made it to Hue. We could not figure out how to cross the river - finally crossed on an old railroad bridge.   

Hue was and is a beautiful city. It was taken over by the NVA and Viet Cong, who proceeded to murder teachers, government workers, people with glasses, etc. No one is sure how many were killed, but the number was large. The Vietnamese Army would not let us cross the bridge with our trucks. It took us some time to find out that the crossing was to be made on an old railroad bridge.

We made it to Quang Tri before dark. We stayed overnight. On the return trip we took an additional small truck, which broke down north of the Hai Van pass. I split our little convoy for security and then drove over the Hai Van pass and called by radio for a tow truck. The tow truck pulled the small truck with all the men’s equipment, while the Marines followed in another truck. The "Cowboys", Vietnamese teenagers, road up to the small truck on small motorcycles.  The passenger of each cycle jumped on the small truck and started shoveling off the Marines personal gear. Other teenagers grabbed the duffle bags and disappeared. The driver of the tow truck did not see the cowboys and never stopped.

Our Marines were armed and watching their personal possessions being stolen, but did not shoot because of their concern for killing innocent civilians. And one Marine lost $600 in cash and all the Christmas presents he had bought for his family.

Another trick of the juvenile delinquents was to snatch a wrist watch off of the arm of a GI. I was in the back of a jeep and my watch was taken at a bush intersection of "Dogpatch", a neighborhood in Vietnam. I jumped out of the jeep and chased the young Vietnamese. A Vietnamese military cop pulled his 45 pistol, shouted, and pursued us both. He was yelling and I was not sure whether he was angry at the kid, me, or both. I had my .45, but of course was not going to use it.

The young Vietnamese ran into a house, with me right behind him. About 8 Vietnamese were squatting around their meal. He jumped over the meal, with me right behind him. I caught him by the scruff of the neck as he jumped on to the window sill. I recovered my watch, turned, bowed, smiled, and told them in English I was sorry for disrupting their meal. I handed the kid to the cop and then got out of there fast. Don't know what happened to the kid.

DRUGS

One of our Marines would not leave Vietnam. He was a drug user, and did not want to leave his supply. He had gone UA (Unauthorized Absence) twice when he was scheduled to leave the country. The second time he ran from his guards as they took him to the airplane to leave.

When they caught him the third time Commanding Officer arranged to have him put into the Marine Air Group -16 Jail which was a Conex Box, which is a large metal shipping container. I had never met the Marine - he had been UA since before I joined the unit. I would visit him in the Conex Box jail. "Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, you have got to get me out of here Lieutenant! I swear to God I will be good!" he would say. It was pretty hot and miserable in the Conex box. So I would go ask the CO to release him and he would reply "F– him". This went on for several days.  The Major finally told me he would release him - and it would my ass if he did not get on the airplane. So I got him out of jail, kept a close watch on him, and put him on the airplane home.

Drugs were a problem. Cpl Schleen was a serious drug user who would not quit. They would lock him up and get him clean, but as soon as he got out he went back to drugs. His hands were shaking and his eyes were red. He told me the "Dr. said he would not live past 30 if he kept using." I tried hard to get him to quit, but he never would. Hope he cleaned up his act after Vietnam, and is alive and prospering. Another Marine went absolutely nuts and I ended up knocking him down and holding him down for quite a while before he calmed down.

I went once to the First Mar Div Officers Club where they provided a class on knowing about drugs. They then lit marijuana cigarettes and passed them around encouraging the officers to learn the smell and take a drag. The older officers looked like it was reefer madness that would kill them. The younger officers took a long hit.

CLUBS and MESS HALL

The clubs were great places. SSgt Smith managed the E-5 and above club. Beer and liquor were cheap and the movies out on the patio were great.

I went into the enlisted club once as the Officer of the Day. A fight broke out and guys were swinging away with chairs. Cpl Leon broke a bottle and created an Australian boxing glove. I had my .45 and was tempted to fire a couple of shots through the roof to calm things down, but was concerned that someone might grab it out of my hand and escalate a bar room brawl into shootings.  So instead I just waded in and broke up the flight. It would have been a better story if I had fired my pistol.

We also had a good brawl that resulted in some Marine getting whacked with a hammer. I got the investigation - the command was afraid that it was a racial incident. But it turned out it was just good clean Marine fun.

I also got to escort our Black Marines to the Miss Black America show. A good time.
The command was always a bit nervous about race relations and they often assigned me to sort out incidents.

The floor shows in the club were memorable. They were usually Asian bands trying and failing to sound good. The Australian shows were better. I remember one good looking Australian girl who looked great until she smiled and showed numerous missing and decayed teeth.

The Mess Hall served the best chow I ever had in my 32 years in the Marine Corps. A belated thanks to the cooks who made it happen. You were great.

TURNING IN THE MONEY

One of my fun duties was to take in and pay out all the old Military Payment Certificates (MPC) with new MPC. We did not use US dollars in Vietnam – instead we used paper dollars, quarters, dimes, and nickels. We were only supposed to use MPC to buy things from military organizations.  This was to reduce black market transactions between the US military and civilians.

With not notice all bases would be “locked down”, with no one permitted to leave or depart. The purpose of this was to screw anyone who was involved with the black market - anyone who was off base could not get back on to base to get their money exchanged. We got the word in the middle of the night. The base was locked down, and every Marine had to turn in his MPC. Paper nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars, covered with junk and waded up, were counted out, and I gave each man a receipt. I had over $20,000 in MPC and I kept it in an ammo box. Then I had to take the money to Wing, count it to Wing, get new money in the same denominations, and return and pay each man. No mistakes, as I recall. It took me three long days to collect and pay back all the money to each man.

I had paid everyone except a Marine named Riley who was in the brig (jail). I did not know him as he had been in the brig before I joined the unit. I went over to the brig to collect his money. I was shocked to see it was a Marine I served with in 5th LAAMBn in Yuma who I knew very well. I had told him then he needed to clean up his act and quit drugs when we had served together. He did not listen then - hope he has cleaned up his act. He was a smart capable guy, just not willing to go along with the Marine program.

EXCERPT FROM ACTUAL REPORT THAT I SENT HOME IN A LETTER

"Personnel on operation observed 2 enemy moving into a cave. Enemy wearing dark shorts and shirts. 2 rifles of unknown type. Engaged enemy with 8-60mm, 30-81mm, 15-105's and fixed wing strike of 12-1,000 lb. bombs with excellent coverage of target."

The ordinance described in this report is very impressive, big, loud, and lethal, and probably considered as overkill by the two enemy soldiers.

A typhoon ripped apart our Hill in October 1970. Most of the buildings and much of our equipment was destroyed. We hid out in bunkers and metal vans during the typhoon. Most of the valley below was flooded. The NVA who had been able to hide in below ground tunnels had to come out to high ground and they were attacked by Korean Marines on the high ground.

WATCHING FOR ROCKETS

One group of Marines spent all night each night in towers looking for rockets. They tried to spot the rocket when it was launched to provide warning for the people in Danang. Sometimes they succeeded, but often the first warning of a rocket is when they exploded.


One of the Marines I trained with, Lieutenant Wood, was killed in a tower by a lightning strike. And Arnie Punaro was badly wounded. He later made Brigadier General in the Marine Reserves.


I ran into Mike Kozak at the Airfield. He had completed his six month long infantry tour, and was going home. I took Mike back up the Hill for the evening. Mike had played basketball for the University of Cinnicinati, and was a very big and strong guy. But he was worn out and tired from his time in the Bush.  I carried his gear - he could barely carry it.


Mike had long hair (for a Marine), and a long non regulation mustache. There was a floor show that night, and Mike got rip roaring and happily drunk. I put his to bed, then got him up to go the airplane at 0 dark thirty. Tough getting him up.


I went to Okinawa for one week for a school.  I ran into Mike Hardin. Mike went through OCS and TBS with me, but made Captain after TBS because he was an attorney. Mike had served a short tour in Vietnam, then pulled back to Okinawa with the 3rd Marine Division.  All the young attorneys purchased chopped Honda 450's.  They also got denim biker jackets, cut off at the armpits, and embroidered with a large Lady of Justice, who was blind folded. I am sure the General was really happy with that, but what could he do?  All of his young lawyers were involved. 

My buddy Joe Montoya was killed in early 1970.  We had been very close in OCS. He was a great guy. A number of my other enlisted and officer comrades were also killed. And we lost a number of our high school comrades as shown on the blog below:










Near the completion my first tour with MASS-3 I extended my tour for 6 months, requesting and getting a 30 day leave with a ticket around the world and a new assignment to the First Marine Division (Infantry). I much preferred staying in Vietnam to going back to a US base.

More info on MASS-3 on the Link Below: