Colin F. Jones
VIETNAM – LOOKING BACK
Dedicated to those who served with 104 Fld Bty RAA and 4RAR in Vietnam 1968-69
and to all who served in that war
FIRE SUPPORT PATROL BASES
- FSPB Thornton
- FSPB Concord
- FSPB Chestnut
- FSPB Dyke
- FSPB Dagger
- FSPB Gabo
- FSPB Wattle
- FSPB Flinders
- FSPB Wattle
- FSPB Dyke
- FSPB Janice
- FSPB Betty
- FSPB Virginia
- FSPB Diggers Rest
- Operation Redwing
- Operation Kosciusko
- Operation Toan Thang 2
- Operation Marino
- Operation Lyre Bird
- Operation Innamincka
- Operation Hawkesbury 1 & 2
- Operation Stirrup Cup
- Operation Track Duster
- Operation Capital 1 & 2
- Operation Goodwood 1 & 2
- Operation Federal
- Operation Overlander
- Operation Stafford
- Operation Sceptre
PHUOC TUY PROVINCE
SOUTH VIETNAM 1 ATF AREA OF OPERATIONS
IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO DIED, AND THOSE WHO WERE PREPARED TO
©Copyright July 24, 2002 by Colin F. Jones
~ A ~
Described as a genius in legislative process,
The thirty-sixth President began to access
The incident at the Bay of Tonkin no less
Where the North Vietnamese attacked the US.
Congress granted the President powers,
As American communication with Vietnam sours
To authorize the navy retaliatory fire,
When ever such measures were thought a desire.
Such powers gave the President freedom to send,
Ground troops to Vietnam to alter the trend,
Of the Communist north to invade South Vietnam,
So the troops were prepared and conscription began.
Australians and New Zealanders were also involved;
They were committed to help till the problem was solved.
~ B ~
The economic and psychological strains of battle
Would eventually effect, restrict and shackle,
The American effort to continue the war,
Was the Communist belief of what was in store.
In March sixty five 9MEB went ashore,
To be greeted by women and garlands galore,
Thereafter the flow to 1Corps tactical zone.
In the northern provinces far from their home,
By the American Marines expanded the source,
To become III Marine Amphibious Force.
To the giant base of Bien Hoa went the Airborne Brigade,
At An Khe the base for the first Cavalry was made ,
Becoming the first Infantry Division “Big Red One,
And later the deployment of “Tropic Lightning “ was begun.
~ C ~
Eight hundred Australian troops were deployed in Phuoc Thuy,
And a Battalion of “Kiwis” were joining them now
Search and destroy was Westmorland’s idea,
And “Operation Starlight” was the first of his career.
He refused to acknowledge what the British had learned,
In guerrilla tactics (COIN), though success was confirmed.
“Starlight” was a success six hundred dead foe,
Forty Five Americans were dead also you know;
For this was a war based on numbers of deceased ,
Success and failure as dead soldiers increased.
This strategy was based on Fire Power alone,
Which many American thinkers could not condone.
But General Westmorland was given his way,
So “search and destroy” was here to stay.
~ D ~
In the Ia Drang valley the NVR took a stand,
Outnumbering the Air Cav as at X-Ray they land,
In overwhelming numbers they attacked with a pride,
But with gunships and Artillery the Air Cav stemmed the tide,
B52 bombers had joined in the fray,
And after many days of fighting the foe turned away,
Leaving twelve hundred bodies behind their retreat,
Costing three hundred American lives to establish defeat.
In this first major conflict the Americans had won,
The enemy quite worried by what the Choppers had done.
This brilliant machine struck at the core,
Of guerrilla type tactics, strategy and more.
It deployed allied troops with speed and surprise,
And picked up the wounded saving their lives.
*see notes (1)
~ E ~
It is the year of the Monkey, this Lunar New year,
Three weeks of celebration, worship and cheer,
During this period of TET the North Vietnamese,
Prepared a general offensive to bring the South to her knees.
The attacks were bitter but all were reversed,
For all of them failed were defeated and dispersed.
But the journos made much of the great battles fought;
On TV and radio they conceived their reports
That divided the nations involved in the war,
Because of the selected misleading stories they saw.
The enemy within were having their say,
Backed by the press in their treasonable way.
North Vietnam was tottering in defeat,
But the world didn’t know it due to Journalist deceit.
*see notes (2)
~ F ~
The Australian Task force occupied Nui Dat hill,
North-East of Vung Tau where they stayed quite a spell,
It was east of route two and south of Hoa Long,
The Nui Dinh Ranges were West hiding Viet Cong.
The environment in Nam was unique and tough,
For soldiers to fight in was quite hard enough,
In every direction the enemy were there,
In deep bunkered camps that were built everywhere,
The entrances were tunnels guarded by traps,
And booby traps killed who suffered a lapse.
But the Aussies were trained for Jungle warfare,
Against guerrillas and terrorists in their hidden lairs.
So the enemy they faced would soon meet their measure,
But for purposes of duty and not for the pleasure.
Part 1: Looking Back
©Copyright July 19, 2002 by Colin F. Jones
~ 1 ~
When I do think to write of war,
Is it of what I felt or saw
That permits my pen to write or draw?
Or another’s concept I restore?
It seems my war with retrospect,
Is one that another might reject,
As but a skirmish, “hardly war
Compared to what some others saw.”
So with these thoughts strong in my head,
Such words I know must first be said,
Before I venture under fire,
To grope for words which may inspire,
Those folk who think it’s all been said,
That my small war lives in my head.
~ 2 ~
Well memories, which are past of course,
Are thoughts from which one can’t divorce,
They can’t be as clear as the real event,
Regardless of the time one spent,
In thinking deeply; going back,
Along that cordite misted track,
For wounds do heal and we grow old,
And fears are expressed as being bold,
While most of us are still not sure,
If we were brave in that damn war,
For most you know saw not a flare,
For the fighting was not everywhere,
Though some in fear that the foe might come,
Were happy when their tour was done.
~ 3 ~
Our guns were posted on the wire,
Of Nui Dat, which didn’t inspire
A good night’s sleep the first night in,
The canvas tents which were not so trim.
Sandbag walls were everywhere,
And the ammo dump was over there,
Where the wire separated guns from tanks,
And them from us and us from yanks,
Who were in structure Battery ‘B’,
With one fifty fives as we could see,
For in between us was a hedge,
Through which was made many a pledge,
And many a hand shake made it last,
The friendships formed from grit and blast.
~ 4 ~
The year was nineteen sixty eight,
All good things come to those who wait,
We’d still be here in sixty nine,
And some would stay for all of time,
Though none of us in one ‘O’ ‘four,
Would lose our lives on this long tour.
We were fire support for 4RAR,
The ANZAC Battalion who had come so far,
To join the Kiwis in Vietnam,
To fight together once again.
But whatever might well come our way,
We were prepared to join the battle fray,
For we were fighting on Gods good side,
And also with a bit of Australian pride.
~ 5 ~
The monsoon rains increase each day,
To drench the jungle, flood the way,
And turn thick dust to mud and mire,
That traps the boot and bogs the tyre,
And urges insects in their crowds,
To breed in soggy toxic shrouds,
To spread decease with gnaw and itch,
Ascending from each filthy ditch,
To suck our blood and profusely feed,
Persistent in their famished greed,
Nor do the tracker dogs get spared,
Their discomfort with their handlers shared,
While all they do right now is sit,
And wait to see what becomes of it.
~ 6 ~
The Chinooks come like giant cranes,
Low over the waterlogged paddy plains,
To land inside the wire defence,
With sludgy spray the consequence,
While lines of gunners standing by,
Ignore the torrent from the sky,
And loaded down with rounds and stores,
Head off towards the open doors
Where one by one they climb aboard,
In single file without a word,
And soon the Chinook whirls away,
In a cloud of mist and flaring spray,
To vanish in the thickening cloud,
That drapes us all in its soggy shroud.
~ 7 ~
A group of Iroquois Twos and threes,
Wop Whopping o’er the tops of trees,
Ascend to briefly touch the ground,
Where a dozen soldiers there disband,
A gunship circles round and round,
It’s rotors whopping that same sound,
As the company spread out far below,
To watch the choppers; off they go.
Soon the area is quite secure,
It’s now as quiet as it was before,
As the FO’s from the Arty squad,
Receive a quiet and knowing nod,
As they set their directors up and wait,
This is a nervous time make no mistake!
~ 8 ~
In a thicket drenched in the Monsoon rain,
A black clad soldier’s eyes do strain,
To mark the clearing in his brain,
Where the green clad soldiers have retained,
The shell scrapes in the sodden ground,
For the quick defence of the area found,
To be the place for a field gun base,
Designed to bring his friends disgrace.
He creeps away like a stalking bear,
Lost in the drenched trees everywhere
The Company digs in the stinking mud,
Deepening their shell scrapes as they should,
For they might have to stand and fight,
For this was where they would spend the night.
~ 9 ~
They had pegged the spot and cleared it too,
Of trees that left but one or two,
Shrubs and bushes here and there,
That the ground was rumpled everywhere,
And soldiers of the infantry,
In shell scrapes lay where grew the tree
And Baal’s monsoon now in full force,
Turned caking dust to miry source,
That mud became a stinking mire,
To hinder boot and skidding tyre,
A black and putrid vile glue,
That gripped the spade and gripped the shoe,
And while they lay there tense, afraid,
They heard the sound of a chopper blade.
~ 10 ~
From the sky the guns they drop,
Like giant crabs each in its spot,
While round them quickly gunners swarm,
That soon the platforms for them form,
Directors set the layers sights,
Marred by the monsoons wet delights,
That drenched them all with chilling rain,
But from their task they’d not refrain,
Aiming posts; all bearings set,
Despite the mud and drenching wet,
That soon in action every gun,
Await the orders that might come,
To give support to every grunt
Who’s out there in the boonies hunt
~ 11 ~
Six howitzers in random spread,
Each with a seven man gunner crew,
Stood as silent as would be the dead,
Depending on one’s point of view
Pits for weapons and sleep were dug,
Barbed wire stretched around the base,
Strong points built dark and snug,
Ammo ripped from ammo case!
Each gun an island from the rest,
Yet linked by sandbagged walls and walks,
Each gunner giving of his best,
No time for rest and little talks
M60’s sighted on their pits,
Where bye and bye the sentry sits.
~ 12 ~
The Command Post filling from the rain,
Collapsed beneath a minor flood
That the signalmen soon became,
As aquatic divers very good,
Retrieving radios from the depths,
Mid all the swirling murky surge
To surface then with gasping breaths,
With all the strength that one could urge
The GPO was running round,
Collecting docs from off the ground,
While Rover engines drove the pumps,
To suck the water from the sumps.
It was the gunners’ fond delight,
To watch the Command Post in their plight.
~ 13 ~
By the northern strongpoint they went out,
In single file spaced well apart,
Led by the tense-nerved forward scout,
Who could hear his own thumping heart,
Above the jungle sounds and rain,
Where spiders spin their silken nets,
And leaches for your blood do strain
In the green and humid dank and wet.
The debris writhes where dead trees rot,
And a thousand biting sucking bugs,
Dine greedily upon each exposed spot,
With little painful stabs and tugs
As all the while the watchful eye,
Burn in the head lest he might die.
~ 14 ~
At first he thought it a piece of wood,
But as he approached he understood,
That it was sure a piece well grained ,
Shaped as a gun butt to retain,
The blue grey steel machined and set,
To bring it’s victim Hells regret.
He wondered what was in the mind
Of him who so this tool refined,
In order that a man may kill,
With lead his victim’s body fill.
It had upon its barrel spout,
Near where the discharged rounds come out,
A fixture for a bayonet blade,
A weapon for killing carefully made.
~ 15 ~
‘Twas grooved the bayonet for effect,
The killers life to protect,
By thrusting sharply with a twist,
Lest flesh and bone propose resist,
The air would ride in with the groove,
A fatal wound it’s aim to prove,
And making it easier to remove,
While slamming down the booted foot.
Men died not quickly from the blade,
Their eyes in agony would fade,
Like daylight seeking out the night,
Before the suns bright eye did shut.
They clutched their midriffs but the ooze,
All their prayers for life refused.
~ 16 ~
What caught his eye was just a speck,
The flicker of a disc about a neck,
A changed arrangement of foliage,
The passing of a moment rearranged.
The body tense but with elastic hinge,
Diving into debris to impinge
Upon a body lying dead,
With tracer flashing overhead
Then rolling down through tree and weed,
Startling birds in hazy seed,
Clothed in sweat and awful fear
Yet noting that his mates were near
While willing that he would not die,
Before they formed up to reply.
~ 17 ~
Indeed ‘twas slight which caught his eye,
But “Ambush Front” he quickly cried,
While diving into leaf and shade,
Natures cover readymade!
The mud and debris scattered wide,
As his body hit; began to slide,
His fingers clawed exposing roots,
That battered by his flaying boots,
Exposed their inner creamy thighs,
But all his efforts still denies
A rocket whizzed above his head,
Reviving him; he was not dead
He stared intently through the trees,
And saw the skip rise to his knees.
~ 18 ~
Out in the writhe of jungle green,
Where drenching monsoon filled the stream,
The grunts in ambush cried And yelled,
As they were by some mortars shelled,
And pinned to earth by streams of red,
That all about them ripped and sped,
The skip beside his arty sig,
Made sure the gunner had his rig,
That on his radio made the call,
That meant the arty shells would fall
Soon enough like speeding trains,
The shells crashed in smoke and flames
And bits of bodies heads and arms,
Flew through the reeling shattered palms.
~ 19 ~
The golden light behind a leaf,
Haloed much its hazy rim,
And was the eyesight’s clever thief,
Which was so much distracting him
Transfixed a moment, mesmerized,
By the magic of the tranquil scene,
It took another falling shell,
To wipe away his growing dream.
He saw a tree disintegrate
As another near him blew apart
That leafy twig and shattered branch,
Scattered near and far.
He saw the impact and the flame,
The blacker smoke then flame again.
~ 20 ~
Thwack, thwack, thwack! The gunships came,
M60’s belching their refrain,
As sticks and debris from the ground,
Spat up with all the bodies found,
As hats and packs and empty boots,
From arty shells and chopper shoots,
Were scattered through the jungle trees,
And covered by the swirling leaves.
The guns had stopped, the choppers gone,
Fear and shock gripped everyone.
But Charlie he had died or fled,
For none were there except the dead.
They counted rounds and called out names,
But some heard not their mates’ refrains.
~ 21 ~
There is but that dim narrow view,
Highlighted by green dancing specs,
Wherein the stars lights all accrue,
The light that darker night rejects
A shallow window of the world,
Seen through the sentries straining eyes,
Dark shapes of stumps and wire curled,
That probing enemy all despise.
Tis dank and dirty underneath,
The counterbalanced struts thicker beams,
Where in the dark a soldiers teeth,
Are as bright as pearls; or so it seems.
We chomp on biscuits made of wood,
For calming nerves they’re very good.
~ 22 ~
We wonder what it’s like out there,
Lying in the stinking mud,
Shadows moving everywhere,
The wounded bleeding lots of blood.
Our guns have ripped their roof away,
Limbs and branches scorched and black,
And in their minds fear doth play,
That the bloody noggie will come back.
The morning light is slow to break,
But as it does new shapes do form,
And every grunt is now awake,
With bloodshot eyes to meet the dawn.
We all stand too and wait for light,
As into history slips the night.
~ 23 ~
A soldier resting by a tree,
gazes intently all around,
The Viet Cong hidden he can’t see,
And does not hear the rifle sound.
In shocked response he’s floating free,
Swimming in a misty sea,
His essence obscurely drifting by,
He knows he is about to die.
Then all is darkness swirling storm,
Calmness changing all his form,
Into a tranquil sort of grace,
To vanish then without a trace
Into a blackness where a light
Beckons him to leave the night.
~ 24 ~
His face is not in horror set;
His jaw is firm and muddy, but,
Still glistens with a golden sweat,
From where his eyes are gently shut.
A curl by breeze disturbed from rest,
Tries to vacate in vain its root,
And flickers like a little pest,
Until it meets his brows dispute!
It traps itself in blood and grime,
Where from takes wing a little fly,
That quickly turns back just in time,
To feel the soldier’s final sigh.
And soon his face is so relaxed;
It looks as though ‘tis made of wax.
~ 25 ~
A steel pipe attached to wood,
Had drawn its user’s frightened eye,
Along the light line to the hood,
To where the vee was standing by,
To pinpoint where the victim stood,
And where the victim might soon die,
If the shooters aim was any good,
If he could set his weeping eye!
A single shot a single sound,
A bursting temple belching blood,
A writhing body on the ground,
Lying where he once had stood.
The furrow which formed upon his brow,
Resembled the dead man’s wound somehow …
~ 26 ~
Still in the air the echo clung,
To humid waves of shimmering heat,
In which its vibrancy fades among,
til slowly died its ill repeat.
Despite the ignorance of the breeze,
Distorting beauties overlay,
By Finding things to tug and tease;
Death’s silence had her morbid way.
From where she lay in troubled sleep,
A woman woke in cold despair,
Saved from her dream of fog and sleet,
Hands all entangled in her hair …
And God’s sweet Angel from her bed,
Arose at once and quickly fled
~ 27 ~
The cherry trees are blooming now,
Their blossoms hanging from the bough,
Are filled with colour fresh and new,
Drenched in the morning’s silver dew.
Tis sunlight dancing in her hair,
That gilds her locks with golden light,
That frame her brow with beauty fair,
Where from sweet joy has taken flight.
Faint pathways down her silken cheeks,
Made by the ebb of teary flow
Describes her hearts voice as it speaks,
Of all the grief it doesn’t show.
For though he’s dead there in the grave,
She will his love forever crave.
~ 28 ~
Can you see them…? Like butterflies,
Rising up towards the skies!!
They lift like smoke rings through the trees,
In passing moving many leaves,
That snap and float down in the breeze,
to dance midway from where death flees,
to hide in all those upper parts,
like circular sources haloed hearts,
their souls in silence thus depart.
to somewhere else where new life starts
and we who mark these sacred sites,
with love and sorrow and eternal lights,
Turn back again to face our plight,
For yet we have a foe to fight.
Part 2: Events Recalled
©Copyright July 19, 2002 by Colin F. Jones
~ 29 ~
The base has grown now quite a bit,
We are almost proud to be part of it,
With rows of barbed wire rigged with flares,
And claymore mines for he who dares,
Our cordite bags are among the wire,
Unused from missions now expired,
And the sandbagged walls are high and wide,
That gives us all a sense of pride,
The ammo bays dug in and strong,
And our sleeping pits are deep and long,
But every day it rains and rains,
But no one ever now complains,
For we have no other place to go,
So this is it, I guess you know.
~ 30 ~
We were trained for this and I a pro,
Had two years in Malaysia with a friendly foe,
Training the Brits in ambush drills,
And digging in without the frills,
For over there ‘twas camouflage,
For the foe had aircraft big and large,
And the jungle there was mighty thick,
So keeping healthy was the trick,
And yet I fell to foul disease,
For Hepatitis ‘Á’ brought me to my knees,
So to the Cameron Highlands I did go,
To battle with a different foe,
In a British hospital for weeks on end,
Because against this foe I couldn’t defend.
~ 31 ~
In Malaysia we all smoked and drank,
The air was so heavy that it stank,
And just like here in Vietnam,
In the Monsoon rains we dug and swam.
But that was now a year ago,
And there ‘twas not a real foe,
Out here you wake up with a Krait,
Beneath your bedding tempting fate,
And black scorpions like to take look,
And hide in every little nook
And the leaches join in with the worms,
That squash as in your bed you squirm,
And great gray rats go scuttling through,
Running fast right over you.
~ 32 ~
So this is the life in Vietnam,
You sleep sometimes if you can,
But mostly man the greedy guns,
That fire each night out o’er the bunds.
To the one O fives we are the slaves,
But countless lives the field guns save,
While blasting noggies into Hell,
With every high explosive shell,
We work in mud up to our knees,
Set the sights in mils now, not degrees,
Shave in the glass of the Paralleloscope,
That is always there if the posts can’t cope,
For often on a fogged rain drenched night,
Our aiming posts just fade from sight.
~ 33 ~
Today we saw the rockets fly,
Over our base whizzed through the sky,
To crash beyond in the jungle green,
Where, Hell! Our base just could have been,
We manned the guns, “Fire Mission” called,
Counter rocket fire was soon installed,
Adjusting rounds then Fire, fire!,
The guns leapt back trail spades in mire,
To sink back off the aiming marks,
In the sludge and swirl and rude remarks,
The gunners dig the trail spades out,
The breaches slamming as they shout,
And the heavy guns leap once more,
Jumping of the marks as they did before.
~ 34 ~
All through the night the missions go on,
One rocket base killed then another one,
Until by dawn the fight has ceased,
Our fear and knowledge has increased.
Spent cartridge cases everywhere,
And cordite bags lie here and there,
Hot barrels sizzling in the rain,
A cordite mist o’er the whole terrain
Work does not cease; more sandbags filled,
More rounds unpacked by gunners skilled,
In all the requirements a detachment needs,
To maintain the guns that he oils and feeds,
And as the monsoon has its way,
There dawns another rain drenched day.
~ 35 ~
At last I lie down in my pit to sleep,
Though through the walls the rain doth seep,
And worms washed from the sodden walls,
Wriggle like Hell lest they do fall,
There’s a foot of water in my pit,
But now I’m not aware of it,
As I still dressed in boots and clothes,
Begin in fitful spates to doze,
But then there’s that sound coming through,
That seems to be saying “I am wanting you”,
“Fire Mission Battery “ is the call,
So tonight I won’t get no sleep at all!
I grab my rifle and off I go,
Into the rain and mud and blow.
~ 36 ~
There are gunners running everywhere,
As I plunge into the mire with care,
And reach the trails of the gun,
As the orders already have begun.
The barrels are set to ‘direct fire!,
For there is movement on the wire,
The gaping breaches soon are fed,
As splintex rounds make their bed,
Inside the barrels to be fired,
If defensive action is required .
Spare gunners man their fighting pits,
As others look through the strongpoint slits
But silence prevails except for rain,
Which seems to be falling heavier again.
~ 37 ~
The night goes on and squinting eyes,
Peer into the darkness; there’s no surprise,
Silence prevails as the gun base waits,
Intent on making no mistakes.
Beyond the perimeter of the wire,
Black shapes move up and then retire!
From Strongpoint two a grunt crawls out,
To see what all the fuss is about,
And sees the enemy in the trees,
That brings him to his muddy knees,
An M26 grenade is in his palm ,
He pulls the pin and with great calm,
Throws it out among the foe,
Who respond by screaming from the blow.
~ 38 ~
The grunt returns to whence he came,
Behind him an explosion a flash of flame,
The Viet cong are terrified,
Their probes are denied,
They steal away into the dark night,
But on the morrow, they will fight.
Stand down is called just in time,
For my sentry duty is three till five,
And then with daylight peeping through,
We’ll all be up and standing to.
And still the rain in torrents pours,
As we tend our toilets and our sores,
Clean the guns and our rifles too,
And cook our food that is all wet through.
~ 39 ~
Beneath the canvas of our home made tent,
Is where our idle time is spent,
And today we have some private mail,
God bless the posts, they never fail.
But my letter does not read so well,
For my girl has left me I can tell,
Though she speaks with words so nicely put,
There’s a knot that is tightening in my gut,
And my heart is racing with the pain,
As I hide my tears out in the rain,
It doesn’t seem fair but this I know,
Today I suffer a deep, deep blow.
I am helpless here in my despair,
For this sort of thing one cannot share.
~ 40 ~
The day goes on and we work and toil,
And we spread more wire coil after coil,
We carry our water from the pad,
In plastic canisters brown and drab,
The grunts have contacts everywhere,
And we man the guns and do our share,
The rain now turns the mud to glue,
That makes me as tall as a six foot Jew,
The guns on recoil get deeply stuck,
We have to dig ‘em out of all that muck,
Which stinks like sewerage on the spades,
And is black and putrid on the blades.
Now masses of mossies are moving in,
And frankly our tolerance is wearing thin.
~ 41 ~
As always my Mothers mail is great,
About all our family she does relate,
They are all fine and the dogs and cats,
The local folk and the neighbour’s brats.
But the news in the papers she sends me,
Give stark accounts that I don’t agree,
They sound like they’re all on the side of the foe,
They say we kill children wherever we go,
Hell this ain’t true, and is hard to take,
What the hell are they saying? For goodness sake!
They don’t seem to care if we live or die,
And I’m beginning to think that neither do I,
For this filthy hole that we call Nam,
Ain’t worth the life of any good man.
~ 42 ~
As the daylight fades and the night falls due,
We eat our last meal a ration pack stew,
Then move to the guns and our fighting pits,
There to inspect our bullets and kits,
Suddenly out front the crackle of fire,
Like a murderous song from the Devils own quire,
The grunts out there are caught by surprise,
There is haste in their movement, fear in their eyes!
The breaches crash as we load all the guns,
Red tracer is flashing over the bunds.
Hold your fire! Hold your fire, no clearances yet!
We stand there and wait in the cold and the wet.
The battle goes on and the bullets do zip,
A tracer goes by me I hear a clear click.
~ 43 ~
So naked I feel in the light of the flares,
But so tired I am that who bloody cares,
The gunships are here and Spooky as well,
They are blasting away with bullet and shell.
The tracers are bending like whips in the sky,
Orange, and yellow and blinding the eye.
Crackling like fireworks are small arms and flares,
The chatter of machine guns seems to be everywhere.
Fear overwhelms me; I shake like a leaf,
But I feel a cold calmness and my shaking is brief,
Come on you Bastards we are waiting for you,
Get you asses up here and we’ll blow you in two!
The cold clammy coldness that enveloped me then,
I’ll never forget; and will feel not again.
~ 44 ~
The flares floated down and died in the rain,
And suddenly the sky was all black again.
The battle was over the noggies had fled,
Leaving behind their wounded and dead.
Clearances were given for the battery to fire,
But it was too late and we ought to retire,
For the enemy had gone and the grunts were intact,
The dust offs had lifted the wounded in fact,
Back to Vung Tau for care and for aid,
For a walk in the park then back on parade.
For me it was horrific having climbed to the brink,
To be now coming down in depression to sink,
But the night passed away as they had all before,
And from two hours sleep myself was restored.
Part 3: North To “Rocket Alley”
©Copyright July 20, 2002 by Colin F. Jones
~ 45 ~
In Sydney Harbour the Jeparit waits,
The Vietnam supply ship hesitates,
The men on the wharf have refused to load,
The Christmas stores; and chide and goad,
They do not care that good soldiers die,
Due to the lack of continuous supply.
Communist supporters their treasonable way,
Is to deprive our soldiers by strike and delay.
In the streets of the cities there is riot and rage,
Socialist groups causing rue and rampage
Students with heads filled with regress,
Are ranting and raving intent to impress,
The Government that Unions have power to burn,
That students already have nothing to learn.
~ 46 ~
We are confused; they say we are to blame,
For the Vietnam War and should be ashamed.
The journos reporting is never quite true,
And those in the field are only a few.
I guess we are the guinea pigs for Government slur,
Or just pawns with numbers whatever they prefer.
Morale is quite low and the sergeants and sirs,
Are at each other’s throats and sitting on burrs
But the battery is functioning ever so well,
And the journos and pollies can all go to hell.
We shave and we shit and tend to the guns,
And now we are sandbagging the Earthen bunds,
The base is a fortress defiant and strong,
And “We work for the man” is our favourite song.
~ 47 ~
The companies were losing a lot of good men,
To swamp fever and Malaria they had already lost ten.
The monsoon continued it poured every day,
The Mossies they loved it for there they could lay,
Their eggs in the pools; little wrigglers were they,
That grew into mossies with us as their prey.
More skirmishes and contacts with the enemy were made,
4RAR displaying the great skills of their trade.
They were weak from disease though their wounded were few,
But thankfully the enemy, defeated, withdrew.
The operation was petering out at this stage;
Every soldier out there had earned his fair wage,
But was now looking forward to returning back,
To the security and comfort of their home Nui Dat.
~ 48 ~
The operation was over we returned to the Dat,
After destroying the base every sandbag at that,
Slashing each one with a gollick or knife,
Filling in holes; what a wonderful life!
We left nothing behind the Viet Cong could use,
So everything useful with knives we abuse.
Back in the Chinook and out of the rain,
Back to the comforts of Nui Dat again.
But work didn’t cease when we got back to base,
There were things to repair and things to replace.
The Germ Journal was launched, I wrote it myself
It helped with morale and therefore with health.
I wrote my first verses about the Vietnam war,
But I didn’t write too much about what I saw.
~ 49 ~
The monsoon was over we now had the dust,
We built a new base for the foe we can’t trust,
The Chinooks are loaded with gear once again,
And were soon flying out over the jungle terrain:
More sandbags, more strong points, more pickets and wire,
But this time without the hindrance of foul smelling mire.
When the choppers flew in the dust billowed in clouds,
That we were all covered in filthy gray shrouds
That hampered the setup of the guns and the stores,
For we can’t see a thing until the Helicopter withdraws.
We are outside our province, much further north,
And the choppers are many going back and forth,
With ammunition and food and other supplies,
Water and clothing all else that applies
~ 50 ~
The defence strategy of a battery of guns,
Is similar to the way a grunt company runs,
At the first peep of light the gunners stand to,
As also the infantry warriors do,
Patrols are sent out to circle the base,
Checking to see if there’s a foe there to trace,
Stand down is given when the patrols return,
And report whatever their efforts might learn.
Then weapons are cleaned, ammunition inspected,
Anything faulty is reported and rejected,
Clothing is issued requirements noted,
By the section commanders to duty devoted,
Washing and shaving is then carried out,
And the medic does his daily walk about.
~ 51 ~
Water bottles are filled and sterilized each one,
Breakfast is cooked and when it is done
Paludrine and Dapzone are issued to all,
For the prevention of Malaria is a vital install,
Strong points are sited machine guns set up,
Weapons placed handy; easy to pick up,
Gun commanders and Officers attend an O group,
While sandbags are filled and the perimeter troop,
Move out with more wire and pickets and stuff,
For the extent of defences is never enough.
The ammunition group led by the Battery SM,
Deliver ammo to the guns; it’s vital to them.
At midday the command post checks its sets,
Batteries and stores, connections and nets.
~ 52 ~
In the evening a roster for sentries is writ,
The strong points are never unmanned due to it,
The long day will end again with stand too,
With the night growing dark restricting our view,
Tis then that the enemy begins moving about,
So fire missions continue most of the night.
The NVR had been moving all the year long,
Into the northern regions with the Viet Cong,
Around Bien Hoa and the massive Long Binh,
Gathering for attacks they hoped to win.
The battery moved by convoy along route 15,
Escorted by tanks, and choppers were seen,
To an area occupied by American troops,
Whom we would replace with infantry groups.
~ 53 ~
The base had been established in “Rocket Alley”,
On a hilltop looking over the Song Dong Ngai valley,
By 199th United States Light Infantry Brigade,
So the base in a way was all readymade.
B Battery 2/35th US Artillery were there,
And the soldiers of 4RAR were dug in everywhere.
The mission was to protect the huge storage bases,
And airfields and transport and other key places,
From rockets attacks from the NVA,
Who had been doing their thing and having their way.
The gun positions were unkempt and very unclean,
A shambles in fact the worst that I’d seen,
The sand bags were rotting and had to be replaced,
And it would take many days to clean up the waste.
~ 54 ~
Counter rocket missions were soon underway,
While we completely restructured our ammunition bay;
All defensive structures were built above ground,
So we dug down deep to turn that around.
The gun platforms were good and well worn in,
But the sandbag walls, “Well, where to begin?”
The patrols went out along the Song Dong Ngai,
In boats and on foot and eager to try,
To seek out the bases from where rockets were fired,
For this mission alone our grunts had been hired,
With us to support them and target their finds,
Which was no easy job but was now refined;
One prominent feature in our base was the tower,
Equipped with radar and manned by the hour.
~ 55 ~
APC’s were used with the infantry patrols,
The self propelled howitzers had a good role,
Recoilless rifles mounted on jeeps,
And despite all these comforts nobody sleeps.
We have fired so much the gun barrels are hot,
So worn from the heat that accuracy is lost,
There is no time for sleep we fire all night,
We keep changing the layers on the gun dial sight.
The gun fitters are here to calibrate the guns,
But the missions continue firing over the bunds.
So constant the firing; great mounds of shells,
And a great plague of rats which nothing dispels,
Ravish our stores and invade our beds,
Leaving their droppings where ever one treads.
~ 56 ~
The operation lasted for over six weeks,
And proved a success; and proudly one speaks,
No rockets were fired from the Australian zone,
That the value of patrolling was quite clearly shown,
Eighteen thousand allied troops were in their AO,
But now it was time for the battery to go,
For another base waited the Chinooks were there,
So the guns and the stores we begin to prepare,
Off o’er the jungle with the clouds growing black,
With the underslung guns ready to attack
The first base was abandoned; not a good enough place,
So we moved to another for a more worthy base.
It was on the Firestone Trail off route fifteen,
And there we arrived as the rain began to teem.
~ 57 ~
The New Zealand V Company clashed with the foe,
Many well laid ambushes were sprung and so,
The Viet Cong struck back ambushing them too,
But no soldiers were killed, not even a few.
Very quickly the battery established the base,
And soon was supporting the V company case
The gun position was flooded from the increasing wet,
But the guns were firing ceaselessly yet.
V Company located a strong bunkered camp,
With a hostile force fearless and damp
Two V Company platoons moved to check it out,
But the rain and darkness made them turn about,
In the morning they were stopped by rocket fire,
So an Air Strike went in as V company retired.
~ 58 ~
Night fell again as V Company fell back,
Now it was the turn of the guns to put in an attack,
“Continuous Fire” was the order that night,
To see the guns in this role was a magnificent sight,
The recoils and flame from still burning shells,
The crashing of breaches the concussion that wells,
From the blast of the guns that leap from the ground
Bounce back as a gunner loads round after round.
All through the night it is continuous fire,
The adrenaline grows quickly higher and higher,
The excitement is ecstatic as the guns blast away,
And still they are firing at the dawn of the day.
No thoughts of tiring as we unboxed more rounds,
As fast as they’re loaded the explosions pound.
~ 59 ~
At Battalion Head Quarters a battalion attack was planned,
All the elements were available, all were at hand,
The complex was large and defended in force;
The Viet Cong were protecting a valuable resource.
The Task Force reaction company C company 1RAR,
Linked up with a squadron of APC’s in the dark,
D Company 4RAR stayed in defence of the base,
A V company platoon secured a good cut off place.
The assault echelon consisted of companies W and B,
And held in reserve was 1RAR’s company C.
Another air strike went in earth flying in tons,
From Bear Cat the rounds from American medium guns,
Screeched through the air like 155mm trains,
A fearsome sound, but no one complains.
~ 60 ~
Long Binh was contacted, our ammunition was low,
Even though 102 Field Battery was having a go,
We needed more ammo we were fast running out,
All manner of diversions were being made without doubt,
Because the Chinooks were coming with under slung loads,
Filled with munitions of varying modes,
Medics and drivers mechanics and cooks,
Lugged the boxes of rounds through the wash and the mud,
They were fired as fast as they could be prepared,
The gun crews worked furiously in darkness and rain,
Unboxing the ammo again and again,
The guns kept on firing their spades sinking back,
The breaches were gaping but no fodder did lack.
Misfires were occurring; they were World War Two rounds,
And many failed to explode when they hit the ground.
~ 61 ~
Guns were dug out, pushed back on their marks,
Cartridge cases, cordite bags lay about in the dark,
Ammunition boxes were scattered, stuck in the mud,
Gun barrels were steaming and hissing for blood.
Then the Tannoy was crackling, cease Fire! Cease Fire!!
And the gunners exhausted sank down in the mire.
The guns were empty they sizzled in the rain,
1700 rounds they had fired now they were silent again.
Eleven rounds short of “ammunition expended”,
We had done much more than was ever intended.
We had been on Operations for thirty three days
Suffered some obstacles and many delays
For Two and a half days we had fired at the complex,
Now it was up to the Battalion to do all the rest.
~ 62 ~
The first Battalion attack since the Korean war,
Was launched at first light as it started to pour,
The complex was devastated by bombardment and fire,
Bunkers destroyed as was the desire,
They overran the area and searched every inch
But not a body was found not a weapon to pinch,
The place was deserted except for some rice,
A sixty pound bag with a hell of price!
The enemy had gone, with their wounded and dead,
Escaped through their tunnels; west they had fled,
The enemy divisions retreated a river crossing was made,
And we fired our last mission where they entered to wade.
The operation was over it was time to go home,
And looking forward to that I was not alone.
~ 63 ~
Paludrine and Dapzone, repellent and nets,
A daily routine against insect pests,
But yet despite such defensive measure,
They fed upon me with the greatest pleasure,
For I awoke sweating in my pit,
And found I had no strength to climb out of it.
A dust off flew in, our helicopter medivac,
And flew me quickly back to Nui Dat.
With wobbly boots and muddled mind,
Off I went with a will to find
The regimental medic at the R.A.P.,
Who decided there was nothing wrong with me,
So off I went back to our lines,
~ 64 ~
Then the B.S.M. Got hold of me,,
Said, “ with this bloody medic I don’t agree”,
And he took me back to the R.A.P.,
“Take his temperature again for me,
And this time medic, make it high,
Or you might wish you could die”.
So off I went to the chopper pad,
Where the two hour wait was pretty bad,
It was hard to stand up now you see,
And the pain was bad from brow to knee.
My body ached, oh God ‘twas Hell,
And finally I cried and fell,
They picked me up and laid me down,
As I heard a whopping chopper sound.
To Be Continued…
©Copyright 2002 by Colin F. Jones
Webmaster’s Note: Author’s notes are not available at this time
Anthony W. Pahl, OAM: June 2, 2007