Day 3 – Danang to Hue

I was not anticipating any problems on the drive from Danang to Hue. It is a simple case of driving from one hotel in one city to another hotel in another city and for the most part if turned out fine. Our driver, Mr. Teng, drove down from Hue and picked us up on time. He was familiar with the destination and that was reassuring. He appeared to have a basic understanding of English but it didn’t take long to realize that his command of English was worse than my command of German, which is negligible. I took a few tries to get him to understand that we wanted to go over the Hai Van pass rather than taking the tunnel under the pass. The trip over the pass was very pretty. The last time we were on that road was around the first of June, 1966. I can’t tell you if anything changed because I don’t remember anything about the drive except that I was Bert’s driver and we had a trailer attached to the Jeep and Bert allowed me to put my footlocker in the trailer with his stuff.

Jim and Bob on the Hai Van Pass

Hai Van Pass summit looking North

The plan was to then stop at a restaurant on Lang Co beach. I had been there in 2011 and it was rated highly. I must have told the driver 3 times I wanted to stop at the Lang Co Beach Resort. When we got to the peninsula the driver asked, “You want fish and crabs at Lang Co?” to which I restated that we wanted to go to the Lang Co Beach Resort. As I was saying that we pulled into a shanty restaurant on the wrong side of the peninsula. He turned off the engine and announced, “You get fish and crabs here.” I told him I wanted to go to the Lang Co Beach Resort. At his point it was turning into a battle of wills and, since we were paying I thought we should win.”  He started the car, drove a few hundred meters across the peninsula and pulled into the parking lot of the Lang Co Beach Resort. The parking lot was empty. He said the place was open but we went in only to find it was, in fact, closed. We drove back to the shack. Our driver sat and ate with the locals (probably his cousins) and we ate lunch.

Eating Pho at Lang Co

We got to Hue with no incidents. Highway 1 has been greatly improved with the addition of two new tunnels between Lang Co and Phu Bai and it made the trip much shorter and easier. I watched Jim go through the same reactions that I had when I saw Phu Bai in 2011. It’s hard to imagine how built up it is now when you think of how rural it was when we were there before. It is so different from what we recalled that it is actually disorienting. For those who were there in the 1960’s you may recall that highway 1 from Phu Bai to Hue was a narrow two-lane road that had a sprinkling of huts and small houses on the east side of the road. You could look off to the east (the right) and you could see miles of rice paddies. Today it is a four-lane road with a median and it is so densely populated that you cannot see anything on the side of the road besides houses.

Tomorrow we head off to visit the sites around Hue. These include the 3rd and 4th Battery center locations and the sites of a few of our deployments in 1966 and 1967.

Day 2 – Danang

I have spent a lot of time in Asia. I feel I have a lot of Asian friends but the Vietnamese are an enigma to me. I am certain it is more than a language issue. It seems like an issue with Vietnamese attitudes and approach. We decided to use the same driver today as we used yesterday. I figured I could work around some of the issues we had the day before with a little prior planning. Either there are no real maps available here or our driver, Kevin, either didn’t know where to get one or he really didn’t want to use one. So, I documented where we wanted to go and I emailed the information in the form of Google Map screenshots and pictures to him at the email address he had given me.

When we got on the road he assumed we could start in Hoi An (an ancient city and tourist attraction) and go on from there but he actually had no idea where we wanted to go because he never got the emails I sent and never asked me. He told us later his son had changed his email address and never told him. Anyway he suddenly pulled off the road on the way to Hoi An and stopped at a showroom for a jade shop. The stuff was beautiful but we had never told him that we were interested in Jade or that we wanted to shop.

I finally got him to stop and, using my Kindle and some of the maps I had stored on it, explained to him where we needed to go. When the full scope of what I wanted to do was obvious to him his whole attitude changed. He complained that this is much more than he had assumed and immediately wanted to negotiate a new price for his service. I reminded him that I had told him I wanted to visit three sites south of the city so it should not have been a surprise. All in all I found that dealing with Kevin was like pushing a rope.

I also learned that Jim and I both have a pretty good sense of direction and we both know how to read maps. Also, I have a GPS with the locations we want to visit programmed on it so it is very obvious to me when we were headed in the wrong direction, which we were several times yesterday. With all the paraphernalia we had with us he actually stopped a few times yesterday to ask a local farmer for directions. In at least two cases he got the wrong directions and he followed them despite our objections. I can’t tell you some of the paths (as opposed to roads) we took following the directions he got.

Anyay, I have to stop using this blog to rant. I’m sure no one wants to hear it and it doesn’t do me any good to go on about it.

Our plan for the day was to visit three 1st Guns sites. They were the An Hoa combat base, Hill 65, and Hill 55. Neither Jim or I had ever been to these places but they were places the battery had occupied after we left Vietnam.

Targets for Day 2

We eventually found the An Hoa site. There is a factory on the site so we didn’t actually stand on the Battery Center but we got within 100 feet. We did however get to stand on the remains of the runway that was there. It was in surprisingly good shape after 50 years and I don’t think it was used after the US left Vietnam.

An Hoa compound entrance

An Hoa runway panorama

Our next target was Hill 65. We actually found this site with a little pointing, prodding, and grunting. Of course everything is populated now but it wasn’t hard to find a 190 foot hill with a large monument on it.

Hill 65 in 1969

We actaully found a flight of stairs that went from the road up to the monument. For those of you who were there, this monument is on the southern end of the hill and the camera is looking towards the northeast.

Monument atop Hill 55

Stairs leading down to the road

By this time we had been on bad roads for 3 hours. The idea of coaxing Kevin anywhere near Hill 55 was just too daunting so we abandoned the quest. We went back to Danang. Jim found the Chicken with Lemon Grass he wanted. I got a great dish of VN fried rice and some Tiger beers. The rice and a couple of beers cost me $6.35.

Tomorrow we have decided to go to Hue by car. We’re using the same car company but since we are going directly from our hotel in Danang to our hotel in Hue with one stop on the way at a great seafood restaurant on the way at Lang Co I am not anticipating any problems.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Day 1 – Danang

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We arrived in Danang last night after a long flight to Inchon and then on to Danang. Jim’s idea of flying business class turned out to be a good one. Our seats were very spacious and the food was good. We certainly arrived in better shape than we would have if we had traveled coach. This morning we packed up the GPS, some old photographs and some maps and we took our Vietnamese driver on an adventure. It is very frustrating to know exactly where you want to go and to try to get a driver, whose command of English is tenuous at best, to follow your directions. I won’t even get in to what it is like to ride in a car over here. I did enough of that in the blog from my last trip. Anyway, after some twists and turns we managed to get within a few hundred feet of our first battery position.

During our first reunion in 2014 Jim spoke about our “first” position in Danang and our “second” position. John, Henry, and I told him he was crazy because we never remembered any “second” position. Bert settled the argument by agreeing with Jim that we had been in one position for a very short time (it turned out to be less than three weeks) and then we moved to a second position, which we occupied until June 1966, when we moved up to Gia Le by Rough Rider convoy up Route 1 and over the Hai Van Pass. I went back to my pictures after he brought it up and found clear evidence that we had, in fact, been in two different but relatively close positions. The problem with finding these places is that much has happened to change their appearance in the intervening 50 years. Our fist position was a nice grassy area that even had some trees on it. The place is now surrounded by a light industrial park and the exact location of what had been our position is now a dump or a landfill. Anyway we got pretty close as the photo below shows.

My first attempt back in 2011 to locate the second battery location was not very successful for a few reasons. First, my GPS location was off by about 500 meters due to a discrepancy I found between the military grid system and the modern grid system used by modern GPSs. I created a work-around that allowed us to use the coordinates from the old records and correct them using graphic overlays. GPS technology has also improved and now we are able to use both the American and the Russian GPS satellite systems to get very precise locations. Despite that, the site of our second position had been part of a quarry and is now occupied by a Cement/Sand and Gravel company and any landmarks have been obliterated. We got within 500 feet of the Battery Center but we couldn’t document it because there are no landmarks to use to document it. You’ll just have to take our word for it.

As for the third location I planned to visit today, the site of the last Battery Center we had in Vietnam in 1970, it is in the center of a very densely populated area and we didn’t even attempt to locate it. We did come within 0.28 miles of it though according to the GPS.

I was amazed in 2011 by how much this place had changed. In the 1960’s this area was a very rural area near a big town (Danang). Now Danang has changed even more to  become a bona fide “metroplex” that extends for miles in all directions from a glitzy little city full of high-rise apartment buildings and condo’s. It was very obvious as the plane approached the city last night as to how big it had grown.

But the people are friendly. The prices are cheap. It cost me about $10 today for two beers, a salad and a bowl of noodle soup. The weather has been good with relatively mild temps (~82°) but very high humidity. For some reason I have not been bothered by jet lag and my digestive system is cooperating. Tomorrow we head south to visit Hoi An and then to find three locations down there (Hill 55, Hill 65, and the An Hoa Combat base).

1st BC – 2011

1st BC – 1966

Almost There

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May 1967 was not a very eventful month in the life of the 1st Guns battery. The battery was located on the south side of the Phu Bai compound, which was home to the 3rd Marine Division headquarters and the 12th Marine Regiment to which we were assigned. We had been located there for eight months by this time and we were settled in for the most part. Early in the month we sent a platoon of Guns (2) up to a place called Gia Le, which was very close to the position we had been in most of the previous summer, to support an operation called “Operation Cumberland”. We moved the platoon several times over the summer in support of that operation. The battery got a new CO that month. His name was Harry Baig. Harry was a very unusual character who turned out to be quite an enigma (see here for more info). To most of us he was just a “gung ho” wacko.

Kiser and I spent a day in Hawaii today, gearing up for our trek to Danang tomorrow. So far all has gone well and our next entry should be from Danang.

Diamond Head

Diamond Head

D-1 and counting

In December of 1965 I had just got back to the states from Cuba. It was good to be back in Camp Lejeune after 6 months of the heat, humidity, iguana’s, and enormous rats in Guantanamo Bay but something had changed in Camp Lejeune since we had left six months earlier. I soon learned that the difference was that a lot of people were getting orders to WestPAC and that almost invariably meant that they were headed for Vietnam. Like most of the guys, I had never heard of Vietnam until we were in Cuba. Marines had recently landed in Danang and we were hearing stories about combat breaking out. Little did we know that within two years there would be almost a half a million men there and that most of us would be included in that number.

Once I got the orders to go, the first thing I had to do was to report to sick bay to get some shots. I remember getting something called gamma globulin – a lot of it. I still to this day don’t know what gamma globulin was for but the Marine Corps seemed to be in love with it. The standard dose was one cc per ten pounds of body weight. Since I weighed about 200 pounds in those days I got 20cc’s, 10ccs in each cheek. 10cc’s is a big shot and I remember having trouble sitting for a while after getting the shots. At least they gave me an equal amount in each cheek so I wasn’t lopsided.

I went back to Boston on leave, spent some time with Janet and my family, and in mid-January of 1966 I headed for Camp Pendleton in California. Guess what was the first thing I got when I reported for duty in Camp Pendleton? You guessed it – 20cc’s of gamma globulin. I spent 6 weeks in California training for Vietnam. The training consisted of listening to newly-returned guys telling us how we would be killed when we landed in country. Notice I said “would” be killed rather than “might” be killed. Everyone I know that went to Vietnam as part of a replacement company like I did and was trained in Camp Pendleton landed in Vietnam convinced that they had been handed a death sentence and would be dead within hours of landing “in country”. The training also consisted of spending hours marching up and down the hilly terrain of the California coast in February, when it gets pretty chilly, preparing to go to a tropical country where I spent most of my time less than 20 meters above sea level.

Sometime during my “training” someone decided that I wasn’t old enough to go to Vietnam and get killed (I hadn’t turned 19 when I got to California) and they assigned me to another replacement company that was scheduled to ship out a few weeks later than the company I had trained with. Guess what was the first thing on the agenda for this new company? You guessed it – gamma globulin. So I got another 20cc’s. I won’t drag this story out any longer but I’ll simply tell you that when we got to Okinawa we all got another dose of gamma globulin.

When I got to Vietnam I was assigned to an artillery unit, which I expected because I was an Artilleryman. This unit had just landed in Vietnam a few days before. Actually they had spent the time I was running up and down the hills in California sitting on a ship heading for Vietnam. I ended up spending 19 months and 22 days with that outfit, 1st 155mm Guns, and I spent all of that time with four other guys.

Tomorrow I will leave Honolulu with one of those four guys. His name is James Kiser but for some reason we all called him Clyde. I learned a few years ago that Clyde is actually his middle name. So here we go, over 51 years after we first met, and together we will retrace our steps from Danang to Phu Bai and points north. I am going to try to post an entry in this blog every day we are in country. Welcome aboard.

Watch this space!

On May 3rd James Kiser and I, Bob Simington, will be returning to Vietnam. We plan to visit Danang, Hue, and Dong Ha and we intend to locate and photograph a lot of the positions 1st Guns occupied during its deployment to Vietnam. I also intend to maintain a blog of our trip on this site. Hopefully, the blog will be as well-received as the one I maintained on my last visit in 2011 (here).

Stay tuned.

More records located

I was able to get to the National Archives in College Park, MD last week and I found the Command Chronologies for 1st Guns for the year 1970. They appear to be intact with the exception of February, 1970, which has a few pages missing. Using this new information I was able to flesh out the Battery History page.

For a moment I thought I would be able to locate the unit rosters for the Guns but it appears that when the Marine Corps turned the files over to the National Archives they got lost in the shuffle. They were either mislabeled like the 1st 155mm Guns files were or they were not included. I’m not finished with the National Archives yet. Now that I am a registered “Researcher” and I know my way around there a bit, I intend to get back there one day and delve into the unit roster files a bit more.

1st 175 Guns TAC Mark

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1st Guns TAC MarkThe 1st 155mm Guns TAC Mark is plastered all over this site but I can’t seem to find an image of the 1st 175mm Guns TAC Mark. Does anyone know what it looked like? Did they simply replace the “155” with “175”? The shape and color of the mark was determined by the fact that it was part of 1st FAG, which was part of Force Troops Pacific, so that would probable make the most sense but I can’t make out a TAC mark on any of the photo’s I have of the 175 (M107) guns.

175mm FDC

I’m curious to know if  know if Fire Direction Control on the 175 Guns used FADAC or was it done manually. I know FADAC was not available for the 155 Guns because they were never converted to the metric system but I’m sure the Army was using FADAC with the 175 Guns in Vietnam. Did the USMC use FADAC with them as well?