Building the McNamara Line

On one day back in the early part of 1967, Dusters from A Battery 1st/44th Air Defense Artillery left out of our firebase in Gio Linh to support the Marines & Sea Bee's who were going to set up an observation tower, all went well. They dug the holes and along comes the crane helicopter and sets the tower in place - job done - back to Gio Linh for another evening of NVA mortar and artillery "entertainment".

Next day we are out in the field again.  Grunts are out in front sweeping for mines for the two M-48 tanks, a bulldozer and two Dusters (A-141 & A-142). A-142 is just ahead of us trying to stay in the tank's tread-tracks to avoid mines. I am on A-141 bringing up the rear with our Platoon Leader Lieutenant who was riding with us.

We get a little over a mile or so out on a 300 yard wide, coast to coast, barren strip where nothing thinks of growing and BOOM!  Our sister track (A-142) hits a mine. Peiro, the driver of the track, was hurt when the explosion broke the driver's hatch loose and cracked his head open. That track needed to be towed home.

We waited about a half an hour for the tank retriever to come and get them. When the retriever arrived and just about had them hooked up, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, mortars started coming in all over the place. Our Lieutenant spotted the smoke from their tubes and called up to me and pointed them out. So we started to return fire with our twin 40mm cannons. Next thing you know the incoming rounds started moving towards us. First to the left and front of us, then to the rear and right of our position. Being and artilleryman, I could see from my position in the turret that Charlie was zeroing in on us. Meanwhile Parker who was substituting for Cloudt, our regular driver who was on R&R, was trying to get our track started. All the while the incoming rounds kept getting closer and closer. They had us pretty well lined up. One landed about 40 yards behind us and the next one only 20 yards out but more centralized.

When Parker finally got the Duster started, for some reason he put it in reverse and we started to back up. I grabbed on to the sight bar and stood up in the turret and screamed down to him "NOT IN REVERSE!!" Then he put it into drive and we started moving forward. Right then there was another loud BOOM as a mortar round exploded this time not more than five feet behind us! It's a good thing I had on my helmet and flak jacket on because when the round went off, it felt like I was being sandblasted from behind. We got the hell out of there in a hurry. We were about half way back to Gio Linh when our Lieutenant finally got Parker to stop. We returned a few more rounds of counter-fire just as our jets showed up and dropped Napalm and some high explosive (HE) bombs. The planes were so close you could see the difference between the Napalm and the HE bombs as they left the planes. Napalm would tumble when released and the HE bombs would glide straight. Even from where we were located you could still feel the heat from the Napalm. Too close for my comfort baby. The party was over and it was back to Gio Linh for another evening of "entertainment". Tomorrow is another day - hopefully.

- Paul Gronski

Next: First Rocket Attack