First Rocket Attack

It is early 1967 and for the most part we, were settled in here at Dong Ha. Our 1st/44th Artillery Dusters were assigned to the 3rd Marine Division in I Corp, and those guys generally didn't care much for us Army folk. To the Marines, we were just lowly "Dog Faces" and to us they were "Jar Heads". However, at least for the enlisted men, those feelings didn't last to long. Once they saw what a Duster could do in action, we gained a lot of respect from most foot soldiers. They quickly learned to love what our Duster's could do with their twin 40mm cannons in a firefight. Our typical duty assignments were to guard the firebases and escort convoys but we also often found ourselves doing close ground support for the infantry out on patrols.

For my tour of duty in Vietnam, it felt as though the whole year was spent on guard duty; two men 4 hours on and 4 hours off. Every time we would pull into a new guard duty position, it was my responsibility as gunner to set up red and white "aiming steaks" and establish a "field of fire." Using a plotting board I would draw out the lay of the land within my field of fire. I would draw in the houses, buildings, rice paddies, knolls, valleys and just about anything and everything I could see. With each drawing I would have to include the azimuth and elevation. The reasoning behind all of this is so that under nighttime conditions I would know where things were and not shoot upon "friendlies".

It was important to do this each time we set up as evidenced by one evening in January of '67 when our track (A-141) was stationed at our Route #9 gate position at Dong Ha. Just before sundown a Marine self-propelled 8-inch gun left the base. Our squad leader Sgt. Hought informed the crew that the Marines were going out to a firing position they had established near a Buddhist Pagoda that was within our field of fire and clearly identified on my plotting board.

Well I was on the 4 hours on shift with Pvt. Parker, which happened to be from midnight to 4 in the morning. We were sitting there board stiff when all of a sudden we spotted several flashes a mile or so out in front of us and a few seconds later we hear Roar, Roar, Roar, Roar, Boom, Boom, Boom!! It was then that the shit had hit the fan. Incoming rockets were falling all around us. I jumped up in the gunner's seat and got my twin 40's ready to return fire. Parker runs to alert the rest of the crew (which I thought was really unnecessary because the ground was shaking so much and the loud explosions pretty much kept everyone from even thinking of sleeping).

Once the gun crew was mounted and ready in their positions, Parker let Cloudt, our driver who was at the Azimuth controls, know where to aim the turret and then we got going. I started out with my guns shooting low and walked out the rounds little by little to where the flashes came from. I yelled to Cloudt to swing the turret back and forth across the area. We got one large secondary explosion and a few smaller ones that indicated we had made contact! We sent out well over one hundred rounds at the targets in less than 3 minutes. At four rounds a clip, I really gave the loaders Joyner and Parker a workout. Our sister track, Duster A-142, fired less than 30 rounds during the battle since their position was more inline with the airstrip and they were concerned about being zeroed in on by the enemy rockets. Within 3 or 4 minutes it was all over and the gun crew came down off our track to find Squad Leader Sgt. Hought still on the phone trying to get permission to fire back!

It was just about sunrise when the dust had settled and we had cleared and stacked all of the spent brass from under our track. Just then a jeep pulls up in front of our position and jumps our company commander Captain Camillo grinning from ear to ear. He had come out to congratulate us on our actions and on a job well done. He told us that a Marine observer in a tower in Dong Ha was trying to contact our track to tell us of our successful mission and to direct our fire to other enemy targets. Unfortunately, he could not get through to us because our Squad Leader tied up the phone line the whole time. Captain Camillo asked me why we didn't destroy the big yellow Pagoda out in front of us. I told him that an 8-inch gun was sent out to that location the night before and we did not want to blow them up. He just shook all of our hands and told us good job and left to go visit our sister track.

It was less than an hour after our Captain had gone and up pulls another jeep, this time it was the Marine Major who jumps out and HE WAS PISSED! He starts yelling at us about how we almost killed his men out there last night and that a couple of our rounds glanced off of his 8-inch gun as evidenced by the paint scraped off their track. I don't know where Sgt. Hought was so I replied to the Major that my gun did not go anywhere near the Pagoda where his gun and his men were reported to be. It was then that he told us that after the sun had set he moved his gun out of the position at the Pagoda and a little further out on a hilltop so they could fire into the DMZ. I told him we were not informed of their move so how could we even know where the hell they were. Besides, it may not have been our rounds, it could have been from our sister track. He stormed away from us cussing and still hot under the collar but from then on we started to get better communication from them on troop movements. Fortunately, we all lived to fight another day and I believe that this incident was the first time the NVA had experienced twin 40's fired at them along the DMZ.

- Paul Gronski

Next: Two Week "Vacation" In Con Thien