Vietnam Stories: Bombs, duds and booby traps

Saturday, September 30, 2017

December 1969, I was a rifle platoon commander stationed five miles south of Danang Airbase.

We were on constant patrol to prevent rockets and mortars from hitting the airbase. During my time there, no rockets or mortars were fired from my area. While on patrol, everyone learned to walk in the exact footsteps of the man in front.

Chesty Puller’s son had lost both legs 500 yards south of my base. Lewis Puller wrote his story in the book Fortunate Son.

In January 1970, Fox Company was detailed to guard 14 bulldozers doing mine clearing in an area about 10-by-15 miles. The bulldozers worked well and everything was plowed up, including mines thought to date from the French experience, along with cemeteries and local markers, like houses and rice paddy dikes.

Richard Nixon had a secret plan to end the war. One part of the action plan in Vietnam was “Vietnamization” of the war. During maintenance time for the bulldozers, my platoon was tasked to patrol with a local PF unit (read Boy Scouts with rifles and ammo).

The PF units generally guarded local hamlets, but seldom patrolled (that was for the Marines). We waited their arrival and watched the PF unit walk right by our infantry company and 14 bulldozers and go to a nearby hill. Headquarters called to find out, “Where are you?” It seemed that the PF unit reported they were where they were to go, but the Marines were “not there.” After some more time the call came back, “Never mind.” So much for early Vietnamization.

Another time without bulldozers, artillery was fired to “push the enemy toward our ambush.” The artillery rounds landed in salvos of five. We could hear the salvos landing as the distance from the guns increased. One of the salvos had only four explosions, so we had to go find the unexploded round. We found the successive shell holes and moved to find the dud. We found the unexploded hole, in the middle of an old concrete pad. The 105 mm space was evident by the lands and grooves in the concrete less than eight hours after impact. Someone had found the round in the dark and pulled it out. You had to admire the courage of anyone who could do something like that and now a dud 105 round was in our area.

Later in my tour in an area not bulldozed, we found a different area with multiple booby traps. We called for artillery to “prep” the area for additional exploration. No prep fire clearance was authorized, but we got a fire started that burned through the small forest. I counted 35 secondary explosions that night and the next day we found 18 more IEDs with the trip wire burned off. There were fresh mounds of sand from tunneling. The higher ups were insufficiently interested in the discovery at that time, and my unit was sent elsewhere.

(David Siff, Fox 2/1, 1st Marine Division, lives in Concord.)