February 13. Middle afternoon
Dear Chaplain Miller,

Firebase Warrior was a clearing about the length of two football fields cut out of the dense jungle. It had a perimeter of twisted barbwire with thirty feet of clearing to the bush and jungle.

I was talking to a solider at base camp who was assigned to the 4th Engineer support battalion while waiting to get in to see a movie. He was telling me how firebases were established and the amount of involvement it takes to build one of these places.

He told me that there are three commands involved in the establishment of firebases and their location, depending on the division’s mission. The purpose for the establishment of firebases is to protect our soldiers in the jungle area so they can receive “fire” support from the artillery command and the infantry can provide rapid response to any action. In the planning for such operations and the establishment of firebase, three commands must coordinate the action: they are the infantry, artillery and the engineers.

The Engineers assist in finding a location in the jungles that they can clear. They have to take into consideration the location, time and place of the operation. The biggest consideration is the size of the area to be cleared as well as the composition of the unit that will occupy the area. All of this recon takes extensive map study, aerial photographs of the area and recon information from previous recon inserts.

Before attempting any clearing, the engineers must involve the artillery to assure fields of fire, where it is needed and how they might get their weapons into place to accomplish support for the infantry. The third part of the team, the Infantry, then reviews the plan to see if it meets their goal of being able to carry out search and destroy missions in the surrounding jungle.

Once the area has been selected, the three commands, Infantry, Artillery and Engineers, arrange for a visual recon together. In that recon, they determine if the area is suitable for helicopters to have a proper, safe landing zone. They will determine what kind of foliage, brush and undergrowth will have to be removed as well as the approximate number and average diameter of trees that are in the area.

The standard quantities of explosive supplies necessary to establish a firebase are 1000 lbs. of composition C-4; 10 cases of bangalore torpedoes; 5,000 ft of detonation cord; 500 ft. of time fuse; 300 non-electric blasting caps and 100 M-60 fuse lighters. The engineer went on to tell me that all of the above plus the artillery big guns and bulldozers, sandbags and timbers and conx container are part of the firebase planning.

I guess the engineer fellow wanted to impress me with the contributions the engineers made to the war effort. Now looking down on Firebase Warrior, I was indeed impressed.

As we circled the base I could see the bunkers scattered about. Some were still being built; others were covered with dark green plastic sacks filled with sand. I would become well acquainted with sandbags. Some of the men used to say that, "Lady Bird Johnson owned a sandbag manufacturing company in Texas."

There were tents made from ponchos and a few small trees that were spared being cut down by machetes, saws and bangalore torpedoes that were used to clear out the jungles. The larger trees were cut into logs long enough to go over the bunkers and strong enough to hold two or three layers of sand bags. At each end of the firebase, the artillery had set up their 105 howitzers and from one end to the other around along both sides were four or five mortar pits with the mortar team bunkers next to them.

We circled once more and I spotted two conx containers sitting in a deep hole just off to the left of center on the base. There was one container on each end of the crevasse. An American flag flew next to the wall of sandbags and barbwire circled the hole with the containers. Alongside was a large, red, eight-foot wooden feather with the words, "Red Warriors" painted on it; next to the steps leading down to what I was to learn was the TOC or Tactical Operation Center.

GI's were scattered and scurrying about, grabbing loose towels, shirts, soft hats and what ever else the blades of the whirling chopper were stirring up. Several, close to the helipad, covered their faces as the dust and dirt began to form a cloud filled with miscellaneous pieces of paper, wood chips and whatever else was not tied down.

The chopper slowly lowered itself downward guided by the pilot; until the runners under its body touched the soil as gently as a lady puts her foot into a swimming pool to test the temperature of the water. The door gunners were off before we touched completely to the ground. I jumped right out. Before I could turn around and get my bearings, the slick was emptied. The gunners were back in their alert defensive position as the Huey, lifting off the firebase, blew dust once more as it soared off to a new mission.

"Major, I'm Sergeant Henderson with S1. The CO wants you down at the TOC ASAP. Chaplain, he said to get yourself settled in and report to him when you're finished. Right this way, Major."

Off they went and I stood alone, except for the pad man, Speedy, who was pouring a canteen of water over his head to get rid of the dust and dirt. He looked up,

"Chaplain, Sir, the Sergeant Major, TOP, told me to send you up to his bunker when you arrived." He pointed up a little rise to a large bunker with an antenna sticking out of the top. "He wants to show you around. I think you're bunking with me for the night. See you later."

I made my way toward the bunker. Several GI’s stepped up to greet me. One shirtless sweating guy called out, "Father, are you going to have services today?"

“I am a father,” I said laughing, "and I have children to prove it. I understand Father Taddy plans to be here tomorrow to hold Catholic services. You're welcome to attend mine today if you want to. I'll let you know when they are just as soon as I get settled."

Father Taddy had told me it was ok to invite any GI to my services no matter what their denomination because they need all the help they could find. I learned since being in the Army that being called "Father" didn't matter. It was a term for the Catholic Chaplains, but I found it endearing, and I never made a big deal about correcting anyone who called me by that title.

I came up to the Sergeant Major’s unfinished bunker. He was squatting oriental style on his haunches holding a sand bag open while another Sergeant filled the bag with dirt from a bunker they were building. The SMG was shirtless. I could count his ribs he was so thin. His hair, what there was of it, was sticking straight up. His glasses were hanging at the end of his nose. When I came up to him, he looked up with his eyes not moving in his head. I was a little taken back when I saw he had the smoldering butt of a cigarette sticking out of his right ear.

He spoke before I had a chance to introduce myself. "I'm Top Roundtree. You can just call me Top, everyone else does," he said. He pointed to the fellow holding a shovel of sand wearing an olive drab undershirt that was soaked through with sweat. "That's Sgt. McVay, just call him Mac. Glad you could make it out today. I understand you just got to the unit a week ago. Your predecessor, Chaplain Iverson, liked it out here. We were good friends."

Top stood up, took the butt from his ear and hung it on his bottom lip. He was about five six and even looked thinner than when he was in squatting position. He put out his hand to shake mine.

"Top, I hope we can be good friends, too. This is all new to me, and I have no idea where to start."

Putting on his fatigue shirt, he said, "Come on, I need a break. I'll show you around." We made our way across the base. "I asked PFC. Speedy if you could bunk with him tonight. He built a pretty good hooch and has extra room."

"I met him at the pad.” I said. “He told me he was expecting me.”

“Good,” replied Top. “Out here it won't matter too much where you stay. But I'll get you a bunk with one of the officers tomorrow. Right now they're finishing up their hooch and there's no extra room.” Then he asked,

“Did you get set up at base camp?”

“Yeah, I set up a tent at base camp. Dave, my assistant, stayed back to finish getting it settled. I think I’ll like it. It seems roomy enough." I answered.

"Good.” Top pointed out the artillery area. "That's the 42nd Artillery. They support our firebase with three 105 Howitzers. They give us 360 degree support."

We came up to the howitzer and I noticed it had a name painted on it. "Blind Faith."

"Do they name all the guns?" I asked.

"It would seem so,” he pointing to the other 105. "There's Amazing Grace. The other one at the other end of the base is named Blind Hope." Top laughed. "Sounds like a preacher named them.”

He went on to give me a bit of information about howitzers. He said that they were used in WWII and they are modified in Vietnam so they can be more mobile. Some 105's are towed behind a 6x6 truck, but most of them are carried into position by helicopters.

The gun requires an eight-man crew to fire about three to six rounds per minute. They can handle a variety of ammunition, including high explosive shrapnel shells and "beehive" cartridges, which contained thousands of small, sharpened darts. The reason, he said, for having at least two batteries on each firebase when possible was that they had a range of about 12,500 yards. So having two to three 105mm at each end of the firebase covered a large area for the troops in the field to have fire support when needed.

TOP pointed out the plastic seat on the privy that was just off from the Artillery helicopter pad. "Since you'll be covering the 42nd while you're out here, you probably can use their can. They have a better supply system than the grunts and have plastic toilet seats."

That bit of information was a comfort to me, in the months ahead.

"Since I'm on the subject," he went on to say. "There are piss tubes scattered across the base." Pointing to a three-inch pipe protruding about three feet from the ground on a slight angle. "I believe there's one by the dump close to Speedy's hooch."

"That's good to know,” I responded.


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