USMC, 1st Radio Battalion, Vietnam Veterans

Stories - An Hoa

  1. Rob Charnell - Operation Durham Peak - July 18-August 13, 1969
  2. Jerry Stephenson - The Roach Chasing Rats - March, 1970
  3. Rob Charnell - My Rats are Scarier than Your Rats - March-April, 1970
  4. Rob Charnell - The Matrix and the Buffalo - March-April, 1970
  5. Chuck Truitt - Gas Attack - July, 1970

Rob Charnell - Operation Durham Peak - July 18-August 13, 1969
I was fortunate in not having any close to me die before my eyes. I came very close to a similar encounter that killed Greek when I was Operation Durham Peak in the Que Son Mountains. That was sometime late July or early August 1969. Photo at right shows smoke trails just after the chopper has gone down.  I had been in-country only 3 or 4 weeks, and was just learning the ropes at being a linguist. I had been out with Gordon, Dieu, and CWO Watson on the Operation out of An Hoa. I was burnt to a crisp from the sun, we had little water cause choppers had some difficulty landing on our LZ due to intermittent ground fire. They did bring in a water buffalo for everyone to use, but we were on water rations. (Other Operation Durham Creek pics.)

We hadn't had a shower in better than 2 weeks I think. On July 27th, Watson told me to grab the next chopper back to An Hoa, get cleaned up, and grab some supplies we needed for the comms equip. My birthday was on July 28th and he thought this would be a nice birthday present. I was also told to freeze some beers from the 1st Plt. NCO hooch (it was a tent I believe) and bring 'em back to the hill later for the rest of them. In other words, bring 'em, don't drink 'em. They figured by the time they thawed with the temps in the 100's, chopper ride back and all, they hopefully would only be lukewarm.

The arriving CH-46 was circling our LZ, but our encampment on the hill was on the other side. I grabbed my M-16 and started heading up the hill to the LZ. The chopper only touched down less than 30 seconds. I couldn't see it from where I was. It picked up other Marines (a squad I believe), and then took off, circling the hill. I was only half way to the LZ and realized I missed my 'R&R'. I was really ticked off. I turned and started walking back down the hill when I heard all sorts of machine gun fire. I looked out to see the CH-46 taking direct fire. You could see the fire coming from the adjacent mountain. I couldn't believe it. I was supposed to be on that chopper.

I always carried my Instamatic camera in my trouser leg pocket. I took a couple of shots of the chopper, but only the one turned out. The chopper went down in deep jungle terrain about a mile or two from us. It took them several days to finally secure the crash site. Unfortunately, all 8 Marines and 1 Navy corpman on board had died from the crash. The NVA gave our guys a lot of grief trying to get to that crash site. The terrain was very difficult to traverse.

I didn't leave that hill for almost a week after that. When I did, I arrived at An Hoa, walked immediately into the NCO hooch, opened the frig, grabbed a Budweiser out of the freezer section, and downed it in one gulp. I don't remember anything after that cause I collapsed. The guys thought I bit it for good. My whole system went into shock from the freezing beer. After I recovered, I took a shower, got the supplies, and went back to that frig and got 4 more beers to take back with me.

When I got back to the LZ later that afternoon the beers were greeted with enthusiasm, even though they were now lukewarm after two hours in transit. We spent another 2 weeks, I believe, on that mountaintop. By then the operation was winding down, and the 3rd Bn 5th Marines were going to have to hike it back to An Hoa. I thought, 'God, I hope we don't have to walk out of here in all this jungle terrain'. Our Radio Bn CO got the 5th Marines Commander to send his chopper to get us off that LZ.

We were flown back to the 3rd MAF compound in DaNang where they dropped us off. I remember that as well. I'm not sure where Gordon or Watson made off to, but suspect they reported in at our Bn Comms center at 3rd MAF. I headed over towards the barracks to get rid of the filthy fatigues and shower. I passed a bunch of guys from our Comms unit standing in formation by the Comms center and said Hi to one of them (don't remember who). A 2nd Lt. comes up to me and says, 'Get in formation Sgt!' I said, 'Huh?' He repeated, 'Get in formation for inspection.' Well, I want you to know that I am as much for discipline as the next guy, but this was ridiculous. Needless to say, I stood in formation, with all the other guys in pressed fatigues, shining boots, and cleaned M16's.

I believe it was Major O'Brien who arrived to conduct the inspection that morning. He showed up and was looking down the line, and saw me standing there. He walks up and says, 'Charnell, didn't you just get off a chopper and come in from that operation in the QueSon mountains? What are you doing here?' I said ‘Yes sir, but the Lt. told me to fall in.’ He said, 'Will you get out of here, get a shower, and get cleaned up!' He was talking to that same Lt. as I made my way to the barracks, but I couldn't hear what he was saying. top

Jerry Stephenson - The Roach Chasing Rats - March, 1970
My first night at An Hoa I woke up around 0230 with a great amount of pressure on my left thumb. My fingers went to find the source of the pressure and I felt the head of a rat about the size of a good sized cat. I guess I scared it and it beat feet after chirping. I shined a flashlight on my thumb and the rat had broken the skin. Next day I had a Navy Captain tell me "rats don't carry rabies". I wrote my wife with his name and what had happened in case I did get rabies.

Anyhow, I managed to get one of those big rat traps and baited it with C-rat peanut butter. I heard the trap go off about the same time he/she visited me before and said to myself "got the doggon thing", in a little more colorful language, and went back to sleep. When daylight came I looked over at the trap and it was empty with blood on it. I found the rat outside the tent running around in circles. Guess it's dope got screwed up by the whack on the head. I broke it's neck with the battery axe and disposed of the body.

I lived to tell the story, I think. Some time later, I noticed a rat chasing roaches and stopped killing rats. Hate those roaches!! top

Rob Charnell - My Rats are Scarier than Your Rats - March-April, 1970
I saw some guys talking about the rats on Hill 327.  I wasn't there long enough to know, but the ones on An Hoa were very scary.

It was late at night and we were all tucked in our cots in one of the hooches(???).  One of the guys had bartered with the cooks at the grunts mess earlier that evening, and had gotten a couple of those 1 gallon cans of potato chips.  We had munched on them during the evening with some beers, and stored the rest for the next day.  The chip cans lay on the floor of the hooch, with the lid covers on.

While laying there in the cot, you could hear rustling in the rafters from time to time.  We all knew they were rats and not the field mice the ARVNs found as delicacies.  Well, all of sudden I heard the door of the hooch creak open.  It was totally dark, so you couldn't see anything.  All of a sudden you hear this sound of grinding metal and then the sound of the can(s) being dragged down the center of the hooch toward the door.  I reached for my M-16 and chambered the magazine, but felt absolutely helpless, stupid, and was not about to get out of my cot.  Someone cried out 'Shit, what is that?'.  Some else exclaimed, 'You've got to be kiddin'!'.  No one ventured out of their cots to save the chips.

We never did see those cans again.  That was the last time we ever left uneaten food in our hooch.

Those same rats (or some of their friends) attacked one guy going to take a shower one night.  I always wore my boots to the shower, never my flipflops that I wore in some of my pictures.  At An Hoa the dirt was like dust powder and would leave you just as dirty after the shower when you had to walk back to your hooch. Hence the boots.

It was always very dark at night when the moon wasn't out, and because of the no-lights condition (what's that called again???).  Didn't need a sniper or random shots fired at you, so we lived in the dark.  You could always see those eyes staring at you when you walked to the showers.  Very eerie and unsettling.

Well, one guy was going to the showers and it was totally dark, with no moon visible.  He was walking along, carrying a flashlight (off of course), staring at all those eyes, when one pair starts winding its way towards him. He backed up a few paces and it kept on coming.  Then it lunged at him, sinking its teeth into his boot.  He took his flashlight (one of those 1 ft ones) and smashed the critter upside the head.  The rat tumbled off him 2 or 3 feet away, hissed (or whatever they do) at him, and slowing ambling away from him.

I cannot remember the guy's name, but he never made it to the shower.  He comes running back to the hooch, telling us his story.  We all railed on him about his concocted story, but each of us remembered the potato chip cans.  The next day, one of the guys found the dead rat between the hooches, near the showers.  Our story teller felt redeemed.

Those rats looked like small dogs, certainly bigger than Chihuahua. top

Rob Charnell - The Matrix and the Buffalo - March-April, 1970
Bronze StarBronze Star CitationI had worked the Vietnamese crypto-linguist bench in DaNang at 3rd MAF for several months at the end of 1969. We worked with the code breakers in translating and decoding communications from North Vietnamese units. Most intercepted communications were encrypted after-battle and supply reports. Communiqués were usually in the past tense, with events which already had occurred. The communiqués were normally voice communications of Vietnamese numbers, or letters and numbers, which usually had to be decrypted (kinda like cryptograms you work in puzzles). We linguists worked with the cryptographer-fellas in translating the numbers to Vietnamese text, then into English. The documents and communications received were encrypted messages which could be usually be applied to a 10x10 matrix of numbers which corresponded to Vietnamese letters. There were any number of these code matrices employed by various NVA units.

I was fortunate to have been able to work in DaNang and having the opportunity to work with many of these code matrices employed by various NVA units. When I was assigned to Hill 37 in December 1969, and later An Hoa, we typically intercepted these voice transmissions of NVA communiqués. These were usually sent to DaNang, were they were translated and subsequently forwarded to various Marine regiments. The ARVN linguists who worked with me were usually quite inept in decoding these communications as well. We typically never carried the code matrices themselves when in the field, but they were readily available and used at 3rd MAF 1st Radio Bn.

During most of March 1970, after I returned from R&R, I worked with Xan in 1st Platoon at An Hoa. We worked with the 3rd Bn 5th Marines and had been receiving a significant amount of voice communications from NVA regiments in the surrounding QueSon mountains. When I looked over the numbers we were receiving, I immediately noticed similar patterns to code matrices I used in DaNang. It didn't take Xan and I long to begin decoding and translating the documents immediately into English. We found the NVA units were talking about future actions (a novelty given their prior history of reporting battles after the fact). They were planning rice and food re-supply runs into the local hamlets, and setting up ambushes for sweeps the 5th Marines were doing in the vicinity. Xan, I, and another linguist who we called "Flash" provided Intel to the 5th Marines for several weeks in March 1970. It was amazing. The 5th Marines were able to ambush the ambushers and managed to engage every re-supply run the NVA tried in our operating area. One afternoon in March, the 5th Marines S2 officer took Xan and I over to a holding compound, where quite a few NVA prisoners and families were being held. The officer said that this was the result of the Intel we were providing the 5th Marines. NVA families were being forced to leave the NVA units in the QueSon mountains in search for food. When they did, the 5th Marines were waiting for them. It was very gratifying to see results from the efforts everyone made at the 1st Radio Bn.

General Walt presents Bronze star to CharnellGeneral Walt presents Bronze star to XanThen toward the end of March 1970 events surrounding the assault on An Hoa began unfolding over the course of 3 to 4 days . There were major assaults at An Hoa, Liberty Bridge, and other hills. Our 1st Radio Bn guys on Hill 37, Pete Peterson actually, put me onto the heavy comms traffic about 1 a.m. one morning. We were at An Hoa, with Xan and I receiving communiqués and the S-2 Cap't for the 5th Marines looking over our shoulders. We had gotten him out of bed at 2 a.m. because we were receiving encrypted communications from forward NVA units who were talking about hitting several targets. We couldn't nail down where the NVA were going to hit. Xan was writing the code while I was decoding and translating at the same time. The Comms traffic was heavy on alot of frequencies that night. At one point they kept talking about linking up at some buffalo. Finally Xan looked at me, and we were stumped. What buffalo? There were buffalo everywhere in the fields around the local hamlets. But at night? It wasn't really buffalo they were actually talking about, but a 'water buffalo'. Xan and I walked out of the 1st Platoon bunker with the S-2 officer, got on top of the bunker and looked around. It was really too dark to see much, but we did see a water buffalo parked near the showers. Xan looked at me and said 'That kind of Water Buffalo! It's us they're attacking!' The S-2 officer immediately checked the area and found there was a water buffalo parked along the western perimeter at An Hoa. He immediately called commanders and within 5 minutes Marines were groggily manning the perimeters. AK47's and mortars opened fired within minutes of the general alarm, with mortars hitting several hootches were Marines had been sleeping minutes before.

We didn't sleep for the next 3 days as the S2 officer was just about tied to our hip. He ran with everything we gave him. We lost no one that I know of during those NVA offensives. It felt good to part of such a contribution and be able to save American lives. Even though Xan and I received a Bronze Star for our efforts, it was the concerted contributions and efforts of everyone in 1st Radio Bn, An Hoa and Hill 37, that helped save American lives. The most humbling thing to remember is that all of us made the contribution as a unit, and not just any single person. Xan and I didn't do anything different than any other linguists who manned stations and provided intelligence on Dong Ha mountain, Hill 37, Hill 327, Hill 65, Con Thien, or elsewhere. The fellas on Hill 37 were parked on those frequencies just as we were, monitoring developments, and passing Intel to one another. While it was very gratifying to have been honored in such a way, I believe we all deserved these awards. top

Chuck Truitt - Gas Attack - July, 1970
You asked about the 1st RadBn location at An Hoa. In the picture there is a tower at 9oclock. Just to the top-left of that tower is a long bldg at 11oclock of the tower - That's the 5th Marines S2 bldg. I believe. I see a square bldg just above that S2 bldg which may have been the 1st RadBn bunker, although it seems just a bit wrong. The picture indicates 1967, so probably the 1st RadBn building that I knew in 1969 is not made yet. Regardless, the Ops Bunker was in that general vicinity - I believe.

Of other interest, in the lower left was a field. When I first arrived into An Hoa, we drove across that field upon entering An Hoa from Liberty Bridge, and "the other Hill 10." That field was very liquidy mud, and the wheels of the PC vehicle made a red wave that went across the field. After it dried out, that whole area was like red talcum powder. We had a hardback hootch, for awhile, just beneath that green spit that protrudes from 3 oclock into the center of the base. One night when the gooks hit us, they came through from that side and in the morning there were some dead gooks laying on the ground, out in the open right in that area. We also had a 122mm rocket crater fight near there. One night the whole hootch shifted and basically collapsed. We had to find a new living area. It was then, if I recall, next to the runway, abreast of the ops bunker. My last night in An Hoa, before leaving back to DaNang, and a couple days later my rotation out of country, we were gassed with CS. The round must have landed real close to our hootch, and I had packed my gas mask in the bottom of my WP bag for rotating tomorrow. That was miserable - they got me good that time. When I ran out of our sleeping hootch towards the ops bunker, where I knew there was an extra mask hanging on the wall, I ran right out into a heavy cloud of the gas. I fell onto the ground coughing, sputtering, gagging and crawled for a little way until some unknown Gunny grabbed me by the collar, pulled me up out of that little benjo ditch, that I had fallen into (I couldn't see - snot, mucus, saliva, dirt covered my face) dragged me to some hootch and handed me a mask. I still remember the misery - it was by far the worst gassing I ever had, far worse than any gas chamber.

I have a lot of memories of my few months at An Hoa - they are flooding back. The 175s were right next to the runway at about 2:30 oclock. The 8' battery (army I believe) was out of the picture at the other end of the runway from the 175s. I remember that one time the 175s fired over our head and the rain detonated one of the rounds over us. Made a BIG boom, and we had shrapnel on top of the ops bunker.

Seems like the runway lies basically north to south, with the 175s at the north end. top