USMC, 1st Radio Battalion, Vietnam Veterans

Stories - Hill 65

  1. Chuck Truitt - Watch Him - January, 1970
  2. Chuck Truitt - Of Snake, Nape and Stickmen - January, 1970

Chuck Truitt - Watch Him - January, 1970
 "Roger That! Echo Five Tango, Over and Out." I had gotten the word that we were moving down to DaNang and 1st Radio Battalion Headquarters. This was all happening there at the end of January 1970. From Bn. Hqs. we'd be split up and sent "to the winds;" that is, to wherever we were needed individually. Of course, that was the nature of the work that my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) did. We were usually sent out and attached to, or worked closely with some other Combat Unit. I had worked with the 4th Marine Regiment at Vandergrift Combat Base, and on Dong Ha mountain, except for the past few weeks when it was with the "doggies" of the 1st Brigade / 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized). This shift further south and away from the DMZ was in conjunction with the 3rd Marine Division permanently leaving Vietnam. It's my understanding that since I had been "in-country" just under six months, I got to stay; looking back on it though, I think probably that no one from 1st RadBn would be included in that 6 month ruling.

Everything that I owned, was on my back. I got a C-123 "Provider" out of Dong Ha and went to Battalion Hqs. at DaNang for several days while they figured out what to do with me. Now let me tell you, I was really leery of riding in the back of that "Provider." They had proven great aircraft over the years, and they were used for about every kind of mundane job that the military could come up with in the transportation category. This particular aircraft that flew a "milk run" between Danang and Dong Ha was in pretty rickety shape. It wouldn't even hold pressurization due to the shrapnel and bullet holes. There were no kind of seats, not even web seats, everyone just got in and sat on big metal pallets that covered the whole floor, with nylon straps from side to side as a seat belt for the whole bunch in that row.

The whole problem with me was that the last time I flew on one of these things, I almost lost the ends of my fingers on both hands. I had been sitting down cross legged on the thin metal pallet with the edge just behind me. My arms were out behind bracing me with my hands on the floor/pallet, and my fingers curling over the edge. There was a space of an inch or two before the leading edge of the next pallet behind. As we were about to land, I moved my hands to grasp the tether across my lap. As the plane touched down (must have been a Marine pilot who had recently been landing on a carrier, because when we hit the deck all the pallets shifted forward and that gap between the pallets closed with a loud smack. I'm sure glad that my fingers were no longer there, and I definitely made the crew chief aware of the potential hazard. With all those folks, both Vietnamese civilians and American military, I have wondered all these years if anyone was ever hurt from just such a hazard.

"Sgt. Truitt you're going to An Hoa to work with 1st RadBn's 1st Platoon, and you'll be going down in that 6-by over there. There are a couple things of recollection concerning my trip to An Hoa that day as I rode in the back of the truck. I remember heading SW out of DaNang and seeing Hill 55 sticking up off to our left, and Hill 10 off on the right, and somewhere between there and the river there was a village that would play a marked role in one incident of my life a few months later. Crossing the river was Liberty bridge, and in the vicinity was hill 37, although we never went into the RadBn compound there. After leaving the liberty bridge area the road proceeded south to An Hoa (5th Marines TAOR), and the Que Son mountains on beyond (that was the 7th Marines TAOR after about August 1969). I think that I'd rather operate with the 5th Marines and in their primary nemesis, The Arizona Territory, than the 7th Marines who had to traipse through the mountains. Humping those hills would be the pits, as if the rice paddy's, rice paddy dikes, and the nasty tree lines of the 5th Marines were a "walk in the park."

Hill 10 Before, pulling into An Hoa, we made a short stop at Hill 10. No, it's the other hill 10, the little knoll just outside of An Hoa. It was nothing, I mean "whoopee do" this place was just a bump along side the road south. I got out of the truck and looked around a bit, seems like there was a hole in the ground with a Pig antenna sticking up, that was about the highest thing. Everything here was just at ground level. Everyone lived in holes covered with poncho liners, it reminded me of a community of ground hogs. There was concertina wire strung around the whole place but nothing above ground, nothing at all. There was a big hole right over there. That's where the little people blasted in a Lob Bomb just last night; no one was hurt though. I guess it was lobbed in from a hundred yards or so outside of the wire; a Lob Bomb is a piece of unexploded ordinance, usually a 100 or 250 pound aerial bomb dud that is rearmed and hand carried to its launch point where a charge of some kind is used to lob the ordinance on to its target some short distance away. They are very inaccurate, but capable of creating one heck of a lot of "hate and discontent" if they "by-chance" land on or near something. Well, we didn't stay long, just long enough to drop off some supplies to our RadBn personnel, of which there were two. I believe hill 10 was an OP of 2/5 Marines.

There was just a little ways yet to An Hoa, and we approached it from the east. I could see the concrete and steel skeletons of buildings from an old factory, evidently in its "heyday" during French Colonial rule, off to the south side of the road as we entered An Hoa. What really sticks in my mind about entering An Hoa was the big open field that we drove across as we entered. Because the monsoons were nearly finished, there was a lot of water laying all over the place. The whole field, in fact, was covered with a layer of water several inches deep. It was dark red muddy water from the red earth that was there. As we drove across the field the tires created a red wave that proceeded out from the 6-by and eventually crashed on the shores at the farthest limits of the big field. About two months later I was coming back from a resupply run to DaNang with Top Fitzgerald in a PC vehicle, and as we came upon the open field about to enter An Hoa Combat Base there was a CH53-A, Sea Stallion helicopter hovering near the far end of the field at about 30 to 40 feet. The field was all dried up and the red mud had turned to a very fine, red talcum powder. That dust was swirling and circulating in am amazing thick red cloud through those chopper blades. It was all a quite impressive site. That red dust settled everywhere and permeated everything. I'll bet that air crew was really hating it.

Upon entering the outer perimeter of An Hoa from the East, we had to traverse through the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regimental (2/5 Marines) area first, then through part of 3/5's area before arriving at the 1st Platoon, 1st RadBn bunker. Right next door was the 5th Marines S2 bunker (Regimental Intelligence) who we were attached to, or at least working very closely with. I remember my mailing return address was, Hq Co, 5th Marines, S2 (RB), FPO San Francisco, 96602. The southern perimeter of the base wasn't very far, but it was a few hundred yards to the eastern perimeter. Just a little east and near the southern perimeter was that big tower with the RPG net in front of it. Almost underneath of that tower was were my first An Hoa abode would be. It was a CP tent which I had all to myself. There were several hardback hootches all around, but the tent was right in the middle of a small clearing, all by itself; but not yet!

When I reported inside our Ops bunker, I was immediately chewed upon by one, totally grouchy Gunnery Sergeant, Max Kerr. “Sergeant Truitt, you-are-a-dirt-ball” (that's not really what he said, but I don't want to write it down here). “Well, Great Gobs Of Gravy ’Guns’, I just got cleaned up in DaNang before coming down here. I haven't even had time to sweat this crud out of my pores yet.” Woe, Woe, Woe, let me tell you something folks, if you ever meet up with Gunny Max Kerr, DO NOT, I say again, DO NOT call him ’Guns,’ even if he is still a Gunnery Sergeant

“Sergeant Truitt, don't unpack! Get your gear and get over to the LZ. You're going to Hill 65. They've got a Corporal and a Lance Corporal there who are linguists. They are using a KY-38 with an encryption key, KYK-38. That new Secret Radio has to have a Sergeant watching it, and you are the Sergeant that's gonna watch it. The only thing you have to do is protect that radio and change the key settings each day. Don't screw up!” Whew, I musta had bad breath or something!

Needless to say, I abruptly found myself at the LZ where I caught a ride back Northwest a little ways to Hill 65, right next to Charlie Ridge. The Gunny told me to wait by the Hill 65 LZ till one of the guys came down and showed me where the 1st RadBn hootch was. So I waited, and waited. I carried everything I owned under a lean-to waiting area that was in the shade, a “doggies metal framed ruck pack, with one pair of cammies, socks, and an extra pair of boots, a WP bag half full of stuff, and my M-79 w/one claymore bag of HE rounds, a 45 Auto w/ 200 rounds and 4 magazines, my issued M-16 and two bandoleers of magazines with 18 rounds in each mag. I was loaded for bear and there would never again be an opportunity to use either the 45 or the M-79 again. Gone were the good times; now that stuff was all just useless baggage!

While I waited to be picked up, I saw a very interesting sight. There under the cover of the lean-to was a big dog and his handler, a Corporal, who were watching a captured Viet Cong. He sure was a little guy, just waiting in that funny squatting position; he wasn't even tied up. The Marine was waiting for a bird to take the VC to DaNang, and the dog was resting at the handlers feet. That Corporal said to me, “check this out” and then he said two words to the dog. “Watch Him” immediately that dog came alive and was right in front of that VC, face to face, and about four inches apart. That dog didn't move at all, and I guarantee you, that VC didn't flex a muscle, not even a little bit. Well, I was definitely impressed, and that “zipper head” appeared to be rather impressed too, in a funny sort of way. The Corporal walked out into the open and smoked a cigarette; neither the dog nor the gook moved at all. I'm absolutely sure the dog could have devoured that little guy in no time, and still had dinner as a chaser.

In a little while, my guide, Joe Gagliano, finally showed up. Walking! He was the Corporal.  Dusty Rhodes was the Lance Corporal.  Di Dah, Di Da Dit Chuck Truitt sends   top

Chuck Truitt - Of Snake, Nape and Stickmen - Spring, 1970
There sure was a lot of killing going on there at Hill 65 in the Spring of 1970. Most of the killing though was just flies, mosquitos, and plain ol’ time, with a big emphasis on the killing of time. After spending several months in the very northern “I” Corps area where things were often hopping, and very interesting (mainly due to my active participation), now the whole world seemed to be moving in a slow “low crawl's” pace. You have to understand that 1st Radio Battalion had about the same number of men as they had just a couple months before, but we were no longer supporting the 3rd Marine Division with intelligence, because they had left Vietnam and moved to Okinawa. Now we were just supplying intelligence basically for the 1st Marine Division because the Army's 1st Brigade of the 5th Mechanized Division had their own ASA elements which had taken over our jobs near the DMZ.

Many of us who'd had important and useful jobs before, were now scrounging for something to do because all the good jobs in support of the 1st Marine Division were already taken. I was capable of doing several things but my specialty had been Direction Finding using my CW, morse code, abilities.

The whole problem was that all the positions in the 1st Mar Div TAOR were already filled. There I was, a Sergeant, baby-sitting a Secret voice enciphering radio with a Lance Corporal and a Corporal who had meaningful jobs using their Vietnamese linguistic abilities. I was bored stiff.

So, now I was at Hill 65, south of DaNang. The prime reason for having a Fire Support Base at Hill 65 was to help support the 5th Marine Regiment in it's operations. It was within easy striking distance for targets in the Arizona Territory to the South and Southwest, and towards Charlie Ridge to the West and Northwest, all of which was the TAOR of the 5th Marines. The 11th Marine Regiment, an artillery regiment, is the 1st MarDiv’s artillery regiment. For the 5th Marine Regiment (infantry), their artillery support was provided by the 11th Marines 2nd Battalion or 2/11, at An Hoa and Hill 65.

Because that FSB was there, and already manned, 1st Radio Battalion used the resource to increase it's support and coverage of the area with the two highly capable linguists, Gags and Dusty. “Man, I felt like a sore thumb.” Surely, they could find a better use for a Sergeant than just watching a Secret radio. I was there about six weeks. But, in that six weeks not only did I get to watch the radio, I also watched several air strikes from A4 Skyhawks and F4 Phantoms. Additionally, I saw for the first time, A1 Skyraiders working out. They were impressive “prop jobs” with large clusters of bombs slung under the wings. Time, after time, after time those “Spads,” as they were called, would make runs dropping both Snake, and Nape (Snake-Eye 250 lb HE bombs, and 500 lb napalm bombs).

I’d usually go up on the roof and just sit or lay under the stars in the coolness of the evening. Often during the evening there was an artillery show. Very often there was illumination rounds (lume) being fired out, either from the big guns, or the 81's. Just about any given night something was happening somewhere within sight, and we weren't too socked in to see it there either. Best of all, bad guys weren't shooting at us!

There was a never ending assortment of aircraft transiting day and night; helicopters, and fixed wing both were continually overhead. I’ll never forget the day a big bird of some type was hauling an army M113 amtrack on an external load. It appeared to be coming from DaNang when it passed directly overhead at I suppose about 3000 feet or so. After it passed by, heading south across the river aways towards the Arizona Territory, all of a sudden I could see that track release from the bird and start falling, falling, falling, falling splat. And, a big pall of dirt and dust ascended into the air. I've wondered at that many times over the years. Do you suppose the helicopter was having some sort of trouble or something? Or, maybe the pilot inadvertently hit the release button. Do you suppose it landed in a village, or possibly on someone's house; boy, I bet they were surprised. I wonder if the pilot said, Oops! when he hit the button.

Our hootch was not like any of the ones I had been in yet. This one was quite roomy at about 20' square, there was only three of us. The walls were not just plywood sheets like at Dong Ha and An Hoa, but were made from dirt filled ammo boxes all the way around with the only entrance at the center of the south end, and a blast wall in front of that. Not only that, but there was a nearby shower, wonderful! Hill 65 was 65 meters high, thus it's name, and stuck up from the surrounding rice paddies by about 150 feet. I understand that it was later called FSB Rawhide by the doggies. Hill 65 was shaped like an up side down check, with the base at the north, and the long side pointing southerly towards the Arizona Territory which was across the Song Vu Gia river.

A couple weeks before I left Hill 65, the 1st Rag Bag sent a DF team out to be with us. Man, that made me envious. Those guys already had the job before my being relocated from up north, and Tom Huddleston had been stationed with me previously at Company “H” Marine Support Battalion in Florida. I hadn't seen him since then; I sure liked Tom. He was later wounded when an AK-47 round struck his helmet and rattled his “brain housing group.”

Just a few days before leaving, there was quite a stir one day when several hundred people in what appeared to be black clad pajamas were spotted heading right straight towards the hill from the West at Charlie Ridge. I could see them all heading right toward us through my newly acquired 8X30 Canon binoculars that someone had picked up for me from the PX back in DaNang. I’d never had the chance to go there. That was a good set, and I still have them though they are a little smoky nowadays. Anyhow, we kept watching them advance from the stony ground on Charlie Ridge toward our position. Why weren't we plastering them with air and arty? Where we just letting them get closer and closer to spring some kind of trap? Just what was the deal. Finally, I could see, through my binos, what those in charge must've seen awhile ago. That great horde of black pajama clad warriors was just a whole community that had spent the day gathering fire wood up on The Ridge. Each dark clad villager was carrying two large stacks or ricks of sticks on the end of a pole which was being carried across his shoulders. Since the ricks were in an upright position, and the carriers were somewhat hunched from the weight, each person appeared to be three. I guess you could call that a “force multiplier.” Man, if we would have opened up on them, there'd have been sticks and stones and bones flying everywhere. That was sure quite a stir, and I can still see them coming thirty-three years later. Di Dah, Di Da Dit top