United States Marine Corps USMC, SIGINT/EW Marines Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion 1st Radio Battalion 2nd Radio Battalion 3rd Radio Battalion
Stories - Rockpile

Roll Call

Jim DeMers - Pet Rat - January, 1967
I had a pet Rat on the Rock Pile. One night I awoke with one crawling across my head. I figured out he was after my food. So after that, I would leave a little piece of food at the foot of my sleeping back. The rat would come up at night, eat the food. When I would wake up in the morning, The Rat would run out.

Ted Dudley - Been On Top - October, 1966
Insert a four man Marine DF Team from 1st Radio Bn, a five man Marine Recon Team and a Lone Sniper from the 4th Marine Scout Snipers on top of a 750 foot high pile of rocks sticking up from the valley floor just below the DMZ, and you have a small band of Marines Brothers who learned the importance of the Marine Air Wing.

As a Marine Corp Cpl who was in Vietnam for the second time, I never gave it a second thought when I was told that I would be inserted on the Rockpile with a DF Team. Not knowing of, or ever hearing of “The Rockpile”, to me it was just going to be another Fire Base to operate out of with our PRD-1. However, looking down from the door way of a UH-34 at what was to be our new home and the boards they called an LZ, I began to have second thoughts and wondered out loud, “Whose Bright Idea Was This Anyway”?

Getting there was easy, and staying there was even easier. There was no way off that darn pile of sharp jagged rocks that tore your boots, clothes, skin and beat up your M-14, “Lock – Stock - & Barrel”, other than another UH-34 with an experienced crew who could pull it off. With the sun baking you during the day, and the “Little People” keeping us up at night trying to probe our position, steal our grenades, trip flares and claymores we had set up as our perimeter warning on the South side, sleep was a welcome commodity when it was available. Fire Fights in the valley below, B-52 Raids on the Razorback and Illumination rounds most nights made for an interesting mixture of excitement. When the Grunts would fire illumination for us, it would light up the dark nights and we would watch the flares slowly descend to the valley floor on their parachutes. Then total darkness again as our ears strained to reach out as far as they could for any noise.

Today when we hear the word “Logistics” we all think of UPS. In 1966 on the Rockpile we all worried about “logistics” as being “When will the rain let up so we can get re-supplied”. As empty water cans piled up, and C-Rats became scarce, our eyes were on the sky looking for our Air Wing Brothers in those old UH-34’s. Water for drinking was caught in our ponchos set up as funnels, and even the white bread in the C-Rats we never ate started tasting like Porter House Steaks.

I recently located the Crew Chief of Marine Corps UH-34 #6 when he posted a picture on Sgt Grit of his Bird on the landing pad at Phu Bai. After seeing that photo, I went into my pictures and found one of a UH-34 coming in for a resupply mission to the Rockpile in October 1966. Yes, it had the tail # 6 painted on it. I sent the pictures to Terry Smith, who was the Crew Chief for that bird that was in the Sgt. Grit Newsletter, and he told me he “Almost fell out of my chair” when he saw himself in the doorway of his bird. In the attached pictures you can see our LZ, Terry’s bird coming in, the tail # 6, and Terry standing on the right in the doorway catching empty water cans. Not many Crew Chiefs have pictures of themselves taken from the ground during a mission.

Tom Dague, Seth Taylor, Jim Demers and all of us from 1st Radio Bn who are B.O.T. (Been On Top) are very thankful for the Marine Air Wing and those brave pilots and crew members who “Saved Our Bacon” at great risk to their own lives. I made a second trip to the Rockpile as a Sgt. in 1966, and watching the helicopter pilots at Dong Ha come up with all the excuses as to why they could not fly that mission was an eye opener. Only the best would risk it because they had to set one wheel down on the LZ while keeping the old UH-34’s at W.O.T. so they could lift off in a seconds notice.

I salute, and my hat goes off to, those Air Wing Marines who made our survival possible.

Ted Dudley - Sapper Ate and Dropped - November, 1966
Life on the Rockpile could be very boring at times, but we “Had Our Moments”. Picture yourself sitting 270 feet up in the air on a pile of rocks that Mother Nature did not know what else to do with. There were just a handful of U.S Marines living (existing) on the Rockpile in October & November of 1966, mainly from Force Recon & 1st Radio BN, and we all had a job to do. An Army Green Beret unit would come through once in a while, arriving in the daylight and gone by sun up the next morning or a Forward Observer from the Artillery Plateau would spend a day or two with us, but mostly just the same two teams.

One night after everyone had gone to sleep with the exception of Winnie Boyce, who’s turn it was to be on guard duty, a lone NVA soldier made it through the maze of trip wires and release wires which were all tied into a system of flares, grenades and claymores that were place along the south side of the Rockpile to warn us of any impending danger. To this day I don’t know how he managed it, but they were crafty “little people”.

My hooch was beside the only path leading down the south side of the Rock, and I had built a “Dock” so I could stretch out when I slept instead of being all curled up under my own rock. 1st Radio C- rations were all stored right under my “Dock” and the Pig Pen, home of the Pig (PRD-1) was just a few feet from my feet. Just beyond that was a pile of neatly stacked 81mm mortar rounds.

As the NVA soldier got to my feet, Winnie took notice, took aim but did not fire. Winnie took a few things into consideration that night, and I’m glad his Marine Corps training overrode his instincts. His choice at that moment was to shoot and hit the gook or shoot and hit my feet. I think I would have found a way to get to him with or without feet so I could strangle him if he had taken the shot. That thought may have gone through Winnie’s mind as well.

The gook took a case of c-rats and then decided to inspect the Pig Pen and the Pig. Once again Winnie had to make a choice. Shoot and hit the gook or shoot and knock out our only contact with the outside world and the equipment that every other Marine on the DMZ was counting on to locate Charlie. (I guess we really didn’t need the PRD-1 since Charlie was right there beside it) As before, Winnie’s training took over and he held his fire. Next, the gook went over to inspect the neatly stacked pile of 81mm mortar rounds, and again Winnie held his fire. We still don’t know for sure what a single 7.62 M-14 round would do if it hit a stack of mortar rounds. It was, and still is, my belief that the Rockpile would have been a little shorter after that night if Winnie had fired. Charlie then used some comm wire to tie the c-rat case to a single 81 round, still in it’s casing, so he could carry it down to his buddies surely waiting patiently below.

If curiosity killed the cat, it got Charlie that night too. He decided to open the casing of the mortar to inspect his prize. What he found was the increment charges and he must have thought it was some sort of American cheese. Now I’ve never tried to eat the stuff myself, but from what Winnie told us it must not agree with the stomach of a human. After some moaning, the gook just disappeared over the side of the Rockpile. If the increment charge didn’t kill him from the inside out, the 270 foot fall to the base of the Rockpile should have done the job.

At first light I went down to the inspect the area with one other 1st Radio Marine and there we found the half eaten charge and the open mortar case. The possibility of a booby trap existed, so we tied a piece of comm wire to the round and pulled it out of it’s casing from a safe distance. No boom, no gook, no damage done.

Seth Taylor was up there just after me and e-mailed me a while back. Part of his e-mail was:

“Also, I remember that story about the gook and the increments -- had to come from Winnie”.

40+ years later we are still talking about a night that could have been a disaster, but is just another funny story to be told. I still have my feet, and I know Winnie is out there somewhere very thankful he did not “Take The Shot”.