We were looking forward to the gun crews returning to Hill 65. The perimeter watch was stretched thin while they were gone, and the extra 50 Marines would make things a little easier. Having the Gunny back would boost morale. He had a special style of leadership (we missed his friendly sarcasm).
Sumo managed to hitch a ride to Da Nang in a Jeep, riding shotgun so I would be cooking alone for 400 at dinner. Reb said he would cut his sleep short to assist me, but I never woke him up. Spanish meatballs over rice was an easy meal to prepare, and it was accompanied with steamed cabbage. As it turned out, Sumo was back in time for the evening meal and added another choice — hand-cut fried onion rings.
India Company returned to full strength on Hill 65 and was reinforced with a weapons platoon of four deuce mortars. Lieutenant Handley brought in a thermal container for coffee. Tink had lifted it off a truck which was heading back to Hill 37. Handley asked me to remove the TAC marks on it and repaint it with Kilo 4/11 saying, “Wasn’t it you who said, Beg, Borrow or Steal?” * This was the way things worked in forward areas.
The bad news was: The bridge on Highway 4 at CAP 2-2-4 was washed out, and our guns were stranded on Hill 52 until the engineers could repair it. Hopefully, there would only be a short delay.
* See previous blog, “Supply Requests Filled” October 7, 1968
The weather system passed, and the blue sky was full of billowy white clouds. Small waterfalls dotted Charlie Ridge, and the An Hoa Basin slowly drained into the Thu Bon and Vu Gia rivers.
The road to Dai Loc was cleared just before lunch, and Fernando took off to Da Nang on the Admin run. Hopefully he would retrieve the red nylon mailbag from Battery Headquarters.
We rolled up the canvas weather flaps on our hooch and aired out everything. It was hard to believe my thermometer registered in the 70’s; it seemed much cooler.
The sun was just above Charlie Ridge when the mail arrived while we were serving dinner. There were a few extra Marines back on the hill from India Company, and they were happy with the tuna noodle casserole we had prepared (after eating C-rats for two weeks).
Lieutenant Handley announced “Operation Maui Peak has been terminated.” This news was expected, and our guns would return soon.
I got two letters from Jenny plus an absentee ballot for the election in November. Reb got a package from Margaret with more photos. The “collaboration” * continued.
* See previous blog, “Collaborative Art” August 22, 1968
Rain continued to hamper any plans of travel on the roads. The Sunday BBQ was scrapped, and we prepared a hearty beef stew with fresh potatoes, carrots and scratch biscuits. Hot apple bread pudding was the dessert.
I started writing a poem to Jenny. My “bonehead English” skills were not an asset, but I worked through it:
Storm clouds were unleashed during breakfast. The driving rain prevented the roads from being cleared, and there would be no Admin truck to Da Nang for our mail. This weather was a serious blow to the rice harvest and would destroy any chance of saving what was left in the fields. We made plans for the return of troops from Hill 52.
Sumo was bringing Reb up to date about our idea of a transient bunker for visiting personnel. The thought of Top Culverhouse continuing to assign “temporary guests” to our quarters was annoying. There was a feeling of ownership after all of the hard work on our hooch, and we weren’t in the mood to be sharing it with strangers.
Reb suggested we invite Fernando to move in with us. His quarters were 200 yards away in the motor pool. We were his closest friends and valued his contribution to our purpose of feeding the troops. Personally, I considered him a member of our team even though he primarily worked for Top Culverhouse.
It was a unanimous decision, so after lunch we approached Fernando with our proposal. It wasn’t a hard sell. He was excited about the concept of relocating to our hooch. All that was needed now was approval from Top Culverhouse.
When dinner was secured, Fernando and I knocked on Top’s new reinforced hooch which he and Gunny Pavelcek had built. Culverhouse invited us in, and I let Fernando do the talking. He was passionate and pitched his case eloquently. Companionship and loyalty were his main points. All I did was smile in acceptance . . . the move was endorsed by Culverhouse.
The rain stopped temporarily, but the sky was menacing with dark fast-moving clouds. The CID Sergeant ate breakfast, gathered his gear and hunkered down in the Officer/Staff section of the mess deck.
After breakfast Tink informed me he had to report to the Battalion Aid Station (BAS) at Hill 37. It was his follow-up exam after 10 days on penicillin tablets, and he would receive a final injection.
Fernando checked in before leaving on the Admin run and asked if there was anything special we needed. The answer was always the same, “fresh produce.” His first stop would be Hill 37, dropping off Tink and the CID official — good riddance.
Sumo and I discussed the issue of the Top using our hooch as a hiding place for visitors. We both understood the need to insulate certain guests and the convenience of our hooch having an extra bed. The cooks’ isolation from the rest of the battery made it an easy choice.
We decided to refresh our old sandbag hooch and set it up as a transient barracks. I went to the Battery office and presented the idea to Culverhouse. He seemed open minded, and we walked down the hill to inspect it. The structure was solid and dry inside, but the smell of mildew was strong. He asked me to get Doc Furman to assess the hooch’s habitability.
The old sandbag hooch not only failed Doc’s inspection, but it was condemned. There was mold growing on the cloth sandbags, and the rotting wooden floor was crawling with bugs. It was “Red Tagged.”
The Admin Run returned from Da Nang late. Convoy Road was a muddy mess, and our weekly dry goods order was soaked. Some of the cases were so wet they collapsed when picked up.
The truck came back with a visitor. He was a Staff Sergeant with CID (Criminal Investigation) and had arrived to investigate the fragging incident at India Company. *
Top Culverhouse assigned him to sleep in our hooch. The situation was very awkward and out of our control. We set up a cot for him, and he appreciated our hospitality. Tink was sleeping in the bunker next to our hooch and managed to remain anonymous throughout the CID investigation.
After dinner the Staff Sergeant conducted interviews at the India Company CP and returned to our hooch a few hours later. Oddly, he never asked us anything about the fragging.
During the night we heard extended fire missions coming from the direction of Hill 52. The distance of 9 miles muted the sound, but it was unusual to have long fire missions at night.
I wondered if the rain affected the accuracy of the rounds and decided to find out in the morning. After breakfast I went to FDC and asked Sergeant Kelly about adjusting for the rain. He said, “There is no adjustment in the calculations.” The 95-pound rounds weren’t affected by the weather. Kelly thought there was a better chance of the barometric pressure having an effect, but there was no adjustment for that either. It all came down to the laws of physics; the calculations had consequences.
FDC was an impressive bunker. One wall was a battery of radios and communication equipment. The desk where all the plotting took place was close to the door and was illuminated with bright lights. Although we had no guns on our hill, Kelly still maintained the FDC desk.
My job running the mess hall seemed unimportant compared to FDC. If they made a mistake it could cause a friendly fire casualty. If I made a mistake someone might go hungry or even worse, get food poisoning. We all had a job to do and depended on each other.