“Convoy Road” was the primary route from Da Nang to Dai Loc (a rural district of Quang Nam Province). Every day the route was “cleared” by engineers and EOD (explosive ordinance disposal). Usually the dirt roadway was declared safe by mid-morning; there were engineers clearing it from both ends (working toward each other). We were at the first checkpoint by 1000 and waited for the “Road is Clear” signal.
Our truck was occupied by a handful of Marines: 1st Sergeant Culverhouse (the new Kilo battery 1st Sergeant), a new Corpsman, Sergeant “Leggs” Leggins, PFC Wilson (the driver), Gunny Sampson and myself. The Corpsman sat in front with Wilson, and the rest of us sat in the fold-down seats in the bed of the truck.
Leggs was the Kilo battery Maintenance NCO, and he narrated throughout the trip. It was slow going . . . the distance of only fifteen miles took two hours. There were security checkpoints and pauses all along the way. We passed a junkyard littered with various destroyed vehicles and equipment. The terrain opened up to rice paddies on either side of the road, and there were peasant farmers tending to the newly-planted crops.
The faces of the kids in Dai Loc were friendlier than those in Dog Patch. Leggs theorized it was because they were living on their own land, in their own homes and going to school. There were cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks in each ville along the route. We passed several school yards with dozens of kids; they ran toward us waving as we drove by in a cloud of dust.
We arrived at hill 65 during lunch, and I followed Sampson straight to the mess hall, entering through the back door. It was a tiny galley cluttered with dirty ovens, and the cement floor was wet. The dining room had eight picnic tables and a plywood separation for officers and staff with two tables. The maximum capacity was 60, and 300-400 Marines were served at each meal.
The menu was sandwiches of assorted cold cuts (sliced Spam, bologna, salami and cheese), with potato salad, coleslaw and condiments. The beverage was red Kool-Aid, and dessert was canned fruit cocktail. Also available were open cardboard crates of fresh apples and oranges.
After lunch the Gunny introduced me to the cooks, Corporal Britt and PFC Stewart. Both of them were short timers, and Stewart had less than a month left in country. They were competent but clearly worn down after a year of duty in the field.
The Gunny ordered a complete scrub-down of the mess hall and took over the cooking of the dinner meal . . . Pepper steak, Cajun rice and red beans. There was about two hours of down time in the afternoon as dinner simmered in the ovens. Britt showed me to the quarters of the evacuated Mess Sergeant, a sandbagged bunker with three cots.
As I unloaded gear on my cot, a hand-wound siren started whining and Britt said it was a “fire mission.” We went outside, and I could hear the commands, “Battery at my command, Stand-by . . . FIRE.” The ground shook as the six 155mm guns went off, and it was like being right next to a thunder clap. “Fire at will.” This was a 36-round mission, each gun firing six rounds.
I asked Britt, “How do you sleep through this?” He answered, “Your brain adjusts.” And it did.