Rise and shine at 0400 was the cook’s normal daily routine, but on Sundays we got to sleep an extra two hours. That day “Brunch” was served at 0900 – 1300 and dinner at 1600 – 1800. The battery had a formation (briefing) every morning, but the cooks only attended on Sunday (normally we were cleaning up after breakfast).
The battery Gunny assigned work details for the day and made various announcements. He introduced new arrivals “Top” Culverhouse, “Doc” and Mess Sergeant, “Ptomaine” (as in food poisoning).
Everyone got a big laugh, and I did my best to go along with the fun everyone was having at my expense. Inside, I hated the name and vowed to try and earn another nick name, Some people got nick names by their actions.
Britt told me that he and Stewart had brunch under control and that I should take the tour of the hill. Leggs was assigned as our tour guide, and Top, Doc, and I were introduced to the different section heads and leaders in the battery.
The view from the crest of the hill was spectacular. We were surrounded by small villages and rice paddies. A significant mountain range to the northwest rose from the valley floor. It was named “Charlie Ridge” and ran the full length of the river valley. The Song Vu Gia River came toward us from the southwest and made a wide easterly bend as it flowed by hill 65. It ran slow and deep with a greenish brown color from recent storm runoff.
The south end of the hill was occupied by India Company 3rd battalion 7th Marines (Grunts). There were approximately 250 Marines in the unit, and their mission was defending the hill and patrolling the surrounding area. There were no tents or wooden structures in their compound, everything was dug-in heavily fortified bunkers. Leggs helped them from time to time with maintenance and repair issues. He got his nick name from having his head buried in a project and all anyone could see of him were his legs.
After the tour of the hill, I helped serve brunch and got a full welcome from everyone. “Hey Ptomaine – welcome,” “How you doing Ptomaine?” I could see Gunny Sampson observing the situation, and he joined me saying, “This is good for morale, you need to go with it.” I did adjust my attitude and accepted the nick name but . . . Not really.
I was approached by two Marine engineers after brunch was secured. They had a D7 bulldozer and offered their services in trade for a case of apple juice. Britt suggested they dig a swath into the slope of the hill behind the mess hall so we could isolate the 50 gallon gas drums. I gave the OK, and the bulldozer cut an 8X16 foot area into the slope and leveled the area behind the mess hall.
Sampson approved of the earth-moving handiwork and said good-bye as he headed back to Battalion Headquarters via Convoy Road.
During the afternoon break I met the other two occupants of our sandbag hooch. Sergeant Paige was in charge of FDC (Fire Direction Center). He made the coordinate calculations for the artillery. Sergeant Tibbets was in charge of COMM (Communication). Together they worked side by side, communicating and calculating fire missions called in from the grunts or forward observers in the field.