Thursday, May 23, 1968
The guns on Hill 65 were now referred to as Battery KY which included two 155mm and two 8-inch Howitzers. Tandem fire missions were slightly more complicated and took time to coordinate but were deadly on enemy positions. The increased number of units in Arizona Territory added to the amount of fire missions. Occasionally they had to be prioritized, and some requests were put on standby.
The competitiveness of the gun crews was expanding, and they started to compete in a contest to see who could finish firing (“fire out”) first. Safety was always top priority, and everyone knew that shortcuts were deadly. After each round was fired, the powder chamber behind the gun tube had to be “swabbed” with water to cool it and prevent excessive heat buildup before the next powder bags were loaded.
A gun chief from an 8-inch gun got behind in the competition and took the shortcut of not swabbing the chamber. He tried it a second time, and the powder bag flashed back (a cook off) in his face, severely burning his eyes, ears and lungs. He was medevaced in critical condition, and it was an event no one would easily forget.
Battery KY would undergo an inquiry regarding this event, and Lieutenant Martin would have to answer for the tragic outcome.
During lunch Captain Robb made the comment, “Tough day for the gun gooneys” (artillery nickname). We had heard stories from the Grunts about Robb’s insensitive remarks. I kept my head down and didn’t respond . . . it was an awkward moment, and the Grunts in the chow line were embarrassed.
Next Edition: Hill 52 Attacked