Saturday, July 28, 2018

STRAIGHT OUTTA DUONG SON (2)---Tour of Mess Duty-- GREASE TRAP- POT SHACK COMMANDO

FWD CD//TACNET   VIA JC  COMMO BUNKER AMBUSH-PATROL NETS SUBJ  N/A

(LZ410 Danang)-- The road to the permanent CP for the regimental command unit was saturated in mud from rain and craters from mortars and rockets. Our unit, the transplanted 28th Marines radio platoon from Camp San Mateo in Camp Pendleton was chopped to the 27th Regimental Landing Team staging battalion where we mounted out our gear and flew to Danang via Hawaii and Guam on a moments notice in February 1968. In the distance as we proceeded across the bridge over the Song Cau Do river, smoldering garbage dumps in the distance were visible by the streams of black smoke curling skyward. The road itself was on a railroad track bed where the ties and steel were removed. The abandoned road adjacent to it was far too muddy for the heavy six-ply convoys that traversed it daily.



     The camp at Duong Son (2) itself had been built about two years prior as the 9th Marines moved south and expanded their TAOR into the rocket belt beyond the Song Cau Do, setting up the regimental CP in between the (2) and (3) hamlets. The radio section secured several hardback hootches on the lower eastern side of the perimeter and the platoon set about upgrading the area with reinforced sandbag bunkers, a shower and other amenities that were left undone by the 5th Marines (see notes & updates below) , the current tenants, as they moved north to Hue. I inherited Pvt SP Lane's corner bunk at the entry facing the compound along with a large ammo box to store gear. Lane and I were in the same unit at Pendleton before he shipped out and he was from Riverside, where he knew some very willing ladies. I went with him and met one of them one weekend liberty, I never saw her again. When Lane went north with the 5th Marines (see notes and updates below) , I never saw him again either.
    There was plenty to do at the new regimental CP beginning with rigging mosquito nets for the racks in the hootch and ending with locating the mamasan with the girls and the smoke. We would borrow a radio jeep, drive it into the ville and fake engine trouble while we scored smoke, pre-rolled in plastic packets of ten. It was as good as any stateside and we could add menthol from small jars to cool it off as we sat in bunkers and smoked.
     Our duty rosters were not kind at all including radio watch for patrols, ambushes and air-artillery cover, as well as guard duty on the perimeter at night. Some of the problems encountered early on at the CP were filed in the Command Chronology, Part III, "Significant Topics" dated 09 April 1968:


     The water points were at the north end of the CP and it became a daily chore hauling it for the shower back to the area. The mosquito invasion as the weather warmed was checked by netting, the human waste would eventually become another endless chore. But the one that stood out, particularly for me, was the grease trap at the mess hall. As the patrols came and went around the clock daily, the mess hall, not the Command Operations Center (COC),  itself became ground zero for keeping the 27th Marines in the war. All the heroes coming in from the rice paddies, having engaged in ambushes and hastily contrived operations to push the VC and NVA out of the rocket belt, would have to wait in the long chow lines because the grease trap was broken. But that wasn't the real problem at the mess hall, it was the pot shack, the scullery, where all the field cooking tins and bins had to be scrubbed constantly to keep the cooks in the galley prepping the meals.
     The process was simple enough. Most of the chow was placed in large rectangular cooking tins and round pots, heated and cooked and sent out to the line where it was served as the troops moved through, patient and exhausted. The mess hall at the regimental CP was spacious, fairly new and could accommodate platoons and even companies at a time if the system worked according to Plan 303. That was based on the assumption that the hardware involved, the cooking containers could be cleaned properly and in time for the prep.  The cooks dropped the containers off at the pot shack, they were usually caked and coated with dried, burned food or slippery half-baked scalloped potatoes, fish and meat. Outside the pot shack, there were GI cans full of water and heated by portable kerosene powered heaters to provide hot water for the cleaning process inside the pot shack; it had to be hauled in and dumped into the sinks where the cooking trays sat.  The process was simple enough, except for one minor detail, nobody wanted to do it. The pot shack was where all the deadbeats landed, all the noncomfits and birds that were sent to mess duty because they were useless in their unit. Everybody wanted the cush serving job out on the line or mess hall detail cleaning up after the troops.
     By no means a deadbeat or noncomfit, I was assigned to mess duty at the 27th Marines H&S CP a month after we arrived in-country:


They couldn't have picked a better man for the job either, having served under PO Chuck U Farley at Corry Field in Pensacola and Staff Sgt Dabney at the 28th Marines at Camp San Mateo just prior to deployment. Naturally, the last place I wanted to be in the war zone was in the mess hall but soon I found myself back to the up one-hour before zero-dark-thirty to down long after sundown shift at Duong Son (2). Initially, I was in the serving area and the galley but it didn't take long to notice a major breakdown in the system due to the deadbeats and birds in the pot shack malingering their way through three meals a day, the cooks wanted to lock and load on them. I was presented with an opportunity of a tour of duty and notified the mess sargent I would fight the war in southeast Asia from the pot shack, I volunteered and went in.
     The first order of the day was to toss out the deadbeats. They were gone in a muzzle flash, back to their  sections to the total dismay of their superiors. The second was to set up a system to get the place in order with a procedure that was workable. What did the cooks need first, how long did it take to get the right cooking tins into the right places? What about keeping a supply of hot water in the GI cans out back? I remembered the brutal routine under CU Farley and the ship operation at Pendleton where we choppered a field mess unit onto the beach and set it up to feed a battalion in a moment's notice. Even with a pumped stomach from swallowing a jar of downers to kill a toothache, I was able to pull that one off as Sgt Dabney, another mentor, shouted orders even before the Chinooks touched down with the gear at Onofre. It paid off but not immediately. A sense of order gradually settled in and results were getting to be visible. But I handled it alone for the first week to ten days before another volunteer signed on; a big, very big guy who could throw pots around like tinker toys. Then we got a little Vietnamese commando from the ville who rounded out the team, adding lightning speed to the operation. We had all the tins cleaned before they were needed and pushed further into other assignments around the mess hall. Eventually, I could get long enough breaks through the steam and heat to fire up a menthol smoke from mamasan's personal stash.
     Today, years later, I am asked to report my proudest effort in-country. Was it some patrol in the bush, charging into VC automatic weapons fire? Maybe camped out on the Ho Chi Minh trail with a recon squad calling in supporting arms, hardly. Leave all of that stuff to the heroes, they all looked the same when they got to the chow line at the CP. The pot shack detail was the high point of my tour of duty in Vietnam.

FWD: MERTZ, PVT,  GI CANS, SAN MATEO CP..... "PUSHIN' TOO HARD..."


NOTE: The regimental CP may have been vacated by the 5th Marines, but it might well have been the 1st Marines, there is some checking up to do there....

UPDATE 001: (07/29/18/1010PDT) Initial look at the Command Chronologies of 1st, 3rd, 7th and 9th Marine Regiments shows only the 7th near the CP when  RLT 27 arrived. There needs to be an overall inventory of locations of all the regiments and their battalions at the outbreak of Tet 1968.

UPDATE 002: (07/29/18/1049PDT)  Following doc located at 1/27 CC for 02/69:
Pvt SP Lane was with 2/3--






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