A really big shell.
A Really Big Shell
I am a veteran of the Vietnam War. I served in the Naval Advisory Group in 1968-1969. I was stationed at Cua Viet as the Intelligence Officer on the staff of Task Force Clearwater for the first three months “in country.” We ran patrol boats on the Cua Viet and Perfume Rivers. Our job was to provide protection for the cargo boats taking supplies to the soldiers and marines upriver. That three month assignment in Cua Viet was followed by time in Saigon and then Danang.
I was talking to my daughter awhile back. She is a navy veteran of the war in Iraq. We were having one of those “What did you do in the war, Daddy” kind of conversation. She asked me what I would pick as the most significant thing I had done in the Vietnam War. After some thought I answered by telling her the story of my taking an exploded and reassembled 152mm enemy artillery shell to Naval Headquarters in Saigon.
Briefly, what happened was:
Our little base at the mouth of the Cua Viet River was bombarded by light to heavy artillery (85mm, 122mm and 152mm) on almost a daily basis. Over the three month period that I was the intelligence officer for Task Force Clearwater there were numerous attacks resulting in casualties, both deaths and injuries.
Each time we were hit I sent a report to Saigon of the incident with details of what we were hit with, casualties, damage, etc. Each time my report was disregarded or disparaged. Their response was that we were more likely hit with mortars or rockets.
Their reasoning went like this: The only place that the NVA could launch such artillery attacks was within the DMZ because the range of the NVA guns was not long enough to reach us from north of the DMZ. The DMZ by definition was demilitarized. Because it was demilitarized, there could be no artillery there. Ergo, Cua Viet could not be hit by artillery. So, I must be mistaken about what was hitting us.
After a particularly heavy bombardment one night in June 1968 an unexploded round was sighted with its nose sticking up through the hardpan of our loading dock. The Explosive Ordnance Demolition Team exploded the dud round. I picked up the pieces and put them together like a puzzle. Voila! – a 152mm artillery round, proof positive that we were indeed being hit with heavy artillery.
I asked the boss if I could take it to Saigon and he said “Go.”
I put my reassembled 152mm round in a box and took another man with me to help me carry it because of the weight. We boarded a boat to Danang, caught a flight on a Marine C-130, flew to Saigon, took the 152mm round to COMNAVFORV headquarters and plopped it down on the desk of the senior intelligence officer and said, “That’s what they’re shooting at us!”
I did not get any response from COMNAVFORV about that visit nor the artillery round.
One week later there was an Arc Light (B52) strike in the DMZ. We couldn’t see the planes when they dropped their deadly load, but we felt the ground shake and saw the black smoke billowing skyward, a sight I will never forget. We were not hit with heavy artillery again while I was at Cua Viet.
After I finished my little story, my daughter said, “Dad, just think what you did. There is no way to know how many lives you saved by what you did.”
Now, I know it is nearly impossible to prove causality in the negative. When something doesn’t happen that was expected, who can say for sure that it was the result of any preventative action taken. You are left with only a conclusion based on logic. My daughter’s conclusion was that I had prevented the loss of an unknown number of lives.
Captain Herman W. Hughes PhD
US Navy, Retired