Smoke On The Horizon
SMOKE ON THE HORIZON
An aftermath of combat sometimes is a reminder of the horrors and danger you have experienced. Even though I do not have PTSD I still sometimes get an emotional response to things that trigger memories.
About five years after my return from Vietnam I was returning home from a meeting in Salem, OR when I saw something that gave me cold chills. I saw smoke on the horizon which looked for all the world like an Arc Light strike, a B-52 bombing run that I saw once in Vietnam.
Shortly after I arrived at Task Force Clearwater as the staff intelligence officer we began to receive frequent and heavy bombardment from NVA artillery out of the DMZ just to the north of us. One of my tasks as intelligence officer was to report such attacks to COMNAVFORF in Saigon.
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 probably 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. Therefore, 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 with a shaped charge. I picked up the pieces and put them together like a puzzle. What I had was 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 gave me permission. I put my reassembled 152mm shell 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. However, a week or so 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.
What I saw that day in Oregon was actually field burning. The grain fields are sanitized by burning after harvest each year. But, the emotion I felt was real.