1st Battalion 22nd Infantry
Gary Rabideau - Memories of a Mortarman 1970 - 1971
Company C 1/22 Infantry
A Few Memories
I was flown to the unit by
chinook helicopter after my in country training at An Khe. They
were on a ridge
near a jungle mountain top. The weather was monsoonish. I sat on the pad for two days waiting for a chopper.
On the third day a Chinook with lots of supplies picked me up. It successfully deposited me on the ridge
where the rest of the guys were setting up a position. The ridge was so narrow the big bird barely could touch down.
Some of the guys said they had just returned from Pleiku.
We were setting up
mortars and digging for command post etc. They flew in
Medic C 1/22 Infantry
Two Tiger Stories
Our company was sent on a mission to provide security for the heavy equipment Engineers.
They were working in a valley area with bulldozers and graders. I believe they were making a large chopper
landing area. There was a hill at the end of the valley. We put listening posts on the hill nightly. One night
it was my turn to join the guys at that spot. They had used it so much that the trail was clear.
That night it started raining pretty hard so we put up our ponchos to have a more comfortable night.
The rain started to let up in the middle of the night. It was my turn to be on guard. I had good hearing then.
I heard some low growling very close to our position. The brathing was even closer and you could see some
steamy breath. The hair was standing up in goose bumps on my neck & arms. I gently touched the other guys
& woke them up. I put my finger to my lips to keep them quiet. The tiger moved about half way around us
I guess to get our scent better. We got on the radio with the handset and sent some squelch signals to the guys
in the valley. We weren't supposed to talk because we were a listening post. The tiger finally moved away
with a couple of low growls. We really were relieved. We didn't get any sleep the rest of the night.
In the morning light we saw where the tiger was standing & walking in the soft earth. The paw prints
were huge and closer than what we thought in the dark.
I was on perimeter guard about four days after the listening post night. It was night time again & I had company
at the guard spot. It was around midnight I think when a tiger was growling loudly in front of our position.
We thought it was maybe 100 yards or so away and seemed to be getting closer. We called for permission
to fire into the night with a grenade launcher M-79. Permission was granted when we reported the tiger was
getting louder & closer. I fired a High Explosive round while guessing at the trajectory to get close to the last growl.
The tiger let out some even louder roars as it moved away. We didn't hear from the tiger any more
on that mission much to my relief.
Our Swimming Hole
On the same mission as the two tiger incidents someting else memorable happened. A few guys and I
noticed a stream with a wide area we could swim in. There was a water purification truck and pool to collect
the cleaned water on the site. We decided to strip and go swimming that hot day. The water felt great.
Someone near me said he felt something in the muddy bottom with his foot. I felt around and found something
kind of sharp & metallic. The guy next to me (can't remember who it was) reached bottom with his hand
and pulled up an object. It was an old Chicom grenade. I pulled up what I felt and saw it was an old mortar round.
We decided to gently put them back on the bottom and got out of there. We passed the word around
when we got back to our area of operations.
LZ or Firebase Popeye
One time Battalion Headquarters decided they needed fire support on a low hill near a valley in the remote
mountain & jungle area. They sent the mortar platoon (Popeye platoon) out with our mortars. It was to be
a platoon size site. They did send guys from the grunt platoons to help provide a secure perimeter for us.
They sent a lot of culvert pipes about 4 feet semi circles. I slept in one with sandbags two layers thick over it.
We, Rick Smith, and I piled up ammo boxes (from mortars) full of dirt on each end so no one could shoot inside
unless they got really close.
After we had it mostly set up, they flew in some 105 Howitzer artillery and a ground radar crew. I guess there were
a lot of enemy trails in the hills around that spot. We got a lot of fire missions from patrols all around the area.
One day we received some sniper fire from a hill across the way. The 105 artillery came up really fast to where
we knew the bullets came from. They put direct fire and traversed it all along that part of the hill.
We didn't get any more shots from that area.
There was one really wide tree close to our small fire base. We checked the area near the tree and found
elephant foot prints. They must have been using it to rub against. The head of the operation called on
the Engineer Battalion to come out and knock down that tree. They didn't want to have anyone shooting at us
from so close. The Engineeer guys tried for three days to knock it down with explosives. We had a rain
& strong wind storm the next day and the tree fell over. Then they were able to cut it up with chain saws.
We had a lot of calls for our mortars so the barrel had to get swabbed with oil. Our swab was army socks
fastened to a wooden broom stick. One night I had three hung rounds. That means the round doesn't come out
of the mortar. The first one was an illumination round. When that happens the gunner gets to leave the pit.
The section leader and ammo bearer join up to get it out. They have to disconnect the mortar tube from the base
and lift it up until the mortar round slides out the end. The ammo bearer has to try to catch it at the end and put the
safety pin back into it so it can't go off. We found out after a high explosive round wouldn't shoot, that a sock
had come off the swab and covered the firing pin in the bottom. It was very tense until the pins
were put back into the rounds.
We had to completely dismantle that fire base and fly everything back out. That included filling in the holes we dug.
It was a lot of work.
I remember we did find an
established hooch complex and stayed around for ambushes. Some
new guys joined us
at that location. An ambush group was set up watching. One of the new guys needed to take a leak.
He was told where to take a leak in a safe location and where not to go near the ambush. The ambush team
saw a pair of legs approach the hooch. The guy was looking into the fruit cellar underneath. The team started firing.
When they stopped firing and checked to see how they did. They found the new guy in the bottom of the hole
with three bullet holes. One in the thigh,one in the web of the hand between thumb and finger,and one in the arm muscle.
No bones or major blood vessels were hit. They had time to get him out by chopper. That night I set out a mechanical ambush
on a well used trail on a small ridge not far from the other action. Nothing happened that night. I was supposed to walk point
next morning. I took in my claymore etc. and another one was put into the same spot. I spotted a gook who just happened
to be coming up the slight rise on that trail. I only saw him for an instant. Our security guy didn't see him. We stopped momentarily
to examine the trail and we found where a ho chi min sandal had spun around and a couple impressions where someone had left quickly.
The other claymore was set up now. Three patrols went out from that ridge area that morning. I walked point with Spanky
taking my slack. We left the small ridge and went perpendicular to the trail for about 75 yards. Then we turned left and started
walking parallel to the trail we had ambushed. We hadn't gone far when there was a loud explosion. Everyone ducked on alert.
After a while we were told to retrace our route back to the beginning. We had learned that one or the patrols had gotten turned around
by a second leutenant and they walked into the claymore ambush. I got to see Rick Smith when my group got back.
He had gore on him and he was in shock. The medic who took care of the mortar platoon had also tried to help that morning.
Headquarters had us stay there for a few days while they investigated the situation. To my knowledge there was only one other fatality
while I was there. One guy was shot in the chest by a gook while on patrol I think near LZ Terrace. I remember attending
a ceremony while on stand down and there were three sets of boots with upside down rifles.
What platoon names were in what
order from 1-3? I know we were popeye - fourth platoon. The
others were panther,
road runner and sidewinder. I'm not sure which ones I was with in the boonies. I think I was with more than one at different times.
We were only mortarmen when we went onto a fire base for a stay.
The mission when our fatal
accidents happened was a different hooch complex. I remember the
time that we were sent
to the site of artillery and air strikes. There was a big hooch and underground storage complex. The area was covered with flachettes.
They look like nails with barbs on them. They are dispersed from over head air bursts. There were some large unexploded
artillery shells around. We found large white blocks of TNT with holes in them for carrying them on poles between two guys.
There were quite a few underground storage bunkers. I don't remember any dead or wounded enemy. The engineers
were called to come out and take care of the unexploded heavy artillery,TNT,etc. They brought cases of C-4,rolls of detcord
and blasting caps. They worked a long time rigging everything up. We all moved back about 1000 meters or so.
They way over did it. There were tree trunks,rocks and branches coming down around us.
I remember being in the elephant
grass during really wet conditions. I got cut a lot as did most
of our guys. I got infected
on my neck and face. My hand was infected long enough that our medic sent me on a resupply chopper to LZ Terrace I think.
I couldn't hold my m-16 because my hand was so swollen. It took about a week to get better. While there Delta company
was having quite a battle on a big mountain accross from LZ Terrace on the other side of the river. They suffered a lot of casualties.
Some were brought to the firebase for quick treatment. I was used to help some of them. One was a medic with a deep hole
in his thigh muscle. He had run into a piece of bamboo cut on an angle while putting guys on a chopper. They had him tell
all he knew about what was going on during their battle. I was helping wash out his deep puncture wound and listening
to his report before he passed out. A while later I was told to go to the chopper pad to help get our battalion commander
out of a small chopper. He was shot in both feet and bleeding badly. He was trying to bet some emergency medical supplies
to Delta company. Three gooks started firing when they were almost down. The chopper pilot tipped the bird with the
commander side down while turning to get away. He got hit as did the chopper. The pilot was not hit. The Docs did
a quick patch job while a regular medivac was coming to get him and take him to the rear and eventually Japan.
We went through a few battalion comanders while we were there. I remember some bad fuel made one die
in a crash of the chopper he was on.
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