|The account below has nothing to do with Golf company. It was sent to me by Verl Matthews, one
of Golf's Corpsmen.
It just tickled me.
By Harry Hooper
In mid-September of 1966 I was ordered to an observation post called Crow's Nest. It was on top
of Marble Mountain south of the airstrip at Danang. It was the mission of the Crow's Nest
observation post to protect the airstrip, and to keep the Viet Cong from damaging the
air-conditioned trailers of the aviators, and the nice barracks of their support troops, by firing
rockets or mortars at them. The aircraft were a concern also. The mission was to be accomplished
by raining artillery fire onto the heads of any VC who had the temerity to attack the big base and
the Marine air base which was north
and east of the mountain.
Marble Mountain was actually several spindly shafts of rock. The highest one rose 105 meters
straight out of the sand just west of the South China Sea and it was upon this rock that the Crow's
Nest sat. The mountain was mostly made of marble except that the marble became karst at the
higher elevations. The entire mountain was full of caves and tunnels. Most of them were too small
for a man to enter. I think if it had been possible to saw it in half it would look like a plank eaten
At the summit was an area which was 20 feet at its widest and in length, it was perhaps 150 feet.
This was occupied by a wooden platform upon which was emplaced a 106 millimeter recoilless rifle.
The plan was that anytime the wily Cong fired rockets at the airstrip, they would be engaged
immediately by the 106 while the FO, me, would send a fire mission to my artillery
battalion which would blast the offending VC into rubble. Since the VC only fired rockets at night,
and usually moonless nights, exactly how we were to accomplish this was never revealed to me.
Life on Crow's Nest was not unpleasant. There were eight of us up there. There was the 106 crew, a
couple of machine gunners manning a single M-60, my trusty radio operator, Lance Corporal
Papkin, and my wireman, PFC Clapp. Once a week a CH-34 helicopter would appear slinging
beneath it a cargo net containing C-rats, beer, and cigarettes. Prior lifts had delivered timber
and corrogated tin which had been used to construct a comfortable hooch.
We had all of the comforts of home and unlike home, we could wake up mornings to a splendid
view of the South China Sea and enjoy spectacular sunsets over the Annamese Mountains.
Moreover, we felt safe. The climb to the top of Crow's Nest was quite difficult and entailed
shinnying up a hawser for part of the way. At night we would pull the hawser to the top and we felt
pretty sure that no VC could get to us, at least not without working up a substantial sweat.
Occasionally, at dusk, a sniper would crank off a round or two in our direction and we would
answer with a short blast from the M-60. If we were feeling particularly surly, or if a round holed
our tin roof, we would reply with a 106 HEAT round.
It did occur to me that my military career would be in serious jeopardy if some enterprising VC got
to the top, swung the 106 to the north, and proceeded to blast away at important people's command
posts and trailers. Consequently, every time we heard any strange sounds from the side of the
mountain we tossed grenades at them.
Days were spent eating, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and listening to a tape player which had
a single Beatles tape. The album was called "Revolver" and Eleanor Rigby was the featured song,
or at least the only one I remember. We must have heard it a thousand times. After enough beer I
would actually began to worry about Eleanor's plight.
On a typical day we would watch air traffic circling and landing at Danang. One day we saw a B-52
make an unsuccessful emergency landing. Crow's Nest must have been at least ten miles from the
airfield but nevertheless, when the wind was favorable, it was possible to hear C-130's revving up.
At night we would watch F-4's and F-105's scream overhead with their afterburners flaring. One
night we saw an F-4 get hit by an errant 105 millimeter illumination round and watched in
amazement as the pilots parachuted from the plane. More astonishingly, a little Kaman helicopter
was there to pick them up almost as soon as they hit the ground.
When vehicles traveled the MSR heading south, to what was then the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines CP,
we would watch closely for snipers shooting at them. Occasionally we would see a small firefight
between the Marines in the vehicles and the VC. The 106 gunners, who were truly crack shots,
would fire at the snipers, undoubtedly scaring the bejesus out of the truckers, and perhaps erasing
a few VC.
The 106 had a .50 caliber rifle on top of the weapon. This was called the minor caliber. The 106
itself, was called the major caliber. The gunner, when he found the target with the minor caliber,
would yell, "fire the major caliber." The explosion from the recoilless rifle was like the crack of
doom. The difference between the minor caliber and the major caliber was like the difference
between a hand grenade explosion and the atom bomb.
We also had a dog which provided some entertainment. The dog was named Boom Boom, either
out of respect for the 106 or after entertainment of the same name which was available for a few
piasters from one of the professional women who plied their trade in the village of Nui Kim Son .
It was a nice little dog and probably lived its entire life on top of Crow's Nest since I am sure the
OP was occupied by U.S. troops until the pullout. That is not a lot of running room for a dog for
an entire lifetime but it probably beat becoming rotisserie dog.
One of the problems with eight Marines on a small piece of real estate was that of field sanitation.
This had been temporarily solved by placing a 106 ammo box, with an appropriate hole cut into it,
over a shaft in the limestone which was at least 12 to 15 feet straight down. It seemed to angle off
to the side after that and we suspected that it continued deep into the mountain. When relieving
oneself of C-rats washed down with beer, the alimentary canal produced a product which resounded
with a satisfying splat as it bottomed into the abyss of the pit.
In time, the OP, especially at night, became redolent of sewage. As a highly trained second
lieutenant, having been a recent graduate of The Basic School, Quantico , Virginia , I resolved to
solve this. Someone could have become ill as a result of this situation, or at least gag. Accordingly,
I contacted the S-4 on the radio and requested gasoline so that the offending matter could be
incinerated. In due time the supply helicopter arrived with its cargo net and with it, four jerry cans
of diesel fuel.
It may have been a product of our boredom or the excitement of having something new to
accomplish, but in any event, as soon as the cans were unloaded, we removed the ammo box and
poured twenty gallons of diesel fuel into the pit. With great anticipation we threw a match into the
pit. Nothing. Then we lit a pack of matches and tossed it into the odoriferous hole. Nothing.
Then we lit a large splinter from an ammo box and tossed it into the maw. It made a nice little fire
for a while but the diesel didn't catch. Next came an illumination grenade. The pit remained as
fireless as a tenderfoot with flint and steel. That is when we learned that diesel doesn't burn, at
least, it didn't on Crow's Nest. Our disappointment was palpable.
This failure resulted in a radio call to the air officer requesting gasoline. We were informed that the
pilots thought gasoline to be unsafe cargo when put in a cargo net which had to be deposited on a
narrow rock ledge. If the gasoline can collided with the rock, the whole helicopter would erupt in
flame, or so I was told. It was suggested that we should climb down the mountain, walk to the CP,
strap a five gallon can of gasoline on a pack frame, and manhandle it up the mountain. This
suggestion, it should be noted, came from the air officer.
The situation was becoming one of those righteous welfare of the troops issues and with all of the
indignation that could be mustered by a second lieutenant, I suggested that this was a matter which
should be kicked upstairs. Eventually, the battalion executive officer came up on the net and we
had a serious discussion about field sanitation and the lack of an infantry battalion commander's
power to order Marine aviators to do anything.
The next week the cargo helicopter arrived and in the big net I spotted five jerry cans. I knew right
away they contained gasoline because the pilot flipped me a bird right before he chopped back to
the Marble Mountain Airstrip. I don't know how battalion got it done but, in any event, we were
Into the abyss went twenty-five gallons of gasoline which mingled with the diesel which had pooled
there from the previous week's effort. It was late afternoon. The sea breeze wafted in from the
South China Sea , rustling the hairs on our heads which were already tingling with excitement. I
delivered a safety lecture of sorts on the explosive tendencies of gasoline and suggested that we
ignite the gas with an illumination grenade tossed from a safe distance.
A volunteer agreed to do the deed and pulled the pin from the grenade. We watched over his
shoulder as he tossed the device into the pit with precision. For a moment, there was silence. Then
the mountain began to shudder and then to vibrate and then a loud roar split the silence of the
afternoon. Flame burst from the mouth of the pit like a mighty tongue, and to our astonishment,
additional blasts roared from the sides of the mountain like fumaroles on the cone of an erupting
volcano. It in fact was Vesuvius, Krakatoa, and Pinatubo, rolled into one. We marveled at the
magnitude of our work.
The radio crackled to life immediately. It was battalion headquarters, located in the flatlands some
three miles away, excitingly inquiring as to the nature of the calamity. Flame and smoke, they
stated, were coming everywhere from the mountain. They demanded information as to the cause.
We were safe, we reported. We were just conducting routine field sanitation.
In time the holocaust subsided to a mere roar. The air smelled of burning petroleum products. By
dusk the fire was out and the opening once more sported the ammunition box with the hole in it,
the box which was so supportive of our daily life on the OP.
I never had the need to conduct field sanitation on Crow's Nest again. Shortly after this event, I
rejoined my rifle company and became engaged in more serious business.
Thirty-four years have passed since that day and I still think of the Crow's Nest every time I hear
the Beatles wailing about Eleanor Rigby. It's the nearest thing to a flashback I've ever had.