To Pete Hamill. Chief of Office
Associated Press Offices (Saigon) South Vietnam Republic of
From Eddie Adams AP Photo Journalist
Filed 03/12/1969 FSB LEE, Near Boon Tsuk, South Vietnam
Another day of the contrasts that make up this war in South Vietnam.
The heat is one thing you cannot escape, it lingers both day and night and leaves you sticky to the skin and craving a cold beer and a cold shower.
Life in a Fire Support is a round of bustle and dust, Engineers working to build bunkers, berms and string the ever present razor wire. They work in conjunction with gunners manning the artillery firing positions.
Sand bagged revetments and the ammo bunkers, ready ammo caches. And Fire Direction centres are a bustle are target locations re plotted and logged for use in support of future operations. They also work to prepare defensive fire should the enemy decide to launch an attack.
The grunts work to strengthen the perimeter and their own bunkers and fighting positions... the need to make themselves both safe and to make the place feel a bit more like home.
The rumble of the heavy treads of armoured vehicles, the FSB is also home to unit of armoured Cav. Their tanks and ACAVs go out on route clearance operations and add to the FSB defences, it also adds the pungent smell of gasoline, diesel, which mixes in with pungent smell of the burning of the bases toilets and the ever present odour of a tropical country like Vietnam
FSB LEEs location on an old French Military airfield has made it easier to set certain things up. However there is a downside. The locals have built their villes and hamlets around and almost in the Perimeter of the base.
As I previously reported, fears for the security of the base lead to the decision to relocate those hamlets that American commanders deemed were to close..... It is never easy to see families and young and old having to leave the homes that have been lived in for generations and that the locals consider to be the homes to the spirits of their ancestors….. To the American mind-set this is hard to grasp, after all a house is just four walls and a roof. But here the closer analogy would be being forced to leave your house and also watch while foreign soldier rip it down while also tearing down your church or synagogue and drive their vehicles over your grandparents’ graves...
Our rational minds might recognise the military necessity for it but one cannot but feel the emotions that are involved for the people who live here, most of whom did not ask for our presence... You can also see why such behaviour could push some in to the hand of the enemy as they seek to get revenge on those that they see as humiliating them.
The area that the Base is located in is by fairly major road, and just to the East a large river, that serves as both an artery for local traffic but also is used by Allied forces. It also serves as a barrier to both US troops and to the enemy. Places where the river can be crossed easily serves as points of interdiction. However the flatter river plain soon gives way to much more rugged and mountainous terrain. Difficult to operate in, and largely negates the advantages of the US armour, the terrain being too steep. It is also heavily forested and makes the spotting of the enemy from the air difficult and in many cases negates the use of aircraft and helos engaging the enemy. The one satisfaction that the grunts who, in their own terminology, have to hump the boonies, can take is that the enemy have to slog through the same terrain in the same oppressive weather. However he does so generally more lightly loaded, carrying a few handfuls of rice… Intel reports that much of the logistical support comes from locally pressganged civilians, how move material from depot to depot, and food is forcibly acquired from the villages that are close to the enemy’s base area. One can see why location these depots caches is seen as so important and why HEARTS and MINDs, deny the enemy from succour from the locals is vital.
The presence of the nearby hills creates other fears for the grunts on the ground, it can be easier to set up a mortar or rocket attack from such high ground down on to the base... US troops can only control so much of the high ground and so they have to send out regular patrols in the hope of encountering NVA troops moving or surprising them as they set up.
Life on the base doesn’t really stop, but comes to life early, the enemy like to attack in the middle of the night or just before first light. Every morning begins with an expectation of this.
Today the small hours of the morning were disturbed by a mortar attack… I counted 6 explosions followed by silence. The enemy favour fast harassing attacks, a prolonged barrage, unless as part of a full scale assault, allows the FDC to locate a firing position and the bringing to bear of overwhelming US firepower. These speedy hit and run tactics will generally lead to poor accuracy as was luckily the case, not injuries were reported... No attack followed and so the morning routines began.
Just as I was finishing my breakfast, eaten from a c-ration tin, the base is new and chow facilities are a later priority, I noticed fighter aircraft several klicks to the North. No one was quite sure what was happening but soon after the large and deep rumbling explosion was heard from the same area. Some of the old salts, informed me that it was a Daisy Cutter a massive bomb dropped to immediately create an LZ or clearing for a FSB in thick jungle. Something that a unit of engineers would take days to complete, is done in an instant.
I hung around the TOC, the Tactical Operations Centre, and the nerve centre of the base. Obviously I was not allowed to see or hear too much sensitive information. I was however able to hear radio traffic from two Patrols who had been sent out yesterday. East and West…. These patrols were making their way back to the base.
Twice I had to listen with racing heart and sinking stomach as both patrols suffered at the hands of the enemy, one patrol tripping an enemy booby trap and the other engaged by a VC sniper… Both suffered casualties though I am not at liberty to report their names or condition. MedEvacs swooped in and removed those casualties who needed more attention than could be provided in the field.
In to the afternoon and with a fairly clear sky overhead, I thought I could hear thunder to the West…but could see no clouds…. As sergeant from the Armoured Cav unit could see my confusion, and laughing told me it was probably and Arc-Light…. This is the name given to bombing strikes by B-52 bombers dropping massive payloads of explosive, from such high altitude that one can see the plans that drop them…. They have flown all the way from bases as far away as Japan or Guam... The scuttle butt was that higher headquarters must have found a location suitable for such intense attention.
I had begun to relax and as the sun beginning to approach the horizon, I thought we might make in to the night without more incident. However it was not to be. Radios came alive and reports came in the a company from a sister battalion to the one here and an armoured unit further to the north ad also had an enemy sniper, as they forced their way through the jungle to establish another base on a Hill that has already acquired the nick name of the “”Nipple” …casualties were suffered but again the enemy seems to have melted back into he jungle and the mission continued…
Just before sun down two small patrols were sent out from the base to establish overnight LPs, Listening posts, to give intelligence of possible enemy movements near the base and to serve as possible ambush forces if the chance arises… Such a tasking works on the nerves of the grunts who are assigned to it. They are outside of the safety of the base and in what they call Indian country… isolated and alone. And should the enemy be present that they are trapped between the rock and the hard place of a dangerous and hostile enemy and the watchfulness and firepower of the base… should a contact occur the men in the LPs will be trapped in between risking being found or over run by the enemy and being shot by your own side if you try to make it back to friendly lines Luckily so far this has not happened…
As the dark properly settled down, an uneasy peace descended as people tried to balance the normal human inclination to unwind in the night hours with the edgy unease that comes with knowing that these are the hours when the elusive enemy like to strike a US position…. As the night began the dark is sporadically broken by Flares fired in to the sky to illuminate the surrounding terrain and to reveal any enemy that might be trying to probe the perimeter… All of which doesn’t help one to rest… and so with an uneasy night ahead we try to get what rest we can in preparation for another busy day ahead
Eddie Adam Associated Press
|A unit leaves the FSB to set up an overnight LP|
|The strain of being on patrol and seeing comrades wounded can be seen like Tropical Thunder in this Grunts eyes|
|The engineers and grunts have been hard at work, making this old french military base a modern and function FSB|
|Though the terrain of Vietnam is far from ideal for the use of modern armoured vehicles, there is still a place for the armoured cavalry units|
|An artillery units 105mm howitzer adds a weighty punch to the defenses of the FSB and allows fire support to aid units in the field|
|Grunts return from a patrol out in to what they term the Boonies, the countryside and jungle away from the FSB and the villes, this patrol had suffered casualties to an enemy booby trap but the stoic grunts are able to find something to smile about.|