My unit (3/187 ABN INF 101st ABN DIV) fought in all four corps in the Republic of South Vietnam, this meant that my unit was always on the move, looking for trouble. In most cases what we were looking for was found, and some type of firefight ensued.
During one of our moves, my battalion was placed on an enemy’s infiltration route. This is where we began to build a firebase. A firebase is used to keep a umbrella of artillery over the supporting infantry. The base was being constructed in a rice patty near some village. While some units stayed behind and filled sandbags and provided security, others were out patrolling and performing recon missions. My company (B 3/187) was rotated back from patrolling to filling sandbags, and building bunkers for the base.
The firebase had a battery of 105s howlers and 4.2 mortars. These weapons were the infantry’s big guns of support. The base was surrounded by consentina wire, minefields, and fields of fire were cut for the MGs. Inside the base there was also a tented mess hall, so we could get some hot meals that were not out of a C rat can. Living at this base, was like being in a 5 star hotel. Life was easy while at the base. On occasions the base would receive sniper fire. When we did get this type of fire, a squad would be sent out to find the source and location of the fire. This, for an infantryman, was like taking a paid holiday.
My company had just finished chow, and was on our way back to our stations to continue to fill sandbags. During this time, a CH 47 flew to the base and dropped off ammo for the big guns (105). The cargo of ammo was sling loaded and dropped at the ammo dump. The big chopper kicked up a little dust while depositing its load. No longer burdened by the heavy load, the craft did a pivot while at hover, added power and flew over our heads and away from the base. The craft had just cleared our perimeter when it received ak47 fire from the hedge line. I could see the craft stagger midair and then do an 180 degree turn and fly back to the firebase. The ch47 flew over the ammo dump and a huge dust storm from its rotor blades formed. This dust storm produced a huge vortex, which began to pick up all kinds of debris. While looking at this unfolding drama, I could see the high wind vortex pick up trip flares and smoke grenades that had been placed in the wire for early detection, being blown into the stacked cases of 105 rounds. A small fire began to blasé as the chopper bounced and landed on the ground. The doors of the chopper opened and the crew bailed out. Meanwhile the fire began to get larger in the ammo dump, then the first of exploding rounds went off.
I saw a bright flash, and then the concussion of the shock wave. The shock wave almost knocked me down. I looked with amazement at the scene before me, when a second explosion of much bigger magnitude occurred. The concussion from this blast pushed me forward and down to the ground. My face was down in the dirt or should saw dust and I felt like I was suffocating. While extracting myself from my face down position and Wiping my eyes free of firebase dust, I happened to look up. What I saw blew my mind.
Up high above the firebase a huge smoke ring rose above our heads. This smoke ring resembled the type one would blow when smoking cigarettes, only this one was about a hundred feet across in diameter. Up and up it rose until it stopped its motion, and hovered over the firebase. Looking at that ring of smoke hovering above our heads I thought it looked like a HALO sent from the heavens to watch over us. A sense of calm came washing over me. Peace and Tranquility settled momentarily in my head, until the next blast brought me back to reality.
The here and now came to me in a rush. While brushing myself off, sounds of loud thuds became auditable. The nature of the thuds was from duds and spent casings falling back to earth from the exploding ammo dump. The rush for cover was on. While running to my squad bunker, other members of our platoon had the same idea. I was hauling ass when a member of my quad who was running beside me was struck by falling debris. I heard a loud cry out full of pain, when I noticed I was running alone. I stopped looked over my shoulder and behind and saw my once running partner laying in the dirt, and holding his leg. My mind raced, should I keep running for cover to get out of the 105-hell storm, or go back to my stricken comrade? Back I went, but I wasn’t alone. Another fellow platoon member saw our plight and also charged to the rescue.
Here we are three men in the open getting pissed on by our own ammunition. With thuds sounding all around us, we pulled and crawled to our safe bunker haven. In the bunker we hunkered down and stayed until the sound of the steel rain ceased. Gingerly I poked my head out of the bunker and surveyed the scene before me. I could see others doing the same as I. We looked like prairie gofers looking out for the fox. It is all clear, a medic is called to our location, and the medic begins his work on our wounded platoon member.
The firebase was on full alert. We stayed in the bunkers and waited for an enemy to show and take advantage of our misfortune. No attack, the all clear is sounded. The base continued its thorn in the side operation to the NVA until it was dismantled and we moved on to continue disruption of the enemy forces in the CHU CHI region.
I found out later that the member that was hit by the flying debris had a broken leg and was medivaced out of country. A million dollar wound, for he missed the action at the firebase when the NVA tried to eliminate its thorn in its side, they were crushed, but that is another story.
I to this day, I think that HALO in the sky was a good omen for I’m here to tell the story.
William R. Hayes.