Carol Ann and I have been in Wichita Falls attending an RV club rally since Monday. Today was a free day so I tried to go back in time 45-years by traveling one-hour north to Fort Sill, OK.
In 1969 I spent eight weeks at Fort Sill learning how to be a “fire direction control specialist,” or MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) 13E20 but found nothing today to jog any memories of that time. In the spring of 1969 I was assigned to Delta Battery of the 7th Training Battalion (D-7 it was called). That unit is no longer active and there is no longer a 13E20 MOS. Almost everything has been remodeled, torn down and rebuilt, or otherwise changed over the past 45 years – including my memory.
While at Fort Sill chasing my youth we visited the US Army Field Artillery Museum where I had hoped to find something familiar. The museum’s displays cover the history of artillery from the very beginning to the current time. Only a small portion is devoted to the Vietnam War, but it did include the 155mm howitzer, towed, and the Field Artillery Digital Automatic Computer (FADAC). I was familiar with the artillery piece because I spent thirteen-months in a 155mm howitzer battalion (the 2nd/11th Field Artillery Battalion) attached to the 101st Airborne Division, Airmobile, at Camp Eagle, near Phu Bai, in the Republic of Vietnam (which no longer exists).
The FADAC was the first fire direction computer ever built. The Army called it the M18 Gun Direction computer. It was a very rudimentary portable (at about 200 pounds) computer that calculated firing data for a battery of six guns. Only after mastering the manual computations using slide rules ("slip sticks"), firing tables (similar to log tables), and trigonometric calculations were we taught to use the FADAC. As you may imagine, computers in the 60’s were extremely slow, the FADAC being no exception. It was so slow that two manual fire missions could be calculated in the time it took the FADAC to calculate one. The FADAC was also an extremely sensitive piece of equipment and experienced a lot of down time. Maintenance was frequent and the need for repair common. Its poor reliability coupled with its slow speed meant it was used very little in Vietnam – especially when troops in the field were screaming for artillery support “NOW.”
In the April 1969 issue of Fort Sill's "The Field Artilleryman,"an article by MAJ Martell D. Fritz stated:
"The M18 Gun Direction Computer (FADAC) has become the primary means of computing firing data for artillery units in Southeast Asia. The FADAC is a general purpose computer and will perform any computational task for which a program has been written and inserted into memory."(I added the emphasis as a bit of sarcasm because the Major either didn't know what he was talking about or was simply repeating what the brass wanted to hear.)
Here are a few photos I took in the museum. The quality is poor but I will blame that on the museum's poor lighting.
|FADAC (side view)|
|Number keyboard (looks "homemade")|
The museum’s FADAC is the only one remaining in existence. At some point in time, after I had left the Army, all of the FADACs were rounded up by the U.S. Department of Energy and disposed of as HAZARDOUS WASTE because of the use of radium (a radioactive element) on the dials. So, in addition to Agent Orange and god knows what else, I have also been exposed to ionizing radiation. Hopefully, in such small amounts as to cause no harm.
After leaving the museum we drove to the Food Court (open to civilians) at the main PX. There were about half a dozen fast food outlets and several shops at the entrance to the PX. It was similar to a shopping mall with the PX being one of the mall’s anchor stores. There was nothing like this in 1969. But I do remember walking to a much smaller PX with my buddies, sitting at a picnic table in the beer garden, and drinking from quart bottles of Coors Beer (3.2% military) under the cottonwoods in the afternoon after classes. In some respects I miss that. After all, it was my youth, and it completely changed my life.