Ain’t Released Me Yet
Memoirs of a REMF
Copyright© 2016 by Robert B. Martin, IV
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. I have attempted to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them.
Fire Support Bases
“If you entrench yourself behind strong fortifications, you compel the enemy to seek a solution elsewhere.” ...........Karl von Clausewitz
In addition to the Headquarters battery, the battalion also included a Service battery and three firing batteries. The Service battery included support sections such as the motor pool, artillery surveyors, communications, mess, and supply. The firing batteries were Batteries A (Alpha), B (Bravo), and C (Charlie). Each battery had six 155mm towed howitzers. As I mentioned earlier, in addition to the 155mm being towed by a truck, it could also be transported in a sling beneath a Chinook or Sky Crane helicopter. Each gun weighed about twelve thousand pounds and had a barrel a little over six inches in diameter and almost twelve feet long. Its rate of fire was four rounds a minute for short bursts or forty rounds an hour for sustained fire. It had an effective range of about nine miles and could fire a variety of projectiles including HE (High Explosive), WP (“Willie Pete” or white phosphorus), Colored Smoke (as a marker), Illumination (high-intensity flares), Firecracker (contained golf ball-sized antipersonnel bomblets), Chemical (CS gas), and Bee Hive (contained thousands of small steel antipersonnel darts, or “fleshettes” which could literally “nail” the enemy to trees) rounds. The HE round had an effective “kill radius” of fifty meters. It was a powerful weapon.
A fire support base was a temporary fortified position for an artillery battery and was usually located on a hilltop. Infantry units provided base security. These “fire support bases” (aka “fire bases” or FSB’s) were established in areas of enemy activity for the purpose of providing artillery support to U.S. infantry units operating in the area. Most of the 101st Airborne Division’s FSB’s were located in or around the A Shau Valley, a sparsely populated, yet highly contested area.
The A Shau Valley was a key route for North Vietnamese forces and supplies infiltrating into South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh trail. This route was critical to the North Vietnamese and they heavily defended it. The 101st conducted many operations against the NVA in the Valley; however, the U.S. strategy was not to occupy ground won in battle. Instead, when the NVA were defeated by U.S. troops, they only had to wait for the U.S. troops to leave and then move right back into the valley. It was a war of attrition, or “body counts.” Kill enough of them and maybe they will quit.
The GI’s commonly referred to the A Shau Valley as “The Valley of Death,” and 101st troopers were often heard proclaiming, “Yea, though I walk through The Valley of the Shadow of Death I will fear no evil, because I am the meanest son of a bitch (or mutha fucker) in the Valley.”
Some of the 101st Airborne Division’s fire bases on which our firing batteries were located at various times during my tour included Ripcord, Arsenal, Currahee, Blaze, Birmingham, Veghel, Tomahawk, Sally, Granite, Bastogne, Airborne, Berchtesgaden, Eagles Nest, Henderson, and Brick.
Continued in Chapter 29, When it Rains, it Pours…