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Fear at Dong Ha

 

By   Samuel J. Hall

I had been to Da Nang, Vietnam the prior year. It wasn’t too bad.

Now it was 1967. It was my second tour.

Our camp was up by the Demilitarized Zone.

Dong Ha was only eleven miles south of the DMZ.

We were working all over the area south of the DMZ.

Our troops extended and hardened the runway at Khe Sanh, improved the road at Con Thien and at Geo Linh, we built water tanks at Cam Lo, we built a loading ramp at the Cua Viet River and we improved the road south to Quang Tri.

During July through October, 1967, the 3rd Marine Division conducted two sweeps along the DMZ, Operation Buffalo and Operation Kingfisher.

The hill battles were being fought for the Hills 881 N, 881 S, and 861 through the area around Khe Sanh.

The North Vietnam Army shelled us from the time before we arrived with their 152mm artillery shells and their 140mm rockets.

The rockets arrived in waves of fifty or more. We would get hit with two hundred rockets at any one attack. One three day period we were hit with over twelve hundred artillery shells and rockets.

We were attacked 136 times during our tour at Dong Ha and the DMZ.

On September 3rd, 1967 on Vietnam’s Election Day, one of those attacks hit our fuel farm and our ammunition dump. It burned and exploded out ammunition supplies for the next eight hours. That attack damaged ninety-five percent of our camp. I survived that ammo dump explosion along with a bunch of other Seabees, sitting at the bottom of a lube pit, in our shop. We were located right next to the ammo dump, about 100 feet away.

The Marine Corp fought back with their 175mm artillery and their eight inch guns. The ground troops were kicking ass and taking names.

The U.S. Air Force’s B-52’s conducted their Arc Light bombing along the DMZ.

The North Vietnam Army conducted their troops along the DMZ against our troops. One troop attack had two thousand North Vietnamese troops outside our wire. Puff, a C-47 gunship, arrived with her magic guns to mow down the North Vietnamese Army troops. The ARVN Army

To talk about fear, my knees were shaking the day I arrived at the DMZ.

I was glad that the Dong Ha tour was going to be my last tour. I wished that my prior tour was my last tour. My only thought was going home alive.

My Da Nang tour was very different than my Dong Ha tour.

I could be brave or ignorant on my prior tour. I could not be ignorant on my last tour. I learned the difference between two while at the DMZ.

I don’t think I knew just how cautious I was. I put on a brave face but I was scared shitless most of the time.

The Ammunition dump exploded two months before the end of my enlistment. That was the end of the war for me. I worked at my job then I did my duty and went on our reactionary patrols but all I could think about was going home alive.

After returning to the states, I was still cautious about everything. I didn’t know just how much fear was locked up in my mind.

Here I am, forty five years later, and I am still thinking about those fears.

Those fears have help to make much of my life difficult.

I am writing about those fears still trying to rid myself of them…

 

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