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Memories of Firebase Illingsworth, Vietnam

We moved in to build Illingsworth during March. The site was a grassy clearing. We arrived late in the day and started building gun pits for our mortars, hooches for sleeping, and storage for our ammo. We had our mortars, 105’s, our radar unit, a line company, and our battalion headquarters (TOC). We were told that we could not go to sleep until we had 3 layers of sandbags on our sleeping hooches. It started raining about sundown. Filling sand bags became very difficult. Around 11:00 pm we gave up on the sandbags. I laid down on a cote and placed a sheet of plastic over me. I woke up at first light the next morning and thought I had lost my hearing. Then I realized the cote was holding water which was up over my ears.

The next day we continued to build the fire base. We had been told that we would be firing on targets in Cambodia. Charlie had been moving down in Cambodia and then moving 7.62×39 ammo across the border to attach our units. Illingsworth was called a jump LZ. We would be there for a few days and then move to a new location. By about the second day there, six 155’s were moved in. We were getting fire missions several times a day. The 155’s were firing day and night. The 155’s were pounding targets on a regular basis. We were getting so much ammo for the mortars each day that we could not possibly fire it in one day. We were having to stack up boxes of mortar ammo on the ground. At one point we just rolled two pallets of mortar ammo off the mule and let it lay where it landed. After we had been there several days, two track-mounted 8 inch artillery guns were moved to the fire base. You may have noticed that I never mentioned any wire or claymore mines. We didn’t have any. There was nothing between us and the wood line.

A couple of weeks before the end of March Bobby Barker came to me and asked if I would consider letting him go to the rear to get his teeth fixed. He said you know sarge may just a couple of days before I am supposed to go home. Bobby was a great guy, he always did his job, and he had a great attitude. I told Bobby that I would like for him to leave the next day. I wrote a little note the 1st Sgt asking him to send Bobby to have his teeth fixed. I suggested that Bobby should stay in the rear since he only had a couple of weeks left in country. Bobby left on chopper after we all told him goodbye and wished him well.

Near the end of March, a young Lt named Mike Russell showed up on the firebase. He had several months in country with the 4th ID. The 4th went home, but Mike did not have enough time in-country to go with them. The unlucky guy ended up with us. By the end of March, Mike had been there long enough for us to become pretty good friends. He was a squared away guy. A couple of days before the end of March, Firebase Jay got hit really hard. They were located a few clicks from us. The sky looked like it was on fire. I didn’t know any guys on Jay, but I continually prayed during their attack that they would be able to defend against the attach and that we would not get the same dose of medicine.

On the last day of March, 1970, things seemed extremely tense. I saw high ranking people leaving the firebase on choppers. I look up and see Bobby Barker walking in from one of the choppers. Bobby came over to me and said sarge’ I just had to come out and let you see how good I look with my teeth fixed and I wanted to tell everyone goodbye. Bobby gave me a big smile as he showed his teeth and said, “My momma is going to be so proud of me and my teeth.” I told Bobby to go see everyone and get back on a chopper and get out of here. I then said Bobby weren’t you supposed to leave today. He said yey I didn’t get on the plane, I got on a chopper instead to come see you guys.

Ammo for the 8 inch guns was moved on to the firebase all day. They had the same problem that we did only worse. They had tons of ammo and no place to put it. They fired at the wood line a few time during the day. It was truly awesome to see the power of these weapons. Late in the day I saw Bobby was still on the firebase. There was a chopper on the ground. I told Bobby to run out there and get on that chopper. He said sarge’, please let me just stay out here with the guys I love just one more night. I said no Bobby, you need to leave. He walked away from me.

At about 11:30 pm, our radar unit notified Lt. Russell and me that we had a lot of movement on the Red Ball which was just across the border. The border was about 1 click from the firebase. They had determined that the NVA were moving troops down in trucks and turning west into a large field. They would unload the troops and then go back to get more. We fired mortars, 105’s, and 155’s on their position for about an hour. I thought we had wiped them out. We laughed and said they would have the rest of the night to drag their dead out of the area. I laid down in FDC and Lt. Russell did also. At about 2:30 am all hell broke loose. Mike and I ran out into a cloud of dust. There were gooks standing on the berm firing RPG’s at TOC. They were everywhere. I went to all three gun pits and directed the squad leaders to fire charge zeros randomly to the west and to keep it going as fast as possible. Mike and I both ended up in Blue Three which was led by Juan Romero. Juan and the rest of his squad worked to pull down charges to charge zero and Mike and I handled the gun. I was aiming the gun and Mike was hanging rounds. At one time I told Mike that I was afraid I was going to send one straight up and it would come back down on us. Mike said, “At this point, I really don’t think it will make a shit.” Blue One was wiped out with a satchel charge. Luckily, they all got out of the pit. Blue Two was wiped out by a gas stove from our kitchen tent. The stove blew up and sailed through the air leaving a trail of burning gas and landed in Blue Two. As with Blue One, the guys all got out and went to the berm. I saw Bobby running for FDC. I yelled at Bobby not to go to FDC. He yelled out that he did not have a rifle. Bobby disappeared in the dust.

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