There was not much to do in Cau Viet except work and in your spare time drink beer or fill sandbags.
I was a couple of days late getting to Cau Viet because the river was closed. The YFU I rode up on
was right there but had to anchor out until they declared the river safe. The day I finally got ashore
the fellow I relieved showed me the anemometer, the barometer, the thermometer, the beach, gave me the
duty rifle (an AR15) and said, "Well the boat is about the leave I'll see you around!" It took all of
about 20 minutes. He was not about to hang around there any longer than he had to. The hooch I stayed
in was full of radiomen, stewards mates, a personnel man, and a corpsman. The radiomen worked in the
command bunker right next door or the crypto shack and the stewards mates worked for the Naval Officers
who lived in the hooch on the other side of us.
Cau Viet was a small Marine fire base at the mouth of the Dong Ha river. The LSTs and YFUs would pull in, unload on the concrete ramp, and head back out to sea. The stuff was then loaded on Mike8 and Mike6 boats for a trip up the river. The river had is own security force.
We did not have a chow hall, it had been blown up three times. We were in range of the NVA artillery that was dug into caves just on the other side of the DMZ. They shelled us about 5 to 10 times a week with 155MM shells.
If you did not want to eat C-Rations you could hike over to the Marine Side and eat hot food there. That was a pretty scary thing to do because those guys did not believe in sand bagging anything. All they had was a few pits that you could jump into when incoming artillery arrived.
The first thing I was told when I arrived was how to tell the difference between incoming and outgoing artillery. "If you hear a bang then a whiz then its outgoing, if you hear a whiz and then a bang it incoming."
Well late on the afternoon of the day I arrived I heard this whizzing sound followed by a bang. I yelled 'INCOMING' and ran for the bunker. So did everyone else. Once we were in the bunker someone asked, "Who yelled 'incoming'. I said 'I did.' At that point everyone looked disgusted and started to leave the bunker. It was a well know fact that no one could tell the difference between incoming and outgoing the first day there. The first fellow was just about at the entrance of the bunker when three shells came whizzing over and he was pushed back into the bunker by a new bunch of folks crowding in. From that day on no one ever doubted me when I yelled INCOMING.
Beer drinking was a very popular pastime. We had a club, actually just two hooches that contained together about 6 l ong electric drink coolers. These were the chest type of drink coolers that that were horizontal. After the club closed at night 7:30PM they would fill up all the coolers with beer. The club would open again at 5:30PM the next day, fill up with people and they would proceed to drink all the beer. All the beer was consumed every night.
The only draw back to the club was that the generator was right next door. The generator was a huge diesel engine about the size of a small railroad locomotive so loud you had to yell to be heard. It was so loud that you could not hear the incoming shells. If you were in the club you had to rely on the kindness of someone to come by an yell INCOMING. I got caught one time in the club during incoming. Everything was going along nicely when someone stuck their head in and just said 'incoming'. Well the most amazing sight ensued it sounded like a herd of horses, a rumbling sound and the place was empty. I was sitting there with this one other fellow, we looked at each other and said, "What was that?" We did not even know where everyone went. We sort of crouched down and made our way to the end of the hooch and peeked out looking for a handy bunker. Just as we were getting ready to leave a shell landed outside the hooch a piece of shrapnel hit the fellow I was with in the hand. It was barely a nick but he looked at it and smiled real big and said, "Wow a Purple Heart!".
That same afternoon was when one of the fellows who worked on the Mike-Boats was killed. The Mike-Boats always went seaside for the night. The did, however tie up in the afternoons. Wherever we got incoming before they had a chance to go seaside there was always a mad scramble to get underway. That afternoon a shell exploded on the beach right beside one of the boats and the shrapnel killed a fellow who was casting off and wounded a couple of other fellows. That was the afternoon we all got to see a "Jolly-Green-Giant" really close up. This was a large helicopter with twin turbines that could carry a lot of folks.
About 'the-new-bunker'. We had quite a bit of idle time on our hands and since we were shelled at a fairly regular interval idle time was spent filling sand bags. You can tell by how high the sand bags were stacked around the hooches. The nearest bunker to our hooch was the command bunker. Exit the hooch, turn left go about 6.5 feet and you are in the bunker. The officers who occupied the two hooches just down from ours had their own bunker with lights and everything. The command bunker could get pretty crowded so we decided to build our own bunker in between our hooch and the officer's hooch. We even found some runway matting to put between the layers of sand bags on top of the hooch. These were to detonate any shell that managed to hit square on the top of the hooch. Well we had it all finished and we went down into the bunker and looked back and there was the door opening up to the north, you could see blue sky as clear as day. the first thing everyone said was, "What if a shell came right down the door?". Of course, the probability of such an event was beyond rare, but when you are sitting in a hole listening to shell whistling in you do not think about probabilities. So we added a 'blast-wall' in front of the hooch. That was great except you could see this small sliver of blue sky above the blast wall. Making the wall higher would just make it unstable. So we added a slab of runway matting and loaded it up with sand bags.
The first time we used it a whole bunch of us crowded in and there we were. We had a light bulb and a tiny fan that would exhaust the hot air from the bunker. The first thing that happened was that the generator got knocked out so we were in the dark. The next thing that happened was that a shell hit the security hooch a few hooches down and set that on fire. Well it was full of grenades and other such stuff and with all that cooking off we thought that on of the hooches right next to us had been hit. That night after the shelling was over and we came out of the bunker, I remember sitting on top of a bunker and watching a Navy cruiser shell the DMZ based on where the muzzle flashes were coming from. They could tell that we were getting hit pretty good and even offered to evacuate the base. There was an event that we got to know pretty well called and 'air-burst' that was when a shell went off in the air just after being fired. That night I got to see and hear what what an air burst from 8in shell from an Navy cruiser looked like and sounded like. It was always considered to be correct protocol to yell 'Air-Burst' whenever you saw one of these so folks could take the correct action. I remember seeing that air burst and thinking wow that is pretty. Of course the sound then arrived and everyone else dove for cover and I said, "Air Burst". I got a bit of instruction on when to yell air burst at that time.
Because the shelling was aparently random many theories about when we would get shelled came up. Since we did not have a chow hall we at C-Rations. We had as much as we want to eat. There was not rationing system, if you wanted two cases a day to just pick through and eat what you wanted you could do so.
My favorite C-Ration was a B1A unit. This was a disk of chocolate and a couple of crackers. A short while after arriving I noticed a whole box of cans. I asked what was in these, it must have been something horrible I supposed. I was informed that they contained canned apricots. Well canned fruit was the absolute best thing that could be found in a case of C-Rations. I was told that eating apricots brought on incoming and everyone avoided them.
I am not superstitions so I immediately started eating them. A can of apricots and a B1A unit, food of the Gods! Given that we were constantly snacking it was inevitable that we would get incoming while eating. One afternoon while I was enjoying a B1A unit and a can of apricots we heard a shell coming whistling in and all hauled ass to the command bunker. I took my can of apricots with me. Because there was not much room in the command bunker in the middle of the afternoon I was hanging around the entrance, because our hooch was the closest to the bunker and my bunk was closest to the door I was usually the first one in the bunker. I remember everyone who passed me while I was standing near the entrance of the bunker and looking at what I was eating and then looking at me with a shocked expression. Well after that I had all the apricots I could possibly eat.
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