JACK W. SERIG, Sr.
"Rat Pack 16" 10/66-3/67
THE SAGA OF THE EXPLODING TOILET
By Jack W. Serig, Sr.
Published in LOGBOOK, a tri-annual publication of the Army Otter-Caribou Association.
This story is about Viet Cong sapper attacks.
In mid-1962 the 18th Aviation Company (Otter Aircraft) home base at Nha Trang, South Vietnam, came under night attack from a Viet Cong sapper unit believed to be quartered somewhere west of Nha Trang.
It is almost inconceivable that the maintenance crews of the 18th, working under bright night-lights on the east side of the airfield, came away unscathed. The entire company (-) didn’t get any sleep that night as they occupied their perimeter defensive positions awaiting whatever the enemy decided to throw their way. Fortunately, the only loss suffered by the 18th’ soldiers that night was lack of sleep.
My second ‘Nam assignment, in December ’66, put me back at the same airfield in Nha Trang with the 281st Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) which supported the 5th Special Forces Group on the west side of the airfield.
In mid-67 the sapper unit attacked, again at night, destroying four Hueys and putting eight more out of commission for extensive repairs. The only thing that saved our crews from the automatic weapons fire and a shoulder-mounted RPG-7 rocket attack, was their poor aim and a fence post that deflected the rocket aimed at the doorway as our troops were exiting to take up defensive positions. The rocket round ricocheted harmlessley into the barrack’s roof eaves in lieu of exploding into its intended target of troops exiting the second-story billet area.
The following sapper-attack story, which occurred about the same time in ’67, was related to me by a Chief Warrant Officer Drummond, an Army pilot. He was assigned to an 0-1 “Birddog” aviation unit supporting the III Tactical Corps at Nha Trang, when the action supporting this story unfolded.
I visited Drummond’s unit at their villa for several reasons. First, their villa had been attacked, by sappers, with a grenade and I was curious to learn the facts as senior pilots in my 281st AHC unit were also living in a villa, nearby. Also, I wanted to meet Drummond because I had heard humorous stories, over the years, about his brother “Ace” Drummond, also an Army pilot.
This drama is about two of the 0-1 pilots in Drummond’s unit, drinking late at night in their villa and how one of them probably saved his villa-mate from serious or fatal injury from an enemy grenade explosion. The story also exemplifies the dangers all military personnel faced in South Vietnam from terrorists’ units and Vietcong sappers that struck quickly and sometimes deadly.
Although serious consequences could have evolved, the story is written in a light-hearted, sometimes humorous manner, as there were no injuries and the principal character was a braggadocio fellow-until it really counted, when he showed his true mettle.
The city of Nha Trang was one of the best-kept secrets of the Vietnam struggle. One never heard or read very much about this lovely, tranquil city several flight hours up the coast from Saigon---several flight hours south from Da Nang---the latter two from which constant wartime news was initiated.
The much-heralded Cam Rahn Bay Air Base was about a forty-five minute jeep ride south if one was willing to risk the potential for ambush.
Nha Trang had been a French-styled seaside resort area, with French colonial architecture prominent along the wide, palm and tree-lines boulevard, which separated the buildings from the white-sanded beach lining the South China Sea to the immediate east. A few miles distant to the west, a moderately high mountain range, steep and jungled, blocked out the western horizon. A narrow strip of river curved lazily between the mountain and the western edge of the city.
Vietnamese and French-built villas were prevalent, mixed in among the colonial architecture of the more prominent government buildings along the beachfront, continuing westbound for several blocks inland from the water’s edge. There was a pleasant mix of restaurants interspersed among the buildings, whose food all GI’s found agreeable to the palate and a necessary respite from the messhall chow. Good French wine and Bami Ba beer were reasonably priced, as was the food.
Many of the villas were rented by the various services’ logisticians to house the vastly growing numbers of U.S. and Allied Forces personnel, especially when III Corps headquarters and its support elements, and growing numbers of aviation units were assigned to make this exotic location their home. Nha Trang was a 24-hour R&R paradise. Nice town, quiet people. Beachfront, swimming, sunning and snorkeling---an ideal isolation from the war zones our aviation personnel flew into daily from the local air base located on the city’s western side.
Personnel assigned to the villas would ante up several dollars each month and hire Vietnamese mamasohns to perform household chores---cleaning, cooking, laundry, shopping, and other tasks.
In one such villa lived a group of army fliers assigned to an aviation company of 0-1 “Birddogs”, a tandem cockpit, single engine Cessna, which served as command/control, artillery observation and fire direction. Pilots of this aircraft were able to identify enemy targets with their beneath-the-wings missiles for air strikes and other missions. When I visited CWO Drummond and others at their villa one evening in mid-1967, this is one of the stories they related about their close encounter with villa-style combat.
One of the pilots was an outgoing, loud, rambunctious, hell-raising type who kept everyone in their unit on their toes by his wild actions and wilder stories. He was, admittedly, a great booster of local and unit morale. As often happens among buddies when finished with a long day, they downed a few cocktails or beers in the early evening. If an individual had to fly the next day, he was honor-bound to limit his drinking. If not, and could sleep in, he might imbibe to a greater degree.
One such evening, our hell-raiser and a close flying buddy, having no flights scheduled for the next day, decided to drink on into the night. “Loudmouth” was as gregarious and fun loving as ever. The problem with “Loudmouth”, because of his persistent manner to magnify the truth and to cut-up, no one know when he was serious or when he could be believed. On this particular night all of the villa’s flyers had been in their sacks for some time. “Loudmouth” and friend, hollering out wild stories to each other between gulps of lightly-diluted whiskey, were having a close-to-drunk blast.
“Loudmouth’s” buddy got up to freshen his drink, passing near where his friend sat, close to a wooden dining table. “Loudmouth”, even in his near-inebriated state and blurry vision, was suddenly alerted to something that was changing and electrifying the room’s atmosphere.
“Loudmouth” screamed: “GRENNAAADDEEE!”---simultaneously sobering and leaping at his buddy, who thought: “Loudmouth” must be playing one of his many formidable capers.” Knocking his buddy to the floor “Loudmouth” , with sudden and sober quickness, seized the small, round, metal object, smartly tossing it through the open door of the downstairs bathroom. “Loudmouth” jumped on top of his friend to protect him. The object he had retrieved and thrown, bounded off the bathroom wall and landed perfectly within the water-filled toilet---“BULLSEYE!”
The explosion was deafening. It shook the two-story villa as if it had been hit by an artillery round. When the explosion subsided, “flyboys” erupted from the bedrooms on both floors in all sorts of combat-undress holding on to whatever weapons they had at their immediate disposal.
Their first task---to determine where the probable enemy was, set up a defensive perimeter and engage the unknown enemy, if necessary. The villa gendarmes found no enemy in the immediate environs of their war-scarred home.
Next priority---attend the wounded. “Loudmouth” was OK. His buddy, still beneath him, was slowly coming to his senses and hollered at “Loudmouth”: “Get the hell off me!” “Loudmouth” was happy to hear his friend’s response. The kid had taken a shot on the head from the edge of the dining table as he was falling, while being tackled by his quick-to-sober friend. His head wound wasn’t serious and would soon heal. No other soul was hurt in the blast, but the toilet could not be identified. It was klobbered-in-action. The wounded water pipe, which fed the toilet, was bleeding water profusely from its severed wound. The PLUMBER EMERGENCY MEDEVAC UNIT was called and the bloodied water pipe was finally medicated and brought under control toward the wee hours of the morning.
WHERE HAD THE GRENADE COME FROM?
The backside of the villa could be reached by sampan where the canal water behind the villa lapped up against the building’s concrete foundation. Protective chicken-wire fencing had been placed around the outside of the porch to protect the building’s occupants from enemy sappers or terrorists from just such an attack that had occurred. However, there was one small opening in the protective wire where a concreted gutter, a few inches lower than the porch floor level, allowed water to be broom-swept into the canal when the villa’s porch was being cleaned. It was through this small opening that a sapper, in a sampan, had rolled a grenade with strength enough to reach within range of “Loudmouth” and his buddy.
“Loudmouth’s” popularity with his unit soared even higher as a result of his heroic actions in protecting his buddy and villa-mates without regard to his own life. But only as “Loudmouth” could jokingly say it, his very own title to the story that you’ve just read, would probably be: “THE SAGA OF THE SAPPER’S CRAPPER.”