From: STUART STEINBERG
Here's the Davis chapter.
Chapter __: Fire Support Davis
How I Almost Got Blown Up and Lived to Tell About It
Like the ammo dump incident when I was blown out of the truck by the mortar round that wasnt a dud, the matter of Fire Support Base Davis has never been far from my thoughts. Mainly because, by all fair standards, I should be dead and not writing this. Fire Support Davis was an abandoned French outpost located in mountains bordering the north side of the A Shau Valley and, literally, in the middle of nowhere. The only way in and out was by helicopter. It was one fucked up place.
On January 24, 1970, Jim Qualls and I were picked up by a 101st chopper at 7:30 AM and flown to Fire Base Currahee, located on the floor of the A Shau Valley There, we joined D Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, Pathfinders from the 160th Aviation Battalion, combat engineers from the 326th Engineer Battalion, and an artillery unit from the 101st.
Currahee was another one of those fire bases in the A Shau where the enemy can, and did, attack at will with artillery, rockets and mortars, as well as ground attacks. Looking at all of the troops, choppers of all sizes, the artillery pieces and huge slingloads of artillery projectiles waiting to be lifted into the air, I felt a little naked with all of those ready-made targets within close proximity to my body. I hoped the NVA were still having their morning tea and reading the Hanoi Post.
After several days of prepping the area with B-52 strikes and artillery, which, of course, radioed the enemy that we were coming, the combat assault prepared to liftoff and Qualls and I checked our gear and weapons one last time. Jim had an M-16 and I had my CAR-15, which was an M-16 with a collapsing stock, short barrel and longer flash suppressor. I had gotten it from a MACV advisor during my tour in Qui Nhon when I was at LZ English. I think I traded a Browning .45 pistol for it, which I had recovered during an arms cache removal in the An Lao Valley.
It was what they call an artillery raid. Fly in fast and hard, infantry secures the LZ, big birds lower the big guns and ammo, and then they set up and shoot the shit out of everything for miles around. And, oh yeah, this was an area permeated by NVA soldiers who had their own artillery and mortars. Jim Qualls and I were in the lead chopper with a team of Pathfinders from the 160th Aviation Group, and the D Company commander, CPT Dwight Walhood. I tracked Dwight down a couple of years ago and his memories of the Davis raid were as clear as mine and he completely remembered what happened to me that day.
Behind us in the second chopper was a team of combat engineers from B Company, 326th Engineers. The Pathfinders job was to set up the lower LZ, where all the Hueys would land after dropping their troops, after we had cleared it. The engineers would blow any abandoned ordnance we found and, as I will explain in detail, there was a shitload of it, left behind by the ARVNS, who had both previously occupied this little hellhole. No big surprise, there.
We were in the first ships to hit the ground, at 9:00 AM, while the rest of the assault, numbering dozens of Hueys, Cobra gunships and Chinooks with 105mm and 155mm howitzers slung beneath them, hovered and circled overhead as the main infantry assault hit the upper level of the LZ, between 9:04 9:08 AM. The artillery pieces and their ammunition started coming in at 9:10 AM. Qualls and my task was to sweep a large area on the lower level of the LZ, which had been cleared by the air strikes. It was on a flat plain below a hill where the infantry and artillery were setting up.
Our chopper and the second chopper landed near one edge of the clearing and Qualls and I, the team of Pathfinders and the engineers got out. Qualls told the Pathfinders to stay put while he and I swept the perimeter. We separated and each of us went in a different direction around the perimeter. Almost as soon as we began, I called to Qualls that I had found what was known as a diamond mine marker.
This was five stones set on an ammo can top, one in each compass position with a stone in the middle. The VC and NVA used this marker to show their friends that there were four mines or booby traps around the perimeter, one generally at each compass position, and one in the middle. Sometimes, though, it was clear that the enemy didnt know their compass points. Qualls and I decided to find the one in the center of the LZ and we began to sweep across the area about 100 feet apart.
As I neared a point about two-thirds of the way across the clearing, I stopped because I thought I saw something in the tree line about seventy meters in front of me. I set down my demolitions bag and removed my rucksack and laid them on the ground after checking the immediate area. I flipped the safety off on my CAR-15, made sure that it was on full automatic and cradled it in my hands, finger on the trigger.
As I peered into the tree line, I began to feel something moving under my left foot. I looked down and noticed that there was movement in the dirt directly under, and in front of, my foot. I called to Jim that I was standing on something and that it was moving. I pulled my knife from my hip and, bending from the waist, began to carefully turn over the dirt directly in front of my foot. I saw a piece of black communications wire and realized that it was being slowly pulled away from me.
I grabbed the wire with one hand, pointing my rifle at the treeline, and pulled it toward me, getting a lot of resistance at the other end. At that moment, I saw an NVA regular in the tree line with the wire in his hands. I pulled out my side-cutters and cut the wire, hoping the whatever was buried in the ground I was standing on did not contain some kind of collapsing circuit.
I opened fire on the tree line and threw a red smoke grenade, alerting the assault to the enemy presence. Several Cobra gunships flew in and fired up the tree line with high explosive and white phosphorous rounds. The Pathfinders closed in on the enemy position and killed two NVA regulars, the second apparently there to provide cover for the man trying to kill me and Qualls and everyone else in the vicinity.
It turned out that I was standing on top of a 155mm high explosive artillery projectile rigged with a Chinese pull friction fuse and five other blasting caps that were packed in C-3 that had been pushed inside the fuse opening. The 155 HE round contains about eleven pounds of TNT, if I remember correctly. The commo wire was attached to the fuse at two of the blasting caps pull rings and I realized at that moment that the enemy soldier had been trying to detonate the booby trap while I was standing directly over it.
This would also have destroyed the two choppers nearby and, no doubt, have killed both Jim Qualls and me and injured the Pathfinders, the engineers and chopper crews. I brushed the dirt off the mine, checked under it for secondary devices, disarmed it, then moved on to complete my task. I received a Bronze Star with V Device for Heroism for the incident at FSB Davis.
For some reason, I never gave this incident much thought at the time and when Qualls and I got back to the unit, I never mentioned it anyone else. In fact, I had no idea that Jim had put me in for an award until March 1971 when, stationed with the 67th EOD in Ravenna, Ohio, my then CO told me I was getting some kind of award from Vietnam. Some Colonel, I think from 5th Army, came to the unit with a photographer and presented me with the medal.
A lot of my friends in EOD think I got fucked on this award and should have gotten something higher. Heres the device and how it was placed. These are Qualls and my technical drawings for this from this incident.
According to the Daily Staff Journal for the 2nd of the 506th about what Jim Qualls and I found during the entire operation at Davis, CPT Walhood reported to his battalion Tactical Operations Center the following:
At YD 255289, FSB Davis, D/2/506 reported [that EOD found] one modified 155 r[oun]d [with] a C-4 explosive device at its head and a Chi[nese] Com[munist] push-pull firing device rigged as a booby trap. Additionally they found [forty-seven] 40mm M-79 [grenades that were] dud rounds, [ten] 57mm canister and HE recoilless rifle rounds, two 60mm and one-hundred 81mm rounds, fifty M15 anti-personnel mines, four M14 Thermite grenades, one M34 white phosphorus frag grenades, one M26 frag grenade, one M18A1 Claymore [anti-personnel mine] facing up the hill, and four M72 LAW [66mm anti-tank rockets].
` This was what we had taken care of in approximately four hours, since CPT Walhood made this report at 1:00 PM. You have to understand what was extremely fucked up about the situation regarding all of the ordnance we found after disarming the booby trap. This was all ordnance left behind from some previous incursion into this shithole by South Vietnamese units that simply abandoned it because they were too lazy to take it out and didn't destroy it, in the alternative.
How the NVA had never found all of these things and used them against US soldiers in the A Shau Valley is hard to understand. Unless, of course, there had originally been much more of this crap left behind and the enemy came in and took what they wanted as the need arose. Now how fucked up is that?
At 1:45 PM, while sweeping the west side of the upper LZ, Jim and I discovered a triangular sign marked, M-I-N, a South Vietnamese Army minefield warning. It was just nailed to a tree with no clue as to where the mines actually were. CPT Walhood requested from his superiors that the whole area be nuked with napalm after we were lifted out. They said they couldn't do for this for two more days, meaning that all of the ordnance we found and the minefield would be waiting to be picked clean after we left.
At 4:45 PM, as we cleared the final area near where the extraction would take place, we discovered two booby-trapped 81 mm high explosive mortar rounds rigged with trip wires. According to CPT Walhoods report, They were deactivated and destroyed. Because all of the old ordnance we had discovered could not be immediately destroyed, we got the 326th engineers to help us crate it all up in empty artillery projectile boxes, loaded it on a Chinook and flew it into an open area caused by the air strikes the previous two days. We piled everything up, set charges using C-4 and det cord. We didn't cap and fuse it until just before we were extracted.
At 5:23 PM, we lifted off with the Chinook following us and landed back at Currahee at 5:30. Just before leaving Davis, we pulled the shot we had set for all of the found ordnance except the eleven cases of 57 mm recoilless rifle rounds, which we took back to Phi Bai and destroyed in our demo area the next day. Just as we were circling Currahee to land, the shot at Davis went off and you could see the plume of debris, smoke and a fireball from the blast rising into the air above the A Shau.
Just so you know, after CPT Walhood reported what we had found by 1:00 PM, during our continuing sweep with the engineers, we found an additional nineteen loose 57 mm rounds; six more 60 mm mortar rounds; another Claymore, also pointed uphill at the LZ and rigged with a trip wire; 1000 thirty-caliber rifle rounds; 2000 M60 machine gun rounds, still linked together; three more Thermite grenades; four smoke grenades; and sixteen more anti-tank rockets.
From our cursory investigation of a small section of the Vietnamese army minefield, we estimated that there could be as many as 100 booby-trapped 81 mm mortar rounds in an area about the size of a baseball diamond. This was the Wal-Mart of American ordnance and the enemy were the ones looking for the Blue Light Special.