83rd Laos

 

Actual comments from our members

 
Dennis Donati (70-71)
HQ Battery

"There is an article in the VFW magazine about Operation Lam Son 719. This was when the ARVNs went into Laos to try to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The 108th finally got mentioned in relation to this operation. At the time I don't think we really knew what was going on. At the 1/83 we were told we had to send X number of guys to Quang Tri to be part of a Transportation Company they were putting together to shuttle supplies to Khe Sanh 24/7. As I recall I don't think we were told much beyond that. Mal, Bill were you guys there at the time? Do you remember anything? I know, as paymaster, I had to find some of our guys to pay them. We drove to Quang Tri and started down Hwy 9 for Khe Sanh. I lucked out and found my guys on the road near Vandergrift. I really wanted to see Khe Sanh so I told the guys I would follow them back. They recommended I haul ass back to Quang Tri. Just then we could hear the rounds starting to fall on Khe Sanh. We made it back to Quang Tri but had to stay overnight. We got there just before dark. We found a couple empty bunks and were just opening some Cs when a guy ran in yelling to get to the bunker line. We were being hit. By the time we got there, it was only sporadic fire up and down the line. Mostly outgoing. Never really knew what was going on until later. Much later."

Bill Burke (70-71)
HQ Battery

"At first we weren't going to be involved with the operation, except the MET Section was sent to Vandergrift.  That's probably who you were going to pay. Later, as things were developing, we were alerted that the entire Bn might be moved to the border area.  I went by helicopter up to the area where QL9 crossed into Laos to recon a location for our HQ and HQ Battery. On the way back we stopped by the 108th Gp HQ at Khe Sahn, not right on the airstrip, but on the hill next to it. We did fly over the famous airstrip as we departed for Gia Le.

Of course, we never moved up there. I later went up to visit HQ Battery personnel who were sent up to support the operation, just as you went up to pay them."

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"Adding to my comments about stopping at 108th HQ element:

While on the ground at Khe Sahn, a B-52 strike hit a few kilometers to the west. It was a spectacular and awe inspiring experience, especially since I didn't know it going in. The first sensation I had was the ground vibrating under my boots. A split second later the sound, more like shock waves hit, feeling like punches slamming into my body. It took a few moments to realize what was happening. Looking toward the source of the sound, there huge columns of smoke coming up on the other size of the ridgeline. Now understanding what had happened, I glanced up to see three sets of contrails already miles away and turning to the east. It is something I've never forgotten."

Johnny Cleveland (70-71)
"A" Battery

"I drove a 5-ton from Hue to Vandergriff, hauling ammo and then I took a soldier from the PX to Khe Sanh with supplies to sell to the Arty unit that was there. After the operation was over, we took all the trucks and all the artillery to Hue. Put them on a LST, went down the Coast to Da Nang. That was the last time I was with "A" Battery 1st83rd. I was sent to 1st39th on FSB Barbara."

Sid Johnston (70)
HQ Battery

"It is amazing how memories fade, but here is what I remember.

I worked for Bill Burke in the Fall of 1970 who was then a battalion FDO, although I think he took over HHB right after I left. I had wanted to leave BN FDC for a firing battery (no reflection on Bill--he was great), and the opportunity came to go to C Battery as they detached from 1/83 and went north to join the Lam Song 719 operation. I was the FNG along for the ride, and we road marched up Hwy 1 to Quang Tri and Dong Ha in either late December or early Jan. 71. The Battery went on to C-2, but since I was the expendable new guy (although I had been in country about 6 months) I was attached to 108th Group to support the 2/94 and 8/4 who went as far as Lao Bao, which is right on the Laos border, literally. At the time, there was generally a shortage of Sill trained FDC people, so those of us who were and knew how to fire in batteries did that for those positions that the survey crews had not yet reached. I did check data at Dong Ha for a few days, and then went to a couple of firing batteries, one a 2/94 and maybe an 8/4. One of the batteries that I worked with briefly got hit so badly at one point (withdrawing from either Lang Vei or Lao Bao, I think) that they took nearly 60% casualties, mostly wounded obviously. I think it was the 8/4 unit.


Anyway, nobody seemed to know where I was for a while, including me. I am pretty sure I was the one guy Dennis couldn't find to pay for the last HHB pay period before going on the C Btry morning report. Mail was also a real issue. My parents got several pieces of mail returned to them, one of which I still have that has stamps all over it saying they had tried to deliver to Group, a couple of 2/94 Batteries, an 8/4 and 1/44. I got no mail at all for several weeks. In fact, an aunt got back a package of cookies she had sent. Her comment--you know your cooking is bad when you send it to a soldier in Nam and he sends it back.

Finally got back to C-2 and stayed until we moved to Sally/Rakkasan. I was FDC section chief and went with the two guns we sent to Rakkasan. One thing I do remember distinctly was Dennis Donati bringing pizzas out to us as we got back to the 'civilization' of Sally. I did go on R&R when I was at C-2, but the day I was scheduled to leave, we were taking incoming and the BC would not let the mail chopper land (which was my ride to DaNang). So I wound up taking a jeep and driver with a 50 cal to Dong Ha, and flight from there to Phu Bai, but by then it was too late to get the flight out of DaNang to Sydney. I was hanging around BN HQ whining, and Major Krebs, the S-2 took pity on me and organized another R&R for me, but when I got to Sydney, they had no record of my coming. Turns out that got me almost 2 weeks of R&R, which I of course think I deserved.

By then it was winding down, and I got about 2 weeks early out and went home for about 45 days and then on to Germany with a 155 unit until I got out in April of 1972. Sad thing is I didn't keep any record of the C Battery guys, so I can only remember a very few, but they were a really good bunch. I got my Bronze Star in Germany from the Sergeant Major of 108 Group, who I had gotten to know in those days in Dong Ha, and he remembered me, so that was nice. Loooonnnngggg time ago though."

Wayne Pope (70-71)
"B" Battery

"I read the article in the VFW magazine and thought they had it wrong as to who was there because I thought the 1/83rd guns were there because I was. I must have been one of the X number of guys Dennis refers to.  As I recall we took almost all the 2 Ĺ & 5 ton trucks from Gia Le. As a mechanic I got to pull double duty in that I also drove one of the trucks and my spot was at the end of the convey so that if a truck broke down I tried to fix it and if not hook a tow bar up and pull it. I believe, if my memory still works, that the guns were set up on the south side of the road as I almost missed the turnoff during a night convoy. I remember going by Khe Sanh, Vandergrift and the Rockpile. I wasnít there for the entire operation because I got a drop and went back to Gia Le about 30 days before coming home and I left Vietnam April 4th 1971."

John Ward (70-71)
"HQ" Battery

"In reference to Bill Burke and Dennis Donatiís comments. I was in HQ MET section. I came in country in January 1970 and went immediately to Roy and Tomahawk before falling back to Eagle later in the summer where we got fat and lazy for too long (although we wouldnít have admitted it at the time). If memory serves, about February Ď71 we were forced marched to JJ Carroll where we provided artillery support until about May. I donít recall any of our unit going farther down Hwy 9 to Vandergrift, although it could have happened. By that time we generally saw the futility of trying to provide any meaningful upper air data to FDC without having full radiosonde capability, which we had at Carroll but probably not at Vandergrift. Iím kind of curious now. Maybe a MET unit from another artillery was there.

There were no 1/83 batteries operating out of Carroll at that time, which I think agrees with Bill Burkeís description. We supported some ARVN artillery there, plus others closer to Khe Sahn. Carroll was a mess, being mostly a staging and support area, with a mix of authorities. We would take 5-10 perfunctory rocket or mortar rounds every day, which after a while didnít even cause postponement of shooting hoops or burning shit, which were our only diversions, those and occasional dashes down Hwy 9 to Dong Ha to buy beer and ice.

Regards,
John Ward (70-71) HQ MET"

Ed Note. When I asked John what a "radiosonde" is he followed up with this...

"A radiosonde is an electronic instrument we hang below weather balloons that transmits certain meteorlogic parameters back to the station. It also permits us to automatically track the balloon independent of time of day or cloud conditions. It demands a lot of equipment and support so it was more likely that a MET unit would not be close to the front but be back on some more stable FSB, such as at Carroll rather than Vandegrift.

Times that the powers above sent us MET people out to support artillery on advance bases (such as at Tomahawk) usually turned into a fiasco because we had to visually track the balloon, which often disappeared into a cloud after a couple hundred feet."

 

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