FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: The humor in uniform | Columns

wrote this article 15 years ago. It’s good to start the new year!

This story was told by a naval lieutenant named Harry Hooper. It just shows that even though we can be in combat, there is always humor in uniform!

In mid-September 1966 he was ordered to go to an observation post called Crows Nest. It was on top of the Marble Mountain in southern Vietnam, just south of the Da Nang airstrip.

It was the mission of the Crow’s Nest to protect the airstrip and prevent the Viet Cong from damaging the air-conditioned trailers of the airmen and the fine barracks of the troops by firing rockets or engines at them. This mission was to be accomplished by using artillery fire on any VC (Viet Cong) who had the guts to attack the air base.

Marble Mountain was actually made up of several shafts of spindly rock. The tallest was 105 meters straight out of the sand just west of the South China Sea, and it was on this rock that the crow’s nest was located. The mountain was mostly made of marble but turned to limestone closer to the top.

The entire mountain was full of caves and tunnels. Most were too small for a man to fit in. If it had been possible to saw it in half, it would look like a board eaten by termites!

At the top was an area no more than 20 feet wide and 150 feet long. This was occupied by a wooden platform on which was placed a recoilless rifle of 106 millimeters.

The plan was that whenever the VC fired rockets at the airstrip, they would be immediately engaged by the 106 and the forward observer, Lt. Hooper, would send a shooting mission to an artillery battalion, which would do then detonate the VC in question.

Life on the Crow’s Nest was not bad. There were eight Marines there and the days were spent eating, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and listening to a tape recorder, which only contained a single Beatles tape.

The 106 had a .50 caliber rifle on top of the weapon. It was called the minor caliber. The shooter, when he found the target with the minor caliber, shouted, “Shoot the major caliber.” The recoilless rifle blast was the snap of fate, and the difference between the two rifles was the difference between a hand grenade and an atomic bomb!

One of the issues with eight Marines on a small lot was the sanitation issue on the ground. This had been temporarily resolved by placing a 106 ammo box with a suitable hole drilled over a tree in the limestone, which was at least 12 to 15 feet down.

He appeared to tilt to the side after that and was suspected of sinking deep into the mountain.

By relieving itself of C rations washed down with beer, the digestive tract produced a product that resounded with a splash as it sank into the abyss of the pit. Over time, the crow’s nest, especially at night, smelled like sewage. Lieutenant Hooper, as a brand new second lieutenant, resolved to solve this problem.

He contacted the suppliers and asked for gasoline so that the offending material could be incinerated. The refueling helicopter finally arrived with its cargo net containing four cans of diesel fuel.

As soon as the cans were unloaded, the ammunition box was removed and 20 gallons of diesel fuel poured into the pit. With great impatience, a match was then launched… and nothing happened. Other matches were lit and thrown, but to no avail. The diesel fuel just wouldn’t ignite.

The disappointment was obvious. The air officer was called, and he explained that helicopters didn’t like to carry gasoline cans as a spark could cause them to explode during transport and thus a helicopter, with its crew, would be destroyed.

After much chatting and telling the pilot that it was now a troop welfare issue, they agreed to try again with gasoline this time.

The following week, the helicopter arrived with 25 gallons of gasoline which, when poured in, mixed with the diesel, which had accumulated during the previous week’s effort.

It was late afternoon. The sea breeze was blowing from the South China Sea, rustling the hair on everyone’s heads, which was already tinged with excitement.

Rather than a match, a flare grenade was to be thrown into the hole. A volunteer agreed to take action and pulled the pin on the grenade. The device was thrown into the hole.

Dead silence. Then the mountain began to shiver then to vibrate then a great roar split the silence of the afternoon. Flame erupted from the mouth of the pit like a mighty tongue, and to everyone’s amazement, more explosions roared from the mountain sides like fumaroles over the cone of an erupting volcano. It was Vesuvius, Krakatau and Pinatubo united in one.

The radio immediately turned on with the battalion headquarters located about three miles away, wanting to know the nature of the calamity. Flames and smoke, they said, were coming from all over the mountain. They asked for information on what was going on!

It was quickly reported that the PO was safe and that they were just doing a little housekeeping and sanitation on the grounds.

The air smelled of burnt petroleum products. By dusk the fire was out and the opening again sported the ammo box with the hole in it.

Still more humor in uniform, even in the midst of the Vietnam War 50 years ago!

Jerry Hogan is a former Rockwall County judge and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. He can be reached at [email protected] or 214-394-4033.