Smitty Steps Up (continued)
Sinking Into the Soft Soil of LZ Susan
Margo had been impossible to dig into. Your best bet was to try to find a bomb crater to huddle in.
But when we lifted from LZ Margo onto LZ Susan on September 19, we found the opposite problem. It was easy to scoop gun pits, ammo pits, trash pits and fighting holes in the soft soil we found there. It was easy to fill our sandbags too. Just scrape your entrenching tool across the ground and a satisfying mound of dirt was ready to load into your bag.
Life is good when you can dig in.
Mortar pit on LZ Susan soon after the platoon landed. The gun hasn't fired yet from this spot. If it had, every round would have sunk the baseplate another inch into the soil. After 15 rounds, guns were pounded in so deep they had to be dug out and re-seated on fresh soil. Photo by Alan Green.
And then rain came, and the soil softened into mud.
And we discovered that every time we fired a mortar round, the recoil drove the baseplate an inch into the soil. After 15 rounds it was time to pull up the gun, shovel in some dirt, pack it down and try again.
The platoon fired more than 80 separate missions -- high explosive, illumination and white phosphorus -- from the spongy ground. Instead of the whang! of baseplate rebounding off rock that we heard on Margo, Susan gave us a whud! as each baseplate was driven into the dirt.
The rain seeped into our fighting holes too, along the section of the lines manned by the 81s platoon, and added a clammy malaise to the days on Susan.
In World War I the soldiers suffered from trench foot. We had jungle rot, the catch-all term for nasty stuff that likes to grow on wet, dirty skin.
Cpl Fritz Torrey was a cheerful presence on LZ Susan, who helped lift the spirits of the platoon after Margo. In combat, good NCOs like Fritz showed leadership under adversity and still found time for humor. Photo courtesy of Eric Smith.
But Cpl Fritz Torrey loudly broke the spell for the 81s platoon by proclaiming in a midwest twang, "Boys, home is where you waller!"
And waller we did, but we laughed while we did it.