One Good Deal After Another (continued)
Stairway to the Stars
The next significant event, this one reported in the chronology, was not good news.
At 1900 on the 19th, Captain Stan Hartman’s Fox Company, climbing the eastern finger, received 3 rounds of incoming friendly 105 mm artillery fire. The rounds had fallen far short of the intended target while the battery’s other rounds had hit the target. Unlike the harmless LZ Margo “Spooky” incident, friendly fires are usually a tragedy. This one was no exception.
Fox suffered 2 KIA and 4 WIA. The artillery piece was sent from the fire support base to the Force Logistics Command in Danang for inspection as part of the investigation. There, it was determined that the artillery piece’s tube was not 105 mm but through usage had been worn to 107mm. Propellant gases escaped through the 2 mm gap to the point that the rounds went a shorter distance than expected. Why that faulty tube was not discovered sooner will remain a mystery.
Just after LZ Margo, Captain Stan Hartman's Fox Company lost two Marines to friendly fire. Detail from a photo by Terry Arndt.
A few days later, unreported in the chronology, was Golf’s Lieutenant Riordan reporting on the battalion tactical net that he was standing on, “the stairway to the stars.” The NVA had cut a stairway in the last part of the ridgeline leading up to the crest of the finger. The stairway even had a bannister made of bamboo.
That was only the beginning. Upon further examination of the nearby area, Golf and maybe one or more of the others found what the NVA was trying to defend … an area of well built bunkers with running water (pipelines made of bamboo) and equipment indicating a fairly large field hospital. The patients had been removed. Despite the fact that they could not have been taken very far, we never found them.
I have often thought about whether or not the patients had been the “enemy” involved in what was supposed to have been the 14 September attack on Hotel Company during the first climb up the two fingers. If so, the NVA warrant officer prisoner was not just a deserter. He was also a traitor who had set up his own comrades for death. We will never know but it has never seemed likely that they had moved their wounded from the field hospital downhill toward us. The chronology does not report the finding of a field hospital. However, it does include two or three entries that could have been the hospital, an installation that would have taken a day or so to identify.
The next several days involved the Companies F, G, and H along with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines (during the Vietnam War given the nickname and to this day known as the “Walking Dead”), searching the high ground and encountering small, scattered NVA units; vacant bivouac areas; bunkers, some of which had been recently occupied; ammunition storage bunkers and other signs of recent NVA activity.
For unknown reasons, the Significant Events portion of the September chronology ends on 26 September. There were, however, three significant events before the end of the month.
On 28 September, Lieutenant Riordan’s tour of duty in Vietnam came to an end the good way.
He turned command of G Company over to First Lieutenant Pete Post and in splendor, rode a battered, dirty, bullet holed Marine helicopter on the first leg of his trip back to “the world.”
Lt Bob Riordan turned over command of Golf Company after LZ Margo to Lt Pete Post. Courtesy of Bob Riordan.