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Khe Sahn - Dust My men and I were always nervous about the inevitable necessity of manning our exposed gun turrets during one of these barrages should the base come under ground assault.

Duster and Quad 50 crews were restricted from routine H&I fire missions to avoid being targeted by the surrounding NVA artillery pieces dug into the hills. Although we had more than a normal supply of ammunition for all of our weapons, our tenuous circumstance dictated that we conserve ammunition in the event resupply became impossible. We relied heavily on the big 175mm guns at Camp Carroll and the Rockpile to lay in their fire missions at predetermined coordinates and suspected NVA positions. Our guns fired only at identified targets of opportunity, or in support of friendly operations around the perimeter.

On one sunny morning around mid-March, Duster squad leader Sergeant James "Smitty" Smith and I were scanning the plateau with our binoculars when we spotted movement at the edge of the ravine about a mile in front of our Duster position. We watched and waited to confirm what had appeared to be an NVA soldier�s pith helmet moving back and forth just beyond the drop-off to the Rao Quan River ravine. The soldier, who evidently thought he was hidden from view, presented an inviting target, and we knew there had to be a concentration of NVA troops at that spot.

I made a decision to engage the target before they had a chance to disperse. Sergeant Smith and I quietly alerted two crew members, and we slipped aboard the Duster to man the twin 40mm guns. We carefully traversed the turret and elevated the guns to engage the last known position of the target. When the helmet reappeared we fired and laid approximately eighty to one hundred rounds directly on the target area, obliterating everything within a 100-meter radius. The dry brush burned for several hours reminding us that at least one of our enemies from the north would not be zeroing in on us ever again!

Throughout late February and March, the NVA answered the air bombardment with daily barrages from artillery dug into the hills surrounding the combat base. On some days the base would receive a thousand rounds or more, with an average of two thousand five hundred rounds per week. Morale remained miraculously high, however, considering the circumstances. My men and I were always nervous about the inevitable necessity of manning our exposed gun turrets during one of these barrages should the base come under ground assault. In addition, we faced the prospect of defending against the Soviet PT-76 tanks that had been deployed to overrun the nearby Special Forces camp at Lang Vei in early February.

 

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