SGT Joe Sleevi


LZ Bridget
I started my tour with A 2/9th in December 1968 on LZ Bridget.  The BC at the time, Capt John Williams, asked all the guys with a Commo MOS if they wanted to go out in the field.  I volunteered and I think Sgt Winnow did near the same time. I spent a lot of time in the FDC those first few months.  It was such an education for me, and Bridget was a slow FireBase.  My first FO was Lt (Gilbert) Atha, and to be sure, he taught me a lot.

The Chu Pa Campaign
The four FO's for the CHU PA campaign were Lt (Gilbert) Atha, Lt (Hermie) Rucker, Lt (Richard) Baumgartner, and one who  was missed, and was very well respected...His name is Lt Pierce(Pearce).  He was there for all of 1969 up to at least August 1969.  I went to the rear and Cam Ranh Bay with him. He insisted that I stay in the Officers Quarters with him and have a few at the Officers Club. I asked him why he was going to Australia instead of Hong Kong, and he said  "Because I am an Officer and a gentleman".  He asked why Hong Kong for me and I said "Because I am not an officer and a gentleman.".  Lt Pierce was a very good FO.  When asked by the FDC on LZ Tommie during the Chu Pa fighting, "Was that last round still 'Danger Close' ??"  Lt Pierce responded, "I don't know exactly how close it was, but my air mattress is 50 feet in the air."

LZ Round Bottom: My first experience with an FO Party
In hindsight, we never really knew what a firebase had in store for any of us artillery and infantry guys. We were on the very bottom of the pecking order, and I believe if we could just do our job, any firebase in Vietnam would be just as good as the next one. My best guess has always been that both of these combat fighting elements really wanted one big thing though.
We learned the hard way, and we learned it fast, that we needed "clear fields of fire". For the artillery, it just seemed like common sense; for the Infantry, no matter where they were inserted and told to dig in, they were expected to "make do".

LZ Round Bottom just never made the grade. It was not at all a decent size, and that means we were building the perimeter bunkers in drop-offs of the terrain of the hill. It was the only place I have been on that the old axiom "spread out, one round could get us all" rang true. All the 1st of the 14th Units were off of the Chu Pa, and after a short time on Mary Lou, B 1st14th ended up with the A 2/9th on LZ Round Bottom, my first week as a Recon Sgt.  Looking back, the probe of Round Bottom began on the night of the 23rd February. Not much overhead cover was available for anyone except for the grunt bunkers which were really no more than machine gun firing positions. I was sleeping in a huge hole which was dug to hold the FDC of the 105's. Any other gun pits there were a mess I am sure.  Near midnight, the NVA let loose with a quick barrage of 60MM mortars.  Those rounds landed outside the wire, but someone was sure they were on target because the NVA hung all the rounds without any interruption. I watched the show from very near the FDC CONEX, and that was the only contact that night.

 I knew the 2/9th was moving out the next day, and I was not going with them. My FO was what we would later call "hardcore".  So were all the "B" Company officers; I thought there was nothing more to worry about. The 2/9th was lifted out, and it just seemed to be a mess....dirt, sandbags, tree limbs, all flying thru the air for the whole day.  Later that day, two dozen more rounds of 60mm came in and then it was just "B" Company left to move. It was now the third day of this crap, and the "slicks" were lined up to come in and pick up the first two platoons:, Tailgunner and Bomber.   I can still see that "one-legged chicken" mascot, pride of one of the platoons, hopping along some overhead cover. That left the Navigator and Loadmaster, the mortar platoon, left on Round Bottom. The FO party was going to leave with the choppers after "Loadmaster" was lifted off. We had already moved lots of their ammo. The first two platoons went off without a hitch, and I know we were starting to relax a bit. The last bit of overhead cover was a small bunker for the mortar ammo and some  of the M60 firing positions. Everything else was just a hole and some sandbags.

It always seemed like slow-motion the next few minutes. This time around the NVA were using deadly accuracy with those 60mm mortars.  Our little firebase lit up with the first half dozen rounds: two rounds to the M60 position, two near the mortar crew, and two just in front of the FO Party.  Then the whole firebase was lit up with those mortars. The FO Lieutenant and I were separated, but I ended up with the radio. The concussion blew over us, but stunned some grunts and me at the same time. I could hear the other rounds being "hung" and got ready for round two. A grunt medic came to us and said no one was visibly hit, but for sure shocked us from those rounds.  We were lucky to land in a 105mm powder pit.

Loadmaster (mortar platoon) asked for a direction and range, and then let go with the last of their HE rounds.  He then said, "What next?" and I just said shoot whatever you have left, but have the grunts shoot into the tops of the trees. It was great to see that they were so accurate shooting at the 60mm bad guys. I learned from the FDC days and other FO's to suspect they had their own spotter tied up to a high tree.

I don't know why the 105's on LZ Brillo Pad didn't come up.  I always assumed it was just because they were shooting another fire mission and didn't know how bad this last platoon and the mortars were getting hit. Captain Williams got on the horn and asked about our situation, and I said fine except that rat-hole of a fire base was shot to shit from those mortars. I don't know how many rounds landed, maybe two dozen, but we had a short lull.  The Listening Posts (LPs) came in, and we regrouped.  The mortar guys, I am, sure got a kick out of me not wanting to let the gooks know we were out of ammo. They did shoot almost all they had except for a few illumination rounds.

From out of nowhere, this very officious voice says to me on the Redleg tactical channel, "Club 59er, this is Bird-dog such and such, can we offer you some assistance?" If there was ever a time in my tour that I was really surprised, this was it. I asked him what he could deliver, and how soonThat spotter came back and said we are in the area now; it will be very big and very fast.  I quickly gave him a direction, and just asked him to drop it in the flat area of the ravine to our north.  Then, two minutes later, he says keep your head down.  Then, there were two big explosions in the draw....right on target !!! What a feeling of relief. The birddog left the area, and I couldn't thank him enough. There wasn't any reason now to leave the Firebase with us on it.  The choppers came in for the wounded, the rest got bandaged and stayed in place, and we then left for I believe LZ Alamo and split up with the mortars, and the rest of "B" Company.

In hindsight again, I knew those 60mm mortars were a real nuisance to a fully built out firebase.  But I now had new respect for them with what they could to a place with no overhead cover, and an area half the size of a football field.  We were all lifted off with no other trouble.  The FO and I never spoke about it again. After what he'd been thru on the Chu Pa, this must have been just "one more day in the Nam."

Three days of hard work by "B" Company 1st/14th and "A" Battery 2/9th Artillery are condensed into two short pages here. I am sure I have left something out of this excursion on LZ Round Bottom. It was a lesson for me my first few days out.  "On any given day, and on any given ground, the NVA/VC can challenge you at any time they choose." It took nearly 50 mortar rounds, placed right down our throats,  to teach us that lesson.

The Recon Platoon, who were the "stay behind" force,  later told us that they found a hard line from the tree line to a place down in the valley that were the firing positions for the NVA.  Maybe it was just dumb luck for us that we got off that place with less wounded. Maybe just dumb luck that Bravo 1st14th had some help from "wingman" for a day!!!!

First week in the FO Party, first 60mm mortars, first air support, first 'solo' adjusting our mortars, first 'dry-mouth' fear response...... This episode doesn't compare to other 'first's', but it has never left me.

OJT: Learning FDC Procedures From Scratch  
My only understanding of Vietnam was the quiet initiation on LZ Bridget...Time seemed to just stand still and wait for us to do something. I spent all my energy learning about the operation of the FDC...I met many of the 'gun-bunnies', but the FDC was a slightly different group.

The days were always a fairly strict routine...starting with the MET REPORT at 0530 in the morning, checking the generators at first light, checking the batteries that ran those AN/ 46 radios, and going to the mess tent for first coffee. The Mess Sgt never minded serving the FDC late breakfast and many times brought us a late sandwich during a long fire mission.

We worked fairly narrow shifts, and the job that really got to me the most was checking and starting the generators at midnight. I used to dream up all kinds of ghosts and bad guys being able to see me turn on the flashlight near the generator bunker and then getting my ass shot off. I was scared to death that the generator wouldn't start on the first pull... I got so good at it in the dark, that I could wrap the starter cord and pull the generator in pitch dark most of the time. If our 12 volt lights in the CONEX would start to dim early, then we knew someone was bootlegging a line from our generator to a portable tape player somewhere. The bootleg line were mostly to an Infantry bunker somewhere.

Most of us in the FDC were always awake for a "contact fire mission" there was just too much to learn, and too much at stake. The CONEX was for a main chart, and a check chart, a place for FADAC, one guy on the "sticks", and standing room only for the Battery Commander, and the doorway kneeling for observers. If we were observing, we seldom spoke, and only ran errands. When we were on the charts, the talk was usually very crisp and no vague comments.

I spent most of my time learning and re-learning radio procedure, maps, charts and check charts, range and deflection. I learned mills and azimuth, degrees and direction.  Did we have "Scorpions", "Ladies", "Tigers" all over Vietnam...I never knew, I thought it was just us 2/9th units. Not many people reference them in their definitions of code words for Vietnam era artillery.

Working With The LRRPs
The LRRP's really taught me the meaning of accuracy....they didn't exactly give us always a perfect location for their team, and they adjusted the rounds in smaller increments. Many times they used a "right 25 and drop 25", which really stressed the Mylar charts. They didn't shoot many illumination rounds, and were often unable to see exactly where 1st round smoke would land. They only heard  the smoke explode and then report on where they thought they were. These experiences would be invaluable to me later in my own fire missions. LRRP's moved the 105 round slowly and spoke so softly, and were at such a distance, that you could barely hear them most of the time. The FDC seemed to always have the job of helping them adjust a little more carefully than with most infantry company FO's. That means it was always, always tense when you heard "Repeat HE" and "Shot over" and then "Splash over" and the tension was gripping when they responded "Splash out"....You could have heard a pin drop in the FDC while those few seconds were ticking off ...everyone just wanted a good outcome on the other end of the line....Once that first HE was on the ground, we all could start breathing again....It seemed like in those early months, it was always like this for contact fire missions.  Just like it would be later for me when all the Viet-Cong and NVA ambushes always seemed to start with the 'crack-crack-crack' of the first AK-47's, and then a second AK, and then the return fire of our "point man" with a full burst of his M-16, and you only could start breathing when an M-79 started shooting, followed by an M-60 for a couple hundred rounds or so...

We were in the CONEX for so long we lost track of the rest of the Firebase sometimes. We did not see the chow lines, the trips to the dump, and all the business at the infantry portion of the firebase.  Sometimes we only knew who was Palace Guard by the FO party that just came into the firebase for their week or so. The CONEX was only quiet from midnight until 0500 or so when the rest of the world got up...We played cards during the quiet times, Euchre, Hearts, and Spades...More often Euchre because it could be played with three people...

Working With The  FO PARTY
Each FO Party  had its  own style of adjusting artillery. I learned to let all the FO Teams make jokes on their end of the horn. I was too new to talk or joke much, it was mostly to just collect information, relay information and clarify information. I spent a lot of time noticing how each infantry company set out the SRP's for the night. We all knew if a SRP was in trouble, there was no telling what level of experience was going to be asked to adjust rounds in a fire mission. I learned that you didn't always need to have an FO tell you how close the last adjusted round was. You could tell by his pause and voice.
  During these first months in country, I learned that an FO team in the field had to know exactly where each SRP was for the night, they also had to know exactly how the SRP locations affected their Defensive Targets for the night laager. I learned about the "gun target line", "high angle fire", "danger close", and "friendlies in the area". There was always the "little people", the "blue line", and the "pick and shovel" people. And following us all the time was the "big eye". I learned that in a really tough contact fire mission that a "change of direction" could cost valuable minutes to getting the next round on the ground. I learned that shouting over the  radio gets terrible results. And sadly, I learned that sometimes a gun can "shoot out" (outside of pattern) and be way off target. This was my first two months in country. One of the ways I survived in the field as a Recon Sgt, without an Officer for months at a time, was that Clint Curry, Bob Burnett, and a "whole cast of characters" were back at FDC;  and surely they wouldn't let me screw up would they...???

LZ Tommie  
They needed some  troops from
"A" Btry  to go set up LZ Tommie right after they found out that the Chu Pa was so well defended with NVA Regulars. No one was ever going to tell any of my rank what was going on, so I just thought it was another Fire Support Base somewhere.  When we got there in early to mid-February 1969, the place was just a hilltop being cleared off by some of the Recon platoon and I think a few mortar crew. The first night we arty guys were broken up into the perimeter bunkers to work shifts with the Infantry units.  My nights were spent with a M-60 machine gun crew and about 15 or so Claymore mines wired to a makeshift daisy chain to PRC-25 battery.

I am sure the grunts were worried, because they had enough ammo belted to that M-60 to shoot for a long time. All they told me was I was on 6 pm to 8 pm and from 12 to 2 am. I didn't sleep a wink and all I did was watch the treelines. All that stress for me and it was just another day in the 'Nam for the Recon guys.

The next couple days on LZ Tommie they tried everything to dig out some holes for the FDC, and make some room for the Battery gun positions. I personally heard someone say that those Engineers needed to bring in some 200 lb shape charges. They eventually pulverized the ground, but it was impossible to keep the bunker walls from crumbling in.

It took more than a few days, and then I was told we needed a "water detail" to go to the bottom of the new LZ we were building and bring back some canteens and two 5 gallon water cans. To say it was brutal was an understatement.  How we made it down the mountain and back was a miracle.  We would have been sitting ducks for any NVA that were in the area.  Nothing compared to the fighting getting ready to start, but plenty scary for a "new guy". Now that the Daily Logs are released, I will make an effort to find the exact location of LZ Tommie, and retrace our water run that day.  Where was LZ Tommie exactly???

The Scapular
The FDC sleeping bunker on LZ Tommie was very close to the FDC
and right near two gun pits. Whenever any rounds were fired, dirt and crap just rained in on the sleeping area...Most of the cots were shared and we all had to use mosquito netting for the dirt and dust, much less for the bugs...I got to see our Battery  Commander a little more often, and we talked about life back home, and family. One day, after a letter from home, I placed a 'Scapular' on my netting. Being Catholic, there are many promises for a holder of a Scapular in our religion. Captain Williams asked me one night what was that thing on my netting, and
I told him it was an icon in the Catholic Tradition that "whoever shall wear this, will not die without the aid of a Priest".  He looked at me again and asked how "good" this promise was. I told him I believed it, and that was enough for me.  He glanced back at me and said "hang one on my netting too." I asked him why, because I expected him to be of a different faith. He answered,"You've convinced me that the only time I have to be worried on this crap Firebase about dying is if a priest shows up, and we don't have one scheduled for long, long time".  I have carried that scapular with me for every day since that time 45 years ago, and I still carry it with me today.  Captain (John S.) Williams was in the FDC for every fire mission of the Chu Pa. When the first FO came back from that mountain, he brought a 9mm NVA Officer's pistol, almost cut in half from a 2/9th artillery round. They gave the pistol to Capt Williams, and a few weeks later, the pistol disappeared. His XO took it back to base camp and had it mounted on a plaque and engraved. I have never seen a person so surprised, as when they presented it to him when he left Vietnam. 

Meeting Troy Donahue
One morning, after a long shift, and I knew that
"Dragon 6" was in the area, I just went to sleep. The main fighting on the Chu Pa was done, and we were moving some of the wounded thru our firebase. Capt Williams opened the flap and came half way down the dirt stairway and said, "Sleevi, get up, someone is here to see you..."  I answered, "nothing is going to get me out of this cot". He then said, "Troy Donahue is here". I then said, "If Troy Donahue is here, I will kiss his...." and before I could finish, here comes blond headed, six feet tall, Troy Donahue bouncing down the stairs to shake my hand and say ..'Hi soldier..'. That was it. I have carried that story for a long time. 
I know it seems so strange to think of a Hollywood actor on a forward firebase like anything in the Chu Pa area. I have been unable to find any accounts of Donahue's travels in Vietnam in 1969 until this year when I read about him in a book by Meredith Lair,  "Armed with Abundance". It is genuinely a heart-breaking book about a piece of life in Vietnam that I never knew existed, and no matter, nothing can ever take away one ounce of respect I have for the soldiers who fought and died there.


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