ZING, BANG, BOOM!
Lt Dennis Munden, FDO, views fire thru BC Scope
Most Nam veterans have difficulty recalling a specific date, place or time of an event. And perhaps that is a good thing, too. But...anyone assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (before the "swap" to the 4th ID on 1Aug67) or assigned to any of its many sub-units, attachments, and op-cons...will remember Duc Pho, July, 1967.
An outdoor fireworks show that you had never seen before...and very likely...you wouldn't want to see again. It was unplanned and spontaneous...as well as spectacular, too. If anyone assigned to the 25th needed a "benchmark" date...that was it. July, 1967. Everyone around and nearby in the area remembers. How could they forget?
It seems that the logistical geniuses of the day decided to put a "Division-sized" ammo dump on the beach of the South China Sea. Not too far from LZ Montezuma (aka FSB Bronco). But, thankfully, far enough away. I guessed the idea seemed plausible enough. You had the South China Sea protecting the eastern flank. Don't recall that the VC or NVA had any SCUBA teams capable of reaching the beach. The 3rd Brigade Headquarters was on the northern flank...plenty of security there. There was LZ Liz and LZ OD guarding the western flank. Don't recall what may have protected the southern flank, but, not to worry. That wasn't the source of the debacle anyway.
For a "bang-up" recipe, you need the right ingredients, of course. First, you have to have tons of explosives of every type imaginable. Check. Then you need plenty of oxygen. Check. Then you need to "pre-heat" the oven. Well, with the temps in July in Vietnam hitting 110 - 120 degrees, that was a "check" too. In fact, explosives have a way of emitting fumes in extreme temperatures letting you know that they are cooking. (Guess why there was generally a warning to store in a "cool, dry place"). So...what's missing? As you may suspect...the key ingredient is missing. We need a dash of STUPID.
I never knew what the proximate cause of the fire that set off all the explosives. It wasn't until many years later that Lt Gary Dean Springer let the cat out of the bag. He was the Bn Ammo Officer for a while; he went back out into the field before the fire. It's what you might call being "away from the right place at the right time".
If you are familiar with the handling of military explosives, they are well secured for shipment, be it a rugged voyage overseas or just setting them on an inventory pallet at some depot. To keep it well secured, the crates are sealed with a metal band, approximately 1" in width. If you think it is difficult to open a wrapped CD or one of those items you buy in a plastic bubble package, multiply that by 100. You need metal snips to cut the bands. Of course, if a pair of metal snips is not available, you fall back on the next available item...if your brains have taken a leave of absence, that is. It seems that an ammo handler at this dump decided to use an axe. Just chop that baby right off, right? You don't suppose that a metal axe striking a metal band might give off a spark, do you? Ah...now we have it...our dash of STUPID. Recipe complete.
It's too bad that Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops weren't on hand at the beach to play the Star Spangled Banner. Would have made great background music. Especially when you got to the part about "the rocket's red glare". Really. You could have chosen a few other colors too.
Eyewitness: Sp4 Danny Yates, assigned to Headquarters Battery, 2/9th, said that he was actually in the water relaxing when all the rockets, missiles, grenades, ammunition, etc., starting shooting off. Instead of a life jacket, he really needed a flak jacket. He said it was wild trying to get out of the water with all the exploding munitions flying overhead. He was a little too close to the big display.
I don't recall any records of any casualties from the incident. But I was very glad that (a) I wasn't the one having to fill out the paperwork, (b) write the requisition for a few million buck's worth of replacement ammunition, or (c) teach the next class on the "safe handling" of ammo.
Lt Dennis Dauphin
Lt Gary Dean Springer
Sp4 Danny Yates