When your combat firebase resembles Camp Swampy, you've got serious problems

{Foreword: Lt Don Keith, an FO with the 2/9th,  was a Battery Commander in 1971 on a later tour.  As you will see, things took on a different shape in the waning days.}

I first got to the artillery firebase TWO BITTS in the late afternoon as the new battery commander with the 173rd Airborne at BONG SON.

I inspected the base.  Immediately I knew there were problems because there were high weeds in the six stands of wire, and you could see paths out in the weeds leading into the base.  What was that all about?  The perimeter bunkers had no fields of fire. There was a wooden building standing just outside the perimeter.  It was built right next to the wire, blocking any fields of fire.   The first night, I had all the guards sit on top of bunkers until we could clean up this mess. I told my new First Sgt and the XO to rip down that building in the morning.   They told me it was the village chief's hooch.  His clan washed the guys clothing and provided trinkets for sale. My first item of business the next day was to hire local villagers to hoe the weeds in the wires, clear the perimeter weeds and get better fields of fire, and string new wire across the paths. During the same morning I stopped a truck at the gate because I heard laughter coming from the back of the vehicle.  I looked in and saw two young Vietnamese girls.   The driver said they must have jumped in going through the village. Yeah, fat chance.  I told the trooper to shoot them as VC.  I took out my 45 and the girls took off running back through the gate . During the day, I found packs of marijuana under sand bags, in common areas, found bottles of strange contents, and drugs every place I looked.  A long talk with the XO revealed a base out of control, girls coming through the wire and lots of drugs being smoked, a small gang of guys smoking with an attitude and no way to stop it.  Hard to believe the First Sgt and XO just had given up.  

I ordered all the gun chiefs and crews to search all gun pits, turning over all sand bags, search all the hooches and mess hall areas, the FDC, and all the fighting bunkers.  All the bags of marijuana were put on what was to become known as  "Keith's Furnace", a burning rock, and we had a huge fire.  In a formation, I told all men I could care less what the current feelings about drugs was, that they were NOT not back in the "WORLD".   The base was going to be drug free so we would not have soldiers stoned manning bunkers at night or setting gun data on the howitzers.  I also offered a free trip to the hospital for anyone that needed to get clean; after that it was going to be a "UCMJ" action and they could do their "smoking" in a stockade.  I had  closed door sessions set up so anyone could come and tell me what was going on. One group came to say they wanted a place so they could smoke MJ.  I told them they were welcome to go into the village and smoke. They said no way; who would stand guard?  Well, at least they weren't totally stupid; that was my point exactly.   I told them that was why I wanted all guards to be drug free. One big guy named Lee came in and said he would get all the drugs out  if I allowed the girls to be let in again.  Lee was 6 ft 5" and about 300 pounds. I had been told that there were about 10 young ladies that came to entertain the men over the past year.  They slipped in the gate, through the wire, in vehicles coming in to supply the base...hell, it was a wonder they didn't jump in with the airborne troops. Well, I decided that "men are going to be men", so if I could get rid of the drugs, control the women, and get the morale up, this place might get back on its feet.  I decided to have the "ladies" arrive on Wednesday and Saturday nights.  I had them come in the front gate. One per gun pit, one for FDC, one for supply / commo and one for the mess. The drug problem went away.  If I saw a MJ package, I told "Mr. Lee" to have a talk with gun pit 2 or wherever I found it.  BUT...a new problem arose... the VD rate went up.  So what to do? Well,  we had a Doc (dentist) that agreed to shoot the girls up to prevent gonorrhea. When he came out one night, we had all the girls assembled to get their shots.   I heard laughter coming from the hooch.  I went into to find the Doc naked and on the cheeks of his ass was a tattoo of Red Lips.  He said the tattoo was  his "motto to the world".  If they did not approve of what he stood for, they could kiss  his ass. {SIDEBAR: Ten years later at a road race in a state not to be named to protect the innocent , I saw the Doc. I went up to him at the start line and said in a loud voice: " I bet you have a pair of red lips on your ass!"  All of his friends could not believe it when he pulled down  his running shorts to reveal the red lips tattoo. He didn't remember me at first but he did remember the girls and firebase TWO BITTS.  He went to Jump school, Ranger school, Special  Forces, and High Low jump school. A real fighting dentist.}

The fire base became a place where everyone wanted to stay overnight. We had Dusters, those converted twin 40mm antiaircraft guns mounted on a track stay overnight at the base, we had 50 cal machine guns in towers we built, we had tubes laid on the overlooking hills to deliver direct fire, we had spotlights installed that I found at a blown up bridge on Hwy 1.  We somehow got an Air Force 10 K generator to supply power so the lights would come on at random times and places, we had FUGAS barrels ready  for any attack and 104 claymore mines placed in the wire. I put a stop to all the new stuff coming in when the Supply Sgt drove in with a 105mm recoilless mounted in a jeep. One of the reasons for all the firepower was that Charlie had a habit of popping  mortar rounds into our area at 0300 hrs every night or so.  We decided we were gonna fix his ass but  good.  So, we waited until all was in place, heard the pop and we had a "mad minute" with the 105s, the Dusters, and the 50 cal machine gun all firing at once.  No more from Charlie.

Oh, yes...can't forget about the Village Chief's hooch: the second night, I took an M79 grenade launcher and blew the building down.  Told the Chief that the VC blew it up and if he rebuilt it, the VC would blow it up once more. 

It took some time and many changes, but eventually, I felt that firebase TWO BITTS was finally worth more than "two bits".

Lt Don Keith  


Heck, they couldn't even spell the name right!