November 10, 2010
(I had asked Ken what were some of his most memorable moments)
@BillNigh OK Bill, most memorable moment(s)? You know this is going to be a story right? Get your coffee. BRB
OK Bill. When you asked about memorable life moments what immediately came to mind was what my brother Ned Neathery
used to say, that a grunt had an unlimited supply of "OH &%@!"
So, I have two memorable events. I share one today and the other another time.
A most memorable event happened on Jan 28, 1967.
We were operating on the Cambodian border north and west of the Special Forces camp at Loc Ninh.
We had come back down from I Corp in Oct-Nov and Charlie (Bill: from 'Victor Charlie', VC,
Viet Cong) tried to
overrun the SF camp at Loc Ninh in Nov (I think).
Our unit, elements of the 25th Infantry and I think elements of the 101st responded, along with serious
air and artillery support.
Short version is that there was lots of movement along the border and our job was to seek and destroy Charlie
coming across the border.
We had been out there for a couple of months with interesting stuff happening. In the late afternoon of
the 28th one of the recon teams called in that they had found a 500 lb bomb.
That was not particularly unusual for that area. Typically the bomb would be buried nose first in the ground.
Just didn't detonate.
Well, there was this one other part of the back story: Mike Gahn, the scout section leader and I, handled
the explosive ordnance disposal for our platoon. We didn't disarm anything. We just blew stuff in place
- mostly booby traps.
Mike had already done a tour with the 1st Infantry. I truly never expected to get out alive anyway so it
made no difference to me.
It was something to do. We get the call from the team so Mike an I head out to see what we've got.
As we approached the team they were in a defensive perimeter, but we couldn't see the bomb. Odd.
We link up and ask where the bomb was. The team leader points toward a brushy wooded spot about 150 meters
This is not making my day. By the way, My original birthday was January 29th. I have about 2 1/2 months
left in country and I was 19.
You can begin to see why I had a sense of what clinical folks call a "foreshortened future."
Was there anything else the team leader felt he should share with us?
Well, yeah - the bomb wasn't nose first in the ground. It was lying on its side, partially covered with
Oh, and one more thing - there was a little round window thingy on the nose of the bomb and it was green.
My brother Ned was correct. We did in fact have an unlimited supply of "OH %$#@!"
What we seemed to have on our hands was a booby trapped 500 lb bomb.
Mike and I just looked at each other. We can't leave it. Engineers are not available to handle this puppy.
Any thoughts of me getting to be 20 were gone. Sometimes all you can do is curse and move out.
Once Mike and I got to within about about 150 meters of the bomb we split up.
He was going in at a 45 degree angle off of the nose of the bomb on the left. I was doing the same thing
on the right.
We started very slowly, low crawling through the brush and grass, reaching out slowly with one arm at a
time to see if we could feel anything that might be a trip wire brush against the hairs on our arms. This
is not fun
I don't know how long it took but I know we were losing light as we went. It seemed like a very very long
Both Mike and I reach a point about 15 meters from the bomb within a couple of minutes of each other. No
trip wires that we can see.
The vegetation covering part of the bomb is very old so any indication of a pressure detonator buried somewhere
around the bomb has been weathered away.
This was definitely one of those times when it sucked to be us.
So here's the plan: We will follow the trails we made crawling in, back out. Maybe we can call in an airstrike
We get back to our platoon and Lt Conrad calls 6 to tell him what's up and see if we can get artillery or
air to take this critter out.
The answer was something about operational security and not giving away our position to Charlie.
Mike and I just looked at each other with our mouths hanging open. What!
We're a cav unit. We're driving M!!# armored cavalry assault vehicles through the bush. We leave a bigger
path than an elephant herd.
And it's not like detonating a 500 lb bomb is going to go unnoticed by anybody in a 5 mile radius!
LT just shook his head and asked us what we needed to blow it in place.
C-4. Lots of C-4. I think we each took 5 one pound bars of C-4, but then we had another problem.
To detonate C-4 we needed a blasting cap, like you use on dynamite. There are two kinds of blasting caps,
electrical and mechanical.
Electrical blasting caps are more reliable. To make an electrical blasting cap detonate you have to run
a wire from the cap to a battery or an electrical generator of some kind, like the clacker for a claymore
Squeeze the handle of the clacker, it generates an electric pulse, the blasting cap detonates. Simple.
Problem: because of the blast radius of a 500 lb bomb we don't have enough electrical wire to use an electrical
blasting cap. "OH $#@%!"
This just gets better and better. Ahright. Mechanical blasting caps. det cord, timer fuse and a mechanical
detonator to light the timer fuse.
At this point neither Mike or I really give a %*&# any more. We are thoroughly pissed, our hearts are
beating about 3 X/ minute...
And "It don't mean nothin'" It's too late and getting too dim to be scared any more.
We walked back over (maybe we could get shot on the way) and followed the path I had made through the brush
and stopped about 15 meters from the bomb.
Mike and I look at each other. We did not clear the last few feet to the bomb when we were looking for trip wires the first time we crawled in.
"F#*@ it. Let’s do it." Holding our breath, we walked straight to the nose of the bomb. Nothing.
I’m not scared anymore. What I feel is a hammer pounding in my chest each time my heart beats.
While Mike is setting up the blasting cap, det cord, and timer fuse I kneel beside the nose of the bomb. Peeling off the plastic from each block of C 4 in turn; removing the cover strip from the sticky side and placing the block of C 4 on the nose of the bomb.
"How long do you think the timer fuse should be?" Mike asks.
I don’t even look up. "Five or six hours." After a one or two seconds we both start laughing.
Mike runs det cord between the blocks of C 4 on the bomb. On the last piece of C 4 he punches a small hole about 2 inches deep and inserts a mechanical blasting cap into the hole. He slides about an inch of det cord inside the recessed portion of the blasting cap. The det chord is attached to the timer fuse, and inserted into the mechanical igniter.
Kneeling we both check every connection point from the last block of explosive back to the igniter. All good.
"How much delay" I ask?
"Five minutes," Mike responds.
"Let’s do it." Mike yanks the cord on the igniter. The timer fuse starts burning.
We walk quickly for maybe 20 seconds, then run full out and drop behind a dry rice paddy dike next to the platoon leader’s track, gulping air while our hearts revs up to 500 beats per minute.
We wait…and wait…and wait. Platoon Sergeant Dawson appears from around the back of Lt. Conrad’s track kneelimg beside us.
"How much delay time" he asks?
"Five minutes," Mike answers.
"Five minutes! You thought it would make a nice sunrise in the morning?"
And we wait....
Sergeant Dawson is about to say something else when, from the direction of the bomb, there is a "pop." --- A pop like a toy cap pistol.
Pop? Pop! Sergeant Dawson, Mike and I look at each other.
"Sounds like you had a wet blasting cap, boys." Sergeant Dawson says, "Go rig it again."
Mike and I look at each other, both of us thinking the same thing, "A wet blasting cap?"
Now we’re into twilight and neither of us is any longer amused with this project.
We’re no longer tentative walking toward the bomb. We’re pissed.
Same routine when we get to the bomb: Check the det cord between the sticks of C 4. Insert the new blasting cap. Connect timer cord and igniter. Recheck everything.
Three minute delay this time.
Mike strikes the igniter. Timer cord begins to smoke. We walk half a dozen steps then run like hell.
Diving behind the paddy dike we expect the explosion any second. Platoon Sergeant Dawson is still here.
Nothing. Thirty seconds later – nothing. A minute. A minute and a half – nothing.
Mike and I look at each other. Neither of us has any idea why the bomb hasn’t detonated.
Sergeant Dawson asks "How can I have two NCOs that don’t have brains enough between them to set off a stick of C 4?"
This is a rhetorical question; Mike and I don't say anything.
Sergeant Dawson fills the short, silent pause. "Here’s what’s going to happen. You two go blow up that bomb, or the next time you’re going out there with your .45s and shoot holes in it until it does explode!".
Third time walking toward the bomb. Bored and pissed.
As we approach the bomb Mike says, "Oh F*@!!" and yanks out his field knife. I flip the safety on my M 16 to automatic and drop to one knee.
"Look at this," Mike says. Flipping the safety back to safe I turn to see what Mike is pointing at.
Mike had cut the delay fuse away from the det cord. The delay fuse is about an eighth of an inch long and still smoking.
This piece of timer fuse has gotten wet and has therefore burned very slowly.
The temperature has not gone up, but Mike and I sweat profusely.
I jog back to the platoon and explain what’s happened. Get a piece of timer cord and two blasting caps from another track, then jog back along our well worn trail to the bomb.
Handing the caps and cord to Mike I ask, "How many days you got left, man?" He doesn’t look up from rigging the fuse.
"Hell, I’m still counting months on this tour. How ‘bout you?"
"I quit counting a while back. Bad luck to count…maybe 30 or 35 days left." Idle conversation, like who will be in the World Series, before the season ever starts.
"Know what else" I say?
"Tomorrow is my birthday."
"Yeah? How old you gonna’ be?"
Mike turns his head toward me while holding up the reset detonator. "Happy F*@#%^*% birthday," he says, grinning.
"F*@# you," I respond.
Mike motions for me to head back toward the platoon. Walking 20 meters I kneel, waiting for him.
He catches up and we jog back, laying down behind the paddy dike again.
The bomb explosion lifts us off the ground and it turns bright daylight.
All of our people are down inside their tracks. Pieces of stuff are whizzing by and falling, our faces still buried in the dirt.
No sense waiting for the smoke and dust to clear; Mike and I get back on our tracks.
Lt. Conrad gives us shackled (in code) coordinates for our night defensive position.
Mike and I are the point elements for the platoon. We head toward whatever is next.
Within a day or so we get word that Charlie is hitting the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, and the airbase near Bien Hoa is being attacked.
Our cavalry troop saddles up about 1930, drives all night from the Cambodian border to Bien Hoa, and go into the fight when we arrive.
Mike was right, "Happy F*@#*% birthday."
It don’t mean nothin’.