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War Stories

Shell Rep by Fearless Frank

Robert "Bob" Graham Centaur 3 1966

This is an essay that Bob wrote about a Mortar and 75 mm Recoilless Rifle Attack

and the fearless reactions of an amazing combat vet Frank Delvy

The June, 1966 midafternoon sun was its hottest as I strolled from D Troop Operations along the front of the row of stoic olive drab tents. All the tent side wings were tied open to catch the slightest breeze should one occur. This was a rare idle time for the Centaurs, nothing in progress at the moment. I headed for my rickety lawn chair, inherited from some generous soul, maybe to write a letter.

As I passed the third tent, suddenly my attention focused on the easily identifiable whistle of an incoming mortar round. The eerie sound creates a tingle in the nervous system and makes hair stand on your neck. These rounds are subsonic so one has at least a couple of seconds before impact. Seem long? Count one thousand one, one thousand two and bam!! That’s it folks; you could become a statistic. The point of impact of the first round is only a wild guess; so the first assumption must be that you’re their target. Intuitiveness, from experience, greatly helps reacting promptly. The seasoned Centaurs bunker down; human activity ceases.

At the sharp crack of a nearby explosion, I am horizontal in the air, settling the last six inches toward cover in a two inch deep truck tire track. Safety? The 81 mm mortar round impacts about 50 feet away near the main north south Cu Chi Main Street landing just range short of the troop operations tent. It bursts with a smacking blast that nearly cracks my eardrums. The razor sharp shrapnel whines overhead. No protected place to hide, too far to run to the nearest bunker. There are probably more rounds in the air at that moment! I am like a ground hog caught in the open. Everyone has rapidly disappeared.

I curse silently, “Shit, I’m caught in the open!”

I am really trying to be flat in the track, but find myself definitely thicker than the two inch deep dual tire track selected as cover. There is an unnerving silence. I am in a sweat, mind racing. Do I stay in that marginal survival attitude or run for the bunker? I think, “Do something, Bob!” I rise on my knees, gauging the 50 meter sprint distance to the protection of the nearest bunker. Poised, ready to sprint, a black dot in the sky above and beyond the Majors’ grass hooch catches my eye. During my eighteen years of service I had visually followed artillery rounds in flight outbound. I recognize instantly, “This is it, BOB! That round is headed right at me!”
Snapping to the groundhog position I again make myself thin, suck in my breath, pressing into the sandy dry earth to wait. There is a strange, hard to decipher thud sound and then again silence. No explosion? I can hear some counter battery fire exploding, but it is not in the right place from the way that last round approached me. I can hear mortar rounds exploding, at least half a dozen, rippling across the Little Bears canvas villas.

All of a sudden Fearless Frank Delvy trots over to the impact crater of the first mortar round. He is on his hands and knees dusting out the small crater, precisely aligns a stick in the fuse hole to establish the line of fall. Then coolly poised, kneeling he carefully aligns his lensatic compass, reading the back azimuth to the launcher.

“Shit, Frank” I yell, “This thing is not over yet”.

I get the crisp reply, “Got to make a shell rep, Bob, Can’t let the bastards get away with this”.

At this moment I see no one else, just the two of us in the open. Off Frank trots to the vacant Centaur operations tent. I hear him loudly and concisely articulating a shell rep to the 25th Division Artillery fire direction center.

“Shell Report:
From the Centaur Operations tent,
Azimuth 046,
Range 2,400 yards,
81 mm mortars in tree line of Phil Hol Plantation.
Request counter battery fire”.

Cautiously, venturing into the standing position, I see a smooth neat furrow about ten feet away. I have seen them around the choppers in the Centaur Corral after previous shelling attacks. It is a ricochet mark of a recoilless rifle round that did not explode. I experience a short relaxing, tingling sensation. It is mindboggling, somewhat surreal. Another fifty feet along this same line is another shorter, shallower groove. Another 100 feet further I spot the black dot from the sky, a shiny 75 mm RR round lying in the grass. What were my odds?

At that moment, to the north the wood line of the Phil Hol Plantation erupts in counter battery fire.

“That will get the bastards”, Frank yells.”

“Hey, Frank, look what I got!”

“What you got there, Bob? Say, that looks like 75 mm dud. Don’t touch it, I’ll call EOD. Let’s get that marked so no one gets hurt.”

Frank Delvy
Someone yells, “Get your choppers checked. Let’s find out what can fly!” With some initial hesitation the Centaur Corral again comes alive.

I reflect momentarily upon the last two to three minutes. There is a feeling of admiration and amusement.

Go, Frank, go!!

Frank, when you have a moment, I’ll take a mai tai.

Out of the Cu Chi thousands, it is Frank Delvy, Frank alone, who had the fortitude, skill, and “a lensatic compass”, to quickly pull off this shell report. He was truly an unusual air warrior.

Copyright August 2012 Robert L. Graham