My Story of "Friendly Fire"

MCB 133 Bravo Company RVN 1967 To celebrate the first anniversary of MCB-133's recommissioning, everyone who could be spared got all day off on this particular Sunday. Usually we worked 12 hours a day, six and a half days a week. We had free beer and grilled steaks all day. There was a Marine detachment across the river from us, who were the good guys that kept the bad guys out in the boonies and away from us through the judicious use of a 100MM recoilless rifle, a 60MM mortar or two, a couple of 50 Caliber machineguns and various other weapons of war and destruction. The battalion invited this group of Marines to join us for the day-long festivities.

Later, after the partying was over and everyone was settled in for the night, you could hear an occasional mortar round or small arms fire way off in the distance, but other than that it was pretty quiet. I was lying on top of my security bunker (pictured above, with Marble Mountain in the background) watching "Puff the Magic Dragon" circling around several miles south of us on it's streams of tracer fire. I was in my underwear because it was a really hot night, without the slightest hint of a breeze, and I couldn't sleep inside the sweltering bunker. Believe it or not, some sandbagged bunkers were not equipped with air conditioners. I had watch in just a couple of hours so I needed sleep badly. Suddenly I heard what sounded like an incoming mortar round whistle through the air and smack into the ground only feet away from me. I screamed "Incoming!" as loud as I could while I dove for cover inside the bunker.

The first round, which did not explode on impact, was followed shortly by two more which landed further into the camp and which did explode. They were both direct hits on hooches in the vicinity of my own. The third round hit near the ridge of the roof and the nose cone was blown into the hip of a guy I knew only slightly. But the second round landed close to the edge of another hooch's roof, only inches from the face of my very good friend, Don Shaver, pictured to the right. The nose cone of the round was embedded in his skull, and he had massive damage to his head, face and upper body.

Thanks to the skill of our corpsmen and the proximity of the Naval Hospital, Don lived to tell about it. The last time I saw him, after our 1968 Viet Nam tour, he was doing pretty well, except for occasional black-outs where he would not be able to account for his activities for up to several hours. He was still on active duty, although assigned to very light duty. As I recall, he had something like 18 years in service, and they were trying to keep him until he could retire, rather than give him a medical discharge. If anyone knows where Don is, or what became of him, please let me know.

Now, the rest of the story... I told "Gunny" Flowers, a marine gunnery sergeant who was in charge of all camp security details, that a "dud" round had landed only feet from me as I lay atop the bunker. He was skeptical, and no search was made until after daylight. Sure enough, there it was, only a few yards south of my bunker, partially buried in the sand -- a genuine unexploded U. S. Marine Corps 60MM high explosive mortar round! A photo of Gunny Flowers (kneeling to the left) and some others studying the round is shown here, with the Da Nang river valley in the background.

It seems the mortar crew may have had a few too many Seabee birthday beers. They had mixed up their coordinates and fired three high explosive rounds on a long, high trajectory and three illumination rounds on a short, low trajectory. Had they been set properly, the high and long illumination rounds would have opened in mid-air and parachuted above the rice paddies and never reached our camp. The explosive rounds were supposed to land short of Camp Faulkner for what I believe is called "harassment and interdiction" in the river and paddies pictured to the right. The dud which landed near me? They forgot to pull the safety pin before they fired it. The other two "friendly fire" rounds wounded 21 men altogether, but only two received serious injuries. What I heard was, after a thorough investigation of all the facts surrounding this incident, the three-man mortar crew was sent to Saigon for 5 days retraining on their weapon.