“Adams, can you see our target?”
The early morning sunlight found the USS Stroud anchored 800 yards from the beach in a small cove south of the Bo De river.
“Affirmative, Mister Swangler, looks like your everyday Vietnamese village, couple of one story block buildings and some hooches with thatched roofs. There is a fire or two going in the center of the village and I can see women, children and a few old men walking to and from the fire. Don’t see any VC, though. Looks like all the men have booked up and left.”
“Take it out.”
Adams Wasn’t quite sure what Lt(jg) Swangler meant by his last communication from CIC.
“Sir, all I see there are women, children and a few old men. There are no combatants in the ville that I can see.”
“Adams, just sight the target and take it out. If you won’t do it, I’ll get someone up there that will.”
Adams acknowleged the order, placed the forward three-inch gun mount in automatic and fired one high explosive shell short of target. The shell hit the beachfront about 50 yards in front of the ville, sending the inhabitants running for cover in the jungle behind the village.
It was only a matter of seconds before Adams heard the voice of Captain Armbruster in the earphones of his sound powered phone set.
“Adams, what the hell happened with that round? You are short of the target.”
“Forgot to reset the range, Captain. I have it locked in now. Want me to send in some more high explosive rounds on the target?”
“Adams….you sent that round in short on purpose, didn’t you?”
“Captain, if we were supposed to take out the ville we can do that now, no sweat. Now we don’t have to worry about civilian casualties.”
Adams’s sound powered phones remained silent for a few moments, then the Captain replied to the young fire controlman’s last response.
“Alright, son. What’s done is done. Now I want you to fire six rounds of white phosphorous shells set on air burst at 60 feet. That will start plenty of fires, then follow with six rounds of high explosive to spread the fires around.
“You think that you can find the target this time?”
“Yes sir, Captain. I’ll take this target to the ground!:”
The earsplitting sound of the gun mount firing the white phosphorous shells fuzed to explode directly over the village was deafening. Fires were beginning throughout the ville. The six rounds of high explosive shells that followed the incendiaries scattered the flames and reduced the block structures to rubble. Within minutes the entire ‘ville was ablaze, totally destroyed.
In CIC, Tyke Zeimet sent the target status to the spotter.
“Bowser Two-One this is Crystal River. Target is destroyed.”
“Two-One, copy. Good morning’s work, Crystal River.”
“Roger Two-One, got anything more you need?”
“Negative for now Crystal River. Let’s keep in touch even if it’s only a postcard.”
Excerpted from “Stories from the U.S. Navy: II. Friendly Fire.”