A Memorial Day Story, dedicated to those We Lost

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Gone but not forgotten RIP
Original poster
OTBS Member
Group Lead
Sep 12, 2009
Macungie, PA
A Memorial Day Story, dedicated to those We Lost

Memorial Day was established as a way for the country to set aside time to honor the troops who had given their lives in service to America. This is not a day for Veterans. Veteran’s Day is another day (Dec 7). Memorial Day is for remembering those who have given their lives.
I lost a lot of friends, relatives, neighbors, classmates, Brothers in Battle, and Acquaintances, and this Day is for them.

The story I’m about to tell you incudes 2 brothers in arms who lost their lives in one night, and 64 were wounded. It was not a “Fun Night”, but I thought you guys would find it interesting, if nothing else, so I decided to post it on or before this Memorial Day of 2022.

We had many nights that were worse than this night, but this one is the easiest to tell, especially since I actually wrote the story more than 20 years ago. I have stories that are too gory to tell, and some that are perhaps too boring. This story isn’t zoomed in enough to be gory, and I don’t believe you’ll find it boring. In the 7 months I was at Dong Tam, there were only 7 nights that we didn’t take Mortars or Rockets (RPG), and during 4 days of those 7, we got hit during the daylight hours.

About 20 years ago, I was on a Web Site, called “Emily Donut Dolly”. It was owned by just that, a Red Cross Donut Dolly, who spent much of her time on My Base Camp “Dong Tam” back in 1969. There are all kinds of stories & pictures on her site, that brought back memories for Me & others. Then one day Emily asked this question: If any of you were at Dong Tam on the night the VietCong hit our Main Ammo Dump, could you please write the story, and send it to me. If it’s what I’m looking for, I will post it on my Web Site.
So that is what I did; I reached back in my memory banks for everything I could think of. I rewrote it a bunch of times, trying to get it Grammatically correct. So I got the whole thing completed, before I remembered that I had the Newspaper clipping My Mother sent to me a couple weeks after that Night of Hell.
I couldn’t believe how close my memory was to the write-up in that old Newspaper.

I hope you guys find it interesting, and worth reading. (Below)

Thank You,

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The Night The Vietcong Hit Our Ammo’ Dump at Dong Tam, Vietnam

My name is John Horne. I was born and raised in Quakertown, PA. I got married on December 27, 1968 and went to Vietnam in Feb of 1969. I was ordered to Charlie Company, 9th Sig Bn, 9th Inf Div. I became a "Berm Rat" squad leader. "Berm Rats" were guys that went out at night and repaired crank phones and the "WD1" wire that went from the perimeter bunker phones to the "CP"(command post) bunkers. I liked the job because Charlie didn't let you sleep at night anyway and if you worked at night, you were off the next day. Charlie very seldom struck during the day. I also considered the perimeter safer than being in your hooch because there were only 2 guys in each bunker on the perimeter and thousands of guys within the "Dong Tam" base camp. The VC could kill a lot more guys by hitting inside the camp than by knocking out a perimeter bunker. One of the nights that I wasn't working was 2-23-69. That was the night Charlie hit a fuel tank, with a rocket, near the landing strip. I was always signed up for the “reactionary force” when I was off duty, and whenever it looked like the VC might try a ground attack, the reactionary forces would go out and lay on the perimeter between the bunkers to fill in the gaps. I remember, while riding in the back of the truck, having to take my helmet off and hold it to the left side of my face to shield my face from the heat of the burning fuel tank. It was kind of funny as I remember it. The perimeter bunkers were about 150yards apart and we (reactionary force) were about 5' apart from bunker to bunker. The jungle on our sector was about 100 yards from the perimeter. The funny part was when the VC would fire a few rounds towards our perimeter, from the jungle. I saw tracers coming our way and all of a sudden that whole side of the base camp opened up on them. It looked like a red carpet across the horizon. It looked like you could actually walk across the Red blanket of tracers. That went on for what seemed like about 10 minutes but was probably more like 3 minutes. I think you would call that "overkill". Needless to say we saw no more tracers coming toward us that night.
About a month later, on March 26, 1969, I was in my hooch, writing a letter to my wife. We heard mortars and the red alert siren went off. My hooch was only about 100 yards from the Navy's turning basin and you could hear them walking the mortars in toward the main ammunition dump. We ran to the company bunker. We couldn't have been in the bunker more than a few minutes when the biggest explosion I have ever heard or felt went off. There was a guy standing in the doorway of our bunker who was about 6'4" tall and about 240 lbs. The shock wave lifted him up and threw him all the way across the inside of the bunker and against the far wall. The earth trembled and you couldn't see your own hand due to the dust that was kicked up. There was 500 tons (1,000,000 lbs) of ammo' in that dump and most of the big stuff went all at once. We (reactionary force) immediately loaded up in the trucks and went to the perimeter in case of a ground attack. I think the initial explosion was around Midnight and the small arms ammo' didn't stop going off until somewhere around 7AM. I just watched the biggest display of fireworks I had ever seen.
Here is an interesting thing that very few people know about. I had a buddy (Jim Mcfadden of Pittsburgh) that worked every night on the main switchboard. He told me the next day that because that was the main ammo dump that was destroyed, he had to put in a call for emergency ammo'. There were some small dumps around here and there, but if we had a serious attack it wouldn't last long. I'm not sure where he was calling. It was either Long Binh or Cam Ranh Bay. He got through only to hear the other end tell him they couldn't put him through because they were on a practice "Yellow" alert. A "Yellow" meant be ready for an attack and they were practicing being ready. He told them, "I don't care what kind of war games you are playing, we are on a real "Red Alert" and we are running out of ammo'." They put him through!
About 2 weeks later I got a letter from my mother. She had enclosed a picture of a crumbled up helicopter from our home town newspaper. It was a chopper that a Navy pilot tried to save when the mortars were coming in before the big explosion. He got it in the air and the explosion just twisted it into a ball in mid air. I don't remember how many casualties there were that night, but I think they were mostly Navy guys because they were right next to the dump. I told her it was at the other side of my base camp and I heard an explosion but I was in the bunker at the time. Not quite true, but I didn’t want her to worry.

Since the newspaper article sent by John's Mother was very faded, he typed the text and sent it to me. The article was from the "Allentown Morning Call" dated Friday, March 28,1969.
Red Shells Set Off Ammo Dump

By Bill Collins
S&S Vietnam Bureau Chief
SAIGON - An estimated 500 tons of rockets, shells and other munitions went up in a thundering series of explosions early Wednesday when enemy mortars hit an ammo dump at Dong Tam, a major U.S. installation in the Mekong Delta.
Despite widespread damage- at least 25 buildings were said destroyed or badly damaged - casualties were relatively light. Two Americans were reported killed and 64 wounded.
At least two and possibly three Navy "Seawolf" helicopters were destroyed. One of the dead was reported to be a Navy pilot who was trying to get his craft into the air and away from the nearby ammo dump.
The Dong Tam complex is home of the Army's 9th Inf. Div. It also is the site of a Navy river port and a big civilian construction engineering base.
"It happened about 10 minutes after midnight," a 9th Div. Officer said. "There was a great flash of light, then a fantastic explosion."
The officer said the concussion from the first explosion smashed windows and tore the roofs off buildings near the division headquarters, about a mile from the ammo dump.
He said the shock wave caused a vacuum that sucked emerging soldiers back into buildings and bunkers.
"The explosions went on for three or four hours," he said. "Shrapnel and debris were falling all over the base. This is what caused a lot of the injuries".
"There was a great red fireball over the ammo dump and you could hear the small arms ammo going off like popcorn between the big explosions."
A spokesman for the RMK-BRJ construction combine said the giant firm's Dong Tam offices and sheds, located a few hundred yards from the dump, were largely flattened, as were several U.S. Navy storage sheds in the area. The blasts also severely damaged more than 10 Navy billets about 400 yards from the ammo. At least ten of the injured were reported to be Navy men.
Though there was heavy property damage, the deep revetments behind which the munitions were stored prevented what could have been a complete disaster.
The dump was on the riverfront edge of the base, near the Navy facilities and helicopter pads. There was no immediate report on where the mortar shells came from, but it has been a Viet Cong tactic to fire mortars and rockets at the base from nearby hamlets and villages. This makes it hard or impossible for American forces to react quickly without taking the chance of hurting local residents.

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Memorial Day is a bitter sweet day. Great writeup Bear, hard to describe, but important to tell. I appreciate it and thank you for your service.
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Hope stories like this are never forgotten bear, I think sometimes people forget that real people with family and friends are killed and wounded and some are just changed forever. Thanks for sharing.
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"Some Gave All, All Gave Some"

Memorial day is a tough day for me as I know it is also for you John. Thank you for the write up and thank you for your service in Vietnam.
Memorial Day is a bitter sweet day. Great writeup Bear, hard to describe, but important to tell. I appreciate it and thank you for your service.
Thank You Jake & Jed!!
Too many didn't make it home!

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Bear that is quite a story and a good read. And I can only imagine the stories that can't be told.
My Grandfather was in the 1st WW and would not talk very much about it at all.
For me a person that was never in the service , I can only imagine the hell that war really is for the ones that served in these wars in my life time. And for the families that lost their love ones in all the wars. So that we can live the way we do

Thanks to all that served and to the families of those that served . like Jake said
"Some Gave All, All Gave Some"

I've honored Memorial Day and Veteran's Day for years.

Thanks for the story. Memorial Day is always hard for me as well. One of my good friends who was like a mentor in the military killed himself right before Memorial Day a few years ago.
This happens far too often.
I'm part of a volunteer group that offers support to veterans and their families
Good read John. A big shout out to you and all the other men and women that served. Memorial day falls on my grandson's birthday this year, and a day before my dad's birthday. So it will be an extra special day for us.

BTW: The grandson continues the thirty year birthing tradition for our family since coming to America. A child was born every thirty yrs. 30,60,90, 20.

Nice write up, Bear . It's hard for me to comprehend combat as the entirety of my 24 years of service was either on an aircraft carrier or shore duty state side. Did my fair share of deployments. When I first came in (87) there were still many Vietnam vets on active duty. 🍻
Thanks for your service and for posting the story John.

I had a good friend return unrecognizable from VN.

Dad would never talk about his time in WWII

I was born blind in one eye and declared unfit to serve, but I'll be singing Mansions of the Lord in our "special music" segment of Sundays church service on the 29th.

No way our country does enough for her vet's but we could try harder.
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Thanks for sharing Bear, I truly appreciate it!
My Grandpa was on the front lines of WWII for six years! Was one of the first to be called and one of the last to come home! He would talk about the people he met along the way! But would never speak of the war… he was one of my hero’s and my best friend!
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