83rd Nui Dat

Bill Taggart (66-67)
HQ Battery

In an email to Don Donaldson of the 161 Battery of the Royal New Zealand Artillery that was at Nui Dat with us I asked the following:

"Maybe you can help with a story that I had heard about you guys. The 83rd had a guard post at the main entrance to our camp. I was on that post many times. On several occasions, while on guard, rocks and such were thrown at us often going right into the "window" on the post and scaring the "you-know what" out of us. We never saw anybody or fired at anybody although we did have some times where the Officer of the Guard tried to find whoever was doing this. We always assumed it was local kids trying to shake us up (which they sure did).  Anyway, a couple of years ago someone in our group said they heard that it was some of your guys who used to sneak down and do it for fun. Did you ever such a story?"

This prompted the following great reply...

Don Donaldson (66-67)
161 Battery - Royal New Zealand Artillery

"That story about throwing the stones!  I can say with my hand over my heart that it would not have been anyone from the 161st. Our guys had better things to do than throwing stones. I don’t even think the Aussies were into that. 

That bar at “Hoa Long” on the other side of the road from your guardhouse was a known spot for the local “Charlie” when I was at the Dat. Some of our guys went adrift at night down your way on rare occasions and were usually caught and sent to the Glass House at Vung Tau for varying terms.  But that didn’t happen often.

I myself had a nasty experience on Christmas night 1967. I was 161st Orderly Sgt for the day. This meant a dry Christmas for me. Just after stand down the Battery Sgt Major came to me and said that he had received a call from the 1st of the 83rd informing him that some Kiwi Gunners were at that bar and making a helluva noise. I was ordered to muster my own gun crew and travel down in a couple of APCs and arrest these so called Kiwis. No one liked going outside the wire at night at Nui Dat that’s for sure and I was no different. Anyway I managed to muster my troopies, but being Christmas Day none of them were very sober. So off we went fully armed, me as sober as a Judge and my guys getting soberer by the minute.

We went past your guardhouse very carefully hoping your guys wouldn’t open fire on us and duly arrived at the bar where our guys were supposed to be.  Leaving a small squad with the APCs the rest of us went around the back of the bar and I banged on the door loudly and ordered those inside to come out and that they were under arrest. Well its history now, but all I got was a loud round of abuse. I warned them again and got much of the same abuse. 

Now my troopies all had their personal weapons with them and without thinking I said to my driver, “shoot the bloody lock off the door” not realising that his personal weapon was an M20 grenade launcher. Much to my horror he blew the door and part of the wall away from the building. Amazingly, no one was injured, but those inside came out sheepishly with their hands up. There were six of them. Five Aussies and one kiwi from our unit. The Kiwi was not an artilleryman, he was a LCpl Engineer. We bundled them into one of the APCs and boy oh boy did they get the treatment from my troopies all the way back to the Dat. I had them all thrown in the Conex Guard House for the rest of the night and they were dealt with in the morning.

The sequel to this, was that I did not mention in my report about having the side of the building shot away and no one else involved mentioned it either. But I can say here, that although I wasn’t supposed to be drinking while on duty, I very quickly put myself outside a bottle of Johnny Walker when the task was finished. But before doing this I went to the enlisted mens bar and put 20 bucks on the bar for my guys.

I’ve never really related that story before, until I read about the stone throwing in your email.  My belief was that the Cong were having a dig at you guys in the Guard House. It certainly wasn’t the 161st."

Bill Taggart (66-67)
HQ Battery

Here is my follow up to that...

"Hi Don,
that was a great story. The grenade launcher was used! That's priceless! One of my responsibilities in the event of an attack was to grab the M-79 Grenade launcher that we used.

Directly across the road from our main (and only) entrance to our camp was a trash dump but there were no structures. I know that Hoa Long was south of the 83rd along Route/Hwy 2 on the same side of the road. Is that where the "bar" was located?

We had 10 guard posts around our perimeter and the one at the main gate was the worst from the standpoint that it had the least protection between the post and the bad guys. This was in the Nov 66 to Nov 67 time-frame when I was at Nui Dat.

I had a funny Christmas story myself. On Christmas Eve 1966, I was on a 24 hr guard post. My platoon Sgt (Vince Auzenne) was Roman Catholic as was I. He temporarily pulled me from Guard and got some others who were not on duty so we could go up to the Aussie camp for Midnight Mass at "The Saints Club" a church (actually a tent) the Aussies had. Well after services, the Aussies being a friendly lot, insisted we join them for a drink to honor the occasion. I tried to explain that I had to go back on guard duty but it didn't matter. As I tried to discreetly dump my drink out of my canteen cup, there was always another one there to give me a refill. It was a great night though and we made it back in one piece and I returned to Guard duty.

While I appreciated getting to Mass, I was not crazy about the idea of going outside the wire at night. We actually got stopped by an Aussie patrol on our way up there. They thought we were nuts.

In the first 4-5 months that the 83rd was at Nui Dat we did our own day and night patrols. These were defensive in nature only but I can truly say that I was never more scared than those nights we were outside the wire from sundown to sunup. 

Well I hope to hear from you soon and thanks again for the story and absolving the 161 of harassing us (LOL)!!"

Don Donaldson (66-67)
161 Battery - Royal New Zealand Artillery

Followed by more from Don...

"Your reply has triggered the memory a bit. I remember the Trash dump now. The grenade launcher used was an M79. The driver of my Gun had it as his personal weapon, plus a pistol. You are quite right Hoa Long was south of your location, but the bar was on the other side of the road as you go through the village. Our Battery did a “Search and Destroy” patrol at Hoa Long some months later and at that time I noted that the back wall of the bar was still missing. Believe me, on the night, had I stopped to think at the time, I would have had one of my other guys shoot the lock off. They all had rifles! All I was intent on doing was to get the guys inside and get the hell out of it. Being out beyond the wire at night is not nice. It stops you thinking rationally Bill. I wasn’t far short of crapping myself, I can say that truthfully. Actually we had four APCs with us that night. The Sgt Maj had called them in from the Aussies before he came to me. Their 50 cal guns were a comfort that’s for sure."

Ken Skornia (66-67)
HQ Battery

This from Ken Skornia on other events that transpired at the area in and around Survey and at the Guard Post at the entrance to Camp Everett...

"Bill, I know you will most likely think I'm a little south of being normal with this one but here goes. I read the story about the rocks and the main guard post and have this to add. Right before I was transferred I was on this post and all kinds of crap was going on. We could hear rocks hitting the puddle in front of the gate and lights further out. I was told I was seeing things by a few other guys on the hot line and by a few higher ups. So I know what was happening there and was glad to hear no one got hurt later. Kind of got to me because I'm a country boy and I know what I heard and saw.

What I have on my mind is another story about Gary Duff and another gentleman who tried to make a rocket out of a spent 50 cal and the whites off of matches. When they set it off on the road outside the survey hutch it blew up and they came in our hutch with little specks of blood on their faces. I can't remember the names but we got a damn good laugh out of this."


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