Fire in the Hole
When I was a young captain with the 1st Cavalry Division in 1970, at a fire base north of Tay Ninh, Vietnam (VeetNam as LBJ used to call it). One day, in preparation to moving the base to another location, the Battalion Commander wanted us to dispose of all the old ordnance. I grabbed a platoon leader and told him to police up the old ammo and miscellaneous ordnance and haul it way outside the wire. Then get the engineers to dig a good deep trench and light it off. I then turned my attention to other matters and pretty much forgot about it. I was a helluva delegator.
But, I had no idea how much old crap was on the base. It had been there for many months before I arrived. All day, unbeknownst to me, the young LT and his minions energetically loaded a deuce and a half up time after time and hauled the ammo Grenades, mortar rounds, High Explosive 105 and 155mm shells, claymores, White Phosphorous rounds, rockets, greenie stickum caps, cracker balls, rice krispies and anything else that would make noise.
Late in the afternoon I inquired how the detail. was going. "All done Sir" said the smiling young butter bar", Can we wait till dark to set it off? The troops would like to see it."
"Sure, whatever", I said. " Just give the Tactical Operations Center a "fire in the hole" when you're ready." (Note: Tactical Operations Center or TOC was a fancy name for the shipping container buried in the mud where all the radios and the Bn command staff hung out and drank Cokes. Fire in the Hole alerts everyone that a Big Noisy Event is about to occur).
After a delicious post-sunset supper of mystery meat and mac & cheese, I was sitting in my lavishly appointed bunker preparing to read a 3 week old newspaper from home when I heard the "fire in the hole" call on the radio.
A few seconds later, the ammo box lined sides of my hole bulged in and then snapped back. The atmospheric pressure changed, the bunker filled with dust, and I felt a great disturbance in the force. It was one of those explosions you don't hear but feel. I think if God spoke to you, he'd probably sound like that. Especially if he was pissed.
I ran out of my underground condo and headed for the TOC, figuring the old man might not be pleased. Along the way I could hear the shouts, oohs, aaws, and cheers of appreciation from the troops as a whopper of a mushroom cloud rose into the evening tropical sky. Many parts of the landscape sparkled with newly ignited fires. I noticed the counter mortar radar dish had fallen over and there were a lot of
hats drifting around.
I was about halfway to the TOC when the second, and much bigger explosion, went off. I don't know how much stuff the boys set off but this one brought me to my knees. Some of the cheers sounded more like screams this time. I was never in the middle of an Arc Light strike but I imagine it would have been similar. Perhaps less noisy. I suspect at that moment, some geeky fella sitting is a USGS office in California glanced at his seismometer and said, "Hmmmm". Later, there was some speculation that several of the troops nearest ground zero had gone back in time briefly. there may have been something to that. They certainly had that dazed look and silly smile of someone who doesn't know exactly where they are. The mushroom cloud from this one looked properly nuclear. It rose to about a million feet into the Southeast Asian atmosphere (that would be Vietnamese feet not American feet so it's really maybe not that impressive. I'm not sure how many British feet it rose. I think they call em Pints).
The cloud loomed over the base and every now and then, much to the delight of the watching infantrymen, an M-72 rocket would shoot out and head for places unknown. it was like Rocket Roulette for awhile. Burning white phosphorous is also extremely spectacular at night but I cannot recommend in for July 4th events, especially during drought conditions
The Col. met me before I could get to the TOC. He was, as I expected, not happy. He expressed his displeasure for quite some time.
It was a mere side note in my meteoric, if brief, military career.
P.S. One good note was that we didn't see any NVA for a week. I would have liked to see their reports on the event.