The Boom Boom Chronicles, Part II.
The Indestructible Bunker!

Copyright 2002: Ray Sarlin. All rights reserved. (copy permission at bottom)

Webmaster's Introduction
The Boom Boom Chronicles shed a little light on life in the field for combat infantrymen. Many of our days involved arduous physical labor, either humping the boonies, crashing through jungle, searching vacant bunker complexes, digging in, filling sandbags (with dirt or rice), and other physical tasks. But some tasks were fun for some people, and demolitions could brighten your day.

It's often been said that the judicious application of C4 can brighten your day. As an engineer with a long background in both mining and construction, I'll admit that there are few things as uplifting as a good blast. It's a primal instinct: man builds, man destroys. We demolish to create anew. Demolitions therefore fulfil deep-rooted human needs, but they shouldn't become a religion. They are basically just another effective means of applying combat force on the battlefield.

I can't say for certain whether or not SSG William Koch approached demolitions with religious fervor, but if it wasn't a religion to him at least it seemed an obsession. An obsession, I must add, that was handy to have in an Infantry company in the field in Vietnam. Everywhere we patrolled in our AOs outside LZ Betty (Phan Thiet), we ran into bunker complexes... some had survived decades or even centuries. None were a match for the matchless SSG Koch and his C4 magic, garnered from that fount of all knowledge, FM 5-25 (Explosives and Demolitions) which provided specific guidance on optimal placement and weight of charges to achieve the best effect with least explosive material. But a day came when even the emperor had no clothes.

Charlie Company had been patrolling around FSB Sandy to keep the Redlegs of the 5/22 Artillery snug, safe and secure. In the process, we had discovered and destroyed dozens of bunkers, and kept ordering more and more C4 to replenish our rapidly dwindling stocks. SSG Koch was in his element, and his calls of "Fire in the hole" dominated the company net. But we were far too successful for our own good!

So successful were we, indeed, that our S4 harbored a ridiculous belief that we were using our C4 to cook C-rations. The first indication of that fantasy was the arrival of a carton of heat tablets that we hadn't requested. Actually, it wasn't just a carton, it was closer to a crate, being a box some 2'x2' wide and 3 feet high. There were enough heat tablets there to cook every water buffalo in Vietnam with enough left over to keep shop shelves stocked even today. I kept the carton in my track to deny such a potent resource to the enemy, since no one else could be persuaded to tote the smelly asset. I suppose we could have burned it, but the environment was an issue even back then.

But the S4 wasn't finished with Charlie Company: indeed, our battle was joined but had a long time to run. Out of the blue, our requisition for C4 was denied. Denied! And right when we were in the midst of countless bunkers that we had to destroy to make the area safe for our cannon cockers.

Of all the stupid things I saw in the Army...! I begged, I wheedled, I raged, to no avail. I even tried to use cold logic and reason... and was politely told by the Battalion CO that I was no longer S4 and had to let the section run itself. But the rear's conspiracy to frustrate SSG Koch couldn't silence me. No sir! We got some C4 through a (confidential) back channel, who also supplied us with a list of all the demolitions currently in stock in the region. We were desperate!

Our next resupply was a throwback to World War II and before, and some of the stock we received had probably been ancient when supplied to French Indochina. We received every form of military explosive that could not be used in lieu of heat tablets: including weeping TNT, Ammonium Picric Acid, Mercury Fulminate, Amotol, dynamite, shaped charges and even Bangalore torpedoes! We received explosives that weren't even listed on SSG Koch's demolitions card.

Our stunned expressions faded as the resupply chopper disappeared in the distance and SSG Koch stocked up on supplies of the new explosives from the LZ, saying, "If it'll explode, I can use it." And then his platoon's APCs disappeared into the trees on the dry plains of our AO.

A short time later, having travelled some 500-600 meters from the company CP, they found their first bunker complex of the day, which included a large underground double-decker that would have been a challenge even with C4. With the unknown effects of our makeshift explosive cocktail, it was SSG Koch's biggest demolition challenge to date. But he was up to the challenge!

He later explained to me that he had no idea of the destructive force of his new tools, but figured that he could always drop the charges a bit in future if it appeared that some of the destructive power was being wasted. So in addition to other miscellaneous explosives, he carefully planned and placed shape charges and several Bangalore torpedoes around the challenging bunker, doubling the normal minimum safe distance. Then, in a rare moment of self-doubt, he threw in a few more Bangalore torpedoes which were only designed, after all, to blast holes in barbed wire in the trenches of WWI... and they were so old they might not work at all.

He called for and received permission to detonate, and the call "Fire in the hole" went out over the airwaves... followed a moment later by a blast that nearly knocked those of us at the company CP on our butts. I looked out towards where the platoon was, to see a fireball and dust cloud rising majestically over the jungle, visible for miles around.

Then a sheepish voice came on the radio to say that everyone was okay, and after a pause, he calmly noted that the Bangalore torpedoes pack quite a whallop.

Copyright 2002 Ray Sarlin,

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By Ray Sarlin, webmaster of the 1st Bn (Mech) 50th Infantry website
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