Copyright 2002: Ray Sarlin. All
rights reserved. (copy permission at bottom)
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
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
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,
Permission is hereby granted to copy this
story to print or
on web pages at no charge provided the line below is
By Ray Sarlin, webmaster of the 1st Bn (Mech) 50th
Infantry website http://www.ichiban1.org/
sites should make the url a link or may also just link to this page )