Back to the Nam. Ever heard the old question, “Do you hear the one that get’s you?” Meaning do you hear the bullet that nails your ass as it speeds towards you?
Given the ballistics of modern weapons it is pretty unlikely to hear that bullet coming. Unless of course it was under powered (bad round), a ricochet or just one hell of a long shot which has powered-down. I am not the end expert as I have never been hit with a bullet.
We had one endless conversation about whether or not you would hear a mortar round. When I reached the Delta the most common round heaved at us was the Russian 82mm. The muzzle velocity in feet per second (fps) was around 740 mph (1069 fps). This is under the speed of speed of sound which is, under normal conditions, 1,125 f.p.s. This means the round will reach it’s destination before the sound. Given the upward/downward trajectory could allow the gun blast could possibly reach the target before the round. (Muzzle flash was an entirely different topic)
The argument was mostly that the round picks up speed on it’s downward arc. Some said it would exceed the speed of sound just before it landed…some said nope. We had the opportunity nearly every night to test our theories. Far from ending the argument, everyone became an expert and more set in their mind.
The 82mm mortar rounds made a very recognizable sound coming down. Something like a loud butterfly flutterinq quickly down upon us. It took me less than 2 weeks learning to awaken myself from a sound sleep hearing that quiet little sound in the dark of night. Then one sultry night I got the perfect opportunity to test all the theories.
Dry season, the Delta is baked hard & dusty without even a breeze after sunset. After we setup the guns we had sandbagged 3 old conex metal containers. Double-bunked around 3 sides we were supposed to spend our sack time in those bunks. Problem was they were hotter than a mess kitchen oven. We had to find alternative accommodations.
We had an old leaky supply tent to keep our stuff; it was about 4 degrees cooler than the conex bunker. So we pushed & piled all our extra crap around until there was enough space for everyone to lay-out their shelter half & piles of sheets on it. One end of the tent was about 6-8 feet from the bunker for quick access to safety.
I found I could get my bedroll outside the front door but set it behind the wall of sandbags covering that door. It was a little narrow and the foot & hear were uncovered to low-flying shrapnel. But it did catch any vagrant breezes. I don’t mean it was comfortable but it was just tolerable.
Being on the far end of the tent away from the bunker made me the last man out. At the first fluttering sound of an incoming round yell went up: “Mortar!! Mortar!!” It would be hard to miss those ringing calls of alarm.
The SOP for evacuating the tent entering the bunker was everyman for himself and devil take the hind most. I was always the hindmost in this operation. The first half ten would empty quickly. The last half would generally wait for another impact before heading for the bunker. Except this night.
The first mortar came in & not quite the first half of us made it out of the tent. The group waited for the next round to fall, “KaRump!!” The crowded out the little doorway for “safety”. The made really good progress but I was caught for another cycle.
“CaRUMphhh”. The were walking them around a big wanting our guns or the few Infantry in camp. It hunkered behind the canvas wall with sandbags about 3 feet hi on the outside. Then, O Krap!!!!!
Picture the wall of the ten with a wall of sandbags 3 feet high down the sides and ends. Where the bags for the tent wall stopped there was a rather gapping hole. This was covered by a short wall set out from the tent by a couple of feed but high enough to protect the tent’s contents. I was immediately behind the end wall by the door.
Crunching myself under the top of the 3 foot high sandbag wall I slosly marked off the time between the last round & the anticipated impact of the next. The next round came in a resounding KARUMPH!! “Damn that was close,” I thought.
It had shaken me enough to get my count off. I was shivering a little at the close call. The comforting part was they rarely threw two rounds at the same place. In this mood, I was desperate to make the bunker now. The guys in the bunker were hollering at me, “Common & run Lambe, you pussy, get on your feet or just stay there & die!” As they sang-out with me gritting myself for a quick jump across, it landed.
The round came in less than 2 feet from me. It exploded with a deafening roar. My hearing was jack for a couple of days. Kinda slow to” understand what happened I sat up covered with sand & dirt. The round had impacted the very bottom of the sandbag wall; blasting it towards me. I backed up to the tent corner behind me and curled-up. I yelled at the voices yelling at me that I was alright and would stay just exactly where I lay!! And, stay there I did.
When all the rounds played-out just a few minutes afterward, they all came out to find me. I was fine. A few grains of sand had been rammed under the skin of my back…they slowly worked their way out for years.
Even before I was declared non-fatal, 3-4 people were demanding, “Did you hear it?? Did you hear it coming down?”
“No”, I had heard nothing at all. I heard all the other ones coming in while trying to time them.. But I heard nothing with “mine”.
For a couple of days I was the The Man Who Knew! It wasn’t long though before they started bringing up more variables: They were all shouting, my breath was coming fast & short-panting, my heart was pounding. Immediately after the last incoming round we were rousted to fire suppression on the charlies out there who had awakened us rudely.
Some officer came by & strictly ordered us to sleep in the bunkers. We never even acted like we would accede to the order. Next night were slept in the tent (sandbags were repaired). I developed a habit of sprinting from my end around the outside of the tent & directly to the bunker.
From that night I was firmly convinced that you could not hear the one with your name on it. I/we had several other very close calls especially when firing suppression with rounds coming in. Couple of guys were banged-up with shrapnel. One night 4 guys serving a gun in another battery were lost when a charlie mortar round squarely hit the tube of the 105 they were working.
But that was a Combat Zone…had to go something for those extra $65 a month!