4th Patch
4th Infantry Division

FSB Challenge

Cacti Blue
Cacti Blue

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In Memory
David "PA" Palmer

My Letter and Tape Chronology


1 Cam Ranh

2 Pleiku (Camp Enari)

3 An Khe (Camp Radcliff)

4 FSB Challenge

4 Suoi Kon River Mission

5 FSB Raquel & Mission

6 FSB Meredith


7 FSB Conquest

8 2nd Cambodian LZ


9 New Plei Jereng

10 Mang Yang Mission

10a FSB Warrior

11 FSB Lance

5 FSB Welch

12 Bong Son (LZ Two Bits)

12 FSB Abbey

4 FSB Challenge Resue

FSB Powder (An Loa)

FSB Tape (An Loa)

15 Qui Nhon

16 FSB Washington

12 Bong Son

Fire Support Base

Located in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam

An Khe

It was March 28, 1970,and the ride to the firebase lasted about twenty minutes over hilly jungle terrain. There were no villages or roads in sight. Challenge was located about 40 miles northwest of An Khe and miles from the nearest road. The only way to reach it was by helicopter or by foot through dense jungle and hostile forces. It was located on the tallest hill in the area and had a small river called the Dak Kron Bung that curved around its western base.

Upon landing I noticed that one of the guys standing on the side of the chopper pad looked familiar. It was Tom Wajer, a neighbor from my hometown in Dudley, Massachusetts! He lived two streets down from my home and was a year ahead of me in high school. We used to ride the school bus together. He greeted me like a long lost friend. Boy did I feel good. Tom was a platoon leader with the third platoon. He was a 1st Lieutenant. I didn’t know whether I should salute him or hug him. We shook hands as he welcomed me to Challenge.

Wajer Tunnel Rat

The left picture shows Lt. Tom Wajer Tom in May of 1970. The right picture shows him with his Tunnel Rat Shorty McDowel.

He gave me a quick tour and explained what a good unit I had joined. Delta Company really had their shit together and the first platoon was one of the best. I didn’t know if he was trying to make me feel better, but it worked. Months later I would realize what a good unit the 2/35th was, but that’s another story.

The firebase was a two-level design. The smaller upper level served as a chopper pad. It was connected to the larger firebase by a small path located on a narrow ridge that connected the two areas. The main area contained the bunkers on the perimeter with the center containing the 105mm Howitzers and mortar tubes. This area was about the size of a football field.

The typical bunker was a hole in the ground like a cellar hole. The dirt from the hole was used to fill sandbags, which were lined around the hole and ended a couple of feet above ground level. Logs cut from the top of the hill and the surrounding area were used to cover the bunker hole and create a roof. A sheet of plastic was laid over the logs to make the roof waterproof. About 3 layers of sandbags were piled on top of the sheet of plastic. The bunker was about eight-foot square and would sleep two people. A small opening faced the firebase perimeter and led to a two-man fighting position. The fighting position was a narrow trench with a couple of rows of sandbags surrounding it. The fighting position would hold 2 to 3 people. The bunker was pretty safe from attack and easily defended. Each bunker position could overlap fire zones with adjacent bunkers. The only way to destroy or breach the bunker would be through a direct artillery or mortar round hit or to have the enemy overrun the position with a direct assault.

At night, since there was no electricity available in the bunker, light could only be provided by using a flashlight or burning a candle. Candles were made by tightly twisting discarded mortar paper into the shape of a candle. The mortar paper was impregnated with wax to protect either the powder charges or the explosive round. Before lighting the candle in the bunker, a poncho had to be draped over the bunker opening to prevent presenting a target for the enemy. This arrangement made the bunker very hot and smoky. As a result, nighttime letter writing, and reading were kept to a minimum.

During the day, small chores were assigned to the grunts to perform. If there was any concertina or barbed wire surrounding the perimeter, it would be checked for signs of tampering from the enemy at night. If more wire was available, then another row of wire might be added to the perimeter. The mines and trip flares would be checked and reset. Small patrols would also be sent out to scout the surrounding area for signs of enemy activity. Choppers would be busy bringing personnel and supplies which would have to be transported to the firebase area by coolie power. Garbage would be policed and buried, piss tubes limed, and shit burned.

A couple of days later the 1st Squad of the 1st Platoon arrived at the firebase. I spent the next day meeting the members of my new squad and preparing for the mission. The 2nd squad had not arrived yet. They were scheduled to join us after the mission had started.

It was announced that our squad would be landing in the valley the next day. Up until now life on the firebase was pretty laid back. I wrote a lot of letters and got used the firebase routine which was pretty boring. One day there was a firefight at the bottom of the hill on the western side. There were some light casualties that had to be medevac'd out by chopper. After the fight, the platoon climbed up the side of the hill and entered Challenge. They really looked worn out and gaunt. I didn’t think it was from the steep climb. Later I would learn that this worn and gaunt look was known as the “Thousand Yard Stare”.

I got to know some of the guys in the platoon that I was joining and began packing my rucksack for the mission. MY RUCKSACK would be home for the next 14 months.

Everybody in my new squad was very nice and helpful. Everyone had advice for me. I couldn’t remember a tenth of the advice.

It was a sleepless night for me. The anxiety was insane. I couldn’t wait for the great adventure to start, or could I?
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