Clint Morey - Big Sky Writer
Don't Play With Things That Go Boom
BOOM Ep 15 “The General and the Plotting Pins“

BOOM Ep 15 “The General and the Plotting Pins“

Lessons from my days in olive drab.

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Episode 15 “The General and the Plotting Pins”

As I mentioned in a previous episode, one of the distinctive elements of the Fire Control Center was all the antennas on top of our bunker. We had to be in radio contact with a number of groups — infantry units in the field, other artillery units who could support us if we came under attack, headquarters, helicopters flying to our firebase, and many more.

We knew knew all those antennas made us a prime target if the firebase came under attack, but we had confidence that the infantry pulling security on the firebase would keep us safe.

Guard Duty

But on one firebase — I believe it was LZ Crest — our Fire Direction Control Center was right next to a steep drop off. When we stepped out of our FDC, there were just a couple of feet between us and the barbed wire that protected us and the steep drop off.

That meant if the enemy were to somehow climb up that steep cliff and work through the barbed wire, they would literally be walking on top of us. That’s how close we were to the edge of the firebase.

I wondered where infantry would station the soldiers to protect us, but I shouldn’t have worried. The Army had that problem figured out. We were told the infantry would not be protecting that section of the firebase.

That didn’t sound good to me, but on one asked for my input.

Instead, we would be responsible for the defense of that section of the firebase.

So, we rotated one person at a time to sit on top of our FDC bunker and look over the edge of the hill to see if any enemy troops were trying to break into our “safe” world. It wasn’t much of a problem during the day, but at night, pulling guard duty was not that fun. I don’t know how the others were, but I heard every noise coming from the jungle and was sure it was probably a enemy soldier crawling through the wire toward us.

It probably had something to do with all the World War II movies I watched growing up, where it seemed the enemy always attacked when they weren’t expected. So I had no trouble staying awake and alert when I pulled guard duty at night.

I do remember one night after I finished my time on guard duty, that I went down into our bunker and woke up the man who was to replace me. He got up, put on his stuff and went out to take his position, while I crashed in my cot. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep.

However, I didn’t stay asleep for long. For some reason I woke up and opened my eyes. I looked at the cot next to me and a body was in it. The problem was … this was the cot of my replacement on guard duty.

I checked my watch. He was still supposed to be on guard duty. He should be sitting on top of our bunker, staring at the barbed wire protecting us from the enemy. He should not be sleeping on his cot.

I got up, went over to him, and shook him awake.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “You’re supposed to be on guard duty.”

He mumbled something about no one would come be able to climb up the cliff, so he shouldn’t have to sit out in the dark and the cold. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

All those movies I had watched growing up kicked into gear. Whenever someone on guard duty fell asleep in a one of those old war movies, something bad would happen.

I suppose I could have yelled at him to do his job but that wasn’t me.

I put on my shirt and my helmet, grabbed my rifle and went up to the top of our FDC bunker. I was going to pull his guard duty because I had this overriding goal to live. It didn’t bother me being out there because, like I said earlier, I knew I was motivated to pay close attention to any movements or sounds on the perimeter.

I don’t know how long I was out there, but the guy came out with his gear on and carrying his rifle, apologized for not staying on guard duty and took his place

I went down, dropped into my cot, and fell asleep.

Night Routines

One of the things that pulling guard duty on our firebase did for me was to give me a real appreciation for the troops in the field.

The infantry units were out in the jungle. They had to sleep on the ground — not cots or bunkers — and they didn’t have any barbed wire surrounding their position when they went to sleep. And they didn’t have special units whose job it was to provide them protection.

They had to take care of themselves.

I imagined that sleeping in the jungle was a difficult situation to be in on a nightly basis. I wondered how would do and was glad I didn’t have to find out.

But we did provide some assistance to the infantry units when they went to sleep.

Every night after they determined where they would be sleeping, the forward observer would call us and give us the coordinates for targets in case they came under attack during the night.

We would calculate the shooting solutions and have the guns on the firebase set to hit those targets.

That way if the infantry units came under attack during the night, there wouldn’t be any delay in getting artillery shells on the ground to protect them.

There was only one problem. We didn’t have enough plotting pins to stick in the map that marked our targets. We had been requesting plotting pins for weeks but apparently we were low on the list of important units to resupply.

So we were working without enough plotting pins.

The General Drops by for a Visit

I remember the day we received a call from a chopper that someone special was arriving for a visit.

That someone was the Commanding General of the Americal Division. I believe it was General Baldwin but I’m not sure.

I have to admit it was fun to watch the officers go into absolute panic mode as they only had a few minutes to prepare for the General’s surprise inspection. They were trying to get everyone on the firebase to clean up and be in proper uniform.

They barked orders. They scurried around trying to find anything that was broken or out of place. They told us how we needed to act.

You could see the fear in their eyes.

The helicopter landed and the general and his team got out and our officers gave them a tour of the firebase.

In Fire Direction Control, we just continued our work and made some humorous comments about the officers and lifers who lived in this state of terror when they were around commanding generals.

But then the officers came in followed by the general.

We snapped to attention. We may not have been fearful but we weren’t stupid. He was a general. The Commanding General of the Americal Division.

The general put us at ease, talking to us, encouraging us, and asking how things were going for us. It was a very pleasant experience.

Before he left, the general asked if there was anything he could do for us.

For the first, and only time in my life, I spoke to an Army general — the Commanding General of the Americal Division.

I said we were short of plotting pins and really needed them.

He said he would take care of it.

Then he left and the officers followed him to his helicopter and the surprise inspection was over.

I thought everything went well until our commanding officer - a lowly captain - returned to the FDC and just ripped into me.

Apparently, I had violated some rule lifers followed when talking to generals. By saying we needed plotting pins the captain felt he would be singled out as not doing his job.

He was very unhappy with me and he let me, along with everyone else in the FDC unit, know that I had done something awful.

I should note that the next day, we received a supply of plotting pins so we could do our work correctly.


  1. If you have a job to guard something — do your job.

  2. Just like the infantry units gave us protective shooting targets at night, it is wise to prepare for bad things that may happen in the future.

  3. You might think that I learned not to tell generals what you needed because it might make someone look bad. But that’s not what I learned. I learned that telling a person in authority what you needed was a good thing, even if the bureaucrats around you got mad at you. The fact is, we were now better able to protect those infantry units in the field, especially at night.


Clint Morey - Big Sky Writer
Don't Play With Things That Go Boom
Lessons from my days in olive drab.
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