The King of Battle

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It wasn’t long before I joined forces with my class and was assigned to Golf Battery Class 7-67. For about fifteen minutes at the very beginning we were all strangers to one another and together we occupied two large wooden barracks which reminded me of the ones I had become acquainted with back at Fort Jackson.

That was comforting.

There were sixty-six of us Lower-Classmen (weeks 1-8) and we were supervised by a host of Middle-Classmen (weeks 9-16) who were at least 8 weeks ahead of us in the program, slept in their own barracks nearby and were indistinguishable from us except for their superior attitude and two small rectangular pieces of green felt which they wore in between their brass O.C.S. insignia and their shirt collar.

 

Upper Classmen (weeks 17-23) radiated a sense of superiority to everyone and were at least 8 weeks ahead of the Middle Classmen and wore two small squares of red felt tabs on their shoulders, one on each side. In the final week, all Upper-Classmen got to wear large horseshoe-shaped metal “clickers” on the heels of their low-quarters. The experience of seeing and hearing a battery of Upper-Classmen marching in formation to the mess hall or anywhere else in their clickers was unforgettable and even as it was happening, I knew I would never see it again after O.C.S. It seemed impossible for me to imagine that I would ever progress to their level.

And I have a pretty good imagination.

Artillery O.C.S. was an intense 23-week course of physical, psychological and artillery training, punctuated by constant harassment from our superiors, in which we attended classes everyday conducted by regular, active-duty officers and non-commissioned officers/instructors from the regular army and Marine Corps. Most of the classes took place in various large classrooms in a building called Snow Hall. As the course progressed, classroom instruction in directing artillery fire was augmented by more and more field training and hands-on live-fire experience utilizing a battery of 105 mm Howitzers.

 

The purpose of O.C.S was to generate a steady stream of small-unit commanders and forward observers for use against an enemy in the field. At the time, the United States was engaged in a war in Vietnam. I assumed that is where I would be going. Part of the reason I had wanted to become an officer was that I thought it might increase my chances of survival, and sometime later, when I embarrassingly confessed this to a combat veteran he just chuckled and said a forward observer had an increased chance of lasting about two minutes.

 

One of the first things I remember during the first couple of days was being taken by truck to a place that reminded me of a football field, but with bleachers only on one side. It had been erected at the edge of a very large open area–a “Firing Range” and there were old car bodies scattered in the distance which had been painted various bright colors.

Off to our right was a battery of six howitzers and their crews. An officer, a captain, with a microphone was down in front of us and he called in a fire mission on “red junk”. It was five hundred yards or so away in the distance, and looked like a 55 Chevy with no wheels.

 

 Off to our right, two 105mm howitzers went into action. In less than a minute, they fired simultaneously, and in ten seconds or so, two large and silent plumes of dirt were thrown into the air near the “red junk”, followed by the sounds of a distant explosion.

Then the instructor, who was looking at the red junk through his field glasses, said, “Drop five zero, fire for effect.”

In another ten seconds or so, the muzzles of six howitzers simultaneously issued their projectiles into the hot Oklahoma sky and about six seconds later the entire area around the red car body erupted as if a volcano had instantly formed underneath it, and bits and pieces of red metal could be seen flying through the air in all directions.

I don’t know about the others, but I was impressed.

Then the instructor said something and all six 105mm howitzer crews sprang into action and as the 105’s were being towed away by big green trucks, more trucks brought in six 155 mm howitzers and the entire process repeated itself with even more devastating force off in the distance on  yellow junk.

It may have been a Ford this time, it was hard to tell.

My contemporaries seated all around me in the bleachers, all looked around at each other with smirks on their faces and began nodding their heads.

 

Then the instructor gave another order and then a truck rolled in towing an 8 inch howitzer and its gun crew jumped off the back of the vehicle even before it had stopped rolling and in less than a minute, had set it set up. For a howitzer, it was short and thick and strong-looking.

Fortunately it was not  pointed at us.

The instructor called in another fire mission, but this time it was directed at a blue car body that was only a few hundred yards directly in front of us. One of the crew frantically turned a wheel and the barrel of the howitzer was soon pointed almost straight up.  

In short order there was a fairly loud BOOM and at the same time, something about the size of an army footlocker shot out the muzzle and was in the air.

You could see the projectile, it was so large.

We all followed its progress directly to the target with our eyes and in about ten or twelve seconds, where, before there had been an old blue Studebaker, or perhaps a Packard, I wasn’t sure of the year, there was suddenly a blinding flash of light, followed almost immediately by an angry rumble and in about twenty seconds, when the smoke cleared there was only a large hole in the ground where the car had been and small pieces of blue metal were still raining down from the clear blue sky for some time afterward.

Some of my contemporaries began to squirm in their seats with excitement.

 

Then, as if all this had not been enough, it was time for dessert.

Our attention was directed off to our left– and then a gun crew of four or five jumped up seemingly out of nowhere–or maybe holes in the ground– and yanked the cover off something large which I had noticed earlier and had incorrectly assumed was just a large pile of dirt.

It was a 175mm howitzer.

It was long and lean and reminded me somewhat of Dino the Dinosaur on a sign at the corner gas station down the street from where I grew up.

 

The instructor then directed our attention to “white junk” that was so far off in the distance that I couldn’t tell whether it was a car body– or a small building.

Our instructor called in another fire mission and just as before, in less than a minute, the long barrel of the 175 spit fire and out came a large projectile and then way off in the distance whatever it was, was no more.

 

I was just beginning to feel pretty cocky when we were all marched out of the bleachers and ordered to get back on the trucks and taken back to our barracks where along with two or three others, I was handed a bucket and a sponge and some scouring powder and spent the remainder of the time before our evening meal cleaning the latrine.

 

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