Forward Fire Base

On the road…again!
Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek



At a Forward Fire Base in II Corps


When the Footloose Forester sits down to pen a chronicle, there is usually a specific place, adventure, or dream at the heart of the plan. Indeed, snippets of ideas and snippets of reverie are somewhere in the background.  Hence, snippets of memory are the essence and building blocks of his personal chronicles.  This one, however; has neither a beginning framework, nor a remembered place, nor an adventure that has building blocks that seem to fit the narrative.


Some of the snippets are:  An evening movie at a US Army firebase somewhere in Viet Nam


Fire bases were usually too small to justify the Footloose Forester being there to conduct his official duties in dust and erosion control as a contractor for Pacific Architects and Engineers.  But there he was, enjoying the movie with other GIs in a large tent with a movie projector and open side flaps to allow air circulation.


Two or three GIs hit the floor and rolled out the sides of the tent when the loud boom of artillery rounds pierced the air.  They were probably new arrivals who were not aware of the 155mm Howitzers nearby as they conducted their daily harassing fire.  The booms were out-going, not in-coming.  But nobody laughed at them when they re-entered the tent to see the movie.     


155mm Howitzer


The Footloose Forester had spotted the pair of 155s earlier in the day, so was aware of the pending fire mission.  Besides, one of the GIs had told him to expect out-going artillery fire in the early evening, so he was not alarmed by the loud sounds of the big guns.


Why the Footloose Forester was at a fire base in the evening is part of the miasma of trying to put the pieces of this chronicle together. It must have been a Saturday night movie because the following morning he attended Mass in another tent. That tent was set up for religious services because he remembers sitting in the second row of only two pews.  Every single one of the few soldiers who were in the front pew received communion on that day.  Such a snippet of memory was one of the pieces of the puzzle about the artillery fire base that Footloose Forester cannot remember the name of. He cannot remember eating with the troops, but surely, he did after Mass.  He can’t remember arriving at the base by wheeled vehicle and he can’t remember departing. Perhaps those issues were not vivid enough to be hard-wired into his brain.


Writing a true story and making it into a chronicle does require some latitude in bridging the gaps between the disjointed snippets of memory and fitting them into the framework of the context that helps to explain the wartime scenario.  It was probably at a forward fire base on the outskirts of An Khe, in the Central Highlands of II Corps.  The mission of the Footloose Forester at that time was probably in support of the overall objectives of the 22nd Engineer Battalion, and at their request. He probably was dispatched there from their headquarters at Dong Ba Tinh. And he does recall subsequently flying out of Cam Ranh Bay to Quang Tri in I Corps, to be ferried aboard a Marine Chinook helicopter to somewhere else.  Where?  He cannot recall where.   


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