Bunker 18 outpost in An Hoa, Viet Nam
Me and My 106mm
I don’t know if JJ Ryder is still alive and I’m not sure he ever made it back from Viet Nam. I met him 'under fire' for about fifteen terrifying minutes.
It was a typical hot, humid and hazy evening in the highlands, when all of a sudden rockets started raining down on our platoon. Naturally, everyone immediately took cover in their dug holes, with no protection from above.
The only way to stop the madness was to return fire with one of our two 106mm anti-tank guns.
I was an A(ssistant)-gunner with a 3-man crew on one of the two, responsible for loading the rounds into and locking the breech. JJ Ryder was the 'Gunner' (trigger man) on the other 106 crew. My crew was on one end of the perimeter and JJ’s was on the opposite end facing the incoming rockets.
From what I was told, a rocket took out JJ's A-gunner and ammo handler, while everyone was still ducking. It was then that I first heard JJ's voice screaming clear across the perimeter for a replacement. As the only other A-gunner, I was the obvious candidate, and my crew was not exchanging fire at the moment
I scurried to JJ's voice and found him sitting on the 106's side seat, rotating the barrel and waiting for me to load the next round into the breech!
At least somewhat protected in the hole next to the ammo, I started shoving rounds into the breech as fast as I could. Eject the canister, turn 180 degrees, pick up another shell, turn back and shove it uphill into the breech, then reach up to secure it, all in one move, continuously, one after the other until the barrel started turning red.
JJ was totally exposed without fear. He was shirtless, with tattoos and a deep scar on his back that ran from his neck diagonally down to his left waist. I heard later this was his 3rd tour. Again, they were 'walking in' about 10 rockets a minute, and JJ's the only marine above the ground. He was yelling like a mad man and looked like he was riding a bronco. Ridiculous bravery I witnessed that day!
With each shell I loaded (too quickly), the barrel got hotter and hotter until it 'cooked-off', where the shell explodes in the chamber before it's triggered. When fired, the 106 thrusts a massive flaming blast of burning pellets out the back end.
Because of the cook-off, I didn't have time to get completely out of the way before it exploded, and embedded dozens of burning pellets into both shins as I frantically brushed through shredded cammos.
As soon as I could gather my wits the rockets stopped. Were they out of ammo? Or did JJ beat them? I believe the latter.
As guys started to emerge from their holes, they seemed like zombies in a state of shock, coughing and choking from the clouds of smoke and dust hanging in the air. With 'friendly fire' shins and all, I ran back to my crew to assess the damage on that end. (a story for another time)
Every war is full of incredibly brave actions and I’ve seen absurdly brave men and women take them. Of them all, I will never forget the courage it must’ve taken for JJ to do what he did under those conditions.
I never saw JJ Ryder again but I felt someone needed to tell this story. As his A-gunner for those 15 fateful minutes, I am proud to be the one to tell it. Semper Fi!