Danang, S. Viet Nam
April 27, 1969
I was in the ammo dump on that Sunday morning in April when it all began. Out by the road at the far end of the dump by the “grade 3” area some Vietnamese were burning trash. A 5 year old kid supposedly lit a piece of paper on fire and stuck it under the fence and started a field of dry grass burning which eventually reached a pallet of 105 WP (white phosphorous or “willy peter”) rounds.
I, and 3 other marines, (I think one of them was named Sanders or Sandman) tried to beat the fire out with our shirts and the firefighting tools in the area. These firefighting tools consisted of an 8 ft. 2x4 with a rubber mudflap attached to the end.
This old Gunnery Sgt from South Dakota (I can’t remember his name) yelled from a distance to “get the hell out of there” because it was going to blow. We started running and sure enough it went up. The rest, as they say, is history.
When we got to the main operations office in the dump it was really starting to spread. One of our truck drivers, Tom Robertson from NJ, told us to get in the back and he drove us to the gate at the other end of the dump (which happened to be closed). He said to “hang on” and he crashed through the chain link gate.
Back in the compound there was pandemonium. Everyone was scrambling around trying to figure out what to do. I, Stan (Buck) Owens and a guy named Hart (I think) were running down the dirt road. I believe we jumped on the back of a tank that was going by. When it got to the hill on the other side of the rice paddy we jumped off. We were at the entrance to a communications compound which had already evacuated. We had a fantastic view of the destruction taking place but it soon got out of control.
By now the Air Force bomb dump and bulk fuel area were also blowing up. 1,000 pound bombs were flying through the air and skimming along the ground like little toys. Some were too close for comfort so we went into the communications compound where there were some pretty good in-ground sandbagged bunkers.
The compound was deserted except for us three. Some of the explosions were so big that the 4x4 beams across the top of the bunkers were starting to collapse and sand was falling in. We would take turns watching the dump from the opening in the bunker while the other two huddled in the corner.
At one point, the dynamite mag went up. The day before, my crew unloaded semi after semi of pallets of dynamite (250,000 one pound sticks). This looked like an atomic bomb explosion. You could see the shock waves coming through the air. When it reached our bunker the concussion was unbelievable. Hart was starting to freak out. We had to leave that bunker and run to another one about 30 or 40 yards away. Hart didn’t want to go but we dragged him out and told him to run for his life. All kinds of debris was falling from the sky and the dump was going “full bore”! All the smoke and dust made the daylight seem like night time. The air was moist with a stench of fuel, chemicals and gunpowder.
We spent the entire day till about dusk running from bunker to bunker. We had one M16 with us and wondered if the VC would try to take this compound during the night. Then all of a sudden we heard trucks and dogs barking. To our relief it was the entire rest of our company.
They had all gathered early in the day and ran down the road a few miles and laid low till dusk. They decided they had to find shelter for the night and ended up in the communications compound. Were we ever glad to see them! We spent the night and most of the next two days hunkered down while the ammo dump “did its thing”!
When it finally started to die down they gave each of us a piece of paper, an envelope and a pencil and told us to write home and let someone know that we were OK. I guess this event made national news and loved ones would be concerned.
In the aftermath, SSgt Vanmeter received a medal for bravery when he drove a jeep out to the dump in the midst of the destruction and rescued SSgt Fulton from the underground bunker there.
Clean up of the dump began immediately. I was in the first wave of guys sent to walk the road (or what was left of it) looking for any live rounds of ammo. We had a couple EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) guys with us. About 2 weeks later I was transferred to ASP 2 and spent the rest of my tour there.
The day the ammo dump blew up I had been in country a little shy of 10 months of my 13 month tour.
Well, that’s my account of that fateful day in history. I did read an official account of that day in some publication. It said that some of the explosions had blown the metal doors off a concrete foundation at 3rd MAF headquarters which was 15 miles away.
I hope this helps. Just writing about it brought back the memories. I’ve never done this till now. What a rush!
Sgt. U.S. Marine Corps
(Born and raised in Massachusetts)