A vi­sion of Hell

Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, this bomb dis­posal spe­cial­ist was tasked with dis­arm­ing and re­mov­ing hor­rific ex­plo­sive traps ca­pa­ble of dec­i­mat­ing Amer­i­can units

History of War - - CONTENTS - WORDS TOM GARNER

A Viet­nam vet­eran dis­cusses the ter­ri­fy­ing job of a bomb dis­posal spe­cial­ist

It is Jan­uary 1970, and in a re­mote cor­ner of Viet­nam a bomb dis­posal team is flown in by he­li­copter to a dan­ger­ous fire­base that has been booby-trapped by North Viet­namese forces. This team is part of the US Army’s Ex­plo­sive Ord­nance Dis­posal (EOD), and among the spe­cial­ists is ex­pe­ri­enced sol­dier Stu­art Stein­berg.

Stein­berg’s been de­stroy­ing ord­nance in Viet­nam since Sep­tem­ber 1968 and has been called to ev­ery haz­ardous sit­u­a­tion imag­in­able. Acute dan­ger is an ac­cepted part of the job, but while he is sweep­ing the fire­base, Stein­berg steps on some­thing sus­pi­cious. He stops, digs down and finds a black wire that is omi­nously mov­ing. When he looks up, Stein­berg spots a North Viet­namese sol­dier in pulling on the wire in the dis­tance. The two men lock eyes for a mo­ment, and in a split se­cond Stein­berg re­alises that a large bomb is about to det­o­nate all around him. His sur­vival will de­pend on two things: quick think­ing and a pair of cut­ters.

This in­ci­dent was only one of hun­dreds that Stein­berg had to en­dure as an EOD spe­cial­ist dur­ing the Viet­nam War. He was work­ing in one of the most stress­ful en­vi­ron­ments in what was al­ready an in­tense con­flict, and his story is a raw, vis­ceral tale of tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise, bound­less courage and pro­found com­rade­ship.

En­list­ing for the EOD

Born in 1947 in Wash­ing­ton DC, Stein­berg was only 18 years old when he vol­un­teered to join the US Army on 28 July 1966. Although he was not un­will­ing to serve, he was keen to avoid be­ing drafted. “I en­listed be­cause I had flunked out of col­lege and the draft or­der was after me. They were draft­ing peo­ple into the Marines, and I didn’t want that be­cause there was then no doubt you were go­ing to be an infantryman and sent to Viet­nam. I wasn’t op­posed to go­ing there, but I wanted to do some­thing that would give me some­thing to fall back on when I fi­nally got out.”

By 1966 Amer­i­can in­volve­ment in the Viet­nam War was in­creas­ingly bloody and con­tro­ver­sial, but Stein­berg re­calls that he was largely ig­no­rant about the con­flict: “I couldn’t have even shown where Viet­nam was on the map so I was not re­ally think­ing about it when I en­listed.”

Stein­berg un­der­went ba­sic train­ing be­fore ini­tially serv­ing as a mis­sile crew­man in the Florida Ever­glades. He found him­self do­ing a te­dious job with bad col­leagues. “What this job ended up en­tail­ing was rolling the mis­siles out of a barn, clean­ing them and pulling them back in. It was a ‘noth­ing’ job, and a lot of the peo­ple that I was sta­tioned with were racists and an­ti­semites. The CO and sergeant were com­plicit in a lot of bulls**t that went on, in­clud­ing one guy who was a loan shark, and it was just hor­ri­ble.”

To es­cape his sit­u­a­tion, Stein­berg con­sulted a ca­reer coun­sel­lor, who sug­gested trans­fer­ring to Ex­plo­sive Ord­nance Dis­posal (EOD). “I said, ‘Why would I want to do that?’ but he replied, ‘You’ll get a bonus for en­list­ing and you’ll also get paid $55 ex­tra a month on Haz­ardous Duty Pay’. At that time I was only mak­ing $90 a month so 55 bucks was a lot of money. I re-en­listed and left al­most im­me­di­ately for the first phase of EOD school, which in­volved chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal weapons in Alabama.”

Fol­low­ing this ini­tial train­ing, Stein­berg learned more about his new role at a naval ord­nance sta­tion in Mary­land. His pro­gram in­cluded cour­ses in physics, im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices (IEDS) and learn­ing about ev­ery kind of ord­nance, in­clud­ing fuses and high-ex­plo­sive rounds.

After grad­u­at­ing on 7 Jan­uary 1968, Stein­berg was as­signed to Utah, where he ex­pe­ri­enced a unique hor­ror that threw him into the deep end of ord­nance dis­posal.

“STEIN­BERG WAS AS­SIGNED TO UTAH, WHERE HE EX­PE­RI­ENCED A UNIQUE HOR­ROR THAT THREW HIM INTO THE DEEP END OF ORD­NANCE DIS­POSAL”

Dug­way Prov­ing Ground

Es­tab­lished in 1942 and lo­cated 140 kilo­me­tres (87 miles) south­west of Salt

Lake City, Dug­way Prov­ing Ground was, and re­mains, a US Army fa­cil­ity to test bi­o­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal weapons. In 1968 Dug­way stored all kinds of ord­nance, in­clud­ing leak­ing mus­tard gas rounds from WWI, and the job of Stein­berg’s EOD team was to “mon­i­tor all the dif­fer­ent types of weapons sys­tems, find leak­ers and then de­stroy them”.

Dug­way would be a gru­elling as­sign­ment at the best of times, but on 13 March 1968 a ter­ri­ble in­ci­dent oc­curred when over 6,000 sheep and other an­i­mals were killed after a weapons test went hideously wrong. “They were test­ing a new de­liv­ery sys­tem of nerve gas. A pi­lot had flown out of Dug­way and then made an arch to come back after dis­pens­ing the weapon. But the weapon mal­func­tioned and dumped about a ton of nerve gas on a sheep ranch.”

Although no peo­ple were killed, the nerve gas was spread over vast tracts of land. “It

killed ev­ery­thing in a 40,000-acre [162 square -kilo­me­tre area. When I say ‘ev­ery­thing’, a lot of peo­ple know that cock­roaches can sur­vive a nu­clear blast, but they can’t sur­vive nerve gas be­cause they have a cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem. Ev­ery­thing that walked, crawled or flew in this area was dead.”

Along with other spe­cial­ists, Stein­berg’s task was to dis­pose of the an­i­mals’ dead bod­ies. “En­gi­neers came in, dug a huge pit and ev­ery­thing was shoved into it. We piled on thou­sands of tyres, set charges, tied it all to­gether with det­o­nat­ing cord and then soaked it all in jet fuel. We set it off, and when the pit had cooled down after a few days they pushed all of the top­soil into the pit and put a fence around the area.”

To pro­tect him­self from ex­po­sure to the nerve gas, Stein­berg was heav­ily kit­ted out in pro­tec­tive cloth­ing. “We wore rub­ber suits that cov­ered your legs, top and boots, as well as a hood. You wore a gas mask, and we some­times had to use an air pack so we could breathe clean air. Even though it was March and still fairly cold you were sweat­ing like crazy in­side these suits.”

Such was the hor­ror of the in­ci­dent that Stein­berg chose to go to war rather than re­main in Utah. “The day we fin­ished the cleanup, my­self and the other guys on my team went down to the En­listed Men’s Club and got stag­ger­ingly drunk. The next day, three of us vol­un­teered for Viet­nam.”

An “ex­is­ten­tial doc­tor”

De­spite in­creas­ingly neg­a­tive cov­er­age and protests, Stein­berg was re­solved to serve in Viet­nam. “At that time my feel­ing was that I was trained for a com­bat job. My coun­try was at war and as a vol­un­teer I felt that was where I needed to be.”

Stein­berg would ul­ti­mately spend 18 months in Viet­nam be­tween 4 Sep­tem­ber 1968 and 24 March 1970. Six of those months were a vol­un­tary ex­ten­sion of his orig­i­nal tour, and he would be pro­moted from the tech­ni­cal rank of spe­cial­ist 4th Class (cor­po­ral) to spe­cial­ist 5th Class (sergeant) dur­ing his ac­tive ser­vice.

When Stein­berg landed in Viet­nam he was shocked by the ex­treme change in tem­per­a­ture. “When we got off the plane it was so hot and hu­mid it was like walk­ing into a blast fur­nace. We landed at an air force base near Saigon and then were trucked to the main army base.

“MY FEEL­ING WAS THAT I WAS TRAINED FOR A COM­BAT JOB. MY COUN­TRY WAS AT WAR AND AS A VOL­UN­TEER I FELT THAT WAS WHERE I NEEDED TO BE”

That’s where they lined you up and sorted you out into what­ever units you were go­ing to.”

Dur­ing his time in Viet­nam, Stein­berg was at­tached to EOD units in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, in­clud­ing 184th Ord­nance Bat­tal­ion and 25th and 287th Ord­nance De­tach­ments. De­spite his var­i­ous post­ings, the tasks re­mained the same. “The fun­da­men­tal task was to iden­tity, ren­der safe and de­stroy any type of ex­plo­sive ord­nance, in­clud­ing im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices. This in­cluded any sort of ord­nance that the US and its al­lies or the North Viet­namese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) were us­ing.”

EOD dealt with all kinds of ord­nance that were of­ten found by spe­cial op­er­a­tions units. “When­ever there was an airstrike there were al­ways go­ing to be duds. Long-range re­con­nais­sance teams or spe­cial ops guys like the Green Berets or Navy Seals would go out on as­sess­ments after these airstrikes and dis­cover duds on the sur­face. We would then fly in on com­bat as­saults, get to where these things were and blow them up.”

Det­o­nat­ing ord­nance was not the only method of bomb dis­posal. “On some bombs, the type of fus­ing they had made them ex­tremely dan­ger­ous. A lot of the fuses, par­tic­u­larly the navy fuses, had an­tidis­tur­bance de­vices, so when you ap­proached one of these weapons you didn’t touch it. When we de­stroyed them, we would lay charges of

C-4 [plas­tic ex­plo­sive] along both sides of the bomb, tie it to­gether with det­o­nat­ing cord and then use a non-elec­tric blast­ing cap with a 1520 minute timer on it. You’d pull the fuse lighter and then use all your ass to get far enough away so that you wouldn’t have to worry about get­ting hit by shrap­nel.”

Ord­nance dis­posal could even change land­scapes, which was ev­i­denced when Stein­berg helped to blow up a foothill in the An Loa Moun­tains. “We went into a so­phis­ti­cated cave com­plex that was full of ord­nance and weapons. We brought in 40-pound [18-kilo­gram] cra­ter­ing charges that looked like a gi­ant stick of dy­na­mite and were maybe three feet [0.9 me­tres] long. Var­i­ous lev­els of the cave were lined with these charges and put on

a timer, be­fore we got in our chop­per and took off. When they went off they lit­er­ally brought down the up­per third of this moun­tain. Look­ing back, it was pretty de­struc­tive to the ter­rain.”

An­other large part of EOD’S role was to pre­vent ord­nance fall­ing into en­emy hands.

“We would blow them up be­cause if the en­emy found these things they would saw them open, steam out the ex­plo­sives and then turn them into IEDS, Clay­more or an­ti­tank mines… When we were called out to mines or IEDS we would ac­tu­ally dis­arm them and bring them back to our unit, be­fore de­stroy­ing them in our de­mo­li­tion area.”

EOD was cru­cial for sav­ing many Amer­i­can lives in the field, and Stein­berg and his col­leagues were highly val­ued. “I al­ways felt that we were ‘ex­is­ten­tial doc­tors’ and we were re­ally re­spected by other units, par­tic­u­larly the in­fantry. We were sav­ing lives, not only of those peo­ple di­rectly in­volved but other peo­ple who might get lost, or by pre­vent­ing the en­emy from get­ting hold of the ord­nance.”

Qui Nhon at­tacks

In early 1969, Stein­berg was based at Qui Nhon Am­mu­ni­tion Base De­pot in cen­tral Viet­nam for four months. Dur­ing this time, the base came un­der at­tack sev­eral times from the Viet Cong as part of re­newed Tet of­fen­sives. “Ev­ery­one seems to think that the Tet of­fen­sives of 196970 weren’t much of a big deal by com­par­i­son with 1968, but they were. The Tet of 1969 hit ev­ery ma­jor in­stal­la­tion in the coun­try, in­clud­ing the ammo dump, which was main­tained by the 184th Ord­nance Bat­tal­ion.”

Stein­berg was present when the Viet Cong at­tacked Qui Nhon on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions – on 24 Feb­ru­ary, 10-11 March and 23 March 1969. “They got into the dump, set their satchel charges and then dis­ap­peared. They man­aged to fig­ure out where to come in and where they would not be in the line of sight of any of the guard tow­ers, of which there were dozens. There were rov­ing pa­trols in­clud­ing dogs, and out­side the dump there were mul­ti­ple am­bushes.”

184th Ord­nance Bat­tal­ion was dis­patched to an ex­tremely haz­ardous sit­u­a­tion. “My team was called out each time the dump was hit. We were ac­tu­ally in­side as dif­fer­ent pads of var­i­ous types of am­mu­ni­tion were mass-det­o­nat­ing. It was noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle that none of the EOD peo­ple were killed or even wounded. How­ever, dur­ing the third dump at­tack on 23 March, the Ord­nance Bat­tal­ion did lose three men.”

De­spite sur­viv­ing the Viet Cong at­tacks un­scathed, Stein­berg was not so lucky when he was blown up dur­ing a cleanup op­er­a­tion at Qui Nhon on 13 May 1969. “A round I was try­ing to get to our de­mo­li­tion area went off in the back of my truck. We had done ev­ery­thing to see if it was go­ing to go off be­fore I tried to move it. I sand­bagged it in the back of the truck, and what saved my life was the spare tyre be­cause it ab­sorbed most of the blast. In a mat­ter of sec­onds I had been blown out of the truck. I ended up with se­cond-de­gree burns on my ears and neck and a lot of shrap­nel in my shoul­ders. The force of the blast ac­tu­ally hit me in the lower back and pretty much wrecked my lower spine. It was a mir­a­cle it didn’t kill me.”

Stein­berg re­calls his dis­ori­en­ta­tion after the ex­plo­sion: “I was ly­ing on the ground and my

eardrums had been per­fo­rated. It was like the ocean run­ning through my head, and I re­mem­ber one of my team­mates bend­ing over me and ask­ing if I was OK. I then lost con­scious­ness and woke up in mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal, where they fixed me up, and four days later I was back at work. How­ever, I got wounded a se­cond time four days af­ter­wards from an in­com­ing at­tack!”

“YOU WERE RE­ALLY CLOSE WITH ALL THE PEO­PLE THAT YOU SERVED WITH BE­CAUSE EV­ERY DAY YOU’RE ON CALLS WITH AN­OTHER MEM­BER OF YOUR TEAM AND YOU’RE WATCH­ING EACH OTHER’S BACK”

A “frig­gin’ night­mare”

After Qui Nhon, Stein­berg went to the 25th Ord­nance De­tach­ment at a large base at An

Khê be­fore vol­un­teer­ing for a post­ing to Phu

Bai in Novem­ber 1969 with 287th Ord­nance De­tach­ment. The 287th had re­cently cleared ord­nance left over from the Bat­tle of Ham­burger Hill in May 1969, and Stein­berg soon found him­self fight­ing his own en­gage­ments.

On 14 De­cem­ber 1969 Stein­berg ex­pe­ri­enced his first com­bat as­sault, which he de­scribes as “a frig­gin’ night­mare”. A Chi­nook he­li­copter was car­ry­ing a sling of am­mu­ni­tion and weapons to a fire­base west of LZ (Land­ing Zone) Sally when it was hit by en­emy ground fire. The jet­ti­soned sling con­tained 150mm ar­tillery shells that were armed with small an­tiper­son­nel ‘bomblets’ that had a vari­able time fuse. As Stein­berg ex­plains, “These things were re­ally dan­ger­ous, and in the field you didn’t screw with them, you blew them in place.”

Stein­berg flew with an aero-ri­fle pla­toon of the 17th Cav­alry Reg­i­ment, who were

“our se­cu­rity and real badasses”. The EOD’S task was chal­leng­ing, and was made worse when the en­emy opened fire. “We stacked up ar­tillery rounds, hun­dreds of grenades and thou­sands of small arms ma­chine gun rounds. We then set our charges, and most of the pla­toon men took off to se­cure the

LZ. Just be­fore I was ready to pull the timer we started tak­ing en­emy fire. This huge pile of s**t was about to go up, but we re­turned fire. For­tu­nately none of us were hit, and the en­emy even­tu­ally broke off con­tact be­fore we pulled the shot.”

Dec­o­rated for val­our

Not long after the in­ci­dent near LZ Sally, Stein­berg found him­self in a pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion at Fire Sup­port Base Davis on 27 Jan­uary 1970. His EOD team flew into FSB Davis on an ‘ar­tillery raid’: a rapid strike where ar­tillery and in­fantry units would fly into a re­mote area, set up a tem­po­rary fire­base and fire rounds onto a par­tic­u­lar area in or­der to pre­vent a build-up of NVA forces.

Dan­ger was soon dis­cov­ered: “We were in the first he­li­copter along with the pathfind­ers and the ar­tillery unit. We got off the chop­per and told the pathfind­ers to hold the lo­ca­tion while we cleared the area. Al­most im­me­di­ately, we found an en­emy mine marker, which was four stones in a di­a­mond shape and one in the mid­dle. That told us that the area had been booby-trapped.”

Stein­berg and his team­mate Jim Qualls worked 90 me­tres (100 yards) apart while they checked the area for mines. “All of a sud­den, I saw some­thing that didn’t look right. It was a mound of dirt that looked fresh, so I stopped. I then felt some­thing mov­ing un­der my foot and thought, ‘What the f**k?’ I set my weapon and de­mo­li­tion pack down on the ground, pulled out my knife and started flip­ping the dirt off in front of my right boot.”

What Stein­berg dis­cov­ered soon turned into a dra­matic life-or-death sit­u­a­tion. “I dug down

a few inches and saw a black com­mu­ni­ca­tions wire. I then just hap­pened to look up and saw an NVA sol­dier in a tree at the other end of the area. We were look­ing right at each other and he was pulling on some­thing. When I looked down, this wire was be­ing pulled away from me. With­out think­ing, I grabbed it and pulled as hard as I could. This jerked it out of the guy’s hands, and I cut the wire with my side-cut­ters. I then threw a red smoke grenade, and gun­ships came in and fired at the tree line, which killed that guy and his buddy.”

The en­counter with the NVA sol­dier had not just been a close shave for Stein­berg but for most of the Amer­i­can troops in the im­me­di­ate area. “When we dug down we found that I was stand­ing on top of a booby-trap, which was a 155mm ar­tillery high-ex­plo­sive round. Had it det­o­nated, it would have wiped out a cou­ple of heli­copters and no doubt would have killed me, Jim and prob­a­bly some of the pathfind­ers.” For this ac­tion, Stein­berg was awarded the Bronze Star with a ‘V’ de­vice for val­our, which was just one of sev­eral mer­i­to­ri­ous medals he re­ceived in Viet­nam.

Dur­ing his 18-month tour, Stein­berg was called out to ap­prox­i­mately 300-400 ord­nance dis­posal in­ci­dents in ex­tremely in­tense en­vi­ron­ments. He re­calls that although EOD teams of­ten re­sorted to al­co­hol and even drugs to cope with the ex­treme pres­sure, they mainly helped each other to get through the war: “We drank a lot, and near the end of my time with the 287th some of us were smok­ing a lit­tle pot. How­ever, the truth of the mat­ter is, when you’re in EOD you are all vol­un­teers and you live to­gether, in­clud­ing with the CO and first sergeant. You were re­ally close with all the peo­ple that you served with be­cause ev­ery day you’re on calls with an­other mem­ber of your team and you’re watch­ing each other’s back.”

“This is what hell looks like”

On 11 Feb­ru­ary 1970 Stein­berg ex­pe­ri­enced the worst in­ci­dent of his en­tire war when he was called out to FSB Ri­fle ap­prox­i­mately 24 kilo­me­tres (15 miles) south­east of Hue. In the early hours of that morn­ing, el­e­ments of 101st Air­borne Divi­sion and 54th ARVN In­fantry Reg­i­ment were over­run by NVA units. The North Viet­namese had planned the at­tack in ad­vance. “NVA sap­pers had come into the wire one or two nights be­fore the at­tack. They opened up all the Clay­more mines and took out the C-4 be­fore putting the mines back in the ground. There­fore, when the at­tack started and the in­fantry­men in their bunkers hit the Clay­more charg­ers, noth­ing hap­pened other than the blast­ing caps went off. That’s how the NVA were able to get in.”

After the base was pen­e­trated, the NVA at­tacked with mor­tars, rocket-pro­pelled grenades and satchel charges, as well as

AK-47 fire. A pitched bat­tle en­sued in­side the perime­ter with close-quar­ters fire and hand-to­hand com­bat, be­fore Amer­i­can gun­ships ar­rived and forced the NVA to with­draw.

When Stein­berg and his team ar­rived a few hours later at 7am, they saw a scene of dev­as­ta­tion. “What hap­pened at Ri­fle was so bad that I made it the ti­tle of my book: This Is What Hell Looks Like. This was ac­tu­ally a com­ment I made to my team­mate Paul Duf­fey as we were fly­ing over the LZ. We looked down and could see the destruc­tion, car­nage and bod­ies all over the place. I turned to Paul and said, ‘Man, this is what f**king hell looks like’. There were bod­ies ev­ery­where, both NVA and Amer­i­can sol­diers. The de­fend­ers lost 10-11 men and the South Viet­namese unit lost men too but I couldn’t fig­ure out how many. The NVA also left be­hind a cou­ple of dozen bod­ies.”

Gun­fire broke out upon the EOD’S ar­rival. “A gun­fight broke out right after we landed be­cause the NVA had sent a pa­trol right near to the perime­ter where our chop­per was, and they got am­bushed al­most im­me­di­ately. We were re­turn­ing fire with four chop­per gun­ners fir­ing into the area, and in the end the 101st lost two more men dur­ing that am­bush.”

After this, the EOD be­gan the grim task of clear­ing FSB Ri­fle. “We then went about our busi­ness. We had to strip the ord­nance off all the dead bod­ies, dis­arm a cou­ple of rocket-pro­pelled grenades, two Ban­ga­lore tor­pe­does and 10-15 feet [3-4.5 me­tres] of tub­ing that was filled with TNT blocks. They were used to breach perime­ter wire and were duds.”

De­spite the car­nage, worse was to come when a large Amer­i­can he­li­copter came to col­lect the NVA dead hours later. “They took all the bod­ies, put them in a sling, flew them out over the jun­gle and dumped them. I have never, ever got over this, and it’s a pic­ture in my mind that’s al­ways there. It was a war crime be­cause en­emy dead are sup­posed to be repa­tri­ated. What they should have done is taken the bod­ies out­side the perime­ter, wind them up some­where and al­lowed their sol­diers to take their dead away.”

“THEY TOOK ALL THE BOD­IES, PUT THEM IN A SLING, FLEW THEM OUT OVER THE JUN­GLE AND DUMPED THEM. I HAVE NEVER, EVER GOT OVER THIS AND IT’S A PIC­TURE IN MY MIND THAT’S AL­WAYS THERE”

Leav­ing Viet­nam

The hor­ror at FSB Ri­fle came towards the end of Stein­berg’s tour, which ended on 24 March 1970. He was called out to dis­pose of ord­nance even on his last day. “I went out to two sim­ple in­ci­dents the morn­ing I left, be­fore I got on the chop­per and flew out. My CO (Andy Bre­land) had tried to stop me go­ing out on calls dur­ing the last fort­night, but I said, ‘Andy, that’s not go­ing to hap­pen. I’m not go­ing to sit here on my butt while other peo­ple are tak­ing the flak for me not be­ing on calls’.”

A large fac­tor in Stein­berg’s ded­i­ca­tion was wor­ry­ing about leav­ing his col­leagues. “There’s an old adage that you fought for the men be­side you. I re­ally loved those guys in the 287th, and most of us are still alive. I felt guilty about fi­nally leav­ing them be­cause by then I knew I was re­ally

good at this job. I was afraid that if I left peo­ple would get hurt, wounded or even killed be­cause I wasn’t there. That never hap­pened but other guys on the team got pretty se­ri­ously hurt af­ter­wards.”

Stein­berg’s guilt man­i­fested it­self on the plane jour­ney home from Viet­nam, where he and other re­turn­ing sol­diers felt un­able to cel­e­brate. “When we took off there was this huge up­roar with ev­ery­body cheer­ing and clap­ping. They were leav­ing and get­ting out of there alive. I did not take part in that and pretty much stuck to my­self, but within a cou­ple of min­utes the plane was deadly silent. It was like that all the way back to the States. A lot of us were prob­a­bly think­ing about mem­bers of our units that we had lost and some of them, like me, may have been feel­ing guilty about leav­ing.”

After leav­ing the US Army in 1971, Stein­berg led “a very che­quered life” but thrived pro­fes­sion­ally and be­came an at­tor­ney who spe­cialised in cap­i­tal mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tions. He even went back to war many years later when he served with the UN Of­fice on Drugs and Crime be­tween 2009-10 in Afghanistan.

Stein­berg acted as an ad­vi­sor in coun­ternar­cotics work to a bri­gade of Afghan po­lice on the Ira­nian bor­der, and was struck by the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the con­flicts in Viet­nam and Afghanistan. “Viet­nam was asym­met­ri­cal war­fare. The en­emy was ev­ery­where: 360 de­grees, seven days a week, all year long. In that re­gard it was very sim­i­lar to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be­cause of the en­emy’s abil­ity to use ter­rain to their ben­e­fit. To me, whether it’s a jun­gle in Viet­nam or some desert area along the Ira­nian bor­der it’s pretty much the same. You’re out there look­ing out for bad guys or do­ing the job you were as­signed to and hop­ing the en­emy isn’t go­ing to be there.”

Now ac­tive in veter­ans’ af­fairs, Stein­berg re­flects that although the Viet­nam War was a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence, he es­tab­lished friend­ships among his EOD team­mates that have lasted un­til the present day: “It was the best time of my life be­cause of the men I served with. They’re just the great­est bunch of guys and you could never ask for bet­ter friends. Any one of us would do any­thing we could to help one of our own that was in need. To­day, we’re just as close as we ever were.”

“I WAS AFRAID THAT IF I LEFT PEO­PLE WOULD GET HURT, WOUNDED OR EVEN KILLED BE­CAUSE I WASN’T THERE”

ABOVE: Stein­berg pic­tured while wait­ing for ex­trac­tion fromFSB Ri­fle, 11 Feb­ru­ary 1970. The pho­to­graph is cap­tioned, “The Thou­sand Me­ter Stare” This pho­to­graph was taken of mass det­o­na­tions in the Qui Nhon Am­mu­ni­tion Dump as Stein­berg and other mem­bers of 184th EOD ar­rived at the main gate

BELOW: Fire Sup­port Base (FSB) Ri­fle be­fore it was vir­tu­ally de­stroyed in a sav­age bat­tle on 11 Feb­ru­ary 1970 LEFT: The of­fice and quar­ters of the EOD Sec­tion of184th Ord­nance Bat­tal­ion at Qui Nhon Air­field Dam­aged ord­nance be­ing det­o­nated. This pho­to­graph was taken from an EOD bunker ap­prox­i­mately 2.5 kilo­me­tres away

The sum­mit of Ham­burger Hill. This pic­ture of the af­ter­math of the fa­mous bat­tle was taken by Gary Raines of the 287th EOD Ord­nance De­tach­ment shortly be­fore Stein­berg joined their unit

Mass-det­o­nated 105mm high-ex­plo­sive ar­tillery rounds lit­ter Qui Nhon Am­mu­ni­tion Dump after the Viet Cong at­tacks

EOD mem­bers of the184th Ord­nance Bat­tal­ion pre­pare to es­cort dam­aged am­mu­ni­tion to Tuy Hòa, be­fore dump­ing it in the South China Sea

Ed Vo­gels of 101st Air­borne Divi­sion car­ry­ing an M60 ma­chine gun at FSB Ri­fle be­fore the NVA at­tack. Vo­gels sur­vived the bat­tle

Stein­berg and his team­mate Paul Duf­fey (right) squat next to rocket-pro­pelled grenades and satchel charges after clear­ing FSB Ri­fle

To read more about Stu­art Stein­berg’s in­cred­i­ble story, you can pur­chase his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, This is What Hell looks like: life As A Bomb Spe­cial­ist Dur­ing The Viet­nam War, which is pub­lished by Fonthill Me­dia.For more in­for­ma­tion visit: www.fonthill.me­dia

ABOVE: Stein­berg pic­tured dur­ing an op­er­a­tion with 173rd Air­borne Bri­gade in the Cen­tral High­lands of Viet­namA view from Camp Vasquez of the Qui Nhon Am­mu­ni­tion Dump ex­plod­ing eight kilo­me­tres away dur­ing the Tet of­fen­sive of 1969

ABOVE: Stein­berg and Jerry Culp (left) work­ing on 184th EOD Sec­tion’s new build­ing at Camp Vasquez

ABOVE: The bunker for 25th EOD Ord­nance De­tach­ment at An Khê Com­bat Base

ABOVE: A pile of dam­aged ord­nance pre­pared for de­mo­li­tion at Qui Nhon

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