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Keith Underwood's Memories -Part 3

Travel With Us. He was wounded three times. Once he was knocked on the head while being dug out of a shellhole. The tin hat sent him by his Sunday school teacher saved him but he lost his memory for some time. Back in the trenches a gas attack resulted in one of his lungs putrefying.

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He was operated on two years later and the fluid was drained. However, he had to live for the rest of his life with shrapnel that lodged too near his spinal chord to be removed. From somewhere my father acquired an American revolver and a box of ammunition. He worked closely with the Army, as well as making small-arms ammunition at a garage during the day.

Never short on initiative, he managed to get the first Sten gun in the area. He sat behind it training it down the drive all morning. He later got a Lewis gun which was a small cannon with solid wheels, as far as I can remember. When turned on its side it afforded some protection for the team firing it. Just before the second war my father had decided that if he gave up smoking we could just afford a small car.

My father never forgave him! At the beginning of the war my father made a stout trailer for the car, to carry weaponry to various training sites in Dorset. I used to go with him in decent weather and do my homework. He was not disparaging, he just knew their reactions had to be quicker. He was absolutely right. Weekend exercises were often with the Army and with live ammunition. One Sunday an Army sergeant held a grenade with the pin out for too long.

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His own jacket was torn up the back by the shrapnel. There was a court martial for the sergeant which my father reluctantly had to attend. He kept his country friends all through the war, and afterwards, and the occasional rabbit made a wonderful contribution to my school sandwiches. His humour was always kindly, but he had many amusing stories to tell. During trips out with him we used to divert to off-road places like Badbury Rings to teach me to drive.

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When I was tall enough there was the occasional journey when I drove home. In the event of an invasion my father would have had to stay. My mother could have driven, of course, but he thought I should be able to do so as well. He had buried five gallons of petrol in the garden and the instruction was to tank up the car and drive north as fast and as far as possible. Our road was in a well-wooded area with few houses and large gardens. There were just three men left — a club-footed gardener, an actor who was a conscientious objector and my father.

They spent most nights in a slit-trench in a wooded triangle between two roads, fire-watching and listening to the actor reciting Shakespeare. Then a rooster crowed. I argued with Shea about the rooster call. He called in artillery on them. The moaning NVA was dead. I picked up an NVA 61mm mortar round and strapped it into my empty grenade pouch. As a mortarman, I was amazed at how the NVA could hit us with their mortars by firing for effect with no adjustment round. As the squad leader I had final say on where to set up my gun, and we moved to the corner.

When the chopper landed, we received incoming rounds. The gunner and assistant gunner flipped slowly up in the air like rag dolls; both men were dead by the time they hit the ground. To set up near where a helicopter would land was clearly asking for trouble.

A ‘Proper Wristwatch’

Later, a snuffie killed an NVA forward observer. In his pack was a hand-drawn map of dry rice paddy squares, labeled A1, A2, B1, B2, etc.

All he had to do was wait for the Marines to pass through B3, then call in Bingo Three and fire for effect. From then on, we moved along the edge of the paddies. While we were dug in on a hilltop near the DMZ, we got a single mortar adjustment round inside our perimeter, which wounded one Marine. Sometime after he was medevaced out, Brig. Louis Metzger, the assistant division commander of the 3rd Marine Division, landed by chopper to talk with yet another new company commander, Captain John Ryan.

His chopper let him and his aide out, then proceeded to circle the hill. As the general and the captain talked, the thump-thump-thump of a mortar tube sounded from the jungle valley below. General Metzger dove into our mortar pit. His aide lay outside the hole, taking his flak jacket off and putting it over the general. I remember thinking he was very brave or very stupid.

He was the one who needed a flak jacket, since he was outside the hole.

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The general was cool under fire, not shaking like we always did during mortar, artillery and rocket fire. We fired a round, dropped half a turn, fired a round, dropped half a turn, walking the rounds through the jungle. The NVA mortar stopped! The enemy must have thought we had spotted them, that we would only fire if we had a target.

Two of my men died while I was a section leader, both at Con Thien. One new guy was killed so soon after he arrived that nobody knew his name.