In November of 2002 while visiting Nui Kim Son and the Marble Mountain area my goal was to capture some
pictures from the same locations I had taken pictures from in 1966-67. The changes in 35 years were
significant and it was hard to accomplish what I wanted. Main street NKS was the best I could do...doesn't
look too different. It was fun to walk around the area with Mike Cunha and try to remember what it was like in
the 60's. The area around the stairs leading to the main cave was the most developed. The beach has not
changed at all. The resort we stayed at was 2-3 miles north of NKS where the old helicopter airport use to be
which was basically what was called China Beach.
"Marble Mountain Patrol"
Marine Corps Art Collection.
By John Groth
This sign looks like it was
left over from the 70's but in
fact may not have been
more than ten years old
based on the quality of
This is the Village Chief of Nui Kim Son. His
house was located on the right as you ented the
village from the north. Second Platoon guarded
him and his house in the summer of 1966.
Pictures of the main drag through NKS taken from
opposite ends of the village and thirty-six years apart.
The 1966 picture on right is generally the area you see in the three pictures on the left which were take
from the top of the mountain in 2002. The original Hill 10 is now a graveyard for VC and NVA vets.
ARVN troops are not allowed. Their families have the responsibility to find a place to bury them.
The old French Fort is gone. The watering hole on the backside of NKS is gone and is now the water
area you see in the picture on the left. The truck was used to haul away the sand which was used to build
the homes you see in the current NKS. This is probably true for the sand under the French Fort.
Willys Jeep converted to local bus.
1966...Marble Mountain in
Marble is not harvested from Marble Mountain but
brought in from a quarry outside the area.
In 1967 there were no homes between the two mountains above. I spent I couple of days atop Crows
Nest my last week in country and remember looking down at the smaller mountain and seeing small caves
at the base. The story was that they were occupied by female monks. In 2002 there were homes at the
base of the smaller rock and we could not locate the entrances until we asked some local kids to guide us.
My surprise was that the cave went completly through the rock. The old woman said she lived in the
feaured house in 1970 which was the south exit of the cave.
|YouTube video-Marble Mountain
I only add this so you can see the
changes since 1966 but also so you can
here the Tour Guide Propaganda at
about the 2:30 minute mark. "The
Americans bombed the hospital and
caused the hole in the top of the
mountain"....that hole was there when I
escorted some press there in 1966...it's
a very natural hole!!!
In mid-September of 1966 I was ordered to an observation post called Crow's
Nest. It was on top of Marble Mountain south of the airstrip at Danang. It
was the mission of the Crow's Nest observation post to protect the airstrip,
and to keep the Viet Cong from damaging the air-conditioned trailers of the
aviators, and the nice barracks of their support troops, by firing rockets
or mortars at them. The aircraft were a concern also. The mission was to
be accomplished by raining artillery fire onto the heads of any VC who had
the temerity to attack the big base and the Marine air base which was north
and east of the mountain.
Marble Mountain was actually several spindly shafts of rock. The highest
one rose 105 meters straight out of the sand just west of the South China
Sea and it was upon this rock that the Crow's Nest sat. The mountain was
mostly made of marble except that the marble became karst at the higher
elevations. The entire mountain was full of caves and tunnels. Most of
them were too small for a man to enter. I think if it had been possible to
saw it in half it would look like a plank eaten by termites.
At the summit was an area which was 20 feet at its widest and in length, it
was perhaps 150 feet. This was occupied by a wooden platform upon which was
emplaced a 106 millimeter recoilless rifle. The plan was that anytime the
wily Cong fired rockets at the airstrip, they would be engaged immediately
by the 106 while the FO, me, would send a fire mission to my artillery
battalion which would blast the offending VC into rubble. Since the VC only
fired rockets at night, and usually moonless nights, exactly how we were to
accomplish this was never revealed to me.
Life on Crow's Nest was not unpleasant. There were eight of us up there.
There was the 106 crew, a couple of machine gunners manning a single M-60,
my trusty radio operator, Lance Corporal Papkin, and my wireman, PFC Clapp.
Once a week a CH-34 helicopter would appear slinging beneath it a cargo net
containing C-rats, beer, and cigarettes. Prior lifts had delivered timber
and corrogated tin which had been used to construct a comfortable hooch.
We had all of the comforts of home and unlike home, we could wake up
mornings to a splendid view of the South China Sea and enjoy spectacular
sunsets over the Annamese Mountains. Moreover, we felt safe. The climb to
the top of Crow's Nest was quite difficult and entailed shinnying up a
hawser for part of the way. At night we would pull the hawser to the top
and we felt pretty sure that no VC could get to us, at least not without
working up a substantial sweat. Occasionally, at dusk, a sniper would crank
off a round or two in our direction and we would answer with a short blast
from the M-60. If we were feeling particularly surly, or if a round holed
our tin roof, we would reply with a 106 HEAT round.
It did occur to me that my military career would be in serious jeopardy if
some enterprising VC got to the top, swung the 106 to the north, and
proceeded to blast away at important people's command posts and trailers.
Consequently, every time we heard any strange sounds from the side of the
mountain we tossed grenades at them.
Days were spent eating, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and listening to
a tape player which had a single Beatles tape. The album was called
"Revolver" and Eleanor Rigby was the featured song, or at least the only one
I remember. We must have heard it a thousand times. After enough beer I
would actually began to worry about Eleanor's plight.
On a typical day we would watch air traffic circling and landing at Danang.
One day we saw a B-52 make an unsuccessful emergency landing. Crow's Nest
must have been at least ten miles from the airfield but nevertheless, when
the wind was favorable, it was possible to hear C-130's revving up. At
night we would watch F-4's and F-105's scream overhead with their
afterburners flaring. One night we saw an F-4 get hit by an errant 105
millimeter illumination round and watched in amazement as the pilots
parachuted from the plane. More astonishingly, a little Kaman helicopter
was there to pick them up almost as soon as they hit the ground.
When vehicles traveled the MSR heading south, to what was then the 1st
Battalion, 1st Marines CP, we would watch closely for snipers shooting at
them. Occasionally we would see a small firefight between the Marines in
the vehicles and the VC. The 106 gunners, who were truly crack shots, would
fire at the snipers, undoubtedly scaring the bejesus out of the truckers,
and perhaps erasing a few VC.
The 106 had a .50 caliber rifle on top of the weapon. This was called the
minor caliber. The 106 itself, was called the major caliber. The gunner,
when he found the target with the minor caliber, would yell, "fire the
major caliber." The explosion from the recoilless rifle was like the crack
of doom. The difference between the minor caliber and the major caliber
was like the difference between a hand grenade explosion and the atom bomb.
We also had a dog which provided some entertainment. The dog was named Boom
Boom, either out of respect for the 106 or after entertainment of the same
name which was available for a few piasters from one of the professional
women who plied their trade in the village of Nui Kim Son . It was a nice
little dog and probably lived its entire life on top of Crow's Nest since I
am sure the OP was occupied by U.S. troops until the pullout. That is not a
lot of running room for a dog for an entire lifetime but it probably beat
becoming rotisserie dog.
One of the problems with eight Marines on a small piece of real estate was
that of field sanitation This had been temporarily solved by placing a 106
ammo box, with an appropriate hole cut into it, over a shaft in the
limestone which was at least 12 to 15 feet straight down. It seemed to
angle off to the side after that and we suspected that it continued deep
into the mountain. When relieving oneself of C-rats washed down with beer,
the alimentary canal produced a product which resounded with a satisfying
splat as it bottomed into the abyss of the pit.
In time, the OP, especially at night, became redolent of sewage. As a
highly trained second lieutenant, having been a recent graduate of The Basic
School, Quantico , Virginia , I resolved to solve this. Someone could have
become ill as a result of this situation, or at least gag. Accordingly, I
contacted the S-4 on the radio and requested gasoline so that the offending
matter could be incinerated. In due time the supply helicopter arrived with
its cargo net and with it, four jerry cans of diesel fuel.
It may have been a product of our boredom or the excitement of having
something new to accomplish, but in any event, as soon as the cans were
unloaded, we removed the ammo box and poured twenty gallons of diesel fuel
into the pit. With great anticipation we threw a match into the pit.
Nothing. Then we lit a pack of matches and tossed it into the odoriferous
hole. Nothing. Then we lit a large splinter from an ammo box and tossed it
into the maw. It made a nice little fire for a while but the diesel didn't
catch. Next came an illumination grenade. The pit remained as fireless as
a tenderfoot with flint and steel. That is when we learned that diesel
doesn't burn, at least, it didn't on Crow's Nest. Our disappointment was
This failure resulted in a radio call to the air officer requesting
gasoline. We were informed that the pilots thought gasoline to be unsafe
cargo when put in a cargo net which had to be deposited on a narrow rock
ledge. If the gasoline can collided with the rock, the whole helicopter
would erupt in flame, or so I was told. It was suggested that we should
climb down the mountain, walk to the CP, strap a five gallon can of gasoline
on a pack frame, and manhandle it up the mountain. This suggestion, it
should be noted, came from the air officer.
The situation was becoming one of those righteous welfare of the troops
issues and with all of the indignation that could be mustered by a second
lieutenant, I suggested that this was a matter which should be kicked
upstairs. Eventually, the battalion executive officer came up on the net
and we had a serious discussion about field sanitation and the lack of an
infantry battalion commander's power to order Marine aviators to do
The next week the cargo helicopter arrived and in the big net I spotted five
jerry cans. I knew right away they contained gasoline because the pilot
flipped me a bird right before he chopped back to the Marble Mountain
Airstrip. I don't know how battalion got it done but, in any event, we were
Into the abyss went twenty-five gallons of gasoline which mingled with the
diesel which had pooled there from the previous week's effort. It was late
afternoon. The sea breeze wafted in from the South China Sea , rustling the
hairs on our heads which were already tingling with excitement. I delivered
a safety lecture of sorts on the explosive tendencies of gasoline and
suggested that we ignite the gas with an illumination grenade tossed from a
A volunteer agreed to do the deed and pulled the pin from the grenade. We
watched over his shoulder as he tossed the device into the pit with
precision. For a moment, there was silence. Then the mountain began to
shudder and then to vibrate and then a loud roar split the silence of the
afternoon. Flame burst from the mouth of the pit like a mighty tongue, and
to our astonishment, additional blasts roared from the sides of the mountain
like fumaroles on the cone of an erupting volcano. It in fact was Vesuvius,
Krakatoa, and Pinatubo, rolled into one. We marveled at the magnitude of
The radio crackled to life immediately. It was battalion headquarters,
located in the flatlands some three miles away, excitingly inquiring as to t
he nature of the calamity. Flame and smoke, they stated, were coming
everywhere from the mountain. They demanded information as to the cause.
We were safe, we reported. We were just conducting routine field
In time the holocaust subsided to a mere roar. The air smelled of burning
petroleum products. By dusk the fire was out and the opening once more
sported the ammunition box with the hole in it, the box which was so
supportive of our daily life on the OP.
I never had the need to conduct field sanitation on Crow's Nest again.
Shortly after this event, I rejoined my rifle company and became engaged in
more serious business.
Thirty-four years have passed since that day and I still think of the Crow's
Nest every time I hear the Beatles wailing about Eleanor Rigby. It's the
nearest thing to a flashback I've ever had.
|The story below was submitted by Tom Eagan, LIMA, 3/1
March,1966, view from the top of Crows
Nest, looking south. Monks seemed to be
only ones living in the area. In 2002 the
area you see was full of houses.
View from Crows
Nest, Hill 10, top
left and South China
Sea top canter.