Marble Mountain lay to the south of Company C. The Marines had an outpost on this natural lookout and protected the southern end of the US military complex from surprise attack.

Puff the Magic Dragon... Flew by the Sea


Marble Mountain

The Marine outpost on Marble Mountain prevented the VC from launching an attack by coming up the beach. The outpost was frequently 'probed' by the VC.

One evening a number of us were sitting on the club's patio. Even though it was dark someone pointed out that the Marine outpost was being probed. You could hear intermittent automatic weapons fire off in the distance. Easier still, looking south you could see the firefight taking place.

Bursts of machine gun fire directed at Marble Mountain resulted in a red trail of 'tracers' . Those bursts were quickly answered by a return volley from the Marine outpost. The tracers appeared as a red line that started in the middle of the pitch-black darkness and ended in the same blackness.

After a short while we heard the sound of a prop-driven airplane. Glancing skyward we could see the running lights and strobes of the plane. The aircraft took up position... flying in a large circle centered on Marble Mountain. Every once in a while the plane would kick out a flare that floated gently to the ground... providing a surreal illumination of the area. All the while, this aerial show was punctuated by the sounds of Marine and VC automatic weapons fire.

Suddenly, in a dramatic deviation to this strange dance, the sound of machine gun fire was accompanied by a thin straight red line that stretched from the ground to the sky... like a reverse lightning. In a matter of seconds the pitch of the aircraft motor increased as the plane increased its speed. The lights that marked the plane's position quickly blinked out.

Two or three minutes elapsed -- enough time for the aircraft to make one or two orbits of the area. Then... from out of nowhere in the middle of the sky... a thin red line emerged and spanned the sky-to-ground gap. Within seconds we could hear a strange noise. It wasn't the rat-tat-tat of automatic weapons fire. This sounded like one continuous sound... like a 'whirrrrrrrrr'. Although the amplitude or strength of the sound did not change, the 'whirrrrr' started low-pitched and gradually increased in pitch -- only to fade back to the same lower pitch.

Enter 'Puff'... the DC-3 gun ship.

After this firing run by Puff there were no additional volleys by the VC. For those of you who are not aware of 'Puff', let me explain. The name stems from the 60's song called "Puff the Magic Dragon". The DC-3 (or AC-47) was a 1940/1950's vintage aircraft that was used for mostly non-combat roles in Viet Nam. [One of the organizations using the DC-3's was Air America -- the not-so-secret-name for the CIA in RVN.] Someone came up with the idea of mounting a Vulcan gun on one of the DC-3s.

The Vulcan gun was a large weapon capable of astounding rates of fire. The published rate of fire for this weapon was 6000 rounds per minute. Yes... 6000 rounds per minute! This gun fired one hundred shells per second! If swept across a football field while firing, this weapon would put a bullet every six inches. The corners of every six-inch square covering a football field would mark the bullet locations! This was an awesome weapon.

This marriage proved to be a good use of these older aircraft. The planes would throw out parachute flares to provide illumination and provide serious fire power support for our ground troops. These ships were also called 'flare ships'. Later in the war the 'Puff' concept of a Vulcan gun on an aerial platform was expanded to C-130 aircraft. If one Vulcan gun was good, two ought to be better. And to top it off, let's mount a 105mm howitzer on the plane, too!!

This is what the Air Forced did... and 'Super Puff' was born! In virtually every issue of the Stars and Stripes [military newspaper for US troops in RVN] an article would recite the newest record for a 'Puff'. These records would cite the number of rounds fired for a mission and would be in the hundreds-of-thousands of rounds of ammunition. The last report I can remember cited 250,000 rounds fired in one mission.