Welcome to Dodge City
by Sal Provenzano
Vietnam Fire Base: “Dodge City” sector
This diorama is a small piece of several interlocking parts. It is a massive diorama designed to show the layout of a Vietnam Fire base. Other parts of the diorama contain a Helicopter area complete with Huey and Cayuse, a command post with observation tower and medical tent, forward observation positions including a “kill zone”, and mobile and stationary artillery positions.
In this “piece of the puzzle”, an M-48 Patton tank takes up slack on a fire mission. There is a break in the action while the Commander receives new coordinates. the tank has rolled against a standard sandbagged position reinforced with two bys and 4 x 4s.
Immediately next to them is a bunker with M-60 machine gun position. I tried to draw from life experience.
Our bunker read “This is an Underground Bunker”. We all took pictures next to it so that our relatives and friends would know we had a real place to hide and “be safe”. In actuality, we plied our trade in areas between the Vietnamese and Cambodian border where the jungle canopy was so thick everything remained damp. In this scene I remember the peculiar red dirt that stuck to everything and was ever present. There are punji sticks, rolled barbed wire with streamers in a mined area, and some other assorted items that made the fire base “home sweet home”.
In the sector we defended the sign read, “Welcome to Dodge City – Your Safety is Ensured by the U.S.M.C.”. In the diorama, the sign appears to the left – an ever present reminder that in the face of terrible fear and horror, humor is always present to break the tension and provide comic relief.
The tank is the famous U.S.M.C. M-48 “Disaster” which really did service in Vietnam. It is a Tamiya kit and has some additional details added. All markings are exact although markings change from operation to operation depending on air support and need to display identification numbers that can be seen from the air.
The prototype tank had a 7.62 cupola machine gun in addition to a .50 cal mounted atop the Commanders hatch although this was a “rarity”.
Osprey and Squadron have several books, “Armor in Vietnam”, and “M-48 Patton”, etc. that actually contain pictures of disaster raining down a little piece of Hell on the heads of those on the opposite side of the tree line. The M-48 was often called on to provide fire support from stationary positions.
The diorama may give some idea of the red dirt, the M-48 tank as an instrument of war, the bunker as a second home, and the idle time we so often experienced. Sorry we can’t provide the heat, sweat, itch, gunpowder smells, and that awful red clay stain that wouldn’t even come out after you sent your stuff to the local Vietnamese launderer.
The inspiration for this diorama came from life experience. Little things passed along the way stuck out , or in passing, I took a mental “picture” because it was poignant. You can’t explain time “standing still” when people are shooting at you.
The adrenaline rush is such that you do fifty things at once, talk to God, make promises to do things later in life before you die: All while taking in every little detail in case you never see it again. Things really impressed me along the way. Sometimes you can pick up subtle peculiarities you almost “had to be there” to understand-humor, drama, details, signs, and so forth.
Photos by Phil Novak