SMALL UNIT ACTION
                                  IN VIETNAM
                                  SUMMER 1966


                                      By

                     Captain Francis J. West, Jr., USMCR


                            


                         HISTORY AND MUSEUMS DIVISION
                       HEADQUARTERS, U. S. MARINE CORPS
                              WASHINGTON, D. C.
                                 Printed 1967
                                Reprinted 1977



                              TABLE OF CONTENTS

                                                           Original    On-Line
                                                             Page       Page

Foreword.....................................................   1          5

Mines and Men................................................   3          7
     Units involved: 9th Marines; 3d Amphibian
     Tractor Battalion; MAG-36.

Howard's Hill................................................  15         21
     Units involved:1st Reconnaissance Battalion; 
     5th Marines; MAG-11; MAG-12; MAG-36

No Cigar.....................................................  31         38
     Units involved:5th Marines.

Night Action.................................................  46         54
     Units involved:7th Marines.

The Indians..................................................  59         69
     Units involved:1st Force Reconnaissance Company; 
     12th Marines; MAG-11.

Talking Fish.................................................  68         79
     Units involved:12th Marines.

An Honest Effort.............................................  77         88
     Units involved:5th Marines.

A Hot Walk in the Sun........................................  82         94
     Units involved:5th Marines; 1st Engineer Battalion;
     Provisional Scout Dog Platoon; MAG-36.

"General, We Killed Them"....................................  90        103
     Units involved:5th Marines; 9th Engineer Battalion;
     Provisional Scout Dog Platoon; MAG-12; MAG-36.

Glossary of Marine Small Arms................................ 122        140






 
                                   FOREWORD

     The origin of this pamphlet lies in the continuing program at all levels 
of command to keep Marines informed of the ways of combat and civic action in 
Vietnam.  Not limited in any way to set methods and means, this informational 
effort spreads across a wide variety of projects, all aimed at making the 
lessons learned in Vietnam available to the Marine who is fighting there and 
the Marine who is soon due to take his turn in combat.

     Recognizing a need to inform the men who are the key to the success of 
Marine Corps operations--the enlisted Marines and junior officers of combat 
and combat support units--the former Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, Major 
General William R. Collins, originated a project to provide a timely series of 
short, factual narratives of small unit action, stories which would have 
lessons learned as an integral part.  Essential to General Collins' concept 
was the fact that the stories would have to be both highly readable and 
historically accurate.  The basic requirement called for an author trained in 
the methodology of research, with recent active duty experience at the small 
unit level in the FMF, and a proven ability to write in a style that would 
ensure wide readership.

     On the recommendation of retired Brigadier General Frederick P. 
Henderson, Captain Francis J. West, Jr., a Marine reserve officer, was invited 
to apply for assignment to active duty during the summer of 1966 to research 
and write the small unit action stories.  Captain West was well qualified to 
undertake the project: he had recently been on active duty as a platoon leader 
in the Special Landing Force in the Western Pacific; he had majored in history 
as an undergraduate at Georgetown University and was a graduate student at the 
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton 
University; and he had written a number of articles, papers, and a book which 
indicated that he had the capability of communicating with a wide and varied 
audience.

     Recalled to active duty at his own request late in May 1966, Captain West 
was given a series of informal briefings at Headquarters Marine Corps on the 
current situation in Vietnam and was soon on his way to that country.  He 
arrived at Da Nang on 5 June and went into the field immediately as an 
observer/member of a wide variety of Marine small units and saw action in all 
parts of the III Marine Amphibious Force area of responsibility.  Developing 
his own methods of operation, and carrying in addition to normal weapons and 
equipment, a tape recorder, a camera, and a note pad, the captain took part in 
most of the actions he describes and interviewed


                                      1



participants in the others immediately after the events portrayed.  During his 
stay in Vietnam, Captain West was actively supported in his work by the 
Marines with whom he served, and by none more helpfully than the III MAF 
commander, Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt, and his G-3, Colonel John R. 
Chaisson, who read and approved each of the rough draft narratives that 
Captain West completed in Vietnam.  Colonel Thomas M. Fields, of the Combat 
Information Bureau at Da Nang, also provided much assistance and support.

     This pamphlet, then, is based upon first-hand, eyewitness accounting of 
the events described.  It is documented by notes and taped interviews taken in 
the field and includes lessons learned from the mouths of the Marines who are 
currently fighting in Vietnam.  It is published for the information of those 
men who are serving and who will serve in Vietnam, as well as for the use of 
other interested Americans, so that they may better understand the demands of 
the Vietnam conflict on the individual Marine.



                                        

                                       R. L. MURRAY
                             Major General, U. S. Marine Corps
                               Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3


REVIEWED AND APPROVED:  5 January 1967


                                      2




 
                                MINES AND MEN


           Preface:  The author spent two weeks with the 9th Marines, 
        most of the time with Delta Company. He participated in the 
        patrol described as an extra infantryman, swapping his tape 
        recorder for an automatic rifle when the platoon was hit. 
        Throughout most of the fight, he did not see the patrol leader, 
        but later was able to piece together the entire action by 
        interviews and by listening to his recorder, which was running
        throughout the engagement.


     In late spring and early summer of 1966, the most notorious area in I 
Corps was the flat rice paddy-and-hedgerow complex around Hill 55, seven miles 
southwest of Da Nang. In the Indochina War, two battalions of the French 
forces were wiped out on Hill 55; in the Vietnam War, a Marine lieutenant 
colonel was killed on the same hill.  The 9th Marines had the responsibility 
for clearing the area and no one envied the regimental commander, Colonel 
Edwin Simmons, and his men their job.  The enemy they hated, the enemy they 
feared the most, the enemy they found hardest to combat, was not the VC; it 
was mines.

     One company of the regiment--Delta--lost 10 KIA and 58 WIA in five weeks.  
Two men were hit by small arms fire, one by a grenade.  Mines inflicted all 
the other casualties. Only four of the wounded returned to duty.  From a peak 
strength of 175, Delta Company dropped to 120 effectives. Among those 
evacuated or killed were a high percentage of the company's leaders: five 
platoon commanders; three platoon sergeants; nine squad leaders; and six fire 
team leaders.

     On 8 May, the 1st Platoon of Delta Company was 52 men strong, commanded 
by a first lieutenant and honchoed<*> by a staff sergeant.  For a month they 
patrolled.  At division level, the operations section could see a pattern 
which indicated the patrols were slowly and surely rooting the VC 
infrastructure out of the area.  But for the individual rifleman, it was ugly, 
unrewarding work.  The VC in previous encounters had learned the futility of 
determined engagements against the Marines.  So they sniped and ran and left 
behind the mines.


----------
<*> honcho - Marine slang, derived from Japanese, for a boss.


                                      3



     On 8 June, the 1st Platoon prepared to go out on another patrol.  By 
then, they numbered 32 men and were commanded by a sergeant.

     During patrols on the previous day there had been no casualties.  Far 
from feeling encouraged, the troops were pessimistic, believing it inevitable 
that today another of their group would step on a mine.

     Captain John Hart had commanded Delta Company for nine months, and 
another company in Vietnam before that.  A shrewd tactician with a natural 
ease and understanding of his men, the red-headed company commander had 
decided to send two amtracs<*> with the platoon to set off the mines before 
the troops reached them.

     Sergeant William Cunningham believed the amtracs would solve his problem.  
They would cruise through the flat lowlands, smashing mined fences and tearing 
up known minefields. The platoon would walk in the tracks of the 35-ton 
amtracs, unless forced by fire to disperse or ordered to do otherwise. A 60mm 
mortar would deal with the snipers, who were more bothersome than dangerous.  
The plan seemed sound.

     The patrol moved out in two columns in the wake of an amtrac.  The 
platoon members knew the area well.  They hated it.  The paddies and fields 
stretched for miles in checker-board fashion, separated by thick tree lines 
and numerous hamlets.  The mud of the rice paddies clung like glue to boots.  
The numerous tree lines could be penetrated only by using machetes and axes.  
The scattered hamlets contained from 1 to 10 houses and each house was 
surrounded by thorn fences harder to break than barbed wire.  The level ground 
prevented a man from seeing beyond the next hedgerow.

     And everywhere the mines.  There seemed to be no pattern to their 
emplacement.  They had been scattered at trail junctions, at the intersection 
of rice dikes, along fences, under gates.  Having watched the movements of 
Marine patrols in this area, the enemy buried their mines where they 
anticipated the Marines would walk.  Often they scouted the direction and path 
a patrol was taking and planted the mines ahead.  If the patrol passed that 
point safely, the VC would scurry out of his hiding place, dig up his mine, 
and keep it for another day.

     Sergeant Cunningham was aware of this fact.  By the same route he had 
used the day before, he was returning to the same hamlet complex so that the 
amtracs could set off the mines.  The enemy's supply of mines was not 
inexhaustible,


----------
<*> Amtrac - Marine slang for Amphibious Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT).


                                      4




 
                                

     An LVT of the 3d Amphibian Tractor battalion, similar to those
     that supported Sergeant Cunningham's platoon, moves out through a
     column of infantry men (USMC A184999)


                                     4a



especially since most were M16 "Bouncing Betties"<*>, captured from the 
ARVNs<**>.  This was one way of destroying them.  Before the platoon left the 
patrol base, the sergeant repeatedly warned his men to stay in the tracks of 
the LVTs.

     The Marines wore helmets and flak jackets<***>.  Each rifleman carried 
150 rounds of ammunition and 2 or more hand grenades.  The men of the two 
machine gun crews were draped with belts of linked cartridges totalling 1,200 
rounds.  The two 3.5-inch rocket launcher teams carried five high explosive 
(HE) and five white phosphorus (WP) rockets.  Four grenadiers carried 28 40mm 
shells apiece for their stubby M79s.  Sergeant Cunningham had given six 
LAAWs<****> to some riflemen to provide additional area target capability.  
Artillery and mortars were on call.  The 2d Platoon would range within 1,000 
yards of Sergeant Cunningham's men at all times. Although Cunningham believed 
the platoon would draw only harassing fire, Captain Hart never allowed his men 
to patrol without ensuring heavy firepower.  Similarly, the battalion 
commander, Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. Jones, liked his company commanders 
to arrange for their patrols to have on-call artillery concentrations whenever 
possible.

     The platoon moved out at 1100.  There was no breeze and no shade.  The 
temperature was 102 degrees.  Within five minutes, every Marine was soaked in 
sweat.  The column plodded south, strung out over a quarter of a mile.  There 
was no flank section, such was the fear of mines and the confidence in quick 
support, if needed.  One amtrac was in the lead; the second stayed back 200 
yards in the middle of the column.

     After marching for half of an hour, Sergeant Cunningham halted the 
column.  Directly in front of the lead amtrac a thorn and bamboo fence ran at 
right angles to the line of march.  Two hundred meters to the right front lay 
a thick tree line in which the thatch rooftops of four houses could be seen.  
To the left a dirt field stretched for 400 meters, stopping at another tree 
line.  Other tree lines lay at farther distances to the front and rear.

     Sergeant Cunningham had seen his radioman and one of his squad leaders 
trip a mine attached to that fence and die. Yesterday he had cautiously led 
his platoon across the fence and had been fired at.  Today, with obvious 
satisfaction and


----------
<*>Bouncing Betty - Marine slang for antipersonnel mine which explodes in
                  midair.
<**>ARVNs - Marine slang for soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam
<***>flak jacket - Marine slang for individual body armor.
<****>LAAW - Marine slang for portable antitank weapon; see Glossary of
             Weapons.


                                     5




 
relief, he yelled to the lead tractor: "Rip that thing apart. Really tear it 
up."

     The driver turned left so that the amtrac could hit the fence head-on.  
It lumbered forward, crushing 30 feet of fence before its left track slipped 
into a drainage ditch. The LVT churned to a halt.  The second amtrac eased 
forward, attached a tow rope to the front of the stranded vehicle, and pulled 
it out.

     Sergeant Cunningham decided to continue south to the minefields and tear 
other holes in the fence on the return trip that afternoon.  "Move out," he 
shouted, "We'll come back to that bear later on.  It'll still be here." One 
amtrac roared ahead while the second idled by the fence, waiting to turn into 
position near the center of the column.

     The hard dirt around the fence had been churned into jagged clods by the 
treads of the two amtracs.  The point Marines, including Sergeant Cunningham, 
carefully picked their way across the fence, stepping only in the tracks, and 
fell in trace again behind the lead LVT.  The rest of the column followed.

     Cunningham had walked fifty meters away from the fence when he heard the 
explosion.  Even before he turned his head he knew what he would see.  A thick 
black cloud hung in the air beside the fence line.  Three Marines were 
sprawled on the ground.  Before the shower of loose dirt and shrapnel had 
stopped falling, the platoon's senior corpsman, Hospitalman 3d Class Robert E. 
Perkins, had reached the side of the most seriously wounded Marine.

     Corporal Raymond Lewis, leading the point squad, burst out: "Hey, why the 
hell don't they follow the goddamn tracks?" Sergeant Cunningham raced back, 
yelling in anger and frustration and hurt, "I told you to follow me through 
here, here--we came through here." A pause, then, in a resigned voice: "O.K.  
Who got it?"

     Tired, feeling secure because there were many tracks near the fence and 
nine Marines had walked safely past, the tenth Marine had wandered off the 
path of the treads.  For 20 feet he had been following the dry trail of old 
tank treads. The VC had placed a mine on the old trail resting against the 
torn fence.  The Marine had tripped a Bouncing Betty mine, which flew 
knee-high before it exploded, felling him and two Marines behind him.

     The column had halted, well spread out but near no cover or concealment.  
The platoon's leaders were clustered at the fence checking the wounded.


                                     6



     Then the sniping started.  The first four to eight rounds were ignored by 
the entire column.  The Marines received fire every day.  When asked one hour 
earlier if he expected fire on the patrol, Sergeant Cunningham had flatly 
stated that he did.  The Marines were not going to divert attention from their 
wounded because they received some random incoming rounds.

     Ten seconds later, the situation changed abruptly.  The sniping became 
steady fire and the targets were the wounded, the platoon leaders, and the 
platoon radioman.  The enemy had found the range and the wounded could hear 
the whine and snap of close misses.

     Disregarding the firing, Sergeant Cunningham and the platoon guide, 
Sergeant Peter Hastings, continued to discuss the technical details necessary 
as they called for an immediate helicopter evacuation of the wounded.  The 
platoon radioman, Private First Class Blas Falcon, stood with them taking 
notes.  Perkins worked swiftly to prevent the most seriously wounded Marine 
from bleeding to death.  He did not even look up from his probing of the man's 
legs when the bullets started passing close by.  He had been with the company 
for nine days and had tended exactly nine Marines wounded by mines.

     Most of the fire was coming from a hamlet on the west flank of the 
platoon, not more than 200 meters to the right of the point squad.  Some was 
coming from the distant tree line to the left.  Among the enemy weapons, the 
Marines could distinguish the flat, low reports of several carbines from the 
sharp sound of an MI.  A light machine gun began shooting short bursts.  
Harassment had become engagement.

     The VC had carefully planned the trap.  The mine had stopped the column 
in the open less than 200 meters from their firing position.  To confuse and 
spread the Marines, they had posted snipers on the other flank.  They knew the 
leaders would cluster around the wounded.  They had their weapons sighted in 
on the fence line.  No more than 20 seconds had passed since the VC had opened 
fire.  They had much better positions and had gained fire superiority from the 
start.

     The volume of enemy fire increased so rapidly Cunningham never had a 
chance to contact his three squad leaders and issue any comprehensive order.  
The initial response was a matter of individual initiative, as Marines flopped 
down and began returning fire without waiting for orders.  But their fire was 
ragged and scattered, lacking direction and purpose.

     Corporal Lewis directed the first determined, collective effort to 
destroy the enemy.  Having moved out in front of the column, the 1st Squad was 
100 meters ahead of the main body.


                                     7




 
Lewis' five men were heavily armed and he used all the weapons he had at his 
command.  Over the din of the increasing volume of incoming fire, he could not 
hear Sergeant Cunningham.  But he did not need to be told what to do.  Lewis 
had been fighting in Vietnam for eight months and had participated in dozens 
of fire fights.  Flattened out along the side of the trail, his squad was not 
under fire but was nearest to the hamlet. To his left front he could hear the 
crack of sniper rifles coming from a tree line.  Quickly, he directed his 
machine gunner to set up and rake the far tree line, keeping his fire low and 
continuous.  The squad grenadier, Private First Class Michael Stay, was 
pumping 40mm shells into the hamlet as fast as he could fire and reload. Lewis 
decided to add more punch.

     He turned his bazooka team toward the hamlet.  The team leader, Corporal 
John Martin, had anticipated his squad leader. His rocket launcher was set and 
ready to fire.  The men agreed on the targets: the houses.  Both had seen men 
firing from raised flaps on the roofs.  Martin placed the long tube on his 
shoulder, sighted swiftly, and fired from a kneeling position. A house 
shuddered and pitched at an angle.  He placed another white phosporous rocket 
in the launcher and fired.  A second house burst into flames.  He reloaded and 
fired again.  The third house exploded.  The enemy machine gun stopped.  
Another rocket and a LAAW were fired into the tree line.  Lewis, Martin, and 
Lance Corporal Dennis Sullivan lay prone and began firing their M14 rifles at 
the hedgerows bordering the huts.  The fire fight was less than 2 minutes old.

     The 60mm mortar crew took up where Martin left off. Sergeant James Gibbs 
and his two crew members had been riding on the second LVT.  When the enemy 
machine gun fired, they jumped off the tractor and yelled to Cunningham, 
"Should we try for the gun?"

     "Go ahead," Cunningham yelled back, "but watch it when the choppers get 
here."

     Less than 300 meters from the hamlet, the crew set up their small tube.  
Gibbs aimed in by line of sight while Lance Corporal Joe Dykes estimated the 
range and Private First Class Peter Vidaurie hauled ammunition from the 
amtrac.  "Can we fire now?" yelled Gibbs.

     "Sure, any time you want," replied Cunningham.

     For the next two minutes, the 60mm crew walked rounds back and forth 
along the 200-meter length of the tree line. Under cover of this shooting, 
Sergeant Cunningham directed his 2d Squad into position to secure a landing 
zone for the helicopters.  He wanted to get his wounded out before the enemy 
machine gun resumed firing.


                                     8



                                


                 SCHEMATIC SKETCH TO ACCOMPANY "MINES AND MEN"


                                     8a




 
     Falcon was busy on the radio explaining to company headquarters what was 
happening and obtaining administrative data from the wounded.  "John," he 
asked, "what's your service number?" "2197620." "Come on, John, give it to me 
slow." "Two, won, niner --- zero, got that?" "No, give it to me once again." 
"Oh for god's sake, do you want my rifle number too? One one nine seven --." 
The other wounded men laughed.

     The spirits of the wounded were high.  A tracer bullet chipped a rock 
near them and whined away.  "Boy," said one, "that was the most beautiful 
tracer I ever saw." "Yeah," replied his companion, "that's the craziest angle 
I ever saw a ricochet take."

     The fire fight was four minutes old.  Most of the small arms fire had 
died away.  Steadily two grenade launchers crunched at the wood line.  The 
three houses were blazing and their bamboo sides were expanding and popping 
with a sound like hundreds of .22 rifles being fired.

     A Marine directed the second amtrac which had been idling near the fence 
toward the tree line.  The LVT lumbered forward for several meters and stopped 
before a three-foot embankment 75 meters from the hamlet.  Its three man crew 
and two demolition engineers lay on top of the tractor and fired at the 
burning village.  The amtrac commander, Staff Sergeant Howard G. Plummer, 
feared the fire in the village.  His vehicle was carrying explosives and 500 
gallons of fuel.  He had no intention of risking a cook-off in the intense 
heat.

     The Marine directing Plummer's vehicle saw on the right a squad walking 
slowly forward with the disinterest of tired riflemen who expected nothing to 
happen.  The Marine at the tractor signalled them to double time and they 
broke into a reluctant shuffle.

     The lull in the fight broke at the same time.  On the left, the enemy 
light machine gun chattered, on the right an automatic carbine and several 
rifles opened up.  The enemy were hard-core guerrillas who had lived in the 
area for years and their tactics against the Marines were to set mines and 
snipe from great distances, employing ambushes at close range only when they 
had overwhelming numerical superiority.  They had not expected the Marines to 
recover from the mine explosion so quickly.  They did not believe the Marines 
would assault after stepping on one mine.  But now the members of the squad 
were running like Olympic sprinters for the nearer amtrac.  The VC 
concentrated all their fire on stopping them.

     The crew of the amtrac which had preceded Lewis' squad at point had been 
confused by the fighting.  They wanted to


                                     9



help but no one had told them what to do.  So they had contented themselves by 
firing their rifles in a casual fashion at the hamlet, since that was what the 
infantrymen were doing.  But now, seeing the infantry rushing to the attack, 
Private First Class Billy Adams, a maintenance mechanic on board the point 
amtrac, excitedly urged his crew to push ahead in their vehicle.  His 
enthusiasm was contagious.  Without orders, without flankers, without 
supporting fires, the amtrac started forward.

     Corporal Lewis saw the amtrac move alone into the attack. He ordered his 
riflemen to throw out protecting fires on its flanks and his grenadier to fire 
over the vehicle itself into the tree line beyond.

     Adams fired five rifle grenades as the LVT rolled in, then turned his gas 
cylinder plug and fired his rifle semiautomatically.  The amtrac reached the 
edge of the tree line and the driver hesitated, looking for a route through 
the hedgerows.  The fire at the amtrac became intense.  The bullets striking 
the hull sounded like people were beating on it with hammers.  Adams yelled: 
"It's about time to button up!"

     He was pulling down the steel cover of his hatch when he saw his first 
enemy.  The Viet Cong was firing at the infantry troops seeking shelter behind 
the second amtrac.  He had raised a section of the thatched roof of a house 
which had not burned and this gave him an excellent field of fire. He and 
Adams saw each other at the same time.  He lowered the flap just as Adams 
flipped his weapon to automatic and stitched the roof, igniting it.

     The turret machine gunner on Plummer's amtrac began firing, spraying the 
village.  Bullets were bouncing off the left side of his amtrac.  To the right 
side of the vehicle, a Marine rifleman engaged a VC who was lying on the roof 
of a house.  The rifleman was firing long bursts from an M14; the VC was 
returning fire with an automatic carbine.  Both had abandoned cover, so intent 
were they in their private duel.  Standing in the off-hand position, the 
Marine finally remembered to sight in and squeeze off a few aimed rounds 
instead of spraying the house.  The VC fell lengthwise off the roof.

     Corporal Jerry Payne brought his squad up behind Plummer's amtrac.

     "Move it out.  Let's roll!"

     Plummer hesitated, looking for a way in not blocked by flames.


                                     10




 
     "Come on, the hell with waiting for this thing," an angry Marine yelled, 
gesturing at the amtrac, "let's go get them!" Payne grabbed him by the 
shoulder as he started around the tractor's side.  "No, you don't.  That whole 
field is mined.  They're just trying to sucker you in.  Stay behind the trac!"

     One hundred meters to the left, Adams' amtrac had already reached the 
hedgerow and was smashing its way into the hamlet.  That decided Plummer.  His 
tractor crawled up the embankment and pitched down into the level field and 
rumbled toward the village.  A Marine followed right behind.  Payne yelled, 
"We're going in." The five Marines clustered around him nodded nervously and 
said nothing.  They were more than a little apprehensive.  They would follow 
but they wanted somebody to lead.  Payne scrambled up the embankment into a 
burst of machine gun fire.  His helmet spun off and he pitched forward head 
first.  The squad froze.  Payne was their leader, the most experienced man, 
the one who knew what to do.  They thought he was dead.

     Payne got up, unhurt but shaken.  "Come on," he muttered. They dogtrotted 
across the field after the amtrac.

     By that time Adams' amtrac had entered the tree line. Lewis ordered his 
squad to cease fire.  The amtrac passed the house where Adams had fired at the 
sniper hiding in the roof. Private First Class Larry Blume, a demolition 
engineer riding in the LVT, saw two men run from the house to the left.  But 
he couldn't get a shot at them.  Adams was watching out the observer's window, 
placed to the right of the driver's seat. He saw a VC, trying to dodge across 
the path of the tractor, stumble and fall.  The amtrac crushed him.

     Plummer's LVT had reached the tree line and the thorn fence surrounding 
the village.  The sergeant turned his vehicle right to avoid the flames.  The 
Marines peeled off left and ran along the fence line looking for an opening. 
They went in at the center of the village.  The point Marine hesitated, then 
turned to the right.

     Payne knew that the machine gun lay to their left but he too turned 
right, thinking that, since the point man was ignoring the machine gun, he 
must be attacking another target.  But the point did not know of the machine 
gun.  His sudden appearance behind the amtrac at the start of the assault had 
caught the enemy machine gunner by surprise.  Payne was the first target the 
machine gunner had fired at.

     So while the assault force rushed to the right, the VC slipped out to the 
left.  Adams saw six of them moving toward his amtrac, four dragging two 
bodies.  He couldn't fire the .30 caliber machine gun for fear of hitting the 
Marine squad


                                      11



sweeping in the other direction.  Nor could he pursue them through the burning 
village.  The tractor broke out of the tree line on the far side of the 
hamlet, pivoted right, and raced along a cane field to turn the assault 
troops.  The VC slipped away toward the left flank.

     While the assault was going in, the wounded Marines were lying where they 
had fallen, joking with Hastings and Falcon.  Helicopters had been called and 
they knew they would soon be under expert care.  At all times helicopters sat 
on the Da Nang airstrip, 16 miles to the rear, ready to evacuate the wounded, 
like ambulances at city hospitals--only faster.

     Eight minutes had elapsed since the wounded had fallen, and circling 
overhead, looking for the green smoke grenade which signalled a secure landing 
zone, were two Hueys<*>. Hastings threw the grenade and down clattered one 
chopper. The other circled aloft, ready to pounce on any enemy firing 
position.  That capability was not needed.  The landing zone was very secure.  
The 3d Squad was pushing the enemy out of the hamlet.  Cunningham had settled 
the fire teams of the 2d Squad in the outskirts of the surrounding tree lines, 
ready to stifle by fire any enemy who tried to down the Huey.  Still, a fight 
was raging and one of the wounded became concerned that the helicopter might 
choose not to land.  "Give me a rifle," he said, "I'll secure this damn 
landing zone myself, if it means I get out of here afterwards."

     The helicopter settled in.  Hastings was extremely careful to bring the 
Huey down right on the tracks of the amtracs so it would not detonate another 
mine.  The wounded were placed on board, and the helicopter took off, headed 
for "Charlie Med"<**> receiving hospital.  Thirteen minutes after the mine had 
exploded, the wounded were being tended by doctors and receiving transfusions.  
All would live.

     The assault force was running again.  Adams had told them they were going 
the wrong way.  They had stopped, gasped for breath, and stumbled out the back 
of the village in trace of the amtrac.  A trench line ran from the village to 
another tree line and hamlet 400 meters in the rear of the burned village.  
Beside this trench the eight Marines trotted.  They had no more sweat to drop.  
Most had burns where their hands or arms had accidently brushed the heated 
rifle barrels. Their flak jackets and helmets weighted them down.  They didn't 
ease up.


----------
<*>Huey - Marine slang for UH1E helicopter.
<**>Charlie Med - Marine slang for Company C of a medical battalion.


                                      12




 
     Two hundred meters from the tree line, Payne croaked to his machine gun 
team to drop off and cover their advance. The LVT stopped at the tree line and 
readied its machine gun. The Marines swept into the village by pairs, covering 
the advance of each other.  The village was empty.  The trench line was empty.  
The numerous fighting holes were empty. Punji traps and bamboo stakes were 
everywhere.  It was a typical VC village.

     The Marines turned back, withdrawing cautiously, thoroughly exhausted.  
Cunningham joined them near the machine gun emplacement, bringing the two 
squads and the other tractor with him.  Adams and Blume told the sergeant 
where they had seen the VC and the bodies.  Cunningham was puzzled.  He said 
he had passed that area five minutes after the amtracs and had seen only 
women, children, and old men fleeing to the left flank.  He had seen no VC and 
no bodies.  In that short time lapse either the VCs, or the villagers 
(probably relatives)--or both--had policed the battlefield.

     Cunningham consolidated his position and sent engineers into the village 
to blow the bunkers and trench lines.  The entire action lasted less than 40 
minutes.  Within six minutes the assault had been launched.  Not one Marine 
was wounded in the attack.  It was sudden and fierce and took the VC by 
surprise.  The Marines were surprised themselves.  In seven months in Vietnam, 
Payne had never before charged the enemy. Nor had his men.

     The action was sharp, brief, and inconclusive.  The assault force, 
assuming the VC would pull directly back, had been badly fooled by the enemy's 
flank escape, probably by use of tunnels or trenches.  Carelessness and 
inattention caused the mine casualties, as they had caused many before and 
would continue to do so.  The middle men of a patrol on the march under a hot 
sun had tended to relax and shuffle along.

     On the other hand, the platoon responded to fire like veterans (which 
they were, most having over four months of combat patrolling).  In some cases 
(Corporal Lewis and Private First Class Adams stand out) initial initiative 
was impressive. The number of Marines returning fire was almost total.  
Thirty-nine men were engaged in the action; 33 fired their weapons, either 
individual or team.  Those not firing were the platoon commander, the platoon 
corpsman, the platoon radio man, and the three wounded.  The area fire 
weapons--the 3.55, the LAAWs, and the M79s--were particularly effective in 
reducing the volume of enemy fire.

     The platoon commander and the squad leaders moved swiftly but not rashly.  
They covered their flanks and did


                                     13



not commit the entire platoon at one time in one bunched movement, thus 
minimizing the chance of a successful ambush. Lewis covered the amtracs and 
then Payne's squad when they rushed the village.  Cunningham had one more 
squad backing Lewis.  Payne covered his pursuit objective with his machine gun 
team and the amtrac.  Cunningham had on call at all times 81mm mortars and 
artillery; Gibbs' 60mm mortar was well supplied with ammunition.

     The physical conditioning of the entire platoon was superior.  They ran, 
fought, and thought in intense heat, no mean accomplishment.

     The Marines had cleared the field by firepower and aggressive maneuver.  
They had hurt the VC but did not know how badly.  The mine had severely 
wounded one Marine and put two more out of action.  During the remainder of 
the day no sniper fired at the platoon.  That was unusual.  The next day, the 
company suffered no casualties and received very light incoming fire--that too 
was unusual.  The following day, a Marine from the 3d Platoon in the middle of 
a column tripped a mine and five Marines were evacuated.  The harassing fire 
that day was moderately heavy, inaccurate, and delivered at long range.  That 
was usual.


                                     14




 
                                 HOWARD'S HILL


           Preface: The author was on another patrol the night of the 
        Howard fight.  He met with the men of Charlie Company, who 
        relieved Howard's platoon, immediately upon their return and 
        taped their comments and reactions.  Then he went to the hospital 
        at Chulai and interviewed Howard and his men, talking later with 
        the pilots, the Special Forces officers, and Howard's company and
        battalion commanders.  The pictures--the only ones taken on the 
        hill during the fight--were provided by First Lieutenant Philip 
        Freed, who was the Forward Air Controller with Charlie Company.


     The Marine Corps has a tested tradition: it will never leave alone on the 
field of combat one of its fighting men. It will go to fantastic lengths and 
commit to battle scores of men to aid and protect a few.  This is the story of 
a few such Marines, of the battle they fought, and the help they received from 
all the services, not just the Marine Corps.

     Some 20 miles inland to the west of the Marine base at Chulai runs a 
range of steep mountains and twisting valleys. In that bandits' lair, the Viet 
Cong and North Vietnamese could train and plan for attacks against the heavily 
populated seacoast hamlets, massing only when it was time to attack.  In early 
June of 1966, the intelligence reports reaching III MAF headquarters indicated 
that a mixed force of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese was gathering by the 
thousands in those mountains.  But the enemy leaders were not packing their 
troops into a few large, vulnerable assembly points; they kept their units 
widely dispersed, moving mainly in squads and platoons.

     To frustrate that scheme and keep the enemy off balance, the Marines 
launched Operation KANSAS, an imaginative concept in strategy.  Rather than 
send full infantry battalions to beat the bushes in search of small enemy 
bands, Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt detailed the reconnaissance battalion 
of the 1st Marine Division to scout the mountains.  The reconnaissance Marines 
would move in small teams of 8 to 20 men.  If they located a large enemy 
concentration, Marine infantry would be flown in.  If, as was expected, they 
saw only numerous small groups of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, they were to 
smash them by calling in air and artillery strikes.

     Lieutenant Colonel Arthur J. Sullivan had set high training standards for 
his battalion.  Every man had received


                                     15



individual schooling in forward observer techniques and reconnaissance patrol 
procedures.  He was confident his men could perform the mission successfully, 
despite the obvious hazards.  "The Vietnam war," he said, "has given the 
small-unit leader--the corporal, the sergeant, the lieutenant--a chance to be 
independent.  The senior officers just can't be out there looking over their 
shoulders.  You have to have confidence in your junior officers and NCOs."

     One such NCO was Staff Sergeant Jimmie Earl Howard, acting commander of 
the 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion.  A tall, 
well-built man in his mid-thirties, Howard had been a star football player and 
later a coach at the San Diego Recruit Depot.  Leadership came naturally to 
him.  "Howard was a very personable fellow," his company commander, Captain 
Tim Geraghty said.  "The men liked him.  They liked to work for him." In Korea 
he had been wounded three times and awarded the Silver Star for bravery.  In 
Vietnam he would receive a fourth Purple Heart and be recommended for the 
Medal of Honor.

     As dusk fell on the evening of 13 June 1966, a flight of helicopters 
settled on the slope of Hill 488, 25 miles west of Chulai.  Howard and his 17 
men jumped out and climbed the steep incline to the top.  The hill, called Nui 
Vu, rose to a peak of nearly 1,500 feet and dominated the terrain for miles.  
Three narrow strips of level ground ran along the top for several hundred 
yards before falling abruptly away.  Seen from the air, they roughly resembled 
the three blades on an airplane propeller.  Howard chose the blade which 
pointed north for his command post and placed observation teams on the other 
two blades.  It was an ideal vantage point.

     The enemy knew it also.  Their foxholes dotted the ground, each with a 
small shelter scooped out two feet under the surface.  Howard permitted his 
men use of these one-man caves during the day to avoid the hot sun and enemy 
detection. There was no other cover or concealment to be found.  There were no 
trees, only knee-high grass and small scrub growth.

     In the surrounding valleys and villages, there were many enemy.  For the 
next two days, Howard was constantly calling for fire missions, as members of 
the platoon saw small enemy groups almost every hour.  Not all the requests 
for air and artillery strikes were honored.  Sullivan was concerned lest the 
platoon's position, so salient and bare, be spotted by a suspicious enemy.  
Most of the firing at targets located by the platoon was done only when there 
was an observation plane circling in the vicinity to decoy the enemy.  After 
two days Sullivan and his executive officer, Major Allan Harris, became 
alarmed at the risk involved in leaving the platoon stationary any longer.  
But the observation


                                     16




 
post was ideal; Howard had encountered no difficulty, and, in any case, 
thought he had a secure escape route along a ridge to the east.  So it was 
decided to leave the platoon on Nui Vu for one more day.

     However, the enemy were well aware of the platoon's presence.  (Sullivan 
has a theory that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, long harassed, 
disrupted, and punished by reconnaissance units in territory they claimed to 
control absolutely, had determined to eliminate one such unit, hoping thereby 
to demoralize the others.  Looked at in hindsight, the ferocity and tenacity 
of the attack upon Nui Vu gives credence to the colonel's theory.) In any 
case, the North Vietnamese made their preparations well and did not tip their 
hand.  On 15 June, they moved a fresh, well-equipped, highly trained battalion 
to the base of Nui Vu.  In late afternoon hundreds of the enemy started to 
climb up the three blades, hoping to annihilate the dozen and a half Marines 
in one surprise attack.

     The Army Special Forces frustrated that plan.  Sergeant 1st Class Donald 
Reed and Specialist 5th Class Hardey Drande were leading a platoon of CIDG 
(Civilian Irregular Defense Group) forces on patrol near Nui Vu that same 
afternoon. They saw elements of the North Vietnamese battalion moving towards 
the hill and radioed the news back to their base camp at Hoi An, several miles 
to the south.  Howard's radio was purposely set on the same frequency and so 
he was alerted at the same time.  Reed and Drande wanted to hit the enemy from 
the rear and disrupt them, but had to abandon the idea when they suddenly 
found themselves a very unpopular minority of two on the subject.  Describing 
the reactions of the Special Forces NCOs later, Howard could not resist 
chuckling.  "The language those sergeants used over the radio," he said, "when 
they realized they couldn't attack the PAVNs<*>, well, they sure didn't learn 
it "at communications school." Even though the Special Forces where not able 
to provide the ground support they wished to, their warning alerted Howard and 
enabled him to develop a precise defensive plan before the attack was 
launched.

     Acting on the report, Howard gathered his team leaders, briefed them on 
the situation, selected an assembly point, instructed them to stay on full 
alert and to withdraw to the main position at the first sign of an approaching 
enemy.  The corporals and lance corporals crept back to their teams and 
briefed them in the growing dusk.  The Marines then settled down to watch and 
wait.

     Lance Corporal Ricardo Binns had placed his observation team on the slope 
40 meters forward of Howard's position.  At

---------
<*> PAVNs - Marine slang for soldiers of the Peoples' Army of (North) Vietnam.


                                     17



approximately 2200, while the four Marines were lying in a shallow depression 
discussing in whispers their sergeant's solemn warnings, Binns quite casually 
propped himself up on his elbows and placed his rifle butt in his shoulder.  
Without saying a word, he pointed the barrel at a bush and fired. The bush 
pitched backward and fell thrashing 12 feet away.

     The other Marines jumped up.  Each threw a grenade, before grabbing his 
rifle and scrambling up the hill.  Behind them grenades burst and automatic 
weapons pounded away.  The battle of Nui Vu was on.

     The other outposts withdrew to the main position.  The Marines commanded 
a tiny rock-strewn knoll.  The rocks would provide some protection for the 
defenders.  Placing his two radios behind a large boulder, Howard set up a 
tight circular perimeter, not over 20 meters in diameter, and selected a 
firing position for each Marine.

     The North Vietnamese too were setting up.  They had made no audible 
noises while climbing.  There was no talking, no clumsy movements.  When Binns 
killed one of their scouts, they were less than 50 meters from the top.

     The Marines were surrounded.  From all sides the enemy threw grenades.  
Some bounced off the rocks; some rolled back down the slopes; some did not 
explode, but some landed right on Marines and did explode.  The next day the 
platoon corpsman, Billee Don Holmes, recalled: "They were within twenty feet 
of us.  Suddenly there were grenades all over.  Then people started hollering.  
It seemed everyone got hit at the same time.

     Holmes crawled forward to help.  A grenade exploded between him and a 
wounded man.  Holmes lost consciousness.

     The battle was going well for the North Vietnamese.  Four .50 caliber 
machine guns were firing in support of the assault units, their heavy 
explosive projectiles arcing in from the four points of the compass.  Red 
tracer rounds from light machine guns streaked toward the Marine position, 
pointing the direction for reinforcements gathering in the valley. 60mm mortar 
shells smashed down and added rock splinters to the metal shrapnel whining 
through the air.

     The North Vietnamese followed up the grenade shower with a full, 
well-coordinated assault, directed and controlled by shrill whistles and the 
clacking of bamboo sticks.  From different directions, they rushed the 
position at the same time, firing automatic weapons, throwing grenades, and 
screaming.  Howard later said he hadn't been sure how his troops would react.  
They were young and the situation looked hopeless.


                                     18




 
They had been shocked and confused by the ferocity of the attack and the 
screams of their own wounded.

     But they reacted savagely.  The first lines of enemy skirmishers were cut 
down seconds after they stood up and exposed themselves.  The assault failed 
to gain momentum any place and the North Vietnamese in the rearward ranks had 
more sense than to copy the mistakes of the dead.  Having failed in their 
swift charge, they went to earth and probed the perimeter, seeking a weak spot 
through which they could drive. To do this, small bands of the enemy tried to 
crawl quite close to a Marine, then overwhelm him with a burst of fire and 
several grenades.

      But the Marines too used grenades and the American hand grenade contains 
twice the blast and shrapnel effect of the Chinese Communist stick grenade.  
The Marines could throw farther and more accurately than the enemy.  A Marine 
would listen for a movement, gauge the direction and distance, pull the pin, 
and throw.  High pitched howls and excited jabberings mingled with the blasts.  
The North Vietnamese pulled back to regroup.

     Howard had taken the PRC-25 radio from one of his communicators, Corporal 
Robert Lewis Martinez, and during the lull contacted Captain Geraghty and 
Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan. With his escape route cut off and his force 
facing overwhelming odds, Howard kept his message simple.  "You've gotta get 
us out of here," he said.  "There are too many of them for my people."

     Sullivan tried.  Because of his insistence upon detailed preplanning of 
extraction and fire support contingencies, he was a well-known figure at the 
Direct Air Support Center of the 1st Marine Division and when he called near 
midnight, he did not bandy words.  He wanted flare ships, helicopters, and 
fixed wing aircraft dispatched immediately to Nui Vu.

     Somehow, the response was delayed.  And shortly after midnight, the enemy 
forces gathered and rushed forward in strength a second time.  The Marines 
threw the last of their grenades and fired their rifles semiautomatically, 
relying on accuracy to suppress volume.  It did and the enemy fell back, but 
by that time every Marine had been wounded.

     The living took the ammunition of the dead and lay under a moonless sky, 
wondering about the next assault.  Although he did not tell anyone, Howard 
doubted they could repel a massed charge by a determined enemy.  From combat 
experience, he knew too that the enemy, having been badly mauled twice, would 
listen for sounds which would indicate his force had been shattered or 
demoralized before surging forward again.


                                     19



Already up the slopes were floating the high, singsong taunts Marines had 
heard at other places in other wars.  Voices which screeched: "Marines--you 
die tonight!" and "Marines, you die in an hour."

     Members of the platoon wanted to return the compliments. "Sure," said 
Howard, "go ahead and yell anything you want." And the Marines shouted back 
down the slopes all the curses and invectives they could remember from their 
collective repetoire.  The North Vietnamese screamed back, giving Howard the 
opportunity to deliver a master stroke in psychological oneupmanship.

     "All right," he shouted. "Ready?  Now!"

     And all the Marines laughed and laughed and laughed at the enemy.

     The North Vietnamese did not mount a third major attack and at 0100 an 
Air Force flare ship, with the poetic call sign of "Smoky Gold," came on 
station overhead.  Howard talked to the pilot through his radio and the plane 
dropped its first flare.  The mountainside was lit up.  The Marines looked 
down the slopes.  Lance Corporal Ralph Glober Victor stared, then muttered: 
"Oh my God, look at them." The others weren't sure it wasn't a prayer.  North 
Vietnamese reinforcements filled the valley.  Twenty-year-old Private First 
Class Joseph Kosoglow described it vividly: "There were so many, it was just 
like an ant hill ripped apart.  They were all over the place."

     They shouldn't have been.  Circling above the mountain were attack jets 
and armed helicopters.  With growing frustration, they had talked to Howard 
but could not dive to the attack without light.  Now they had light.

     They swarmed in.  The jets first concentrated on the valley floor and the 
approaches to Nui Vu, loosing rockets which hissed down and blanketed large 
areas.  Then those fast, dangerous helicopters--the Hueys--scoured the slopes.  
At altitudes as low as 20 feet, they skimmed the brush, firing their machine 
guns in long, sweeping bursts.  The Hueys pulled off to spot for the jets, and 
again the planes dipped down, releasing bombs and napalm.  Then the Hueys 
scurried back to pick off stragglers, survey the damage, and direct another 
run.  One of the platoon's communicators, Corporal Martinez, said it in two 
sentences: "The Hueys were all over the place.  The jets blocked the Viet Cong 
off."

     Two Hueys stayed over Howard's position all night; when one helicopter 
had to return to home base and refuel, another would be sent out.  The Huey 
pilots, Captain John M. Shields


                                     20




 
and Captain James M. Perryman, Jr., performed dual roles--they were the 
Tactical Air Controllers' Airborne (TACAs) who directed the bomb runs of the 
jets and they themselves strafed the enemy.  The North Vietnamese tried 
unsuccessfully to shoot the helicopters down and did hit two out of the four 
Hueys alternating on station.

     By the light of the flares, the jet pilots could see the hill mass and 
distinguish prominent terrain features but could not spot Howard's perimeter.  
To mark specific targets for the jets, the TACAs directed "Smoky" to drop 
flares right on the ground as signal lights and then called the jets down to 
pulverize the spot.  Howard identified his position by flicking a re-filtered 
flashlight on and off, and, guiding on that mark, the Huey pilots strafed 
within 25 meters of the Marines.

     Still on the perimeter itself the fight continued.  In the shifting light 
of the flares, the pilots were fearful of hitting the Marines and had to leave 
some space unexposed to fire in front of the Marines' lines.  Into this space 
crawled the North Vietnamese.

     For the Marines it was a war of hide and seek.  Having run out of 
grenades, they had to rely on cunning and marksmanship to beat the attackers.  
Howard had passed the word to fire only at an identified target--and then only 
one shot at a time.  The enemy fired all automatic weapons; the Marines 
replied with single shots.  The enemy hurled grenades; the Marines threw back 
rocks.

     It was a good tactic.  A Marine would hear a noise and toss a rock in 
that general direction.  The North Vietnamese would think it was a grenade 
falling and dive for another position.  The Marine would roll or crawl low to 
a spot from which he could sight in on the position, and wait.  In a few 
seconds, the North Vietnamese would raise his head to see why the grenade had 
not exploded.  The Marine would fire one round.  The range was generally less 
than 30 feet.

     The accuracy of this fire saved the life of Corpsman Holmes.  When he 
regained consciousness after a grenade had knocked him out, he saw a North 
Vietnamese dragging away the dead Marine beside him.  Then another enemy 
reached over and grasped him by the cartridge belt.  The soldier tugged at 
him.

     Lance Corporal Victor was lying on his stomach behind a rock.  He had 
been hit twice by grenades since the first flare had gone off and could 
scarcely move.  He saw an enemy soldier bending over a fallen Marine.  He 
sighted in and fired.  The man fell backward.  He saw a second enemy tugging 
at another Marine's body.  He sighted in again and fired.


                                     21



     Shot between the eyes, the North Vietnamese slumped dead across Billee 
Holmes' chest.  He pushed the body away and crawled back to the Marines' 
lines.  His left arm was lanced with shrapnel, and his face was swollen and 
his head ringing from the concussion of the grenade.  For the rest of the 
night, he crawled from position to position, bandaging and encouraging the 
wounded, and between times firing at the enemy.

     Occasionally the flares would flicker out and the planes would have to 
break off contact to avoid crashing.  In those instances, artillery under the 
control of the Special Forces and manned by Vietnamese gun crews would fill in 
the gap and punish any enemy force gathering at the base of Nui Vu.

     "Stiff Balls," Howard had radioed the Special Forces camp at Hoi An, 
three miles south.  "If you can keep Charlie from sending another company up 
here, I'll keep these guys out of my position."

     "Roger, Carnival Time." Captain Louis Maris, of the Army Special Forces, 
had replied, using Howard's own peculiar call sign.  Both sides kept their 
parts of the bargain and the South Vietnamese crews who manned the 105mm 
howitzers threw in concentration after concentration of accurate artillery 
shells.

     "Howard was talking on the radio.  He was cool," Captain John Blair, the 
Special Forces commanding officer, recalled afterwards.  "He stayed calm all 
the way through that night.  But," he chuckled, "he never did get our call 
sign right!"

     In the periods of darkness, each Marine fought alone. How some of them 
died no one knows.  But the relieving force hours later found one Marine lying 
propped up against a rock. In front of him lay a dead enemy soldier.  The 
muzzles of their weapons were touching each others' chests.  Two Marine 
entrenching tools were recovered near a group of mangled North Vietnamese; 
both shovels were covered with blood.  One Marine was crumpled beneath a dead 
enemy.  Beside him lay another Vietnamese.  The Marine was bandaged around the 
chest and head.  His hand still clasped the hilt of a knife buried in the back 
of the soldier on top of him.

     At 0300, a flight of H34 helicopters whirled over Nui Vu and came in to 
extract the platoon.  So intense was the fire they met that they were unable 
to land and Howard was told he would have to fight on until dawn.  Shortly 
thereafter, a richochet struck Howard in the back.  His voice over the radio 
faltered and died out.  Those listening--the Special Forces personnel, the 
pilots, the high ranking officers of the 1st Marine Division at Chulai--all 
thought the end had come.


                                     22




 
Then Howard's voice came back strong.  Fearing the drowsing effect morphine 
can have, he refused to let Holmes administer the drug to ease the pain.  
Unable to use his legs, he pulled himself from hole to hole encouraging his 
men and directing their fire.  Wherever he went, he dragged their 
lifeline--the radio.

     Binns, the man whose shot had triggered the battle, was doing likewise.  
Despite severe wounds, he crawled around the perimeter, urging his men to 
conserve their ammunition, gathering enemy weapons and grenades for the 
Marines' use, giving assistance wherever needed.

     None of the Marines kept track of the time.  "I'll tell you this," said 
Howard, "you know that movie--The Longest Day? Well, compared to our night on 
the hill, The Longest Day was just a twinkle in the eye." But the longest 
night did pass and dawn came.  Howard heralded its arrival.  At 0525 he 
shouted, "O.K., you people, reveille goes in 35 minutes." At exactly 0600, his 
voice pealed out, "Reveille, reveille."' It was the start of another day and 
the perimeter had held.

     On all sides of their position, the Marines saw enemy bodies and 
equipment. The North Vietnamese would normally have raked the battlefield 
clean but so deadly was the Marine fire that they left unclaimed many of those 
who fell close to the perimeter.

     The firing had slacked off.  Although badly mauled themselves, the enemy 
still had the Marines ringed in and did not intend to leave.  Nor did haste 
make them foolhardy.  They knew what the jets and the Hueys and the artillery 
and the Marine sharpshooting would do to them on the bare slopes in daylight.  
They slipped into holes and waited, intending to attack with more troops the 
next night.

     Bursts of fire from light machine guns chipped the rocks above the 
Marines' heads.  Firing uphill from concealed foxholes, the enemy could cut 
down any Marine who raised up and silhouetted himself against the skyline.  
Two of the .50 caliber machine guns were still firing sporadically.

     There came a lull in the firing.  A Huey buzzed low over the hillcrest, 
while another gunship hovered to one side, ready to pounce if the enemy took 
the bait.  No one fired. The pilot, Major William J. Goodsell, decided to mark 
the position for a medical evacuation by helicopter.  His Huey fluttered 
slowly down and hovered.  Howard thought the maneuver too risky and said so.  
But Goodsell had run the risk and come in anyway.  He dropped a smoke grenade.  
Still no fire.  He waved to the relieved Howard and skimmed north over the 
forward slope, only 10 feet above the ground.


                                     23



    The noise of machine guns drowned out the sound of the helicopter's 
engines.  Tracers flew toward the Huey from all directions.  The helicopter 
rocked and veered sharply to the right and zigzagged down the mountain.  The 
copilot, First Lieutenant Stephen Butler, grabbed the stick and brought the 
crippled helicopter under control, crash landing in a rice paddy several miles 
to the east.  The pilots were picked up by their wingman.  But Major Goodsell, 
who had commanded Squadron VMO-6 for less than one week, died of gunshot 
wounds before they reached the hospital.

     The medical pickup helicopter did not hesitate.  It came in.  
Frantically, Howard waved it off.  He was not going to see another shot down.  
The pilots were dauntless but not invulnerable.  The pilot saw Howard's signal 
and turned off, bullets clanging off the armor plating of the undercarriage. 
Howard would wait for the infantry.

     In anger, the jets and the Hueys now attacked the enemy positions anew.  
Flying lower and lower, they crisscrossed the slopes, searching for the 
machine gun emplacements, offering themselves as targets, daring the enemy to 
shoot.

     The enemy did.  Another Huey was hit and crashed, its crew chief killed.  
The .50 calibers exposed their position and were silenced.  Still the North 
Vietnamese held their ground.  Perhaps the assault company, with all its 
automatic weapons and fresh young troops, had been ordered to wipe out the few 
Marines at any cost; perhaps the commanding officer had been killed and his 
subordinates were following dead orders; perhaps the enemy thought victory yet 
possible.

     But then the Marine infantry came in.  They had flown out at dawn but so 
intense was the enemy fire around Nui Vu, the helicopters had to circle for 45 
minutes while jets and artillery blasted a secure landing zone.  During that 
time, First Lieutenant Richard E. Moser, a H34 helicopter pilot, monitored 
Howard's frequency and later reported: "It was like something you'd read in a 
novel.  His call sign was Carnival Time and he kept talking about these North 
Vietnamese down in holes in front of him.  He'd say, 'you've gotta get this 
guy in the crater because he's hurting my boys.' He was really impressive.  
His whole concern was for his men."

     On the southern slope of the mountain, helicopters finally dropped 
Charlie Company of the 5th Marines.  The relief company climbed fast, ignoring 
sniper fire and wiping out small pockets of resistance.  With the very first 
round they fired, the Marine 60mm mortar team knocked out the enemy mortar.  
Sergeant Frank Riojas, the weapons platoon commander, cut down a sniper at 500 
yards with a tracer round from his M14.  Marine machine gun sections were 
detached from the main


                                     24




 
                              

     Men of C/1/5 start up Howard's Hill, as napalm burns on the slope.
     (Lt Freed's photo.)

     Pinned down atop Howard's Hill, Lieutenant Philip Freed Calls for
     air support. (Lt. Freed's photo.)


                                      24a



body and sent up the steep fingers along the flanks of the hill to support by 
fire the company's movement.  The North Vietnamese were now the hunted, as 
Marines scrambled around as well as up the slope, attempting to pinch off the 
enemy before they could flee.

     The main column climbed straight upwards.  While yet a quarter of a mile 
away, the point man saw recon's position on the plateau.  The boulder which 
served as Howard's command post was the most prominent terrain feature on the 
peak.  The platoon hurried forward.  They had to step over enemy bodies to 
enter the perimeter.  Howard's men had eight rounds of ammunition left.

     "Get down," were Howard's first words of welcome.  "There are snipers 
right in front of us." Another recon man shouted: "Hey, you got any 
cigarettes?" A cry went up along the line--not expressions of joy--but 
requests for cigarettes.

     It was not that Howard's Marines were not glad to see other infantrymen; 
it was just that they had expected them. Staff Sergeant Richard Sullivan, who 
was with the first platoon to reach the recon Marines, said later: "One man 
told me he never expected to see the sun rise.  But once it did, he knew we'd 
be coming."

     The fight was not over.  Before noon, in the hot day-light, despite 
artillery and planes firing in support, four more Marines would die.

     At Howard's urging, Second Lieutenant Ronald Meyer quickly deployed his 
platoon along the crest.  Meyer had graduated from the Naval Academy the 
previous June and intended to make the Marine Corps his career.  He had spent 
a month with his bride before leaving for Vietnam.  In the field he wore no 
shiny bars, and officers and men alike called him "Stump," because of his 
short, muscular physique.

     Howard had assumed he was a corporal or a sergeant and was shouting 
orders to him.  Respecting Howard's knowledge and performance, Meyer obeyed.  
He never did mention his rank. So Staff Sergeant Howard, waving off offers of 
aid, proceeded to direct the tactical maneuvers of the relieving company, 
determined to wipe out the small enemy band dug in not 20 meters downslope.

     Meyer hollered for members of his platoon to pass him grenades.  He would 
then lob them downslope toward the snipers' holes.  By peering around the base 
of the boulder, Howard was able to direct his throws.  "A little more to the 
right on the next one, buddy.  About five yards farther.  That's right. No, a 
little too strong." The grenades had little effect and


                                     25




 
the snipers kept firing.  Meyer shouted he wanted air on the target.  The word 
was passed back for the air liaison officer to come forward.  The platoon 
waited.

     Lance Corporal Terry Redic wanted to fire his rifle grenade at the 
snipers.  A tested sharpshooter, he had several kills to his credit.  In small 
fire fights he often disdained to duck, prefering to suppress hostile fire by 
his own rapid accurate shooting.  Meyer's way seemed too slow.  He raised up, 
knelt on one knee, and sighted downslope looking for a target.  He never found 
one.  The enemy shot first and killed him instantly.

     Meyer swore vehemently.  "Let's get that *****.  You coming with me, 
Sotello?" "Yes, Stump." Lance Corporal David Sotello turned to get his rifle 
and some other men.  Meyer didn't wait.  He started forward with a grenade in 
each hand. "Keep your head down, buddy, they can shoot," yelled Howard.

     Meyer crawled for several yards, then threw a grenade at a hole.  It 
blasted an enemy soldier.  He turned, looking upslope.  Another sniper shot 
him in the back.  Sotello heard the shot as he started to crawl down.

     So did Hospitalman 3d Class John Markillie, the platoon corpsman.  He 
crawled toward the fallen lieutenant.  "For God's sake, keep your head down!" 
yelled Howard.  Markillie reached his lieutenant.  He sat up to examine the 
wound.  A sniper shot him in the chest.

     Another corpsman, Holloday, and a squad leader, Corporal Melville, 
crawled forward.  They could not feel Meyer's pulse. Markillie was still 
breathing.  Ignoring the sniper fire, they began dragging and pushing his body 
up the hill.

     Melville was hit in the head.  He rolled over.  His helmet bounced off.  
He shook his head and continued to crawl. The round had gone in one side of 
the helmet and ripped out the other, just nicking the corporal above his left 
ear.  Melville and Holloday dragged Markillie into the perimeter.

     From Chulai, the battalion commander called his company commander, First 
Lieutenant Marshall "Buck" Darling.  "Is the landing zone secure, Buck?" 
"Well," A pause.  "...not spectacularly." Back at the base two noncommissioned 
officers were listening.  "I wonder what he meant by that?" asked the junior 
sergeant.  "What the hell do you think it means, stupid?" replied the older 
sergeant.  "He's getting shot at."

     Ignoring his own wounds, Corpsman Billee Holmes was busy supervising the 
corpsmen from Charlie Company as they administered to the wounded.  With the 
fire fight still going on to the front, helicopter evacuation was not possible 
from


                                      26



within the perimeter.  The wounded had to be taken rearward to the south 
slope.  Holmes roved back and forth, making sure that all his buddies were 
accounted for and taken out.

     The pilots had seen easier landing sites.  "For the medical evacs," Moser 
said, "a pilot had to come in perpendicular to the ridge, then cock his bird 
around before he sat down.  We could get both main mounts 
down--first--the-tail--well--sometimes we got it down.  We were still taking 
fire."

     Holmes reported that there was still one Marine, whom he had seen die, 
missing.  Only after repeated assurances that they would not leave without the 
body were the infantry able to convince him and Howard that it was time they 
too left. They helped the Navy corpsman and the Marine sergeant to a waiting 
helicopter.  Howard's job was done.

     Another had yet to be finished.  There was a dead Marine to be found 
somewhere on the field of battle.  But before a search could be conducted, the 
last of the enemy force had to be destroyed.

     First Lieutenant Phil Freed flopped down beside Melville. Freed was the 
forward air controller attached to Charlie Company that day.  He had run the 
last quarter mile uphill when he heard Meyer needed air.  With the rounds 
cracking near his head, he needed no briefing.  He contacted two F8 Crusader 
jets circling overhead.  "This is Cottage 14.  Bring it on down on a dry run.  
This has to be real tight.  Charlie is dug in right on our lines." At the 
controls of the jets were First Lieutenants Richard W. Deilke and Edward H. 
Menzer.

     "There were an awful lot of planes in the air," Menzer said.  "We didn't 
think we'd be used so we called DASC (Direct Air Support Center) and asked for 
another mission.  We got diverted to the FAC (Forward Air Controller), Cottage 
14.  He told us he had a machine gun nest right in front of him."

     As they talked back and forth, Menzer thought he recognized Freed's 
voice.  Later he learned he had indeed; Freed had flown jets with him in 
another squadron a year earlier.

     Freed was lying in a pile of rocks on the military crest of the northern 
finger of the hill.  Since he himself had flown the F8 Crusader, Freed could 
talk to the pilots in a language they understood.  Still, he was not certain 
they could help. He didn't know whether they could come that close and still 
not hit the Marine infantrymen.  On their first run, he deliberately called 
the jets in wide so he could judge the technical skills and precision of the 
pilots.  Rock steady.


                                     27




 
     He called for them to attack in earnest.  When they heard the target was 
20 meters from the FAC, it was the pilots' turn to be worried.  "As long as 
you're flying parallel to the people, it's O.K.," Menzer said.  "Because it's 
a good shooting bird. But even so, I was leery at first to fire with troops 
that near."

     Unknown to them, the two pilots were about to fly one of the closest 
direct air support missions in the history of fixed-wing aviation.  They 
approached from the northeast with the sun behind them, and cut across the 
ridgeline parallel to the friendly lines.  They strafed without room for 
error.  The gun-sight reflector plate in an F8 Crusader jet looks like a 
bullseye with the rings marked in successive 10-mil increments. When the 
pilots in turn aligned their sights while 3,000 feet away, the target lay 
within the 10-mil ring and the Marine position was at the edge of the ring.  
The slightest variance of the controls would rake the Marine infantrymen with 
fire. In that fashion, each pilot made four strafing passes, skimming by 10 to 
20 feet above the ridge.  Freed feared they would both crash, so close did 
their wings dip to the crest of the hill.  The impact of the cannon shells 
showered the infantrymen with dirt.  They swore they could tell the color of 
the pilot's eyes.  In eight attacks, the jet pilots fired 350 20mm explosive 
shells into an area 60 meters long and 10 to 20 meters wide. The hillside was 
gouged and torn, as if a bulldozer had churned back and forth across it.

     Freed cautiously lifted his head.  A round cracked by. One enemy had 
survived.  Somebody shouted that the shot came from the position of the sniper 
who had killed Meyer.  The lieutenant's body lay several yards downslope.

     The F8 Crusaders had ample fuel left.  Menzer called to say they could 
make dummy runs over the position if the Marines thought it would be useful.  
Freed asked them to try it.

     The company commander, Buck Darling, watched the jets.  As they passed, 
he noticed the firing stopped momentarily.  The planes would be his cover.  
"I'm going to get Stump.  Coming, Brown?" he asked the nearest Marine.

     Lance Corporal James Brown was not a billboard Marine.  His offbeat sense 
of humor often conflicted with his superiors' sense of duty.  His squad leader 
later recalled with a grimace one fire fight when the enemy caught the squad 
in a cross fire. The rounds were passing high over the Marines' heads.  While 
everyone else was returning fire, Brown strolled over to a Vietnamese 
tombstone, propped himself against it with one finger, crossed his legs and 
yelled: "You couldn't hit me if I was buried here!" His squad leader almost 
did the job for the enemy.


                                     28



    On the hill relieving the recon unit, however, Brown was all business.  He 
emptied several rifle magazines and hurled grenade after grenade.  When he ran 
out of grenades, he threw rocks to keep the snipers ducking.  All the while he 
screamed and cursed, shouting every insult and blasphemy he could think of.  
Howard had been very impressed, both with Brown's actions and with his 
vocabulary.

     He was not out of words when Darling asked him to go after Meyer's body.  
As they crawled over the crest, Brown tugged at his company commander's boot.  
"Don't sweat it, lieutenant, they can only kill us." Darling did not reply.  
They reached Meyer's body and tried to pull it back while crawling on their 
stomachs.  They lacked the strength.

     "All right, let's carry him." said Darling.  It was Brown's turn to be 
speechless.  He knew what had happened to every Marine on the slope who had 
raised his head--and here was his officer suggesting they stand straight up! 
"We'll time our moves with the jets." When the jets passed low, they stumbled 
and scrambled forward a few yards with their burden, then flattened out as the 
jets pulled up.  The sniper snapped shots at them after every pass.  Bullets 
chipped the rocks around them. They had less than 30 feet to climb.  It took 
over a dozen rushes.  When they rolled over the crest they were exhausted. 
Only the enemy was left on the slope.

     The infantry went after him.  Corporal Samuel Roth led his eight man 
squad around the left side of the slope.  On the right, Sergeant Riojas set a 
machine gun up on the crest to cover the squad.  A burst of automatic fire 
struck the tripod of the machine gun.  A strange duel developed.  The sniper 
would fire at the machine gun.  His low position enabled him to aim in exactly 
on the gun.  The Marines would duck until he fired, then reach up and loose a 
burst downhill, forcing the sniper to duck.

     With the firing; the sniper could not hear the squad crashing through the 
brush on his right side.  Roth brought his men on line facing toward the 
sniper.  With fixed bayonets they began walking forward.  They could see no 
movement in the clumps of grass and torn earth.

     There was a lull in the firing.  The sniper heard the squad, turned and 
fired.  Bullets whipped by the Marines. Roth's helmet spun off.  He fell.  The 
other Marines flopped to the ground.  Roth was uninjured.  The steel helmet 
had saved a second Marine's life within an hour.  He was not even aware that 
his helmet had been shot off.  "When I give the word, kneel and fire," he 
said.  "Now!" The Marines rose and their rounds kicked up dust and clumps of 
earth in front of them.  They missed the sniper.  He had ducked into his hole.


                                     29




 
The Marines lay back down.  Roth swore.  "All right--put in fresh magazines 
and let's do it again." "Now!"

     Just as the Marines rose, the sniper bobbed up like a duck in a shooting 
gallery.  A bullet knocked him backwards against the side of his hole.  Roth 
charged, the other Marines sprinting behind him.  He drove forward with his 
bayonet.  A grenade with the release pin intact rolled from the sniper's left 
hand.  Roth jerked the blade back.  The sniper slumped forward over his 
machine gun.

     The hill was quiet.  It was noon.  Darling declared the objective secure.  
In the tall grass in front of Riojas' machine gun, the infantrymen found the 
body of the missing Marine. The Marines paused to search 39 enemy dead for 
documents, picked up 18 automatic weapons (most of them Chinese), climbed on 
board a flight of helicopters, and flew off the plateau.

     The Marines lost 10 dead.  Charlie Company and the Huey Squadrons each 
lost two.  Of the 18 Marines in the reconnaissance platoon, 6 were killed; the 
other 12 were wounded.  Five members of Charlie Company were recommended for 
medals.  Every Marine under Howard's command received the Purple Heart.  
Fifteen were recommended for the Silver Star; Binns and Holmes were nominated 
for the Navy Cross; Howard was recommended for the Medal of Honor.

     If the action had centered around just one man, then it could be 
considered a unique incident of exceptional bravery on the part of an 
exceptional man.  It is that.  But perhaps it is something more.  On June 
14th, few would have noticed anything unique about the 1st Reconnaissance 
Platoon of Charlie Company.  Just in reading the names of its dead, one has 
the feeling that here are the typical and the average, who, well-trained and 
well-led, rose above normal expectations to perform an exemplary feat of arms: 
John Adams, Ignatius Carlisi, Thomas Glawe, James McKinney, Alcadio 
Mascarenas, Jerrald Thompson.


                                     30



                                 NO CIGAR


           Preface:  The author accompanied the 3d Platoon, Company 
        A, 5th Marines, on several long-range patrols during the 
        period 16-24 June 1966.  He took several pictures of the 
        platoon while on the patrols, which were conducted along the 
        outer fringe of the 1st Battalion's Tactical Area of 
        Responsibility, approximately eight miles northwest of the 
        Marine base at Chulai.  This is the story of two consecutive
        patrols, typical of TAOR patrolling in what the Marines called 
        the "war of the rice paddy farmers."


     The patrol filed out through the battalion's defensive wire at 2030 on 23 
June 1966.  The assistant platoon leader and the guide from the company on the 
defensive perimeter counted each man.  They checked figures: "48?"

     "48."

     "See you."

     "Good luck.  Remember we have a listening post out about 200 meters."

     The platoon started across an area of small paddies and burnt underbrush.  
The column twisted and stumbled forward. There was no moon.

     Whispers.

     "Hold it up.  Pass the word."

     "What's wrong?  Pass it back."

     "One of Kohlbuss' men has sprained his ankle so bad he can't walk.  Did 
it crossing the dike."

     "Nuts.  O.K.  Tell him to go back to the wire himself," the platoon 
commander, First Lieutenant A. A. "Tony" Monroe said.  "Have him crawl back if 
he has to.  It's only a few yards.  Bielecki, call battalion and tell them an 
injured Marine is coming back in.  Don't shoot him."

     Lieutenant Monroe signalled the point to move out again. They walked 20 
yards.  More whispering.

     "Hold it up."


                                     31




 
     "Now what's the matter?"

     "Mills has a toothache.  It's killing him."

     Staff Sergeant Albert Ellis, the platoon guide, walked up to the 
lieutenant.

      "It's true, sir.  You know he should have gone to the dentist last week.  
Three days out there now could really put a hurting on him."

     "Great.  Just great.  Bielecki--call battalion and tell them not to shoot 
Mills either.  He'll be coming in.  Shall we leave before everybody goes 
back?"

     The platoon moved forward.  The point avoided the trails and stream beds.  
Across gullies, along the edges of the rice paddies, through whip-saw grass 
and scrub growth, the Marines trudged in single file.

     An hour passed.

     "Bielecki--tell battalion we've passed check point one."

     Two hours.  Three.

     "Bielecki, tell them we've passed check point two."

     The Marines twisted and wound their way toward an ambush site in the 
mountains seven miles to the west.  The night was muggy and the Marines 
sweated freely.  But it was not hot and little water was drunk.

     The point came to a break in the undergrowth and the column stopped while 
scouts moved ahead.  Having crossed a large rice paddy, they entered and 
searched a distant tree line. Finding the way clear, they waved the main body 
on.  The platoon walked across this paddy, keeping well spread out even in the 
dark and moving rapidly.  The undergrowth the platoon just left suddenly 
glowed with quick red lights which winked on and off.  Three sharp explosions 
followed and the ground shook. The platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Berton 
Robinson, ran up from the tail end of the platoon.

     "Sir, those dumb artillery people just missed us!"

     "Glad to hear they did, Robbie." The Marines listening chuckled.  "Let's 
get up that mountain before they try again. I told them we were coming out 
here tonight.  They should have stopped those H&I "Harassing and Interdiction" 
fires in our vicinity altogether."

     The point started clambering up over rocks in a westerly


                                     32



direction.  Illumination flares burst silently a few miles to the south.  The 
landscape was frozen in relief.  A man watching from a foxhole could see in 
clear outline any moving figure. The Marines crouched down in the bushes and 
waited.  The first parachute flares flickered out but fresh ones opened and 
swung gently downward.  Whispers.

     "Those damn Popular Forces are putting on their nightly show," growled 
one Marine.  "The record is eight flares at one time.  This show might top 
them all."

     It did.  The platoon commander waited patiently.  Flares were expensive 
and not that plentiful.  He was sure darkness would fall again soon.

     The platoon was grateful for the break.  They had been pushing steadily 
for four hours.  The hill they faced was 195 meters high, its steepness 
indicated by contour intervals on the map which pressed against each other.

     The flares did not cease.  Monroe was amazed--and angered. He did not 
like the idea of climbing a hill when anyone at the top could see him coming.  
But he had no choice, if he wanted to reach the ambush site before dawn.

     The Marines got to their feet.  Corporal Charles Washington led his point 
squad ahead of the main body.  The Marines used their hands, knees, and feet 
to climb.  They traversed the slope back and forth, grasping for holds and 
pulling themselves upwards.

     "I don't like this," the lieutenant whispered.  "A few grenades would 
play hell with us.  And we couldn't throw any; they'd bounce right back on our 
heads."

     They reached the top.  Monroe had his squads spread out. The Marines 
flopped down gasping.  No one moved for many minutes.  A few men threw up.  
Finally, Monroe called for his squad leaders and two staff sergeants.  He 
outlined simply the plan they had discussed before leaving the battalion area: 
the platoon would split into two groups and set up separate ambush and 
reconnaissance sites on the north and south sides of Hill 176, a mile to the 
south.  Monroe would take one group, with two squads and the artillery forward 
observer; Staff Sergeant Ellis would lead the second, with one squad and the 
60mm mortar. They would communicate by radio.

     Monroe motioned.  It was time to saddle up, Washington's squad still in 
front, Ellis' group falling in at the rear.  The last mile would be easy, 
since they could follow the ridgelines southwest until they arrived at Hill 
176.  Monroe planned to place his ambush along a trail where it crossed a low 
saddle; Ellis would climb the hill and set in on the other side.  The


                                     33




 
Marines walked against the skyline with unconcern.  The ridge was steep and 
thick, preventing effective ambush from the flanks.  The Marines to the front 
and rear treaded cautiously.

     The subdued sound of static from the radio stopped, indicating that 
someone was trying to contact the platoon.  So Private First Class William 
Bielecki, the platoon radioman, stopped to listen.  "Roger.  Out." "Sir, 
battalion says regiment was hit at 2400 by an estimated VC company and to look 
out. They're headed our way and might try to cross the saddle on 176 to get 
into the mountains."

     Monroe checked his watch--0300.

     "O. K.  Pass the word.  Make sure every man knows they're coming."

     With the chances of an encounter high, the usual night sounds of a tired 
Marine patrol faded away.  No canteen cups rattled, no one at the rear of the 
column coughed, no loose sling clattered against a rifle stock.  The Marines 
climbed over the crest of a small rise and began walking downwards. The 
platoon was strung out in the saddle on the northern side of Hill 176.  Small 
clumps of scrub growth dotted the slope.

     It was 0400 when the point squad reached a deep gully, thick with 
secondary jungle growth.  Through that tangle twisted a dry stream bed trail 
which led to the mountain to the west.

     Voices.

     Every Marine heard them: high pitched, distinct, near. The guerrillas 
were on the stream bed trail and jabbering freely--they were taking a break 
near the top of the trail. They were tired and, so close to the sanctuary of 
the mountains, not alert.

     The Marines stopped but did not deploy.  They waited for the platoon 
commander's decision.  Monroe gambled.  Hoping to catch the VC in a cross 
fire, he sent Washington's squad down to cross the trail and take the high 
ground on the other side.

     Five minutes passed.  Crack.  Crack, Crack, Crack.  In the gully, shots 
were exchanged.  "Washington, get on that high ground," Monroe yelled.  "Get 
out of there!"

     Washington's men scrambled out of the gully on the far side

     "Fire a flare."

     From the rear of the column a hand flare went up--in the wrong direction.


                                     34



    "No, stupid, down in the drawl."

     Another flare popped.  Forty Marines fanned out and peered down in the 
gully, shading their eyes against the glare of the flares still bursting to 
the south.  On the far side eight more Marines did the same.  The gully was 
filled with the weird flickering shadows of trees and bushes.

    "There's one!  Right across from us--up high--in front of Wash's people." 
The Marine fired his M14 three times.  The figure disappeared.

     Monroe was on the radio.  "Enemy troops in draw.  Request HE and 
illumination.  Also request illumination at regiment be ceased immediately. It 
is lighting us up.  Over."

     Refused were the two requests concerning illumination.  Approved was the 
request for a high explosive concentration.  While Monroe was explaining his 
situation over the radio, Sergeants Robinson and Ellis swung the squads into a 
perimeter defense.  Most weapons were pointed down toward the gully but a 
machine gun section climbed to the top of the hill and a fire team was sent 
out to listen to the rear.  Washington's squad climbed to the peak of Hill 176 
and set in there.  The Marines could hear the VC, who had not returned fire, 
crashing through the bush below.  Since there were no visible targets and 
Monroe did not want to expose his exact position and size, the Marines did not 
fire at the sounds.  They waited for the artillery.

     Forty minutes passed.  The Marines could still hear noises, but only very 
faintly.  The radio crackled.  "On the way." "Thanks a lot," Monroe answered 
sarcastically.

     A sharp explosion was heard out in the rice paddies to the east of the 
hill.

     "Left 100, drop 200.  Fire three rounds."

     Five minutes later the rounds smashed in.

     "Drop 50, fire for effect." Two minutes later the hill shook.  The 
Marines lay low as fragments hummed in flight up the hillside.  Robinson 
yelled at the lieutenant over the noise: "That's right down there!"

     "Yes--but they're long gone by now." Monroe replied.

     Silence.

     "All right--everyone lie still and listen," Monroe shouted.

     A Marine on the forward listening post shouted back:


                                      35




 
    "I can hear them splashing through the paddies, sir. They're making a 
hat<*>."

     "Left 200, add 400, fire for effect."

     Three minutes later the shells landed.

     "Right in there.  Cannot survey results.  Thank you. Out."

     It was getting light.  Ellis gathered his group and set out for the far 
side of the hill.  Washington stayed in position, while Monroe put his men in 
the draw along the trail to shield them from the coming sun.  He doubted if 
anyone else would use the trail during the day.

     With two radio operators, his platoon sergeant, and the artillery forward 
observer, Monroe crawled into the bushes above the trail to observe the 
scattered hamlets to the east. At dawn, he scanned with binoculars the flat 
lands below him "There they are, just like last time," he said.  In a grove of 
trees a half-mile away, two figures stood close together.  Both were wearing 
dark green uniforms and carrying rifles.

     "When you try to get close to that village, they fire three warning shots 
and make it," Robinson explained to the forward observer.

     Monroe was busy plotting coordinates.  The forward observer did the 
same--they compared the results, then called for a fire mission and requested 
a valley of six rounds without adjustment.

     The rounds crashed into the trees.  One figure fell.  The other 
disappeared from sight.  The Marines at the observation post exchanged grins.

     The sun rose high and bare and the heat beat down smothering.  By noon 
not even an insect flew to inspect or bite the sweating Marines.  Each man had 
left base camp with three full canteens.  Most had drunk two, the third had to 
last until the next day.  The Marines sat and watched.  They talked and moved 
little.

     Occasionally they saw the Viet Cong.  Some were carrying weapons, some 
wore packs, some were dressed in black peasant shirts and shorts, some in 
green uniforms.  They travelled freely in small groups of from two to eight 
men.  They crossed the rice paddies, chatted with the women hoeing or the boys 
herding cows, and entered various hamlets, without any apparent military 
pattern or plan to their movements.  The enemy seemed unaware that the shells 
which fell sporadically near them were observed fire missions, although some 
were hit and dragged away.


----------
<*>make a hat - Marine slang for attempting to escape; moving away quickly


                                     36



                               


     Lieutenant "Tony" Monroe, platoon leader of A/1/5, pauses while
     calling in a fire mission against the VC. (Author's)

     Corporal Charles Washington stands in front of the bushes where the
     VC crawled away from Sergeant Ellis' men. (Author's)

     A 105mm howitzer of the 11th Marines emplaced in its aiming circle
     during operations in June 1966.  (USMC A369187)


                                     36a




 
     Monroe requested that a Marine company sweep the area. From his 
observation post, he could direct their movements. Charlie Company arrived by 
foot two hours later and the platoons spread out on line to sweep the hamlets.

     A quarter of a mile in front of the company, Robinson saw a group of 
armed VC in uniforms run across a rice paddy and enter a large house.  They 
reappeared moments later, wearing black pajamas, straw conical hats, and 
carrying hoes.  They split up and waded into the rice paddies.

     "Look at them--the innocent farmers.  They're going to get the surprise 
of their lives when they're scoffed up--hoes and all--in a few minutes," 
Monroe said.

     It was Monroe who was surprised; the company was ordered back to base 
camp to perform another mission.

     "We'll get that hooch<*> ourselves on our way in tomorrow morning," he 
said.

     The platoon passed a quiet night.  After the action of the night before, 
no one walked up the draw.  The Marines rested--and thought of water.  It was 
a night of stars, cool and without many mosquitos.  A few miles to the 
northeast Bravo Company, heavily engaged with a VC company, called for 155mm 
artillery support.  Monroe's platoon listened to the situation reports over 
the radio and watched the bright, quick flashes of the big shells as they 
smashed in.

     "Just like watching a war flic at a drive-in movie back home," quipped 
one Marine.

     "Yeh," replied his buddy.  "Pass me the buttered popcorn, sweetie."

     At dawn, the Marines left their ambush positions and filed down the 
trail.  Monroe left Ellis on the high ground with a machine gun team and a 
radio to cover the platoon and alert them of enemy movements.  The Marines 
skirted the rice paddies, staying in the tree lines and heading for the house 
where the VC had changed clothes the day before.  They passed a pool of water 
and slowed down, each man pausing to dunk one canteen, watchful lest a leech 
swim into the open top.  They passed a dozen men and women working in a rice 
paddy.  The Vietnamese ignored them.

     Ellis' voice came over the radio.  "You're being followed. Two men with 
weapons are in the brush behind your rear man."

     "Fudge and Baily--drop off and zap the guys coming up behind us," Monroe 
said.


---------
<*>hooch - Marine slang for native house


                                     37



     The two Marines had scarcely turned around when Ellis' machine gun fired 
a burst, then another.  Again his voice came over the radio.  "They were 
closing on your right flank. Watch it.  The people who were working in the 
paddy are making it."

     "Corporal Figgins--move your squad out into the paddy to our right.  Stop 
those people trying to get away.  Don't shoot if you can help it--just grab 
them."

     The Marines broke from the tree line at a dead run.  The 2d Squad and 
mortar crew set up along the tree line in support.

     Three Vietnamese were in the field.

     "Halt.  Halt.  Damn it--halt!" Lance Corporal George Armstrong yelled.

     The Vietnamese split up and ran faster.

     Two ran east directly towards the house the platoon intended to search 
with several Marines in close pursuit.  One Vietnamese stumbled and fell.  The 
other turned to help.  They were caught.

     One turned to the west.  He ran swiftly and the angle of his flight put 
him farther and farther from the Marines.  A rifleman stepped up on a rice 
paddy dike and snapped two warning shots high in the air.  The figure ran even 
faster.  The rifleman dropped to his right knee, placed his left elbow on his 
left knee, and fitted his cheek along the stock of his rifle. His movements 
were deliberate, not hurried.  He fired once. The figure fell.

     The lieutenant led the 2d Squad forward and set them in near the VC 
house.  The corpsman trotted past the rifleman.

     "Take your time, doc.  I shot him in the leg."

     A helicopter evacuation was called and the wounded Vietnamese flown to a 
hospital.  The two other fugitives were women, indistinguishable from men at a 
distance.  They were sullen and stolid and ignored their Marine captors.

     The Marines searched the VC house, a two-room dwelling made of thatch and 
bamboo.  It was empty, as they had expected it to be after the firing started.  
A squad split into fire teams and prodded the thickets near the house.

     "Here's an entrance to one tunnel in this briar patch."

     "Here's another near the gate."


                                     38




 
     "Don't touch that gate or the fence.  It may be booby-trapped."

     "Hey, Corporal Figgins, I'm no boot.  I'm walking all the way around, 
see?"

     "O. K. big mouth, let's see how loud you can shout for somebody to come 
out."

     In Vietnamese, the Marine hollered several times and kicked dirt into the 
tunnel opening.

     "Nothing.  I don't hear nothing.  And it sure as hell isn't a family bomb 
bunker."

     "Right.  Blow them both.  And get back in case there's a secondary 
explosion."

     "Hey, corporal, how many times do I have to tell you I'm no ----."

     "Shut up and get to work.  Milton, you check for other entrances."

     "Fire in the hole"<*> The muffled explosions of grenades followed the 
shout.

     The Marines waited for the smoke to clear, then explored the tunnels, 
finding only a paper Viet Cong flag and a bag of cement mix.  They burned the 
house.  The women began to cry, having finally realized the Marines did not 
come on a random search.  They knew they were suspect and would be taken in 
for questioning.

     The Marines ignored their tears.  If the women had not run across the 
open rice paddies, they might have taken the VC men by surprise.  They were 
hot, and sweaty, and tired. They had wounded or killed several VC by 
artillery, but only one by small arms fire.  That fact irritated them.  They 
spread out and trudged back to base camp.  They would try again the next day.

                             * * * * * * * * * *

     The platoon rested that afternoon.  The next day the men cleaned their 
equipment, drank beer, sang songs, dozed on their cots in the hot canvas squad 
tents, and waited for nightfall.

     At 1800 on 26 June, they blackened their faces, rechecked their 
ammunition, and replotted compass courses on the maps. At 1900, Monroe 
inspected them and went over a final time with the squad leaders the route, 
length, and mission of the patrol

--------
<*>"Fire in the hole" - Marine slang for warning of an impending explosion


                                     39



"O. K.  We're the ambush slash observation slash blocking force for the sweep 
tomorrow morning.  How's that for a combo?  The last time out it took eight 
hours to get to that damn saddle. This hump out will last even longer.  Any 
questions?"

     There were none.  They were an old platoon, used to each other and to the 
war, secretly proud of their ability to make long, silent night marches.  
Within the battalion they were known as "Monroe's Nightcrawlers." They thought 
the nickname was appropriate.

     At 2000, the platoon approached the battalion's defensive wire.  The 
guide called softly to Lieutenant Monroe.

     "How many?"

     "38."

     "O. K.  Follow me."

     "Huh?"

     "You heard me.  I'm not going to parade my people over that skyline just 
before I leave the position.  Go around the shoulder of the hill."

     "Oh, sure, right."

     The platoon started forward.  A few hours earlier, it had rained, a 
short, thick torrent.  The damp ground and sopping bushes muffled the sounds 
of the passing men.  Someone belched loudly as they cleared the wire.  
Robinson groaned.  Monroe just shook his head.

     The footing was treacherous and the cleats on the jungle boots clogged 
with mud.  After walking for 40 minutes, the point man waded across a swollen 
stream and slipped twice scrambling up the far bank.  The bank became more 
slippery with the passage of every man.  The crossing proved costly. Two 
Marines near the end of the column twisted their ankles.

     "Damn," hissed Monroe.  "From now on I'm going to have all men with weak 
ankles tape them before night patrols.  This happens every time out."

     "Sergeant Robinson, take a man from each squad and stay here with them.  
Keep your radio on all night but don't speak unless it's an emergency.  Fire 
the red flare if you get in trouble.  In the brush with your backs to the 
paddy, you've got a good defensive position and I don't think you'll be 
spotted.  I'll have a med evac pick you up in the morning. See you."


                                     40




 
     "Sure, sir.  Good hunting."

     The point Marine avoided the trails and hamlets, setting a course through 
scrub brush and around rice paddies.  At the edge of one open field, he heard 
a snorting noise.  Lying down, he bobbed his head back and forth like a boxer, 
trying to silhouette some object against the skyline.  He succeeded and 
whispered: "Water buffalos.  Watch yourselves."

     The Marines cautiously filed around the side of the field opposite the 
powerful, horned animals, taking care not to disturb them, lest they charge.

     The undergrowth became thicker, reaching shoulder height. Near the middle 
of the column there was a sudden thrashing in the bushes.  The Marines 
stopped.  The bushes danced wildly as some swift animal wheeled back and forth 
beside the still column.  A low growl was heard, followed by a short burst 
from an automatic rifle.

     A Marine spoke, lowly but distinctly.  "No, no, no, you clown.  If that 
was a tiger, he was just trying to make it."

     Since his position had been compromised, Monroe changed the patrol route 
and the point set off at a fast pace in another direction.  The platoon 
followed.  The brush thickened into heavy secondary jungle growth.  Those who 
thought to bring them put on gloves, since many trees and vines were covered 
with thorns.  The leaves and thickets cut off all light from the sky, and so 
dark was it that it made no difference whether the Marines opened or shut 
their eyes.  The interval between men closed completely.  The vines and thorns 
formed solid fences and forced the men to grope for any small openings. Often 
they crawled on their hands and knees.  Sometimes they doubled back or cut at 
right angles to their compass heading. In one hour they moved 200 yards.

     When they did emerge from the jungle they were faced by a river.  The 
point squad fanned out up and down stream to find a fording place.  Finding 
such a spot, a fire team waded through the neck-deep water and entered the 
tree line on the other side.  Ten minutes later, one Marine waded back across 
and spoke to the lieutenant.  "Clear." Two men at a time, the platoon crossed.

     At 0500, the platoon arrived at the objective.  Monroe sent one squad 
with Ellis to a hill overlooking the flat land to the north.  He set the rest 
of the platoon in an L-shaped ambush along the main trail leading from the 
village which was to be searched at 0600 by Bravo and Charlie Companies.


                                     41



     By 0545, it was light enough to recognize a man at 20 meters.  The 
platoon moved north down the trail. Monroe had orders to proceed to a hill 
selected by map reconnaissance. He radioed back that the hill provided no 
observation of the village and requested permission to move forward to a 
better vantage point.  Permission was granted.

     Ten minutes later, while the platoon was still on the move, a jet 
screamed in from the south and passed low over the selected landing zone, an 
open rice paddy 400 meters northeast of the village.  As the Marines watched, 
the bright orange of napalm was splashed against the red dawn.  In common 
fascination, the entire column halted and stared.  "Almost makes you forget 
you're fighting a war," murmured one Marine.

     "Sir, there they are!"

     A half a mile away to the Marines' left front, a group of 30 Vietnamese 
was crossing a rice paddy.

     "Are they carrying weapons?" The binoculars were uncased. "There's not 
enough light to see, sir.  But they have kids walking on their flanks."

     The Marines just looked at each other.  They were reasonably sure it was 
a band of fleeing Viet Cong.  But they were not positive.  And there were 
children.

     In a few minutes, the band would be on the other side of a hill to the 
Marines' left.

     "Nuts.  Let's get up that hill and scope them out."

     "Sir, there are two more--on the hill."

     Peering down over the tops of the bushes were two Vietnamese.  The 
Marines could see no weapons.

     "Should we cut them down?"

     "No--it might be just some scared farmer--though I doubt it. Figgins--get 
your squad up that hill on the double."

     The Vietnamese ducked from view.  Forming a skirmish line, the squad 
raced up the hill and peered down into the draw on the other side.

     "There they go--three of them, around the side of the next hill.  One of 
them is carrying a rifle."

     The squad leader estimated the range at 600 yards.  The Marines adjusted 
their sights, knelt down, and began firing.


                                     42




 
     "Hold them and squeeze them--hold them and squeeze them. At that range 
you're not going to hit nothing if you just crank them off."

     Corporal Bierwirth brought up his squad.  He adjusted the sights on his 
stubby M79 grenade launcher, pointed the muzzle high, and fired.  A burst of 
smoke appeared in front of one of the Viet Cong and the man fell.  His two 
companions ducked into the brush.

     Lieutenant Monroe checked the terrain.  "Bierwirth--you stay here.  
Figgins--your squad comes with me up the next hill. That band might be hiding 
on the other side.  Bielecki--tell Ellis to come down the trail."

     The lieutenant left and Bierwirth put lookouts on each side of the hill.

     "Corporal--one of them's circled behind us and is hitting it across the 
paddy."

     The squad leader called for two riflemen.  The fleeing Viet Cong could be 
seen clearly through binoculars, 1,000 years away.  The riflemen raised their 
sights as high as they could and sat down where they could see over the brush.  
They began firing, every fifth round a tracer.  The Marine with the binoculars 
watched the strike of the bullets and called corrections.

     The Viet Cong zigzagged, running as fast as he could.  A bullet struck 
him and he went down.  Then he regained his feet and staggered off.  He was 
not hit again.

     "Probably only grazed him.  Lucky to do that at that distance," said one 
Marine.

     Another lookout ran up to Bierwirth.

     "They're behind us--where we just came from.  A whole squad of 'em."

     "Sure it's not Sergeant Ellis' squad?"

     "Naw--they're too well camouflaged to be Marines."

     Bierwirth looked down through the binoculars.  On the trail heading south 
he saw a line of figures in Khaki uniforms, covered with leaves and braches.  
In the lead was a Viet Cong dressed in black peasant garb and wearing a straw 
hat.  All were carrying weapons.

     As Bierwirth watched, they ducked into the bushes.  "Must have seen Ellis 
coming.  Quick, slam them with a LAAW and get


                                     43



that gun working."

     A machine gunner started firing from the hip.  The bullets sprayed the 
area.  "No.  Get down and use it."

     "I can't see down there."

     "Clear a field of fire and use your tripod."

     "I don't have no machete or entrenching tool.  And we didn't bring the 
pod."

     "They're gonna make it if Ellis doesn't nail them.  Fire that damn LAAW."

     The high explosive shell burst short of the brush.

     "Missed.  But Ellis will know where they are."

     The Marines heard a slight swishing sound above their heads.  Three 
pounding flashes erupted on the hill behind them.

    "God!  The lieutenant!"

     Fifty meters to the right of the artillery bursts, a group of Marines 
jumped out of the brush and waved their arms frantically.  Monroe was roaring 
into the radio, his voice carrying distinctly to Bierwirth's hill.  The 
Marines laughed nervously with relief.

     "Boy, is he giving them hell.  It'll be a long time before that artillery 
observer shoots at an unidentified target again."

     Sergeant Ellis came up the trail.  Over the radio Monroe directed him to 
fire into the brush to his right and then search it for the enemy squad.  
Ellis did so, but his men found only trails of flattened grass; the Viet Cong 
had slipped away in the confusion which followed the misdirected artillery 
fire.

     A fire team moved down the draw to recover the body of the VC Bierwirth 
killed with his grenade launcher.  The body was gone.

     Another fire team checked the trail the first large group of Vietnamese 
followed.  It was plainly marked every ten or twenty meters by three stones 
set like triangles with the point toward the trail--Viet Cong markings for an 
unmined path.

     Monroe gathered his force and reluctantly headed back to the base camp.  
As they walked tiredly along, two Marines looked at each other.


                                     44




 
     "Next time," one said.

     "Yeh--next time."


      NOTE:  The next time did come for the 3d Platoon, and on 10 August 1966,
      they distinguished themselves in a pitched battle described in the last
      chapter of this narrative.


                                     45



                                 NIGHT ACTION


           Preface:  The author spent 10 days with these Marines 
        from Charlie Company, 7th Marines, who were training and 
        fighting with some Vietnamese militia in the village of Binh 
        Yen No (1), about seven miles southwest of the 1st Marine 
        Division Headquarters at Chulai.  In addition to participating 
        in the patrols as an extra rifleman, he taped a few of the 
        actual ambushes, as well as the comments of the men concerning 
        their combined action work.


     This is not one story.  It is a diary relating several night patrols.  
The participants are 13 Marines, numerous Vietnamese villagers and militia, 
and Viet Cong.  The Marines lived with and trained the Popular Forces (PF), a 
few dozen local farmers who had agreed with the central government to protect 
their village in return for exemption from draft into the regular army.  The 
Marines had volunteered for the job because it promised action and an escape 
from company routine. They found the action.

     In one week, from 7-13 July 1966, the 13 Marines killed 31 guerrillas.  
They set 16 ambushes and made contact 9 times. On three occasions, the VC 
ambushed the Marines; each time the Marines seized the offensive within a few 
minutes, forcing the VC to break contact.  In many engagements the Marines 
were outnumbered; but fire discipline, shooting accuracy, and aggressiveness 
compensated for numbers.

     The ultimate goal of the Marines was to train and develop the PF forces 
so that the Marines would no longer be needed to protect the village.  The men 
did not deceive themselves; they knew that goal would not be reached in a few 
short months.  And until the PFs were a competent fighting force, the Marines 
would carry the main burden of combat around the village.

     This is an attempt to describe how the Marines and PF operated.

     13 July 1966.  Six Marines assembled in the small courtyard of the 
Popular Forces fort.  The squad leader, Sergeant Joseph Sullivan, wore jungle 
utilities and a Marine utility cover.  He carried an M14 automatic, seven 
magazines, two green star cluster flares, one red star cluster, and a 
flashlight. The uniforms of the other were less according to regulation. One 
wore a Swiss alpine hat, another a beret, a third was clad in black utilities, 
a fourth Marine wore no cover.  Three


                                     46




 
carried M14 automatics; the fourth an M79 grenade launcher. Each had a LAAW 
slung across his shoulder.  The radio operator also carried an M14 automatic 
and had a PRC-10 strapped to his back.

     Two PFs joined the patrol after Sullivan had inspected his men.  They 
were dressed in green utilities and bush hats. One carried a carbine, the 
other a Thompson submachine gun. One was placed at the point of the column, 
the other a few men back.  (It was the belief of the Marines at that time that 
the PFs could spot a VC in that locale at night before a Marine could.  They 
subsequently changed their minds.)

     Few words were exchanged.  Nothing was new to the Marines about the 
patrol.  They knew the area and the mission well; go down to the river and 
ambush the VCs who tried to cross.  G-2 had warned that day that a hard-core 
battalion was operating in the vicinity.  The news was accepted skeptically.  
There were so many warnings from so many sources received each day.

     After curfew, the patrol filed out of the fort, passing across a stagnant 
moat studded with bamboo stakes and through a tall bamboo fence designed to 
stop grenades.  In theory, recoilless rifle shells would also explode against 
it and not against the long sand-plaster building in the fort.

     The PF at point turned left and walked a hundred meters to an outer 
fence.  Three unarmed villagers, serving as gate-openers and sentries, looked 
at them blankly for a moment. Then one noisily pushed open the gate; another 
lifted a wooden mallet and began tapping against a bamboo pole, tap..tap..tap 
tap..tap..tap..tap.  Supposedly this was the villagers' signal that the VC 
were on the prowl.  The Marines looked at each other uneasily.  They didn't 
like having their exit announced, but the PFs seemed unbothered.

     In column they moved east across the rice paddies and entered the main 
street of Binh Yen No (1).  The street was a straight, narrow dirt path 
leading northeast, overshadowed by palm trees and thick brush and lined with 
thatched huts.  Although it was not yet 2030, the street was pitch dark.  Only 
by shifting glances and looking at various angles could each Marine 
distinguish the outline of the man in front of him.  The villagers were still 
awake and the Marines heard chatter from many houses.  Lights shone from some 
doorways and fell across the street.  The Marines hurried across these lighted 
patches.

     The villagers knew a patrol was passing.  Some warned the VC by signals.  
In one house a man coughed loudly and falsely. Farther on, an old lady shifted 
her lantern from one room to another as the Marines slipped by.


                                     47



     The patrol reached the far end of the town without drawing fire and left 
the tree line.  For a quarter of a mile, they followed the dikes between open 
rice paddies, then they turned right and walked about fifty meters to the 
river.  The bank was sprinkled with skimpy shrubbery and carpeted with human 
waste. The Marines called the ambush site "The Head."  It provided excellent 
fields of fire over the river, but it took a strong man to withstand the 
smell.

     The Marines lay down and slowly took off their cartridge belts and placed 
them beside their weapons.  The bipods for the M14s were extended gently.  
There was no wind and a slight sound would carry to the opposite bank.

     At each end of the line a Marine was stationed to watch the rear and 
outboard flanks.  The river was 100 meters wide at the ambush point.  Many 
nights the VC came down the river to get supplies and visit their families who 
lived in Binh Yen No (1).  Sometimes they paddled downstream in small boats; 
sometimes they crept along the far bank and waded across at fording points.

     The Marines settled down to wait.  Droves of mosquitoes descended on the 
men.  They didn't dare slap them away.  A few unfortunates disturbed some red 
ants.  They crept to other positions, cursing under their breaths and praying 
the ambush would be soon sprung.

     The Viet Cong tried to accommodate the wish.  No sooner were the Marines 
in position and being bitten than firing broke out to their right, coming from 
the village.  Red tracers streaked high over the Marines' heads.  Sergeant 
Sullivan identified the weapons.  "Automatic carbine.  Two Russian blowbacks, 
maybe M1s.  Lie still.  Don't return fire.  They're trying to get us to give 
away our position," he whispered. The VC fired three bursts in the general 
direction of the patrol, then stopped.

     One hour passed.  The Marines heard a few splashes near the far bank but 
saw no movement.  A second hour went by.  More scattered probing fire came 
from the VC.  Sullivan suspected the patrol might have passed an enemy 
outpost, which was now trying to locate the Marine position so their main 
force could avoid it.  The sergeant whispered to his men to be still. They 
would play a waiting game and force the VCs to move first.

     During the next hour, the Marines heard a few splashes down river and saw 
a dull light bobbing along the far bank. It appeared that the VC were 
portaging supplies inland after crossing farther down river.

     By midnight, when the patrol still had not fired, the enemy lost caution 
and started to move freely.  Frequent


                                      48




 
                                


                SCHEMATIC SKETCH TO ACCOMPANY "NIGHT ACTION"


                                     48a



splashes and the mutter of low voices carried clearly to the Marines.  There 
came the distinct clank of a heavy bundle striking the bottom of a boat.

     Corporal Leland Riley, who had the eyes of a hawk, whispered, "I see 
them.  Two-three boats...and a bunch of them on the bank--right across from 
us."

     "Yeh, LAAWs up."

     Two Marines slowly extended two rocket tubes.

     "See them?"

     "No.  Wait.  Now I do."

     "Fire when ready."

     The sharp explosions of the recoilless weapons rang the ears of all the 
Marines.  Momentarily deaf, they could not even hear the blasts from their own 
automatic weapons.  But the six Marines were blazing away, holding down their 
rifles, the bipods enabling them to keep their bursts low.  With every other 
round in the magazines a tracer, they placed their shot groups where they 
thought they saw or heard the enemy.  Hundreds of bullets skimmed across the 
river and swept the opposite bank.

     Water splashed some Marines in the face.  "What the hell?" yelled Private 
First Class Kenneth Lerch.  "Hey, we're getting some incoming." The fire fight 
was 15 seconds old.

     "Cease fire!  Shut up and listen up," Sullivan shouted.

     Silence.  A few seconds went by.  Then a distinct splashing was heard 
near the other bank.  Someone was wading out of the water, trying to climb the 
bank.

     Two Marines fired, their tracers converged, then swept back and forth.  
Again there was silence.  It was anybody's guess whether they had hit the 
enemy or if he were just standing still in the water, waiting until the 
Marines went away.

     Next there came through the air a sound like someone ripping paper, 
followed by a loud pop.  An 81mm mortar flare burst over the river, and began 
its squeaking, dangling descent beneath its small parachute.

     The illumination had been provided in accordance with a preplanned 
system.  When the LAAWs went off, the Marine radio watch back at the fort 
heard and took a compass bearing on the noise.  There were three patrols out 
but each had gone in a widely different direction, so the Marine could easily 
identify


                                      49




 
the patrol.  He called the command post at Charlie Company and said simply, 
"Andy Capp 68," thus identifying the patrol by a prearranged code.  From the 
C.P. the word was shouted to the stand-by mortar crew lounging 50 feet away.

     "81s--illum--68."

     Sergeant Martin, the mortar section leader, had preplotted the firing 
data for the ambush sites of all the night patrols. He checked his card for 
#68 and called:

     "Deflection--2650.  Elevation--0800.  Charge 6.  Fire when up." Less than 
10 seconds after the call reached Charlie Company the first of three 
illumination rounds was on its way.

     Under its glare, the Marines could see the other river bank clearly.  
Nothing was moving.  The tall sawgrass was still.

     "Check those boats," Riley said.

     Pulled up on the bank were two dark, canoelike shapes.

     "Check them, hell.  Blast them," Sullivan replied.

     The other two LAAWs were quickly opened and fired.  The first hit to the 
left but the second one exploded dead on. Short bursts from the automatic 
rifles further splintered the hulls.

     The last flare died out.  It was 20 minutes past midnight.

     "We put a hurting on some of them," an anonymous voice said.

     "Maybe tomorrow night we can catch them on our side of the river.  Let's 
head back in," Sullivan said.

     During the next day, the villagers brought news to the fort that one of 
the patrols the night before had fired upon a VC company who had come north on 
a resupply mission.  The villagers--and the PFs--thought the Marines were 
slightly crazy to open fire on a VC force of unknown size.  The Marines were 
disappointed.  They would have called in a priority artillery mission if they 
had known there were so many Viet Cong.

     14 July 1966.  The patrols left the fort at 2000.  It was just dark.

     "We're gonna get some more tonight," Private First Class Lerch yelled to 
the PFs and village chiefs who were milling around inside the fort.

     The same patrol returned to the river.  They set in near a group of 
bamboo fish traps, a mile downstream from "The Head."


                                     50



Three kerosene lights marked a channel through the traps. Night lights on the 
river were officially forbidden since they served as beacons for the VC.  But 
some stubborn fishermen ignored the order night after night.  The Marines, as 
advisors, could not make the PFs enforce the order.

     The patrol hid behind some dirt mounds along the bank and waited.  To go 
down river, the VCs would have to pass through the fishermens' channels.  The 
enemy were not long in coming.

     The disturbed squawkings of ducks and geese alerted the patrol.  The VC 
were paddling down river.  It was next to impossible to pass a raft of 
waterfowl at night without scaring them up.  The VCs, however, would sometimes 
tie geese to their boats and try to pass as a raft of birds, hoping the 
Marines would fire behind them.

     A light shone through a clump of bushes on the far bank. The Marines 
heard the dull sound of wood scraping against wood.

     "They're carrying a boat over the fish traps," Sullivan whispered.

     Corporal Riley, ignoring the activity on the river, had been watching to 
the rear.  "There's someone moving in on our right flank," he whispered.

     Riley and another Marine moved down the bank to prevent an enemy probe.  
Lance Corporal Gerald Faircloth, the squad's best shot with a LAAW, heard 
paddle splashes near the fish traps.  "I think I can hit that next boat when 
they climb the traps," he whispered.

     "O. K., blast them," Sullivan replied.

     Faircloth knelt on his left knee.  He placed the short fiberglass tube on 
his right shoulder.  The tube wavered up and down, then steadied.  Flame 
spurted from both ends.  One hundred yards away there was a bright flash.  The 
Marines started sweeping the river with automatic rifle fire.  Riley emptied a 
magazine into the bushes along the bank to his right.

     Overhead, a mortar flare blossomed.  "There they are!" Riley shouted.

     The firing caught two Viet Cong in a round wicker basket boat trying to 
cross the river behind the fish traps.  In the sudden light they were easy 
targets.  They dove overboard just as Riley and another Marine opened fire.  
The tracers ripped through the boat and whipped the water.  Standing on the 
bank the two Marines changed magazines and waited to see if the head of either 
Viet Cong resurfaced.  They did not.  The light boat rocked to and fro.  The 
surface of the river was calm and


                                     51




 
shone brightly under the fire.

     "I guess that's that," Riley said.

     The other Marine didn't have a chance to reply.  Bullets hummed between 
them.  Both were diving off the bank before they heard the sound of the 
machine gun.  They sprawled behind the rice paddy dike.  Without lifting his 
head, Riley yelled, "It's coming from the other side.  They've got us spotted.  
Get them off us."

     To the Marines crouching 50 yards away, the acrobatics had provided an 
interesting spectacle.  Their main position had not been seen by the Viet Cong 
and they were not under fire. They took their time and did not expose their 
position by chancing a random burst of small arms fire at the machine gun.

     Faircloth extended another LAAW.  He gauged the distance at 100 yards.  
The light was good.  Faircloth had hit point targets at 300 yards.  He sighted 
in, then paused.

     "So that's what they were doing in those bushes with a light.  Setting up 
a gun to cover them," Lance Corporal Sidney Fleming said, as if discussing a 
subject of purely academic interest.

     "Come on, come on.  You just stay put, Riley," yelled Sullivan.

     "Oh God, I don't believe it," groaned Riley.

    Faircloth fired.  The explosion was muffled by the bushes. Faircloth had 
hit his target.  The chatter of the machine gun stopped.

     "You two dingers can come home now," laughed Sullivan.

     The two Marines returned from the flank.  They did not walk on the dike; 
crouching low beside it, they trotted back. The Marines formed a hasty 
circular perimeter, lay down and waited.  The last flare hissed out.  The 
Marines did not talk or move.  They were waiting to trap any infiltrator who 
might have crept close during the firing.  For 10 minutes they lay perfectly 
still, listening to the night sounds and trying to detect any sharp change of 
tempo in the croaks of the frogs and crickets or the surprised squawks of 
waterfowl.  They listened for feet to crush in the bush or slurp in the mud. 
They could detect no human movement.

     Sullivan broke the silence with a whisper.

     "Pack it in.  Keep it spread."


                                     52



                               


     Popular Forces militiaman, armed with a carbine and portable radio,
     moves toward the man gate in bamboo fence surrounding the PF fort at
     Binh Yen No (1). (Author's photo)

     Sergeant Joseph Sullivan, leader of the Marine patrols operating near
     Binh Yen No (1), stands on the river bank; beyond him is VC territory. 
     (Author's photo.)


                                     52a




 
     15 July 1966.  That night a different Marine patrol went to a different 
point on the river.  It was to be a short patrol, travelling not more than 400 
meters away from the fort.  At night the Viet Cong sneaked around all sides of 
the fort to enter the village where their families lived.  Some drifted down 
the river right in front of the fort, having observed that the Marines roved 
far and wide and left the short patrols mostly to the PFs.  So Corporal 
Franklin Lummis led out a security force at 2000 to seek the enemy close-in.

     The four Marines and two PFs crossed a series of five rice paddies to 
reach the river bank, walking on the dike walls without cover or concealment.  
If fired upon from the river bank, they would drop behind a dike.  Each mud 
dike is a few feet high and over a foot thick.  A 106mm recoilless rifle on a 
nearby hill covered the area and could pulverize the river bank, if called 
upon.

     Without incident the patrol reached the river bank, which had been built 
up to prevent the waters from flooding the paddies at high tide.  The river 
bed itself was bordered by thick clumps of mangroves.  Water buffalo came to 
the river to soak, and through the years their heavy passage had cut a 20-foot 
swath in the brush.  From this inlet the main stream could be seen 15 meters 
away.  A sandbar jutted up 20 meters farther out in the river.

     Lummis led his patrol over the dike and into the dark hollow of the 
inlet.  He was worried about infiltrators and so he set two Marines out to 
guard the right flank.  Another Marine and a PF watched the dike and the 
mangroves to the left. Lummis kept Lance Corporal Joseph Bettie and the other 
PF with him.  The three sat in the inlet.

     On the right, Lance Corporal Phillip Brannon crawled onto the dike and 
lay behind a large bush.  His automatic weapon pointed down the dike as he 
watched the skyline.  Suddenly, his body tautened and he leaned forward, his 
cheek resting against the rifle stock.  At the edge of the mangroves below the 
dike another Marine sat motionless, listening for a careless foot in the swamp 
and watching Brannon.  He saw Brannon slowly slip off his safety.  He unwound 
the elastic from the spoon of a grenade and pulled the bent-back edges of the 
holding pin straight. Brannon had seen a figure creeping up the dike, but it 
disappeared into the black swamps.  Brannon relaxed slightly and jerked his 
head in the direction of the swamp.  The Marine with the grenade strained to 
listen, and thought he heard a faint rustle of bushes.  But not being sure it 
was a man, he did not throw his grenade.  Instead, he sat poised for action 
and utterly still.

     On the river ducks and geese started squawking, then the racket died 
down.  But the flutter of wings sounded quite close


                                     53



to the inlet.

     There was a second's warning, a pinging sound, slight but adequate to 
warn the tense Marines.

     "Grenade!" Lummis yelled.

     The Marines ducked.  The grenade exploded in the middle of the inlet.

     "Incoming!" yelled Brannon.  "Outgoing!" yelled the other Marine, as he 
jerked the loose pin out and lobbed the grenade out and over the bushes around 
him, like taking a hook shot with a basketball.  The grenade landed with a 
soft splat in the swamp and there was a delay of a few seconds.  The thrower 
was in the process of pitching another before the first grenade exploded.  The 
other Marines had reacted.  Fire poured into the swamp to the left.

     Red lines of tracers cut back and forth from the dike to the water line.  
On the right flank, Brannon opened up with an automatic rifle after his buddy 
had thrown the grenades into the bush.  The noise was deafening.

     After about 10 seconds, they stopped firing.  Someone cursed.  The 
clatter of empty magazines being changed drowned out his voice.  Lummis said 
in a low voice, "Knock it off and sit still.  Listen for them.  We probably 
got that one, so listen for groans or dragging sounds." "Anybody hit?"

     "Yeh, Culver took some shrapnel.  No big thing, though."

     The Marines stopped what they were doing and waited.  A flare opened over 
the river.

     The grenade had been a ruse.  The VC did not intend to stand and fight.  
While the firing was going on, some had tried to slip a boat past the inlet.  
The sudden silence had forced them to stop paddling.  Before they could drift 
by, the mortar crew had fired illumination.  They had to beach the boat on the 
sandbar.

     The Marines loosed short bursts of concentrated fire. They could not see 
the Viet Cong, who might either have been lying in the shadows on the sandbar 
or swimming away.  The Marines covered both areas.  The arcs of the tracers 
enabled them to fire interlocking patterns almost as well as they could in 
daylight.

     "Hey," Brannon shouted, "let me try for that boat with a LAAW.  I never 
get a change to fire one." "All right, Brannon," Lummis answered, "but don't 
screw up.  It's our only LAAW."


                                     54




 
     "Relax, I'm a pro," Brannon said.  "Watch this."

     Brannon extended the LAAW and knelt in the inlet near the spot where the 
incoming grenade had gone off.  Sighting in carefully at the round wicker boat 
not 30 meters away, he squeezed the firing mechanism.  Nothing happened.  He 
realigned and squeezed again.  Nothing.  He tilted the tube upwards off his 
shoulder to inspect the faulty trigger.  The LAAW went off with a roar, the 
rocket streaking out across the paddies like a howitzer shell.

     "Great shooting," Lummis growled.  "That'll land in district  
headquarters."

     The patrol leader walked to the water's edge with his grenade launcher.  
He fired once and the M79 shell splintered the boat.  "Let's go home," he 
said, "before we shoot down a jet."

     16 July 1966.  First Lieutenant Thomas J. O'Rourke, the executive officer 
of Charlie Company, had come to the fort. He was to advise for a few weeks and 
help where he could.  The men looked forward to working with him.  This was 
his second tour in Vietnam and his knowledge of tactics was deep.  A 
well-known athlete, he had a reputation for aggressive action and a knack for 
massing his weapons in a fire fight.

     Sullivan decided to go back to "The Head." There were not many good 
ambush spots and he wanted to show O'Rourke some action.  Five Marines and two 
PFs comprised the patrol.  As usual, a PF was placed at point.  They left the 
fort at 2000.

     When he entered the blackness of the main village street, the PF at point 
quickened the pace.  O'Rourke, second in column, held to a slow, cautious 
tread.  Seeing that he was all alone, the PF scurried back to the column and 
frantically gestured to the Marines to walk faster.  The Marines ignored him.  
He returned to the point and went on more slowly.

     From inside a house, the loud sound of forced coughing reached the 
Marines.  The patrol stopped.  The coughing stopped. The patrol proceeded.  
The coughing started again.  The Marines were waiting for such a tip-off.  
They checked with the PF at point.

     "Yes, yes, very bad man, number 10<*>.  No VC himself but him warn VC," 
the PF said.

     The PFs refused to apprehend the man.  It was their village and their 
politics.  They wanted the Marines to take some action. The Marines were 
willing.

----------
<*>number 10 - Marine slang for a bad man or situation; its opposite is 
"number 1"


                                     55



     Three of them converged on the house.  Lance Corporal Bettie walked to 
the open door.  The Vietnamese inside looked at him for a moment and made a 
threatening gesture of hostility and contempt.  Bettie didn't wait for the 
next move.  He struck once and the man fell, spitting blood.  Bettie leaned 
over him.

     "When Marines pass, you no talk, you no cough." Bettie made a loud, false 
coughing sound.  "You no warn V. C. no more. I come back sometime.  I see."

     The man nodded after every word.  He understood.  Perhaps the next time 
he would not cough; perhaps he would use a lantern.  Or perhaps he would not.  
If he did, the Marines had orders to shoot out all blinking lights.

     The Marines arrived at "The Head" and set in along the river bank.  The 
rice paddies were to their backs and they were facing the river.  They knew 
the VC had been alerted but their position could be easily defended.

     By 2200, the traffic across the river was heavy.  The Marines heard 
Vietnamese voices and splashes in the water.  The night was overcast, however, 
and they could spot no movement.

     It was instinct as much as sound that alerted O'Rourke. Someone was 
stalking them from the rear.  He saw dark shadows.  He watched.  They did not 
move.  Slowly he pulled his body over the bank, twisted around, and raised 
upon his elbows.  Now he was facing to the rear with his back to the river.  
He checked the shadows again.  They were closer to the Marines, not over 60 
yards away.  (Later, Lance Corporal Guadalupe Garcia told of glimpsing the 
infiltrators as they crept by his flank position.  But he wasn't absolutely 
sure of what he saw and so he didn't report it to anyone.)

     O'Rourke nudged Sullivan and Riley.  They turned and looked.  Riley, who 
could detect movement where most people would see nothing, whispered:

     "Yes.  Two of them."

     The Marines wanted to wait until the VC had crept closer. They were given 
no waiting period, however.  The two VC lost their nerve.  Suddenly, they 
jumped up and ran diagonally away from the Marines.  A Marine heaved a grenade 
at them.  It travelled over 60 yards and exploded behind the VC.

     O'Rourke, Sullivan, and Riley fired their automatic weapons in a long 
burst.

     "I think I hit one," Riley said.


                                     56




 
     O'Rourke and Sullivan went forward to check.  Sullivan went first, 
bending low and running hard until he reached a paddy dike.  O'Rourke came up 
on his right, weaving as he ran.  They found nobody.  It was too dark to look 
for blood trails or gear which may have been dropped.

     "This ambush is blown," said O'Rourke.  "The VC are getting wise to us.  
We're just going to have to think these things through more.  It's going to 
take more planning.  Let's head back in."

     18 July 1966.  In an effort to break established patterns and keep the 
enemy off balance, Lieutenant O'Rourke altered the types and times of the 
patrols.  On this night, four had gone out at dusk to set up ambushes.  Two 
were sprung and all four patrols had returned to the fort before midnight. 
O'Rourke debriefed them and it appeared that another night's work had ended.

     But at 0200, O'Rourke assembled eight Marines and left the fort.  Riley 
took the point and the patrol headed for the village.  They did not, however, 
use the main street or the side trails.  Instead, they wandered through the 
backyards and hedgerows, moving parallel to the paths at a very slow pace. 
Riley picked the way with care, pausing every few steps to look and listen.  
O'Rourke had the patrol spread with the widest interval possible, just close 
enough so each man could distinguish the outline of the man in front of him.  
The patrol was in no hurry; they weren't going anywhere in particular. They 
would just rove through the village for a few hours, hunting for any VC who 
might have slipped in after the ambush patrols had returned to the fort.

     After the Marines had roamed about for an hour without incident, O'Rourke 
decided to strike out southeast through some backyards to cross the main 
north-south trail where it was bisected by a path running due east.  Thus, 
Riley chose a route which had the same general direction as the east path.

     Cutting through backyards, Riley had almost reached the path when he 
halted.  The patrol jerked up short and for several minutes nobody moved.  
Riley walked silently back to O'Rourke and whispered: "I thought I heard 
something on the path to our right.  Did you?"

     "I'm not sure," O'Rourke replied.  "We were still moving when you 
stopped.  Go ahead but take it slow."

     They had proceeded at a creep for a few minutes when Riley halted, went 
down on his knees, placed his rifle on the ground, and flattened out.  His 
head pointed toward the path six meters away.  The other members of the patrol 
quietly lay down about 10 meters apart and faced in the same direction,


                                     57



O'Rourke crawled to Riley's side.

     "I know for sure I hear someone behind us.  They're coming up this path." 
Riley whispered.

     "Do you think they've heard us?" O'Rourke asked.

     "No--too far away."

     O'Rourke scooted back and warned the others.  Sullivan and two other 
Marines pivoted about to protect the rear and right flank of the patrol.  
Riley, O'Rourke, and three other Marines faced the path and waited, having 
slipped off their safeties.

     They heard the enemy approaching, not the steady noises of careless 
footsteps but the intermittent crunches and snaps of people walking cautiously 
but not cautiously enough.  The middle of the path was obscured in dark 
shadows.  The ambushers could not see any figures approaching; they could only 
gauge the distance by ear.  O'Rourke thought he saw a man pass by him but he 
couldn't be sure.  He heard another man getting close.

     Not one of the Marines could remember who sprang the ambush.  All were 
agreed that the four automatic rifles opened up within the same second.  
Swinging his weapon back and forth each Marine fired until he had emptied a 
magazine.  It was strictly area fire at sounds.  Not one Marine could actually 
see a target or be sure that he had hit anything.  Then O'Rourke and Riley 
rose to their knees and heaved two grenades back down the trail in the 
direction from which the VCs had come.

     "Cease fire!" O'Rourke yelled.  "Riley, block for us to the front.  A 
couple of you guys search the area."

     The action had lasted eight seconds.

     Corporal Lummis and Lance Corporal Larry Wingrove stepped out of the 
bushes, peering at the ground in front of them.  Each found and searched a 
dead VC.

     "Mine's clear," Lummis said.

     "Mine too," said Wingrove.

     "All right," O'Rourke said, "let's go home and get some rest.  We'll go 
out again tomorrow night."


                                     58




 
                                  THE INDIANS


           Preface:  At the end of July, the author spent a week with 
        the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, then operating from a 
        task force headquarters at Dong Ha, 13 miles south of the
        Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and 8 miles west of the South China 
        Sea.  He was the unnamed fifth member in the four-day 
        reconnaissance patrol described in the story.


     Sergeant Orest Bishko planned the patrol carefully. Along with other 
Force Reconnaissance units, his four-man team would go out on another scouting 
mission.  For over a month they had been shadowing the 324B North Vietnamese 
Division.  During the past two weeks, Marine rifle battalions, engaged in 
Operation HASTINGS, with heavy air and artillery support, had killed over 800 
of the North Vietnamese.  But many of the enemy were slipping away and 
retreating into the jungles.  Reconnaissance Marines, like Sergeant Bishko, 
set out to find them.

     Nothing about the mission was new to the men in his team. They had been 
on dozens of patrols in the hilly country north of Hue near the Demilitarized 
Zone.  Major Dwain A. Colby, the company commander, had formulated four basic 
rules to be followed at all times.  They were: (1) stay together no matter 
what happens; (2) upon reaching an observation post, call artillery fire upon 
a set of known coordinates so later fire missions can be called by shifting 
from a reference point; (3) maintain constant radio communications with 
headquarters; and (4) never stay in one spot more than 12 hours.  The Marines 
could recite those rules in their sleep.  Still Sergeant Bishko planned 
carefully.  For, although he had been out on dozens of patrols, this was to be 
the first one he would lead.

     The night before his team was to be set in, he briefed them, using a map 
and a written patrol order, stressing the importance of acting as a team out 
in the brush.  He inspected the uniform and equipment of each man.  They were 
ready.

     The next morning, 26 July 1966, the men arose at 0400, applied black and 
green camouflage paint to their faces and arms, put on their packs and climbed 
on board a truck.  They were driven to a nearby heli pad.  Bishko talked to a 
pilot and showed him on a map exactly where the team should be dropped.  The 
Marines climbed on board a Huey.  Bishko put on a set of earphones.


                                     59



     Minutes later, the helicopter was skimming low down a long valley.  It 
flew for several miles in a westerly direction, then Bishko said something 
into his mike and pointed to his right.  The Huey banked sharply and dropped 
to the ground.  The recon team leaped out and ran into the undergrowth.  The 
Huey flew off down the valley, dipping down and hovering a few times in dummy 
landings to confuse any enemy who might have been watching.  The Huey, called 
a "slick" because it carried passengers, not armament, was to stay on station 
a few ridgelines to the south for 30 minutes in case the team ran into trouble 
and needed to be extracted.  Another Huey--this one a gunship, loaded with 
rockets and machine guns--was on call to provide fire support for such a 
pickup.

     On the ground, Corporal William McWilliams, the team scout, assumed the 
point position.  He was followed by Lance Corporal Thomas Moran, the radio 
operator, Bishko, another radioman, and the tail-end Charlie, Corporal Joel 
Miller.

     The patrol headed for the high ground.  The men jogged north out of the 
valley and started up the steep face of a ridgeline which ran in an east-west 
direction.  They avoided the trails and stream beds, climbing steadily for 
several hours.  Trees, bushes, thorns, and vines clogged the hill and their 
loads were heavy.  Between them they carried two radios, 20 grenades, 1,200 
rounds of ammunition, 20 canteens, and rations to last for 72 hours.  Progress 
was slow.

     But the weather favored them.  It was overcast and cool, with a high wind 
blowing and thick clouds hiding the hot sun which sapped a man's strength so 
quickly.

     By noon they reached a clump of trees on a nose of the hill and from 
there they could see the valley floor.  They settled down to wait and watch.  
One man scanned the valley with binoculars while another listened to the rear.  
Visibility into the brush was less than 15 feet but a man listening intently 
could hear noises made 1,000 meters away.  The other Marines dozed.  They 
alternated sentinel duty every hour or two.

     McWilliams heard the enemy first.  He whispered a warning to the others.  
"Listen up.  They're in there behind us."  They strained to hear.  They 
filtered out the ordinary sounds, the far away jet or artillery, the low buzz 
of crickets, the stirring of branches when the wind passed.  They listened for 
the unusual.

     They heard it, an intermittent pounding noise made by something heavy 
striking into the earth, coming from above them, farther along the ridgeline 
back towards the mountain.

     "What is it?"


                                     60




 
     "I don't know, but it sure isn't any elephant, so you guess who's 
sounding off."

     A while later, they heard someone chopping wood in the same general area.

     As dusk approached, the team prepared to move, having seen no one and 
heard no more sounds.  Behind the knob where the Marines sat, the top of the 
ridgeline slanted north and sliced back south to form an inverted V, before 
turning eastward again. Rather than follow along the top in what would be the 
normal route of traffic, Bishko decided to cut cross-compartment and move 
west, down one side of the cut, across a stream bed, and up 600 feet to the 
other side, a route so steep and thick that he thought the chances were remote 
they would be seen or heard.

     The hike took over two hours and when the Marines reached level ground 
again on the ridgeline they were exhausted and their clothes soaked with 
sweat.  They squeezed, pushed, and jerked their way into the thickest brush 
they could find and established a harbor site for the night.

     Each man scraped the ground bare where he would lie down, so that if he 
heard something during the night, he could alert the others and set up a 
defense without giving away his position. The Marines ate from cold cans of 
rations and spoke only when necessary, and then in brief whispers.  They 
arranged alternate two hour watches.  The light faded quickly.

     With the dark, the enemy began moving.  Vietnamese voices floated up to 
the Marines from the stream bed they had just crossed.  Bishko called a fire 
mission, requesting a three round salvo.  From the sound of the explosion a 
few minutes later, the Marines judged the 105mm shells had hit close to the 
voices.  That night the men slept fitfully, uneasy about the high wind which 
could cover the movement of an enemy.

     At dawn, Bishko pointed out a section of high ground to the west where he 
wished to set up an observation post.  The map distance measured 700 meters 
and the ridgeline ran straight to it.

     It took the Marines four hours to reach their destination. They avoided 
the bare, conspicuous ridge crest and traversed the rain-slicked shoulder of 
the hill.  From past patrols they had grown calluses on the sides of their 
feet, so often had they half walked, half slipped their way along mountain 
sides. Although thirsty, they conserved their water, knowing that the five 
canteens per man had to last four days.

     When the team finally clawed up to the selected spot, a knoll covered 
with chest-high elephant grass, McWilliams and Miller crawled forward to 
observe; Bishko and Moran waited on


                                     61



the reverse slope.  Jutting out at a point where the ridgeline hooked abruptly 
from a westerly to a northerly direction, the knoll provided an excellent 
field of observation for several miles up the valley to the west.  The valley, 
a half-mile wide at that point, held fields of dry, tall grass and scrub brush 
and arbors of dense trees; it funneled 20 miles back into Laos and served as a 
main avenue of approach for the enemy into Quang Tri Province.

     The Marines saw their first VC during midafternoon. Two North Viets in 
khaki uniforms crossed a stream down in the valley a quarter of a mile from 
the Marines.  They walked across a bamboo bridge laughing and joking as if 
they were in their own backyard.  McWilliams and Miller were startled by their 
closeness.  They had scoured the distant trails for over an hour and were not 
entirely pleased to find the enemy under their noses.  Their vantage point 
gave little concealment, only a few scraggly bushes and the rippling grass.  
They froze for several minutes in rigid concentration before deciding that the 
angle of vision and the careless manner of the North Vietnamese made their 
discovery unlikely.  McWilliams then slipped back over the slope to the niche 
where Bishko sat watching to the rear.

     "Sergeant," he whispered, "company to the front--two of them."

      Bishko and Moran crept forward, relieved McWilliams and Miller of the 
watch, and spent some time just familiarizing themselves with the valley floor 
in relation to the map.  Bishko pinpointed the coordinates of the bamboo 
bridge and settled down to wait, paying close attention to the bridge, which 
was not more than 20 feet long.  Tall trees and tangles of vines overhung the 
southern bank of the stream, while the northern bank looked like it had been 
cut away by flash floods and was now a gravel wash, which sloped upwards for 
10 meters before merging into a grove of dense trees.  The knob where the team 
perched was 150 feet above the stream.

     Just before dusk, six more North Vietnamese ambled over the bridge and 
entered the grove.  Three were dressed in Khaki and three wore black pajamas; 
none carried arms.

     "Looks like a force of North Vietnamese with local guides," Bishko 
whispered.  "Moran, get out a fire mission."

     The artillery strike was off.  Despite a few adjustments, the rounds did 
not hit near the target.  The artillery battery, dug in five miles due east, 
had to raise the muzzles of their howitzers at a high angle in order to fire 
the 105mm shells up over the ridgeline and down into the valley.  But a strong 
wind was blowing the shells off course as they wavered at their apexes before 
plunging down.


                                     62




 
                                


                 SCHEMATIC SKETCH TO ACCOMPANY "THE INDIANS"


                                     62a



     "Tell them to cease fire.  We'll try again in the morning when the wind 
has died."

     For a harbor site that night, Bishko chose a thicket of grass and dry 
bamboo, so strewn with dry leaves that a crawling snake could be heard.  
Miller concealed their back trail.  They cleared away some leaves and lay down 
just at dark.  It rained on and off during the night, but the Marines not on 
watch didn't notice; they would have slept treading water.

     At first light, when the sky to the east was glowing red, the team left 
the harbor site.  They travelled straight down the hill through the grass, 
knowing they could not be seen in the dim light.  Bishko led them to a small 
clump of trees which was slightly nearer to the bamboo bridge than their 
vantage point the day before.

     At dawn the enemy began stirring.  The sounds of their conversations 
carried plainly to the Marines, but none crossed the bridge and the Marines 
could not see through the green canopy of trees.  The grove extended 300 
meters north and was about 100 meters wide, bordered on the east by the 
ridgeline where the patrol was hiding.  The stream ran from the north along 
the west side of the grove, then jinked sharply east toward the ridgeline.  
Over the stream where it bent east the enemy had built their bridge.  Bishko 
believed there were probably a dozen North Vietnamese encamped in the grove 
below him and decided to call for artillery again.

     "Hateful, this is Primness," Moran whispered into the PRC 25 radio.  
"Fire Mission.  Concentration Papa India five zero niner.  Voices in stream 
bed.  One round.  Willy Peter. Will adjust."

     From his position, Bishko could clearly see the bridge and stream.  The 
stream curled gradually to the right and heavy foliage covered both banks.  
The voices were coming from the right bank in a clump of tall trees.

     "On the way," whispered Moran.  The artillery round hurtled in over the 
Marines' heads.  It sounded like someone ripping cloth.  The explosion was 
sharp and close.  A cloud of white smoke drifted up.  From the grove of trees 
two VC emerged clad in khaki shorts and khaki shirts and casually walked south 
across the bridge.

     "Have them come left one hundred and fire for effect," whispered Bishko.

     A few minutes later the rounds came tearing in.  The grove shook with the 
successive explosions.  Fifteen North Vietnamese came out from the trees and 
walked rapidly to the stream crossing, and waded across.


                                     63




 
     "Hit them with a couple of more volleys," Bishko whispered.

     Twelve more rounds smashed into the trees, the sound of the explosions 
mingling into one continuous roar.

     About 40 enemy ran from the grove.  They scampered to the stream and 
splashed across as fast as they could, dressed in a variety of ways: some in 
khaki, some in khaki shirts and black shorts, some in gray shirts and blue 
shorts, some in black pajamas, some even in light blue pajamas.

     "Keep that fire coming.  Call for area fire and hit the other bank," 
Bishko whispered.  The reconnaissance team had discovered the base camp of a 
mixed VC/North Vietnamese battalion.

     McWilliams tried to count the enemy as they forded the stream.  He 
tallied 75; then they were pouring across the stream faster than he could 
count.  Bishko could not tabulate an accurate figure either.

     "Tell them there are more than 200 that we can see at one point.  Have 
them pour it on."

     The shells slammed down in random patterns on both sides of the streams, 
felling trees and more North Vietnamese.  A group of the enemy waded back 
across the stream, holding bamboo poles.  Other soldiers followed them, 
holding high above the water bunches of white bandages.  They ran across the 
gravel wash back into the grove and some minutes later trotted back carrying 
their wounded and dead slung beneath the poles.  Others scurried about, 
hauling packs bulging with supplies.  Some ran upstream clutching armfuls of 
weapons.

     The artillery pounded them relentlessly.  The enemy seemed to lose their 
sense of purpose and direction.  Some staggered like punchdrunk fighters.  
Others threw down their packs and ran.  There was mass panic and confusion in 
the stream bed.

     A few dozen heavily armed men splashed through the stream bed and 
disappeared from view on the Marines' right flank.  The team could hear them 
crashing through the brush, coming up the slope.  Some Vietnamese leader had 
determined that the bombardment was too continuous and accurate to be merely a 
lucky burst of harassing fire.  At least one group of the enemy were organized 
and purposeful.  They were searching for the team.

     Another volley dropped into the grove.  Still more of the enemy rushed 
out.  Some were bent over, carrying wounded on their backs.  Staying together 
in one large group, they started to wade the stream.


                                     64



     Another volley.  Three of the shells exploded in the stream.  The enemy 
disappeared from the Marines' view in a shower of spray, mud, and stones.  
When the debris had settled, McWilliams could see no North Vietnamese who were 
still moving.  Some were floating face down in the stream, others were lying 
in twisted shapes along the bank, a few were hanging from vines several yards 
in the air.  The bamboo bridge sagged to water level under the weight of 
several collapsed enemy.  Bodies clogged the stream and turned its color to 
rust.

     The team could not stay to call in any more fire.  The search party was 
not 30 meters downslope.  Bishko scrambled up the hill and gathered his men.

     "Let's move out.  They're coming up the hill after us." He paused to 
catch his breath.

     "But I'll tell you, we've just killed a hell of a lot of them."

     They went down the back of the hill through the grass in loping strides, 
passing where a 105mm shell had fallen short and clipped yards of grass off at 
the roots as evenly as a scythe.  McWilliams found a stream bed and led the 
team down into its protecting shadows.

     They arrived out of breath and uncertain of their future at the bottom of 
the hill on the opposite side from the North Vietnamese camp.  They collapsed 
where they stood and struggled to regain their wind, feeling they could rely 
only on their physical condition and knowledge of woodcraft to elude those who 
chased them.  Back at task force headquarters, the 5-3 of the reconnaissance 
company, Captain William S. Ostrie, had listened to their whispers over the 
radio and heard the situation develop.  He acted to provide them immediate and 
powerful support.  The pilot of an Air Force observation plane was contacted 
and asked to fly up the valley toward the Marines' position and to provide 
what assistance he could.  That pilot, in turn, guided in a Marine jet, which 
had been diverted from its primary target by Ostrie's call for emergency aid 
for the reconnaissance patrol.

     The patrol members themselves were completely unaware of this rapid, 
saving chain of events.  But, while still breathing hard and lying at the base 
of the hill, they did hear the soft single-engine putter of the tiny Air Force 
plane and seconds later saw it flying directly toward them, not 50 feet above 
the ground.  Bishko stood up and waved and flashed a signal mirror at the 
plane.  The pilot wagged his wings in recognition and spoke to Moran over the 
patrol's radio frequency.  In broken sentences, Moran explained their plight.  
"They're right behind us," he said.  "On the hill, and their base camp's on


                                     65




 
the other side, where the bodies are."

     "Roger," said the pilot.  "I'll take a look."

     He circled once over the stream bed and reported he counted 50 bodies.  
(McWilliams though there were 53.) Buzzing the hill, he caught a glimpse of 
the North Vietnamese.  That was all he needed.  He radioed to Moran, warning 
the Marines to seek cover.  The enemy was closing rapidly behind them and he 
did not have time to waste.

     The members of the patrol never saw the jet.  One minute they were 
listening intently for sounds of their pursuers and the next minute the air 
was filled with a sharp screeching.  It was the sound of an F-8 Crusader 
hurtling down at 300 mph with a 2,000-pound bomb slung under each wing.  
Captain Orson G. Swindle, III, sat at the controls concentrating intently on 
the observation pilot's instructions.

     "Hit 50 meters at 12 o'clock on my smoke on a holding of 210 degrees."

     Swindle could see the hill, the stream bed, the gravel wash, and the thin 
white smoke wisps of the observations pilot's marking rockets.  The target was 
plain, but Swindle was uneasy, for the Air Force pilot had warned him the 
reconnaissance patrol was only 400 meters from the smoke markers.  Swindle had 
dropped 1,000-pound bombs 700 meters in front of friendly lines and considered 
that close enough.  Swindle held his craft very steady and released the two 
bombs simultaneously.  He came out of his 300 dive at 1,800 feet, pulling 5 
G's very smartly.  The bombs fell free and plummeted down, thick, stubby, 
menacing hulks painted a dull green and repulsive even to look at.

     They struck and the blast jolted the Marines crouched on the other side 
of the hill.  The ground jumped under their feet.  For seconds they could hear 
nothing, while a high ringing sound filled their ears.  They looked at each 
other, gaping, not quite sure what had happened.  Dirt, boulders, and the 
limbs of trees began falling around them.  They dove for cover under the trees 
and hoped the debris would miss them.

     Miller whispered: "That stuff could kill you just as quick as a bullet."

     Moran got on the radio and whispered furiously.  "You missed.  You almost 
hit us.  Hit the other side.  Hit the top. But don't hit here!"

     A calm voice replied.  "Relax.  He was right on target. Nobody's behind 
you now.  But you have to expect some fallout when you're that close to those 
blockbusters."


                                     66



     The observation pilot was right.  The pursuers were no more.  The patrol 
turned east and toiled slowly around the shoulder of the ridge and harbored in 
a deep draw, hoping to find another suitable observation post.  In this 
endeavor they did not succeed.  But fatigue did not overcome caution. 
McWilliams and Miller took turns climbing a tall tree to watch their back 
trail.  Late in the afternoon, their vigilance was rewarded.  The enemy came, 
casting for tracks and shouting loudly back and forth.

     Moran called for artillery.  Volley after volley smashed in, and the 
valley echoed and reechoed the rolling thunder for many minutes.  Bishko 
listened to the din and smiled.  "That artillery," he whispered, "is just like 
having a guardian angel." The Marines neither saw nor heard any more North 
Vietnamese that afternoon.

     They had difficulty keeping awake on watch that night. They dared not 
stamp their feet or move around; they were on the verge of exhaustion.  By 
dint of sheer determination, Bishko stayed alert throughout most of the night 
to ensure the others would not doze off.

     The next morning, a helicopter swooped in to pick them up.  With signal 
mirrors they guided the pilot into the landing zone, then clambered happily on 
board and flew to task force headquarters for debriefing.  There they were 
told they had called in one of the most successful artillery missions on 
record thus far in the Vietnamese war.  The Marines were so tired they could 
hardly smile.  Corporal McWilliams chose that moment to look at his old friend 
and say: "That's not half bad, Sergeant--for your first time, that is."

     Then they smiled, close comrades sharing an in-joke.


                                     67




 
                                 TALKING FISH


           Preface:  After leaving the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, 
        the author visited India Battery of the 12th Marines at the end 
        of July to determine their reaction to the exceptional fire 
        support they provided Bishko's patrol.  After several hours 
        with those men, observing, questioning, and taping, it became 
        obvious to him that he would be doing artillery an injustice 
        if he merely mentioned them in a few sentences as an adjunct 
        to another story.  Here is what the Marines of India Battery 
        did in the 24-hour period which included their support of the
        reconnaissance patrol.


                                       I

     For the men of India Battery, the shooting day generally reached its 
heaviest peak at night.  During the hours of darkness, the howitzers would 
unleash harassment and interdiction fires at dozens of points.  These rounds 
fell unobserved by the Marines, exploding in random patterns throughout enemy 
territory.  The purpose of such missions was to disrupt the movements of the 
North Vietnamese, to cause them anxiety and lack of rest, and to deny them the 
secure use of trails and stream beds.

     In mid-July, India Battery, with six howitzers and 73 men, had been 
transported by helicopters to a valley some four miles southwest of Dong Ha, 
near the Demilitarized Zone.  From this valley, the battery fired in support 
of units from the 4th Marines, 5th Marines, and the 1st Force Reconnaissance 
Company, all engaged in Operation HASTINGS.

     On 27 July, Battery I had barely begun to fire its H&I missions when the 
routine was interrupted by a radio request for a fire mission.  The message 
was sent from "Kalamazoo 66," a forward observer team attached to the 3d 
Battalion, 5th Marines.  The target designated was "moving lights on 
hillside."

     At 2016, the howitzers opened fire on the target.  After two adjustments, 
a fire-for-effect was called in and the six howitzers fired five 
high-explosive rounds apiece, each shell weighing 33 pounds.  Secondary 
explosions followed the impact, indicating that the 105mm shells had triggered 
the detonation of enemy ammunition or fuel.


                                     68



     The lights hovered and wavered in the blackness, then slowly bobbed back 
up the mountain.  A shift from the last fire-for-effect was called and again 
the shells rustled down on the lights.  There were more secondary explosions 
and the lights went out.  The men at the battery waited.  After a delay of 
several minutes, the lights reappeared farther up the mountain.  Another 
shift.  More salvos.  More secondary explosions.  And still once more after 
that, the process was repeated before the lights winked on the skyline and 
disappeared.  The battery had fired for 29 minutes on the mission and expended 
134 shells.

     During those fire missions, another forward observer team (Kalamazoo 61) 
had monitored the radio and followed on a map the slow retreat of the enemy.  
Their position was on the valley floor on the other side of the mountain from 
Kalamazoo 66.  By simple deduction and proper use of a map and compass, they 
were able to focus their attention on a spot in the blackness where they 
suspected the enemy were.  Fifteen minutes passed and they saw nothing.  But 
at 2100 a speck of light glowed through the foliage.  Having pinpointed the 
coordinates, they called for an immediate fire-for-effect and the battery 
responded with 12 high-explosive rounds.  When the forward observer team 
counted more than 12 explosions, they notified the battery of that fact, and 
requested a repeat of the mission. Again the battery fired a dozen rounds, 
this time mixing in white phosporous shells.  A few more secondary explosions 
followed and the team could see the lights no longer.

     The battery returned to the conduct of ordinary H&I fires. The forward 
observer team remained on watch.  Forty minutes elapsed--then lights again 
glimmered on the shoulders of the mountain.  The team quickly notified the 
battery, which suspended the H&I missions and threw 18 high-explosive shells 
on the lights.  The shells struck, setting off a secondary explosion so 
powerful it lit up the entire mountainside.  At the gun pits, 4,200 meters 
away, the battery commander, Captain Burr Chambless, looked at the bright 
flash on the horizon and shouted to his section chiefs: "You goofed up.  What 
are you firing Willie Peter for?"

     The NCOs assured him they had not and the Marines of the battery began to 
discuss eagerly the nature and size of the target they had destroyed.  But no 
immediate survey of the damage by infantrymen was possible.  At night in the 
jungle, close surveillance of artillery strikes is foregone.

     The next day, on both sides of the mountain, patrols discovered bloody 
shreds of clothing and helmets.  They reported that patches of the jungle 
which had been ripped by the artillery smelled of death.  The twisted casings 
of a few enemy 120mm mortar shells and bits of an iron wheel were found.


                                     69




 
The North Vietnamese probably had intended to drag the heavy weapons into a 
safe defilade position away from the ridgeline, which was vulnerable to air 
and artillery strikes.  They most likely had calculated that the dense canopy 
would shield their lights from the sight of the Marines.  They were wrong.

     The first forward observer team (Kalamazoo 66) to see the lights was able 
to adjust fire on the target.  At night, when distances are hard to estimate 
accurately and the jungle smothers the sound and dims the flash from adjusting 
rounds, this was no mean feat.  The other forward observer team (Kalamazoo 61) 
showed good sense in tracking the fire mission and skill in adjusting its 
initial fire missions on target so swiftly.  Both teams remained alert even 
after the lights went out.  Had either team assumed the shoot was over after 
their initial fires-for-effect met with success, the damage to the enemy would 
have been much less severe.  Both had obviously pinpointed their respective 
map positions and acquainted themselves with the surrounding terrain while it 
was still light.


                                      II

     Having averaged four to six hours of punctuated sleep, the men were back 
at the guns in the morning when a radio message came in under the call sign 
"Hateful." Hateful was the code word for a radio station operated by the 1st 
Force Reconnaissance Company.  The station was perched on a peak high above 
the valley floor and relayed messages from long-range reconnaissance patrols 
back to the task force headquarters and artillery batteries.

     The relay station passed on to India Battery a fire mission from 
"Primness." Chambless recognized the call sign. It was a small reconnaissance 
patrol located deep in the jungle for whom the battery had fired several 
missions during the past two days.

     The target was designated as "voices in stream bed." Chambless was 
puzzled by the vague term but he did not question it.  That wasn't his job.  
He had confidence in the judgment of the Marines on patrol.  The 
reconnaissance Marines had been trained in forward observer procedures by the 
S-3 of the battalion--Major Barry Bittner.  They did not call fire foolishly.

     But an officer on the staff of one of the rifle battalions Chambless was 
also supporting did think the mission foolish.  Having monitored the radio 
message from Hateful, he called Chambless, sarcastically asking if the battery 
had the time and ammunition to waste on voices and bushes.  Chambless replied 
that his battery directly supported the reconnaissance patrol and that, yes, 
he was going to fire the mission.


                                     70



But the artillery Fire Direction Center (FDC) was momentarily stumped.  The 
patrol's compass azimuth to the target had been sent in code so a listening 
enemy could not locate their position.  This shackle system garbled the 
numbers of the azimuth and the battery did not have the key to that particular 
code.  Staff Sergeant John E. Williams, the operations chief, solved the 
problem by radioing a nearby rifle battalion, which unscrambled the numbers.

     Four minutes had been wasted.  The computers--men trained to compute the 
technical data necessary to aim the guns--went to work.  Lance Corporal F. C. 
Puskoskie called out his fire data computations first.  Lance Corporal William 
J. Garrison studied his figures and yelled "check." Five minutes had gone by.

    Next, Sergeant John Dovale called the artillery liaison officer on duty at 
the operations tent of the task force.  The artillery liaison officer jotted 
down the coordinates of the Marines' and the enemy's positions, the azimuth of 
fire, and the height the 105 shells would travel in the air.  He took this 
information to the air liaison officer standing watch in the same tent and 
requested a "Save-A-Plane" number.  Until aircraft were warned to stay clear 
of the area through which the artillery shells would pass in flight, the 
mission could not be fired.

     The battery did not just sit idle and wait.  The firing data was 
transmitted over the telephone wire to the executive pit.

             "Battery -- adjust.

              Action Rear.

              Shell Willie Peter.

              Charge 6.

              Fuze Quick.

              Center -- one round.

              Battery -- one round.

              Shell H.E.

              High angle.

              In effect.

              Deflection 2457.

              Quadrant 1130."


                                     71




 
     On the map, no more than 300 meters separated the reconnaissance patrol 
from the target.  The patrol was crouched on a hill 200 feet above the stream 
bed.  To hit the target and miss the Marines, the Fire Direction Officer, 
Second Lieutenant Dixon Kelley, plotted a high-angle shoot.  When adjusted to 
fire the mission, the howitzer tubes pointed almost straight up in the air.  
This would throw the shells high so that, having peaked, they would plummet 
almost straight down.  Thus, the artillery rounds would miss the hill but hit 
the target.

     The previous afternoon the Primness patrol had requested the same fire 
mission.  A high wind, blowing in erratic gusts, had played havoc with the 
prolonged flight of the shells.  The patrol was forced to hastily cancel the 
mission when the adjustments fell wide of their intended marks.

     There was no wind early on the morning of 28 July.  Still Kelley was 
wary.  He did not relish putting precise measurements at the whim of a puff of 
air.

     The battery executive officer, First Lieutenant Charles W. Cheatham, told 
his phone man to pass on to the guns the data he had received from the FDC.  
This added step was a safety procedure, because it insured a doublecheck to 
verify the data placed on the guns.  Cheatham added a twist to the routine.

     "Tell the guns the target is talking fish," he said.

     The artillerymen appreciated the humor.  It was a good ploy which revived 
the spirits of tired men.  They laughed and joked as they readied the guns.  
Perhaps recon had been left out in the jungles too long this time.

     Private First Class Raymond O. Tindell carried a white phosporous shell 
from the ammunition pit to gun 44.  Private First Class N. C. Sheble loaded 
the round into the breech, while Private First Class David L. Sherburne 
aligned the gun according to the fire data.  Lance Corporal Henry H. Smalley 
grasped the rope lanyard and waited.  He would fire the first adjusting round 
of the mission.  He was bored.  He thought it was the beginning of another 
futile effort.  The VCs would slip away and the patrol would report back to 
the battery that there had been one or two enemy wounded.

     The section chief, Sergeant Bobby M. Goodnight, checked the lay of the 
gun and shouted: "Gun 4 up."

     Seven minutes had elapsed since the fire mission request came in.  A call 
came into the Fire Direction Center from the artillery liaison officer at task 
force: "Save-a-plane number 28-Bravo."


                                     72



     The planes had been alerted to the fire mission.  If a pilot had to cross 
through the area, he would fly his plane (or helicopter) at a higher altitude 
than the peak of the arc of the artillery shells.

     "Fire."

     Eight minutes after receiving the fire mission, the first artillery round 
was on its way to target.  Another 48 seconds would pass before the round 
landed.  Captain Chambless was dissatisfied with that amount of time.  Staff 
Sergeant Williams was dissatisfied.  The crew of gun 4 was dissatisfied.

     "Too damn long," Chambless growled.  The communications snag and the 
delay in clearance irritated the whole battery. They prided themselves on 
fast, accurate shooting.  Chambless made a notation to mention the mixup in 
shackle sheets at the next pre-patrol meeting.  (Before an insertion, the 
reconnaissance team leader visited with his artillery support officer. 
Together they preplanned fires and set procedures and also discussed past 
mistakes made.)

     Primness called in a correction.

     "Left one hundred--fire one volley for effect." The first round had 
exploded near the target.  The computers were waiting. They worked quickly and 
fed the data corrections to the guns.

     Less than two minutes later the six-round volley was on its way.  The 
battery waited--set to compute and adjust for another correction.

     No correction came.  Instead the FOC heard: "Repeat fire for effect.  
Eight VCs seen crossing stream."

     Another volley was fired.  The men in the battery were no longer bored.  
Having learned they were firing at observed targets, their interest naturally 
heightened.  Hateful relayed another message from Primness.

     "Left 200, add 100.  A platoon of VCs seen running upstream. Request 
three volleys."

     Again the artillerymen fired--and wondered.  The talking fish seemed to 
be multiplying.

     Another relay call from Primness reached the battery. "Request area 
saturation fire.  Two hundred VCs moving across stream bed."

     The gun crews fired, reloaded, realigned, and fired, again and again.  
Small shifts were phoned to the guns to insure the shells did not land on top 
of one another.


                                     73




 
     A final message came from Primness.

     "Cease fire.  FO cannot observe.  He has been chased off the hill."

     It was 0800.  In 40 minutes, India Battery had fired 1,749 pounds of high 
explosives into an area 400 meters wide and 300 meters deep.  They waited 
expectantly for a surveillance of the mission.  None came.  The men were 
disappointed.  (Not until late in the afternoon did the battery learn 50 enemy 
bodies were counted lying in the stream bed after the artillery struck.  What 
had happened under the canopy of trees could not be seen.  Sergeant Goodnight 
said, "We felt really happy when we heard the results.  It made you feel like 
you were over here doing something.")

     The coordination, clearance, and communication problems pertaining to 
Marine artillery support in Vietnam were so formidable at that time that 
personal liaison between the supporting battery and the unit to be supported 
became advisable, and it was standing operating procedure for reconnaissance 
units to brief the artillery battery before a patrol went out.  Even so, the 
fire mission had come perilously close to never being fired at all.  The mixup 
in shackle sheets could have prevented decoding if Staff Sergeant Williams had 
not immediately contacted other units to obtain the information needed.

     Chambless made every effort to keep his men informed as to the nature of 
the target and the patrol's situation.  When a damage surveillance was not 
radioed back to the battery at the end of the mission, he checked with other 
sources to find out if the artillery proved helpful, and if so, what it did. 
He did not neglect the morale of his men.


                                     III

     When the Primness patrol could no longer call in fire, the men stood down 
from the guns but they did not rest; there was ammunition to haul and store.  
The helicopters whirled in to dump out hundreds of boxes of shells.  The 
resupply kept the men busy hauling by hand (and one mechanical mule) 108,000 
pounds of ammunition from the helicopter landing zone to the gun pits, some 
hundreds of meters away.  It was an all-day job.

     (But for sheer Hurculean effort, the labors of the Marines loading 
helicopters in the Logistic Support Area deserve special mention.  There were 
20 of them assigned to work the main supply point at Dong Ha for the duration 
of Operation HASTINGS.  Grimy, black-faced, built like bulls, they worked 
steadily and impassively at their jobs for 15 days, trudging back and forth 
daily across the same patch of brown earth, loading by hand the helicopters, 
and chewing the dust the rotating blades swept


                                     74



up.  A glance at the supply manifest and a few casual questions showed some 
startling statistics.  They usually hauled cargos from 0500 one morning until 
0100 the next morning, moving between 120,000 and 160,000 pounds of supplies a 
day.)

     The battery fired a few more missions during the day, chiefly in support 
of the Primness patrol.  The patrol had melted into the jungle after their 
engagement with the North Vietnamese battalion but stayed near the ravaged 
enemy base camp, hoping to direct another artillery or air strike.  Instead, 
they were almost struck themselves.  The North Vietnamese, after a lull of 
several hours while they reorganized, conducted a search for them.

     Running off the hill, the Marines had left a trail through the dry grass 
that a native of New York City could follow.  The patrol leader had 
anticipated the possibility of trackers.  When the trackers came casting along 
the backtrail, they were heard and located by the patrol.  The patrol leader 
radioed that information, together with the coordinates of the enemy, to the 
relay station.  The station notified the battery.

     This time the battery did not have to wait for a decoding key.  Less than 
two minutes after reception of the message, the guns were firing.  So swift 
was the reaction that the message alerting the patrol of an impending fire 
mission reached the patrol via the relay station after the shells had fallen.  
The battery fired 1,188 pounds of high explosives to discourage the trackers.  
It did.

     Twenty minutes later, from task force headquarters came the order to 
blanket the entire target area.  At higher headquarters, the thinking was 
that, if the North Vietnamese had organized a pursuit, they must have returned 
to their base camp and been in the process of digging out.  The battery fired 
another area saturation mission, dropping 10,692 pounds of high explosives in 
the stream bed, base camp, and hill complex.

     That night--28 July--the battery engaged the enemy at much closer range.  
Nestled in a small valley, the battery perimeter was linked with that of a 
rifle company.  This relieved in large measure the problem of a local defense, 
since Captain Chambless was charged with protecting only a small sector of the 
perimeter around the guns.

     It was that sector the enemy probed.  Chambless had set out in the jungle 
three three-man listening posts.  These posts were arranged in a triangular 
shape, placed deep enough in the underbrush to prevent the enemy from throwing 
grenades into the perimeter.  At 2215, the Viet Cong attacked the outposts 
with grenades and small arms fire.  Over a dozen grenades were thrown at the 
Marines, but all fell well short of the foxholes. The Marines in their turn 
threw grenades, fired their rifles


                                     75




 
semiautomatically, and fired the M79 grenade launcher.  The entire action 
lasted less than 15 minutes.  No Marine was wounded.  No known damage was 
inflicted on the enemy.  But it was not a random effort on the part of the VC.  
It was a deliberate probe to see if the artillerymen would react foolishly or 
timidly to close-in harassment.  Having found this did not occur, the VC 
withdrew.

     They came back two hours later.  This time they climbed to the top of a 
small ridgeline some 300 meters from the gun positions.  From there they 
opened fire with four automatic weapons, aiming at the flashes from the 
muzzles of the howitzers. Simultaneously, small parties of the enemy attempted 
to outflank the outposts.  Two separate actions developed.

     The nine Marines on outpost duty fought with grenades. Their triangular 
defense provided mutual support and, when the enemy tried to slip around the 
point outpost, they were pinned down by the outpost to the rear and had to 
pull back.  Unable to budge the outposts and receiving two grenades for each 
one they threw, the enemy gave up the attempt and withdrew.

     Those manning the automatic weapons on the ridgeline proved more 
stubborn.  Captain Chambless had taken the precaution of zeroing in a .50 
caliber machine gun on the ridgeline during the day.  When the battery  
positions came under fire, he ordered one crew to return fire with that 
weapon. The VC were not impressed.  Their fire poured in unabated.

     The artillerymen, far from being intimidated, were enjoying the action.  
Although bullets were snapping by all gun positions, no Marine had been 
seriously wounded and the element of danger came as a welcome respite to the 
tedium of endless H&I fires.  But Chambless was exasperated.  To him, the 
grenade probes and machine gun fire were irritating impediments to the conduct 
of efficient battery fires.  Determined to dislodge the enemy and discourage 
them as much as possible, he directed one gun crew to take the ridgeline under 
direct fire with the howizter.  Sighting in on the muzzle flashes of the enemy 
weapons, the crew fired six shells in quick succession at the VC position. 
That ended the fire fight and the battery began conducting H&I missions.

     It was the start of another day's shoot.


                                     76



                               AN HONEST EFFORT


           Preface:  When the author visited 2/5 early in July, the 
        battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Moore, 
        suggested that he spend some time with the men of Echo Company,
        who had been fighting hard in a wide valley for over a month.
        For several days, the author stayed with that company.  When 
        the fighting died down, a civic action program had been started, 
        an effort in which the men took more interest and devoted more 
        energy as it grew.


     Captain Jim Cooper was tired.  He was tired of climbing to the high 
ground, of sitting in the hot sun, of skirmishing inconclusively with 
guerrillas in the valley, and then returning to defend bare ridgelines.

     His command, Echo Company of the 5th Marines, had established a combat 
outpost on Hill 76, the dominating terrain feature in the center of a large 
valley 10 miles west of Chulai.  Each day the Marines sallied forth in platoon 
strength.  The patrols passed through the hamlets and villages, clusters of 
wooden huts surrounded by trees and thickets.  Between the hamlets stretched 
acres of rice paddies, stagnant fields without shade.  The hills bordering the 
valley were covered by thick brush and dry grass which trapped the heat and 
stopped any breeze.

     The day patrols rarely encountered any Viet Cong.  The Marines would 
climb slowly back up Hill 76 at dusk to man the perimeter and sleep.  The hill 
was bare of trees and the Marines joked that there was more dust than air.

     Night ambushes went out, setting in along the main trails leading from 
the mountains into the hamlets.  Contact was frequent but kills few.  The Viet 
Cong moved in small groups and, when fired upon, dispersed instantly.

     The enemy controlled the hamlets.  This was obvious to the Marines.  When 
a patrol passed, the children rarely waved and the villagers stayed within 
their houses.  Scattered along the trails in front of them, Marines often 
found fresh leaflets showing pictures of wounded Americans and printed 
messages saying: "Protest the war before this happens to you." Occasionally, 
the enemy tried to ambush the Marines as they left the tree line bordering a 
hamlet.  This tactic was not successful because each patrol left a machine gun 
team behind as security when the


                                     77




 
patrol had to cross the rice paddies.  The local Vietnamese Popular Forces 
company never ventured outside their fort at night.

     The presence of the Marines did deny to large main-force enemy units free 
access to the valley.  It did not, however, prevent the Viet Cong 
infrastructure, the local and political forces of the enemy, from maintaining 
surveillance and control of the villagers.

     After a few weeks of fruitless forays and grimy living, Echo Company 
changed its tactics and position.  "I just got plain sick and tired of baking 
on top of some hill while the VC ran the villagers down in the valleys.  So I 
decided to move," Captain Cooper said.

     The company walked off the hill and into the hamlet of Thanh My Trung.  
Cooper arranged his defensive positions with care.  They did not infringe on 
the villagers' houses or property but they were well within the hamlet itself.  
The Marines now had shade, water, and level sleeping ground.

     The villagers were flabbergasted.  Cooper called a meeting of the entire 
hamlet.  Over 250 men, women, and children gathered to hear what he had to 
say.  Cooper was big and blunt. It was his third war.  He had started as a 
private.  He had come to Vietnam to fight, not to pamper people.

     He told the villagers so.  He told them he had come to stay and they 
wouldn't have to fear the Viet Cong any longer.  He told them to tell the VC 
he had come, so they would have time to run away, since they were afraid to 
fight.  And he told them they were looking at the hardest man alive, if they 
helped the VC fight one of his Marines.

    The company established a routine.  Patrols became more frequent but of 
shorter length and duration.  Each platoon was responsible for its own 
security.  The number of night ambushes was increased and the number of 
contacts gradually diminished until, during the month of July, the company's 
tactical area of responsibility quieted completely and not even one large fire 
fight was recorded.  Even snipers were very rare, and, although difficulties 
with mines persisted, no booby trap was ever found in Thanh My Trung.

     The Marines, long covered with dust, splashed often in the ample water.  
They shaved daily and soaped down and rinsed off in the evenings.  Soap was 
given to the villagers and they were urged to use it.  At first, the villagers 
scrubbed their clothes but not themselves.

     It was the children who led the way.  Natural mimics and completely 
unafraid of the Marines, they swarmed each morning


                                     78



and evening, anxious to show the Marines they could bathe too.

     The villagers followed suit slowly.  Hospitalman 3d Class Louis I. 
Piatetsky, the chief corpsman in the company, was insistent that any villager 
who asked for medical aid was told to wash before he would be treated.  The 
Marines yelled loudly and forcefully every time they saw soap squandered on 
clothes.

     Medical treatments also started with the children.  They ran to the 
Marines for comfort and help with skinned knees, cut feet, and scraped elbows.  
Seeing the attention and care their children received, the villagers came 
forward.  Their diseases and wounds were more serious.  Medical evacuations 
for Vietnamese civilians from Thanh My Trung became a daily occurrence. The 
corpsmen were kept busy each day.  Piatetsky's knowledge of the Vietnamese 
language lent order where otherwise chaos would have existed.  The Vietnamese 
could explain what hurt them and be understood.  Piatetsky himself, in one 
month (July), treated over 500 Vietnamese.  Each week a doctor and a dentist 
visited the hamlet.  During July they recorded 480 cases in their logs.

     The hamlet of Thanh My Trung had a population of less than 360.  The 
entire village numbered about 6,000.  The Marines were amazed at how the news 
travelled from the valley, but they were sure many of those treated were not 
local villagers.  The success of the program pleased the battalion's civil 
affairs officer, Captain Herbert R. Edson.  "Look at it this way," he said, 
"the more concrete and immediate our help to the people is--things they can 
grasp and understand right here and now--the more we're undercutting the 
appeal and authority of the Viet Cong infrastructure in this same area."

     The social life of Thanh My Trung revolved around the daily hot meal of 
the Marines.  Somehow the Marines never ate quite all their food.  There was 
always a little left for the children. At first, chow call looked like a 
circus.  The Marines would finish eating, then line up at the concertina wire 
to watch the fun.  Amidst the cheers of the Marines, the cooks and the company 
gunnery sergeant would charge forth to set up a chow line.  Gunnery Sergeant 
Jack R. Montera would bellow and rant and rave for order in his best Bronx 
manner.  The children would giggle and swarm around him, intent only on the 
food. The cooks would try to dole out equal helpings to all.  But so many 
small hands holding palm leaves would thrust forward that soon the entire 
affair resembled a mob scene from a silent movie comedy.  Cooper would laugh, 
the Marines and the villagers would howl, the cooks would shout, the gunny 
would swear, and the children would giggle and eat.

     For a week, the gunny fought his private war.  "I've trained plenty of 
Marines," he would growl, "and these little imps will square away." In the end 
he was successful and the Vietnamese


                                     79




 
chow line succumbed to Marine discipline.  The children got into line under 
the watchful eyes of their parents.  But the Marines were vaguely 
disappointed; they had enjoyed the entertainment.

     The gunny had an easier time enforcing police calls.  When the children 
saw the Marines picking up each scrap of paper and empty tin cans, they too 
joined in.  The project spread from the perimeter to the adjoining trails, 
which were widened and swept clean.  Not to be outdone, the villagers spruced 
up their backyards, picking them clean of twigs and leaves.

     The Vietnamese Popular Forces ventured farther and farther from their 
fortified hill.  For the first time, they came forth at night.  Their 
commander checked with Cooper each day and gradually assumed some 
responsibility for patrols and ambushes. His soldiers gained confidence and 
visited freely around the village.

     The hamlet chief moved from the ARVN fort back into his own home.  He 
arrived each day at the Marines' "social" meal, accompanied by the village 
elders.  With dignity and just a touch of aloofness, they would pass through 
the crowd of villagers on the outside of the barbed wire and enter the chow 
line with the Marines.  Occasionally, they would bring guests and make a great 
show of standing beside Cooper.  The Marine company commander would respond by 
offering each a cigar and bending down to light it.  The council of elders 
regained prestige in the hamlet of Thanh My Trung.

     Cooperation followed friendship.  The hamlet chief showed the Marines the 
favorite ambush and hiding places of the Viet Cong.  One day he came running 
to Cooper, followed by a trembling Viet farmer.  Through Piatetsky's patient 
questioning, Cooper learned that a squad of Viet Cong had captured the farmer 
while he was fishing at a nearby stream.  They had taken him into the 
mountains and questioned him intensively about the Marines: how many they 
were, what they were doing in the hamlet, how long they intended to stay.  
They said they would kill him if he told the Marines.  Once freed, he went to 
the hamlet chief and asked to talk with the Marine commander.

     The farmer pointed to a rock outcropping on a mountain slope two miles 
from the hamlet.  He said he was held there overnight.  Cooper knew the enemy 
had probably left the area hours earlier.  But it was obvious these Vietnamese 
needed assurance of Marine protection and power.

     He took the farmer and the hamlet chief to his mortar emplacement.  He 
asked the farmer to point to the rocks.  The farmer did so.  Two 81mm mortars 
and a 106mm recoilless rifle fired at the target and the rocks were splintered 
apart.  The farmer and the hamlet chief looked at each other and grinned.


                                     80



                                

     Gunnery Sergeant Jack Montera of E/2/5 shepherds his chow line of
     Vietnamese children from Thanh My Trung village. (Author's photo.)


                                      80a




 
Cooper then brought the two Vietnamese to a nearby hillside where one of his 
platoons was firing its biweekly familiarization course.  From the array of 
weapons, he chose a 12-gauge shotgun and a LAAW and handed them to his guests 
to fire. When the Vietnamese later returned to their hamlet, they walked, not 
like timid, frightened men, but with distinct swaggers.

     Cooper didn't trust easily.  He decided to see if the villagers were 
playing a two-sided game.  Deliberately, he spread a false rumor that the 
Marines were leaving the next day.  The next morning a Marine walking alone 
down the main trail was stopped by two girls who warned him that it was not 
safe because the VC were coming.  Other Marines strolling in pairs or alone 
were given similar warnings.  Cooper was satisfied.  He had found out two 
things.  The Viet Cong still had informers within the hamlet.  But the loyalty 
of most villagers lay with the Marines.

     Less than a month after their arrival, the Marines did leave to go on an 
operation.  They left the marks of their influence behind in the village and 
especially in the hamlet. The Vietnamese had reopened two schools and a 
pagoda.  They were washing.  Their medical ills had been treated.  A 
Vietnamese public health nurse and two school teachers had come to the 
village.  The hamlet and village chiefs had returned.  The Popular Forces were 
acting more like disciplined troops.

     What would happen in the future, Cooper was not about to guess.  But he 
was proud of what his Marines had done.  They had worked and rebuilt the life 
of a hamlet.  They had not thought in those terms precisely when they came.  
But by protecting the hamlet and patrolling the village, by example and 
discipline, by generosity and spirit, they had infused the will and desire for 
progress into a hamlet and had protected a village.  Not much when compared to 
the millions of Vietnamese under VC control, perhaps, but more meaningful than 
sitting on a hill.


                                      81



                            A HOT WALK IN THE SUN


           Preface:  On 6 August 1966, the 5th Marines launched 
        Operation COLORADO, landing in company strength at several 
        sites deep in Viet Cong territory, some 12 miles northwest 
        of Chulai.  Although thousands of the enemy were supposedly 
        in the area, the companies initially met little resistance. 
        Their search and destroy missions became what the infantrymen 
        have termed "walks in the sun." The author describes here two 
        such walks by two units he knew well and worked with for several
        weeks.


     The men of Hotel Company, 2/5, moved down the road in helmets and flak 
jackets, weighted with ammunition and gear. They had expected a fight in this 
flat, populated area, so long held by the Viet Cong.  They found nothing but 
deserted houses and warning signs scrawled on boards which formed arch-ways 
above the main trail.  "Marines--do not use noxious chemicals." "Death follows 
you here every step of the way." "Stop killing defenseless women and innocent 
children--protest the war."  "250 members of the French Expeditionary Force 
are buried here--do not join them."

     The Viet Cong had fled before the waves of helicopters had landed.  The 
villagers were hiding in small caves near their homes.  The Marines searched 
some of them.  Inside one they found buried a rusty shotgun and a new carbine 
with hundreds of cartridges.  From another they dragged two Viet Cong.  One 
cowered and meekly obeyed the orders of his captors.  The other, a well built 
Vietnamese in his thirties, scowled and showed no fear.  The Marines would 
send them to the interrogator translator team at division headquarters when 
they returned to base.

     They did not have time to search all the caves, so they poked only into 
those they most suspected.  A corporal heard whispering from the entrance to 
one large cave and Marines were stationed at both exits.  The Vietnamese 
interpreter with the rifle company yelled into the cave.  No response.  A 
Marine threw in a smoke grenade.  A dozen women and children slowly came out.  
They looked fearfully at the grim faces of the Marines.  The Marines ignored 
them.  The interpreter pushed them to one side.

     "Is that all?" the company gunnery sergeant, Donald Constande, asked.


                                     82




 
     "No, here come the men," a corporal answered.

     Two men came out.  One walked directly to the waiting group of women.  
The other looked at the Marines, then at the interpreter, stopped, turned, and 
reentered the cave.  Seconds later, he ran out, moving with the speed of a 
sprinter.  He was by the infantrymen and into the jungle before anyone 
reacted.

     Then two automatic rifles were fired at the same time. Two more rifles 
joined in.  The firing lasted less than 10 seconds.  An acrid cloud of cordite 
hung in the humid air in front of the cave.  Bushes and small banana trees in 
front of the Marines were shredded.

     Two Marines advanced forward.  They passed from sight in the green 
foliage and reappeared shortly.

     "He's dead," one said.

     "Nothing on him.  No ID card, no papers, no nothing," the other added.

     "Stupid trick he pulled, huh?"

     "What do you mean--stupid?" yelled the gunnery sergeant. "You're the ones 
that are stupid.  He almost made it."

     "Well hell, gunny," a Marine replied, "I've never seen a VC that close 
before.  I didn't think he'd try to get a hat."

     "Look, you just stop thinking, O.K.?" the gunny said.

     The interpreter questioned the villagers.  No, there were no VC in the 
village.  They had all gone.  Yes, the dead man was a VC but he thought he 
would be safe until he saw the interpreter.  No, they didn't know who he was.

     The column moved slowly forward.  The villagers went back toward their 
houses.  Nobody approached the body.

     From another cave came noises.

     "Now don't get trigger-happy," the gunny said, "it's probably only 
villagers.  Just be careful.  Is that clear?"

     The people in the cave refused to come out.  The interpreter screamed at 
them.  They came out.

     "Check it."

     "O.K., gunny," a small Marine answered.


                                     83



     The Marine stripped to the waist and crawled into the mouth of the cave, 
grasping a flashlight in one hand and a .45 caliber pistol in the other.  The 
Marines waiting heard him swear and shout angrily.  There were sounds of a 
scuffle and he reemerged, pulling a Vietnamese by the hair.

     It was an attractive young girl, sopping wet and trembling.

     "She was lying in a pool of water with only her head showing," the small 
Marine said.  "She didn't hardly want to come out."

     Her white blouse was rust colored on one side.

     "Check her out, doc."

     The corpsman examined and treated the wounds.

     "Just light shrapnel.  No big thing."

     "Skipper says we're behind schedule and holding up the whole show, 
sergeant."

     "Move it out," Staff Sergeant John Wysomirski shouted to his platoon.

     The fire team at point did not go thirty meters before firing broke out 
on the left flank.  A Marine had seen six Viet Cong carrying rifles run across 
a rice paddy.  He fired, felling one of the enemy.  Two other Viet Cong had 
dragged the body into the concealment of a tree line.

     "Let's go after them, Sergeant Ski," the Marine shouted. "I could follow 
their trail easy."

     "Skipper says no time," the sergeant replied.  "We have to find and 
secure a landing zone.  Choppers due in an hour."

     The Marines continued along the trail.  It was noon and the sun was 
burning.  There was no breeze.  The helmets and the flak jackets and the heavy 
packs pushed down the Marines. The rifle barrels were too hot to touch.  
Canteens were emptied. Some men stopped sweating.  Some became dizzy and 
chilled. Five men fell out.

     Their squad leaders were furious with them.  The NCOs had strongly 
advised their men to drink as much water as they could, especially the day and 
night before leaving on the operation.  During each break on the march, the 
corpsmen had reminded the men to take salt pills.  Those who wilted under the 
strong sun had swallowed few salt pills.  Not one of them had drunk much water 
the previous day.  They had to be carried to a landing zone.  The company lost 
over an hour attending to the


                                     84




 
heat cases--time which could have been spent trailing the Viet Cong or 
conducting a more thorough search.

     A ploughed-over field was selected for a landing zone and a search of the 
hut next to the field uncovered some war supplies--a bunch of khaki uniforms, 
a large medicine kit, and documents written in Vietnamese and Russian.  The 
hut was burned and the supplies kept for processing by division intelligence.

     The helicopters came and flew the company to another objective.  The 
Marines landed in wet rice paddies and slogged toward the tree lines 
complaining of their fate.  They encountered no enemy fire.

     The company set out to find a defensive position large enough to hold the 
entire battalion.  The Marines were entering a hamlet with a dozen houses when 
it began to rain.  The men were elated.  They stood dripping in the downpour 
and grinned. They emptied the iodine-treated water from their canteens and 
refilled them with rain water.  They drank greedily.

     The rain continued.  A cool wind was blowing strongly and the men became 
chilled.  The company commander, Captain Richard Hughes, told them to rent 
shelter in the village for the night.

     "Just be grateful it ain't snowing," the gunny said.

     A young man approached Hughes and through the interpreter he told his 
story.  He said the VC controlled the valley.  He had escaped from their 
forced labor camp in the hills.  He wished to go with the Marines when they 
left, and take his family with him.  The company commander agreed.

     In late afternoon, the other companies arrived and Lieutenant Colonel 
Walter Moore had his men dig in for the night.  Hughes asked him if they might 
call a helicopter in the morning to take out a few refugees."

     "Sure," said the colonel, "we'll be glad to help.  Anyone else, or just 
his family?"

     Hughes said he didn't know the exact number but that the man had 
mentioned a few friends might want to go along.

     The next day, 697 refugees were evacuated.  "That guy," one Marines said, 
"was the greatest con artist since W. C. Fields." The Marines were stunned by 
the number of refugees and their determination to leave.

     They came by family groups, each person carrying clumsy bundles.  Some 
took pigs and chickens, others dogs.  They asked the Marines to shoot their 
water buffalo and burn their homes.  They said they wanted to leave nothing 
for the Viet Cong.


                                     85



     The Marines had no idea where so many people had come from, let alone how 
they had learned the Marines would help them.

     The battalion commander requested an emergency rerouting of all available 
helicopters to transport the Vietnamese.  All day the pilots flew the 
villagers from the valley to a refugee camp at Tam Ky, near the coast.

     Lieutenant Colonel Moore said: "It was the damndest thing I ever saw.  We 
came to fight VC and ended up playing Santa Claus.  But you know something?  
We felt pretty good about it."

     The Vietnamese straggled into the Marine perimeter from the east and 
west.  Caught in the press of milling crowds and frightened by the racket of 
the helicopters, many children cowered and hung back.  Pigs and chickens broke 
loose from their bonds and ran aimlessly around the landing zone.

     The bearded infantrymen in soggy clothes took a proprietary interest in 
the Vietnamese.  Those not assigned to security on the perimeter drifted 
toward the main trail.  They stood in small groups, leaning on their rifles 
and watching the exodus. They drifted toward the landing zone and started 
helping the Vietnamese.  They performed menial and kindly acts with detached 
and bored expressions on their faces, anxious not to attract the attention and 
jibes of their buddies.

     Trying to cross the sopping rice paddies, an old lady floundered to a 
halt.  Her body sagged and she dropped her meager bundle into the water.  A 
large Marine said, "Ah, what the hell," and splashed into the paddy.  He 
brusquely picked up the old woman and her bundle and strode toward a 
helicopter.  Other Marines hooted and yelled at him--but without rancor. He 
just grinned and strode on.

     A group of Vietnamese shuffled down the trail, weaving and stumbling as 
they carried an old man on a wooden door. They stopped to rest--the old man 
groaned and whimpered in a wheezing voice.  Two Marines walked forward, picked 
up the litter, and carried the man to the landing zone.

     One woman left the huddle of villagers and walked back down the trail.  
"Where the hell is she going?" shouted the battalion intelligence officer, 
Captain Richard Hemenez.  "Kim, find out why she's leaving." The interpreter 
stopped the woman and questioned her.  She replied in a shrill and angry 
voice. "She says her pig is not here, so she not go," the interpreter said, 
after five minutes of excited talk.

     "Oh, for God's sake, we can't have a refugee from the refugee program.  
Big Moo Moo would chew my butt royally.  Pass


                                     86




 
                                


     Some of the hundreds of civilian refugees evacuated by helicopter
     from VC territory during Operation COLORADO are watched by Marines
     of 2/5.  (USMC A369394)


                                     86a



the word to spread out and find a runaway pig."

     Laughing, the Marines shouted the order down the lines. Minutes later, 
the unmistakable squeal of a frightened pig was heard over the clatter of the 
helicopters.  A Marine walked along a paddy dike toward the complaining woman 
and the S-2 officer.  In his right hand he carried his rifle; in his left hand 
he grasped a small screaming pig by its rear legs.  The woman greeted the pig 
as if it were her child and returned to the group of refugees.  The S-2 
officer shook his head and walked away.

     By late afternoon, the last Vietnamese family was evacuated. Hotel 
Company flew to another objective.

     Three days later, Gunnery Sergeant Constande and Staff Sergeant 
Wysomirski were killed in action.

                             - - - - - - - - - -

     That same day (7 August 1966), the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines 
dropped by helicopters into assigned objectives. Their area of operations lay 
some 3,000 meters to the east of the valley where the 2d Battalion was 
evacuating refugees.  Charlie Company was helilifted into a small valley hit 
the previous night by a B-52 strike.

     As usual, the zone was hit by air and artillery strikes before the 
160-man company landed.  The helicopters whirled down and the Marines jumped 
into the waist-deep rice paddies and waded toward the surrounding tree lines, 
staying in their heliteams.  Once out of the paddies, the platoon sergeants 
sorted out their respective platoons, while the platoon commanders oriented 
themselves on their maps, not an easy process with a scale of 1:50,000.  The 
company was twisted around the paddies in a jagged circle.

     The Marines had set in a tight defensive perimeter in less than three 
minutes.  The procedure they followed was well established; they had done it 
dozens of times, and, like most other times, this time they had encountered no 
resistance.

     "Hell," growled one Marine, "it's just going to be another hot walk in 
the sun."

     First Lieutenant Marshall (Buck) Darling studied his map carefully.  
Satisfied he had located his position exactly, he reported by radio to 
battalion headquarters and called a meeting of his platoon commanders.  The 
company would sweep east up the mile-long valley with a platoon on either side 
of the main trail and one in reserve.  He gave the first platoon two scout dog 
teams and kept an engineer attachment with company headquarters.


                                     87




 
     Before the company could move, the engineers had to destroy two 
boobytraps on the trail at the edge of the landing zone.  Both traps had been 
plainly marked to warn the villagers and the markers (three bamboo poles 
placed around the mines in a triangular fashion) were still in place when the 
Marines arrived.  One was an explosive charge buried under a pile of loose 
earth--the other a scooped-out section of the trail studded with bamboo stakes 
and cleverly camouflaged.  With demolitions, the engineers quickly disposed of 
both obstacles.

     First Lieutenant Arthur Blades attached a scout dog and handler team to 
both his first and second squads.  The platoon moved forward to search the 
scattered huts.  The area was poor. Most dwellings were small, one room huts 
with hard-dirt floors, mud and bamboo walls, and straw roofs.  Nearly all 
contained deep bomb shelters.  From past experience, the Marines knew chances 
were slight that enemy soldiers would hide in those holes.  When Marines were 
on large offensive operations, the VC, unless cornered, fled rather than 
fought.  Only stragglers would go to ground in exposed areas.  The German 
Shepherd dogs enabled the Marines to move swiftly.  The villagers rarely 
emerged from their hiding places when the Marines or even the interpreter 
yelled at them.  But one low growl worked wonders. Cave after cave was emptied 
in seconds.  Still the search yielded nothing--only frightened women and 
children.

     Blades and his platoon were disappointed.  They were spoiling for a fight 
and thoroughly exasperated with the situation.  Nevertheless, the platoon 
commander did not allow his private opinions to influence his tactical 
decisions. Throughout the long and empty afternoon he yelled at his squad 
leaders to keep contact with each other, scolded his troops for bunching up, 
and insisted his flankers beat through the undergrowth and not drift into a 
single column.  The sun sapped the Marines and gradually the pace slackened.  
After a few hours the dogs showed signs of fatigue and overheating.  Blades 
prodded his men to stay alert.  To an observer, he pointed out with particular 
pride the leadership his squad leaders were showing.

     "Look at them," he said, "two are lance corporals and one just made 
corporal.  But I wouldn't want anybody else.  They know their people and work 
hard.  They're real hardnoses."

     In the third hour of the search, the Marines found a house hidden in a 
tree grove which contained VC khaki uniforms, medical supplies, and U.S. water 
cans.  The material judged of intelligence value was saved; the rest, as well 
as the house, was burned.

     In the late afternoon, Darling reported to battalion that the valley 
contained no enemy force.  He requested a helicopter pickup.  Battalion 
concurred.


                                      88



     While waiting, the Marines sat down and cooked C-rations. Few felt hungry 
enough to eat hot canned meat under a hot sun. In small huddles, the 
Vietnamese children had edged forward to peep at the Marines.  A rifleman 
enticed one little boy to overcome his fear and venture forward to gulp a 
mouthful of food.  Other children followed suit, timidly at first, then with 
gathering confidence.  For the last hour the troops were in the valley, they 
played with and fed the children.

     The helicopters came in and the Marines walked out into the rice paddies 
to board them.

     "You know," Blades commented as he led his platoon to the landing zone, 
"I've been in this country for 30 days and I've never heard a shot fired in 
anger.  I'm beginning to wonder if there really is an enemy here at all."

     The children waved goodby shyly.  The adults stood and watched without 
expression or movement.  Charlie Company flew to another objective.

     Three days later, they found their fight, a savage, slugging encounter 
which made them wonder if they would ever again gripe about a lack of action.


                                      89




 
                          "GENERAL, WE KILLED THEM"


           Preface:  At dawn on 11 August 1966, the author arrived by
         helicopter in 1/5's perimeter, some 20 miles northwest of 
         Chulai and 6 miles west of Tam Ky, a district headquarters 
         near the South China Sea. On that perimeter 10 hours earlier, 
         the battalion had fought the only major battle of Operation 
         COLORADO.  The author was well acquainted with the officers 
         and men of the battalion and so, gathering in large groups, 
         they told him in detail what had occurred and pointed out 
         the exact positions they had held.  He wrote the somber 
         aftermath from personal observation.


                                       I

                         ENCOUNTER FOR ALPHA COMPANY

     After his companies, searching separately for the elusive enemy during 
the first few days of Operation COLORADO, had met no hard resistance, 
Lieutenant Colonel Hal L. Coffman had consolidated his 583-man battalion (1/5) 
and was sweeping toward the sea, some seven miles to the east.  For three 
consecutive days, the route of the battalion lay along a dirt road which wound 
through valleys out of the foothills of scrub-covered mountains and east 
across monotonous expanses of flat land stretching to the sea in an unbroken 
succession of rice paddies, tree lines, and hamlets.  The troops had uncovered 
little evidence to indicate the presence of a large enemy force, but each day 
it seemed they saw fewer villagers, while the intensity of sniper fire 
increased.

     On the morning of 10 August, the enemy snipers were unusually persistent.  
All three rifle companies--Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie--encountered small groups 
of snipers every few hundred meters along the route of march.  Enemy snipers 
in Vietnam are like hornets.  If ignored entirely, they can sting. But if 
reaction is swift and aggressive, they can be swatted aside.  Responding 
aggressively, the Marines poured out a large volume of fire each time they 
were fired upon.  The snipers, however, carefully kept their distance, rarely 
firing at ranges closer than 500 yards.  (The previous day a few North 
Vietnamese had waited until the Marine point squad was within 200 meters 
before firing.  Those enemy soldiers had been pinned down, enveloped, and 
dispatched.)


                                     90



                                


           SCHEMATIC SKETCH TO ACCOMPANY "GENERAL, WE KILLED THEM"


                                     90a




 
     Coffman and his company commanders did not like the situation; the troops 
were expending ammunition at a rapid rate with no telling effect upon the 
enemy.  Toward noon, they ordered the squad leaders to supervise very 
selective return of fire in order to conserve rounds.  Marching under a clear 
sky and searing sun, Coffman knew the helicopters could resupply his battalion 
but disliked making that request if not solidly engaged.

     At approximately 1100, the battalion arrived at the hamlet of Ky Phu.  
Coffman called a halt and the men settled down in what shade they could find 
and began opening C rations.  Shortly thereafter, word was received for 1/5 to 
remain in position pending the arrival of the regimental commander, Colonel 
Charles A. Widdecke.

     After a conference with Colonel Widdecke, Coffman issued the order to 
push forward again.  At 1400, the battalion resumed the march with the hamlet 
of Thon Bay as its objective. All indications were that the battalion would 
reach Thon Bay about 1600.  Coffman liked to allow himself ample time to set 
in before dark.  It took a few hours to tie in the lines of a battalion 
properly and on previous days he had allowed several hours for the task.

     As they had on previous days, the companies guided on the main road which 
led to the sea.  In front of the Marines lay acres of rice paddies gridded by 
thick tree lines and tangles of scrub brush, familiar enough landscapes.  
Groves of palm trees and patches of wooden huts dotted the roadside.  Storm 
clouds were billowing over the mountains to the west behind the Marines.

     Charlie and Alpha Companies, forming a dual point, struck off together, 
covering respectively the right and left flanks of the road.  Both companies 
spread out far across the paddies. In trace along the road followed the 
battalion command group, consisting of the 81mm mortar platoon, the battalion 
headquarters, the 106mm recoilless rifle platoon (without their antitank 
guns), the logistics support personnel, and others.  Bravo Company brought up 
the rear.  The battalion was thus spread in a wide "Y" formation, the stem 
anchored on the road and the prongs pushed well out in the paddies.

     Upon resuming a march, a battalion commander can generally expect a time 
lag of several minutes caused by a few false starts as squads, platoons, and 
companies jerk and bump along before sorting themselves out and hitting a 
smooth, steady pace. This did not happen on the afternoon of 10 August.  The 
battalion moved swiftly.  The platoons at point fanned out on both sides of 
the road.  Slogging through paddies and twisting through tree lines, they 
covered more than a mile in the first 20 minutes.  Rain was washing away their 
sweat and impeding their


                                     91



vision when they arrived at the outskirts of the tiny hamlet of Cam Khe at 
1510.  They noticed that the huts they passed were empty.  Nor were there any 
farmers working in the rice paddies. Giving cursory glances into dugout 
shelters and caves, the Marines saw that they were packed with villagers.

     Because of this fact, the men were alert and wary when they passed 
through and around the hamlet.  As the 2d Platoon, Alpha Company, pushed 
through the scrub growth on the left flank of the hamlet, the men saw to their 
front a group of about 30 enemy soldiers cutting across a paddy from left to 
right.  The platoon reacted instinctively.  The men did not wait to be told 
what to do.  Throwing their rifles to their shoulders, they immediately cut 
down on the enemy.  Their initial burst of fire was low, short, and furious.  
Caught in the open, moving awkwardly through the water and slime, the enemy 
could not escape.  Shooting from a distance of less than 150 yards, the 2d 
Platoon wiped them out in seconds.  Farther back in the column, men thought a 
squad was just returning fire on a sniper.  Although they did not yet know it, 
the battle which the Marines had sought was joined. The Marines had struck the 
first blow, and it had hurt.

     The North Vietnamese, however, counterpunched hard.  From a small 
hedgerow behind the fallen enemy, several semiautomatic weapons opened up and 
rounds cracked by high over the Marines' heads.  The troops were now keyed for 
battle.  Excited and stirred by their swift, sharp success, the platoon 
shifted its direction of advance and splashed into the paddy.  The volume of 
enemy fire increased and bullets spouted in the water around the Marines.  The 
platoon's momentum slowed as the Marines started flopping down into the water 
to avoid the fire.  But no one had yet been hit, and the platoon quickly built 
up a base of fire and continued the movement by short individual rushes.

     The company commander, Captain Jim Furleigh, came up, bringing with him 
the 1st Platoon.  That unit in turn rushed into the paddy on the left flank of 
the 2d Platoon.  The volume of enemy fire was swelling.  With 70 bulky, 
slow-moving targets to hit at close ranges, the enemy gunners improved their 
air as well.

     Almost in the same second, a man in each platoon was struck by machine 
gun bullets.  Other Marines stopped firing to help the wounded men or merely 
to look.  The rate of outgoing fire dropped appreciably.  Encouraged by this, 
the North Vietnamese redoubled their rate of fire.  No longer forced to duck 
low themselves, they aimed more carefully and bullets hit more Marines lying 
in the water.  The machine gun in the tree line in front of the 2d Platoon 
chattered insistently, traversing back and forth in low, sweeping bursts over 
the Marines' heads.  Two more Marines were hit.  The men ducked low and, not 
wishing to expose themselves, fired even less in return.  The attack had 
bogged down.


                                     92




 
     The 2d Platoon had advanced 40 meters across the paddy; the 1st Platoon 
not more than 20.  In the tree line 100 meters away, they could see the North 
Vietnamese moving into better firing positions, most wearing camouflaged 
helmets and some clad in flak vests.  The Marines could find no cover or 
concealment in the paddies and time was running against them.  The machine gun 
had them pinned; the rain and mud and their heavy gear prohibited a quick, 
wild, surging assault.  Furleigh, a sharp-eyed, quick-minded West Point 
graduate, assessed the situation.  As he saw it, there were two alternatives: 
to go forward or back. What he would not do was let the company stay where it 
was.  He thought if he urged the men, they would go forward by bounds again 
until they carried the enemy tree line.  But casualties from a frontal assault 
against the effective machine gun emplacement would be heavy.  Even as he 
pondered the dilemma, three more of his men were hit.  That clinched it for 
him.  He decided to pull back; at least that way he thought his people would 
escape the heavy fire and there would be time for the situation to clear and 
battalion to issue specific orders.

     What Furleigh did not realize at that particular moment was that heavy 
fighting was raging in half a dozen other places, including the battalion 
headquarters.  While Company A was attacking in the paddy, mortar shells had 
fallen along the road, just missing the battalion command group.  The 
headquarters element, quite distinguishable with its fence of radio antennas, 
had hastily sought the concealment of the bushes and houses to the left of the 
road.  The NCOs yelled at their sections to disperse yet stay close, and the 
radio operators tried to copy incoming messages and transmit at the same time.  
The officers were busy trying to pinpoint their position and decide on a 
course of action, when everyone was taken under small arms fire coming from 
all directions.  Reports filtered in by runner and radio that Alpha Company to 
the northeast was pinned down and withdrawing and that to the west, at the 
rear of the battalion, Bravo Company was battling.  To the east, on the right 
side of the road, Charlie Company reported it too was engaged.

     In that situation, the battalion commander could not determine precisely 
the size or the nature of the engagement.  No one could.  (It probably would 
have been of some solace to Coffman if he had known then, as he did later, 
that the enemy were also caught off balance by the sudden engagement.) The 
headquarters group was busy defending itself.  It was teeming rain in such 
heavy sheets that at times figures only yards away were blotted out.  The 
visibility ceiling for aircraft had dropped to 50 feet, so no jet or 
helicopter support was available.

     Coffman stayed calm.  His was a seasoned battalion which he had commanded 
for 12 months.  He knew his company commanders well.  Faced with a battle 
which denied tight central control, he let his junior officers direct the 
fighting while he concentrated on consolidating the battalion perimeter as a 
whole and shifting forces as the need arose.


                                     93



     The situation was terribly confused.  Although the battalion was on the 
defensive, the individual units were on the offensive.  Platoons from each 
company were attacking separate enemy fortified positions.  Caught in an 
ambush pushing at his left flank, Coffman wanted to draw the battalion in 
tight.  In attempting to consolidate, the companies had to fight through enemy 
groups.  To relieve pressure on units particularly hard pressed, Marines not 
personally under fire moved to envelop the flanks of the North Vietnamese.  
The extraction of wounded comrades from the fields of fire--a tradition more 
sacred than life--was accomplished best by destroying the North Vietnamese 
positions which covered the casualties.  So isolated were the fragments of the 
fight that each action is best described as it happened--as a separate event.  
Fitted together, these pieces form the total picture of a good, simple plan 
which was aggressively executed, with instances of brilliant tactical 
maneuvers occurring at crucial moments.

     By reason of extremity, Furleigh's Alpha Company played the key role in 
the fight during the initial hour.  From the very beginning, they were in the 
thick of it.  Private First Class Larry Baily, a mortarman assigned to company 
headquarters, had moved up with his company commander.  The way he described 
it: "The VC were everywhere.  They were in the banana trees; they were behind 
the hedgerows, in the trenches, behind the dikes, and in the rice paddies." 
Pulling back out of the paddy had not proved easy.  Several Marines had been 
wounded, and one more killed, bringing to a total of five the number of 
American dead in the paddy.  Displaying excellent fire discipline, the North 
Vietnamese singled out targets and concentrated a score of weapons on one man 
at a time.  That unified enemy fire altered the exposed positions of some 
Marines from dangerous to doomed. Those already rendered immobile by wounds 
were most vulnerable to sustained sniping.  These casualties (among them 
Baily) had to be immediately moved from the beaten zone of the bullets.

     It was an arduous movement.  No man could stand erect in that storm of 
steel and survive.  So the wounded were dragged along through the flooded 
paddies by their comrades, much like an exhausted swimmer is towed through the 
water by a lifeguard. Those not dragging or being dragged returned fire at the 
enemy. No one later felt that fire had inflicted more than one or two 
casualties on the enemy.  But it was delivered in unslacking volume and that 
disconcerted the enemy gunners and forced them to snapshoot hurriedly.  Had 
the platoons not reestablished a steady stream of return fire, it is doubtful 
they could have extricated themselves, keeping their squads and fire teams 
intact and taking their wounded with them.  By repeated exhortations, curses, 
and orders, Furleigh provided the guidance necessary to steady the men and 
prevent any slackening of fire in the moments of confusion.


                                     94




 
     Once the two platoons had reached the hedgerow, they spread out to form a 
horseshoe perimeter with the 1st Platoon to the left of the 2d Platoon.  The 
open end of the horseshoe faced southwest (toward the battalion command 
group), and the closed end faced the enemy to the north.  Furleigh tried to 
call artillery fire down on the enemy.  In the full fury of the 
thunder-and-lightning storm, the adjusting rounds could not be seen or heard.  
Nor did anyone in Alpha Company have a clear idea where the front lines of the 
other companies were.  For fear of hitting friendly troops, Furleigh cancelled 
the mission after the first adjusting rounds had gone astray.

     Conspicuously absent from the battle at this crescendo was the mighty 
fire power of supporting weapons, proclaimed by some critics as the saving 
factor for Americans in encounters with the enemy.  The North Vietnamese had 
numerical and fire superiority.  Initially, it was they who freely employed 
supporting arms, namely mortars and recoilless rifles.  What had developed for 
Alpha Company--and for the battalion--was a test of its riflemen.

     They responded magnificently.  Once tied in, the two platoons of Alpha 
Company needed no urging to keep fire on the enemy.  At first there was an 
abundance of targets to shoot at, since the North Vietnamese kept leaping up 
and darting about from position to position.  The Marines, lying prone and 
partially concealed in the undergrowth, put out a withering fire. They could 
see enemy soldiers, when hit, jerk, spin, and fall. The men shouted back and 
forth, identifying targets and exclaiming at their hits.  They were getting 
back for their frustration in the paddy.

     Losing in a contest of aimed marksman ship, the North Vietnamese pulled a 
60mm mortar into plain view and aimed it at the opposite hedgerow.  While they 
were popping shells down the tube, the Marines who could see the weapon were 
screaming: "Give us a couple of LAAWs--LAAWs up!" Several of the short 
fiberglass tubes were passed forward, thrown up from man to man. Some, after 
their long immersion in the water, failed to function.  But others did and a 
direct hit was scored on the mortar.

     While their attention was concentrated to the front, the 2d Platoon came 
under heavy fire from the right.  So low and steady were the bursts from the 
automatic weapons that the platoon was unable to move against them.  When the 
bullets came tearing in, they carried with them the sound of the weapon. Had 
the fire come from across the paddy, the rounds would have passed before the 
weapon could be heard firing.  Thus, Furleigh judged there was a dug-in force 
within the hedgerow not over 60 meters from his right flank.  He called 
battalion and asked that Charlie Company be committed to attack along his 
right flank.  Coffman concurred and ordered Lieutenant Buck Darling to the 
assault.


                                     95



     Struck to earth any time they stood up, the North Vietnamese opposite 
Furleigh had ceased their jack-in-the-box tactics and were staying low.  The 
machine gun which had stopped the company cold in the first attack swept wide 
steel swaths over the Marines' heads.  Attempts to knock out the gun had been 
unsuccessful and had cost the company lives.

     Lance Corporal R. P. Donathan had been the first to try. Donathan was 
lying near Furleigh when the machine gun first opened up and killed some 
Marines.  Known throughout the battalion for his aggressive actions in fire 
fights, he was not cowed by the near presence of death.  He asked Furleigh if 
he could work his way around the right flank "to get the gun." Furleigh told 
him to go ahead and he had set off.  Several other Marines then just got up 
and followed him.  He moved rapidly up a trail on the right of the hedgerow, 
his swift foray catching some enemy soldiers by surprise.  These his small 
band cut down but the sound of the firing alerted the machine gun crew.  The 
gun swung towards them.  Caught in the open, the raiding party was at the 
mercy of the enemy.  Behind Donathan, a Marine went down.  The men on the 
lines heard Donathan shout, "Corpsman!"

     Hospitalman 3d Class T. C. Long hurried forward.  He found the wounded 
man lying on the trail in front of the hedgerow.  While he was bandaging the 
man, he heard from up the trail, Donathan shout again, "Corpsman!" Long left 
the first casualty, having assured him he would return, and ran on.  Several 
yards farther, he came across another Marine, hit in the leg.  The casualty 
told him Donathan had gone on alone.  Long went forward to look for him.

     Both men displayed singular fortitude and determination. To go forward 
alone against the enemy who has struck down all others--that takes rare 
courage.  A deliberate, conscious act of the will was made by each man when he 
went on alone, knowing he did not have to do so.  Donathan went forward, 
driven by his determination to eliminate the machine gun nest.  Long went 
forward, sensing Donathan might need him.

     He worked his way carefully, bent over to present a smaller target.  
Occasional clusters of bullets whizzed past him.  He saw a pack lying near 
some bushes and identified it as Donathan's.  He dropped his own pack beside 
it and continued on, armed with a pistol and clutching his medical kit.  A few 
yards farther on, he saw an M14 rifle and a bandolier of ammunition lying on 
the trail.  He knew Donathan could not be far away.  He looked into the bushes 
growing on the side of a bank next to the trail.

     There was Donathan, wounded but still conscious.  Long slipped down to 
him and began dressing the wound.  He had almost finished the task when he was 
hit.  He cried out and pitched over Donathan.  Donathan sat up and reached for 
him.


                                     96




 
                               

         SCHEMATIC SKETCH TO ACCOMPANY "ENCOUNTER FOR ALPHA COMPANY"


                                      96a



     "Where you hit, T. C.?", he asked.

     "Back of the knee," Long replied, "the right one.  Went right 
through--maybe shattered."

     Despite his own wounds, Donathan managed to inject Long with morphine.  
He was trying to bandage the knee when two bullets tore into his back.  He 
fell on top of Long, conscious but unable to move.  Pinned by Donathan's 
weight and weak from the morphine and his wound, Long could not wiggle free.  
Lying in each other's arms, they talked back and forth and tried to comfort 
one another.  It was mostly just idle talk, like many previous chatters they 
had in rear areas.  After a while Donathan's voice just trailed off.  Death 
claimed him quietly.

     Long lay in the mud under the body with the rain pelting his face.  
Despite the morphine, he felt a terrible stinging in the back of his right 
knee.  Time passed.  But no one came.

     It was not that they didn't try to find him.  Although the trail was 
raked by fire, Marines crawled out by ones and twos from the hedgerow to pull 
back the others who had accompanied Donathan.  There were five bodies sprawled 
in plain view of the enemy.  Four were retrieved by Marines who crept through 
the bushes to the edge of the trail, then reached out and pulled the wounded 
men back into the concealment of the hedgerow.  The fifth casualty, Sergeant 
Baker, lay in the corner of a rice paddy.  Each time a Marine left the 
undergrowth to edge toward him, a fusillade of shots would force him back.  
Finally, Private First Class Robert English, a man light on his feet and agile 
in his movements, sprinted from the hedgerow, grabbed Baker, and ploughed back 
into the brush before the North Vietnamese found the range.

     Furleigh then had his platoons intact and accounted for--excepting Long 
and Donathan.  Private First Class Bielecki, the company radioman who had 
formerly been with the 3d Platoon, went off to look for them--a lone man in 
search of two lost friends.  He found their packs, and the rifle and 
ammunition. He must have stood within 20 feet of them when he retrieved the 
rifle--but he did not see or hear them.  He looked down into the bottom of the 
ditch--he might have looked right over them--but they were shielded from his 
view.  In scrambling back to the lines, Bielecki became fatigued lugging the 
packs and rifle, plus his own rifle.  His movements were awkward.  
Nevertheless, he struggled on until it suddenly occurred to him that salvaging 
nonessential gear under heavy fire really was not necessary or wise.  He threw 
away the packs.  Carrying two rifles, he entered the lines and reported to his 
company commander.

     From Bielecki's report, Furleigh guessed that both Donathan and Long had 
been killed and their bodies dragged, away by the North Vietnamese.  The 
machine gun was still firing whenever a


                                     97




 
Marine exposed himself.  But the rain and wind bad slackened and two armed 
Hueys whirled over the battlefield.  So entangled were the battle lines that 
neither Furleigh nor the other company commanders were able to direct the 
pilots on targets. The North Vietnamese inadvertently solved the problem by 
firing at the helicopters, the troublesome machine gun 150 yards to Furleigh's 
front being one of the first enemy weapons to do so. The Hueys responded 
viciously, diving to pump hundreds of rounds into the tree line, turning low 
and tightly, and then raking the area from the opposite direction.  Incoming 
fire on Alpha Company dropped abruptly as the enemy ducked into holes.  
Furleigh took full advantage of the respite to move his wounded to the 
battalion aid station located to his rear.

     With Charlie Company driving on the right and Alpha Company holding 
steady to the front, the North Vietnamese began pulling their forces westward 
(to the left) in an attempt to outflank Furleigh and drive toward the 
battalion command group.  The men of Alpha's 1st Platoon were becoming worried 
about their left flank, having seen several enemy scurrying in that direction 
behind the paddy dikes.  Furleigh radioed to the 3d Platoon, which had been in 
the rear near the battalion command group skirmishing with snipers.  He told 
the acting platoon commander, Staff Sergeant Albert J. Ellis, to bring the 
platoon up and refuse the left flank of the 1st Platoon.

     The 37 men of the platoon moved forward to the north edge of the 
hedgerow.  They were immediately engaged by the enemy, who were running left 
along a scrub-covered paddy dike 100 meters to their front.  The volume of 
fire was intense, preventing the Marines from slipping farther right to tie in 
with Furleigh's group.  Guided by the experience of combat, the platoon 
members fanned out and flopped down to form a semi-circular perimeter.  They 
were not in visible contact with the 1st Platoon but could hear the sounds of 
American weapons about 60 meters to their right.  To their front and left were 
the enemy.  The 3d Platoon's fight was the Marine rifleman's dream: an 
engagement in which the enemy clearly showed themselves and tried to sweep the 
field by superior marksmanship.  The 3d Platoon had waited long for the enemy 
to make the mistake of choosing to stand and fight.  (See "No Cigar.")

     With dozens of visible targets, the platoon at first ignored the basics 
of fire discipline and everybody just blazed away.  The impact of the heavy 
7.62mm bullets knocked some of the enemy completely off the dike and sent them 
spinning and thrashing into the paddy.  The noise was deafening.  The platoon 
commander, Sergeant Ellis, was furious.  His men simply didn't have enough 
cartridges to expend them at a fast rate, and he doubted they would receive a 
resupply while the wind, rain, and lightning continued.  Ellis almost went 
hoarse shouting, "Knock it off! Knock it off!  We don't have enough ammo.  You 
squad leaders get on your people!" Slowly the volume of outgoing fire dropped.


                                     98



     The platoon settled into a routine set more by reflex action than design.  
Made acutely aware by Ellis that they might fight indefinitely, the men, only 
minutes before profligate, became absolutely miserly in their use of bullets. 
They would fire only when a distinct target appeared, and then generally but 
one round per man.

     The enemy, pushed to the earth, started building up their own base of 
fire.  Soon automatic weapons were rattling all along the dike, and Marines 
felt the sharp blast of 60mm mortar shells slamming into their perimeter.  The 
North Vietnamese had better cover and firing positions than the Marines.  They 
could steady their weapons on the mud dike and expose only their heads and 
shoulders while firing.  They had ample ammunition and outnumbered the Marines 
perhaps five to one.  One out of every four Marines was hit in the fight (but 
only two were killed).  The enemy used aimed fire, attested by the fact that 
every member of the platoon later recounted seeing the splashes of rounds 
hitting near him.

     Near misses to Marines were common, and one was even comical.  Lance 
Corporal Robert Matthews, a fire team leader in the 1st Squad, was firing from 
the prone position when a bullet hit his pack and knocked him sideways.  He 
lay quite still, feeling a hot, sticky substance spread over his back.  He 
yelled, "I've been hit!" Another rifleman crawled to him and gently slid off 
the damaged pack.  Then the rifleman laughed and said: "That's not blood." 
Matthews' 'wound' had been caused by the bursting of a can of shaving cream.

     Corporal Rodney Kohlbuss took several casualties in quick succession in 
his 2d Squad.  He ordered his men to pick up the wounded and move to more 
protected positions.  The men found the shift difficult, but so strong are the 
habits of training that they tried to take all their equipment with them.  
Kohlbuss yelled to them to drop the excess gear and move.  This they did, 
while the other two squads provided covering fires.

     In addition to those killed or wounded in action, Ellis had one man, 
Private First Class George Fudge, missing from the platoon during the first 
hour.  When the fight first began, Fudge was walking well ahead of his platoon 
to keep contact with the 1st Platoon to their front.  In the initial burst of 
firing, he thought he heard a strange sounding machine gun to his right front.  
The 1st Platoon seemed not to hear it, for they veered toward the swelling 
sounds of the fight to the left.  Still thinking the point was just brushing 
off snipers, Fudge was reluctant to alert the 3d Platoon by voicing his 
suspicions.  He decided instead to investigate alone the noise he had heard. 
Avoiding the main trail, he cut between two huts, and proceeded to pick his 
way carefully through a thin screen of underbrush. When he was abreast of the 
back yard of another house, he stopped to look and listen.  He flicked an 
indifferent glance


                                     99




 
at the yard, studded with stumpy banana trees, and was about to proceed when 
he looked again in disbelief.  The trees were walking.  Fudge was not 
inexperienced.  A trained sniper, he had spotted and shot several 
well-camouflaged Viet Cong in previous battles.  But never had he seen such 
perfect concealment. Had the North Vietnamese not moved, he would have walked 
right past them and probably been shot in the back.

     With their backs toward him, the North Vietnamese were clustered around a 
machine gun set up on a paddy dike.  Fudge did not hesitate.  It never 
occurred to him to go back and get help.  Standing 50 meters from the North 
Vietnamese, he raised his rifle to his shoulder, sighted in carefully, and 
fired twice. Two of the enemy fell--the others, obviously stunned, turned and 
just gaped at Fudge.  He fired two more times and two more enemy soldiers went 
down.  Before he could fire again, the fifth enemy soldier reacted like a 
stuntman in a war movie.  Pushing off from his heels, he flipped backwards 
over the dike in a somersault and came up blazing away with a submachine gun.  
That alerted other North Vietnamese that there was an enemy in the midst of 
their positions.

     Bullets whipped by Fudge from all directions.  He fell flat and lay 
perfectly still for a moment.  He was startled by the savage, if belated, 
onslaught and angered that he had missed a perfect score.  The unmanned 
machine gun attracted his attention next.  He threw a grenade and it landed 
squarely on target.  Satisfied with himself on that account, he crawled back 
toward his platoon, belatedly aware that the company had engaged more than a 
few snipers.

     En route, he bumped into a party of men from the 1st Platoon moving the 
wounded to the rear.  He joined them to help carry the poncho litters.  He 
made several round trips, adding to his tally when an enemy soldier stepped 
out from behind a bush 150 meters away.  Fudge dropped him with one round.

     When Fudge finally rejoined the 3d Platoon, Ellis was so glad to see the 
deadly sharpshooter that he didn't even chew him out for being gone so long.  
He just sent Fudge into the fray and told him to get busy.  Fudge did not 
disappoint his platoon commander.  Before dark, his rifle brought down five 
more enemy.

     The platoon was armed with LAAWs, grenade launchers, machine guns, and 
rifles.  The men who had LAAWs and M79s engaged the fortified positions from 
which the enemy were laying down a web of cross fires.  Lance Corporal Robert 
Goodner proved most effective with the LAAWs.  With one shot he blasted an 
automatic weapons emplacement 150 meters away.  The back-blast from the 
recoilless weapon whipped up a gust of spray which marked his position, and, 
under a hail of bullets, he half-crawled, half-swam away.


                                     100



     Others had noted his success and he was asked to try for another gun 
which had a group of Marines pinned.  Goodner wormed his way to a vantage 
point, waited until the gun fired, and sighted in.  The range this time was 
250 meters.  The rocket hit the target squarely and pieces of the gun flew 
into the air.

     To conserve ammunition, the machine gunners kept their bursts extremely 
short, but even so, with targets plentiful, the gun barrels were soon 
steaming.  Having hastily set up, the gunners found that their fields of fire 
were extremely limited. Attempts to shift positions for delivery of enfilade 
fire were thwarted by the special attention given them by enemy gunners. The 
weapons squad leader, Lance Corporal Ronald Moreland, was one Marine who did 
not curse the rain; it kept his guns from overheating and malfunctioning.

     The performance of the riflemen was a study in marksmanship.  The leaders 
of the platoon had been known to walk the line in a fire fight urging the men 
to "hold them and squeeze them, hold steady and shoot low." The men had gotten 
over their initial desire to fire frantically and were putting out rounds one 
at a time, firing sparsely and carefully.  Ammunition had been replenished 
slightly by taking the bandoliers of the casualties and redistributing them to 
those still firing.  The Marines had a clear view of the dike.  At 100 yards, 
the North Vietnamese were in serious trouble dueling with riflemen trained to 
hit a 20-inch bullseye at 500 yards.

     Failing to break the Marine perimeter by frontal fire, the enemy again 
tried to shift their forces westward and turn the Marines' left flank.  
Corporal Carl Sorensen held that flank with his 3d Squad.  His men shouted to 
him that they could see large groups of the North Vietnamese crawling and 
darting to their left.  He passed the word to his platoon commander--Ellis 
told Furleigh, who in turn notified battalion.  Lieutenant Colonel Coffman 
called Bravo Company, already fighting their way forward, and told them to get 
a unit up on the double to tie in the left flank of the 3d Platoon, Alpha 
Company.

     Kohlbuss' squad exacted a terrible toll when the enemy lifted their base 
of fire and tried to slip past.  In moving, the enemy soldiers exposed part of 
their bodies over the top of the dike.  Every time an enemy raised up, the 
entire squad would fire together.  They developed a rhythm to their volleys. 
It was like knocking down ducks in a shooting gallery.  A figure would pop up 
behind the dike, a dozen rifles would crack, and the figure would pitch 
sideways and disappear from sight.

     But while the battle to the front was going well for the 3d Platoon, the 
pressure on their left flank was increasing. More and more enemy were coming 
from the northeast, trying to cut wide around the platoon.  The men of the 3d 
Squad estimated between 75 and 100 enemy soldiers were seeking to skirt around


                                     101




 
them.  The platoon did not have enough ammunition to beat off a determined 
attack by a group that size.  Ellis sent Sorenson to the left rear with 
instructions to find Bravo Company and guide forward a relief force.


                                      II

                             THE BULLS OF BRAVO

     Bravo was moving up, not without difficulty.  When the fight had first 
begun, the company was spread out far to the rear of the battalion command 
group.  The march order went: 1st Platoon, 2d Platoon, and 3d Platoon, with 
the 1st Platoon dispersed through both the paddies and the tree lines on the 
left flank.

     The 1st Platoon ran into trouble shortly after Alpha Company became 
engaged.  To their left flank, they saw about 40 of the enemy with bushes tied 
to their backs trotting north across a wide field seeking the concealment of a 
tree line.  The platoon fanned out and gave chase.  The 2d Squad surged ahead 
and swept through the same field the North Vietnamese had deserted.  The 1st 
and 3d Squads were slightly to the rear and keeping to the edge of the 
hedgerows.

     Twenty feet from the tree line, the 2d Squad was lashed by a blaze of 
automatic weapons fire.  Trapped in the open, the squad was hard hit and men 
began yelling for help.  Three of the nine men had been badly wounded and one 
killed.  The Marines who could still fire did so and the sound of their 
weapons brought help.

     The 2d Squad was lying flat in the grass and the other two squads, 
staying to the hedgerows to the rear, could not see them.  By this time they 
too were under fire and being kept busy.  But Sergeant Darwin R. Pilson, the 
right guide of the platoon, worked his way forward to the sound of the M14s. 
The 2d Squad had been expending rounds feverishly, trying to smother with fire 
an enemy machine gun and then move out of the open into the cover of the tree 
line.  The North Vietnamese, however, had returned round for round from a deep 
trench and the squad had made no progress.  When the Marines' fire became 
particularly intense, the machine gun would stop firing, only to begin a short 
time later from a different section of the trench.  The men shot several enemy 
who incautiously poked their heads through the underbrush but they could not 
knock out the gun, which was delivering fire not a foot over their heads.  
When Pilson reached them, Private First Class Eugene Calogne had just killed a 
sniper with his last bullet.

     Pilson dumped his ammunition on the ground beside them, told the squad 
leader, Corporal Nuncio, he would bring help, and crawled away.  He reached 
the company headquarters and


                                     102



reported to the company commander, Captain Sullivan, that the squad was pinned 
down and had taken several casualties.  He grabbed a grenade launcher and was 
about to set off again when Sullivan told him, "Slow up, I'll get you some 
help."

     Sullivan now had three distinct problems to solve.  In addition to the 2d 
Squad's predicament, he had just received word from the battalion commander to 
send men forward to block the left flank of Alpha Company which was in danger 
of being enveloped.  And the company command group itself was being subjected 
to intense fire from a village 500 yards to their left rear.

     The 1st Platoon was fighting on the flank and the 3d Platoon was guarding 
the rear, under fire but not pressed. That left the 2d Platoon to commit.  
Sullivan split the platoons sending the 2d and 3d Squads up the road to find 
and help Alpha Company, while Sergeant Ronald Lee Vogel took the 1st Squad and 
set out to relieve Nuncio's squad.

     Pilson had gone ahead, laden with ammunition and sporting for a fight.  
Marines engaged in a dozen places saw him go by, moving steadily into the 
thick of it, stopping only to fire or reload or throw a grenade.  Perhaps the 
gods of war favored the dauntless that day, since he never got scratched 
though men fell on both sides of him.  He reached the 2d Squad, distributed 
more ammunition, and joined the fray.

     Vogel's squad slugged its way forward.  The rain was falling in sheets 
and the North Vietnamese held many of the intermingled hedgerows.  It was 
impossible to identify a man at 70 yards.  Vogel lost a man before they had 
gone a hundred yards when a figure in utilities and a Marine helmet loomed up 
out of the dusk across a paddy.  The squad paid him no attention until he 
fired and killed a Marine and ducked to the undergrowth.  The slain man's 
friend, Lance Corporal Robert Monroe, jerked a grenade from his cartridge belt 
shouting, "I'm going to kill that ___________."  Vogel told him to keep low 
and stay in the hedgerow but Monroe, beside himself with fury, started to move 
into the open anyway.  Vogel reared up and hit him, the force of the blow 
knocking Monroe flat.  Other Marines held him fast until he calmed down and 
agreed to follow orders.

     Vogel's men reached the field without taking any further casualties.  
They split up and crawled through the grass to search for the dead and wounded 
of the 2d Squad.  None presumed to assault the trench line only a few feet 
away.  Their orders were to recover the casualties and it was this task they 
set about.

     But in a fascinating testimony to the thoroughness of the training they 
had received, the unwounded Marines of the 2d


                                     103




 
Squad had continued the attack.  Nuncio and some others had crept forward 
trying to penetrate the enemy lines.  The grass and their closeness to the 
earth impeded their vision so the squad members could not see one another, yet 
they all moved in one direction--forward.

     Vogel had to split his own squad to find them.  Some men dragged the 
casualties back, while others inched forward listening for M14s.  Monroe found 
Private First Class Gregory Pope lying under a bush a few yards from the tree 
line.  Pope was in the rifleman's classic prone position, legs spread, elbows 
up and in, cheek resting along the stock of his rifle. So intent was his 
concentration that he ignored Monroe's presence at first.  From the constant 
crackings overhead it was obvious to Monroe that the enemy was equally intent 
on disposing of Pope, and had a lot more firepower.  Monroe, fully recovered 
from his irrational rage, now in turn became exasperated with Pope.

     "Hey," he yelled, "what are you doing?  You're all alone out here."

     Startled, Pope replied, "Is that right?  Then let's get the hell out of 
here."

     Monroe wasn't exactly right, although he had no way of knowing otherwise.  
Three Marines had almost succeeded in storming the trench.  They had reckoned 
that if they were able to sneak close enough, they could rush the crew of the 
machine gun before the enemy moved to another position.  So thinking, Privates 
First Class Calogne, Pico, and Millian edged toward the sound of the gun, and 
right into its field of fire before they realized they were trapped.  Pico and 
Millian were hit moving between two trees not over 20 feet from the trench.  
The trees were about 13 feet apart and were used as aiming points by the gun 
crew.  Calogne helped the two men crawl to shelter behind the tree on the 
right and there the three lay, listening to the bullets fly by and pitching 
grenade after grenade into the trench with no noticeable effect.  They had run 
out of grenades and were firing carefully spaced single shots when some men 
from Vogel's squad heard them and came up.  These Marines stayed to the left 
of the machine gun's fire lane and protected the flank.  Hospitalman 3d Class 
Harold Lewis reached Pico and Millian, and he and Calogne pulled them back.

     This completed the extraction of the 2d Squad, a unit of resolute men.

     The wounded were brought back to Bravo Company's command center, a 
position at that moment almost as perilous as the ones where they had been 
hit.  It was an easy target to mark, since Marines were constantly bringing in 
wounded and ducking out with ammunition and instructions.  The command group 
was


                                     104



                                

              SCHEMATIC SKETCH TO ACCOMPANY "THE BULLS OF BRAVO"


                                     104a




 
always in motion, with Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beandette, Corporal Smith, and 
Hospitalman 2d Class Robert Feerick sallying forth several times to bear in 
the wounded.  Privates First Class Patrick Scullin and James Henderson 
wandered in, carrying a wounded Marine and a prisoner whom they had captured 
by knocking him unconscious.  They had become separated from the machine gun 
section with the 2d Platoon and together had fought up and down the left flank 
before making contact with some other Marines.

     From a village 400 meters to the northwest, the North Vietnamese brought 
heavy weapons to bear on the command center. They tried to hit the Marines 
clustered there with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher, and missed.  They tried with 
57mm recoilless rifles, and missed.  They tried with .50 caliber machine guns 
and the rounds went high.

     They tried with a 60mm mortar, and succeeded.  They almost blew up the 
wounded of the 2d Squad at their moment of deliverence.  The casualties were 
being carried across the paddy in front of the hedgerow when a mortar round 
plunged down behind them.  The litter bearers hastened their steps and gained 
the concealment of the bushes just as a second shell burst behind them.  Lance 
Corporal Van Futch, a company radio operator sitting in the hedgerow, had been 
watching the mortars chase the wounded across the paddy, and thought: "Uh-oh, 
here it comes now.  The next one will be right in here." He was correct.  The 
next shell dropped in the middle of the hedgerow and struck down two more 
Marines.  Flak jackets were hastily thrown over the wounded as the men 
prepared to receive more incoming.

     None came.  A rifleman had located the enemy mortar pit, and Sergeant 
Peter Rowell quickly fired his own 60mm mortar. The countermortar fire 
silenced the enemy weapon.

     During that exchange, Sullivan took shrapnel in the leg. It slowed him 
down but did not impede his effectiveness.  He was more worried about 
communications.  The North Vietnamese had come up on the battalion's radio 
frequency and were jamming radio contact between the companies.  Over the air 
the enemy played music, jabbered at a fast rate, and whistled shrilly.

     It worked, only the Marine communicators didn't let the enemy know it.  
It had happened to the battalion on a previous operation and the battalion 
communication officer, Captain Milt Harmon, had profited from that experience.  
His communicators were instructed to ignore the interference and continue 
transmitting as if nothing were wrong.  After a while, the enemy gave up the 
jamming.  But Sullivan was uneasy over the prospect that they could resume the 
tactic at any time.


                                     105



     And after pulling back the casualties and straightening out his left 
flank, he needed to contact his 3d Platoon.  The 2d Platoon was fighting with 
Alpha Company and the men around him, from the 1st Platoon, were near 
exhaustion from their efforts.  He had to have fresh troops to carry the 
wounded to the battalion evacuation point and he could use more firepower if 
the enemy persisted in probing a route for an envelopment.

     He managed to contact the 3d Platoon commander, First Lieutenant Woody 
Gilliland, and that staunch individual lost no time in bulling his way 
forward.  His platoon arrived fresh and intact.  The company commander and his 
gunnery sergeant made no effort to hide their feelings at the sight of the ex-
football player jogging towards them along the hedgerow.

     "Brother, I could kiss you!" exclaimed the gunny, momentarily forgetting 
rank and sex.

     Sullivan turned responsibility for the casualties over to Gilliland, 
whose platoon carried them to a rice paddy marked as a landing zone.  
Suitably, a landing zone must be secure--free from hostile fire--before the 
helicopters can land.  But large, lumbering craft though the H-34 troop 
helicopter is, it can be surprisingly difficult to destroy, as events were to 
show.

     It was still raining but the ceiling had risen enough for the medical 
evacuation helicopters to come in, provided they were not shot out of the air.

     The troops on the ground tried to clear an area; it just couldn't be 
done.  The battalion command group were still using rifles and the 106mm 
recoilless rifle platoon was shooting snipers out of trees.  The three rifle 
companies were fighting tooth and nail.  There was no respite.  The Hueys were 
striking all around the perimeter.  The Marines marked their lines or targets 
by popping smoke grenades, only to have the enemy follow suit.  A Marine would 
pitch a yellow smoke grenade and no sooner would it billow than a half dozen 
clouds of yellow would filter from surrounding hedgerows.  Sullivan resorted 
to the SOP<*> established for such emergencies.  The troops would heave a 
combination of different colored grenades and the pilots would identify over 
the radio the color schemes.  Notified when they had seen the right 
combination, the Hueys could bear in.  Their presence suppressed enemy fire 
but the minute they flew off, the North Vietnamese emerged from their holes 
and resumed the battle.  As Gilliland gathered the casualties, he knew their 
only chance of being flown out depended on the skill and courage of the H-34 
pilots.  If they came in, they would do so virtually unprotected.

--------
<*>SOP - Standing Operating Procedure


                                     106




 
     Of the four H-34s which conducted the medical mission, two were shot 
down, neither over the battlefield itself, and a crew chief was killed.  The 
first craft in, piloted by Captain Lee, had been wrecked by fire.  Crippled 
after running a gauntlet of crossfires, it fluttered back to base headquarters 
two miles south at Tam Ky, where it sputtered out altogether.  The second 
craft was luckier.  First Lieutenant Ellis Laitala dropped his bird down to 
200 feet and still could not see the nose of the helicopter.  He tried twice 
more to find a break in the cloud cover and finally succeeded, only to run 
into fire.  The enemy had had ample time to prepare for his arrival after he 
had clattered over the landing zone a few times and when he did cut through 
the rainy mist, they had a .30 caliber machine gun talking.  Laitala's 
copilot, First Lieutenant Richard Moser, saw a burst of tracers zip by his 
right window chest-high. Turning to tell Laitala the enemy was zeroed in, he 
saw another burst streak by the left window.

     "It's a good thing that guy didn't hold one long burst," he said.

     Laitala made 10 trips to bring in ammunition and first-aid dressings and 
to evacuate casualties.  On each approach and takeoff he received fire.  He 
put his helicopter through a series of desperate gyrations each time to shake 
off the streams of tracers, pitting flying skill against marksmanship.

     The third pilot to land shared Lee's fate.  Major Raymond Duvall's craft 
was hit repeatedly.  During the two hours he was flying in the area, he flew 
through more concentrated fire than he had seen in his 11 previous months in 
Vietnam.  Despite the intensity of that fire, Duvall refused to allow his 
gunners to open up.  In this area, and at dusk, it was difficult to 
distinguish the Marine positions from those of the enemy.  A wild machine gun 
burst, if the helicopter suddenly rocked, could kill Marines just as quickly 
as North Vietnamese.  What finally forced him down was a hit in the rotor 
blade.  The torn hole caused a terrible shrieking noise with every revolution 
of the blade and the troops on the ground were sure he would crash. But, like 
Lee, Duvall managed to wobble back to Tam Ky.

     Among the helicopters, though, the one most memorable to Gilliland and 
the troops of Bravo Company was YL54.  "I'll never forget that one," Gilliland 
said.  "I don't know how he did it.  He should have been nailed a dozen 
times."

     Captain Robert J. Sheehan was flying YL54 in an exceptional manner.  
Ordinarily, a helicopter is travelling through the air at a speed of 80 to 90 
knots when it approaches a landing zone. Sheehan hit the landing zone doing 
115 knots--to layman this difference may not seem like much but Sheehan's 
copilot, First Lieutenant Marshall Morris, explained:


                                     107



     "They had our altitude pegged.  I'd say if we were going 5 knots slower, 
they'd have had us.  Captain Sheehan really revved it up and just plain outran 
the tracers.  It was a speed I know I couldn't do."

     In a conversation later, however, Sheehan himself was quick to point out 
that landing an H-34 helicopter could not be a one-man show.

     "It's a team effort," he said, "like a rifle squad.  The crew chief 
checks out the side door to make sure the tail is clear of obstructions when 
we come in.  The gunner has to suppress hostile fire.  The copilot backs up 
the pilot at all times.  The copilot doesn't grab the controls but he palms 
them, like with kid gloves.  If the pilot is hit on landing and the copilot is 
daydreaming the bird would probably crash."

     On his first trip in, Sheehan picked up eight wounded and headed out 
south at treetop level.  He flew straight into a wall of bullets, one of which 
hit the carburetor.  Sheehan quickly pulled right and the tracers fell behind.  
The hostile fire was like that on each of the nine trips he made and the 
helicopter was struck on three separate occasions.  On the second trip, his 
gunner, Sergeant J. B. Jensen, was hit but the round ricocheted off his thick 
pilot's flak jacket.  Sheehan allowed his gunners to fire and he could 
actually see their rounds finding targets.  Jensen spun two enemy soldiers 
completely around with one long burst of his M60 machine gun while the crew 
chief, Lance Corporal Baker, dropped another who was crouched in a trench.

     Altogether, Sheehan flew in 2,400 pounds of ammunition and 400 pounds of 
battle dressings and took out 20 casualties.  The last evacuation proved the 
most difficult.  Coming in, Sheehan attracted fire from all directions.  Some 
enemy were hidden not more than 50 yards from the helicopter, whose occupants 
could see the hostile positions much more clearly than could the Marines on 
the ground.  But all the linked cartridges for the machine guns had been used 
up.  Their plight seemed so bad Baker swung himself out the helicopter door 
onto the steel lift step and returned fire with a .38 pistol.  A Navy corpsman 
named King, along to attend the casualties, saw this and said, " __________ 
it, I'd better get out there too."

     With that, he leaned out and began to fire his .45.

     Sheehan put down and the infantrymen brought up a casualty. They shouted, 
"Two more are comings" Sheehan jerked his thumb up in the air to signal he 
understood and would wait.  And wait he did, for a full five minutes while the 
North Vietnamese tried frantically to destroy YL54.  Tracers were whining by 
at all angles, like a swarm of angry bees.  From the village outside 
Sullivan's perimeter came the fire helicopter pilots hate


                                     108




 
most, that of .50 caliber machine guns speaking in tandem.  The tracers rushed 
by in streams.  Sheehan watched a paddy dike to his left front shred away.  
The foliage on a nearby hedgerow fell away like leaves in an October wind.

     Across a paddy, a group of Marines struggled forward, half-dragging, 
half-lugging two wounded wrapped in ponchos. Sheehan remembered thinking it 
would be a good idea to carry a number of stretchers in his helicopter when he 
went to the assistance of Marines in the future, if there were a future for 
YL54.  He was not going to leave without those two Marines but he thought the 
furious fires would reach him before they did. Gilliland shared that belief 
and stared at the stubborn helicopter in amazement.  It sat, and was pounded 
by bullets in the belly, and sat some more, until the two wounded had reached 
it. Then Sheehan whirled away and Gilliland vowed to remember that helicopter.

     Once airborne and heading south, Sheehan called over the intercom to 
check on his men.

     "Hey, he said, "how are you guys doing back there?"

     "Hell, Captain," came the cheeky reply, "we're having a ball."

     The weather and the situation were clearing all around the perimeter.  
The Hueys were fluttering back and forth and had pinpointed the sections of 
the village to the left front of Bravo Company from which the heaviest 
concentration of hostile fire was pouring, including the .50 caliber machine 
guns which had unsuccessfully searched for Sheehan.  One helicopter pilot, 
acting as the Tactical Air Controller Airborne (TACA), had the responsibility 
for selecting and designating targets for fixed-wing aircraft.  He called down 
the jets, A4D attack planes specially designed for close air support.  The 
Huey pilot could see the tracers of a .50 caliber machine gun winking from the 
side of a hill above the village.  Captain D. T. Healy dropped down on the 
target, his jet ducking up and out over the village before the hill 
reverberated from the shock of a 2,000-pound bomb.  As he levelled off, the 
Huey pilot informed him he had received a heavy volume of fire from the 
village as he went in and when he pulled out of his run.  Healy had been 
unaware of this.

     Circling above the battlefield, Healy's wingman, First Lieutenant J. F. 
Schneider, Jr., could see the village clearly. The TACA told him to come in.  
Schneider had begun his dive when the TACA radioed to him to pull out, he 
wanted more time to spot the exact source of the fire.  He did this by flying 
over the village and drawing fire, a tactic not recommended for the faint of 
heart.  Satisfied he had designated the target area properly, he told 
Schneider to come in again.


                                     109



     Schneider entered his dive doing 300 knots.  He concentrated on his 
target--the northeast end of the village--released the 2,000 pounder and 
pulled out doing 450 knots.

     To the men of Bravo Company who watched his dive, it had been a marvelous 
spectacle.  In the growing dusk and gloom they had seen the jet slide down a 
thick red stream of tracers, then pull out, leaving behind a shattering splash 
of light and dirt. The infantrymen actually cheered.

     In his gathering speed and steep approach angle, Schneider had been 
completely unaware his jet was the object of such concentrated fire.  His 
plane had not been touched.

     The recoilless rifles and .50 caliber machine guns did not speak again 
from the village.  Following the strike, Bravo Company received only desultory 
sniper fire and Sullivan consolidated his lines with remarkable ease.  Coffman 
then directed him to bring his company up the road.  Help was needed in 
bringing out the casualties from Charlie Company, which had fought the hardest 
battle of all.


                                      III

                        THE ASSAULT OF CHARLIE COMPANY

     It was the premonition of a combat rifleman which kept Charlie Company 
from walking into a bad situation even before the fight had started.  Charlie 
Company had swept east through the village on the right side of the road and 
arrived at a large open rice paddy bordered by thick hedgerows.  There the 
road split, one trail angling northeast off to the left, flush against a tree 
line, the other running due east across a paddy, 75 meters removed from the 
undergrowth.

      Corporal Frank Parks was leading the point squad.  He was worried by the 
absence of the villagers and the lack of cows in the fields.  He believed the 
company was going to be hit.  While he was hesitating, a fusillade broke out 
to his left rear, where Alpha Company was.  He thought someone had flushed a 
few snipers.  But faced by two trails, he chose to bring the lead element of 
the company out across the paddy away from the hedgerow to the left.  He 
reasoned that, if they were hit from that flank, they could take cover behind 
the road-dike and build up a superior volume of fire.  He did not want to be 
hit from positions two feet away.

     Parks gestured to his point man, Private First Class Tyrone Cutrer, and 
Cutrer parted the bushes and walked into the open.  Other Marines followed and 
the company bore to the right, leaving the hedgerow on the left flank for 
Alpha Company to prod.  Cutrer's platoon, the 3d, was well into the paddy when 
they began taking fire from the hedgerow.  The


                                     110




 
rounds were passing high and didn't bother the men.  The Marines estimated not 
more than five or six enemy were shooting at them.

     Their reaction was immediate; they wheeled left and rushed the tree line.  
They screamed and shouted as they slogged across the paddy, a tradition which 
had become a habit in the company over many months and many fire fights.  They 
could hear answering shouts and cries to the rear where the 81mm mortar 
platoon was marching.  Between the rifle company and the heavy mortar platoon 
a bond of friendship had been struck and, hearing Charlie Company go into 
action, the mortarmen were lending them all the verbal support they could.  
The air was filled with rifle shots, wild shrieks, and loud cries of "Go
get 'em, Charlie!"  "Whomp up on those _________!", "Do some dinging, 
Charlie!"  "Kill them dead!"

     Park's point squad had a jump on the rest of the company and had almost 
closed on the hedgerow when a man was hit and went down.  The others slowed 
their momentum, hesitated, then flopped down no more than 15 meters from the 
bushes.

     This slack period while they tended to the casualty gave the North 
Vietnamese time to recover and build up an effective base of fire.  Before the 
Marines could resume their push, heavy automatic weapons fire was pouring 
above their heads.   Still, they were very close, so close that Cutrer yelled 
"Let's go up on the bushline!" and bounded forward the few remaining yards.  
He was thrown right back out by the blast of a grenade and for a few seconds 
stood erect in front of the bushes, deaf and dazed.  Recovering his senses, he 
picked up the rifle which had been blasted from his hands and rushed forward 
again.  This time he was joined by two more Marines and all three ran full 
into another grenade.  Cutrer's luck held and he was the only one not injured.  
He dragged his two companions down into the shelter of a drainage ditch 
outside the hedgerow and put battle dressings on their wounds.  Finishing that 
task, he picked up a grenade launcher and pumped several shells into the 
bushes in quick succession.  Strung out along the ditch, the squad lay flat 
and covered the hedgerow with area fire.  Their attack had been stopped cold.

     First Lieutenant Buck Darling, commanding Charlie Company, later 
expressed dissatisfaction (as had Furleigh of Alpha Company) with the tendency 
of the troops at precisely the worst moment to turn aside from attacking the 
enemy to care for the wounded.

     "Once a person gets hit," he said, "and your fire and maneuver stops in a 
paddy, your momentum is dead.  It gives the enemy a chance to sight in.  When 
the next man gets up, he'll


                                     111



get dinged<*>--then nobody wants to get up.  So you might as well have them 
crawl back across the paddies.  If you could get them up on a line and charge, 
you might carry the position--with casualties, of course.  But you'll probably 
not get the men to do that all at once together."

     "If I'd made it in that first half-hour," he added ruefully, "I'd have 
squeezed them up."

     At about this time, Darling received a call from Lieutenant Colonel 
Coffman.  Coffman explained that Alpha Company was being hit from a trenchline 
to their right flank and he wanted Darling to attack it and relieve part of 
the pressure on Alpha. Darling thought that Coffman must have read his mind, 
since that trenchline was the enemy position which had just repulsed the 3d 
Platoon and Darling at that precise moment was preparing to assault it in 
force.

     Darling was a seasoned commander and a master of small-unit tactics.  He 
had been with the battalion for 30 months, longer than any other man, and had 
extended his tour in Vietnam to keep his company.  Unruffled by fire and at 
his best when actively engaged, Darling took his time to gauge the measure of 
the enemy which confronted him.  His 3d Platoon was engaged on the left flank, 
his 2d had encountered no enemy on the right, and his 1st Platoon was holding 
fast to the rear in reserve. Before further committing his forces, Darling 
turned control of the company over to his executive officer, First Lieutenant 
Ron Benigo, and went forward to assess the situation.  In this action he was 
motivated not by bravado but by his knowledge of close-in combat.

     "A small-unit leader," he said, "in thick brush can do nothing talking 
over the radio.  He has to go see, which means you have to leave somebody back 
to coordinate things while you go up to decide on a tactical maneuver."

     What Darling saw prompted him to employ the classic small-unit maneuver: 
lay down a frontal base of fire and envelop from the flank.  It is a simple, 
direct solution but very hard to repulse if the defenders have left the end of 
a flank dangling.  And the North Vietnamese had done exactly that.

     Darling brought up the 2d Platoon and dispersed them along the dike-road.  
From there they could deliver fire on the hedgerow and be protected 
themselves.  They moved far enough out into the paddy to shoot past the right 
flank of the 3d Platoon and the machine gun crews set up their guns in pairs, 
with excellent fields of fire.  Darling thus had over a hundred weapons massed 
to rake a tree line not 200 meters long.

--------
<*>dinged - Marine slang for a man being wounded or killed.


                                     112




 
                                


        SCHEMATIC SKETCH TO ACCOMPANY "THE ASSAULT OF CHARLIE COMPANY"


                                     112a



     Next he called up the 1st Platoon and told their platoon commander, First 
Lieutenant Arthur Blades, to take the hedgerow by assault.  It was an 
understrength platoon even at the beginning, numbering only 37 men, including 
attachments.  The 2d and 3d Squads held but six men each.  It was agreed 
Blades would mark his progress by smoke as he went, so that the base of fire 
could be shifted and kept ahead of him.

     Blades deployed his platoon on line to the left rear of the 3d Platoon.  
He pushed straight north through the underbrush with his three squads abreast, 
the 3d Squad on the right nearest the 3d Platoon, the 2d in the center, the 
1st on the left.  The platoon moved up abreast of the 3d Platoon without 
opposition.

     The 3d Squad was guiding on a deep, narrow trenchline cut under the 
bushes just at the edge of the paddy.  The rest of the platoon was strung out 
left for 60 meters.  The men could not see farther than 20 meters through the 
maze of undergrowth, palm and banana trees, and thatched houses.

     There came one of those odd lulls in a fire fight when everyone stopped 
firing at the same time.  That was the moment Lance Corporal Palmer Atkins 
chose to move his squad, the 3d, into a small clearing.  From less than 30 
feet away a brace of automatic weapons withered the Marine skirmish line.  
Four of the six riflemen were struck down.  The other two fell flat and 
returned fire.

     Blades called Darling, asking for additional men so he could protect his 
flanks.  While he was on the radio, the last two members of the 3d Squad were 
hit by small-arms fire.  Blades had lost a whole squad--three of the six 
casualties were dead--and had not struck a blow at the enemy.  He had no idea 
how many enemy opposed him nor how well they were armed.  He did not know, nor 
would he have cared if he had known, that his platoon faced the contest which 
characterized Marine operations at places like Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and 
Seoul: an assault against a determined, entrenched, and well-disciplined 
enemy.

     Responding to Blades' call for help, Darling gathered a group of Marines 
and a machine gun crew and sent them forward.

     As the action had increased in intensity, control of the company had 
fragmented and a distinct separation of responsibilities within the command 
group had occurred.  This was as it should be but rarely is.  Darling 
controlled the overall tactics and the commitments of his platoons.  Gunnery 
Sergeant Steve Jimenez functioned as general supervisor and foreman.  He 
pointed lost Marines in the direction of their units, organized special 
details to carry ammunition or casualties, and ensured that the spread of 
outgoing fire along the long two-platoon


                                     113




 
base stayed steady and even.  The company first sergeant, Thomas J. Dockery, 
saw to the evacuation of the wounded.  Dockery set up an aid station and 
evacuation point to the rear originally to handle only Charlie Company's 
casualties.  But Lieutenant Colonel Coffman, seeing that the top sergeant had 
organized a system directed that the battalion aid station be set up alongside 
him.  Soon Dockery found himself keeping a record of all the casualties, 
allotting spaces on helicopters according to the corpsmen' s recommendations, 
and keeping the battalion commander informed as the number of wounded grew. 
These chores he handled well.

     "But my biggest problem," he said, "was holding back forward observers, 
logistics support people, 81mm mortarmen, engineers, company and battalion 
headquarters personnel, and radiomen who wanted to quit their usual job and go 
up to the front.  Even the corpsmen who were supposed to stay in the battalion 
aid station were heading out with grenades and bandages."

     (Within the perimeter of the battalion command group, the S-3, Major 
Bayard "Scotty" Pickett, had the same problem.  He had to physically restrain 
Marines from leaving what they considered unnecessary jobs and rushing to the 
front.

     "But, hell," the ex-All-American football player grinned, "I really 
wasn't too mad at them when I hauled them back.  I couldn't be--I did the same 
thing myself.")

     Dockery, a smiling Irishman and a ready talker, kept the wounded talking 
to the corpsmen and to each other--talking about anything to keep their 
thoughts away from their wounds and their bodies away from lapsing into shock.  
Still, one Marine died of shock before Dockery could get him helilifted out.  
"What got me about that one," he said, "was that his death wasn't necessary.  
He was shot in the elbow but a lot of guys were hit worse and made it.  He 
just clammed up inside himself and we couldn't snap him out of it, not even by 
slapping him.  He said he was going to die, and he did."

     Darling's executive officer, Lieutenant Benigo, handled the job of 
getting the wounded off the field and back to Dockery.  Altogether, that 
amounted to 38 men, but Benigo was not around for the final tally.  While 
carrying a wounded man out of the paddy, he was struck on the back of the 
skull by a round which spun his helmet off and threw him flat.

     "My God," he thought, "I'm dead."

     Part of his scalp had been laid bare and he was bleeding hard.  As if in 
confirmation of his own belief, he heard a voice yell, "The lieutenant's 
dead."


                                     114



     Then he thought, "No, I'm not dead."

     He scrambled to his feet, picked up the wounded man again, and staggered 
back to the aid station.  He made two more round trips, weaving in a drunken 
fashion and ignoring all suggestions that he get on a helicopter himself.  
When he returned a third time to the aid station, he was set upon and forcibly 
evacuated, to the last protesting he had only been scratched and the bleeding 
would stop at any moment.

    Most of Charlie Company's wounded came from the 1st Platoon.  When the 
reinforcements Darling had dispatched reached Blades, he placed them on his 
left flank, thereby freeing his remaining two squads to clear the trenchline.  
The 3d Squad on the extreme right having been wiped out, he sent his 2d Squad 
forward parallel to the trench but shielded by two houses.  In this movement, 
two more Marines went down.  Blades felt sick. Although a hard, driving man, 
he was close to his men and had argued insistently to keep his young squad 
leaders and make rank within his own platoon, not to bring in leaders from 
other platoons.  Now fully one-third of his organic unit was down and the 
enemy force seemed unhurt.

     Instead of falling back, the platoon redoubled its efforts. From behind 
the houses, the Marines lobbed grenades into the trench, while men back a few 
yards with Blades blasted away with automatic rifles.  The platoon commander 
was hit in the back by grenade fragments which ripped his flak jacket.  He 
flung the jacket off and continued to throw grenades.  After a series of quick 
throws, his men held their fire for a moment to gauge the strength of the 
enemy.  The opposing fire had definitely slackened, so Lance Corporal Irwin 
Brazzel led his three men in a dash forward to the next house in an attempt to 
outflank the North Vietnamese.  Two automatic weapons opened up again and 
Brazzel and another Marine were cut down.  That left two fighting men in the 
2d Squad.  Blades was in anguish.  Brazzel, hit in the shoulder, crawled 
behind a house.  The other Marine lay exposed and motionless.  A corpsman 
rushed forward to help him and was killed.

     Blades wasn't sure they had killed a single enemy.  But the Marines were 
bombarding the trench with grenades and three grenade launchers and a dozen 
rifles.  Still, two--and only two--automatic weapons replied after each 
fusillade.

     Brazzel called to his lieutenant.

     "Sir, the sniper is on the other side of this fence.  I can't shoot 
through it but I think you can work around it all right."

     Blades moved up with the 1st Squad--his last squad.  The squad leader, 
Corporal Christopher Cushman, deliberately stood


                                     115




 
erect for a second, then dropped flat.  The sniper Brazzel bad warned about 
sprang up to fire and was shot by Lance Corporal Walter McDonald, a combat 
photographer who had swapped his camera for a rifle.

     Next Blades had his party provide covering fire for a Marine lying 
wounded in a clearing.  The Marine crawled into a house next to the trench and 
started kicking out the back wall so he could throw grenades into the trench.  
Hearing the commotion just above his head, an enemy soldier riddled the wall, 
wounding the man again.  While the enemy soldier's attention was so diverted, 
McDonald darted around the house and dropped a grenade right on him.

     The Marine assault was now gaining momentum.  As the enemy fell back, 
three engineers attached to the platoon worked their way up the trench itself, 
keeping the pressure on the rear of the enemy while Blades' party pounded them 
from the left and Darling's base of fire poured in from the right.  When the 
enemy, retreating to concealed positions around a tall haystack, pinned down 
Blades and his men, the engineers crept up the trench.  Once close in, Lance 
Corporals Clifford Butts and William Miller raised up and fired furiously at 
the foliage around the haystack, while Private First Class William Joy hurled 
grenades as fast as he could.  They blew the haystack, most of the surrounding 
foliage, and some of the enemy apart and forced the others to abandon the 
position and pull back.

     The engineers, who had worked together on other operations, kept their 
trio intact under the intense fire.  But that was the exception.  The other 
Marines had naturally split into pairs. Clearing the trenchline became a team 
effort.  One Marine would throw grenades while the other covered him by rifle 
fire.  In this way, Lance Corporal William Cox and Private First Class Michael 
Stevenson worked their way to Brazzel and dragged him back.

     Blades kept urging the men forward.  He directed and the men responded.  
Even those who did not belong to the platoon, but who came to fight, took 
their cue from his leadership; such as McDonald, who later said, "I just did 
what the lieutenant told me to do."

     There were two Marines who crawled up the trench and asked the platoon 
commander if they could help.  Blades responded, "Yes, with grenades." At 
which they extracted several grenades from their pouches and held them out to 
him.

    "Who the hell do you think I am," Blades roared, "John Wayne?  Get out of 
that trench and go throw your own grenades"

     They did.


                                     116



                               

     The M-79 grenade launcher, a key weapon in the fighting in Vietnam, 
     ready to be fired. (USMC A187534)

     The body of a North Vietnamese soldier lies near the narrow trench
     that was the center of C/1/5's battle during Operation Colorado. 
     (Author's photo.)

     In an action typical of many fought in the rice paddies of Vietnam,
     an M-60 machine gunner rises up to get a better field of fire as he
     supports an attach. (USMC A369433)


                                     116a




 
     The platoon sergeant, Sergeant Orwin Spahn, kept an eye on the massive 
base of fire and as the platoon advanced, threw smoke grenades ahead to shift 
the fire.  He stuck close to Blades.  Both used grenade launchers, a weapon 
they found particularly effective in rooting out the tenacious enemy.

     The Marines were pushing the defenders back but they still weren't sure 
how many there were or how many they had killed. The men could see occasional 
targets, however.  A head or a back would poke up here or there from the 
trench for an instant and the Marines would cut loose.  Fighting at less than 
15 yards, they were sure they were dropping some but the two automatic weapons 
continued to blaze at them from successive positions up the trenchline.  
Grimly, the men dogged after the enemy.

     The end came quite suddenly when the North Vietnamese ran out of 
trenchline at the point of the hedgerow.  Blades was grinding forward on the 
left.  Darling's base of fire was sweeping the open paddies to the right.  The 
Marines sensed victory when some of the enemy broke and ran.  Cushman saw a 
figure in gray khaki hop out of the trench and duck into the bushes.  The 
squad leader waited until he moved, then shot him. McDonald nailed two more in 
a similar manner.

     But that was all.  The rest stayed and died in a roar of exploding 
grenades and automatic rifle fire.  Blades radioed to Darling.  He had to put 
the call through himself.  In the closing minutes of the battle both his 
platoon sergeant, Sergeant Spahn, and his plucky radio operator, Private First 
Class William Brown, had been hit.

     "We've taken the objective," he said.

     The platoon commander limped over to the last section of the trench and 
peered down.  It was clogged with bodies pressed side by side or laying in 
heaps, smashed and torn by bullets and grenades.  The Marines counted 19 
bodies, most packed within 15 meters of trenchline.  They picked up 17 new 
automatic weapons and packs crammed with stick grenades and link ammunition 
smeared with vaseline.

     The discipline of the North Vietnamese in firing just two weapons at a 
time had been excellent.  Their positions were deep, covered, and camouflaged.  
A detailed map found on the body of their company commander indicated the care 
with which he had prepared his fire plans and drilled his men.  Yet, instead 
of ambushing and annihilating the lead Marine platoon, they were overrun and 
killed.

     Three factors contributed to the success of the Marines' grinding 
assault--Darling's plan, Blades' leadership, and the troops' aggressiveness 
Especially the latter.  In the opening


                                     117



minutes of the attack, Blades lost 10 out of the 12 men in the two squads 
first to engage the enemy, including both squad leaders.  The assault could 
have crumbled then and there.  It didn't.  The men went on in.  They weren't 
perfect.  They made mistakes and Blades was the first to point them out.  In 
particular, he noted that men were wounded or killed because they stood erect 
when they should have crawled.  They did so because they were tired and it was 
easier to move by standing.  The weight and bulk of their gear contributed 
greatly to this fatigue.  Still, they adapted to two-man teams and waded in 
slugging, and kept slugging, until they destroyed the enemy force.


                                  AFTERMATH

     It would be nice to close the story here, with the Marines holding the 
field of battle and the North Vietnamese, beaten at every turn, slipping away 
in the growing dusk, never to return. But Vietnam isn't like that.  It doesn't 
just end decisively. Nor did this engagement, really.

     The North Vietnamese pulled back at dark and Kilo Company, 3/5, was flown 
in to lend a hand, but the fight had passed. The battalion buttoned up tightly 
in a circular perimeter.  Flareships kept the area lighted and massive 
artillery fires ringed the battalion.  Not even snipers harassed the lines. 
The companies passed a quiet night, noticeable for its lack of activity.

     But for one Marine it was a night of terror.  It had taken Corpsman T. C. 
Long an hour and a half to crawl out from under Donathan's body.  When at last 
he had freed himself, it was dusk and he hadn't the strength to move any more.  
He lay in the mud with the stinging in his kneecap where the ants were feeding 
on the raw flesh and waited and dozed and prayed.  Sometime during the night, 
two North Vietnamese walked past and tripped over him.  They stopped and 
stripped both the body and him of gear.  Long played dead until they walked 
away.  At times he blanked out.  Once he awoke with a terrible thirst and 
crawled to a puddle close by.  As he drank, he heard footsteps approaching.  
He turned his head to look and was blinded by a bright light.  He blinked 
dazedly into the beam of the flashlight for a few seconds, then it went out 
and he heard the footsteps receding.  "Why didn't he kill me?" he thought.

     At first light Captain Furleigh sent out a strong patrol to find the 
bodies of the two missing men.  This time Bielecki saw Long, lying in a rice 
paddy beside the trail.  They carried him and Donathan's body back.

     While Lieutenant Colonel Coffman sent out patrols to police the battle 
area and pick off enemy stragglers, the press came in to get the story.  The 
men had little to say.  To each


                                     118




 
other they talked long and fully and eagerly.  But to strangers they were 
reluctant to speak.

     By midmorning, the patrols and outposts were engaged in desultory 
exchanges with enemy skirmishers and snipers.  The men walked warily when they 
left the perimeter.  It was obvious there were still many of the enemy in the 
area.

     That was why the Marines didn't quite believe it even when they saw the 
helicopter land and the officers in short-sleeve utilities jump out.

     "Is it?", a private first class asked his sergeant.

     "Sure looks like it," the sergeant replied.  "I don't know anyone else in 
the Marine Corps who wears four stars."

     General Wallace M. Greene, Jr., the Commandant of the Marine Corps, had 
come to the battlefield.  With him walked Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt, 
commander of the Marine forces in Vietnam.  General Walt had a habit of 
dropping in unexpectedly in unsecure areas and most of the men had seen him 
before and were not surprised to see him again.  The feeling among the troops 
was that, while it was all right for General Walt to expose himself, the 
Commandant shouldn't do so. The generals walked the trenchline Blades' platoon 
had cleared and asked pointed questions about the tactics and weapons used.

     Ordinarily, Buck Darling is a talkative person who can go on for hours 
when asked about tactics or operations.  But he wasn't used to talking with 
generals and his cryptic words to the Commandant might be the clearest code of 
the Marine in combat.  General Greene asked him what happened.

     "Well, General," he replied, "we got into a fight with the enemy."

     The Commandant then asked what he did.

     "General," he said, "we killed them."

    The general officers left and the battalion passed the afternoon burying 
enemy dead, patrolling, and resting.  They were going to spend the night there 
and they weren't happy about it.  They thought the enemy had the area plotted 
perfectly.  The battalion commander issued to his company commanders the march 
order for the next morning and the hour of stand-to alert for that night.

     At dusk the Marines were manning the lines in force.  The sky to the west 
was still red.  Two snipers were silhouetted perfectly against the red 
background as they climbed up palm trees and were dropped to the ground in a 
burst of automatic


                                     119



rifle fire by men from Bravo Company.  The Marine night patrols went out and 
one from Alpha Company, minutes after leaving the lines, killed two more of 
the enemy.  After this quick contact, the other patrols around the perimeter 
were pulled in and the battalion sat defensively, waiting for probes.

     None materialized and the hours dragged by.  Then, at 0350, the North 
Vietnamese struck.  With sharp suddenness, the first 82mm mortar round 
exploded right on the edge of the trench where the generals had stood that 
afternoon.  It was exact firing.  Other shells dropped in, striking near the 
command post of Alpha Company.  In the blackness a Marine cried: "My God, 
somebody help me.  I'm hit bad.  Please get me a doctor. I'm dying." Corpsmen 
from both Alpha and Charlie Companies raced to the man, but he died.

     The battalion command center was hit hardest by both mortars and 
recoilless rifles.  Two more men died there and several others were wounded.  
The Bravo Company command post was established in a storehouse near the 
battalion CP.  A 57mm recoilless shell struck the ground just in front of it 
and bounced into the side of the building.  The explosion collapsed the inside 
of the shelter yet dealt the Marines trapped within only ringing eardrums and 
multiple scratches.

     The hut where Darling, Dockery, and Jimenez were sleeping fared better.  
The enemy fired at least five shells at it and all passed high.  Darling lay 
flat and listened to the shells flutter past, each sounding like a bird trying 
to fly with a broken wing.  In the din, he just barely heard another sound and 
shouted: "Shut up, everybody, lie still and listen.  Try and get a fix on the 
sound of their weapons."

     They could hear in the distance the slight but unmistakable pop of a 
mortar and the much louder bang of the recoilless rifle.

     Battalion was way ahead of them.  Hueys had been called to fly over, spot 
the weapons by their flashes, and destroy them.  With the noise of their 
arrival, the hostile weapons stopped firing.

     In a much less effective manner, the enemy had simultaneously hit the 
perimeter with a ground attack.  About a squad of infantry firing automatic 
weapons moved toward Bravo Company's positions.  The Marines on the line laid 
down a devastating blanket of fire and the enemy fell back and did not return.

     The next morning, the battalion set out to walk the final four miles in 
to task force headquarters.  For the first two miles they would follow the 
same road they had taken for the past four days.  Coffman again set out a 
double point, with


                                     120




 
Alpha Company on the left of Bravo Company, which guided on the road.  The 
companies moved across the rice paddies and through the hedgerows and 
encountered only scattered sniper fire.

     In midmorning the battalion took its first casualty.  The point of Alpha 
Company stumbled over the tripwire of a grenade and went down with shrapnel in 
both legs.  It was Private First Class English, the man who, during the 
battle, had moved so swiftly to rescue a wounded Marine.  While waiting for a 
helicopter to evacuate English, Captain Furleigh told his radioman: "Pass the 
word to all platoons to watch where they walk.  Keep an eye out for mines and 
boobytraps."

     Less than 10 minutes later, Furleigh crossed through a backyard at the 
head of his command group to get a better glimpse of his lead platoon.  He saw 
them spread out in a paddy on the other side of a bushline.  He headed for the 
nearest opening and pushed aside the brush in his way.  A grenade went off 
under him and blew him back into his radio operator.  Both collapsed with 
multiple wounds.  He was a resolute, intelligent captain who deserved a better 
finish to his tour in Vietnam than medical evacuation.

     Coffman sent Lieutenant Blades forward from Charlie Company to take 
command of the company and the march was resumed.  The men trudged under the 
hot sun across the paddies and thought of nothing in particular and said very 
little.  They were tired and the muck of the paddies slowed their pace. Bravo 
Company on the right had easier going along the road and began to outdistance 
them.  Blades, incredibly fresh, spurred them on by shouting, "Come on!  
What's the matter with you?  Square away and walk tall, Marines.  Put some 
pride in that step!"

     That was the way the battalion walked in to the task force area, jaunty 
and yet tired, glad to be back and proud of themselves.  One rifleman actually 
started whistling the Marine Corps Hymn as they neared the battalion area.  
"Knock that off," growled his buddy, "where do you think you are--on some 
grinder<*> back at boot camp?"

     "No, man," came the reply, "but I can dream, can't I?"

     So they came back for a few days rest and replenishment before going out 
again.

     And again.

--------
<*>grinder - Marine slang for parade ground.


                                      121



                       GLOSSARY OF MARINE SMALL ARMS

Automatic, Pistol Caliber .45, M1911A1 - A recoil-operated, magazine-fed,
     self-loading hand weapon which weighs approximately 3 pounds with a full
     7-round magazine; it has sustained rate of fire of 10 rounds per minute
     and an effective range of 50 meters.

Grenade Launcher, M79 - A single-shot, break-open, breech-loaded, shoulder
     weapon which fires 40mm projectiles and weighs approximately 6 1/2 pounds
     when loaded; it has a sustained rate of aimed fire of 5-7 rounds per
     minute and an effective range of 375 meters.

Hand Grenade, Fragmentation, M26 - A hand-thrown bomb, which weighs
     approximately 1 pound, and contains an explosive charge in a body that
     shatters into small fragments; it has an effective range of 40 meters.

Machine Gun, Caliber .50, M2 - A belt-fed, recoil-operated, air-cooled
     automatic weapon, which weighs approximately 80 pounds without mount or
     ammunition; it has a cyclic rate of fire of 450-550 rounds per minute and
     an effective range of 1450 meters.

Machine Gun, 7.62mm, M-60 - A belt-fed, gas-operated, air-cooled automatic
    weapon, which weighs approximately 23 pounds without mount or ammunition;
    it has a sustained rate of fire of 100 rounds per minute and an effective
    range of 1100 meters.

Mortar, 60mm, M19 - A smooth-bore, muzzle-loaded, single-shot, high angle of
    fire weapon, which weighs 45.2 pounds when assembled and fires an
    assortment of high explosive and pyrotechnic rounds; it has a maximum rate
    of fire of 30 rounds per minute and sustained rate of fire of 18 rounds
    per minute; the effective range is 2000 yards.

Mortar, 81mm, M29 - A smooth-bore, muzzle-loaded, single-shot, high angle
    of fire weapon, which weighs approximately 115 pounds when assembled and
    fires an assortment of high explosive and pyrotechnic rounds; it has a
    sustained rate of fire of 2 rounds per minute and an effective range of
    2200-3650 meters, depending upon the ammunition used.


                                     122




 
Recoilless Rifle, 106mm, M40A1 - A single-shot, recoilless, breech-loaded
     weapon, which weighs approximately 438 pounds when assembled and mounted
     for firing; it has a sustained rate of fire of 6 rounds per minute and an
     effective range of 1365 meters.

Rifle, Caliber 7.62mm, M14 - A gas-operated, magazine-fed air-cooled, 
     semi-automatic shoulder weapon, which weighs approximately 12 pounds
     with a full 20-round magazine; it has a sustained rate of fire of 30
     rounds per minute and an effective range of 460 meters.

Rifle, Caliber 7.62mm, M14 (Modified) - The automatic rifle version of the
     M14, which weighs approximately 14 pounds with bipod; it has a sustained
     rate of fire of 40-60 rounds per minute and an effective range of 460
     meters.

Rifle Grenade, HE, M28 - A high-explosive, antitank bomb, fired by a launcher
     fixed to a rifle, which weighs approximately 1/2 pounds; it has an
     effective range of 91 meters.

Rocket Launcher, 3.5 inch - A single-shot, open-end, shoulder-fired antitank
     weapon, which weighs approximately 22 pounds when loaded; it has a
     sustained rate of fire of 4 rounds per minute and an effective range of
     273 meters against point targets.

Rocket Launcher, HE 66mm, M72 (LAAW) - A disposable, singleshot, open-end,
     shoulder-fired, light antitank weapon, which weighs approximately 5
     pounds when loaded; it has an effective range of 250 meters.


                                      123

These items and much more can be found at The Marine Corps Research Center (MCRC)


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