The following text was scanned from the Khe Sanh Veterans Newsletter; Special Issue: 30th Anniversary of the Hill Battles at Khe Sanh. Ray Stubbe compiled the text from official records and personal naratives of those involved.
(The scanning process has some flaws. There may be some
spelling errors and unit designations may be
incorrect in some cases. I am in the process of manually comparing and editing the text, but wanted to
make this information available as soon as possible. The corrected version will be available soon.)
The importance of Khe Sanh relates to an opening in the rugged mountain
chain that forms a natural boundary between Laos and South Vietnam known as the D'Ai Lao.
Two other passes to the north, Mu Gia (WE 8153) and Ban Karai (XE 262117) provided access
to NVA units moving south relatively unimpeded along what came to be known as the Ho Chi
Minh Trail. The D'Ai Lao (the pass through which Route 9 passes to and from Laos) had been
an ancient invasion route, used in 1282 when the warrior Chams in Vietnam moved westward.
(Note: the tactical maps show KSCB as "Xom Cham," or "village of
Chams"), in 1666, when Vietnamese extended their influence into Laos, in 1827 by
Siamese moving east, pushing the Vietnamese to Cam Lo. Road construction beginning in 1904
under Capt. Odend'Hall made it into Route 9.
As development of the Ho Chi Minh trail progressed, the Laotian town of Tchepone on Route 9 was overrun in May, 1961, and, being concerned over a "porous border," the Americans placed a Special Forces "A" team in Khe Sanh ville on 8 July 1962, lest penetrating NVA troops and supplies have free access into Vietnam. The Bru tribe, covering both sides of the border, became a natural source of information for Americans on what was happening on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, as did the local French coffee plantation owners who traveled westward on Route 9 to Savannakhet in Laos. An airstrip (later KSCB) was developed by ARVN engineers in Nov-Dec of '62.
Then came 1964.
On 26 Mar, Capt. Floyd Thompson (CO of the Khe Sanh "A" team)
was captured and became the longest-held
POW of the war. On 20 Apr, Eugene Poilane, who had established a coffee plantation at Khe Sanh in 1918 and fathered 10 children, 5 of whom were born after he was 60, was assassinated on Route 9. In late '64, the USSF relocated to the airstrip and began construction of several bunkers (which Marines later assumed were "old French bunkers").
On 22 Dec '65, the Special Forces at Khe Sanh made a chance contact in a dense fog with a large NVA patrol and annihilated them. The NVA retaliated on 03 Jan '66 by shelling the new camp with 120mm mortars, the first use of these larger caliber weapons in the war.
By now, Khe Sanh now was important not as a plug in a hole to stop NVA
from moving into South Vietnam, but rather as a launch site for American
intelligence-gathering operations into Laos. The pass made it possible to move in and out
clandestinely by foot. A whole host of such activities soon flourished: in 1964 Signal
Engineer Survey Unit commanded by Maj. Alfred M. Gray, Jr., conducted operations from
Tiger Tooth Mt (Hill 1739, XD 832543). Special Forces established agent nets, as did the
National Police in Khe Sanh ville. The Air Force started TIGERHOUND-small prop aircraft to
do VR. The CIA (or, in Vietnam, CAS) established JTAD station #14 (Joint Technical
Advisory Detachment) at Khe Sanh, using former NVA who had been "turned around"
for deep, unsupervised patrols. The SOG's FOB-I at Phu Bai used Khe Sanh as a Launch Site
Results of these activities prompted Gen. Westmoreland to coax III MAF to upgrade the Khe Sanh airstrip and emplace BN 1/3 there in Oct '66. Project DELTA, operating just under the DMZ and east of the border, sustained 3
MIA in Dec '66. The USSF relocated to Lang Vei 19-25 Dec '66.
NVA presence in the Khe Sanh area increased; Khe Sanh was the nest from
which the hornets stung them in Laos. (Gen. Giap was always interested in the area. He had
been imprisoned at the prison at the D'Ai Lao, known as Lao Bao, 19301932 along with his
brother Nho, a prison so harsh that prisoners rarely returned from it).
Contacts became more frequent. On 18 Jan '67, Cpl Michael John Scanlon of the 3d Force Recon Co Det became the first USMC KIA at Khe Sanh. As a result of a contact 26-27 Jan, 4 USMC helicopters were lost. BN 1/9 arrived at Khe Sanh on 6 Feb '67 and made contact 25 Feb just 1500 meters west of the airstrip. Force Recon patrols reported significant NVA presence. On 16 Mar, the newly arrived E/219 made contact in which 18 Marines were KIA. USAF pilots of TIGERHOUND reported: "an alarming buildup of fortifications and NVA activity on the hills overlooking the base."
Yet, the base commander was convinced there was little or no NVA presence or activity.
One of the SOG team leaders training indigenous for patrols into Laos conducted training patrols for his indigenous at Khe Sanh, including Hills 881-North and South and 861. During a brief of the Khe Sanh commander, he reported numerous bunkers, lots of enemy, and recommended the hills be subject to "..many, many hours of prepping with airstrikes. Then I would form my artillery and I would lay a barrage and walk my troops up with a barrage of artillery in front of us. This Marine officer looked around and said, 'Bullshit!' And the Captain looked at me and said, 'Well, Sergeant, our briefing is completed.' We turned around and walked out of there. And it was about a week, the Marines sent a Company up on that hill."
First and Third Platoons of B/1/9 were operating from PPBs at XD 798443
and XD 790455, one just west of Hill 861, the other a click northwest. The Second Platoon
provided defense of the KSCB.
Like the descent into monsters within a nightmare, the mission was to check out some caves that had been spotted by B-l about 1630H on 23 Apr. Tom Ryan, Point man of B-3, later reflected: "The Colonel on the base had said, 'We'll just send up two platoons, one on each side, and we're going to clean them up once and for all.' It was crazy!" The two platoons joined together about 1800H and set in for the night at XD 810460. It was not restful; Cpl Michael A. Brown, a MG team leader of B-3 recalls: "We set in our perimeter. We weren't too sure. We were kinda nervous then. We knew we were moving into a VC area. Anyway, we set up our PPB there, out there in the open with First Platoon."
On the morning of the 24th, the two platoons moved out at 0530H in two columns about 300 meters apart following a path they had used on previous patrols in this area, moving towards Hill 516 (XD 799459). It was raining, and some Marines in the patrol were able to eat some Cs as they moved. "The area was pretty open. We moved out. There was no contact. The trail was kinda rough but we made it. We kept on humping. Then we moved up this hill. I'm not sure which hill it was. I guess it was around 861 and finally we were moving into this area with the grass pretty thick, and we weren't sure we were going to make any contact or not. A couple of guys were saying, 'Well, there probably won't be anything there when we get there.' I knew myself that if there was anything there, it wouldn't be anything they wanted."
As B-l moved towards the caves, one of the men in 3d Squad of B-l
spotted 4 or 5 NVA in khaki uniforms moving towards the Marines. The platoon commander,
2/Lt James D. Carter, Jr., passed the word for the platoon to hold fast since they were
advancing towards them. The enemy force moved up to within 50 meters, spotted one of the
Marines, and began to fire. The Marines opened fire. After the exchange of bullets, Lt
Carter took 8 men with him to investigate. He found an enemy soldier on a stretcher,
killed him and one other enemy trooper down the hill. The First Squad Leader, Cpl James
Gerald Pomerleau, was perhaps too anxious to get to the enemy, and was hit by a WP grenade
and killed. B-l brought the body of Cpl Pomerleau back up the hill and proceeded some 300
meters towards Hill 861 when they began receiving heavy fire, pinning them down.
In order to cover their movement out of the enemy's direct fire, LCPL Eric G. Wilk of B-3 moved his 60mm mortar directly into a position exposed to enemy MG fire and began firing. His mortar effectively silenced the murderous fire on B-l and they were able to pull across the ridge to a position of defilade from the enemy fire. Immediately, the numerically superior enemy force shifted its vicious fire toward the advancing B-3 and specifically as LCPL Wilk's mortar position which was causing them so much damage with repeated accurate fire. Without a moment of hesitation, LCPL Wilk boldly moved his weapon to a more effective position and again directed accurate counterfire, enabling his platoon to regroup into defensive positions. LCPL John Wayne Skelton, Jr., began running through the intense fire to obtain vital mortars after the ammunition carriers were unable to deliver ammunition due to the heavy volume of small arms fire and mortar fire. Repeatedly exposing himself to the enemy fire, he moved one man to another, collecting ammunition and delivering it to LCPL Wilk. Despite the heavy MG fire directed on him, LCPL Wilk continued to fire and only stopped when a MG round shattered his right forearm making him unable to continue. LCPL Skelton then continued to fire the mortar until he was seriously wounded by the heavy volume of enemy fire.
Meanwhile, in B-l, LCPL Dana Cornell Darnell, a mortar ammunition carrier, saw his mortar gunner fall unconscious when the ambush was sprung. With extraordinary calmness in the face of the intense enemy fire, LCPL Darnell retrieved the mortar.
LCPL Darnell had yelled for the ammunition which had been distributed
among the platoon's members to be delivered to his position. Due to the intense enemy fire
the other members of the platoon were unable to reach his position with the necessary
ammunition. LCPL Darnell immediately stood up and raced through the enemy fire to retrieve
the ammunition, with complete disregard for his own safety. Due to the urgency of the
situation he was unable to set up the mortar properly. Holding the mortar between his legs
and steadying it with his hands and using his helmet as a baseplate, LCPL Darnell began
firing the mortar from a position exposed to the enemy fire and delivered accurate fire
into the enemy positions. His A-Gunner urinated on Darnell's hands and the tube to keep it
cool. When he had exhausted all of the mortar rounds of the mortar
squad, LCPL Darnell informed the rest of the platoon to standby; he was coming around to collect more ammunition. He stood up and again raced up and down the lines collecting mortar ammunition and then returned to his mortar, all the while being subject to hostile fire. This was repeated several times until the enemy fire was silenced.
At this time, the First Platoon was ordered to withdraw from the clearing. While withdrawing, two Marines in close proximity to LCPL Darnell were hit by MG fire. He quickly moved through the fire to render first aid and was dragging wounded Marines from the clearing when he was temporarily blinded by dirt and rock fragments which embedded in his eyes. He refused to be evacuated and within an hour was again caring for the wounded. When the radioman for the Third Squad was killed, LCPL Darnell took over the radio as the platoon withdrew.
The chaos of the battle momentarily settled, but not the disorienting
confusion. Corporal Brown, a MG team leader of B-3 recalls, "We didn't know which
place we were supposed to be in, where we were going to set down at. We just moved in as
clumsy as we could. We tried to figure out where the fire was coming from."
B-l was then ordered to leave their KIA with B-3 and join up with BRAVO-6, Capt Sayers. Two men at the time started moving to where they could find some cover; no one had any real cover at this time. The mission was to assist B-2, which had lost four men.
Early on the morning of the 24th, 2Lt Thomas G. King had led 30 men from
B-2 plus a 81mm mortar section with approximately 120 rounds of mortar ammo and ILt
Phillip H. Sauer, commander of the ONTOS section at Khe Sanh, to Hill 700, about a click
south of 861, to provide security for the sweeping I -I and B-3.
Upon reaching XD 805435, Lt King set up his 81 and at about 0930H, began to fire into the cave area. About an hour later, he dispatched a 5-man OP to proceed up the trail to the top of Hill 861 for a better advantage so they could call fire missions and possibly air support for the two platoons. The OP advanced until it reached a bamboo thicket about 300 meters from the top of the hill, at 1100H, and was ambushed by dug-in 20-30 NVA. The point man went down yelling, "I'm hit!" and just lay on the trail. Lt Sauer and PFC William Marks made it to a foxhole; the radioman and security took cover about 15 feet behind them. The NVA soldiers began plastering them with fire. Lt Sauer was armed with only a pistol. Marks' rifle had become caked with mud and was giving him trouble. A NVA round had burst the muzzle of the security man's rifle; it was worthless.
Marks and the Lt decided to make a run for it. Sauer said he'd cover
Marks and follow him back to the others.
"I took off and it was the last I ever saw of him. When I got to the other two I said, 'Come on let's get out of here,' and we ran down as far as we could and went down again, the fire was so heavy. But we got up and began running again. We saw the gooks shadowing us downhill on our right side and I thought they had us surrounded. I thought we were all going to die right there. We were running scarred." The radioman was hit in the chest and went down. The security man disappeared. Marks found himself alone, running blindly, stumbling and falling along the narrow and slick mud path as bullets hit all around him.
The squad security for the 81 moved forward to investigate, and Marks stumbled into them. Breathless, exhausted, and caked with mud, he blurted, "They're all dead. The other four. All dead." When he made it to his unit, he was given some asprins and told to lie down and rest. He couldn't. "I kept seeing those poor guy's faces." Lt King immediately dispatched one of his squads to retrieve the 4 bodies. They arrived at the ambush site and had their hands on two of the bodies; they did not see the other two. Due to the very heavy fire, the squad was forced to withdraw, and Lt King proceeded to call an artillery mission on Hill 861 where it was assumed the NVA were dug-in.
At this point Capt Sayers radioed Lt King and said he was on his way by helicopter. The approach of his helicopter was met with .50 caliber MG fire, but managed to land with Capt Sayers and his radioman and take-off. Lt King immediately turned the 81 tube around and fired on the .50. One enemy body flew into the air. A squad dispatched to investiage could locate nothing. When the squad returned, Lt King and nine Marines went to the ambush site on 861, took no fire, and managed to get to the two bodies and drag them back. One body had been stripped of everything but boots, utility trousers, and utility jacket. The other body was stripped and had nothing but a cartridge belt, a couple of canteens, and flak jacket.
For about 20 minutes, the squad combed through the immediate area
searching for the two others, without success. Perhaps they had crawled away, they
thought. Lt King then requested permission from Capt Sayers to pull back:
"I did not like this area. It was too very quiet. There was no bugs making any kind of noise, no noises whatsoever, and I figured the enemy was still up in that area." Upon reaching a suitable area, he called in a helicopter to evacuate the two bodies. "I came up on the helicopter's frequency, and he instructed me to pop a smoke. I popped one smoke. The helicopter circled high overhead. He instructed me to pop another smoke, which I did. The helicopter, which was a 34, proceeded to land. His wheels had no more than touched the ground when the whole tree line on top of 861 opened up on us with heavy automatic weapons fire. The helicopter took 35 hits. None of my people were hit; we all got down." The firing slowed down somewhat as Lt King returned to Capt Sayers and the 81 tubes which continued to support the sweeping B-l and B-3. The FO of B-l radioed that the rounds were landing directly on top of a NVA company, and to keep firing. B-l had been moving towards 861, as ordered, but was ambushed with heavy automatic MG fire; there was another man killed, another wounded. The platoon disengaged, moved to a LZ, and was able to medevac two or three of their wounded by helicopter. Receiving additional heavy fire, the platoon moved to another LZ. Another chopper arrived, but so did heavy enemy fire; another man was killed, three more wounded. The chopper could not land. So B-l set in for the night, dug in with their wounded and dead. "It was raining. It was miserable. It was cold. I was in Korea too, and I wonder to this day which one was worse." [GySgt Al Koppel, Weapons Plt Cdr, B/l/9]
B-3, the other sweeping platoon, fared no better. After B-l left them with the body of Cpl Pomerleau, Cpl Brown recalled, "We stood around there. We couldn't figure out whether we were supposed to set in or not." Three or four minutes passed. All at once they started receiving fire-small arms, mortars, .30 and .50-from the ridge line opposite them, and everyone jumped down. The Marines of B-3 moved to the treeline at the crest of their hill and tried to return fire.
"Nobody knew exactly how we were doing it. We just moved up into the brush, sat down, and started firing. We were firing, and I could see a couple of muzzle flashes from the bushes up ahead, but it was hard to pinpoint the fire. It seemed maybe they were dug in. We were firing back and forth for awhile and the rounds were coming close. We didn't have any trouble. We had concealment, but once we fired, our concealment was literally no good because they could see where [the bullets were coming from, I didn't know what was going on. We heard a couple of guys get hit, and they were screaming and it kinda shook us up. We didn't know what the hell happened. We kept on firing. Finally they told us to pull back and just leave half our gear up there. We tried to bring it with us but it was almost impossible to keep moving and pick up everything you had and keep our packs on our backs. We found out who the casualties were and the corpsman was working with them, and we were trying to figure out what we were going to do with the gear, and it was the mortar section that got hit. A couple of the guys-. One of them seemed to be all right at first. He was on his feet. He was running. Then the next thing I knew he was laying down. He was unconscious. The other guy got hit. He was hit twice in the leg and in the arm. It tore up his arm pretty bad, but he never let down his spirits. He kept his morale up. He had two morphine shots and it didn't seem like it put him out. He was still conscious and he felt every bit of the pain it seemed."
They started to move off the hill but were having trouble transporting the wounded in makeshift stretchers. One of the machinegunners gave up his MG and started to carry a wounded man on his back, a man from the rockets squad who had been hit in his legs. They continued down the path trying to locate a LZ. The NVA attempted to mortar the Marines, but their aim was fortunately inaccurate. Nevertheless, as Cpl Brown recalls, "Most of us were scarred. We were just glad to get away from there. But we weren't running to anything. We weren't actually getting away from anything. We were still in it." The Marines moved down a trail, but paused since the corpsman was having trouble with causalties to the rear. Friendly aircraft began dropping bombs on the hill-very close to B-3. "We got bombed by our jets up there. My squad got 6 people killed. They were blowing up the whole top of the hill with mortars. They were just telling me to move quick-running down there, more or less falling, and the jets bombed us, blew my whole fire team away. I think they thought we were the enemy the way we were coming off that hill." Two more bombs came too late: "We lost radio contact with the platoon commander, and the word was passed back to me-I was about in the middle of the formation-that some people had been injured by the bombs and they needed a corpsman up there badly. So we passed the word back for a corpsman. The corpsman came up, and we moved back to this area that had been bombed, and around this area we saw various gear scattered all over the area, and parts of bodies all over the area, and we were told to move past this area so that the platoon sergeant could move up and stay with this may who was dying. And the man wouldn't die right off, so we got the word to pick him up with all-most-of the gear we could carry and the wounded, and move down to this LZ area.
It was about 1700H when Capt J.A. House of HMM-265, who had been piloting a routine respply for some 4 hours, was alerted for an emergency medical evacuation. Capt House and his co-pilot, Capt J. J. Dalton, proceeded along with his wingman, Capt Nick, to B-1 and B-3 for the medevac. Capt Nick approached the LZ occipied by B-l on the very top of Hill 861. As soon as the helicopter landed in the zone, the enemy opened fire. "We got three of them aboard. We got every window in the cockpit shot-out right there. We also had an armorpiercing round in our forward transmission. As we landed [at KSCB] the transmission froze. Neither one of us were hit. My Gunner got hit in the knee- took a 12.7 in the knee. I think we got one wounded and two bodies out before we got out of there. My job as the co-pilot was to watch the fire and get the ramp down. I started to call in the fire. We were facing the horse-shoe ridge on 861, and the fire started on the left and went all the way around."
Capt House then proceeded to B-3's position (XD 804453) which was supposed to be in defilade from the enemy. However, as they landed in the zone they began receiving intense enemy fire from the ridge line to their right. The zone was also obstructed by trees and stumps. Immediately upon setting down, the aircraft came under fire from an automatic weapon at the three o'clock position and the Crew Chief, LCPL Daniel Douglas Dulude, returned fire with the .50. Upon observing that there was no fire from the 9 o'clock position and that the side of the hill made it improbable that fire would come from that side, the Gunner, SSgt G.L. Logan, began loading for the Crew Chief and the first medevac crawled into the aircraft on his hands and knees.
LCPL Dulude motioned for SSgt Logan to take over the gun while he assisted the wounded man aboard the chopper. He then learned that there was no one to help the wounded to the aircraft except other wounded, and that the casualties were on a small hill about 25 meters from the chopper. With automatic weapons fire striking around the aircraft and without regard for his own personal safety, LCPL Dulude departed the aircraft and dashed into 12 - 14 foot high elephant grass to aid the wounded. The height of the grass made it impossible for him to see the aircraft after moving about 15 meters. He returned with one of the wounded men and courageously set out to help the next man. Returning again he turned around and once again left the aircraft to return to the wounded. At this point, during his second trip to help the wounded, the enemy began to mortar the zone. At least 6 mortars fell in close to the aircraft and the area in which LCPL Dulude was working. Although the enemy small arms fire and AW fire was intense, LCPL Dulude continued his efforts, disregarding his own personal safety. He returned to the aircraft a third time and once more ran back into the zone. Finding the last man, LCPL Dulude again returned to the aircraft. Then he made certain there were no other casualties remaining in the zone. Only when he was certain all the wounded were aboard did he reenter the aircraft and inform the pilot that they were clear to lift-out. Although exhausted, he refused rest and immediately began administering first aid to the wounded enroute to the medical facility.
That night B-1 and B-3 dug in as best they could. They had no E-tools, and dug their foxholes using canteen cups and bayonets. They had been traveling light-no packs, only cartridge belts. One Sergeant in B-3, shot in his legs, kept telling everyone, "We are all going to die!" Surprisingly they were not assaulted that night. Airstrikes and artillery pounded the areas around them and 861 for most of the night.
At B-2's position, having exhausted the 81 ammo, Capt Sayers pulled back to Khe Sanh with the mortar team and squad security just prior to darkness.
Casualties for 24 Apr were: 14 USMC KIA, 18 WIA, and 2 MIA, 5 NVA KIA (confirmed) and 100 KIA (probable). Support for 24 Apr: 660 rounds of 105mm and 8 fixed wing SORTIEs dropping 6500 pounds of ordnance.
DECIMATION IN THE FOG 25 April 1967
The plan for 25 Apr was to move K/3/3 and the 3/3 Command Group to Khe Sanh to conduct a Battalion-minus operation with B/1/9. K/313 had been scheduled to relieve B/1/9 on 29 Apr, and liaison personnel of 3/3 were already at Khe Sanh on the 24th. Intentions were for B/l/9 to evacuate their casualties during the morning and sweep toward Hill 861 from the northwest.
Fog was to determine much of the day's activity rather than plans. At
0815H, B-3 was preparing their ammunition and gear when suddenly someone shouted,
"Look back! Look back! Hey, come here!" A NVA soldier had walked right up to Tom
Ryan, the Point Man of the platoon, to surrender, saying he wanted to quit; he was going
"I couldn't believe it; they were actually talking to a Gook! So I wanted to run for my life because I thought we were surrounded. We tied him up good, put a blindfold on him, stuck stuff into his mouth. We just sat there and waited and wondered. Maybe we were spotted; we didn't know. We just sat there."
The captured NVA soldier, Vu Van Tich, later stated that he was a member of 4th Battalion, 32d Regiment, and that he had lefl his unit 4 days prior to his surrender.
A medevac of the casualties was attempted. As the first chopper landed in the zone, it encountered a hail of small arms fire. The chopper rifled off immediately, but not before Capt Sayers had debarked and several evacuees embarked, including the POW. This was the only helicopter able to reach B/l/9 on 25 Apr due to the fog. Thereafler B/l/9 commenced movement along the trail south and east to Hill 861 (XD 803443).
B-3 was moving to link up with their "6." Sgt Rios began leading the men down a gully and up to the ridge line to Capt Sayers, avoiding the path were they had been hit the previous day. But the vegetation was so thick that afler half an hour, they had only moved less than 10 meters. The Sgt then decided the only possible route was the trail, to take the chance of gening ambushed, but to be very alert.
As they moved, they discovered a lot of gear plus about 3 bodies. The
progress was halted as the bodies and the gear was retrieved. The humping, the anxiety of
battle and always-possible death, and the lack of water they themselves had, made all of
the Marines dangerously dessicated and weaker by the moment. The dead bodies, however,
still had some canteens of the precious water which they could swallow. Even in death, the
Marines at Khe Sanh shared what they had with each other. It was now about 1730 or 1800
and the fog was so thick that visibility was restricted to about 5 meters.
"We got on top of the hill. We set up stretchers for these dead people, and we started to move off. We got down the trail approximately 50 meters. There was a dead man laying there. So they passed the word back to the formation that the last three men were to pick up this dead man and carry him along. They were supposed to pass the word up when it was time to move out, but we were trying to get the man arranged, to get a liner for him and word was passed to move out. We passed the word up that he wasn't ready. Word was passed 'we're moving out anyway,' so we moved out. We got about 75 meters on the other side of this dead person and the word was passed that we were supposed to go back and get this man."
The fog was, by now, very, very thick, and it was also dark. "We told them the fog was so thick we couldn't even find the path to get back there, and so we decided that we would move on. We had about 3 KIAs with us already."
B-3 moved about 30 more meters, dropped their KIAs, and set up a perimeter for the evening.
B-l, still separated from B-3 during the 25th, had been able to evacuate their wounded on the medevac helicopter, but not their dead, and also moved all day until about 2100H with their dead- through the extremely torourous and muddy terrain, although completely exhausted, with no food and little water.
Fog delayed movement of the 3/3 Command Group under command of LtCol Gary Wilder and Co K/3/3, commanded by Capt Bayliss L. Spivey, from Thon Son Lam to Khe Sanh until noon on the 25th, at which time 3/3 assumed OPCON of B/l/9. Capt Sayers had managed to depart KSCB just minutes earlier. LtCol Wilder later noted: "So I got another company up that was attached to me, and by the time the Company got up there, late in the evening, I was able to brief the Company Commander. I had the unpleasant task of telling him that he had to march in, using stealth, and join-up with the remnants of those two platoons in the middle of those three hills, probably heavily-occupied." LtCol Gary Wilder had commanded 3d Recon Bn (reinforced with 1st and 3rd Force Recon Cos) whose patrols had detected the influx of the NVA 324B Division north and west of Dong Ha Operation HASTINGS was launched as a result and 1995 NVA were confirmed KIA. Now, LtCol Wilder was CO of 3/3. Col John Lanigan, CO of 3d Marines, had decided to replace B/l/9 with 3/3 since Khe Sanh was very active as a base for launching intelligence-gathering units into Laos to monitor the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and especially the portion of it that stemmed north from Route 9, just east of BV33, parallel to the border, and then crossed into the DMZ, known as the "Sante Fe Trail."
Numerous patrols of Marine Force Recon and B/l/9 infantry had disclosed the presence of major NVA units in the Khe Sanh area but the base commander at the time refused to believe these reports. Wilder noted: "When the base commander briefed me when I went up initially for the coordination on the change, he said, 'There are only 30'-and I remember these things eventhough it's a long time ago. He said, 'There are 30 VCs operating in our area. They have 2 82mm mortars, but they only have one baseplate.' When he was finished, I said, 'Do you really believe yourself what you just told me?' He said, 'What do you mean!? Of course! We have good intelligence.' I said, 'You're talking to the former Division Reconnaissance Officer. Stop that!' But he honestly believed it. During the operation I got ahold of one of my recon Sergeants who had been up there for some time, and I said, 'Sergeant, what the hell's going on up there?' And his words were, 'Sir, I've been trying to tell that *** for two months that we got North Vietnamese crawling all over these hills, and he wouldn't believe me."'
Capt Spivey, CO of K/3/3 since 02 Apr 67, received the mission from LtCol Wilder to take Hill 861 and be prepared to continue to the northwest to aid B/l/9 and exploit their contact. K/3/3 jumped off in the attack from KSCB by foot at noon and commenced artillery prep of Hill 861. At 1410H the hill at XD 813430 was reached and the company, now about 3/4ths of the 5,000 meters from KSCB to 861, deployed for the final attack: two platoons separated to go up the two ridge lines approaching the hill from the south. K-3 was to continue north to XD 806445 (a hill later called "861-A" during the Siege) and be prepared to assist K-1 and the Co Ha which moved northwest directly on to 861. K-2, along with the 60mm mortar section, remained as security for the Bn CP to cover the company's approach to the objective. K-2 was at XD811431.
By 1445H, K-l and the Co Hq had reached a position at XD 804438. The advance was checked at this point to permit K-3 to progress to a supporting distance along the ridge to the east. Also, a final artillery prep was requested. At 1525H, K-3 was at the desired position at XD 808439. Artillery check fire was in effect throughout this time. Up to this time, K13/3 had received no contact, and at 1615H, Capt Spivey requested to continue the attack without further prep fires. Permission was granted. By 1630H, K-3 had reached its objective at XD 806445 and was ordered to establish a blocking position to the southwest.
K-1 and K-3 were not physically tied-in due to the very small width of
the hill approaches and extremely steep sides.
K-l moved up the ridgeline directly south of the summit of 861 while K-3 moved on a ridge line moving into the objective from the east to support K- I 's advance. At precisely 1705H-Capt Spivey recalls the exact time- lead elements of K-l, then some 300 meters from the summit, began to receive fire from enemy bunkers on top of the hill as well as mortars from a reverse slope defense. Due to the nature of the concave slope and the brush, the Marines never had good observation of the enemy position, but poured a large volume of M-79, LAW, and small arms into the general area.
Although they advanced to about 100 meters of the crest by 1730H, they had run out of troops. Only 10 effectives remained in K-l; there were 15 Marines killed and another 15 WIA. The number of dead and wounded made disengagement impossible.
When the First Squad leader was mortally wounded, LCPL Raymond Lee Huckins immediately assumed command, reorganized the squad and aggressively continued the assault. When the enemy fire increased and temporarily halted the unit's advance, LCPL Huckins, discovering a critical shortage of ammo, fearlessly exposed himself to the enemy fire to distribute ammo and assist in rendering first aid to the casualties. As he moved among his men, encouraging them, an enemy grenade landed within a few feet of him and two other Marines. Disregarding his own safety and with outstanding presence of mind, he picked up the grenade and hurled it away a few seconds before it exploded.
Cpl Stoney Jackson received painful leg wounds but refused medical
evacuation and continued to lead his men.
The corpsman of K-l, HM3 Michael G. Gibbs, immediately moved to the forefront, into the heat of the battle, and began to treat a Marine with a sucking chest wound and then moved him 15 meters to a safer location, He then exposed himself again to the intense fire to assist a second Marine. While administering first aid, he was wounded in his back, but continued to help the wounded Marine. Having completed treatment for the second Marine, he moved to a third, but received a wound that broke his leg. He was then pinned down under fire where he quietly remained until darkness, when he and the others were moved to a more secure area. [HM3 Gibbs was KIA the following morning during a mortar attack]. [On 07 Jul '67, a Marine of W/1/13 on Hill 861 was digging a position near the LZ and uncovered a wallet containing personal effects and ID of HM3 Michael G. Gibbs].
Capt Spivey requested that LtCol Wilder release the reserve platoon, K-2, which was then in the vicinity of the Bn CP group. As K-2 advanced towards the decimated K-l, K-3 was ordered forward on the crest from the east but reported slow progress in the saddle northeast of Hill 861; they reached XD 804444 and were held up for the night. B/l/9 was moving towards K-l from the west slope of 861.
The sun was setting along with their hopes. Darkness was setting in,
along with the darkness of the unknown, the fear and the terror. The Marines were just
under the enemy positions, and Capt Spivey was unable to extract K-l from the immediate
contact with the enemy. All of the wounded of K-l, however, were recovered into its lines
along with all but 4 of those killed.
By 1830H, K-2 had arrived at K-l's position and began to recover the 4 KIA, but two additional casualties were taken in the process, and the anempt was discontinued. During this time there were numerous acts of heroism as the very young Marines went about, in the fact of heavy enemy fire, dragging the wounded and dead to safer positions.
LCPL Harold Allan Croft, for example, without hesitation, moved through
the exploding mortars and automatic weapons fire to assist HM3 Gibbs. He then began
crawling around the hillside giving medical aid to the wounded. At times he appeared to be
everywhere, administering aid, giving encouragement, and serving as an inspiration to all
present. In one instance, during a pause in the enemy mortar attack, PFC Croft exposed
himself to heavy MG fire to administer first aid to LCPL Oliver, a victim of mortar
shrapnel. PFC Croft applied battle dressings to the head and leg of LCPL Oliver and then
dragged him to safety. Every time someone yelled "Corpsman!" PFC Croft ran out
of his hole, knowing the corpsman was already busy, to apply banle dressings and drag the
wounded to safety
Since the first contact at 1705H, incoming mortars were received in volleys of 3 to 5, falling at first to the south, but were walked up the ridge. Most of the rounds continued to fall a little behind the position, but several were on target, producing additional casualties. Counter-mortar and artillery seemed to have lime effect. Apparently the enemy mortars were dug in on the reverse slope making artillery fire ineffective.
The command group withdrew a short distance, but PFC Floyd Allen
Gregory, the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) rep, remained forward to assist
communications personnel maintain vital contact with subordinate and higher echelons.
During the night, K1313 maintained its positions under sporadic fire as all dug in, in place. About 0200H, they spotted rockets and mortars being fired from GS 7943, a position to their west, being fired on KSCB. Artillery was fired accurately on target, and C-47 SPOOKY later arrived on station to spew its venom of fire.
LtCol Gary Wilder notes: "..this is the most interesting aspect of all: during that night, they rocketed Khe Sanh-or tried to. Now we saw the rockets going up and going over. I remember talking on the phone like I'm talking to you-I'm talking to the Khe Sanh base as the rockets are going over my head, saying, 'Pull your head in; they're coming in!' Now fortunately I programmed a flare plane to be on station that night, which was one of the old C-47s equipped with mini-guns. The minute the rockets started going up, I vectored him and he started hosing down with the miniguns. The thing was quieted-down very quickly. But the interesting thing was-I found out the next day- there had been a coordinated attack that took place on every northern base in the I Corps area at the same time, right to the minute. So we subsequently pieced-together-the intelligence people-that we believe that they had planned that night to take Khe Sanh. And it makes alot of sense, because there was but an infantry platoon and some reinforcements. And it was only by the accident of those Marines walking up Hill 861 that triggered all of this action prematurely."
Col Wilder continues: "They moved a whole Division into Laos, and subsequently moved a Regiment of that Division in to occupy those three hills. I think the plan was that that Regiment was going to hold the three hills and they were going to pass another one or two Regiments through them and take Khe Sanh. The intelligence that came back said that the first regiment that had occupied those hills had been virtually annihilated. The second regiment was involved in the counter-attack, and they were written-off. So it's two of the three regiments were wiped-out for all intensive purposes." (But this is getting at the end of the story!)
During the afternoon of the 25th, recon team 3AI, HAWK, made contact
with 10 - 15 NVA west of their position (XD 762505), a ridgeline beside a dead tree about
30 meters from a treeline which ran across the ridge.
"Around one o'clock we started hearing the noise coming up this hill. We were in a well camouflaged little jungle area on a knoll. It was a flank movement coming up that hill. They were all helmeted, geared and combat
ready. They had elephant grass over them for camouflage. Closer and closer the enemy came. They got within 50 ft. We were wellconcealed on higher ground. Cpl Robert Wacker, the Squad Leader, squeezed the trigger. It was a mix-fire! It sounded almost like a fire-cracker. Our adrenelin was really going. The next guy, Rudy, opened up and we got those guys, no problem. The problem was what was behind those guys. It must have been a company, and they started to open up-small arms, MG fire. They had us pinned down real bad. Then something happened.
"I don't know if it was a 82mm mortar or a hand grenade. it hit right above us; it got every one of us. Terry Burton, who was right next to me, was completely unconscious-looked like someone took an ice-pick to him. "Another guy came crawling up to me and said, 'Baker, we got to get out.' This was after about 15, 20 minutes of fire-fighting. We were getting low on ammo. We had placed our K-bars in front of us, and were fixin' to go hand-to-hand. He said, 'The Assistant Squad Leader, Rudy, told me to tell you to get out.' "Well, I didn't want to go! I knew there'd be a MG because we were getting fire from three sides. In my haste in going out I tripped the M-21, and I started a fire. I mean it was burning, and I tried to put it out with my hands. So I knew I was going to die, and being a religious man I told God, 'God, if you give me one more chance, I will stop my evil ways.' I knew I was going to die. Well, fortunately for me there was nothing out that way at the time."
Two choppers of HMM-265 landed to extract the team. The first, piloted by Capt Petteys, made his pass too fast and his guns jammed; he waved off. His wingman, Capt J.A. House, II, rolled in behind him and slid in along the ridgeline. His helicopter, EP- 173, immediately drew automatic weapons fire, but he was about 75 meters from the recon team. LCPL Daniel D. Dulude, the Crew Chief, knelt on the open rear ramp of the aircraft where he was exposed to the direct enemy fire only 75 meters away and calmly directed Capt House through a difficult backtaxi maneuver towards the team.
Fred Baker, a member of HAWK, along with another man, Pete, dashed back and forth carrying everyone. Six men of HAWK were badly wounded or unconscious; 2 were still able to move. Also assisting the wounded recon team members to the chopper under the heavy enemy fire was the Crew Chief, Daniel D. Dulude: "The enemy were in the beeline and were firing AKs and throwing hand grenades at the team. It seemed as if we had misjudged our chances of retrieving them. The point is rather vivid in my mind because the transmission on the helicopter had been leaking transmission fluid on the ramp and made it extremely difficult for one person to crawl up. I remember the two of us [Dulude and Baker] pushing the medevac up the ramp in what seemed like an eternity. We then left to help two others. Our paths led us to different wounded and we made our way back to the helo on our own. At this point a count of Marines on board indicated that there were 3 missing. Two were wounded and the third was Baker who had already started back for one of them. I again left the plane to gather the last wounded man. We took another count, raised the rear ramp, and left the zone." The entire team was medevaced to DaNang. After HAWK was extracted, Huey guns hips strafed the suspected enemy positions in the beeline causing one secondary explosion.
Due to the action at Khe Sanh, Co K/3/9, commanded by Capt Jerrald E. Giles, was flown into Khe Sanh from Camp Carroll.
Like so many troopers who came to Khe Sanh, LCPL Henry Rose, Jr., a squad leader in Weapons Platoon, K/3/9, recalls: "..at first nobody knew where we were going. We knew we were going somewhere because my company was the reactionary company for anything that came up." Marines were jostled from one place to another during their tours in Viet Nam until all the places and events and days merged into a very confused and tangled web of experience as impenetrable as a bamboo thicket, out of which it was impossible to make any sense, only nightmares. from images seared on the soul.
3d Marines at Khe Sanh assumed OPCON of K/3/9 at 250830H. The Marines were now sending companies to Khe Sanh piecemeal into the meat grinder of battle: E/2/9, B/l/9, K/3/3, and now K/3/9. The opinion held by the higher echelons of the Marine command that there really was no enemy at Khe Sanh, had become the perception that precipitated death. Capt Spivey on the Combat Base the 24th as B/l/9 was experiencing its contact remarked, "No one suspected more than probably a NVA company in the area at that time." Of course, the extremely rugged terrain precluded any large mass movement of troop formations. The hills of Khe Sanh dictated how we would maneuver.
Reconstruction of the NVA plan by FMFPAC reflected isolation of the
battlefield by mortar attacks on Dong Ha, Gio Linh, Con Thien, and Camp Carroll, all
designated to upset Marine fire support and logistic arrangements. A mortar attack on Phu
Bai would endanger helicopter support,
while blowing away bridges and key stretches of Route 9 would sever overland logistic supply. In addition, a diversionary attack on the Lang Vei camp, four miles west of Khe Sanh near the Laotian border, would make the enemy threat appear to be focused there. As LtGen Krulak's summary put it: "All this was to be ancillary to the main effort, a strong ground attack on Khe Sanh, coming southward from the mountainous region near the Laos-RVN-DMZ corner."
Later analysis through contacts, prisoner interrogation, and captured documents, reflected that the 18th Regiment of the NVA 325C Division had moved into the operational area from Laos early in April under cover of fog and heavy cloud conditions. The mission was to attack Khe Sanh. The regiment occupied the triangle shaped key terrain in the area bounded by Hill 861 (XD 803443), Hill 881-South (XD 777437), and Hill 881-North (XD 774457). A prisoner reported that the regiment was supported by the 2d Artillery Battalion armed with ten 120mm mortars and ten 75mm recoilless rifles.
AGONY 26 April 1967
26 April began with the 3/3 CP (at XD 805434) receiving approx. 200 rounds of 82 at 0500H. Simultaneously, KSCB received 55 rounds of 82 and 55 rounds of 75 RR fire, most of which landed outside the perimeter. A flareship with miniguns was called on station, delivering a massive volume of fire on suspected enemy positions and movements. There were no casualties as a result of this action. B/l/9 was close enough to the NVA RRs to see and hear their backblast in the fog. Located on the eastern slope of 881-S, Capt Sayers silenced them by directing artillery on them by sound. By 105mm artillery illumination and holes in the fog, destruction of the recoilless rifles was confirmed. The fog was in layers at the time; the hill masses were covered and the valleys were clear.
The sun arose on the Marines of K/3/3 still in place on 861, pinned down by the NVA. Capt Spivey noticed, however, that by 0615H, K-3's presence in close proximity to the enemy's northeast was apparently still undetected. Shortly before first light, K-3 was ordered forward in an attempt to take the enemy position from that direction. K-1 and K-2 were alerted to move out on order, pending developments of K-3's advance.
2/Lt Curtis L. Frisbie led his K-3 of Marines forward, exercising stealth, until the enemy positions could be observed and voices heard. By 0815H preparations for the assault were being made when the platoon came under an intense volume of automatic weapons fire and grenades. The platoon immediately sustained casualties; Lt Frisbie was seriously wounded and subsequently medevaced.
By this time it had also become apparent that B/1/9's platoons were a considerable distance to the west and could not influence the action. it was also apparent to Capt Spivey that he just did not have the horsepower to overcome the extensive and well-organized defense on Hill 861. Due to the close-in fighting, no supporting arms could effectively contribute to the action.
Capt Spivey asked LtCol Wilder for permission to disengage K-3 who was not hit too bad at that time. Wilder agreed, and K-3 pulled back to a secure LZ to extract their wounded. The only access to the area secured for helicopter evacuation was across an open, grassy finger ridgeline exposed to enemy sniper fire from Hill 861 for over 100 meters. The fire was well-placed and frequently heavy. LCPL Miller was one of those wounded in the initial attack, and he had been left behind. PFC Brenton Wilford Allaire, without being told to do so, along with Cpl Contreras, returned to Hill 861 and helped him to safety. As the MGs and snipers opened up on the 100 meters of exposed area, PFC Allaire along with LCPL Barry Lee Duncan continued 5 more trips across the fire-swept area, dragging wounded comrades to safety as well as gather up all the rockets deposited along the trail while pulling the wounded to safety. Each time they drew fire, but kept returning. On one occasion, LCPL Duncan aided a Marine to safety who was unable to walk.
PFC Thomas M. Barrow, Jr. and LCPL Lester Larry Menke also assisted the wounded to safety. On two separate occasions, LCPL Menke successfully bravaed the concentrated fire to move his fellow Marines to safety. As he maneuvered through the fire-swept area a third time, he was painfully wounded in his leg. Despite his wound, LCPL Menke continued trying to get the man across to safety. After about 10 meters he was again wounded. Another Marine relieved him of his burden, and LCPL Menke began crawling with all his gear and without assistance to the LZ where he was evacuated.
Meanwhile Capt Spivey requested Huey gunship support to assist him in disengaging K-l and K-2 and evacuate their dead and wounded. Gunships arrived about 1030H and provided outstanding support in close proximity to the front lines, and the platoons were able to disengage moving about 25 meters at a time down the hill. Moving down all the dead, wounded and all the gear was difficult, but by leap-frogging short distances and displacing the security, he was able to gather all the wounded and all the dead except 4 which had been ahead of their lines.
At 0800H, K/3/9 moved out from KSCB and at 261315H, a platoon of K/3/9 linked up with K/3/3(-) at XD 805437, down from the crest of the hill. LCPL Larry W. Umstead, grenadier with Ist Squad, Third Platoon of K/3/9, noted: "Just as we reached the base of Hill 861 we noticed that there was alot of gear laying around-there were signs there was pretty heavy fighting all up and down the side of the hill. As we approached, we could see them bringing down some of the wounded and dead. And alot of the men, as they were coming down, were telling us not to go up, how bad it was up there-there's no water, no nothing, and how well the VC were dug in." From there it was fairly easy going back on into the command group position, south of Hill 861. By 1600EI, all elements of First and Second Platoons were within the 3/3 Command Group's position and medevacs completed. At about 1900H, Third Platoon linked up with the remainder of the company at XD 806444.
The company, with elements of K/3/9, established a perimeter defense on the night of 26/27 April and returned to Khe Sanh the morning of 27 April, arriving by 1100H. After collecting all their gear and equipment, what remained of K/3/3 boarded aircraft and returned to Dong Ha. There had been 19 men killed from K/ 3/3, including two corpsmen and one who later died of wounds, two who were MIA, 36 wounded (evacuated) and 6 wounded (not evacuated. One of those medevaced, Daniel A. Wisley, a squad leader, was greeted with the news: "Your wife just gave birth to twins and she is doing fine." The remaining Marines of B/1/9 did not fare well during the 26th.
B-3 dispatched a fire team of 5 Marines to retrieve the body they had passed the previous afternoon. They were only gone about 5 minutes when they became involved in a fire-fight. The rest of the platoon gathered their fighting gear and quickly moved to where they were, a path on top of a slope. As the platoon moved, they located one dead man and another wounded in his foot. They attempted to fire a few LAWs, but they misfired. Sgt Rios passed the word to return to where they left their gear. While moving, another man was hit in the leg, breaking it. In about 30 seconds they had on all their gear and began to move up, carrying and dragging whatever they could, fired at by an enemy malchinegunner. They moved from about 0800H until they met up with their "6" and parts of B-1 and B-2 at about 1030H. The rest of B/l/9 had begun the day at 0700H attem ting to move east along the trail leading to 861 and immediately encountered enemy resistance (at XD 795449). B-1 and B-3 linked up at 0840H at XD 802443. Enemy small arms fire coupled with sporadic mortar fire succeeded in limiting B/1/9's advance to a bitterly contested struggle for each foot of terrain.
Capt Glen Golden's F/2/12 artillery battery found Capt Sayers in the fog by walking artillery rounds to him, and them and then put a "ring of steel" around the company that was so tight he was taking dirt from the impact. "It was the most professional and accurate piece of artillery work that I have ever seen. No doubt it saved our lives," noted Capt Sayers.
SSgt Leon R. Burns, Platoon Sgt of B-2, described the progress of the day in an interview conducted 8 May 1967, while all was fresh in his mind: ".. at dawn we moved out. We were still heading for Hill 861. We got to a small hill approximately 500 meters to the west of it. We got to the top of it. We took a few sniper rounds. We started down the far side, and then the stuff really hit the fan. The Third Platoon had managed to link up with the First, and my people were in the middle with the CP group. As they started down off this hill, getting right up to the very base of 861, they came under heavy automatic fire. At this time the First Platoon leader was wounded and about four or five other men. I lost one of my squad leaders and the M79 man. Also, one of my machine-gunners, LCPL Puleo, he spotted an enemy machinegun. He fired on it with his rifle, and I'm told that he knocked out at least three NVA. In doing so, he exposed himself to quite a bit of fire. He lost his left thumb and was wounded isn the left side in two or three places. One of the machinegunners, PFC DeKaney-we got some incoming mortars, and he was hit in the face. Sergeant Orton, my squad leader, he was up front. He was cut in half by a burst from a machinegun, and his M79 man, PFC Hare, was hit by an automatic weapon and a mortar. About that time, one of my men, PFC Blitz, was down there. He was anywhere and everywhere, doing anything that had to be done. Weighs about 150 pounds; he's a big man. He got down there, started putting dressings on people. My corpsman come up, and about this time my corpsman was shot pretty hard in the leg and in the cheek of his ass. This made him a casualty. We got some people down therer to get him out. The CP group was right in the middle. And at one time the company commander was down there with a couple of his radiomen getting these people up almost a sheer cliff. They were wounded or were dead. At about the time they got two men up, we had an Air Force OE come over, who were doing an outstanding job for us, and he fired one of his snake rockets, just missing the company commander, Capt Sayers, and just by a couple of feet. We managed to tell him that we were friendly, and he started looking for other targets."
The Marines of B/l/9 began receiving close air support as napalm (DELTA-9s) and 250-pound bombs (DELTA-Is) blasted the back side of 861.
It was becoming apparent that some of the wounded would have to be
medevaced or die. Cpl Payne and Cpl Brown were sent back off the hill to a little
ridgeline to start setting up a perimeter for a LZ to evacuate the 5 dead and 15 wounded
(at XD 803444). The helicopter came in. SSgt Burns tossed a smoke grenade, walked off, and
started waving the chopper into the zone. He had already arranged 3 men to each wounded
and warned them to move quickly because incoming was certain; the LZ was in full view from
861. Each of the groups picked up a wounded man and raced towards the chopper. The chopper
just sat down. One wounded man got aboard, and an incoming mortar round exploded. SSgt
Burns had to wave the chopper off:
"This was the only time we had a chopper around us that could possibly handle us. We had many wounded, but we just couldn't get a chopper to get them out. The chopper left. Things started getting worse. We started catching mortar rounds coming in again near our LZ."
The Company now moved like a mob, everyone just grabbing a wounded man, and headed for the edge of the hill. After the first 10 men moved over the ridgeline, the Marines were blasted by enemy mortars: "Everyone just hit the deck wherever they were and hoped they didn't get hit. And in this thing some wounded men got killed." One of those was Cpl Troy David Payne, Jr. Cpl Payne had not been with B/l/9 when it left KSCB. He had a cold and was on light duty. A Marine Corps General landed at Khe Sanh to receive instructions on how to get to the scene of the battle once B/1/9 made contact. In a characteristic Marine move, Cpl Payne boldly climbed aboard the General's helicopter and accompanied him to the action, where he joined his unit.
Upon reaching the battlefield, Cpl Payne carried wounded to the LZ and
fought off repeated enemy attacks with the
weapons he picked up from his injured comrades. Now, at this point, Cpl Payne moved right to the center of the impact areas to aid the stricken men to safer positions. He even used his own body to shield other wounded Marines from mortar fragments. He was hit. He died that others might live. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal.
Some of the wounded, such as LCPL Puelo and PFC DeKaney, were again
wounded. The situation seemed impossible. Capt Sayers reported at 1445H to LtCol Wilder's
S-3 that he had so many casualties that he couldn't move. The S-3 said Capt Sayers should
abandon the dead and just bring out his wounded. Capt Sayers replied that he couldn't even
move with his wounded and that he would assume a defensive posture, move into the fog, and
fight until it was all over.
Carrying the casualties, now for 3 days, had been an onerous agony. Capt Sayers later wrote: "We were carrying KlAs and WlAs in ponchos four men to a litter. The heat deteriorated the bodies rapidly and they bloated fast. Almost impossible to carry in the dark, the mud and the rain. Many times we stopped our march to retrieve a body that had fallen out of a poncho and rolled down a hill. Identification was difficult. KIA tags were lost. It was not until we arrived back at Khe Sanh and matched our company roster with the evacuation list was I convinced that we had not left a fellow Marine in the hills."
Cpl Frank D. Thompson of B- I reflected the emotion by his silence during an interview conducted 10 Oct 1967 by official USMC Oral History personnel:
Thompson: All this time- three days, carrying KIAs and WIAs with us.
Interviewer: What did you think about that?
Thompson: It was bad, but we had to do it.
Interviewer: It was a bad situation, then. What did you feel about it and what did the other people feel about it? What did they think?
Thompson: [LONG SILENCE. NO RESPONSE.]
Inteviewer: Did they think it was a hopeless situation?
Thompson: It was-.
Interviewer: Were the people scarred? Were the Marines scarred?
Thompson: You're always scarred when you're getting shot at.
Night was fast approaching, and SSgt Burns suggested making some stretchers. Some of the men cut poles for
stretchers, and about this time, 1800H, reached B/l/9: "About this time we had some visitors, some very nice
people from K/3/9. The Company Commander was with one of his platoons. We were all overjoyed to
see them. They had water; we had none. We gave the water to our wounded, and we prepared to leave the
The 7-man recon unit of K/3/9 gave all the water they had, and their corpsmen began attending their wounded. After all the wounded and dead were staged in one area, litters were made, and the Marines moved out.
"We had so many wounded and dead and extra gear to carry that everyone was carrying something except for the point and rear guard. As we moved out it started to rain and a very large amount of fog. The fog locked us in. Maybe it was a God-send because the NVA couldn't see us. They fired a few spasmodic mortar rounds but they really didn't do anything. We moved out. I was bringing up the rear. I had one machinegunner with his gun, the assistant machinegunners, and my company commander, bringing up the rear. The company commander of K/ 3/9 was there also a good portion of the time. Everybody carried his load; we carried as much gear as we possibly could. The radiomen eventhough they were carrying a PRC-25, still carried people on stretchers. The going was very slow. It was muddy. At one time it rained extremely hard. Maybe this was good in one sense because we did manage to get some water for both us and the wounded. We left a very wellbeaten trail. Why the NVA didn't follow us I don't know."
The Marines humped all through the night, in all the hardfalling rain, through all the slippery and cling-to-boots mud, slipping and sliding with their makeshift stretchers, carrying our sorrows, into all the enemy-infested area, carrying all their dead- weary, in shock, and finally about 0500H arrived at the 3/3 CP (at XD 805428). They were told they could have one hour to sleep and get water for the wounded and the other men that didn't have any.
Choppers arrived at dawn to evacuate wounded, dead, and gear. SSgt Bums had gone out with 22 men; he resumed with 8. On the other hand, the newly-arrived Marines were in such great quantity, like a mass of ants, that Tom Ryan, point man with 3-3, looked out and "I remember coming down offthat hill; as far as I could see there was Marines. I mean they were coming in and landing all over the sides of the hills and stuff. As far as I could see! Looked like everybody in the world! Looked like thousands of them!"
Those remaining in B/1/9 walked back into Khe Sanh. Trucks were available for the move, but the remnants of B/1/9 chose to walk. It was a matter of pride after 4 days of constant enemy contact.
2Lt James D. Carter, Jr., wounded with shrapnel in his upper arm and cheek on the hospital ship, USS SANCTUARY later wrote Capt Sayers: "..t lose young men, their tremendous will to live, and their ability and courage under fire would be hard to match.. It's surprising any of us got out of there alive considering the odds- that's hard charging Marines for you, though."
As a result of the Khe Sanh battle, Gen Bruno A. Hochmuth choppered the SLF, BLT 2/3, commanded by LtCol E.R. DeLong, then conducting Operation BEACON STAR, back to its parent regiment. Picked up in the middle of operations the moming of 26 Apr, 2/3 was transported by helicopter and fixed wing to Khe Sanh. The lead elements (E1213) arrived at noon. G1213 and the CP group arrived at 1320H. The command group and two companies commenced movement by foot march to the objective area at 1445H. H/2/3, the third and last company to be moved to Khe Sanh on 26 Apr, arrived at 1600H and commenced movment in trace of 2/3 at 1620H. All 2/3 units arrived in the objective area and set in for the night at 2120H to the east of 3/3 (near XD 812431). F/2/3 was scheduled to arrive at Khe Sanh on 27 Apr.
Supporting arms for 26 Apr consisted of 1076 rounds of artillery and 20
air SORTIEs delivering 58,000 pounds ordnance.
Casualties for 26 Apr: from B/ 1/9: 6 KIA and 14 WIA, and from 3/3: 5 KIA and 24 WIA.
POSTURING 27 April 1967
An AO flying overhead early in the morning of 27 Apr sighted 15 - 20 NVA manning an OP outside a bunker at XD 782448 at 081 SH; two hours later he sighted a large gun approx. 6-ft. Iong on wheels approximately 3-ft. in diameter, at XD 785450.
All units of 3/3 moved into close proximity shortly after first light on
the 27th, and medevac of casualties was completed by 270727H. Thereafter, 3/3 commenced
overland movement to the KSCB perimeter, arriving at 1130H.
At 1400H, 3d Mar CHOPed M/3/3 and M/3/9 to SOP KHE SANH. M/3/3 arrived at 1610H to replace K/3/3 which departed at 1500H to Thon Son Lam (the "Rock Pile"). M/3/9 arrived at 1730H to replace B/l/9 which departed at 1630H. What remained of B/l/9 flew out of KSCB on one C-130 to Dong Ha and then trucked out to Camp Carroll that night. Several days later, they were listening on their radios to the action at Khe Sanh, how all the thousands they'd seen were running into trouble: "We couldn't believe it. We were all looking at each other and saying, 'What the hell did we run in to!?"'
In addition, the remaining company of the SLF, F/2/3, arrived at Khe Sanh and assumed the mission of reserve. B/1/12, the SLF battery, arrived at 1900H and was laid and ready to fire by 2150H. 2/3 realigned itself during 27 Apr while assisting in the neutralization of Hill 861 by supporting arms. 2/3 remained to the south of the hill (at XD 812432) with the companies oriented to the west of the command group.
Two recon inserts were attempted on 27 Apr to provide surveillance to
the west and north of the battle area.
At 1245H, Capt Don McPheron, pilot of a section of aircraft (EP- 171 ) and his wingman, ILt Thomas P. Berry, took off from Khe Sanh to insert a recon team. After completing this, they again took off from Khe Sanh at 1315H for a second recon team insertion. They were to insert team BREAKER at XD 723443. Two KLONDIKE gunships from VMO-6 located the zone, reported it appeared to be satisfactory, and made some low passes. Capt McPheron entered the zone while Lt Thomas Berry remained in a 2000-ft. orbit overhead. On touchdown, Capt McPheron's aircraft received heavy automatic weapons fire from a beeline only 10 yards from his aircraft. Although Capt McPheron attempted to depart, his aircraft became uncontrollable and crashed into the 2800-ft. high zone. Since Lt Berry was carrying 4 recon troops he was unable to make an immediate pick-up of the 9 survivors of the crash. He proceeded directly to KSCB, Offloaded the passengers, and retumed to the zone. The 9 survivors, meanwhile, were taking fire from two treelines while the gunships made low passes attempting to suppress the enemy fire. The 9-5 were wounded-began to move down the slope, off the ridge, as their aircraft began to bum, attempting to escape the enemy's automatic weapons fire.
Lt Berry resumed and commenced his approach, orienting his helicopter sideways to allow the gunner to fire the .50. He still did not know where the survivors were as he proceeded below the ridgeline and moved his helicopter up the slope, hugging the terrain. This made it possible for him to bring his aircraft as close as possible while avoiding some of the automatic weapons fire from one of the beelines. Even late in the approach, he still was unable to locate the survivors until Capt McPheron's co-pilot, ILt T.R. Llewellyn, stood up in a bomb crater where they were located and waved by crossing his arms. The mountainside was extremely steep. Lt Berry was unable to land, and hovered with the right main wheels on the mountainside as the downed crew and the recon team, under the direction of the r con company's First Sergeant, J. L. Medvecky, crawled down the hill and were pulled into the aircraft by the gunner, LCPL Sanders. Cpl Wilson, the Crew Chief, fired from the door window because the .50 would not elevate sufficiently up the hill. Lt Berry's co-pilot, ILt Andrew Parker, was concerned that the rotor blades would strike the ground at any time due to the steep gradient of the mountain. Bullets impacted into the ground around the helicopter, particularly the area around the cockpit, but Lt Berry remained calm and held his position. After a very uncomfortable length of time in the zone, it appeared that all were aboard. Lt Parker raised the ramp, and Lt Berry took off, dropping down the mountainside to gain airspeed. 20 minutes after EP-171 had been shot down, the wounded were receiving medical treatment. The second recon team was successfully inserted at 1420H at XD 745541, but extracted two hours later due to contact and numerous sightings in the area.
By the end of the day, artillery support, which fired 632 rounds on the 27th, was reorganized into an artillery group with two batteries: one in support of each battalion, and a detachment of two 155mm howitzers and three 4.2" mortars in general support. A i r support for 27 April consisted of 136,000 pounds of ordnance, delivered primarily on Hill 861. The bombs consisted of 250 and 500pound mixtures along with 18,000 pounds of napalm.
HILL 861 TAKEN 28 April 1997
Plans for 28 Apr were to attack the area commanded by three key terrain
features: Objective #I was Hill 861 (XD 803443), Objective #2 was Hill 881-South (XD
778438), and Objective #3 was Hill 881 -North (XD 775458). Battalion 2/3 south of Hill 861
was to seize Objective #1 after supporting arms had blasted it on 28 Apr. Battalion 3/3
was to follow in the trace of 2/3 and then wheel to the west in an arcing movement,
securing the key terrain between Objectives # I and #2 and attack and seize Objective #2
from a northeasterly direction. After Objective # I was secured by 2/3 and thoroughly
searched for enemy documents, weapons, and equipment, and after Objective #2 had been
secured, 2/3 was to attack and seize Objective #3 from the east. Duration of the operation
was contingent on enemy resistance encountered.
On 28 Apr, 2/3 assaulted Objective #1, Hill 861 (XD 803443) with two companies abreast (Co E and G) and secured it at 281630H encountering no enemy.
Between 1910H and 1840H, E/2/3 received sporadic mortar fire for a total of 19 incoming 60mm mortars, but suffered no casualties. 2/3 set in for the night with the two assaulting companies remaining in the vicinity of the objective and the command group and the remaining company to the south.
3/3, composed of a command group and three companies (M/3/3, K/3/9, and M/3/9), moved overland from KSCB to occupy night positions on the southwestern flank of 2/3, with the command group and a company at XD 803427 and the remaining two companies deployed to the west.
During the 28th, air dropped 382,700 pounds of ordnance, including 74,250 pounds of ordnance and twelve 2,000-pound bombs (DELTA-4, M-84), while artillery fired 968 rounds in observed missions and 107 rounds as H&Is. In addition two Arc Light strikes were conducted, centered at XD 955455 and XD 780530.
The Battle of the Hills had little to do with the local situation at Khe Sanh; it was as though two enemy forces entered a virgin area and fought it out, without regard to the local inhabitants.
Col Corson relates that some distance from all the action, several local
populace [he calls "Vietnamese" but were probably Bru tribesmen] were standing
beside a Marine radio jeep watching the fire-power rained upon 861. The day was finally
clear; the action was clearly visible. One of the locals asked a Marine Major in the jeep
why the assault forces continued to attack up a hill in the face of enemy fire, and the
Major, annoyed and yet holted by a primitive person speaking English, sar
castically responded that that is where the enemy was! Then the local citizen asked why the Marines did not use the tunnel running through the mountain, attacking the enemy from the rear. The Major now became interested! But Hill 861 was already taken, and the Major angrily looked at the local man and asked why he didn't mention the tunnel earlier. The man responded that he had not been asked. He walked away. The real reason was that the local leader, Mr. Anya, had attempted to speak with the Marines for 5 days, but the Marines, preoccupied with the tactical situation, did not wish to speak with him. Hill 861 contained, in fact, five natural caves.
CARING FOR EACH OTHER 29 April 1967
The attack began on 29 Apr as 3/3 moved toward Battalion Intermediate Objective "A" (XD 782445). The lead element, M/3/9 became engaged in a draw at XD 792448 with an estimated enemy platoon 1120H to 130011 resulting in 2 Marines killed, 10 wounded, 2 NVA killed (confirmed) and 19 killed (probable).
Cpl Robert L. Allen, a squad leader with First Platoon, M/3/9, had just
set his squad in a defensive position when they began to receive heavy enemy small arms
and automatic weapons fire from entrenched enemy fortifications.
Two men were caught in the open and seriously wounded during the initial exchange of fire. When he observed that they were unable to move, Cpl Allen, with complete disregard for his own safety, dashed through the heavy enemy fire to the wounded men and immediately carried one of them to safety.
Undaunted by the continuing hostile fire, he quickly returned to the remaining Marines. Although he received a painful wound as he recrossed the open area, he ignored his own injury to carry his companion to safety. Refusing medical attention for himself, he skillfully directed accurate fire into the North Vietnamese position while administering first aid to his wounded companions.
During this same action, Cpl Vincent M. Kowalewski and Cpl Wayne Kretler both observed a wounded Marine in an open area, and unhesitatingly exposed themselves to the heavy enemy fire to lift a wounded comrade to their shoulders and each move one of their wounded comrades to a position of safety.
The platoon radioman of Second Platoon, LCPL Ira G.R. Johnson, II, spotted several wounded Marines Iying in an open area within the enemy's killing zone and unhesitatingly ran through the intense enemy automatic rifle and small arms fire to a wounded comrade and calmly administered first aid while remaining exposed to the enemy fire, and then carried the man to a place of relative safety. Observing a corpsman attempting to bring another wounded Marine to safety, he returned through the murderous enemy fire to assist the Marine to safety.
LCPL Jerry M. Vanderhoff, observing his wounded companions Iying exposed to hostile fire immediately moved through the heavy volume of enemy fire to a position from which he could deliver effective 3.5" rocket fire at the enemy positions. With complete disregard for his own safety, he repeatedly exposed himself to the hostile fire as he fired white phosphorous rocket rounds into the North Vietnamese positions, providing a smoke screen that enabled the Marine casualties to be evacuated. Although painfully wounded, he refused medical attention or evacuation until he had expended all his ammunition.
Directing the efforts of LCPL Vanderhoof was 2Lt Edward J. Kresty, a platoon commander in M13/9 who saw that the lead elements of M-2, the point platoon, had become detached from the rest of M-2. Several Marines had been seriously wounded during the initial burst of fire. "It was then that I saw 2nd Lt Kresty furiously move through this heavy fire to an exposed position forward of his platoon. On the way up he moved from position to position. He must have immediately realized what the situation was, because just as he reached the exposed high ground, he began to give instructions to the cut off squad by radio and because he could see from his exposed position he calmly directed the cut off squad back to the platoon's position by another route and consolidated their position. After this was accomplished and although he could have then returned to a safe position he remained to draw fire while he directed the successful evacuation of the wounded. After this was completed he still remained under this heavy automatic fire to mark the enemy position with WP from a 3.5 rocket launcher for supporting arms. During this time the artillery FO was seriously wounded and unable to render any assistance so Lieutenant Kresty called in the artillery fire mission on the enemy positions which was as close as 75 meters to his own position. Lieutenant Kresty showed no concern at all for his own safety. I am sure that if he did not react the way he did his platoon and the company would have suffered heavy losses. 2d Lieutenant Kresty's knowledge and devotion to duty saved the lives of many Marines that day, without any regard for his own safety."
During this contact, the second element, M/3/3, passed to the south of the fire fight and continued the attack toward the battalion objective, and secured Objective "A" at 191' H, remaining in this position, about 600 - 700 meters northeast of Hill 881-South, for the evening. At 19001, M/3/3 sighted 20 NVA soldiers on Objective 2 moving in a western direction across the top of the hill. In addition, two enemy mortar teams were sighed setting on Objective #2 and just to the west of M/3/3's position at XD 780444.
Capt David G. Rogers of C Battery, 1/12, recalls the Commanding Officer of Co M, Capt Bennett, ".. called me over. I was standing about 15 meters from him-and he told me what he was doing and he said, 'Look, Dave, there's a North Vietnamese up on top of that hill up there. Get some arty up there real fast.' So I think that was about the fastest fire mission I ever fired in my life. I think we got rounds up there within a matter of two minutes or less.. And I can still remember real vividly the sound of these rounds coming over our heads. You could really hear them whistling... The Company Commander was constantly calling for more and more artillery on top of the hill."
Countermortar fire was brought to bear immediately, permitting the enemy to fire only four rounds of 82mm before being dispersed. At 20151, M/3/3 sighted an estimated NVA company advancing towards its position. Artillery with VT fuze was called in on noise and lights resulting in screams of pain among the enemy. M/3/3 remained on the intermediate objective during the night with no further contact. The remainder of 3/3 was to the east, near XD 792442, within support and reinforcement range of the lead company. 2/3 encountered no contact and only one sighting during the day. The search of Objective #1, Hill 861, yielded two enemy bodies with ID cards, numerous items of enemy equipment, and two AK47 assault rifles, along with the bodies of 4 previously unrecovered Marine KlAs. 2/3's nighttime positions ranged from the top of Objective #I to the west.
Hill 861 was found to be well fortified with bunkers constructed from
bamboo, dirt and grass. Some of the bunkers were as much as six feet thick and wee capable
of receiving direct artillery hits without suffering internal damage. Approximately 25
bunkers and 62 fighting holes were found on top of Hill 861, all mutually supporting and
very well camouflaged. A total of 400 fighting holes were counted on Hill 861 and the
ridges to the north and west. Defenses weer primarily oriented toward the finger running
up the hill from the south. Mortar positions were found on the reverse slope (northwest)
laid in the direction of KSCB. If all the positions had been occupied at one time, Hill
861 could have held two NVA companies plus supporting arms. The battle area was extremely
well policed by the enemy; virtually no equipment or information of intelligence value
remained. Due to the large amount of ordnance expended on Hill 861 many of the positions
were destroyed or buried. The odor of dead and decaying bodies was strong. As a result of
the massive supporting arms brought to bear on Hill 861, the 18th NVA Regiment was
severely mauled and was relieved by the 95th Regiment of the 325C Division, which defended
Hills 881-South and 881-North during the remainder of the battle.
The remaining regiment of the 325C Division, the 101st, remained in reserve near Highway 9 in Laos.
The 18th NVA Regiment had been a well-disciplined force, well entrenched in bunkers and caves. Their camouflage was such that attacking Marines were within their position before realizing it. They survived artillery and air strikes and were not routed until 1000 and 2000 pound bombs with delayed fuzes were used against" them. Enemy fire discipline and marksmanship were excellent. Many Marine casualtries were shot through the head and upper body. The enemy force on 861 had been supported by snipers, .50 and .30 caliber MGs, 60mm and 82mm mortars on 861 and from XD 798446, XD 806446, and XD 778444. When 2/3 secured the hill, the Marine KlAs which had been left during the fighting were found stripped of all equipment.
Supporting arms for 29 Apr included 195,000 pounds of airdelivered ordnance including 40,000 pounds of napalm and a mixture of 250 to 2000 pound bombs. Artillery fired 2040 rounds during the day, primarily in support of M/3/9's morning contact and M/3/3's evening contact. Air recon of the area to the west of Hill 881-South and 881North disclosed a large number of previously undiscovered enemy positions, including 12 .50 cal. positions.
CONFLICT, CARNAGE, CONQUEST 30 April 1967
Capt David Rogers, of M/3/3, recalls the day: "The weather on the
morning of April 30, 1967, was beautiful, not
a cloud in the sky and one could see for miles. There was no fog, smog, or air pollution that far away from civilization. Only North Vietnamese soldiers, Bru Montagnards, US Marines, and wild animals roamed those picturesque mountains, even tigers. The only things visible were Marines as the NVA had expertly camouflaged themselves on Hill 881 -South under the protection of intermittent fog... I should have figured that everything was going to go to hell after calling in a fire mission just prior to starting up the hill. I called for white phosphorus marking rounds before calling for high explosive. I was lucky I did as the first round whistled by real close and nearly hit a couple of Marines in front of us. I told the command group that I felt the battery at KSCB had made an error in azimuth computations. The battery was alerted and told to recheck their data. They admitted a human error had been made and said the error would be corrected by battery personnel. For the remainder of the day, subsequent rounds would land where called for."
On the morning of 30 Apr, shortly after first light, H/2/3 moved into
the area of M/319's contact of 29 Apr (XD 791449). The enemy allowed Co H to move to
within 100 meters of their bunkers and then opened up with .50s as well as sniper rifles
with high powered scopes. There were an estimated 50 NVA soldiers dug in bunkers to their
front and 15 on theirleftflankatXD791447. The company immediately began taking heavy
casualties from the intense crossfire of an estimated two enemy platoons at XD 793446.
Second and Third Platoons of H/2/3 were immediately pinned down and took heavy casualties.
H-2 had set up a base of fire on a small ridge less than 100 meters from the enemy
while 11-3 had moved over the forward slope of the ridge into a draw where the North Vietnamese opened up from well concealed and highly fortified positions.
ILt David Spencer Hackett, the Co XO, was in a depression from where he could observe the source of the enemy fire. He charged 30 meters through a hail of murderous fire to direct the fire of a M-60 MG team near him against the enemy bunker firing on them.
LCPL Gary Eugene Mettler, a machinegunner attached to H-2, ignored the
heavy volume of enemy fire and moved his MG to a vantage point to provide optimal fire
support for his platoon. While moving across the fireswept terrain, he was painfully
wounded. He refused medical evacuation and succeeded in emplacing his weapon and
delivering accurate suppressive fire against the hostile positions. Despite his painful
injury, he continued to fire his weapon until he was out of ammunition. Still under fire,
he ran to a wounded Marine, retrieved the ammunition he was carrying, and continued to
bring fire on the enemy. Only after friendly artillery had silenced the enemy position did
LCPL Mettler consent to have his wound treated.
Although 2Lt Bruce Edwin Griesmer, the Platoon Commander of Second Platoon, was seriously wounded in the initial burst of fire, he continued to command the situation by skillfully maneuvering his men to more advantageous positions and directing the delivery of a heavy volume of fire on the hostile force. Continuously refusing medical evacuation, he continued commanding the situation, providing covering fire for the evacuation of the wounded and dead until, overcome with pain and loss of blood, he lost consciousness. One of the Navy corpsmen, HN Richard L. Kinney, rushed forward through the intense enemy crossfire, moving from one injured Marine to another to attend their wounds. While thus serving his fellowmen, he was killed by the enemy.
With the other corpsmen also wounded, Cpl Mark Leroy Black moved to the side of one of the corpsmen, retrieved his Unit One, and began rendering medical aid to the casualties. Disregarding his own safety, he fearlessly exposed himself to the hostile fire as he moved from one casualty to another, administering aid and comforting the wounded. Subsequently he organized several stretcher teams and helped carry the wounded to safety. Several Marines lived because of Cpl Black's actions.
Cpl Thomas Lance Brewer, a squad leader of H/2/3, noticed that one of his men had a serious wound, and moved through the heavy hostile fire to assist him. While attempting to move the casualty, Cpi Brewer was himself wounded in his arm, but, ignoring his painful injury, remained with the Marine to provide protective fire until further assistance arrived and the man was moved to a position of relative safety.
PFC Eugene Wall noticed a Marine trapped at the point, seriously
wounded, and unhesitatingly moved through the heavy volume of fire to render aid to his
comrade and carry him to a place of relative safely. Throughout the fire fight, PFC Wall
repeatedly moved across the fire-swept terrain to assist his wounded companions and move
them to covered positions.
ILt Hackett, constantly moving through one of the pinned-down platoons to organize the evacuation of the seriously wounded, sent his radioman to the Company Commander, Capt Raymond C. Madonna, since his radioman had been killed. Without means to communicate with the base of fire extablished by H-2, he rose from his position of safety despite the heavy enemy fire hitting around him, to direct fire from the base of fire. While moving, he was killed by an enemy rifleman.
PVT Michael Makovec of 3.5" rockets, disregarded his own safety and moved through a heavy volume of fire to a vantage point to deliver accurate rocket fire against an enemy MG which was inflicting numerous casualties. Repeatedly exposing himself to hostile fire, he continued to fire his weapon until the MG was destroyed.
H/2/3 pulled back with its casulaties and cleared the area for close air support strikes. Results of the fire fight were: 9 Marines KIA, 43 WIA (29 evacuated), 14 NVA KIA (confirmed) and another 25 probables.
E/2/3, meanwhile, moved on the left flank of H/2/3, receiving several
rounds of sniper fire during Company H's contact. E/2/3 continued its advance unhindered
to the southern approaches of Objective #3, Hill 881-North. The company spotted enemy
troop movement (at XD 780451 ) at I 1 40H and at 161 OH took the enemy under fire while
calling in gunships and air. At 1700H, E/ 2/3 (at XD 778452) received small arms fire from
XD 782449 wounding 5 Marines.
The Third Platoon of E/2/3 had the mission of seizing the high ground on the right flank of the company objective when it suddenly came under intense small arms and automatic weapons fire and was pinned down. When he observed the wounded separated from the rest of the platoon and exposed to continuing hostile fire, Hospitalman John Charles Burke, Jr., completely disregarded his own safety as he dashed through the heavy volume of fire to aid the fallen Marines.
Despite the concentrated enemy fire, he moved from one man to another, skillfully administering first aid and evacuating them to the safety of covered positions during the 3-hour battle. On one occasion he was unable to move a Marine who had lost a considerable amount of blood. He fearlessly lay in a prone position shielding the Marine while he gave him medical aid, undoubtedly saving the man's life.
Simultaneously, Third Platoon's Right Guide, Cpl Robert Paul Foreit, began to maneuver to the wounded, using his own body as a shield to protect the wounded and a corpsman, HN Ronald E. Mclntyre. When rounds from the enemy fire landed only inches away, Cpl Foreit remained very calm and joked and talked to the wounded Marines to bolster their morale. When he located other casualties time and time again he gave cover to HN Mclntyre so he could reach and treat the wounded. He then carried some of the casualties to a safer location. [A few days later, on 3 May, while rushing to the aid of a wounded Marine, Foreit was painfully wounded and evacuated].
Gunships were called to neutralize the enemy, and the casualties were successfully extracted. At 1927H, E/2/3 reported receiving sporadic small arms fire from XD 774453, to their northwest and reported its troops heard a warning device making a "beep" sound everytime an aircraft passed over the area bounded by Hill 861, 881 -South, and 881North. As a result of their contacts, E/2/3 drew in tight within their perimeter at XD 778452 for the night as H&ls were fired into the area. At mid-afternoon, after travelling one and a half hours through extremely dense foliage, G/2/3 arrived at the area where H/2/3 had had contact in the morning and withdrew in order to blast the area with supporting arms. The attack position was a small ridge line about 300 meters from the top of a very steep but nearly barren hill which lay in front of them, about one click northwest of Hill 861.
At this point, the First Platoon, G/2/3, moved two squads down to the
base of the incline and got on line to assault the hill. One squad, Second, remained on
the ridge line to be used as a base of fire in order to provide close support as the
remainder moved into an extremely precarious situation, half crawling, half walking, up
the bomb-riddled slope.
The move was without incident until they came to the crest, at which time the assaulting elements came under intense fire from automatic weapons and extremely accurate sniper fire form the top of the hill, about 75 meters to their front. Despite heavy supporting arms, the enemy was still in the area. It was frighteningly eerie: "The ammo had no noise to them.. We couldn't hear the rounds go off- we-just bodies falling down, making it hard to distinguish where these rounds were being fired from. The best way we thought to assault the position was throwing a lot of hand grenades."
Immediately there were casualties. LCPL Rodin spotted an enemy bunker,
but had trouble with his weapon and crouched in a kneeling position too long while
attempting to clear it. An enemy sniper shot him in the leR lung and leR shoulder.
Another casualty, PFC Yizzerea, was shot through the neck and bled profusely. SSgt Ruben Santos came to his aid, placing his finger inside the bullet hole and greatly reduced the flow of blood. The platoon corpsman, HN David L. Boucher, later declared that this immediate action undoubtedly saved PFC Yizzerea's life.
When the corpsmen arrived, SSgt Santos resumed his duties as platoon sergeant as the attacking squads sought what little protection the crest of the hill afforded. It was noted at this time that approximately a squad of the enemy was dug-in on top of the hill in bunkers and spider holes which had withstood a continuous barrage of heavy bombs and artillery that early morning. They were armed with automatic weapons, including a MG and sniper rifle. It was evident that these enemy remained behind to delay the advance, a suicidal attempt to kill as many Marines as possible, thereby covering their retreating main force.
It was about 1830H and darkness was fast approaching as the two assault
squads lay pinned down just beneath the crest of hill. At this time, 2Lt Peter M. Hesser
decided to use the squad on his right as a base of fire and move the left squad further
left and higher on the hill so they could assault across the front of the enemy. The squad
on the right threw grenades and on command the squad on the left assaulted across the
front, killing several of the enemy in their holes and bunkers.
The enemy were entrenched, having a wide field of fire. SSgt Santos, unconcerned for his own life, went from bunker to bunker, spraying the area with rounds and throwing grenades. At one time he caught a live grenade and dropped it into an enemy bunker, one which was facing the Marines advancing up the hill, saving many Marines' lives.
PFC Michael T. Mills, also maneuvering through the enemy fire, threw a hand grenade inside an enemy bunker, killing the enemy soldier and enabling his unit to continue to the top of the hill. When he spotted an enemy MG, he and LCPL Robert G. Cameron aggressively attacked the bunker and destroyed it with a hand grenade. Cpl David M. Coleman also was attacking the enemy bunkers and spider holes, exposing himself to enemy fire while throwing hand grenades into the occupied holes. Due to twilight, several of the spider traps were passed unnoticed as the hilltop was seized and the platoon established a 360° perimeter.
At this time, Cpl Coleman saw Cpl Richard Travis Schmitz being pulled into an enemy bunker. Cpl Coleman, without delay, jumped in front of the bunker, grabbed ahold of Cpl Schmitz and attempted to pull his body free. The NVA inside, shooting through Cpl Schmitz's body, wounded Cpl Coleman in 5 different places, knocking him to the ground. Although shot in his legs, Cpl Coleman again crawled back trying to aid Cpl Schmitz, whom he thought was still alive. At this time, SSgt Santos arrived and Coleman was brought back to be treated by the platoon corpsman.
SSgt Santos, disregarding his own safety, fearlessly advanced and tied a
line to the man's legs. As he attempted to pull the Marine from the hole, the enemy
soldiers fired through the casualty's body, inflicting flash burns on SSgt Santos' face
and hands. Realizing that Schmitz had succumbed to his wounds and that further attempts to
clear the bunker in the darkness would cause additional casualties, he ordered his men to
cover the bunker with logs and block all exits. On the following morning, investigation of
the bunker revealed two dead enemy soldiers, one still alive-alive because he sat on a
grenade; it blew off his ass, but he was still alive.
G/2/3 had sustained two killed and nine wounded in this action, and set in for the night at XD 789449.
On the morning of 30 April, M/3/3, prior to its assault on Objective #2, Hill 881-South, commenced a search of the adjacent draw in which the enemy troops had been massing on the preceeding night prior to the artillery saturation with VT fuse (at XD 778446). While in the area, elements of the company located 5 NVA bodies and 2 NVA wounded. One of the wounded NVA attempted to escape and was killed; the second was captured but later died from previously inflicted wounds.
Prior to M/3/3's search of the draw, K/3/9 at 0615H had commenced
movement from its nighttime position to link up with
M/3/3. The company linked up with the rear elements of M/3/3 at 0815H, while the lead elements of M/3/3 attacked Objective #2 at 0800H. The assault by M/3/3 was led by Capt Raymond H. Bennett of Columbus, Ohio, Commanding Officer of a Marine detachment on USS ENTERPRISE who had requested TAD [Temporary Additional Duty] assignment in order to participate in the Khe Sanh operation. The CO of M/3/3, Capt Griggs, was on R&R.
The attack plan called for First Platoon, led by Lt Billy D. Crews, to move to the top of the hill, turn right along the ridgeline, while 3d Platoon, led by Lt Joseph Robert Mitchell, Jr., would follow in trace and turn leR. Lt. Douglas Houser's training 2nd Platoon would provide the base of fire and reserve reinforcement to the lead platoons.
Hill 881-South consists of two high knolls with a saddle between, and several fingers sloping downward from the hill. The NVA occupied the hill with a battlion minus. [Note: the sizes of NVA units are greatly different than USMC. A NVA Division contains approx. 6,000 or more; a NVA Regiment approx 1,500, a NVA Battalion 400, a NVA company approx. 100, and a platoon, 30.] Both peaks were defensive strongpoints employing perimeter defenses, while a lineal defense was employed between the knolls. Defensive positions also extended down the fingers to the northeast, north, and west. Both strong points had a CP but the main CP was on the western peak. Communication wire ran from the CP to three mortar pits on the hill at XD 778444 and to three mortar pits on the western side of the hill. An estimated platoon occupied each of the knolls at XD 778444, XD 764443, and XD 773423.
For the Marines of M/3/3, the threat contained on Hill 881South was anything but obvious. Artillery had fired on it all night. But what was up there?
Capt David G. Rogers, an artillery offcer of C Battery, 1/12, was with Capt Raymond H. Bennett, the Company Commander, ILt Joseph A. Cialone, the XO, and assigned radio operators: "..we didn't know exactly what was up on Hill 881 [south!. It was a real deceiving place to be in.. If somebody were to have told me that there was an entire battalion of North Vietnamese up on top of that hill, I think I would have looked at him and told him he was crazy. First of all, you couldn't really see any signs of North Vietnamese up there. We know there was people up there because we had seen them the night before. However, like I say, a larger unit, a battalion-sized unit, up on top of that hill-I just couldn't imagine it. We could see some bunkers, I'd say at the very most I saw probably five bunkers.. The rest were so well camouflaged, expertly camouflaged, that the average Marine couldn't see them unless we actually walked up on the position itself."
At 0830H, M/3/3 sighted 4 NVA soldiers on Objective #2 and called in
artillery with unknown results. By 1025H the leading platoon of M/3/3, led by Lt Billy D.
Crews, had reached the top of Objective #2, Hill 881-South, on the western end (XD 778438)
and began moving east on top of the hill, receiving sporadic small arms fire. Lt Crews
reported it was nothing he couldn't handle, and Capt Bennett ordered him to keep pressing
eastward. At this time, Lt Crews ran into heavy opposition, and another platoon, led by Lt
Houser, was dispatched to reinforce. With the second platoon joining them, the company
closed on the enemy and was hit by heavy fire from a well dug-in enemy in heavily
camouflaged positions and by sniper fire from individual riflemen located in trees. The
two platoons also received 30 rounds of 82. The platoons were trapped, unable to advance
or withdraw. The North Vietnamese had permitted the Marines to advance past their bunkers
while going up the hill. They had excellent fire discipline. When the Marines attempted to
come down the hill the same way they advanced, the North Vietnamese opened up on them.
They could not move. The battle was to last some 6 hours.
A special problem with Hill 881-South was the use of artillery. The only friendly artillery that could support Marines on 881South were 155 howitzers. These at KSCB were the old towed-type howitzers requiring a considerable amount of time to shift action, especially in the very muddy conditions then prevailing, usually about half an hour.Capt David Rogers "..was with the command group which consisted of the company commander, executive officer, their radio operators, and my radio operator. The CO maintained radio contact with the platoon leaders as their platoons begdan the ascent. The firing of weapons was sporadic at first as the Marines of Mike Company advanced forward. A few explosions could be heard (grenades) and first reports via radio indicated only light resistance was being encountered and that the situation could be handled. I don't know how far up the hill the Marines had advanced before everything just seemed to explode on the north side of the hill. They got pinned down and couldn't be seen by the command group. The noise level increased sharply and reports started coming in via radio that resistance was extremely heavy. It was soon apparent that Mike Company had walked into a death trap. A perfect ambush had been executed and for those on the hill there was no way back down safely as they had become surrounded and victims of murderous crossfire. The hunters had suddenly become the hunted. Reports of Marine casualties came in including the death of a platoon leader, a friend of mine. [Lt "Buzzy" Mitchell]. Finally, only one radio was transmitting from the top of the hill to the command group. It appeared nearly impossible to coordinate the assault with the number of casualties being suffered.
"At the same time the command group had clustered together in a
bomb crater located at the edge of a ring of death which had begun to fill with dead and
wounded Marines and NVA soldiers. The crater provided some protection except for the
mortar rounds which had begun to drop around us. One landed in front of us and about a
minute or so later one
landed behind us. To an artilleryman, that's called 'bracketing'- the next round lands in the middle of where the first two landed, which was where we were located. Fortunately, it never came, but I kept expecting it to show up for a long time. I knkew if it landed in the bomb crater we would all be dead."
"I remember seeing from the command position one black Marine close
to us charging up the slope of the hill when suddenly a mortar round went off behind him.
He buckled at the knees, remained stationary with both knees planted on the ground for
about 10 seconds, and then suddenly got up and kept moving forward. I thought for sure he
had been seriously injured, but apparently the shrapnel had blown away from him and only
the concussion from the explosion had momentarily stunned him."
Disregarding his own personal safety, 2Lt Billy Derrell Crews, Platoon Commander of First Platoon, M/3/3, the point element, led his men up the hill, becoming wounded from a mortar in the assault. Despite his wounds and the continuous mortar attack, Lt Crews repeatedly moved up and down the hill to assist in carrying his wounded Marines to safety, exposing himself to enemy fire each time.
During this time, Cpl Bernard G. Elkins, Right Guide of First Platoon,
M/3/3, repeatedly went from positon to position to provide battle dressings to his men.
When the suply of battle dressings was exhausted, Cpl Elkins ran from position to
position, under heavy fire, gathering all extra battle dressings and then returned to use
them on the wounded. In the process he himself was wounded in the chest and arm. He was
moved to the LZ for evacuation but insisted on gathering extra
ammunition as he moved along and then carrying it back to his platoon and distributing it among the troops. He was instrumental in calming the wounded by talking with each man. He refused to be medically evacuated until all the other casualties had been loaded aboard.
The thick vegetation and intense enemy fire had resulted in the various
squads of Lt Crews' First Platoon to become separated. One squad was forced to seek cover
several meters in advance of the remainder of the platoon where it remained some 5 hours.
The increasing intensity of the bitterly contested engagement saw several enemy assaults
quickly deplete the remaining ammunition supply of this advance squad. The squad, like the
platoon, could neither move forward nor withdraw without producing many casualties. In
addition, they had taken several casualties which made it even more difficult to move.
Realizing the necessity of rendering assistance and supplying the advance squad with critically needed ammunition, PFC Dorsey Burwin Williams unhesitatingly exposed himself to the enemy fire by crawling forward with ammunition. Advancing only a few meters, PFC Williams sustained a painful shoulder wound, but refused to return to safety despite being urged to do so, and continued forward. Approximately 10 meters from the advance squad PFC Williams threw several magazines of ammunition to them, while at the same time, enemy soldiers rushed from the thick foliage. Reacting quickly, PFC Williams wounded the enemy soldiers, but before he could again fire, the enemy soldier fired a burst of automatic weapons fire into his head, killing him.
The Second Platoon of M/3/3 was assigned the mission of moving up Hill 881-South and securing the left flank. Fire from one particular enemy bunker was inflicting heavy casualties and halted the advance of Second Platoon.
PFC Randy McPhee [2nd Fire Team, 2nd Plt, M/3/3] was on the point and
got off the first shot, which triggered an ambush, killing him and the next three Marines
within seconds. "Randy McPhee, our pointman-that was his second tour of duty there.
Just before we went into this particular battle-he was considered a 'Marine's Marine' kind
of thing- but he fell down before the Sergeant there and cried and begged him not to go to
this particular fight because, he said, 'If I go, I'm going to die.' And it kinda shook us
all up because we knew he was no coward. But he went, took two rounds in the chest."
Due to intense hostile fire, his unit was forced to withdraw, leaving his body behind (at
XD 776438). [During the next two days, after the hill had been subjected to intense
artillery fire and aerial bombing, when the Marines returned to recover remains of those
killed on 30 Apr, none of the remains recovered were identified as those of PFC McPhee. He
Realizing the necessity of eliminating the position, LCPL James H. Whisenhunt, a rocket squad leader with M/3/3, on his own initiative, advanced into an exposed area, a clear field of fire, and commenced to deliver accurate and effective M-79 rounds on the enemy. Scoring a direct hit, he then advanced across an open, exposed area to secure and destroy the bunker completely. In the process, enemy MG fire inflicted fatal wounds on LCPL Whisenhunt.
SSgt Karol R. Bauer was approaching the crest of the hill when he began warning his comrades to remain back and take
cover as he heard mortars pop from their tubes. His warning was responsible for saving many lives as moments later an enemy mortar barrage saturated the Marine advance. ARer the barrage, SSgt Bauer rushed to assist the casualties to points of safety. While assisting one Marine, an enemy sniper mortally wounded him.
The numerous casualties kept the attached Navy corpsmen frenetically moving from one to another in the area of bullets and mortars. Petty Officer Henry Cornell Steward's actions were typical. Fearlessly and repeatedly exposing himself to the hostile fire, he rushed through open area on three different occasions to assist movement of wounded Marines to places of relative safety, administering first aid and speaking words of encouragement. His professional ability and quick thinking helped to save the lives of 10 Marines that were seriously wounded and who would otherwise have died.
Although pinned down, the Marines were not by any means cowering. Typical of all was PFC Thomas Burrlan Knapp who moved his mortar to a dangerously exposed vantage point and, holding the weapon in position with his bare hands, began delivering accurate fire against the NVA. When his assistant gunner was killed, PFC Knapp continued to deliver effective fire unassisted until he sustained a painful head wound. Despite his wound, he refused medical evacuation and administered first aid to the other casualties.
Cpl Robert J. Schley, a MG team leader attached to First Platoon, moved
his team to an advantageous firing position on his own initiative by moving across an open
clearing and was able to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy.
After several hours of fighting, the gun was low on ammunition and Cpl Schley dashed from hole to hole, again under heavy fire, trying to locate additional ammunition. Although successful, he was painfully wounded in his shoulder. Refusing medical evacuation, he returned to his gun position as the only remaining member of his team able to fire. He continued to fire effectively on the enemy and then received a serious neck wound. Although profusely bleeding, he continued to fire, halting numerous enemy assaults until he died from loss of blood and his wounds.
Third Platoon was sent to assist Second Platoon and secure the eastern
half of the hill. They, too, came under heavy fire and took numerous casualties, including
the platoon commander. Don Hossack, radioman for the fallen Platoon Commander, 2Lt Joseph
Robert Mitchell, laid the Lt across his legs, holding him and feeling for the carotid
artery and looking up and listening for the gunships. The scene became the basis for a
sculpture for a Vietnam Memorial in San Antonio, Texas by Austin Deuel. The Lt had only a
tiny piece of shrapnel in his left cheek bone which evidently deflected right up into his
Reacting instantly, 2Lt Douglas Houser organized the remainder of both platoons into an effective fighting force and, rallying his men, directed and encouraged them to continue the assault.
During the ensuing 6-hour battle, he repeatedly exposed himself to the
intense hostile fire to coordinate the advance of his men while he simultaneously
supervised the medical evacuation of all casualties and assisted in their evacuation.
While Lt Houser organized both platoons, SSgt Terrance Leo Meier immediately assumed command of the platoon upon the death of the platoon commander. Subsequently, becoming separated from his platoon, he remained with 6 seriously wounded companions and provided protective fire for them until he was able to move the men to a captured enemy bunker. From here, despite continuous incoming enemy fire, he called in artillery fire on the enemy force. Then he called in 81 mm WP rounds to cover their movement.
During this time, Cpl Larry M. Smith led his squad from the Third Platoon, M/3/3, to assist the point elements. Dangereously exposing himself to the intense enemy fire, he led his squad and maneuvered them into positions whereby the lead elements could be effectively supported by fire, until he was fatally wounded by incoming mortar fire.
HM3 Charles Allen Halstead, a Navy Corpsman of the Third Platoon, quickly moved to the position wherer most of the casualties were located and, under heavy fire, moved from man to man to treat their wounds. Evacuation of the wounded was undertaken under heavy enemy fire, but despite the mortar and enemy sniper fire, HM3 Halstead refused to leave until all of his patients had been evacuated first.
The battle was, after all, a maker of the people. Capt Raymond H.
Bennett, commanding M/3/3, observed:
"The most impressive thing I saw is the actions of the American youngster. The same long haired kid that loves rock and roll music and sometimes appears to the public to be a weak generation, comes through with flying colors when the chips are down. "At one point I ran across a couple of men badly shot up. It was obvious to me-and to them-that they were dying. Yet there was no screaming or crying or moaning. They only gave good information to newly arriving troops on the locations of enemy targets such as machine guns."
The overwhelming volume of enemy fire made it apparent that M/3/3 must
disengage in order to permit supporting arms, particularly air, to reduce the objective.
Although the hill had been heavily bombarded, many of the bunkers remained intact or only
lightly damaged. Additional heavy bombardment was essential prior to continuation of the
Capt David Rogers with the M/3/3 CP in the bomb crater saw the survivors: "The Marines started trickling back off the hill slowly. Some were visible to the command group as they approached us carrying the wounded. I recall seeing one Marine whose breasts appeared to have been almost shot off, apparently shot at and hit from a 90° angle. Another half of an inch and surely he, too, would have been among the dead. I remember seeing one Staff Sergeant [SSGT Terrence Leo Meier], an outstanding NCO and leader, carrying one of his wounded men piggyback along with two rifles. He was cursing as he stomped back off the hill. His bitterness about what had happened was very apparent. He was later nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor. He never did receive it, and died a few months later of meningitis in a Naval hospital in DaNang." First Platoon, M/3/9, was sent to assist in the evacuation of casualties and came under heavy fire; the enemy attempted to prevent the link-up by pouring heavy blocking fire between the two Marine units.
Cpl Milton P. Vasquez, knowing it was too dangerous to lead his squad
across without covering fire, dashed across the open, fireswept area, and single-handedly
laid a base of fire which enabled his men to cover the distance with relative safety.
The reinforcing unit nevertheless took many casualties. Numerous acts of heroism were involved in caring for and rescuing them.
Hospitalman Michael A. House continuously maneuvered across the fire-swept area to the side of his wounded comrades. Realizing that the casualties urgently required medical treatment prior to being moved, he courageously remained exposed to the enemy fire and skillfully administered first aid. Repeatedly, he placed himself in the most dangerous positions to care for the wounded.
PFC Vernon W. Metcalf fearlessly moved through the heavy volume of enemy
fire to carry a casualty to a place of relative safety, himself becoming wounded as he did
so. Ignoring his painful injury, he refused to be medevaced, and throughout the attack
repeatedly exposed himself to the intense hostile fire to assist evacuation of other
wounded Marines and their gear.
LCPL Karl G. Gimple repeatedly crawled through an open field which was under heavy MG and mortar fire to reetrieve several dead and wounded Marines as well as their gear. While carrying an injured Marine to the medical collection point, Cpl Gimple was wounded in the neck and shoulder. Ignoring his painful injuries, he resolutely completed carrying the wounded Marine to safety. Upon reaching the collectioin point, he refused medical aid and continued to assist in the evacuation of casualties.
Spotting a wounded Marine Iying in an exposed position, LCPL David Robert Barnard, with complete disregard for his own safety, moved through the heavy volume of enemy fire to carry the casualty to a place of relative safety. Throughout the attack, he repeatedly moved across the fire-swept terrain to carry the wounded or assist in their evacuation, saving the lives of numerous Marines.
PFC Leslie C. Wyeth, knowing fully the consequences, ran through an enemy barrage to a fallen Marine, picked him up, and ran back through the enemy's killing zone, sustaining a painful leg wound as he went. Ignoring his wound, PFC Wyeth refused medical aid and remained with his unit assisting in administering first aid and evacuating casualties.
Observing several wounded Marines Iying in an open area exposed to enemy fire, LCPL Joseph F. O'Neill unhesitatingly ran across the fire-swept terrain to assist his wounded comrades. As he carried one of the casualties through the hazardous area, LCPL O'Neill sustained a serious neck wound. Ignoring his painful injury, he steadfastly continued to assist the wounded to a place of relative safety.
KILO Company, 3/9, moved towards the base of Hill 881South and formed a
defensive 360. The squad leaders were summoned: K/3/9 was to stand-by to assist if there
were any trouble. And trouble there was!
"About an hour later was when all hell broke loose up on the top of the hill. You couldn't hardly hear yourself think wheree we were so much small arms fire and mortar fire going on." K/3/9 advanced to assist M/3/3 and M/3/9 to disengage. About noon, K/3/9 proceeded up 881South, company on line, platoon column. Second and Third Platoons went up the left side; First Platoon went up the right.
Reaching a small knoll about half-way up the hill, First Platoon became pinned down by a sniper who seriously wounded the rockets man. The corpsman immediately began attending to his wounds when the Lt got hit in the leg and someone called "Corpsman Up!" The corpsman jumped up and started to run across the hill, but was shot through his head. One enemy dashed across an opening, attempting to climb a tree for a beKer shot at the Marines. He was shot and knocked out of the tree. Another NVA soldier ran across the opening; he was tore apart by Marine fire. Still pinned down, another Marine began to carry out the corpsman, but was shot in the shoulder and fell. The Marines began to fire 3.5" rockets, and the platoon began to withdraw. The Marine who had been shot in the shoulder was again shot, this time in his leg. The enemy began pouring mortars. The Marines took cover in some North Vietnamese bunkers as the mortars exploded around them. Then the Lt gave the order to withdraw. Everyone ran offthe hill-fast. "We went back and sat in, and they waited that night for whoever was going to come back, to come back. They brought the wounded and the dead back in, and it wasn't very pretty. They-quite a few of my friends were dead or wounded pretty badly."
Leading the point squad of Second Platoon, K/3/9, Sgt Dale E. Partee observed an enemy MG bunker and immediately directed his unit in a vicious assault which resulted in the destruction of the emplacement. LCPL Orie O. Linn quickly located the enemy MG emplacement and, completely disregarding his own safety, moved forward through the hostile fire and without assistance, courageously assaulted the enemy fortification. Armed only with a .45 caliber pistol, he killed the occupants and seized their crew-served weapon. Second Platoon encountered devastating sniper rounds both on their way up, once up the hill, running across a little open space. "We lost quite a few men. I know I lost quite a few buddies. And those of us that made it got in the beeline up there which we knocked out a gook bunker and stayed up there. It was a hillside, which we couldn't see too far over it. We kept getting fire." Quickly and alertly assessing the situation and, realizing that prompt action was required to rescue those already wounded and without regard for his own safety, Cpl Edward J. Bohannon ran to a bomb crater forward of the wounded Marines. He deliverately exposed himself to the enemy to draw the enemy snipers' fire to himself He continued to draw their fire while simultaneously returning fire on the enemy. He remained in this dangerous position until all the wounded were safely evacuated. [Cpl Bohannon was killed 21May67 on a subsequent operation].
The Second Platoon now began to receive heavy small arms and automatic rifle fire from 3 enemy bunkers located across a 50 meter wide clearing in a tree line. Quickly assessing the situation and disregarding his own safety, Sgt Stanley Charles Butterworth formed up his squad and charged across the clearing through intense enemy fire and successfully silenced all 3 enemy bunkers. When the enemy attempted to organize a counterattack using a reverse slope defense, Sgts Partee and Butterworth organized their squads to deliver a high volume of accurate and suppressive fire, inflicting heavy enemy casualties and forcing them to flee. Their actions saved the lives of many Marines.
The platoon began recovering their wounded and dashed off the hill amid a shower of exploding mortars. During this, Sgt Partee and another Marine were wounded by an exploding mortar round. Ignoring his own painful wounds, Sgt Partee carried his wounded comrade to a place of relative safety.
Third Platoon, K/3/9, moved up Hill 881-South through a ravine. The vegetation was thick, but moveable, and began thinning out towards the top of the hill. The Marines of Third Platoon could see that the other platoons were pinned down by enemy fire, "..but we weren't receiving any fire of any kind from our movement up the hill. So we continued moving up on the hill, thinking that the VC hadn't spoKed us yet and we might be able to get in behind them. That's when we underestimated them." The NVA force was prepared and had lulled the unsuspecting Third Platoon into a trap.
First Squad veered off to the left with the Platoon Commander, 1Lt John
Braxton Woodall, and immediately found itself in the midst of an interlocking enemy bunker
system. The initial burst of enemy fire felled the two point men who were closest to one
of the hidden bunkers. Several attempts to reach the two critically wounded Marines were
thwarted by a hail of deadly fire from the enemy positions. Immediate medical attention
was necessary to save their lives. With a total disregard for his own personal safety, 1Lt
Woodall grabbed a rifle and placed accurate fire into the bunker. He then charged the
bunker and killed both of its enemy occupants. From this position he laid down covering
fire enabling the two Marines to be carried to safety. As he covered their withdrawal Lt
Woodall was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper.
There was a yell: "Corpsman up!" A corpsman ran up to treat a wounded machinegunner. He said the machinegunner would be alright. But the wound was greater than at first apparent; the machine gunner died. Then the corpsman was killed, and the whole squad wiped out. Then came the yell: "Get the other squad up there!" First Squad proceeded up the hill, but could not locate the point squad. Six Marines of First Squad made it to the top, but were pinned down as soon as they arrived.
"The VC had U-shaped bunkers in this one corner that we moved up on. And as soon as we reached it, they started throwing grenades and heavy volume of small arms fire in to us. They would come up out of the bunkers, and just throw a grenade, duck back down, and as you were concentrating on the one bunker that the grenade come through, therre would be another one come up from behind you, and throw another grenade. At the same time-we don't know what kind of machineguns it was, but it had to be a pretty heavy caliber-it was coming in, just tearing up trees and anything that was in front of us."
The Marines of First Squad attempted to retrieve the casualties of the point squad after they were finally located: "..when we finally found them, we noticed they were all dead-over in the left-hand corner. They walked right into the enemy bunkers that were almost in a 360, right on top of the hill."
The remnants of Third Platoon managed to reach the bottom of Hill 881-South, regrouped, and about an hour later, charged back up the hill to recover their dead and wounded. LCPL Henry Rose, Jr., was checking the dog tags of the wounded and dead when a machine gunner, McQuillan, said, "Rose, Rose, the VC got a mortar over there. I can see it. I can see it! Can you hit it with a LAW?" Due to the large amount of canopy, Rose knew he could not. McQuillan fired at the enemy position with his machinegun, lefthanded, from the off-hand. Then more mortars came and McQuillan was wounded in his back. "The mortar hit about ten feet in front of me and I did not get a wound, not a scratch on my body, but people behind me, all around me, got hit by this mortar. I didn't hear it when it came in. It was 60 mortars. They were-I never heard it at all."
Third Platoon finally reached the bomb craters and a heavy tree line where most of the dead and wounded were, and managed to move most of the wounded. "But the dead we couldn't hardly even more to get at em- snipers and machineguns set up." Cpl Kenneth W. Shields, a Squad Leader of First Squad Third Platoon, K/319, repeatedly exposed himself to fire from enemy bunkers to determine their exact location. After alertly pinpointing the exact location of several fortified bunkers, Cpl Shields effectively directed his squad's fire and assisted in the destruction of the enemy emplacements. Observing several wounded Marines Iying in an area exposed to hostile fire, he disregarded his own safety and maneuvered through concentrated enemy fire barely escaping death from accurate snipers to carry them to safety.
Simultaneously, Cpl Walter Junior Washut spotted several dead and wounded Marines in an open area covered by heavy MG and rifle fire. With complete disregard for his own life, Cpl Washut maneuvered through the intense fire, making repeated trips until all the casualties were moved to safety. [Cpl Washut was later killed by a burst of enemy fire on 20May67 near Cam Lo while giving first aid].
Cpl Washut was not alone in rescuing casualties. He observed LCPL Roland F. Wing leave his position of relative safety and carry a wounded Marine through the hostile enemy fire to a covered position. Then he returned and brought another wounded Marine to safety. While attempting a third evacuation, he was felled, wounded by mortar fragments. But two Marines owe their lives to LCPL Wing.
The rocket men fired their 3.5" and the machinegunners fired for about 5 minutes without let-up. WP was called for a smoke screen. Third Platoon was able to withdraw. 37 dead marine bodies had been abandoned on top of the hill; trying to retrieve them would have meant the loss of much additional life. "..from what I saw I didn't think it was really feasible to go up there and sacrifice other Marines to get dead Marines down off the hill, eventhough you are taught in basic training to never leave a dead Marine out on the field if at all possible."
The Battalion (M/3/3, M/3/9, and K/3/9) now disengaged from the area of heavy enemy contact, moved to XD 782445, and set up for the night. Evacuation of casualties was completed by 302155H. Final casualty figures for the 881-South battle of 30 Apr were: 43 Marines killed, 109 wounded (90 of which were medevaced), 125 NVA killed (confirmed) and another probable 85. Most of the casualties were suffered by M/3/3, the intially engaged unit. 33 Marine bodies along with body parts were left on Hill 881, recovered 022100H by 3/3 who evacuated the body parts in one bag.
Capt David Rogers was with the M/3/3 CP which clustered together for a staff meeting. "Some comments were made by those who had been on the hill during the battle. Staff Sergeant Meier described how Second Lieutenant Mitchell had been killed: "'He got his face shot off.' It was very upsetting. My feelings were so intense I could barely sleep that night. Instead I composed a poem in my mind. The next day I wrote down the poem, either in a small green diary I had or on a sheet of paper-I cannot remember for sure. I dedicated it to the men who had died during the battle for Hill 881 South."
DEATH AT MY DOOR
Day is over as danger hastens
Young Marines at their battle stations
Instruments of war outline the sky
Means of death are standing by.
Can it be true on this high hill
Forces will clash only to kill?
Silence fills the near moonless night
Restless thoughts of a bloody fight
Endless memories for those awake
Meaningful discussions experience would make
Though silent world in which we live
Permits only God's comfort to give.
Somewhere through the darkness creeping
A date with death is in the keeping
Alone I sit and question why
Life itself, to be born to merely die?"
[This poem is inscribed in the base of the Vietnam Memorial statue by Austin Deuel in San Antonio, Texas, dedicated on 9 Nov 1986, a 15-Joot bronze sculpture depicting Don Hossack, a radioman, treating a wounded Marine on the battlefield of Hill 881South during the Battle of the Hills at Khe Sanh].
PREPARATION 01 May 1967
Enemy forces retreated from Hill 881-South during the evening of 30 Apr/lMay, and Hill 881-South was blasted all day. "The planes just started from one end; they just went clear to the other end. And after they got done there, I just couldn't imagine that anything was alive up on top of that hill." There were over 130 2,000-pound bombs dropped as well as other assorted ordinance.
M/3/3 was relieved by F/2/3 which was lifted in by helicopter. To replace the casualty-depleted M/3/3, CG, 3dMarDiv choppered E/2/9 to 3/3 with advance elements beginning to arrive at 011400H and completing its movement by 1900H. One platoon had been taken from the company and helilifted to Hill 861 to preclude enemy reoccupation or or infiltration through that objective. M/3/3 departed at 1715H for Dong Ha by fixed wing.
Early in the morning of 01 May, at 0745H, E1213 on the southern slope of Hill 881-North (at XD 782452) received 18-20 incoming mortar rounds from XD 799453 and XD 767454 resulting in 3 Marines killed, 16 wounded.
1stSgt Charles Patrinos, although wounded three times during the initial attack-in the leg, chest, and arm-refused evacuation. Disregarding his painful injuries, he organized evacuation of the wounded, moving around the area to locate them and direct medical assistance and evacuation. Refusing medical assistance himself, he continuously exposed himself to the intensive mortar barrage until all others were treated and evacuated.
PFC John R. Meuse, a radio operator of the First Squad, Second Platoon, E1213, exposed himself to the enemy fire as he chased down, gave aid, and evacuated a wounded comrade who had been hit in the back and gone into shock, saving him from further shock, saving him from further injury and probably saving his life.
HM3 Danny P. Williams, serving in Second Platoon, E/2/3, continuously
exposed himself to the danger of incoming mortars with complete disregard for his own
safety by moving about the company perimeter giving aid to wounded Marines. Together with
the senior corpsman, HM2 Kenneth F. Kleinschmidt, he attended the Forward Air Control
Officer who was near death with chest wounds. They undoubtedly saved the officer's life
since his lungs were full of blood.
Because of this contact, plans to move E/2/3 to Objective #3, Hill 881-North, on 01 May were postponed, and further neutralization of the objective was planned.
Meanwhile, G/2/3 fought the terrain between 881 -South and 881-North,
and found an extensive bunker complex.
HN Vernon Ralph Wike, assigned to G/2/3, had spoked a marine infantryman caught in a crossfire and rushed to his side. Wike knew the man, but did not know he was mortally wounded. A Lt pulled the wounded man down the hill a bit, and Wike cradled the Marine's head in his arms, looking up in anguish after he saw him die. (The scene was captured by Catherine Leroy in photos printed in the 19 May 67 issue of Life, and is also on the cover and pp. 76-77 of the book, Images of War in the Vietnam Experience series.) Wike's friend, "Doe" Jerry March, later noted: "That was Vern's first casualty, and he saw two weeks of combat. He was so "characteristic." He's about 5foot-8, looked like a Marine. Red. He was like a fire-plug. Vern and I-we had alot of fun. There were about four of us that hung out together. He came out of a typical, middle-class, grew up in Phoenix, never had any insult in his life-typical corpsman. Corpsmen got picked in Boot Camp-they give you the big, long bakery of tests to decide what kind of thing-where is he intellectually? They take the top intellectual guys and people with a philosophical bent, and make these guys the healers. Well, given that, it was totally dichotomous that he should end up with the marines."
Wike was Peter Hesser's corpsman, First Platoon, GOLF, 2/3, and Hesser was with him at the time of the photo: "I was standing right next to him when all that happened. A Marine named Foldan was killed instantly, shot right in front of me. When we were moving up that hill, maybe 6 or 8 dug-in NVA spoked us as we came up over the military crest. Andy McFarlane (Weapons Plt) was the base of fire with the MGs, and when they ceased fire, these guys popped up out of their holes and started dinging us, and killed him right there. The photographer, Kathy Leroy had the only photos that came out of Khe Sanh at that time. She'd been with us throughout that operation off and on, but she was right with my platoon when we went up there.
881-SOUTH SEIZED 02 MAY 1967
During the morning, F/2/3 moved up to 3/3's position at XD 782445 and, at 1120H, after a final heavy prep, MIKE and KILO Companies, 3/9, launched the assault of Hill 881 S. Everything had changed: "It just didn't look the same anymore. There were no NVA, no trees, no nothing." "There was just bare ground up there. It took us about 10 minutes to reach the summit of the hill, and as soon as we reached the top there was nothing but the smell of dead. We commenced to blow the bunkers and cache in the gear that was laying around and started getting our dead out.
"At this time we noticed how well the NVA had set up the hill. There was no way that I would say that was humanly possible to get on that hill. They had every avenue of approach that was thinkable, covered. And their bunkers were constructed so well that even after that three days of air strikes and artillery, the bunkers were still standing." The bunkers utilized a roof made of at least five layers of logs and at least two feet of dirt. Most had two exits from which to fight, although the fighting was accomplished from spider holes near each bunker. There were over 200 bunkers on Hill 881 S and, although 1000 and 2000-pound bombs with delayed fuzes had good effect, bunkers ten meters from a 1000-pound crater were still intact. After two days of air strikes, 75 bunkers still remained. "The battalion commander stepped in one bunker, and there was a big bomb crater right beside it, and inside the bunker you could tell it hadn't been dented."
The enemy positions were well camouflaged, most of them located in the woodline. Most bunker logs were sawed and the scarcity of tree stumps in the area suggests that logs were transported in. Hill 881 -S was secured at 1420H, and by 1500H, 27 Marine bodies killed there had been recovered. One of the Marine KlAs brought aboard USS PRINCETON was booby trapped with a grenade inserted into an open head wound and a string leading out of the wound. The device was discovered and disarmed before it could explode. "After MIKE company called over and said the entire objective had been secured, the battalion CP moved on over [at 1800] and this is one thing I know I'll never forget in my life..seeing only one North Vietnamese body Iying on the hill. One North Vietnamese body! And the rest of them were Marines. It was fairly obvious that the North Vietnamese had done a real good job just policing up the area-policing up their dead bodies and taking them on back towards Laos. No weapons, no ammunition, no bodies, just Marines."
K/3/9 and M/319 established a defensive position on 881S and remained theere a few more days, running local patrols with no contact. After Hill 881S was secured, FOXTROT Battery, 2/12, displaced three of their 105mm howitzers to the top to provide added range should the battle move to the Laotian border, which at the time seemed likely. The only problem with this was that all the ammunition supply had to arrive by helicopter, and if a major battle had developed to the west of Hill 881S, F Battery would have been hard-pressed to render required support.
881 -NORTH 03 May 1967
At 021015H, G/2/3 and E/2/3, from separate positions, commenced their movement toward Hill 881-North after heavy preparation over 1400 rounds of artillery prep for G/2/3 alone. The enemy force in the Khe Sanh area was now estimated to be a regiment.
At 1455H, 2Lt Andrew B. McFarlane's First Platoon, G/2/3, advanced up the narrow ridgeline which approached Hill 881-North from the northeast. The First Squad, led by Cpl Robert E. Torter, was assigned as assault squad, and moved on line to sweep through a wooded portion directly on top of this knoll. (2Lt McFarlane enlisted in Nov '48, was a PFC on 15 Sep '50 with F/2/1 in the Inchon Harbor, Korea, landing. He went through Seoul, Pusan and the Chosin Reservoir. By 1966 he was a First Sergeant "I got commissioned- or 'demoted'-as I used to kid about, in May, 1966." He was now 37. Lt Peter Hesser, along with Sam Marrone (2nd Plt Cdr) and Bruce Grismer (in Madonna's Company) were all Naval Academy graduates; McFarlane was the Weapons Plt Cdr. Hesser noted: "We worshipped the ground that guy walked on!")
Cpl Torter organized his squad and maneuvered his squad toward a tree
line (at XD 778460) and took no enemy fioore, but spotted 2 NVA getting up and running.
Cpl Torter led his squad in an aggressive a tack on the fleeing enemy, pinpointing hidden
weapons and destroying them. As they continued, they were suddenly taken under fire by
heavy automatic weapons from their leR front. The assault was temporarily halted and Cpl
Torter told his men to reload their magazines. At this time, 2 more Marines were wounded,
the First Team Leader and Torter's radioman. After reloading, they stood up to assault the
position a second time, but the newly-issued M-16s malfunctioned. The squad took 5 KIA and
5 WIA and only had 3 rifles that functioned. Unable to communicate, Lt McFarlane moved his
Second Squad forward to aid Cpl Torter to pull back.
As the Second Squad advanced, Cpl Torter fearlessly left his covered position and with completee disregard for his own safety, moved to retrieve his wounded. Driven back time and again by the intense fire, Cpl Torter nevertheless managed to retrieve some of the wounded, but not all. Cpl Torter returned to the beeline where the other casualties were located, called out their names, but received no answer. He ceased his valiant efforts only after being directed to do so by the Company Commander.
Following artillery and air strikes on the high ground wherre the MlAs were located, and augmented by Marines led by Sgt Harry W. Steere, Jr., he again advanced towards the knoll. Two Huey gunships arrived and placed fire around the knoll and adjoining high ground, taking sniper fire.
Additional air support was not possible, however. Between 1600H and
1645H, extremely heavy rain squalls with 40 MPH winds, and three NBC [Non-Battle Casualty]
medevacs from 3/3 due to lightning, precluded further air support.
A Marine in a foxhole with Austin Deuel said, "Even God's against us!" which became the title of Deuel's art-work illustrated book on the Hill Battles. Due to the inclement weather and the late hour with darkness approaching, the Marines advanced with 13 men (including the Lt, the Platoon Sergeant, two squad leaders, and a radioman) to assault the knoll and aKempt to retrieve the MlAs. The rain was very heavy, and there was a fog rolling off 881-North-forever a most mysterious and ominous place, shrouding the Marines as they advanced.
Two of the MIAs were spotted in a small grassy clearing just out of the
heavy grass going towards the beeline. As the Marines attempted to recover them, they took
heavy automatic fire from the beeline from fox-holes, ground-level, resulting in another
Marine killed, the squad leader, and one wounded.
"We found that any movement at all towards these MIA was a hazardous risk because they had the ground so well covered in that area. We began to try to take our wounded back and in doing this we took two more WIAs from fragmentation ChiCom grenades which were being thrown at us."
One of the favorite tactics of the NVA was to wound and then to kill all
those who came to rescue.
"At this time the sky cleared some and the captain advised that we should withdraw and try to hit the area with arty and dislodge the enemy before we moved in. We withdrew, leaving the four MlAs."
[The 4 MIA were recovered on 05 May at 1450H. "One Marine had his weapon between his legs with a rifle cleaning rod down his weapon. Also he had a pen knife in his hand. As we looked over the weapon, a M-16, we found that there was a cartridge in the chamber. After speaking to his squad leaders, this man had definitely been cleaning his weapon earlier and was always cleaning his weapon. It was due to a malfunction. All the Marines found there were shot through the head."]
Due to the contacts and the violent stormy weather, it was deemed advisable to pull the 2/3 forward units back to more defensive terrain for the night.
ATTACK ON ECHO 03 May 1967
E/2/3 returned to its position. 2Lt James R. Cannon, Plt Cdr of E-2,
recalls the unfolding terror:
"It became increasingly dark during our movement back to our previous position, and by the time we arrived, it was night. It was still raining. Everyone was tired and miserable and bone-chilling rain didn't help. We searched out the inner perimeter and, after doing so, each platoon took up their old positions. It was still raining hard. We put out our trip flares and claymore mines, put out our security, and established 50% security for the night: in each 2-man fighting hole, one man would be awake while one man slept. "In my bunker were: Me, my platoon sergeant (SSgt Morningstar), and my radioman (LCPL Hovietz). It was 0400 in the morning. The rain had stopped and there was an eerie mist hovering over the hill. I had taken my boots off, wrung the water from my socks, and turned my boots upside down to allow them to drain. Everything was quiet."
Sgt Billy Joe Like, a squad leader in E-2, was walking the lines of the perimeter on the hill checking his squad positions, heard a noise to his front and yelled: "Who'se out there?" The answer was a burst of automatic fire that seriously wounded Sgt Like in his stomach. Though seriously and painfully wounded, Sgt Like remained standing and shouted, "We're being attacked!" By his action, he undoubtedly alerted his company ahead of time of a heavy enemy assault which if not triggered prematurely would without question have cost many more Marines dead and wounded during the 7-hour ensuing battle.
Cannon continues: "With that challenge, the entire northern half f the hill exploded. We were hit. I shouted to Morningstar, "Let's go!" and sprang for the bunker entrance. As I did so, one of my Marines was blown in on top of me. He was badly wounded. I told Morningstar to take care of him and told my radioman to come on. From my right front at about 2 o'clock, enemy machineguns were raking my section of the perimeter. At the same time, enemy mortars were falling over the entire hill. I could hear the machine gun near the first squad chattering in long bursts and I knew this was not a probe."
HM2 Clarence Walter Young immediately left the safety of his position
and raced about the lines giving aid to wounded Marines. His first patient was Sgt Like.
The enemy had already penetrated his position. Disregarding the intense small arms fire
and grenades, HM2 Young went to the aid of Sgt Like and treated him eventhough the enemy
was within yards. While so doing, HM2 Young was wounded in both arms, but continued to
treat the man and subsequently moved him to a place of relative safety. He then ran back
into the darkness to help others until the pain of his wounds caused him to be evacuated.
HM3 Danny P. Williams, who had helped save the FAC in the attack on 01 May, repeatedly exposed himself to the hostile fire to render medical aid to the seriously wounded Marines despite wounds in both of his arms.
PFC John R. Meuse, radio operator of the First Squad, E-2, who had chased down a wounded man on May I st, was seriously wounded during the initial burst of fire. When asked by Lt Cannon of his situation, he informed him he had been hit and gave the impression he was dying. He also said that his squad had been penetrated and their positions heavily overrun. Though mortally wounded, he refused to abandon his position and seek the medical help that could have saved his life. He instead remained on the radio for over an hour to inform his Company Commander, Capt Al Lyons, and his Platoon Commander, Lt Cannon, of the situation. This accurate information on the disposition and nature of the enemy force enabled them to make essential decisions on the employment of maneuvering elements and coordination of supporting arms necessary to repulse the enemy assault.
[PFC Meuse was found about noon, still in his position, his radio hit but still working, his handset still in his hand, and 5 dead NVA in front of his position.]
Allthough painfully wounded in the initial moments of the assault, Sgt Ronald Edward Kolodziej, a squad leader of a MG team, quickly deployed his MG section into effective firing positions in front of the perimeter areas where he could do the most good. When his MG became inoperable, Sgt Kolodziej fearlessly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to reach an adjacent infantry squad's position where he remained throughout the ensuing battle. Only after the enemy was repulsed and the company position consolidated, 6 hours later, did he accept to be medevaced.
LCPL James G. Hawley, a machinegunner, was in a fox-hole when he noticed SSgt Noakes wounded in a nearby fox-hole. Cpl Hawley left his position to bring SSgt Noakes into his own foxhole and then began to move throughout the fire-swept area to retrieve other wounded and carry them to the CP.
When Sgt Powell was hit, LCPL Hawley went to get him, knowing that the enemy was waiting on him. Obtaining an operable MG, he courageously moved forward and began to deliver a heavy volume of fire on the NVA, successfully repelling the enemy assault.
An engineer attached to E/2/3, LCPL William Thomas Womble, unhesitatingly rushed from his position, retrieved ammunition from the overrun positions, and proceeded to redistribute badly needed MG and 60mm mortar ammo. With complete disregard for his own life, he continued to move through extreme automatic weapons fire until positions in critical need of ammo were resupplied. Then, observing several Marines pinned down in the Second Platoon command bunker, he opened fire with his M-14 and single-handed y engaged the enemy, drawing fire upon himself so that the Marines in the bunker could gain fire superiority. As he daringly delivered a large volume of well-aimed, accurate fire into the enemy, he was instantly killed by heavy automatic weapons fire.
All during the battle, the Second Platoon Commander, 2Lt James Cannon,
repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as he moved from position to position, and
skillfully directed the defense of his critical position. As he moved he occasionally
engaged in hand-to-hand combat killing enemy who had penetrated the perimeter. At one
point he was cut off from his CP.
Cannon relates: "Casualties were mounting. The situation was extremely bad. I called the command post and told the company commander [Capt Al Lyons] that I needed help, that we were under assault by a large force, and that all of my crew served weapons had been knocked out I also asked for my preplanned artillery concentrations to be fired and called for a flare ship. I was informed that I couldn't have both. I was somewhat pissed. I knew that the flare ships could fly above the maximum ordinance of artillery and I needed both. I asked for arty and waited. No arb. I screamed into my radio, 'Damn the arty, give me some light.' Another casualty. I told Hovietz to get him in the bunker with Morningstar. "Caps Lyons told me he was sending a squad from the Ist Platoon up to help me. They never arrived. Another squad was dispatched to me. They too failed to arrive. I learned later that both squads were badly hit as they tried to reach my platoon. "l made my way toward the company CP. I stopped at the XO's bunker [IL: Jack Adinolfi] He was gone. I thought, 'God, I hope he hasn't been captured.' I again radioed the Skipper. I asked him to send me a 3.5 rocket launcher team to knock out the enemy machinegun to my right front. I met the team near the XO's position and took them up just behind my second squad. From there, I had a good field of fire and a safe backblast area. I was in the process of directing their fire when an explosion went offjust in front of us. My rocket team was knocked out. I was still standing. For some ungodly reason, I thought nothing could touch me. I had put my radioman in the bunker with Morningstar to help with the wounded. As far as I knew, I was the only one alive up there except those that were in my bunker. "The enemy machinegun was still spitting out deadly fire. Trip flares were going off to my right front. I found no one alive in my first or second squads, yet there was movement all around me. My platoon was in trouble. I needed help. "I was able to reach the command post and inform my company commander of the situation. There I found my XO. l was glad he was alive. He would soon take over the company. "I informed my company commander that my entire first and second squads were wiped out; that there was only one friendly position up there, that of my bunker where Morningstar, Hovietz and two wounded were. My third squad, although lightly
engaged, was still intact and had suffered no casualties. They were my extreme right defensive squad.
"Caps Lyons informed me that a platoon of FOXTROT Company was moving up from the rear to help block the penetration. I passed the word to keep my bunker protected, that it was occupied by friendly troops. Sometime, from somewhere, I grabbed a M- 16 rifle, firing it until it jammed. I threw it down and picked up a M-14. I overheard reports that the NVA were wearing flak gear and Marine helmets and some were in trees shouting, 'Marine, you die.'.. They were hard to stop. Even point blank firing into their chests would not ensure they would be stopped. Some had to be beaten with entrenching tools or anything one could get his hands on. Consequently, there was much hand-to-hand combat that morning. We found later that several Marines had died trying to clear jams from their M- 1 6s...
"It wasn't long before 2nd Lt Carroll's platoon from FOXTROT Company arrived. I briefed him on the situation and cautioned him that my platoon sergeant and radioman, along with two wounded, were still in my bunker. I then moved forward with Carroll's platoon and, taking up a position beside a machinegunner, began to direct his fire into the position of the enemy machinegun. He started firing but soon stopped. 'Damn jam,' I thought as I turned toward him. I then saw why he had stopped firing. Blood was running down the side of his face. I rolled him over toward me so the assistant gunner could take over."
During the dark early morning hours of 0430 - 0630H when Second Platoon's positions were overrun, LCPL Frederick Gregory Monahan, a Bn S-2 Scout, constantly exposed himself as he fired and threw hand grenades. 1Lt Adinolfi later wrote: "His output of fire was that of ten men; his energy and downright stubborness that of fifty of the enemy." This, despite being himself wounded. With complete disregard for his own ssafety, he skillfully drew the enemy in towards him and then fearlessly locked with and destroyed them in hand-to-hand combat. His fire stopped the NVA advance, holding them at bay for the two hours before daybreak, when reinforcements of Co F arrived.
Another Marine instrumental in helping to contain the enemy was Cpl
William K. Downing, a member of a composite squad organized by the Company Commander and
headed by 2Lt John L. Eller (3d Plt Cdr) to repel the advancing enemy force.
Cpl Downing, second in command of this squad, moved his fire team in the direction of the enemy penetration and was wounded in the leg. The squad was able to halt the advance of the enemy. Someone yelled. I asked if he needed medical attention, and Cpl Downing shouted, "Don't come down here and help me; take care of the rest of the men first."
He remained, courageously delivering continuous and effective fire on the enemy forces as the casualties were removed under his covering fire. Having ensured that the last wounded Marine was evacuated, he remained firing from his position. His body was found later with 6 dead NVA around his position. After a period of biker fighting the penetration was contained and means were sought to eliminate it.
Cannon: "It was now light. I heard the Hueys behind us. Relief was
just a few rockets away. Smoke was thrown to mark our positions and to direct the Hueys'
rockets north of us. One of the first rockets fired hit our Command post, wounding our
company commander and killing or wounding several other key personnel including our
Forward Air Controller, Arty FO, and senior corpsman, Doc Kleindschmidt. Doc, knowing that
I always carried a plastic tube with me, asked me to perform a tracheotomy should he stop
breathing. I promised I would. He had been hit in the side of his left jaw."
First Platoon of F1213 under the command of Lt John R. Schworm, was lifted in to counter-attack the penetration. Arriving on the scene at 0745H, F- I counterattacked the penetration at the point where it had penetrated the perimeter. Simultaneously H1213 moved northwest to cut off the penetration from the rear between the position held and Hill 81North.
First Squad of Lt Schworm's F- I, led by Cpl Jerry K. Fite, was given the mission of holding the right flank and, if possible, to push the enemy back. Although suffering casualties, he continued to direct his men forward as they regained many bunkers then held by NVA soldiers. The fight continued well into the morning; progress was slow.
About 11 00H, Cpl Fite had moved his men into a position where they were
now drawing fire form a series of bunkers that covered both the front and the right flank.
Every means possible was attempted to reduce these bunkers-rockets and LAWs were
ineffective due to the thickness of vegetation. During repeated attempts, the squad
sustained 2 casualties.
Automatic weapons fire spewed out of two mutually supporting bunkers. Realizing the seriousness of the situation and disregarding his own safety, LCPL Larry Hayden Weaver crawled forward and hurled several grenades into the nearest bunker. He was driven off by heavy fire from the MG in the other bunker, wounded in his shoulder and head, and returned to an NVA fighting hole. While he was in the fighting hole, the NVA threw several grenades into his position, but he advanced and assaulted the enemy bunker with his M-16, killing the 4 NVA inside.
Cpl Fite also crawled forward then threw WP grenades into the lead bunker which was halting the advance. Although he killed 5 NVA in these daring attacks, they had little effect.
At this time they learned that First Platoon of H/2/3 was approaching on the extreme right, moving northwest along the ridgeline XD 785450 - XD 778460, placing them at the rear of the troublesome bunkers. They requested that the bunkers be marked. Again Cpl Fite volunteered to crawl forward and successfully marked the target with smoke grenades. They were eventually destroyed.
H-l took casualties from a series of well-fortified and well concealed
bunkers and spider holes. Observing the assault momentarily stopped, LCpl Daniel L.
Critten, Jr., quickly and aggressively moved forward delivering effective fire on the
enemy. His quick maneuver inspired the platoon to move onward while providing cover for
evacuation of the casualties. In the ensuing action, he continued to deliver effective
fire on the enemy until he fell seriously wounded in his chest and spine. His quick action
saved the lives of many of his comrades and inspired his platoon to continue the assault.
With complete disregard for his own safety, PFC Roy William Demille advanced through the hostile fire, crawled into one of the enemy bunkers and, armed only with a .45 pistol, killed 2 NVA. Observing that his unit's advance was still halted by the intense fire from another bunker 20 meters away, PFC Demille again exposed himself to enemy fire, jumped into the enemy-held bunker, and killed the NVA with his pistol.
As a result of the F/2/3 counterattack, the enemy penetration was
sealed. The enemy, however, had reoccupied some old bunkers in the area which had not yet
been destroyed and fought tenaciously to the end, employing automatic weapons and hand
grenades with deadly effect. So well emplaced was the enemy that initial attempts to
destroy his positions were unsuccessful. Cannon: "Until now, there had been no
prisoners taken. It didn't surprise anyone. With the anger built up in our Marines and the
tenacity with which the NVA fought, I didn't expect any. From somewhere-God only knows
where- word came that "Pappy" Delong would give 20 days R&R to the man that
got him a prisoner. Within minutes, we had three. From these three, it was learned that
another NVA division was on their way south to retake the hill complex.
(Two of the NVA POWs, Pvt Le Van Lan and Pvt La Huu Chau, reported they were members of the 325C Division and had entered South Vietnam on 13 March and arrived at Khe Sanh on 20 March. Pvt Lan stated that half the members of his regiment were only 16 years old. The third POW, Pvt Mai Thanh Tan, was unable to answer questions coherently because of his wounds) "I was on pins and needles. I wanted to reach my two squads that were still up there. I prayed that some were still alive but everyone knew there was no hope. Still, I wanted to pull them out. Firing was still going on. We continued to wait.
"Finally, I pulled my third squad leader back and informed him on what I was about to do. I told him to get the third squad on their bellies, that we were going to crawl back over the crest of the hill and take up the first and second squad's positions. I told him, that upon reaching those positions, we would watch out for HOTEL and, should they approach, mark their positions with air panels. We would kill everything that wasn't Marine. We did just that.
"The fighting continued and at about 1130 that morning, 3 May 1967,
we reached our forwardmost positions. The look on Morningstar's face as he crawled out of
his bunker was one of disbelief. After all, he had been in the midst of hell for well over
7 hours and survived. He would die 2 months later by a single shot from a sniper's rifle.
"I surveyed the first and second squad's positions. Only then did I realize the strength with which the enemy had attacked. There were bodies everywhere, mostly NVA. In front of my first and second squads lay about 80 NVA bodies. The remainder of the hill was literally strewn with bodies. There was no telling how many had been dragged off or died later from this fight. I could not tell black Marines from white Marines; they were all black.
"I should have cried but I didn't. I didn't have time. I would cry later, and when I did, the tears would never completely stop. The memory of these Marines-so young, so brave-would stay with me forever. "The official body count of the dead NVA was 137 but we stacked 236 weapons. On top of the hill, just behind my bunker, I found a dead NVA. Strapped around his neck was a rectangular metal box. Half of the box contained a radio and radio equipment. The other half contained cooked rice. They had come to stay...
"After we helilifted our dead and wounded out, I sat down with our First Sergeant, "Top" Patrinas, who was sitting on a log near the XO's old position. It was then that I learned several of the men I thought were dead had been medevaced with wounds. In my platoon alone, I had 11 KIA and 17 WIA.
ATTACKED FROM WITHIN 04 May 1967
At 040330H, Lang Vei Special Forces Camp (XD 795360) came under mortar attack that lasted 1015 minutes followed by a ground attack through the village by an estimated enemy battalion. The attack was aided by several VC infiltrators who had posed as recruits. After killing the guards, the enemy force which had broken through the wire by bangalore torpedoes under the leadership of the VC infiltrators inside the camp proceeded systematically to destroy the comm center, the command bunker and to eliminate the key personnel, including the CO and XO.
The insider enemy agent, Dinh Nhon, a ClDG-recruit, joined the force at
Lang Vei and recruited Sam Boil A third insider, A Loi, made a sketch of the camp, and a
fourth, Sang Dinh, reported on supplies brought into the camp.
On the night of the attack, Nhon and Sam Boi killed the CIDG guards on the northwest positions of the camp, and then Nhon led the NVA force through the wire and remaining mine fields into the camp perimeter.
The Team Leader of the Special Forces "A" Camp, Bill Steptoe,
had just returned from a 30-man patrol north of the DMZ:
"We had been cut off a couple of times. We had a terrific firefight and almost got trapped. I made contact with the enemy outside of 881 and when I reported it to the Marine Colonel at Khe Sanh-we called him 'CYNTHIA'-I had already been in a running fight a week or better with the leading forces of the enemy. When I told him that there were division-size units there, he said, 'No,' that I was full of it."
Upon his return, there was a new CO, Capt William Anderson Crenshaw, an
Afro-American, who had been in country 2 weeks. "I told him we were being followed.
I'd been in contact all the way back." His XO, ILt Franklin Delano Stallings, was
also AfroAmerican. "I heard the first rounds come in. They came in at 3 o'clock. I
was in the team house asleep on the lower bunk with Stallings in the team house. I ran
down the team house steps, and mortars were coming in and rockets.
"As I went down the steps in my underwear, a man jumped up and fired at me and I dodged, and the bullets hit Stallings. He fell, hit in the chest. I shot at this man. I don't know whether I hit him. I kept going. Stallings was sprawled upside down. By that time there were skirmishes going on the fence line. Our own CIDG were responding. I went directly to the main bunker to make sure that the CO had notified our 'C' Detachment and Khe Sanh as to what was going on.
"As I hit the main bunker, a mortar hit me, blew off a finger, and got me as I dove through the door. And once I was in there I talked to Crenshaw who was standing up against the wall. I had my back to the bunker, and I told him that people were in the camp. At that time a burst from an AK-47 got me in the left arm and shoulder. The same bullets that got me killed Crenshaw.."
Initial requests for fire support by Khe Sanh were made about 0330H. However the Comm Chief Sgt had no map available to him and no knowledge of preplanned artillery concentrations. In addition, he had the only radio that was operational and frequently changed channels to talk with two patrols still in the field. There was one patrol 2000 meters west of the camp. The concentration list had been destroyed in the command bunker and the Comm Chief could not observe or adjust any of the fires. The comm difficulties were resolved by employing a nearby SOG unit to relay, but there was never a clear picture of what was happening nor the locations or status of friendly troops in the area.
Up until first light, when Capt James Whitenack, the MACV District Advisor, raced down to Lang Vei from Khe Sanh Village in a jeep with his relief force of 4 men followed by Lt Nhe (the District Chief) and the remainder of the relief force, Bill Steptoe assumed he was the only American alive in the camp.
Bill Steptoe's wounds were such that he spent the next year hospitalized in Valley Force, and was medically retired. [He died 7 Feb 93 from a heart attack]
Results of the attack were 2 USA KIA (the CO and XO), 2 WIA, 20 CIDG
KIA, 34 CIDG MIA, 7 NVA KIA (conf.)
During the Lang Vei attack, the absence of unified command was painfully apparent. When Maj Golden arrived at Khe Sanh: "..there were several different groups within the KSCB..There were some super secret personnel! whose exact mission I never found out who kept wandering in and out of the base and in the hills. This Marine LtCol had no
command authority over anyone except the Marines. This presented quite a problem to the Marine LtCol. He couldn't control the movements of these people; they moved pretty much as they pleased. We never knew what they were doing. The answer to this problem is very simple, is a unified command when you have various services working together."
During 4 May, 3/3 searched Hill 881 S and 2/3 oriented its companies for
the final assault of Hill 881N.
Cpl Thomas Murl Jaggers was a "short-timer" in G/2/3, a southern-accent speaking Marine from Mississippi, and given the option of remaining aboard ship (2/3 was the SLF) or to on the operation. He chose to be in the field with his friends. "We had just gotten a resupply of food, and Jaggers had been transferred out of a line company to Supply and took charge of all of the food from the helicopter. He filled his hole with cases of C-rations. I remember we were all sitting around his hole, and while we were talking and he was giving us our individual food some artillery rounds started falling in. They were our own rounds, and some of them landed short. Jaggers was killed and another guy lost his leg. Jaggers tried to get into his hole, but his hole was all filled-up with all these cases he'd put inside. So he laid on top of them as best he could, and he was decapitated."
At 1530H, Fl213 and E1213 commenced an assault of Hill 881N. Movement, however, was slow and methodical and only the southern edge of the objective was secured by nightfall. During the day, Co C/1/26 began arriving at 1350H by fixed wing from Phu Bai, completing its movement by 1610H, as the first element of the 26th Marine Regiment to Khe Sanh.
HILL 881-NORTH CAPTURED 05 May 1967
1Lt Adinolfi, acting CO of E/2/3, gathered his platoon commanders to issue the order to attack Hill 88] N. The plan was for two companies, Echo, and the relatively unscathed F Co (over 250 strong) to attack two companies abreast, F on the left, E on the right following arty and air prep. F would pass through E's position and move to the designated assault position. E would follow in trace, tie in with the right side of F at the assault position and on order, seize, secure, and defend the right half of the objective. E-2, Lt Jim Cannon's platoon of 17 Marines, would be the point.
All went as planned, with arty dropped within 50 meters and moved as the
assault continued. Jim Cannon recalls the assault:
"My platoon moved out as rapidly as possible, keeping generally abreast of the platoon on my right. Echo company was guide company and Foxtrot was to guide on us. Foxtrot company fell behind on my left and was slow maneuvering even though we met minimal resistance. To prevent any decrease in our momentum, Echo company pushed forward up the ridgeline and over the crest and into a hasty defense. We were already in our hasty defense when Foxtrot company arrived. My platoon set in from 11 to about 2 where we tied in with the 1st or 3rd platoon. As Foxtrot arrived I showed the company commander where to tie in with the most leftward position. 88 IN was ours."
2Lt Charles Paul Chritton led the Second Platoon, F/2/3.taking small arms fire as they assaulted. Lt Chritton immediately rushed to where his men were taking fire. The NVA were firing from a series of 10 strongly constructed and mutually supported bunkers. Upon taking several casualties out of Third Squad, Lt Chritton maneuvered the platoon back down the slope and called and directed artillery and air strikes.
He then led his men back up the hill in a determined assault, exposing himself numerous times to enemy who were sometimes only 10 meters from him. While riflemen were crawling forward, Lt Chritton ran upright back and forth laterally, giving commands and words of encouragement. He took time to give the wounded some encouraging words. At one point it seemed that he was pinned down, and then a grenade landed at his side. Somehow he managed to spring out of the casualty radius of the grenade, avoid being struck by automatic fire, and move on to where he was needed. The bunkers werre cleared; the position occupied. Results of the contact were S Marines wounded and 3 NVA probably killed.
At 1445H, Hill 881-North was secured. Lt Jack Adinolfi, observed the results of the heavy bombardment: "It stunk. The smell of death was everywhere. There is no doubt those 1,000 and 2,000-pound bombs took a terrible toll of them. We found shreds of clothing, bits and pieces, but nothing you could put together."
At 052050H, E/2/3 at XD 7774546 and F/2/3 at XD 773459 received 92 rounds incoming 82mm mortars equally divided between the two companies and also sighted 5 lights approx 800 meters northwest.
Both Battalions used 6 - 9 May to conduct platoon-sized patrols with
particular emphasis on covering the area to the west of Hills 881S and 881-North. Numerous
enemy positions were located.
THE BATTLE WON
LtGen Victor H. Krulak, CG, FMFPAC, saw Khe Sanh as another Dien Bien
Phu: "Because of its critical nature, the destruction of the base and forces at Khe
Sanh probably has been an enemy objective of long standing. Enemy determination to destroy
Khe Sanh or to attack it as a means of attracting US/ ARVN forces into a Dien Bien Phu
type situation has been whetted by the fact that Khe Sanh is isolated in an area that
favors the enemy in terms of terrain and weather."
The key terrain occupied and the enemy routed, the battle had been won, won by the determination and heroism of the individual Marine trooper.
Capt Rogers noted: "As far as the individual Marine goes, I think I learned to respect the individual Marine- the 18,19 year old, 20 year old, m ore in this one particular battle than any other time that I've been in the Marine Corps. He was given a job; he went up in the fact of danger, in the face of just being blown away, more or less, and he went up and did his job. To see the faces of the Marines dragging back their dead buddies, their wounded buddies, you could see how close the Marineds really were with each other. It was true brotherhood, and I was really proud at the conduct of the Marines."
LURKING DEATH 09 May 1967
Major battles may be won and decisive victories achieved, but there
nevertheless remain the "moppingup" operations that are just as deadly as the
encountere with death in the decisive battle. The Angel of Death continued to lurk at Khe
On 09 May 1967, F/2/3 patrolled to the west of Hill 881-N (near XD 747473). Two platoons were moving along a trail that was fairly well-used along a stream and then pulled off the trail to proceed up the slope of Hill 778. F-3 running point ran into what was at first assumed to be the point of a squad. Then F/2/3 began to receive automatic weapons fire from 3 or 4 directions. Since it was fairly light, they continued to maneuver, one squad on line. The fire rapidly grew in intensity and the Marines pulled off onto higher ground, taking heavy casualties. Cpl James H. Ward had a tail fin of one of his 3.5" rockets hit that he was holding in his hand. He threw the 3.5 launcher to the ground, grabbed a rifle, and shot at some NVA he spotted coming up over a ridgeline., He shot one who "spun in the air," and then picked off enemy one by one.
Six feet from Cpl Ward lay the wounded FAC, Lt Harris, with a badly
shattered leg. Four feet away, behind a rock, LCPL Simpson received a ricochetted round in
his arm and leg. A couple of enemy bullets landed between Cpl Ward's legs, three inches
from him. Cpl Ward began to drag Lt Harris to a safe place behind a rock where he applied
a battle dressing.
The Platoon Commander, Lt Carroll, had been hit in both legs and an arm. SSgt Watts was hit in his shoulder and mouth. Cpl McKeen was hit in his chest and both lungs. There was only one corpsman remaining to provide medical help.
Cannon: "They first started off with messages such as 'Pigmallion 6 this is Foxtrot 6, we have encountered snipers, we have I kangaroo (KIA) and 3 wolves (WIA.)' In no time, it became, 'We have 5 kangaroos and 9 wolves.' Their problems were becoming larger with every passing moment."
LtCol Earl R. DeLong, CO of 2/3, immediately ordered E/2/3 to reinforce
Co F. 1Lt John F. Adinolfi, acting XO of E/2/3, called in arty behind the enemy and then
personally led his company with a platoon attached from Co H down into the ravine to
evacuate the dead and wounded of Co F. Cannon: "As we came to the base of the hill to
our front, I deployed my platoon for the assault and up the hill we went. Upon reaching
the top, the platoon went into a hasty defense. I dropped to my belly and took out my
field glasses to see if I could determine what was going on with Foxtrot Company.
"What I saw horrified me. The North Vietnamese were crawling over men of Foxtrot Company and stabbing what appeared to me as being wounded Marines. Foxtrot Company had been drawn into a saddle along a small ridgeline and couldn't move. I saw the NVA attempt to drag off what looked like a wounded Marine. "I grabbed a M-60 machinegun and determined that a clump of bushes, which appeared to me to be the closest the NVA had got to Foxtrot Company, would be my reference point. I determined that all left of those bushes were dead Marines and NVA. I opened up with a long burst of fire, raking the ridgeline from the bushes to the beeline at the left end of the finger. The range was about 1100 meters. I turned and told the weapons platoon sergeant to take the other gun, watch my tracers, and rake the finger from the bushes to the left. Our fire was right on target. "Meanwhile, my company commander had come up behind me. He shouted, 'Get off the gun, Cannon!' 'Go to hell,' I replied and kept firing. I meant no disrespect. He had not seen what I had. I knew what I was doing.
"After driving the NVA off, I turned the gun over to the gunner
with instructions to keep the NVA off that finger. 1Lt Adinolfi was on the radio with
battalion. As soon as the radio conversation was over, Adinolfi fumed to me and said,
'Jim, you're a leader, go pull them out.' I answered, 'You're a commander, give me some
"1Lt Adinolfi informed me that Foxtrot 6 was hit and that the entire company was pinned down and couldn't move. He said that LtCol Delong had told him, 'Send Cannon down there.' "I fumed to Frank Izenour, the 1st Platoon Commander, and asked him to guide me to the base of the finger where the bushes I used as a reference point were. I always carried a pen flare in my helmet cover band. I would pop one of these every few minutes and Frank could adjust me.
"We moved out. We knew it would be rough going and that time was of the essence. Somewhere along the line we had inherited a combat photographer, a Corporal, and before we had moved out, he asked if he could go with us. I could use all the help I could get. He grabbed a rifle from somewhere and left his camera behind...
"Suddenly, shots rang out to my front. My point had made enemy contact. I saw my point man as I moved forward. He had two additional rifles slung over his shoulder. They were enemy rifles. We didn't have time to chat about what had taken place but apparently he had run into two unalert NVA and had killed them both. He pointed to his right. There, as far as I could see, were freshly dug graves. Bloody web gear lay all about. [203 enemy graves, at XD 750463].
"I informed Frank that I would be securing the high ground to Foxtrot's rear. At the top, I found 2Lt Carroll and three other Marines. Of the four, two had been wounded and two had not. It was payback time. I was glad that I could help him and Foxtrot Company. He had helped me so much just six days earlier.
"Meanwhile, back on Hill 803, where I had just been, the battalion commander had flown in by chopper with a skeleton staff, a 106 RR section, and another 81mm mortar section. They, too, were under fire from a hill to the north of them. I again asked for support but was denied at the time because they were under fire.
"It was time to act. One fire team and one machinegun, along with the combat photographer, would lay down a base of fire over the heads of us and Foxtrot. Two fire teams would assault through Foxtrot. As the assaulting fire teams passed through Foxtrot, the base of fire would shift their fire from the finger to the edge of the beeline. They would cease fire on a red smoke and join us by hand and arm signal. I would be with the assaulting fire teams.
"We moved out and the base of fire opened up over our heads. As we passed through Foxtrot, I overheard a big black Marine ask, 'Who was that on the machinegun ?' I asked as I passed him, "Why?' He replied, 'He saved our asses.' I felt relieved. I believe he was a gunnery sergeant.
"We passed through Foxtrot Company and opened up with our assault
fire. My Marines began to run, firing and screaming across the northern finger... [The
position was secured]. We were all to be helilifted back to Hill 88 IN."
Co F had 24 KIA and 19 WIA.
The official Joint Casualty Resolution Center report (Case 06750-01) states that on 09 May 1967, PVT Robert J. Todd of F/2/3 was "..struck in the head and back by small arms fire while near Huong Hoa Village, in the vicinity of coordinates SC 860375.. The tactical situation prevented other members of his unit from reaching him." An attached map correctly identifies these coordinates as approx. 1000 meters ESE of KS ville. Was he at this location-in Khe Sanh village? Obviously he was more probably involved with the action of F1213, as reflected in the message to his parents: "He sustained missile wounds to the head and back from rifle fire while on an operation... On 9 May 1967, Robert's unit became engaged in heavy contact with hostile forces. His unit broke contact and due to the tactical situation was forced to leave the area." Subsequent attempts by MIA investigators to determine graves near Khe Sanh village in an attempt to locate Todd's remains might possibly be "misdirected!"
P 1203 IOZ MAY 67 FM CO THIRD MARINES BATTLE OF KHE SANH
1. THE BATTLE OF THE KHE SANH WILL CERTAINLY GO DOWN IN ANNALS AS ONE OF THE MOST FIERCE IN MARINE HISTORY. OVER THE PAST SIXTEEN DAYS I HAVE MARVELLED AT AND ADMIRED THE COURAGE OF OUR INDIVIDUAL MARINES AND THE TEAM WORK AND DETERMINATION OF OUR UNITS FROM FIRE TEAMS TO BATTALIONS.
2. A VERY DETERMINED AND WELL DISCIPLINED ENEMY FORCE HAS BEEN DEFEATED BY THE ACTIONS OF EVERY MARINE AND OTHER MEMBERS OF OUR ARMED FORCES WHO PARTICIPATED IN THIS ACTION. THIS VICTORY WAS GAINED BY THE TEAM WORK OF ALL THE SERVICES AND THE MOST COMPLETELY INTEGRATED INTER-SERVICE AIRGROUND CLOSE SUPPORT TEAM I HAVE EVER WITNESSED. WE CAN ALL BE THANKFUL WE ARE MEMBERS OF SUCH A FINE TEAM.
3. IF THERE IS ONE CONSOLATION IN FIGHTING A BATTLE, IT IS KNOWING THAT THE MARINE IN THE FRONT LINES IS BEING PROPERLY LED. NO COMMANDER COULD ASK FOR FINER LEADERSHIP THAN HAS BEEN EXHIBITED BY THE SECOND BN THIRD MARINES AND THE THIRD BN THIRD MARINES.
4. MAY GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU AND MAY HE WATCH OVER OUR COMRADES WHO DIED OR WERE WOUNDED IN GAINING THIS VICTORY. GOD SPEED.
COL J. P. LANIGAN, COMMANDING OFFICER, THIRD MARINE REGIMENT
Casualties: USMC: 168 KIA, 443 WIA, 2 MIA; NVA: 807 KIA (confirmed), 611
KIA (probable), 6 POW, I returnee.
Support: 23472 artillery rounds, 1915 tons of air-delivered ordnance in 1170 SORTIEs, and 23 Arc Lights in support of the battle. (The aerial ordnance broke down into: 611,500 pounds napalm, 3,218,500 pounds explosives, 1230 250-pound bombs, 3318 500 pound-bombs, 380 750pound bombs, 247 1000-pound bombs, 387 2000-pound bombs).
During the battle, there were 35 planes per day using the airstrip. Aprox. 200,000 pounds of supplies were delivered per day, moved by Sgt. James T. Yuspa and his two forklift drivers-actually the figure of 200,000 is misleading since the same cargo was handled 4 or 5 times before it was passed on to someone else.