Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Vietnam Operation NEW YORK February 28, 1966: 2nd BN, 1st Marines

Author (left) and fellow Sgt. Steve Feliciano 
Going to Chow: Early January 1966, Phu Bai Base Camp
South of Hue City and DMZ
Home of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines
(The Professionals) 

Background: Our Marine infantry battalion (2nd BN, 1st Marines) arrived in-country in Vietnam in early September 1965. Initially, we operated from off-shore on helicopter carriers (SLF: Special Landing Force) until we came ashore in late December 1965 following Operation HARVEST MOON. That battalion conducted intensive ground combat operations until April 1971 when it returned to the United States.
The single worst day of my first tour: The date was Monday, February 28, 1966. It is still a melancholy date for me each year. It was the day I was first wounded during Operation NEW YORK in the Phu Bai area. That same day we had 18 Marines and Corpsman killed in action and numerous wounded (some 30 or so).
All the reports that I have read [click here] since that operation have said we killed over 200 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers who belonged to their “fresh unit from North Vietnam and newly arrived in the area,” which was not far from the DMZ dividing the two countries at the time. Our BN was in fact the most-northern combat unit at the time also (in Phu Bai). The NVA had been infiltrating from North Vietnam and all intelligence reports indicated that they were planning to attack us, but as it turned out, we struck first.
As I said at the time, we were the most northern Marine infantry unit. We were slowly moving north towards the DMZ and in fact would end up fighting there in July 1966 during Operation HASTINGS – one the largest combat operations at the time. We had one major encounter in June 1966 during Operation JAY along the way just south of the ancient city of Hue (later badly damaged during the 1968 TET offensive) which was not far from Phu Bai. 
After that dreadful day, the last day in February and after a really intense battle, I was “Medevacked” to our battalion aid station (BAS) for initial treatment. From there, along with many others, we were flown to the joint hospital in Danang. Then from there many of us were flown out to the Navy hospital ship, the USS Repose (AH-8) for more surgery and recovery while afloat. I stayed on the ship for about 40 days and then I returned to the unit in mid-April 1966. Returning was a joyful time for me, being all healed and ready for duty and then finding out after I arrived back at my unit (Golf Company) that I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant, effective April 1, 1966. That was a big surprise. 
Our unit had held various ceremonies to remember all those who died that day. I knew almost everyone well dating back to our time at Camp Pendleton where we trained before our deployment. They gave their all as Marines are proud to say.
Here is that list of those honored names: 
1.  PFC Roger Bulifant, Belleville, MI, age: 18
2.  Cpl Henry “Sunny” Casebolt, St. Joseph, MO, age: 24 (Won Navy Cross)
3.  PFC Warren Lee Christensen, Hooper, UT, age: 19 
4.  LCpl Bill Foran, Decatur, IL, age: 20 (died of wounds: March 1st)
5.  PFC Bill Fuchs, Milwaukee, WI, age: 20
6.  Cpl Charley Johnson, Batavia, IL, age: 21
7.  PFC Bob Knutson, Norfolk, VA, age: 21
8.  PFC Jim Laird, Davenport, IA, age: 21
9.  LCpl Larry MacDonald, Detroit, MI, age: 21
10.  SSgt Ed McCarthy, Chicago, IL, age: 37
11.  LCpl Andy McGuire, Chicago, IL, age: 23
12.  PFC Jim McLemore, Knoxville, TN, age: 23
13.  LCpl Mark Morgan, San Bruno, CA, age: 19
14.  PFC Miguel E. Naranjo, Pueblo, CO, age: 18
15.  PFC Richard Nugent, Westwood, NJ, age: 19
16.  LCpl Art Pederson, Minneapolis, MN, age: 19
17.  PFC Darrell Ray, Olympia, WA, age: 18
18.  PFC Jose Torres, Sinton, TX, age: 21

I told the story of Operation NEW YORK in my book, which is the same story the fallen can never tell, so I tried to tell it for them. This is as best as I remember that dreadful day as I describe in my book.
As I said, my company, Fox Company, had a strength that continued to dwindle right up to the end of February 1966. By mid-February, I had been transferred from Fox to Golf Company (1st Lt. Charles C. Krulak Commanding). Fox had beefed up when some Marines from Fox 2/7 became Marines of Fox 2/1 with the stroke of an admin officer's pen. My move to Golf was not unusual in those days due to NCO shortages, and since I was a senior Sergeant, I took over a platoon in Golf Company where they were short Sergeants.
Operation New York was one of those famous quickly-named operations (not well-planned in advance with some fancy name and lots of units lined up). Those kinds were famous for being put together in a short period of time, and usually when events went sour and employment was needed quickly – Operation New York was no exception to that rule.
At any given time, there were always some major ARVN and PF (Popular Force) units operating in and around our base at Phu Bai. 
Since we were relatively new to that northern area and still learning the terrain, the ARVN units worked closely with us to help us get to know the area and lay of the land. We were the only major U.S. combat unit that far north of Danang and that close to the DMZ, thus we had to rely heavily on ARVN and PF intelligence for anything about the NVA and VC. The PF units were actually a raggedy bunch (more like local militia than first rate Army units). They were not well armed or equipped, but they bled and died like anyone else. I give them credit; they tried hard, and we liked them in own silly way.
One afternoon, reports started coming in about an ARVN unit and a bunch of PF's who had engaged a large NVA unit east of Phu Bai. We were put on alert, which meant to “stand by” (I hated that word stand by). That meant we might have to go help them or block for them on short notice. All day we prepared and waited and waited and prepared all over again right until early that evening when it looked like we'd have to wait and go the next day. We started settling down for the night even as reports kept coming in.
I had actually just gone to sleep when around 2200 hours (10 p.m.) I was shaken out of my cot and told “We're mounting out.” Mounting out, oh, shit I said – it’s midnight. Midnight or not, we saddled up and moved to the LZ (a huge empty sandy area where 'choppers would land, pick us up, and head off to who knew where at the time).  I remembered that we didn't get much of a briefing except that we were told to expect more after we arrived at the scene early in the morning. We loaded aboard CH-46 choppers and took off. 
We flew for about 20 to 30 minutes, and then we started circling for what seemed like a very long time. Then we started to descend into our LZ. This landing was a Marine Corps classic, and a Marine Corps first we later learned – at night we were the first Marine infantry battalion to attack at midnight by helicopter.
The landing was uneventful, although a bit scary. Two CH-46's and Sea Stallions (the new, twin-rotor birds that replaced the old single engine H-34's) hovered overhead with their huge landing lights shining down below on the rice paddies as the rest of the 'choppers sat down and dropped us off. That part was the scary part.
I imagined that if there were any NVA here, we're dead ducks with all this illumination. All they would have to do is start shooting at the bottom of the light and follow it up to the waiting birds like a step ladder. There they were bound to get lucky and hit any one of us. Luckily it did not happen. Things went very smoothly, actually to the surprise of everyone. 
Maybe the NVA must have seen us, got scared and ran away I thought. We found out later that we actually hadn't landed very close to where the fighting was in the first place. That meant we would have to hump there and attack or block at daybreak. Here we go again – attack at dawn: The Marine Corps way. Ironically, our first night assault went off without a hitch, except for missing some sleep!
We assembled as fast as we could before the last bird flew away taking the last of the light. It was pitch black and I mean pitch black. You couldn't even see your hand in front of your face it was so dark. We couldn't see shit. Man oh man, was it dark! All we could do was spread out, keep close as possible, set night watches, and try to grab some sleep as best we could. Daylight was not far away.
At first light, we wolfed down some C-rations; dry brushed our teeth, pissed, and started saddling up. Then came our new orders: “Sweep forward and help the ARVN and PF units as needed. They would do the heavy lifting, we would support and block. End of orders.” Well, that sounded simple enough. We would block and shoot VC and NVA as they were pushed toward us. Hey, no sweat, now maybe we could get revenge for Harvest Moon. It all sounded easy enough, but I also knew these things sometimes turn sour quickly.
I thought that the fighting this time would be on our terms and not on their terms. But, wouldn’t you know it: Murphy dropped by and decided to screw up things only as Murphy can. He dropped off one of his famous Murphy laws and totally whacked us! Murphy as everyone knows always has plenty to say about changing events. Things like, “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Damn, you Murphy. At the time, I hated remembering Murphy and for all he stood for. 
We had moved about a thousand meters or so without any resistance and without hearing any gunfire. Maybe the ARVN and PF units were still asleep, or maybe the NVA and VC slipped away overnight. But, at the same time, I kept thinking, where in the hell are the ARVN and PF units anyway? Maybe the NVA and VC didn't slip out at night. Who needed so much help in the first place? What's really going on here? We kept spread out and kept moving forward. We were on line and just stopped facing a huge tree line 300-500 yards ahead on the edge of the fairly dried out rice paddies. 
Left to right we had Echo Company, then Hotel Company, and then our Golf, and anchored on our right flank was my old unit, Fox Company. 
So, on that line we had four Marine rifle companies with about 400 Marines lined up neat ready to block and kick some NVA ass as I’m sure we all thought as the VN units pushed them towards us – the plan we had been told. Lying there, smoking a cig and wait for a long time it seems and still nothing, not a damn thing. Where were they? We heard no air or artillery fire – nothing – eerie to say the least I remember thinking. We were just 400 Marine “grunts” waiting on God only knew.
We were enjoying that smoke break when a single rifle shot rang out up ahead. Everyone hit the deck. Then we looked around at each other with the same question was on everyone's mind: “What the hell was that? What did it mean? Who shot at whom?” Many of our eyes asked each other that same question. What did it mean, if it meant anything? Was it a misfire, an accidental discharge, or some kind of signal? No one said anything, we just wondered collectively and stayed alert

Moving into Action Towards the NVA
(Operation NEW YORK - Feb 28, 1966)

Slowly we got up and started to move slowly forward when the whole damn place opened up in a hail of bullets. Well then knew where the enemy was! Some of us hit the deck and started firing straight ahead, others started running for cover. Many others just fell dead right where they stood. It looked like another fucking mess in the making. Marines all around were running and falling, some dead, some wounded, others taking up firing positions. No one was counting, but the numbers of those not moving seemed to be growing fast. I raced forward only a few meters. Marines were falling all around me. I stopped, hit the ground again and continued to fire straight ahead not knowing if my fire was effective or not.
The enemy fire was intense and from all accounts, very effective. I saw our choices go from slim to none in a flash. In retrospect, we had several options: stop, get down and hope for the best; or get down, lay there and probably get killed; or continue charging onward and die while taking some with us; or, finally run like hell towards the enemy hoping not to die, and if we made it, take as many of them with us before they took us with them. None of those choices were good ones, but there was no time for debate. All these thoughts went through my head in about one minute. Any choice, either way, life and death looked like the only choices following any course of action we chose. Thanks goodness, I didn't have to make a choice – it was made for us. Lying there for only a few minutes seemed like a lifetime, and then I heard my Lieutenant, Terry Moulton (from New York City), shout over on my left side.
Moulton leaped up on a paddy dike, pulled out his pistol and K-bar knife and started screaming something at the time I wasn't quite sure what. Then his words rang clear. “Fuck this shit, let's go. Charge!” My first thought was Moulton, you asshole, what the Hell are you doing? But, it didn't matter what I thought, or what his words were, it worked. We all seemed to be motivated about our predicament at the same time. We leaped up and started charging and screaming at the top of our lungs as we headed straight for the tree lines into the withering fire. Something dramatically happened at the exact moment we started to rush the tree line, the firing all stopped for a brief moment in time. It was as if shock hit the NVA all at once and they panicked right there in their trenches as they saw us screaming and charging straight at them. I know they were stunned because I was stunned myself.
I continued running and shooting as fast I could while dodging straight ahead. I wanted to take as many of them with me as possible before they got me, because surely if I lay there, I was going to die and I knew today was my day on Earth.
I glanced over and saw one of our platoon sergeants, a huge Hawaiian, Sergeant Napoleon (we all naturally called him Pineapple). As soon as Moulton yelled, Pineapple also jumped up, pulled his pistol, pointed to the tree line, and started screaming the most blood-curling things I ever heard, but mostly in Hawaiian. I didn't understand a damn word of what he was shouting, but I'm sure it was a “Hawaiian blue streak or something plenty nasty.” Maybe that's why the enemy stopped firing for a brief moment. But, that didn't last long. No sooner had he shouted at the NVA than they fired at him and a bullet slit his right index finger.
That was huge mistake, now he was one really pissed. He started shouting and swearing and pointing all the while he looked around for part of his finger tip. I don't think he found it, but he kept screaming anyway and at the same time started his charge toward the tree line again and then the rest of us joined in without a second thought. It was wild, complete madness and aggressive. There were many stories about that day and about the way we attacked that tree line under such heavy fire. I heard about one story right after I returned from the hospital.
Apparently there had been an Army “O-1 Bird Dog” aircraft overhead with an Army Major working as air controller, even though things were so close he couldn't call in air support. I guess he tried several times to get air on board, but couldn't. He was reported to have said he had never seen anything like that in his entire life. Hundreds of screaming Marines racing across a rice paddy with fixed bayonets rushing a tree line filled with machine guns and NVA. It said it was right out of a war movie. The Marines, he was quoted as saying were: “Magnificent, simply magnificent.” I think he was right about that that day. We did do a good job, but it cost us dearly.
In retrospect, I don't know how long that charge actually lasted, but it seemed like forever. Any amount of time in close combat seems like an eternity in slow motion at times. At one point, we got very close to the tree line and could see the enemy dashing back and forth, raising up to shoot at us then ducking back down before raising up again like those pop up targets you see at a carnival. Some of our Marines jumped in the NVA trenches ahead of the rest of us and started hand-to-hand combat. They grabbed the NVA by the head, neck, or throat and commenced to beat them to death with anything they had in their hands. Some used their bayonets; others choked them to death or beat them with their rifle butts. It was something right out of WW II – something we had never experienced till that time. We were getting revenge for the beatings months ago and especially during our bloodbath on Harvest Moon.
At one point, I managed to crawl up behind a Buddhist grave where I could take up a good firing position. I continued picking off as many as I could. Those graves are hard-packed mounds of dirt and sand, were anywhere from 2-3 feet in diameter to slightly bigger. It provided a good firing position, but not much cover and almost no concealment, but I didn't care; it fit my need just fine at the time. Suddenly I saw a NVA soldier jump up right in front me about 25 yards away and throw what looked like two or three hand grenades straight toward me.
Just as he threw them, he started to duck back down, but he never made it. Staff Sergeant Reed from 1st Platoon mowed him down with a Thompson machine gun he had managed to "borrow" from a Tank crew member (the Thompson was something the infantry guys didn't normally carry). Reed got him, but he was little late. The NVA soldier got several of us. He accomplished his mission just before he went off to wherever NVA soldiers go off to. His two hand grenades got me and several others nearby. One grenade landed between the legs of one of the Corpsman who was on my left. I don't even remember his name, he was hurt real bad – and so was I.
I took pieces of shrapnel in my left thigh, left arm, left shoulder, forehead, and left eye. Oddly enough at the time with all the excitement and blast and noise from those hand grenades, I didn't even know I was hit until as I was helping patch up the Doc, I noticed blood on my thigh. I wiped it off, and as I did, I felt the pain in my leg. Then I felt the other wounds as well, and then I realized that the blood on me was my own and not the Doc's as I originally thought. Funny how fear works in moments like that. I was seriously wounded and didn’t even know it for a few minutes. After seeing the wounds, I began to feel them. There wasn't a lot of pain, but it hurt nonetheless. I think I must have looked worse than I really was with the blood running down my face and arm and hand. Then I saw my arm I felt that pain but not before. Then it started to look bad with all the blood even to me. I started to worry because I didn't know how bad I really was. I didn't know how many other places I had been hit. I started to feel helpless. Then I thought, it doesn't matter, I'm alive and that meant a great deal at the time. I got the “million-dollar wound and I'm going home, I thought!”
The question remained, how in the hell do I get out of here and go home to enjoy my rebirth. That little matter would take some time because we still up to our asses in NVA. The worst fighting continued to our right for some time between Fox Company and the NVA. Their side turned out to be the center of the main NVA force. Fox like so many other time, ended up in lots of trouble and suffered lots of casualties. That day, Fox lost 14 killed, and one WIA who died the next day, LCpl Bill Foran from Decatur, Illinois. Fox also had the most wounded. In fact, Fox ended up with about 75% casualties. Many of the wounded in Golf were serious wounds like the Doc and me; others less serious. I could walk even with my multiple wounds — they were bad, but not life-threatening.
Echo Company had one killed. Golf had no one killed and I still can't figure that out with all the shit that was flying that day. Hotel Company had one non-combat related death. Their First Sergeant died of a heart attack in the heat of the battle. A couple of hours into the fighting things actually slowed down. I didn't know if it was because we killed them all or if they managed to run away to the rear, or were they regrouping and rearming to counter attack? As it turned out, we had killed most of them, well over 200 it was later confirmed (no estimates, real dead bodies). We had beaten the shit out of two brand new NVA battalions. They had not even seen combat until that day and we managed to kill most of them. Two full NVA battalion-sized units hit us, and with only our small arms, machine guns, knives, and bare hands we killed over 200 of them. 
But, as I said, we paid a heavy price. Fox Company was wiped out, virtually off the active duty rolls. Fox really hadn't been at full strength since Operation Harvest Moon and now this operation finished them off. All that was left was to convert them into one of those small CAC units a few days later.
During the lull, Lt. Moulton ordered me from the battlefield as the first wave of Medevac helicopters started arriving. I told him no, I was staying and that I wasn't as bad as I looked. I didn't refuse to go because I was a hero or anything like that. I wanted to stay and help clean up and kick a few more NVA asses myself. Although it sounded both foolish and hateful, I wanted revenge for Harvest Moon just like everyone else. Not only that, but I saw a couple of the choppers take fire as they approached and I damn sure didn't want to die in a fiery crash while getting lifted from the battle field, so I said no, I'm staying because the ground at that point seemed safer than being in the air. Moulton insisted and he told me to help with the wounded and get “out of there, now.” I picked up the Doc and my gear and started crawling back to where one of the birds was about to sit down. It landed safely and we piled on and moved to the rear as others were trying to get on. We lifted off and as the pilot was pulling the nose up and starting to turn toward what I guessed was Phu Bai, when we took fire.
The pilot was hit, but no one else. Oddly enough, I had a chance to meet him in a bar one night in Okinawa while I waiting to fly home months later. His name was 1stLt. Brown. He had been hit in the upper thigh with the bullet lodging in his groin, and at the same time it nicked a small piece off his penis. I asked him how he was doing and he said, “Hey all my parts are working and I'm out here 'test firing' my gun” – he said with a great big smile while holding a girl on each arm.
As soon as I heard the rounds hitting our 'chopper, I became more pissed at Lt. Moulton for making me get on the bird. I thought for sure I was going to burn up in the 'chopper, but alas, it did not crash and did not burn. In fact, after a few short bursts from the ground, Lt. Brown got control and got us back to the rear. We landed safely at the Phu Bai BAS (Battalion Aid Station). 
Those of us not seriously wounded we whisked away to a tent in the rear to await examination and patching up. I was lying there next to my old fire team leader and good friend, Cpl. Dave Goodwin (from Arizona) who had remained with Fox and was now a squad leader. Dave had been hit by shrapnel too, but appeared to be okay. We both chatted like two old hens at a tea party about who had been KIA or who had been WIA. 
As we talked, medics started bringing the dead in and carrying them right by us to a temporary morgue in a rear tent. From there, I had the chance to see the real damage – as our dead started coming in.
Thanks for remembering with me and thanks for stopping by and never forget.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

OP HARVEST MOON (Dec. 8-20, 1965): Years Fade, Memories Weaken, But Most Last Forever

2nd BN, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division logo
(Vietnam War era)

Loading to fly into the center of Hell

USS Valley Forge (LPH-8)
(Platform for that fateful time)

Under heavy fire in rice paddies 
(10 long miserable hours)

DC 39th reunion: Seven Fox Company Survivors
(Author: Seated front right)

I publish this story - my personal account and vivid memories of being in those cold wet rice paddies during OPERATION Harvest Moon, which lasted from December 10-20 - every time of the years. 

All that happened during that time still lingers in my mind even after all these years. It was our first really big major operation. The photo above depicts those rice paddies where we laid for over 10 hours while under constant enemy fire.
As I said, it was cold, wet, and muddy not only for me and my infantry squad part of 1st Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, but for everyone else involved during that operation. For such a long time that day (December 10th, no one could support us or get to us and we were unable to move and withdrew to higher dry ground for over 10 hours while under heavy rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire from Hill 407. 
The day started early as most combat operations do – at about 5 or 6 am. We were to land by helicopters flying off the USS Valley Forge (LPH-8).  Little did we know at the time that we would face a vastly superior North Vietnamese and VC force, who held the high ground as they shot at us like fish in a proverbial barrel. We were what they harvested that day.  
At the end of that bloody day or worse of the nearly 3 months we had been off-shore as the SLF (Special Landing Force), we suffered 20 dead and about 80 wounded. I lost two Marines in my 14-man squad: LCpl. Barry Sitler (Comption, CA) who was killed in action soon after we landed, and PFC Bill Stocker (from Boulder, CO) who was badly wounded. I also lost my Platoon Commander who was badly wounded, 1st Lt. Charlie George, and our Platoon Guide, a very good friend of mine, Sgt. Bob Hickman from Wheeling, WV, who was killed in action.

More on this operation can be found at these several places:
From my book “Last Ride Home” available from Amazon kindle. 
From several other links where firsthand accounts are presented.
From Ohio State University (eHistory) here (our unit's story starts on page 106).

How I remember one personal key part of that operation

It happened on the second day (December 11, 1965) as we were humping up Hill 407 where we had received so much fire from the day before. As we passed through some heavy shrubs, my mind drifted back to my youthful days and concord grape vines I used climb and steal grapes from my grandmother’s backyard (before she would catch me and chase me away).
Suddenly, my daydreaming was broken when someone yelled, “Grenade!” Everyone started diving off the trail and ducking for whatever cover they could find, or just stopping in their tracks and hitting the ground. Then all of a sudden right in front of me rolling straight down the trail towards my feet was a hand-grenade. In a split second as they say, my whole life flashed before my eyes yet my first thought was to also duck and seek cover or try to run as fast as possible away, but that was not an option at the moment. 
I do remember thinking, “was it was a VC hand-grenade, or a booby trap.” I just did not know and certainly had no time to find out – I needed to act and act fast. In an instant that all went through my mind and nothing seemed to matter so without a single thought clearly in my head, or any thought at all I guess, I reached down and grabbed the grenade and turned to throw it as far as possible away.

At that precise moment I saw that it was one of our own hand grenades, but, it had no firing mechanism in place. It was missing, but the grenade was still fully intact.

In reality, there was no way it could have ever exploded without the firing mechanism. What the hell was going on? As it turned out, it had fallen off some Marine’s cartridge belt who was up ahead in the column. In those early days of the war safety was paramount and we carried them carefully for quick access (in fact sometimes we were told to "tape 'em shut for safety purposes).

As it happened that one came unscrewed and dropped to the ground from his belt and rolled down the hill and right at my feet. The firing mechanism with pin obviously were still hanging from his belt and he didn’t even know it had fallen off.
Everyone around me had a good laugh when they saw what was really happening. There I stood holding a “dud.” I must have looked silly standing there with a grenade in my hand ready to throw it, and with a shitty look on my face, not even knowing it would never have exploded. That was definitely a first for me and I recall thinking it would be the last.

That day someone broke the rules because the one I picked up had no tape on it and thus a Marine, someone I never knew who, had been disregarded the rules and that could have cost me and a few others dearly had it gone off. 
That moment in time passed along with the short-lived danger - we moved up the hill hunting and pursuing the enemy. Once again, I thought how lucky I was, but in a very odd way. Lady luck was right there beside me, but I wondered, for how long she’d stick around? All in all, I wanted to share that memory and the rest of the story as I do every December for the sole purpose of remembering those we lost who can never come home and tell their stories. So, I tell the story for them. It is my honor and duty and pleasure to present the story and remind everyone to never forget them. I never will.

Note: Our Fox company commander, then Captain Jim Page was shot through chest and marked as KIA. Later that night after we had managed to pull back to safe ground, our Navy Corpsman were retagging our dead since the rain has washed a lot of information off their body tags. One Corpsman, screamed and leaped back yelling as he was retagging Captain Page: “He’s alive, he’s alive.” He was and had been declared dead for over 10 hours. Talk about a miracle… Jim went to serve and retired as a Marine Lt. Col. (he is pictured above back row with red, white, and blue tie). He is living in retirement in Florida. 

My unit (Fox Company) losses that first day (all on December 10, 1965 except as one note below):
  1. PFC Robert L. Craft, Salt Lake City, UT, age: 18
  2. PFC Mike Crannan, Canoga Park, CA, age: 18
  3. PFC Ron Cummings, Stockton, CA, age: 18
  4. SGT Bob Hickman, Wheeling, WV, age: 36
  5. PFC Joe Moreno, Austin, TX, age: 18
  6. CPL Les Puzyrewski, Chicago, IL, age: 19
  7. LCpl Barry J. Sitler, Compton, CA, age: 20
  8. Cpl Lloyd Vannatter, Ettrick, VA, age: 25
  9. Cpl Jim Brock, Cleveland, OH, age: 23
  10. LCpl Acie Hall, Lake City, TN, age: 22
  11. PFC John Wilson, St. Paul, MN, age: 21
  12. PFC Larry Tennill, Slater, MO, age: 18
  13. LCpl Dennis Manning, St. Clair Shores, MI, age: 19 (shot and died on Dec 11th)
Lest We Forget…

Thursday, August 23, 2018

DATELINE Vietnam — August 23, 1966: First Year of Combat Ends with a Second Wound

The Enemy Called Us “Ghosts” – So, We Copied It
(2nd Battalion, 1st Marines)

2nd Battalion, 1st Marines unit logo
(More current)

I wanted to share this story as I concluded my first year in Vietnam — it is as fresh today as it was then, 52 years ago ... a long time in history, but as fresh in my mind as ever — some memories of war ever go away — maybe they fade a bit, but they never totally go away.

The last group of Marines that I served with in 2nd BN, 1st Marines who were killed in action (KIA), are recorded from the period of late August 1996 through September 6, 1966, which is also the date I left VN after my second wound. Those three fine men are forever remembered and listed on Panel 9E, Rows 74 and 107, and Panel 10E, Rows 23, 29, and 32 on the VN Memorial Wall in Washington, DC.

Killed that day was Staff Sergeant Ken Glaze from Hutchinson, KSHe had just joined our company, Golf Company, and was assigned to take my place as Platoon Commander, since we didn't have any officers for a very long time. 

He had only been in the unit for a few days before he was killed. I along with a few others were preparing to leave that very month (September 1966) as our one full year in combat was coming to a close. That second wound got me out a mere few days early. As I said, Ken had been assigned to Golf Company only a few days before I was scheduled to rotate home, and I'm not even sure how long he had been in VN on his tour, or whether he even had been reassigned to us from another unit, because quite frankly I didn't have a chance to know him very well before he was killed. I do know it was his second tour, however. He and the two others in our company killed that day were killed by a series of landmines: two mines for sure — and maybe actually there had been three.  

The other two Marines killed beside Ken were: PFC Phil Grego from Council Bluffs, IA and PFC Cliff Walter from Erie, PA.  

We were very lucky more weren't killed that day. This is how that horrible day unfolded: 

Ken Glaze had been on one of our early morning patrols around our company area and had just returned to our base camp along with a few just as the others were on their way in from behind them. They were only a few hundred yards in front of the CP (Command Post) and was sweeping through an old cemetery area. They were in fact so close some guys shouted at them to hurry up and come in and get some hot chow. Then kapow, kaboom...!!!   Two very loud explosions.

Ken was the first to grab a couple of Marines nearby and dash out to the site. I followed him along with two of our Navy Corpsmen.  Mine explosions, or in fact, any kind of explosion, tend to be really nasty. As Marines, we were always trained and taught that if there were one mine, or a booby trap, be careful, you can be 100% sure there would be more nearby. That day was no exception to that savvy old Engineer Golden Rule.   

I had no sooner arrived on the scene than I saw Ken bending over the wounded on ground around as he helped patch their wounds. It appeared that no one was dead, but I could see we had at least three seriously wounded.  I don't know exactly what happened next, but one of the wounded stood up and started to move away from the others. I yelled at him, “Don't move, don't move, get down!” I had no sooner gotten those words out when another huge blast hit us. 

We were consumed by the heat, metal, flames, and shrapnel. He had triggered a second mine. The air was black with smoke and powder and screams. The smell was awful.  Pieces of metal tore into me as well as pieces of the Marine who had stepped on the mine. It had been what we called as a Bouncing Betty – that is the kind of mine that when stepped on would actually bounce up in the air some 3-4 feet and explode cutting down anyone standing nearby – they are and were very deadly.

Apparently the VC or NVA had seen our guys burying them some time ago. They typically would dig them up and replant them against somewhere to be stepped on by us as they figured out our patrol routes. They would also modify them to make them “command denoted” that is one or two of the enemy would lie in the brush and then explode them remotely as they also triggered an elaborate ambush. Those mines were very effective. Our dead and wounded now covered a wider radius, and sadly one or two forgot that Engineer golden rule that day: One mine means another or more would be nearby, and we paid a heavy price. 

A mere few minutes after I arrived and while our Docs were patching up the wounded, and a few minutes seconds before the second mine went off, our Company Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt. Wilson) arrived with a few other Marines to assist.  

I had just yelled at Wilson and told him and the others to get back and stay back and not come any closer and that we had the situation under control. I yelled at them to stay back because some of them were getting too close.
Wilson overruled me and acted like an ass since he was senior to me as a GySgt. and I a newly promoted Staff Sergeant. It didn't matter at the time, or maybe he just wanted to throw around his rank I never knew or cared at the time.

Then kaboom …  another mine went off, and then just as suddenly, someone got up to move again, another went off (at that point I had lost count of how many three probably in all)!  

Ken Glaze and the other Marine, one of the three killed, apparently had triggered the mine and both were killed instantly. One of the previously wounded (I think it may have been Phil Grego) was killed as he lay there getting patched up from his first wound. I was hit and so were several others including one of the Docs nearby. I had been hit in the forehead, right shoulder, and left thigh. I was lucky. None of my wounds as it turned out were life-threatening, although the forehead bled a lot and hurt the most and looked the worst - luckily it was not serious. 

I had been lucky because I had been crouching down helping a wounded Marine when the mine blew so I made a much smaller target than those who were standing like Ken Glaze and the others. They hit badly and were killed quickly. They didn't suffer. One minute they were standing there and the next they were torn to shreds and gone. We probed around for more mines and not finding any, we started to clean up the area and move the dead and wounded back to the perimeter as 'choppers started to arrive to pick up the dead and wounded.  

I came face-to-face with Gunny Wilson a bit later back at the CP explaining to Captain Charles Krulak (our company commander) about and how it had happened. But, Wilson kept trying to clean up the story to fit his own agenda; whatever that was I wasn't sure at the time. 

Once or twice, I came close to grabbing him by the throat and beating the shit out of him over what had happened because I was angry that he would pull rank on me, even when I was right when I told all of them all to stay back and not to come closer. He was wrong and it cost us dearly. He kept trying to show that he was in control and that the others had somehow fucked up. Wilson was dead wrong; it was he who fucked up but he wouldn't admit it.

He was not obligated to explain to Krulak and others what had happened, yet he kept leaving out the part where I told him and the others to stay back. Although I was only a Staff Sergeant and he out ranked me, he persisted in his story version. I was in fact a platoon commander (an officer's position since we were short officers) and actually had more pull than he did - but he didn't care.   

Well, that was my second wound, and I had only a week left on my normal one-year rotation, so Captain Krulak ordered me to the rear and our BAS (Battalion Aid Station). He told me to get patched up, stay there, and get ready to go home: “You stay there and get ready to go home next week, your tour is over.” 

I think he did it for Wilson's sake more than for mine. I could have gotten patched up and stayed in the field another week or so, and thus I guess it didn't matter. It was clear Krulak didn't want me near or anywhere around Wilson. 

I flew out of VN and returned home on September 6, 1966.  My first tour of duty was over after nearly 13 months of nearly daily combat operations. I would be back in November 1968 for a second tour with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and nearly in the same area of operations, thus that would give the NVA/VC another chance to get me.

Those three Marines shall never be forgotten. God bless them and may they all R.I.P. They earned a spot in heaven the hard way.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Dates in Marine Corps Combat History: June 25-26, 1966 — Vietnam War and Operation Jay

Etched in Granite Forever R.I.P.
(At the Vietnam Wall)

Three Soldiers Vietnam War Era
(On Duty Always Alert)

This is the time of the year when I reflect back on another group of Marines I served with who were killed in combat in 2nd BN, 1st Marines (2/1). They are all laid to rest and their names forever are identified on “Panel 8E, Rows 90, 91, 94, 95, 97, and 99” on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC — their place in military history forever. 

Those fine men all died in ugly and close combat on June 25 and 26, 1966 in the Operation Code Name: JAY in an area that took place just south of the ancient capital city of  Hue. Hue is the same city that would be nearly totally destroyed in the TET offensive of 1968 in just a few short years from this date. 

We lost in those two days: 

On Saturday, June 25, 1966

MILLER J. BOURG, LCPL, Age 21, Houma, LA
CECIL E. DAW, Navy Corpsman (HN), Age 20, Anacoco, LA
ROBERT R. EGGLESTON, GySgt, Age 36, Los Angeles, CA
GERALD V. EPPLEY, PFC, Age 21, Newark, OH
BRUNO L. MARTIN, PFC, Age 19, Wayne, MI
DAVID E. REYNER, CPL, Age 21, Houston, TX
RICHARD L. STRANGE, SGT, Age 24, Richmond, VA
MELVIN E. TAYLOR, LCPL, Age 20, Paterson, NJ

On Sunday, June 26, 1966

JAMES COLEMAN JR, CPL, Age 22, Jacksonville, FL
JOHN M. RISNER, PFC, Age 19, Las Cruces, NM

That combat action occurred as we were moving north toward North Vietnam and the DMZ preparing for the largest operation in VN at the time: Operation HASTINGS that would take place during the months of July and August 1966. 

During this particular operation (Jay), my newly-assigned Golf Company platoon sergeant was Staff Sergeant Robert E. Cleary (later promoted to Gunnery Sergeant that same month). He would go to become the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps from 1983-1987.

(Update: Bob Clearly died February 11, 2018 in Virginia Beach, VA at age 86. He also was a Korean War vet. He served in the Marine Corps from 1951-1987 (36 years) and reached the highest enlisted office in the Corps - he and I were close friends until the day he died. We spoke on the phone only two months before passed on). 

During this operation, Clearly won the Silver Star for doing a great job, which I witnessed his valor, and I was proud to have written my recommendation. After his retirement he returned to his beloved home somewhere near Boston then moved to FL then on to VA.

During the heat of the battle many of us were pinned down under withering NVA fire that was coming from a series of tree lines that the 2nd BN, 4th Marines (2/4) was pushing the NVA towards us from their northern side of a rather large area - we were the blocking force.

Cleary did what few men could never do under such fire. He crawled to each of our wounded, actually a few of them, put them on his back and crawled with them to the rear for treatment while still under heavy fire.  He would do that several times, and by a miracle he was not wounded himself.  His award should have been higher. But as was well known in those early days of the war, the Marine Corps was very stingy with combat awards, for what reason none of us ever figured out. We accepted it and moved on. But, to make matters worse in those early days, we also heard that people in the “in the rear with the gear” as we used to call them, were being awarded Bronze Stars for making sure our boxed C-Rations arrived on time and we got fresh water, etc.

Far too many fine Marines died and did lots of brave things only to win the Purple Heart and not much else – it hardly seemed fair at the time or reflecting on those days even now. 

On those same days Cleary was acting out his brave action, so was our Company CO, 1st Lieutenant Charles C. Krulak and Sergeant Richard StrangeBoth of them also won Silver Stars. 

Krulak would go on to be 4-star General and Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) in his later years. He won his award for directing close air support (CAS) so close that he had to call it right on top of his own position (a two-plane Napham strike) during the early hours of darkness and in the heat of battle – his action saved many lives.  

Sgt. Strange's story is contained in the section at the end of my book labeled “Reflections and sent to me by his former close friend, Butch Gatlin from TN.

Our advance across rice paddies towards a huge tree line where we were to set up our blocking force for 2/4 started out rather routine as these operations often do at first, that is before the shit would hit the proverbial fan as they say. This was to be no different in that regard. 

We got off our 'choppers, quickly assembled back in our smaller units and not far from the area we were going start our advance to the place we had been briefed about where the NVA was located.  

This day was no different than the one that had started back during Operation NEW YORK in February. Our orders were simple: “Land, advance to and take positions and provide a blocking force for 2/4 who would be pushing the NVA south out of the City of Hue towards us.”

Hue as history knows was the ancient capital of Vietnam and a place that had come to be known as the “Street Without Joy.”  So, as I said, the mission sounded easy enough, but, then old line: “Murphy and his damn laws” happened to drop by with other plans (damn, I hated it when Murphy dropped by).

So, we started moving forward towards the tree line to set up the blocking force.  As we advanced we could hear gunfire ahead and in the distance. Slowly the volume and intensity increased. Then rounds started getting really close. My first thought was “had we been landed in the wrong spot (again)?” Well, hell at that moment, it didn't matter, we were here, and they enemy was there. Suddenly and with some distance still to go before we could get good cover, we started receiving fire directly at and around us. 

Rounds were hitting front of us and over our heads. Initially and like all good Marines are trained, we hit the deck and started looking around. Then we all realized at once it seemed, we were in the open and still had a good distance to go for the tree line and any chance of real cover and not those damn open, shallow dry paddies with little cover and zero camouflage. I thought, here we go again – NEW YORK or worse HARVEST MOON bloodbath again.

Also, this about to take place just a short month before we were hit hard and lost so many on Memorial Day back in May. But, we also knew what had to be done, and without waiting on orders, we jumped up and started hightailing toward the trees.  We only took a few more rounds, and then a sudden lull. But then just as fast, the whole world seemed to open up as we got closer – the volume of fire was intense. What seemed to have happened was that the fleeing NVA were now firmly trapped between 2/4 pushing them toward us and us, who in fact was not quite ready for them.

They apparently saw us and held their fire giving us a chance to get up close, and then opened on us as we started advancing their way. At the same time, 2/4 never let up their fire, so we had both NVA and friendly fire falling on us and soon both found their targets. We started taking loses and very quickly.

The NVA started to rake us pretty good all across our front with heavy rifle and machine gun fire - back and forth, left to right and then right to left.  It was very effective, but we kept up our advancement until we finally reached the tree line. What made matters worse, the word came down to watch your fire, that 2/4 was not far away. No shit, I thought! At the time it all seemed crazy. Hold your fire, watch your fire, be careful where you fire and the like. Our leaders feared that we would confuse 2/4 and their push with the NVA or that 2/4 would confuse our fire with the NVA and we'd end up shooting each other. Things would really get hot as two Marine battalions plowed into each other not knowing where each other was. For the NVA, it was great - they could shoot as both us and we couldn't shoot back at them. Damn, friendly fire and NVA fire – great I’m sure we had the same thoughts. 

Some of the rounds we were receiving probably were from 2/4 but the sounds of AK-47 make a very distinct sickening ring to them that is nothing like an M-16, so we pretty much knew where the NVA were. The message was cleared up quickly and we were told to return fire but take in targets. The NVA saw what we were about to do, so they held up and started taking their time firing and choosing their targets, too and their fire was starting taking its toll. It looked like another mess was brewing, and initially, it was a mess. There was a lot of confusion and lots of firing from what seemed like every conceivable direction and position. The NVA were trapped and fighting for their lives, 2/4 was pushing like a bunch of madmen, and all we could do was be selective and be careful where we fired.

We had five killed very quickly in my company (Golf Company). Hotel Company on our left flank, also had five killed in short order, one Marine was also killed in HQ company, too. 

My platoon now in the lead for Golf Company managed to get to the tree line first. We had the main road on our left which anchored us to Hotel Company who was on the other side of the road. We could all see each other clearly and that helped in all the confusion. We had wide open rice fields to our far right and plenty of huts and trees in front of us that turned out later to be a rather big NVA stronghold.

Krulak set up his command post (CP: radios and 60 mm mortars) just to our rear and in a small Buddhist grave yard site. The CP was better off than we were located in the rear and fairly well covered. 

One of those wounded early from Hotel Company was my old friend and former squad member who had been my M-79 grenadier from FOX Company. His name was LCpl. Edwin Labotto from Colorado. He got shot though the upper shoulder with an exit out his back, and he was in very bad shape, but he pulled through and lived. I saw him a few years later back in the states while at Camp Pendleton when one night I went to take in a movie on post and saw him. He was an MP on duty at the theatre.  It was great seeing him. He said he was now married and was going for 20 years.  I bet he made it, too.

As the battle raged, we became more pinned down not only from the NVA trying to escape, but from the bullets flying in from 2/4 as they continued to advance all across our front. A sniper fired a shot here or there, a hand grenade was tossed there or nearby, and it remained constant for several hours. When I had the chance, I started to survey the dry rice fields to our right. What I saw, I didn't like.  What I didn't know but suspected, was that that flank was an easy route around us for the NVA to escape.

Eventually, 2/4 either slowed down, got bogged down, or started to dig in because we were told that the friendly fire was being lifted and that we had permission to fire at will, but continue picking targets carefully.  We did stay low, picked off a few NVA whenever we saw then as the battle sea-sawed back and forth for a few more hours. We tossed hand grenades all across our front while Krulak gave us overhead mortar and M-79 fire from time to time keep the snipers off guard because they were now in the trees shooting down on us and wounding just about anyone who moved.  Then something more terrible happened. 

At some point, two CH-46 helicopters landed up front near Hotel Company. They had come in to pick up casualties from 2/4. Some of our wounded managed to get over near the first chopper by crossing Hotel's lines to our left front. One had just loaded the wounded and started to lift off when NVA hit it hard with both gun fire and an RPG rockets.

The ‘chopper burst into flames and started to crash with Marines who thought they were being lifted to safety falling out the back as it passed treetop level. That was an awful sight and we were helpless to do anything except watch in horror. 

The 'chopper was melting right before our eyes. I'd never seen a chopper burn like that nor did I think they burned that fast. I don't know how many died in that crash from 2/4, but I'm sure most of the wounded now became KIA. Before that was over, another 'chopper a short distance away also went down just like the first.  We had two terrible crashes in about 20 minutes. 

Things didn't start to cool down until near darkness. By that time, many of us had managed to regroup, get more ammo, take care of our dead and wounded and try to shore up that exposed right flank I had been cautious of all day. That was the place I most worried about because of the fleeing NVA we kept seeing from time to time darting to their safety. During the early darkness, Krulak passed the word that F-4's (Phantoms) were on the way with some “snake and nap” (that is bombs and napalm) and he told us to get down and stay down because they would be dropping right over the top of us. They would be making their run from left to right in between us and 2/4 - right across our two fronts on top of the NVV, or at least that was the plan.  Wouldn't you know it, “Murphy came again.” As they say, “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Well it did.

Two Phantoms arrived right on schedule because we could hear them, but as they started their napalm run, it became clear they were coming in from behind us, not from our left as we thought and not across our front. Bingo, they roared right at the CP and were lined up on my platoon's back toward and not across the NVA's front. They were coming in low and hot. We could clearly see their napalm bombs tumbled off their racks and started falling right toward Krulak and his CP, not toward the NVA – they had missed the angle of their targets. The nape hit the ground just short of the CP, and burst into one helluva giant fireball and then if by magic, rolled right over the top of the CP missing everyone below.

That happened as if it had been planned, but it surely was not. Free and clear and not one of our guys was hurt. It looked like a pool player making the cue ball jump over the seven ball and knocking in the eight ball. Even with this fuck up, those F-4's helped save our asses because the NVA didn't do anything the rest of the night. Either they were cooked or managed to flee. They dropped way short and from the wrong heading, nearly wiping out our CP but somehow ended up saving the day. Everyone knew it was damn close. I knew the guys in the CP got their whiskers singed!  Krulak for his bravery that night won his Silver Star. He damn sure earned it.

We mopped up the next and continue to move north towards the DMZ and more fighting. That’s the way this war continued.

Related: Remembrance of Operation JAY from 1st BN, 4th Marines point of view – their page link.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Vietnam — Memorial Day (May 29, 1966): Combat With 2nd Bn, 1st Marines

“We the People” Must Never Forget
(It is our soul, our fabric, who we are)

Each year at this time, I reflect back and remember the awful chain of events on that Memorial Day in 1966. I also wrote about them in my book here Last Ride Home (Updated on Kindle). Those events follow as best I recall are these and still fresh as ever:

Background to the Event: There was an interlude between Operation NEW YORK  (on February 28, 1966 which was the day I was first wounded and evacuated for 45 days before returning to duty), and Operation JAY (South of Hue City). 

We were told to continue conducting small unit patrols (squad and platoon level) to   sweep the villages” and keep our edge sharp and basically to fill the gap between those two operations as we continued to move more and more northward towards the DMZ and eventually that led to Operation HASTINGS (the biggest of the war at that time) in July-August 1966.

On one of those “sweeps” that ended for me and my platoon was on Memorial Day, May 29, 1966. We had just finished a couple days of patrolling in a nearby village east of the battalion temporary CP HQ located along Highway 1 just North of Hue City. This highway led right into the most-northern provinces, which further led into the DMZ, and then right on into North Vietnam.

We were packed up and were ready to pull out of the village and trade places with another platoon on their way to relieve us and also from Golf Company (Platoon Sergeant, SSgt. John Gaines, who was a very good friend of mine). I had been in radio contact with Gaines over the company radio net all morning briefing him. We exchanged information about the village and what was going on back at battalion. I told John what we had done and what we had seen and had not seen, namely no NVA.

Then I told him to be careful moving in from the direction he was moving in from because our look out had seen some movement up and around our positions earlier in the morning. I told him I didn't know what to make of it, but to be damn careful and alert. Gaines said roger, thanked me, and said he would relay the info to his Lieutenant. That was that.

My platoon: We had no Lieutenant, so I was acting commander and had been since January 1966, right after Operation HARVEST MOON when we came ashore for permanent duty for the rest of that year. 

We had just pulled out of the village and started up a long dusty road leading back to the battalion perimeter, which was some 2,000 yards ahead of us. Then once again, as before, my point Marine spotted a group of NVA moving across our path what looked like the same path Gaines and his platoon would be coming down that led into the same village we had just left. I got back on the radio and called for artillery and mortar fire on them.

The fire was effective because after we reached the spot where our rounds had hit, we found numerous body parts and some NVA combat gear - but that was it. I initially thought we had spoiled their plans, so I passed that information along to John Gaines. I told him we had hit them but that I didn't know if it was the front or rear or any size unit. Then I reminded him one more time to be very alert. I told him where we had seen them and the direction they were heading, but didn't know much beyond that. He acknowledged my advice and said again, “Roger, I'll tell the actual (his lieutenant), thanks, out.” His radio went silent. We continued on our route back to the battalion CP.

We had no sooner returned to the perimeter and started dropping our gear, than a call for help came across the battalion radio net from Gaines' platoon. Almost at once, we could hear mortar and machine fire coming from the village we had just left.  It seem that Echo Company, who also had been moving back to the CP, was ordered back to assist Gaines and his platoon in the village.

One of Echo's platoons was led by Staff Sergeant (later promoted to Gunnery Sergeant) Jim MacKenna. Off they charged into the village from the southwest side as Gaines was on the northeast side.  I don't know exactly what happened in between the two platoons, but it turned out to be a mess. While all that was going on, my platoon was ordered to saddle up and get ready to move back into the area and provide support.

We did end up going back in after things seemed to have settled down, about two hours later. Then the battle damage assessment started coming in over the radios. It was awful: Echo Company had eight Marines killed, including Jim MacKenna, with half a dozen wounded. 

In Golf Company, John Gaines was alive, but he had lost 13 Marines in his platoon. Included in his count were many left over from the original Fox Company that I had served with and knew quite well.

One of those losses was especially hard for us all. It was the loss was Lance Corporal Billy Joe Holt (Cameron, TX). He was probably the best machine gunner in Fox Company who had been trained by Frank Pruitt.  

Also killed along with Holt were: Dave Brandon (Lake Oswego, OR); Gordy Briggs (Seattle, WA); Jim Briles (who had been in country only a month from Portland, OR); Tom Britton (Great Neck, NY); and R. B. Marchbanks (Moriarty, NM). 

The other seven killed were so new and had just joined Golf from other units that I hardly had a chance to know them very well. With those losses it just about wiped out the original Fox Company ever since we had arrived in VN from Camp Pendleton back in September 1965.

I had a chance to meet up and talk to John Gaines later about what had happened. He told me he had relayed my info to his lieutenant and my warning, but that the lieutenant didn't seem to have cared or didn't believe our report. John said that Lt. always did things his own way and seldom listened to the NCO's. Unfortunately, the lieutenant paid a heavy price for that style of arrogance. He was shot two or three times in his back and buttocks, but he lived. 

As best as we all could piece together what happened was this:

A larger group of NVA had slipped into the village from another direction and were unseen by anyone, even as my platoon was heading the other direction. They apparently were not part of ones I had called fire on earlier. 

It seems they managed to set up a very elaborate Horseshoe shaped ambush in and around the village and along the trail that Gaines was entering in on. When Gaines and his platoon got in the center of the ambush site, the NVA opened up and the shit hit the fan from three sides. There was no escape. The NVA had a turkey shoot.

Then as Echo Company entered from the rear of the horseshoe ambush and unbeknownst to them, they too entered the trap and were cut to ribbons.

Not only was the day bad for the number of our losses, both killed and wounded, but the fact that it was on Memorial Day, and after a thorough sweep of the village area we found only one dead NVA soldier. Whether there were more that had been dragged away or hidden we never found out - that was the NVA's style to never leave traces of their losses.

We did find plenty of NVA machine gun cartridges and different firing positions all around. That indicated that they had had a large and strong force. Most of them slipped out just as easily as they slipped in during the mass confusion. The NVA won a big victory that day. They lost only one soldier that knew about and we had lost 20. The lesson was simple: One young Lieutenant didn't listen to their seasoned sergeant and they paid a heavy price.

In the whole mess, one hero did stand out, however. That was Lance Corporal Paul McGee, also left over from Fox Company. Paul was a classic Marine, great in the field and in tactics but a real shirt bird in garrison, but we all liked him in spite of his shortcomings because he was just plain likable.

Paul was shot three times that day and each time the NVA shot him, he got madder and fought harder especially after he saw Billy Holt killed since they had been the best of friends. Gaines said McGee went nearly berserk when he saw Billy Joe killed as he fired on the NVA. 

McGee was wounded pulling Holt back from where he had fallen. No one could confirm for sure, but indications are that McGee alone killed a dozen NVA by himself while being shot in the leg, chest, and thigh. The NVA were notorious for not leaving any of their dead on the battlefield as I said so that count remained unknown. I figure that day they employed their best plan that included removing or hiding all their dead - and it worked.

Paul McGee was awarded a Silver Star for his actions that day. I wish I had seen his acts so I could have written him up for something higher. I'm sure he deserved it. As I said before, the Marine Corps was very stingy on their awards in the early days of the war. That stinginess would stay with us for years. We all knew it, but accepted that fact of life nevertheless as we did our duty.

We moved on a few days later - going towards the DMZ and Operation HASTINGS which would be worse – far worse.

Our losses on that sad Memorial Day, Sunday, May 29, 1966 are listed on the “Vietnam Wall” in Washington, DC. Their names are there forever. 

Lest We Forget!!!

ALDON M ASHERMAN JR, HM3, Age 20, Towanda, PA
DAVID B BRANDON JR, PFC, Age 19, Lake Oswego, OR
GORDON M BRIGGS, PFC, Age 19, Seattle, WA
JAMES W BRILES, PFC, Age 20, Portland, OR
THOMAS W BRITTON JR, PFC, Age 19, Great Neck, NY
ROBERT A CORKILL, LCpl, Age 20, San Benito, TX
RICHARD E CROWE, LCpl, Age 20, Long Beach, CA
JAMES R HEATH, LCpl, Age 19, Bala Cynwyd, PA
BILLY J HOLT, LCpl, Age 21, Cameron, TX
JAMES J MAC KENNA, SSgt, Age 37, Denver, CO
R B MARCHBANKS JR, PFC, Age 23, Moriarty, NM
JERRY L NOLAND, LCpl, Age 19, Houston, TX
ERNEST G PAUL, PFC, Age 22, Concord, NH
RONALD RALICH, PFC, Age 19, Lorain, OH
ROY J RICHARD, PVT, Age 19, Lafayette, LA
EDWARD C SEXTON, PFC, Age 23, New Buffalo, MI
WALTER B STEVENS, Sgt, Age 25, San Diego, CA
JAMES H STEWART JR, PFC, Age 19, Columbus, OH
CHARLES E WALKER, LCpl, Age 22, Magnolia, AR
KENNETH W WICKEL, Cpl, Age 21, West Lawn, PA

Thanks for stopping and as I said: Never forget. Tell their story for them whenever possible. Again, thanks, and Semper Fi.