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Page 75 (1965: The Landing and the Buildup)    

It was a patchwork of rice paddies, streams, hedgerows, woods, and built-up areas, interspersed by trails leading in all directions. Two small knolls dominated the flat terrain. Hill 43, a few hundred meters southwest of Nam Yen (3), and Hill 30, 400 meters north of An Cuong (2). LZ BLUE was just south of Nam Yen (3), between Hill 43 and the hamlet. Company H's LZ was almost on top of the 60th VC Battalion. The enemy allowed the first helicopters to touch down with little interference, but then opened up as the others came in. According to one of the helicopter pilots, Captain Howard B. Henry from HMM-361,''You just had to close your eyes and drop down to the deck.''8 Three U.S. Army UH-1B Huey gunships from the 7th Airlift Platoon, took the VC on Hill 43 under fire while the infantry company formed a defensive perimeter around the landing zone.

The Company H commander, First Lieutenant Homer K. Jenkins, was not yet aware of the size of the enemy force. He ordered one platoon to take the hill and the rest of the company to secure Nam Yen (3). Both attacks soon stalled. The platoon attacking Hill 43 was still at the bottom of the hill when Jenkins called back his other two platoons from the outskirts of Nam Yen (3) in order to regroup. He requested air strikes against both the enemy hill position and Nam Yen (3). He then renewed the attack, but this time, Jenkins moved all three of his platoons into the assault on the hill. The VC fought tenaciously, but the Marines, reinforced by close air support and tanks, were too strong for the enemy. One Marine platoon counted six dead VC near a heavy machine gun position and more bodies scattered throughout the brush. Jenkins' men took one prisoner and collected over 40 enemy weapons.

The airstrikes called by Jenkins against enemy positions at Nam Yen (3) momentarily halted the advance of Company I, 3d Battalion, 3d Marines at a streambed east of Nam Yen (3). Bomb fragments slightly wounded two Marines. After the bombing run, Company I moved north along the stream for 500 meters to a point opposite An Cuong (2). Under fire from the hamlets, Captain Bruce D. Webb, the company commander, requested permission to attack An Cuong (2), although it was across the bank in the area of responsibility of the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines. Lieutenant Colonel Muir approved the request, after consulting with Colonel Peatross.

An Cuong (2) was a fortified hamlet, ideally suited to Viet Cong combat tactics. Major Andrew G. Comer, Muir's executive officer in charge of the 3d Battalion's rear command group at the 7th Marines CP, described the area surrounding the hamlet as heavily wooded with severely restricted fields of fire. The only open areas were the rice paddies and ' 'even these were interspersed with hedgerows of hardwood and bamboo thickets."9 An Cuong (2), itself, consisted of 25-30 huts, fighting holes, and camouflaged trench lines connected by a system of interlocking tunnels. As the company cleared the first few houses, a grenade exploded, killing Captain Webb and wounding three other Marines. No sooner had the grenade exploded, than two 60mm mortar rounds fell on the advancing troops, inflicting three more casualties. First Lieutenant Richard M. Purnell, the company executive officer, assumed command and committed the reserve platoon. The company gained the upper hand and the action slackened as the troops secured the hamlet. Making a hurried survey of the battlefield, Pumell counted 50 Viet Cong bodies. He then radioed his battalion commander for further instructions.

Muir ordered Purnell's company to join Company K, which was heavily engaged at Phase Line BANANA, 2,000 meters to the northeast. Company H remained near Nam Yen (3) to clean out all enemy opposition there and then planned to link up with Muir's battalion.

As Company I was preparing to move from An Cuong (2), a UH-1E gunship from Lieutenant Colonel George F. Bauman's VMO-2 was shot down by enemy small arms fire northeast of the hamlet. Lieutenant Colonel Muir ordered Pumell to leave some men behind to protect the helicopter. The lieutenant ordered two squads and three tanks to stay with the helicopter until the craft was evacuated. As the company departed, its members could see that Jenkins' Company H had left Hill 43 and was advancing on the left flank of Company I.

At 1100 Jenkins led his unit, augmented by five tanks and three Ontos, from the Hill 43 area into the open rice paddy between Nam Yen (3) and An Cuong (2). Jenkins bypassed Nam Yen (3) as he mistakenly believed that Company I had cleared both hamlets. Suddenly, from positions in Nam Yen (3) and from Hill 30, the VC opened up with small arms and machine gun fire, catching the Marine rear guard in a murderous crossfire. Then mortar shells began bursting upon the lead platoons. Company H

 

 

Page 75 (1965: The Landing and the Buildup)