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was taking fire from all directions, and tracked vehicles, Ontos and tanks, were having trouble with the muck of the paddies. Jenkins drew his armor into a tight circle and deployed his infantry. One squad moved to the northwest of Nam Yen (3) and killed nine VC who were manning a mortar, but were driven off by small arms fire and had to withdraw to the relative security of the tanks. *

Lieutenant Jenkins saw that his position was untenable, and after radioing for supporting arms, he ordered his force to withdraw to LZ BLUE. Artillery hit Nam Yen (3) while F-4s and A-4s attacked Hill 30. About 1400, the company tried to move back to the landing zone. The lead platoon was forced to alter course when medical evacuation helicopters tried to land in the midst of the unit. As it maneuvered off to the flank of Company H, this platoon became separated from Jenkins' main body and was engaged by the Viet Cong. At this juncture, the platoon unexpectedly linked up with Pumdi's helicopter security detail which had started to move toward its parent company after the downed helicopter had been repaired and flown out. The small force was quickly engaged by a Viet Cong unit, but together the two Marine units fought their way to An Cuong (2).** Meanwhile, Jenkins and his other two platoons fought a delaying action and withdrew to LZ BLUE, arriving there at 1630. Lieutenant Colonel Fisher directed Jenkins to establish a defensive perimeter and await reinforcements.

The expected reinforcements never arrived; they had been diverted to help a supply column that had been ambushed 400 meters west of An Cuong (2). Just before noon, Lieutenant Colonel Muir had ordered Major Comer to dispatch "our mobile (LVT) resupply" to Company I, which, at the time, was only a ''few hundred yards'' in front of Comer's command group. Major Comer recalled that he briefed both the five LVTs and the section officers of the three flame tanks, the only tactical support available at the time, on the location of the company and marked the routes they were to follow on their maps.10

The supply column left the CP shortly after noon, but got lost between Nam Yen (3) and An Thoi (2). It had followed a trail that was flanked on one side by a rice paddy and on the the other by trees and hedgerows. As the two lead vehicles, a tank and amtrac, went around a bend in the road, an explosion occurred near the tank, followed by another in the middle of the column. Fire from Viet Cong recoilless rifles and a barrage of mortar rounds tore into the column. The vehicles backed off the road and turned their weapons to face the enemy. Using all of the weapons at their command the troops held off the closing VC infantry. The rear tank tried to use its flamethrower, but an enemy shell had rendered it useless. Throughout the bitter fighting, the convoy was still able to maintain communications with the command post.

At the rear CP area, Major Comer received ''word on the LVT command net ... that the column was surrounded by VC and was about to be overrun." Comer recalled:

The LVT radio operator kept the microphone button depressed the entire time and pleaded for help. We were unable to quiet him sufficiently to gain essential information as to their location. This continued for an extended period, perhaps an hour.

Major Comer relayed the information about the ambush to Lieutenant Colonel Muir. The battalion commander replied that he was returning Company I to the rear CP and that Comer "was to gather whatever other support . . . [he] could and to rescue them as rapidly as possible." Major Comer told Colonel Peatross about the proposed rescue mission. The regimental commander, well aware of the vulnerable positions of both Company H and the supply column and fearing that the enemy was attempting to drive a salient between the two battalions, heartily approved and provided Comer with ' 'the single available M-48 tank for support ."11***

When Company I arrived at the rear CP, Comer held a hurried briefing with Lieutenant Purnell and


* Lance Corporal Joe C. Paul, a fire team leader in Company H, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallant actions during the engagement near Nam Yen (3). A copy of his citation is printed in Appendix D.

**Company I senior squad leader, Corporal Robert E. O'Malley, killed eight VC single-handedly that day. For his action, O'Malley became the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in Vietnam although Captain Frank S. Reasoner was later posthumously awarded the medal for an action in July 1965. See Chapter 11. Copies of both citations are printed in Appendix D.

* * *Colonel Peatross later stated that the enemy force which ambushed the supply column may have been getting ready to hit the regimental CP when the LVTs rumbled into them. Peatross, "Victory at Van Tuong," p. 9.

 

 

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