The next morning, after the second B-52 strike, the two Marine battalions entered the valley from both the north and south. While searching the target area, Dorsey's battalion did not find the 1st VC Regiment, but discovered large amounts of enemy supplies and equipment. The two battalions remained in the valley for the next few days, but encountered little organized resistance.
The Fight at Ky Phu
While the two Marines battalions were operating in the Phouc Ha Valley, Lieutenant Colonel Utter's battalion sought the VC along the northern bank of the Song Chang, also known as the Khang River, seven miles south of Que Son. The battalion then turned eastward toward Tam Ky, sweeping the southern boundary of the HARVEST MOON objective area. The Marines had more trouble with the weather than the enemy. Except for occasional snipers, the enemy could not be located, but the monsoon rains harassed the Marines' every step. During the prolonged search, the battalion slogged over 20 miles through extremely nigged terrain, varying from flooded rice paddies to jungle-covered hills.
On 18 December, the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, on the last leg of its long trek, encountered the 80th VC Battalion in strength. Earlier that morning, after evacuating 54 Marines suffering from immersion foot,* the battalion had moved out in a column formation with Company G in the lead, followed by Company F, Headquarters and Service Company, and Company H, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines.** The Marines moved along a narrow road which wound through hedgerow-bordered rice paddies. The Viet Cong allowed the lead company to pass through the village of Ky Phu, four miles from Route l, before opening fire on the Company G advance guard. At first, Lieutenant Colonel Utter thought that the enemy force consisted only of a few snipers, and ordered Company G to clear the area south of the road and moved Company F forward.
Company F had just passed through the east end of Ky Phu when enemy mortar rounds dropped on H&S Company, still in the open paddies west of the hamlet. Two Viet Cong companies tried to enter the gap between Company F and H&S and envelop Utter's command group and the H&S Company. First Lieutenant Nicholas H. Grosz, Jr., the commander of H&S Company, recalled that he crossed the area between his company and the battalion command group and told Lieutenant Colonel Utter of the "H&S deterioriating situation." Realizing that he was engaged with a major enemy force, the battalion commander ordered Company F to turn and attack the ''main VC positions on the H&S right flank."14
Supported by "Huey" gunships and accurate artillery fire from Battery M, 4th Battalion, 11th Marines, the Marines counterattacked. Company F rolled up the VC from the rear while H&S Company fought its way into Ky Phu. According to Grosz, who accompanied the lead elements of Company F in the attack, ''Once we got them going, the VC just broke and ran. It was just like a turkey shoot."15
At the rear of the column, Company H remained in contact with the enemy; a VC company struck the Marines from both flanks and the rear. Both the company commander and his radio operator were mortally wounded. First Lieutenant Harvey C. Barnum, the attached artillery forward observer, did what he could to save the two dying Marines, strapped the radio on his back and assumed command. The young officer rallied the company and the Marines established a defensive position on a small hill north of the road. After four hours of heavy fighting, Barnum led Company H into Ky Phu and rejoined the battalion.***
By nightfall the fight at Ky Phu was over. The 80th VC Battalion broke, leaving 104 bodies on the
* Immersion foot is an extremely painful foot condition, a symptom of which is swelling which takes on a puffy, wrinkled look. This malady was caused by prolonged wear of wet footgear and continued to plague the Marines throughout the war.
** Company H, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines had been attached to Utter's battalion on 13 December, replacing Company E which had taken heavy casualties. Company H, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines was not with the column. It was providing security for the 107mm Mortar Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines.
*** Lieutenant Barnum was performing temporary duty in Vietnam from his permanent duty station at Marine Barracks, Peart Harbor. He had volunteered for 60 days of "on-the-job" training under the FMPac combat indoctrination program. For his heroic exploits in this engagement. Lieutenant Barnum was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Page 108 (1965: The Landing and the Buildup)