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well equipped to locate an enemy who had already established a reputation for blending into the surroundings, a phantom army which was seldom seen armed and concentrated. Even when VC concentrations were sighted, they were usually on the move, and presented fleeting targets at best. Regular Marine ground formations were too clumsy for this mission; the VC they found generally wanted to be found. General Walt decided that since reconnaissance patrols could find the VC, then the patrols should be provided with a means to destroy the enemy. Accordingly, he allowed patrols to call in air and artillery strikes. Slow clearance procedures hindered this application in the Da Nang TAOR, but the system proved to be successful at Chu Lai. The concept was refined, and in 1966 it was adopted as a standard tactic, then known as STINGRAY.35

Any doubts about the mission of reconnaissance Marines were resolved by General Walt's September directive which restored the division reconnaissance battalion to its general support role. Lieutenant Colonel Van Clove's appreciation of his mission essentially put an end to the 'raider' days, although some experimentation still persisted.

On 18 October, two 3d Reconnaissance Battalion companies hiked into ''Happy Valley" for Operation TRAILBLAZER. Their mission was to determine the size of enemy concentrations in the hills west of the Da Nang TAOR. For six days, 18-24 October, the reconnaissance force prowled the hills. Two VC were killed, but five separate enemy base areas were discovered and a vast amount of trail network information was accumulated. TRAILBLAZER was the last of the reconnaissance-in-force operations conducted by the 3d Reconnaissance Battalion. A new trend was in motion. By December, the battalion was concentrating on patrolling, sending out more, smaller patrols; a company-size patrol was the exception.

Force and Division Reconnaissance Merged

The force reconnaissance Marines viewed their attachment to division "recon" with trepidation, and the first weeks of the new arrangement were not without some trying moments. During November, 1st Force Reconniassance Company executed division reconnaissance-type patrols in the Da Nang area, but the III MAF planners had not forgotten the force company's capabilities. As a result, on 27 November the 2d Platoon was returned to III MAF operational control and sent to Special Forces Camp A-106 at Ba To, 42 kilometers south-southwest of Quang Ngai. On 7 December, III MAF reassigned another force platoon, the 3d, to Camp A-107, Tra Bong, 27 kilometers southwest of Chu Lai, on the upper reaches of the Tra Bong River. Their mission, code named BIRDWATCHER, was "... to test the feasibility otdeep patrols."36 At last force "recon" was going deep, but the 2d Platoon at Ba To was in for a tough school session.

At 0530, 15 December three reconnaissance teams (20 Marines and CIDG troops), plus a 61-man base defense reaction force, moved out "to determine location, identity, strength, movement, and armament of VC/PAVN units." More than 70 Communists were sighted during the next two days, but the U. S./Vietnamese reconnaissance force had made a serious mistake. The patrol base had not been moved for two nights. The only redeeming feature of this situation was that the base was on a hill, the best defensive terrain in the area.

By 1730 16 December all teams had returned to the patrol base, but the planned move back to Ba To was cancelled when dense fog settled over the camp. The force of 81 Marine, Special Forces, CIDG, and Nung troops was stuck in the same camp site for the third consecutive night.

At 1900 the Viet Cong began walking mortar rounds across the patrol base. The Vietnamese lieutenant in charge of the patrol was mortally wounded and a U.S. Special Forces sergeant was hit. Enemy automatic weapons swept the hill position as the mortar bombardment continued. Then the assault started. Between 150 to 200 Viet Cong attacked. Confusion swept through the mixed force of defenders; they broke up into small groups. The Marines, now led by Gunnery Sergeant Maurice J. Jacques, withdrew into a small perimeter, but of the 13 Marines assigned to the patrol five were already missing. In the perimeter, a Marine was hit, their corpsman was seriously wounded, and a second Marine was killed. Jacques' Marines moved off the hill into the darkness. They hid in a clump of banana trees, formed a defensive perimeter, and waited for the dawn, hoping that aerial observers would spot them in the morning. Of the 13 Marines, 4 were still missing and one was known to be dead.

Dawn came, but the fog persisted. There was no possibility of being seen from the air. The Marines tried to regain the trail back to Ba To, but enemy

 

 

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