Against the advice of his senior U.S. Marine Advisor, Captain Franklin P. Eller, the 4th Battalion commander ordered one of his companies to secure the crash site and recover the bodies of the dead crewmen. Accompanied by Eller, First Lieutenant James P. Kelliher, and Staff Sergeant Clifford J. Beaver, two of the 3d Division OJTs, the company moved west from Binh Gia on the morning of the 31st to carry out the mission. After reaching the crash site, the Marine unit was ambushed by a large Viet Cong force using 82mm mortars, 57mm recoilless rifles, and .50 caliber machine guns. Unable to maneuver because of the intense fire, the company radioed for assistance and began withdrawing from the ambush site in small groups.
The battalion commander, accompanied by the assistant Marine advisor. First Lieutenant Philip 0. Brady and the other OJTs, responded to the call for assistance by leading the remaining three companies from their positions at Binh Gia. Just outside the town they met Captain Eller, who had been wounded in the face, along with Lieutenant Kelliher and the remnants of the hard-hit company. Eller and the survivors of the morning ambush returned to Binh Gia while the remainder of the battalion pushed westward in an attempt to locate the enemy force. Later in the morning, the Marine column was surprised while moving through an abandoned rubber plantation by a Communist force of between 1,200 and 1,800 men.
No artillery was available to support the beleaguered battalion. Vietnamese Air Force A-l Skyraiders, however, were able to deliver close air strikes for about 45 minutes. U.S. Army helicopter gunships replaced the Skyraiders on station, but their rocket and machine gun fire proved too light to dislodge the enemy from his positions under the dense vegetation. By late afternoon, 29 of the 4th Battalion's 35 officers, including the battalion commander, were dead. In desperation, the Americans organized the surviving Viet-
Marine Captain Franklin P. Eller, advisor to the 4th Vietnamese Marine Battalion, coordinates with other American-advised units operating nearby. (USMC Photo A183570).