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circlement of the now vulnerable squad. Lieutenant Keith decided it was time to pull them back. His decision came none too soon for almost within seconds ofMcDaniel's squad regaining cover within the zone's defenses, the Cambodians attacked the southern perimeter and McDaniel's Marines. The Marines of BLT 2/9 again repelled the Communists' thrust. Throughout the firefight, these Marines, who had never seen combat and who had had their training on Okinawa, cut short by this mission, consistently performed with courage and self-control* They repeatedly turned aside the enemy's attempts to overrun them. Most held a rank no higher than lance corporal.
Shortly after this incident, at approximately 0925, Lieutenant Keith finally established contact with the tactical air coordinator (airborne) (TAC[A]), flying in a holding pattern near the island, and asked for close air support. Using the battalion radio frequency, Keith discussed the possibilities. In the midst of this communication, Lieutenant Zaies and his 21 Marines arrived. Keith immediately stopped talking to the airborne coordinator and told Lieutenant Zaies to deploy his men on the besieged southern flank of the perimeter. Zaies, ignoring the enemy fire, charged forward to his newly assigned piece of Koh Tang. Once Zaies was in place, Keith resumed his conversation with the TAC(A) and personally orchestrated the Air Force strafing runs whose cannon fire kept the Cambodians at bay. Yet even with this close air support and Zaies' added firepower, the Communists retained a tenacious grip on the zone. The Cambodians were so closely engaged with the Marines on the southern perimeter that the Air Force pilots did not dare drop their bombs for fear of hitting friendly lines. Literally, only meters separated the Marines from the Communists. Hand grenades vice bombs became the order of the day, but neither side could break the deadlock. For the Marines, additional forces offered the only solution to the stalemate. The buildup had to continue.44
This meant that the second wave had to be inserted and without delay. In the interim, neither Austin's group nor Cicero's could even consider moving from their defensive position without external support. As Lieutenant Colonel Austin said, "Our group of Marines was in serious straits because between us, we only had four rifles."45
The operational plan had anticipated the need for a rapid buildup offerees on the island and had specified that all of the available Air Force helicopters would be used for this express purpose, in theory an excellent idea, but in this instance difficult to implement because only a few of the transport helicopters were still operating. Of the eight helicopters in the first wave at Koh Tang, only one escaped undamaged. One had crashed at sea (Knife 21), two had crash landed on or near Koh Tang's eastern shore (Knife 23 and Knife 51), and another on Thailand's eastern shore (Knife 22). Three more (Knife 32 Jolly Green 41, and Jolly Green 42) had received such extensive damage that they were unflyable. The three helicopters used in the Holt insertion encountered no hostile fire and suffered no damage. However, one of the three, Jolly Green 13, subsequently suffered severe battle damage while attempting, after refueling with an HC-130, to rescue the crew and passengers of Knife 23, Stranded on the eastern beach. After this aborted rescue attempt, JG 13 made an emergency landing at Rayong, Thailand, where it remained for the duration of the operation. Thus of the 11 helicopters initially used, only three remained operationally flyable (all HH-53s). These three (JG 11, 12, and 43) would be joined by two CH-53s used as SAR helicopters during the first insertion (Knife 51 and 52). Together, the five helicopters would have to move as many assault forces to Koh Tang as quickly as possible. Considering the fact that a round trip flight required more than four hours to complete, additional helicopters had to be found to ensure a sufficient buildup of forces.
But there were no more available. The Air Force arrived at a gloomy count: five grounded for mechanical reasons, a destroyed CH-53 which had crashed two days earlier 40 miles west of Nakhon Phanom while
*Whcn chosen for this mission 2d Battalion, 9th Marines was in its predeploymenc training cycle, serving only as a backup to the air mnringency battalion, BIT 1/9. The decision to send a battalion still in its combat training cycle was based in pan on administrative matters. A majority of the Marines in BLT 1/9 had nearly reached the end of their year's rour on Okinawa and could not be extended except in case of an extreme emergency. Having sought such authorization and been denied, ill MAF sent instead the Marines of 2d Battalion, 9th Marines.43 Two of them, members of McDaniel's platoon, his radio operator, Lance Corporal Charles A. Gisclbreth, and Private First Class Jerome N, wernitt, helped hold the southern perimeter despite incurring serious wounds. Staff Sergeant Serefino Bernal,Jr., also demonsrrared exceptional bravery while additionally providing much needed experience and seasoned leadership. During this critical period, Bernal (McDaniel's platoon sergeant), saw a Marine in trouble and without concern for his own life raced across open terrain, picked up the wounded Marine, and carried him to safety. After completing this deed, Staff Sergeant Bernal led a small group of Marines from their secure positions through enemy fire to a location where they provided cover for the withdrawing Marines of McDaniel's patrol.43
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