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uation and then to familiarize himself with the tactical disposition of forces before he could safely direct an air strike. The Air Force improvised these tactical aircraft as "on-scene" and "search and rescue (SAR) on-scene" commanders. They used this method of control for more than nine hours. The on-scene commander's responsibilities changed continuously, 14 times with 10 different aircraft. Four turnovers alone occurred from about 0600 to 0700, the first and most critical hour of the assault phase.50
This extremely slow and frustrating process adversely affected Cassidy and Keith's plan. It forced Captain Cassidy and Lieutenant Keith to use a rather unorthodox method of calling in air strikes. Each time the TAC(A) changed, Lieutenant Keith, as a safety precaution, would verbally redraw the map of his position over the radio, Respecting the obvious opportunity for error inherent in such a procedure, he then had to use a trial-and-crror method to set the parameters for each new series of air strikes. This always included the use of dummy runs before the pilots were cleared in "hot." It should be noted that Captain Cassidy was with the isolated command group and not with Lieutenant Keith and the main body. Although separated and unable to conduct face-to-face communications, Keith at the southern end of his lines, and Cassidy at the northern extreme of the command group's position, could simultaneously view the pilots' dummy runs. In this manner they could spot the runs and when both of them agreed that the Air Force A-7 had properly split their positions, they cleared the air strike for a "hot" run. Their successful efforts eventually resulted in the pilots laying down a strip of supporting fire which when combined with McMenamin's mortars forced the enemy to stay low and allowed the 2d Platoon to attack.51
Second Lieutenant Zaies; Second Lieutenant Daniel J. Hoffman, the weapons platoon commander; and First Sergeant Lawrence L. Funk led the advance of the 2d Platoon, Company G in its attempt to break through to Austin. With the assault proceeding well, Lieutenant Zaies did not suspect nor realize that a Cambodian squad had moved to outflank his platoon. The Communists intended to attack his exposed left (eastern) flank. Seeing this event unfolding from the vantage point he had used to spot mortar rounds. Second Lieutenant McMenamin decided to intercede in an effort to thwart the Cambodians. McMenamin and two lance corporals, Larry J. Branson and Robert L. Shekon, jumped up and charged across the open terrain which separated them from the enemy. Their sudden appearance so surprised the Communists that they turned and fled into the jungle. McMenamin's disruption of the enemy's counterattack allowed the 2d Platoon to continue its linkup operation. Zaie's manuever ended successfully with the two forces joining at 124 5.52
The Second Wave
Even though this action, and the majority of the activity took place on the southern perimeter, the Marines guarding the northern sector saw considerable fighting as well. Staff Sergeant Fbfo T. Tuitele and Staff Sergeant Francis L. Burnett led these Marines, a combination of men from Company G's 2d and 3d Platoons. Knowing that enemy automatic weapons fire could severely limit their maneuverabtlity, they decided to attack two bunkers held by the Cambodians. The success of their effort enabled them to gain a position from which they could neutralize with fire another Cambodian strongpoint. Despite all this activity and maneuvering, the enemy still held the upper hand and the tactical advantage.53
Fortunately, by this time the second wave had reversed course and was again enroute to Koh Tang. Although a decision had been made to reinforce the Marines already on the island, Colonel Johnson, the Marine task group commander (still in Utapao), did not participate in the process. Neither did he have any insight into what decisions had been made. CinCPac, in charge of the overall operation, relayed his decisions on matters such as these to his superiors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and to the "on-scene" operational commander, General Burns. (Actually, General Burns was in Nakhon Phanom, hundreds of miles from the scene of action.).* For some reason, Colonel Johnson never received word from General Burns' staff that the decision had been made to devote all future efforts to disengaging and recovering the combat forces on Koh Tang. In describing this event in his first situation report to JCS, Admiral Gayler said, 'JCS directed immediate cessation of all offensive operations. Accordingly further strikes were diverted to support the extraction of the GSF from Koh Tang island .... Extraction of the 182 men that were put ashore is now the objective."54
Colonel Johnson thus found himself in the back-
*Admiral Steele severely criticized General Burns for his decision to remain
in Nakhon Phanom: "It is quite clear that the 'on scene operational commander.'
General Bums. was not 'on scene.' The man who should have been on scene unfortunately
was still in Utapao without information. CinCPac was making tactical decisions.
I think this was Alice in Wonderland at its worst," Steele Comments.
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