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US Marines in Vietnam: 1968 The Defining Year

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Page 313(1968: The Defining Year)


The "Walking Dead"

When the 3d Marine Division once more prepared to assume control of operations at Khe Sanh with the end of Operation Pegasus, General Tompkins, the 3d Marine Division commander had sent his Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Jacob E. Glick, to command the forces there. General Glick several years later remembered that his orders were to "close the base down. ... I went up with a minimum staff with instructions to just hold on, without mounting operations . . . Then the rules changed" after General Westmoreland reversed the original decision.5

Glick's command, not surprisingly, was designated Task Force (TF) Glick and included the 1st Marines; the 26th Marines; the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines; and the 2d Brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, which was operating east of Khe Sanh. The 1st Marines began relocating to Khe Sanh from Ca Lu, relieving battalions of the 26th Marines, which, in turn, started to redeploy out of the Khe Sanh sector. On 16 April, Colonel Bruce F. Meyers, the 26th Marines commander, still had one artillery and five infantry battalions under his control and was also responsible for Operation Scotland II, which had just begun. Meyers reported directly to General Glick and oversaw the relief of his battalions by those of the 1st Marines. Lieutenant Colonel John J. H. Cahill's 1st Battalion, 9th Marines remained at the base as part of TF Glick and continued offensive operations west of the combat base.6

At 0700 on 16 April, Captain Henry D. Banks led two reinforced platoons of Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines on a patrol southwest of the battalion's perimeter on Hill 689 and a small adjoining hill. Banks ordered the company to halt at 1000 and sent two squads to search for signs of the enemy on a nearby ridge that was covered with four-to-six-foot-high elephant grass. The squad came under small arms and mortar fire, then fell back and reported two Marines killed.* Banks deployed the company with the 1st Platoon establishing a base of fire and the 2d Platoon attacking up the ridge against what he believed to be the enemy's left flank.7

First Lieutenant Michael P. Hayden led the 2d Platoon up the north end of the ridge and against the enemy position, but the North Vietnamese, firing from well-concealed bunkers, drove the Marines to the ground. In rapid succession, first Hayden and then his platoon sergeant were killed. The 2d Platoon halted in the deep grass at the fringe of the North Vietnamese bunker complex and returned fire, but with little effect.

Captain Banks ordered the 2d Platoon to fall back so that he could call for supporting arms, but word reached him that dead and wounded Marines still lay within 10 meters of the bunker complex, under the enemy's guns. The intense enemy fire continued and casualties mounted to 10 dead and 20 wounded.* Banks reported to Lieutenant Colonel Cahill that he was engaged with an estimated North Vietnamese squad in heavily fortified positions, then refused Cahill's offer of help. He again tried to evacuate casualties and withdraw, but was unable to do so. Cahill alerted Companies C and D.9

At noon, Banks reconsidered and asked for help. Two platoons of Captain Lawrence Him-mer's Company C moved out first, with Lieutenant Colonel Cahill accompanying them. On reaching the scene of the action, Cahill found Company A on the north end of the ridge, with heavy casualties and unable to move. He ordered Himmer to attack from the south. Colonel Meyers, monitoring the radio reports from the regimental command post, asked Cahill if he needed help, but like Banks earlier, Cahill refused.10**


* Colonel Meyers recalled that the action actually began when a Marine fire team about 1030 or 1100 "ran into a reverse slope horseshoe shaped NVA bunker complex." In this contact one of the members of the team was killed and two others wounded as "they crested the ridge." Col Bruce F. Meyers, Comments on draft, dtd 20Feb95 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Meyers Comments.

** Colonel Meyers noted that there were problems with message transmission. Lieutenant Colonel Cahill at 1320 had informed Colonel Meyers that he was committing his two other companies to the action. Because of the necessity of the various radio relays, Meyers did not receive this message until 1543. Within two minutes of receiving this message, Meyers contacted Cahill to "request his current status and to ask if he needed any additional assistance. Cahill . . . declined the proffered additional supporr." Colonel Meyers also had more than the predicament of Company A on his mind. He recalled that on 16 April, "we received three direct hits of 122mm rockets which set the ASP [ammunition supply point) three on fire." Meyers observed that, "when you are the regimental commander and one of your main ammo dumps within your perimeter is hit, burning, and blowing up, it became more than a line entry in the command chronology!" Meyers Comments and Copy of Statement of Col Bruce F. Meyers to Board for Correction of Naval and Military Records, n.d. [1968], attached to Meyers Comments, hereafter Meyers Statement, Meyers Comments.



Page 313(1968: The Defining Year)
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