ed by a Vietnamese Marine battery, crowned a high hill just east of the Cat River, which borders BA 112 on the west. The surrounding country is mountainous with the exception of some level ground and a few hamlets neat the river. A major, but long unused highway, Route 14, which ran from Thuong Due southward into the Central Highlands, passed by the cast side of the firebase.
The enemy reacted to the Marines' arrival at Hatchet with a salvo of five 122mm rockets. The rockets inflicted casualties-one Marine wounded and one ARVN soldier killed and another wounded from a South Vietnamese unit still operating in the area. On 10 August, more Marine artillery arrived; helicopters lifted in two 105mm howitzers of Battery G and two 155mm howitzers of Battery W from FSB Ross* On the 11th, the 2d Battalion command post established itself at FSB Hatchet, and within the next few days, Companies F and H of the battalion joined Company E in search and destroy operations in the hills around the base. The howitzers fired in support of the Marines and also of the ARVN units to the west.24
While Albers' Marines searched the hills along the Cat River, Operation Pickens Forest and the concurrent South Vietnamese operations moved into their concluding phases. On 16 August, Company G of Albers' battalion and the provisional battery from Hill 110 left the Thu Bon Valley for LZ Baldy, ending Marine activity in the original Pickens Forest area. At the same time. General Lam informed XXIV Corps and III MAF that on 23 August he would start withdrawing his South Vietnamese Marine and Ranger battalions from the western mountains to have them back near the coast before the onset of the fall monsoon rains made air support and supply difficult. To cover this ARVN pullback, III MAF would keep Albers' battalion at FSB Hatchet until 24 August.25
During its last few days around FSB Hatchet, the 2d Battalion made contact with North Vietnamese regulars. About 0915 on 20 August, the 3d Platoon of Company H was sweeping toward the northeast through open forest and elephant grass near the hamlet of My Hiep (2) which was two miles north of the firebase. An estimated platoon of NVA opened fire from bunkers with machine guns and grenade launchers, wounding three members of Company H. The Marines replied with small arms and grenades and called in artillery and air support. The fight continued through the morning. Other elements of Company H assisted the engaged platoon. Company F marched toward the action from its search area to the southeast, and Company G was brought in by helicopter from LZ Baldy. The action ended around 1300, when the Marines lost contact with the enemy. By that time, they had suffered one man killed and a total of nine wounded; the fleeing NVA left behind three dead.26
Before dawn the next day, Lieutenant Colonel Albers led Companies G and H in a sweep through the abandoned enemy position- His troops found 12 bunkers, 1 more dead NVA, and 5 boobytraps, one of which exploded and wounded three Marines. Continuing to search near My Hiep (2) on 22 August, Company G found a group of six more large bunkers a short distance cast of the site of the engagement. Intelligence revealed that these had housed the headquarters of an element of the 58th NVA Regiment.27
These events partially confirmed other indications that troops of the 38th Regiment were forming in Lieutenant Colonel Albers' area of operations- Evidence gathered from many sources from 20-23 August suggested that the NVA were preparing to attack FSB Hatchet. On the 23rd, for example, Marines of Company E sighted four enemy, probably a reconnaissance element, about 1, 200 meters from the perimeter of the firebase and fired a 106mm recoilless rifle at them. Albers later concluded that it was "probable that had the operation not ended on 24 August and evacuation of FSB Hatchet been executed the 38th NVA Regiment would have launched an attack."*28
Albers' battalion did not wait to receive the attack. As previously planned, the CP and all four companies were airlifted back to the 7th Marines' TAOR on the 24th while the artillery displaced to rejoin their parent units at FSB Ross and LZ Baldy. With these movements, Operation Pickens forest came to an end. During the six weeks of the operation, the batteries supporting the 7th Marines fired 771 missions, most of them at targets designated by intelligence as probable base camps and avenues of enemy movement. For the 2d Battalion alone, aircraft of the 1st MAW flew 37 close air support missions with 500- and 1, 000-pound bombs, 5-inch Zuni rockets, and 500-pound napalm cannisters. Besides making repeated trooplifts, helicopters of MAG-16 carried out 147
* ln Thua Thien to the north, the allies had evacuated FSB Rip-cord late in July under heavy NVA pressure, and during August a second outlying firebase, O'Reilly, came under continual mortar attack.
"The Mortar Battery (W) of the 3d Battalion, 11th Marines consisted of six 4.2-inch mortars and two 155mm howitzers.