Page 206

Page 206(1965: The Landing and the Buildup)  

1st and 3d, and totaled 1,360 men.* The Marine Advisory Unit also beefed up its advisory effort to the task force by providing a two-man headquarters team headed by Major Leftwich in addition to the four-battalion advisors. Arriving at Bong Son, Yen reported to the Commanding General, 22d ARVN Division.

On 9 March, Task Force ALPHA had its first significant encounter with the enemy. Yen's Marines evaded a planned ambush by the 2d VC Regiment. The VNMC force had been ordered south from Bong Son that day to provide relief for the besieged district town of Hai An. Before leaving Bong Son, Yen learned from intelligence sources that while one VC battalion had entered the town, another had been positioned along the road to ambush any relief column. The Marine force conducted a 10-mile forced march and struck the flank of the VC ambush.

Major Leftwich played a significant role in the action that followed. Before leaving Bong Son, the Marine advisor arranged for tactical air support and when contact was established with the Viet Cong late that afternoon, he moved forward with the assault elements to control air strikes against the enemy positions. As darkness set in, the outmaneuvered enemy disengaged, leaving behind 63 dead. Thus, the Marines had forced the relief of Hai An. Task Force ALPHA casualties were four killed and 11 wounded, including the two headquarters advisors; Major Leftwich was wounded, and his assistant, First Lieutenant Dempsey H. Williams, was killed.6**

One month later, the 2d VNMC Battalion tangled with the 2d VC Regiment.*** At midnight on 7 April, elements of the 93d, 95th, and 97th Viet Cong Battalions struck the defensive position of the Vietnamese Marines. The battle raged for five hours during which the Vietnamese Leathernecks repulsed 10 consecutive waves of attackers. As daylight neared, the 2d VC Regiment withdrew leaving behind 59 dead, 10 wounded, and 71 weapons. Intelligence sources later stated that the Viet Cong had carried away another 70 dead and over 200 wounded. Marine losses were remarkably low considering the ferocity of the action. Four Marines had been killed and 22 wounded. For its heroic stand, the 2d VNMC Battalion was later awarded the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation.7

Task Force ALPHA, which remained in n Corps for the balance of 1965, fought one other significant engagement with the enemy. On the 5th of August, the Special Forces camp at Due Co near the Cambodian border was attacked by a VC regiment. Three days later, Task Force ALPHA and an ARVN armored task force, departed Pleiku to relieve the Duc Co garrison. The next day, they came into heavy contact with a NVA battalion dug in astride Route 19. The South Vietnamese attacked and dislodged the enemy, only to have the rear of the column attacked by another reinforced NVA battalion. Battered by air strikes all night long, the enemy unit, later identified as the 32d NVA Regiment, launched a final attack at dawn and then withdrew from the battlefield. The next day, the South Vietnamese moved into Duc Co and broke the siege. The South Vietnamese infantry, with the support.of U.S. and VNAF air strikes, claimed to have killed over 400 of the enemy and captured 71 weapons. VNMC losses were 28 killed, 60 wounded, and 3 missing. Significantly, the 5th VNMC Battalion, which had become operational on 22 May and then replaced the 2d Battalion two weeks later, had acquitted itself well in this its first major combat action. The battle was the first major contact with North Vietnamese forces operating in South Vietnam.8

While two VNMC battalions operated continuously with Task Force ALPHA, the other infantry battalions also saw extensive action. Two were assigned as a major reaction force to be used anywhere in South Vietnam while the remaining one was held near Saigon under the control of General Khang in his capacity as Capital Military Region commander.

Several indications of increased combat effectiveness began to appear after mid-year. In

* Although the authorized strength of the battalions was 931 men each, in 1965 Marine battalions only reached this strength when they returned to their base camps; a field strength of 600 was not uncommon. Each battalion maintained its own base camp and a handful of troops, including wounded, remained behind as guards and logistic and administrative support.

** For their actions, Major Leftwich was awarded the Navy Cross and Lieutenant Williams posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal. Major Leftwich returned to his duties as Task Force ALPHA senior advisor on 25 March after 17 days hospitalization.

*** The 2d Battalion had replaced the 3d on 9 March. Throughout 1965, the battalions of Task Force ALPHA rotated about every three months between other assignments and II Corps.

Page 206(1965: The Landing and the Buildup)