US Marines in Vietnam: 1968 The Defining Year

US Marines in Vietnam: 1968 The Defining Year

Preface and Forward

Chapter 1 
A Puzzling War

The 3d Marine Division and the Barrier

War in the Eastern DMZ in Early and Mid-January

Chapter 4
Khe Sanh: Building Up 1968: The Definitive Year

Chapter 5 
3d Division War in Southern Quang Tri and Northern Thua Thien, Operations Osceola and Neosho

Chapter 6 
Heavy Fighting and Redeployment: The War in Central and Southern I Corps, January 1968

Chapter 7 
The Enemy Offensive in the DMZ and Southern Quang Tri, 20 January-8 February

Chapter 8 
The Tet Offensive at Da Nang

Chapter 9 
The Struggle for Hue-The Battle Begins

Chapter 10
The Struggle for Hue-The Second Phase

Chapter 11 
The Struggle for Hue-Stalemate in the Old City

Chapter 12 
The Struggle for Hue-The Taking of the Citadel and Aftermath  

Chapter 13 
Post-Tet in I Corps

Chapter 14 
The Siege of Khe Sanh

Chapter 15 
The Battle for Dong Ha

Chapter 16 
Khe Sanh: Final Operations and Evacuation

Chapter 17 
Mini-Tet and Its Aftermath in Southern I Corps

Chapter 18 
3d Division Takes the Offensive

Chapter 19 
The Third Offensive: Da Nang

Chapter 20 
Autumn Offensive Halted

Chapter 21 
Counteroffensive Operations in Southern ICTZ

Chapter 22 
The 3d Division's Labors Bear Fruit

Chapter 23 
Marine Air at the Beginning of the Year and Air Support of Khe Sanh

Chapter 24 
A Matter of Doctrine: Marine Air and Single Manager

Chapter 25 
A Question of Helicopters

Chapter 26 
Artillery and Reconnaissance Support in III MAF

Chapter 27 
Manpower Policies and Realities

Chapter 28 
Backing Up The Troops

Chapter 29 

Chapter 30 
Outside of III MAF

Chapter 31 
1968: An Overview


Marine Command and Staff List l January-31 December 1968

Chronology of Significant Events January-December 1968

Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations

Medals of Honor Citations 1968

Distribution of Personnel

Combined Action Program Expansion-1968


Marine Fixed Wing Support





Jack Shulimson

Lieutenant Colonel Leonard A. Blasiol, U.S. Marine Corps

Charles R. Smith

and Captain David A. Dawson, U.S. Marine Corps





U.S. Marines In Vietnam

The Defining Year


Volumes in the Marine Corps Vietnam Series

Operational Histories Series

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1954-1964, The Advisory and Combat Assistance Era, 1977

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1965, The Landing and the Buildup, 1978

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1966, An Expanding War, 1982

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1967, Fighting the North Vietnamese, 1984

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1969, High Mobility and Standdown, 1988

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1970-1971, Vietnamization and Redeployment, 1986

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1971-1973, The War that Would Not End, 1991

U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1973-1975, The Bitter End, 1990

Functional Histories Series

Chaplains with Marines in Vietnam, 1962-1971, 1985

Marines and Military Law in Vietnam: Trial By Fire, 1989

Anthology and Bibliography

The Marines in Vietnam, 1954-1973, An Anthology and Annotated Bibliography, 1974; reprinted 1983; revised second edition, 1985

Library of Congress Card No. 77-604776 PCN 1900031 3900

For sale by the U.S. Government Priming Office

Superintendent of Documents, Mail Stop: SSOP, Washington, DC 20402-9328 ISBN 0-16-049125-8


This is the last volume, although published out of chronological sequence, in the nine-volume operational history series covering the Marine Corps' participation in the Vietnam War. A separate functional series complements the operational histories. This book is the capstone volume of the entire series in that 1968, as the title indicates, was the defining year of the war. While originally designed to be two volumes, it was decided that unity and cohesion required one book.

The year 1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive including Khe Sanh and Hue City. These were momentous events in the course of the war and they occurred in the first three months of the year. This book, however, documents that 1968 was more than just the Tet Offensive. The bloodiest month of the war for the U.S. forces was not January nor February 1968, but May 1968 when the Communists launched what was called their "Mini-Tet" offensive. This was followed by a second "Mini-Tet" offensive during the late summer which also was repulsed at heavy cost to both sides. By the end of the year, the U.S. forces in South Vietnam's I Corps, under the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF), had regained the offensive. By December, enemy-initiated attacks had fallen to their lowest level in two years. Still, there was no talk of victory. The Communist forces remained a formidable foe and a limit had been drawn on the level of American participation in the war.

Although largely written from the perspective of III MAF and the ground war in I Corps, the volume also treats the activities of Marines with the Seventh Fleet Special Landing Force, activities of Marine advisors to South Vietnamese forces, and other Marine involvement in the war. Separate chapters cover Marine aviation and the single manager controversy, artillery, logistics, manpower, and pacification.

Like most of the volumes in this series, this has been a cumulative history. Lieutenant Colonel Leonard A. Blasiol researched and wrote the initial drafts of the chapters on Khe Sanh as well as Chapters 17, 19, and 21 and the account of Operation Thor in Chapter 26. Mr. Charles R. Smith researched and drafted Chapters 16, 18, 20, and 22. Captain David A. Dawson researched and wrote Chapter 27. Dr. Jack Shulimson researched and wrote the remaining chapters, edited and revised the entire text, and incorporated the comments of the various reviewers.

Dr. Shulimson heads the History Writing Unit and is a graduate of the University of Buffalo, now the State University of New York at Buffalo. He earned his master's degree in history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan and his doctorate from the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland in American studies. Mr. Smith is a senior historian in the Division and served in Vietnam as an artilleryman and then as a historian with the U.S. Army. He is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and received his masters degree in history from San Diego State University. Lieutenant Colonel Blasiol is an experienced artilleryman and a graduate of Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, with a degree in history, and of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. Captain Dawson is an infantry officer now stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in history from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York and a master's degree in history from Kansas State University, Lawrence, Kansas.


Brigadier General, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
Director Emeritus of Marine Corps History and Museums


U.S. Marines in Vietnam, The Defining Year, 1968 like the preceding volumes in this series is largely based upon the holdings of the Marine Corps Historical Center. These include the official unit command chronologies, after-action reports, message and journal files, various staff studies, oral histories, personal papers, and reference collections. In addition, the authors have used the holdings of the other Services and pertinent published primary and secondary sources. Most importantly, nearly 230 reviewers, most of whom were participants in the events, read draft chapters and made substantive comments. They are listed by name in a separate appendix. While some classified sources have been used, none of the material in the text contains any classified information.

To a large extent, the measurement of this war relied not upon territory occupied, but upon casualties inflicted upon the enemy. In enumerating enemy casualties, the authors are not making any statement upon the reliability or accuracy of these numbers. These are merely the figures provided by the reporting units. They are important in that the U.S. military and national leadership depended in part upon the comparative casualty yardstick to report and evaluate progress in the war.

In any project this large and that involved so many people, the authors are in debt to several of their associates, past and present, in the History and Museums Division. While it is not possible to list everyone, we would be most negligent if we did not thank the following. First, Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, Director Emeritus, provided the vision and backing for the entire series, insisting upon readability and accuracy. Colonel Michael F. Monigan, Acting Director, gave the impetus for final completion of the project. Chief Historian Benis M. Frank, and his predecessor, Henry I. Shaw, Jr., furnished editorial guidance and encouragement. Ms. Wanda J. Renfrow of the Histories Section and Mr. Robert E. Struder, Head of Editing and Design, read the entire manuscript together with Mr. Frank and prevented several minor errors and some embarrassments. Mrs. Cathy A. Kerns, of the Editing and Design Section, typed the photograph captions and the Medal of Honor Appendix. Both Mrs. Kerns and Ms. Renfrow painstakingly inserted the multitudinous entries for the index, carefully checking the index against the text. Finally, Ms. Renfrow patiently and ably made the numerous revisions in the organization of the index. Mr. William S. Hill provided technical direction for both the maps and insertion of the photographs. Ms. Evelyn A. Englander of the library was most helpful in obtaining publications. The Archives staff (under the direction of Fred J. Graboske and his predecessor, Ms. Joyce Bonnett), especially Ms. Joyce M. Hudson and Ms. Amy C. Cohen, cheerfully made their resources available, as did Art Curator John T Dyer, Jr. The Reference Section under Danny J. Crawford was always most cooperative, especially Ms. Lena M. Kaljot, who assisted in the duplication of most of the photographs. A special thanks goes to Lieutenant Colonel Leon Craig, Jr., Head of the Support Branch; his administrative officer, First Lieutenant Mark R. Schroeder; and his enlisted Marines, especially Staff Sergeant Myrna A. Thomas and Corporal Juan E. Johnson, who assisted in that last push for publication.

Both Mr. Struder and Mr. Hill adroitly handled the liaison with the Typography and Design Division of the U.S. Government Printing Office in the layout of the book. Mr. Struder deftly and professionally assisted in the reading of page proofs and Mr. Hill meticulously monitored the preparation of charts and maps. The authors also appreciate the efforts of Mr. Nicholas M. Freda and Mr. Lee Nance of the Typography and Design Division, Mr. Freda for his careful layout of text and Mr. Nance for the final preparation of all maps and charts.

Finally, the authors want to acknowledge the contributions of former members of the Histories Section who reviewed and commented on several chapters, including Lieutenant Colonels Lane Rogers and Gary D. Solis, Majors George R. Dunham, Charles D. Melson, and Edward F. Wells, and Dr. V. Keith Fleming, Jr.

Special mention and most heartfelt thanks go to various interns who have assisted with the preparation of this volume. Naval Academy Midshipman Third Class Thomas Moninger, who prepared the Chronology of Events, and Maderia School students Ms. Jaime Koepsell and Ms. Sylvia Bunyasi who drafted the initial Command and Staff list. Marine Sergeant Neil A. Peterson, a student at the Citadel, sketched over half of the draft maps used in this volume. James E. Cypher, a senior at Loyola University, in New Orleans, assisted in the tedious but most important final editing of the index. Finally, there was Peter M. Yarbo, who as a student at Johns Hopkins, for over a year, once a week, took the early morning train from Baltimore to Washington, to assist with the project. Peter prepared several of the charts in the appendices, but even more significantly, he did almost all of the photographic research, saw that the photos were duplicated, and made the initial selection of photographs, organizing them by chapter. This book could never have been published at this time without his specific assistance and that of the other interns.

The authors are also indebted to Dr. Douglas Pike, who opened up his Indochina Archives, then located at the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, for their examination. Mr. Robert J. Destatte, Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office, U.S. Department of Defense, provided a translation of several published Vietnamese documents. Finally our thanks to those who contributed comments on the draft and to our colleagues in the other Defense historical offices, who assisted with their advice and comments. In the end, however, the authors alone assume sole responsibility for the content of the text, including opinions expressed and any errors in fact.


Table of Contents

Table of Contentsvii
Map Listingxiii
Chapter 1 A Puzzling War2
III MAF January 19682
MACV and Command Arrangements3
South Vietnam and I Corps6
The Enemy9
Focus on the North11
MACV Vis-a-Vis Marines12
An Ambivalent Outlook15
Chapter 2 The 3d Marine Division and the Barrier18
The 3d Marine Division in the DMZ18
The Barrier21
Chapter 3 The War in the Eastern DMZ in Early and Mid-January32
The NVA in the DMZ Sector32
Operation Napoleon37
Kentucky Operations and the Barrier40
Operation Lancaster and Heavy Fighting in Mid-January52
Chapter 4 Khe Sanh: Building Up58
The Battlefield58
The Early Days59
Protecting the Investment61
The Isolation of Khe Sanh61
The Decision to Hold65
The Stage is Set68
Sortie to Hill 881 North70
The Enemy Plan Unfolds72
Chapter 5 The 3d Division War in Southern Quang Tri 
and Northern Thua Thien, Operations Osceola and Neosho73
Protecting the Quang Tri Base, Operation Osceola, 1-20 January 196873
Operation Neosho and Operations in the CoBi-Thanh Tan,  
1-20 January 196878
Operation Checkers83
Chapter 6 Heavy Fighting and Redeployment:  
The War in Central and Southern I Corps, January 196884
A Time of Transition84
The Da Nang TAOR88
Operation Auburn: Searching the Go Noi91
A Busy Night at Da Nang97
Continuing Heavy Fighting and Increasing Uncertainty99
Phu Loc Operations101
The Formation and Deployment of Task Force X-Ray105
The Cavalry Arrives107
The Changed Situation in the North109
Chapter 7 The Enemy Offensive in the DMZ and Southern Quang Tri,  
20 January-8 February113
The Cua Viet is Threatened113
Adjustment of Forces in Southern Quang Tri Province118
Heavy Fighting Along the DMZ119
A Lull in Leatherneck Square126
The Cua Viet Continues to Heat Up127
The Battle For Quang Tri City133
Tet Aftermath Along the DMZ137
Chapter 8 The Tet Offensive at Da Nang141
Allied Dispositions141
The Enemy Plans His Offensive142
The Attack144
The Fighting Continues149
A Brief Lull and Renewed Fighting158
Chapter 9 The Struggle for Hue-The Battle Begins164
The Two Faces of Hue164
The NVA Attack164
Redeployment at Phu Bai and Marines Go to Hue168
Chapter 10 The Struggle for Hue-The Second Phase175
More Reinforcements175
The Beginning of the Advance 3-4 February180
Block by Block 5-8 February185
Chapter 11 The Struggle for Hue-Stalemate in the Old City192
A Faltering Campaign192
Going Into the Walled City194
The Fight for the Tower199
Continuing the Advance201
Chapter 12 The Struggle for Hue-The Taking of the Citadel and Aftermath204
The Struggle in the Western Citadel204
An Estimate of the Situation and Mounting the Offensive205
Closing Out Operation Hue City211
A Summing Up213
Chapter 13 Post-Tet in I Corps225
The Immediate Ramifications of the Tet Offensive225
Readjustment in I Corps227
Readjustments in the U.S. I Corps Command Structure235
Planning for the Future241
March Operations in the DMZ Sector241
March Operations in the Rest of I Corp246
Regaining the Initiative250
Chapter 14 The Siege of Khe Sanh255
Digging In255
Opening Moves258
The Fall of Khe Sanh Village261
Reinforcement and Fighting Back264
Round Two269
The Fall of Lang Vei273
The Intensifying Battle277
Settling the Score282
Operation Pegasus283
Chapter 15 The Battle for Dong Ha291
Why Dong Ha?291
The Fight for Dai Do, The First Day293
The Continuing Fight for Dai Do299
The End of the First Offensive304
The Second Offensive307
Chapter 16 Khe Sanh: Final Operations and Evacuation 
16 April-11 July 1968312
To Stay or Not to Stay312
The "Walking Dead"313
Operation Scotland II316
Operation Robin319
Razing Khe Sanh: Operation Charlie323
Chapter 17 Mini-Tet and its Aftermath in Southern I Corps328
Going into the Go Noi328
Mini-Tet and Operation Mameluke Thrust, May 1968336
Operation Allen Brook Continues339
Mameluke Thrust Also Continues343
Chapter 18 3d Division Takes the Offensive351
The Enemy Situation351
The Offensive Takes Shape351
The Eastern DMZ357
The Pressure Continues359
Into the Western Mountains364
Southern Quang Tri and Thua Thien370
Chapter 19 The Third Offensive: Da Nang373
The Storm Breaks375
Typhoon Bess383
Chapter 20 Autumn Offensive Halted385
A New Orientation385
The Eastern DMZ386
Defeat of the 320th Division396
Coastal Quang Tri and Thua Thien: A Shift410
Chapter 21 Counteroffensive Operations in Southern ICTZ414
The Situation in September414
Operation Maui Peak418
The End of Mameluke Thrust and Renewed Attacks on Da Nang423
Operation Meade River425
Operation Taylor Common437
Chapter 22 The 3d Division's Labors Bear Fruit443
Elimination of the Infrastructure443
Rough Soldiering450
Thua Thien and the End of the Year455
Chapter 23 Marine Air at the Beginning of the Year and Air Support of Khe Sanh458
Marine Air at the Beginning of the Year458
Marine Control of Air465
Proposed Changes in Command and Control over Marine Air; Operation Niagara, January 1968471
Operation Niagara and Air Resupply in the Defense of Khe Sanh475
Chapter 24 A Matter of Doctrine: Marine Air and Single Manager487
The Establishment of Single Manager487
Point, Counterpoint497
The Continuing Debate509
Chapter 25 A Question of Helicopters516
Another Debate516
The Need for Lighter Aircraft519
To Keep the Mediums and Heavies Flying522
Another Look at Helicopter Air-Ground Relations526
Chapter 26 Artillery and Reconnaissance Support in III MAF533
Marine Artillery Reshuffles533
The Guns in the North537
Mini-Tet and the Fall of Ngog Tavak and Kham Duc541
Operations Drumfire II and Thor-Guns Across the Border543
Fire Base Tactics548
Marine Reconnaissance Operations552
Chapter 27 Manpower Policies and Realities557
Personnel Turnover557
The Quality Issue and Project 100,000559
The Search for Junior Leaders562
The Aviation Shortage569
Filling the Ranks in Vietnam: Too Many Billets, Too Few Marines571
The Deployment of Regimental Landing Team 27572
Reserve Callup?574
The Bloodiest Month, The Bloodiest Year575
Foxhole Strength: Still Too Few Marines576
The Return of RLT 27578
The End of the Year579
The Marine Corps and the Draft580
The Marine Corps Transformed581
Chapter 28 Backing Up The Troops582
A Division of Responsibility582
Naval Logistic Support586
Marine Engineers588
The FLC Continues to Cope592
Chapter 29 Pacification596
The Tet Offensives and Operation Recovery604
III MAF and Pacification607
Homicide in the Countryside614
Changing Attitudes616
The Boys Next Door: The Combined Action Program617
The Accelerated Pacification Plan630
Chapter 30 Outside of III MAF:  
The Special Landing Forces, Marine Advisors, and Others631
The 9th MAB and the SLFs631
Sub-Unit 1, 1st Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO)639
Embassy Marines642
Individual Marines in Saigon and Elsewhere in Vietnam644
Chapter 31 1968: An Overview652
A: Marine Command and Staff List, 1 January-31 December 1968713
B: Chronology of Significant Events, January-December 1968722
C: Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations728
D: Medals of Honor Citations, 1968735
E: Distribution of Personnel745
F: Combined Action Program Expansion-1968753
G: NVA/VC Casualties Reported by III MAF Units756
H: Marine Aircraft, Support and Ordnance760
I: List of Reviewers761
J: Tables of Organization764
Map Listing  
Reference Map, I Corps Tactical Zonexiv
Allied Headquarters, January 19689
3d Marine Division Areas of Operation and the Strong Point Obstacle System22
Enemy Order of Battle DMZ/Quang Tri Province33
Major Enemy Units in Northern Quang Tri, January 196836
Unit Headquarters in Quang Tri Province43
Allied and Enemy Units in the Khe Sanh Area, January 196871
Operations Osceola and Neosho, January 196877
1st Marine Division Area of Operations, Da Nang, January 196888
Operation Auburn, Go Noi Island, December 1967-January 196896
Phu Loc, 1 January 1968102
Task Force X-Ray, 15 January 1968108
Badger Catch/Saline Area of Operations, January 1968114
Clearing of Route 9, 24-29 January 1968121
The Enemy Offensive in the DMZ & Southern Quang Tri, 20 January-8 February 1968135
Tet Offensive at Da Nang, 30 January-February, 1968150
The Fight for Hue, 31 January-February 1968165
Task Force X-Ray, 31 January 1968170
Copy of Briefing Map and Commentary (Hue)196
2/5 Area of Operations, 24-27 February 1968212
Post Tet in I Corps, 1968226
Marine and Allied Units at Khe Sanh, February 1968262
Allied and Enemy Positions, 30 April 1968, in and around Dai Do295
3/7 Participation in Operation Allen Brook, 15May-18 May 1968331
17 May 1968, Le Nam (1) NVA Ambush332
Operation Mameluke Thrust, May 1968336
The Third Offensive, Da Nang Area Operations, August 1968374
Fire Support Bases in Northwestern Quang Tri400
Photocopy of III MAF Briefing Map (Nov-Dec1968)415
Operation Maui Peak, Opening Moves, 6 October 1968418
Meade River AO, 20 November-9 December 1968425
Operation Taylor Common, December 1968438
Fire Support Bases in Southwestern Quang Tri450
Photocopy of Northern I Corps Briefing Map(Nov-Dec 1968)454
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