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fired three M79 grenade rounds and later checked the area "with negative
results." Later that night, about 2100, a Marine squad from Company
F on the northeastern perimeter picked up enemy movement on its radar
scope and called in a mortar mission. A Marine platoon patrol that went
out to investigate the results of the action "blundered into [a] friendly
minefield" and sustained three casualties, one dead and two wounded.40

A few days after this incident, the night of 14 January, Con Thien
Marines heard an explosion in the minefield directly to the north of
their defenses. The Marines fired illumination and saw a wounded NVA
soldier lying in the minefield and other North Vietnamese troops withdrawing.
A Marine squad equipped with a starlight scope then attempted to recover
the wounded man. By the time it reached the area, the Marines found
no one there. Shortly afterward, a Marine outpost sighted about four
to five NVA entering the battalion's perimeter apparently to retrieve
their injured comrade. Another mine went off. Lieutenant Colonel Duncan
sent a platoon out to check for any enemy casualties. About 0120-on
the morning of the 15th, the Marine patrol as it neared the minefield
"heard whistling and a great deal of noise," evidence of a large enemy
force nearby. Both sides withdrew under covering fires. The NVA used
recoilless rifles, small arms, and 60mm mortars to make good their retreat
while Marine artillery and mortars targeted the enemy escape routes.
Two Marines received minor wounds. About 1000 that morning a Marine
patrol returned to the area where the enemy was last seen and found
a pick, a wrench, a poncho "with fragmentation holes and large blood
stains."41


For the Marines of the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines in January, their tour at Con Thien, like the units before them, was their "time in the barrel." As Lieutenant Colonel Duncan many years later recalled, the North Vietnamese artillery destroyed much of the northwest minefield protecting the Marine outpost "as well as the forward trenches and bunkers in that area. Casualties were mounting. The hospital bunkers exceeded capacity with wounded on stretchers." The battalion commander remembered that one of the chaplains "broke under stress and attempted suicide."42


Route 561, running north and south, was the lifeline for Con Thien. To keep this road open, General Metzger remembered that Marine engineers in 1967 "straightened out the route by cutting a 'jog' in the road that went to a by-then deserted village which reduced the length to Con Thien and simplified security." Despite this improvement, other complications arose. According to Metzger, once the torrential rains came the water washed out the road. It took the engineers an extended time to obtain sufficient rock until they could build "a suitable roadbed" to carry the heavy traffic.43


The Marines also established two combat operating bases, C-2 and C-2A, to protect Route 561. About 2,000 meters southeast of Con Thien, the C-2A base overlooked a bridge spanning a stream which intersected the road there. The Marines nicknamed the area the "Washout," because in heavy rainstorms, the waters flooded the low-lying ground. Another 3,000 meters to the southeast was the C-2 base which contained both artillery and infantry fixed positions. The terrain along Route 561 between Con Thien and Cam Lo consisted of low-rolling hills, numerous gullies, and waist-high brush. From both the C-2A and C-2 bases Marine patrols ventured forth "to keep the NVA off the road."44


In January 1968, Lieutenant Colonel Edwin A. Deptula's 1st Battalion, 4th Marines occupied both the C-2 and C-2A positions, having just relieved the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines in the sector. Lieutenant Colonel Deptula established his command post at C-2 with Companies A and B. His executive officer, Major John I. Hopkins, formed a second command group and with Companies C and D held C-2A. Throughout the first weeks of the month, the battalion ran numerous squad- and platoon-sized combat patrols out of both C-2 and C-2A for distances of 1,500 meters from each of the bases and from Route 561. Actually the most significant action in the battalion's area of operations involved another unit. On 10 January, a small patrol from the 3d Reconnaissance Battalion came across three NVA in a palm-covered harbor site, about 3,000 meters east of C-2. The reconnaissance Marines killed two of the enemy, took one prisoner, and captured all three of their weapons.45


As part of the barrier system, the central effort at C-2 in early January was the completion of the bunker defenses. Several support units, including engineers, artillery, and tank and antitank detachments, shared the base area with the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. Although the engineers ran daily mine sweeps along Route 561 to Con Thien to keep the road open, they, as all the tenant units, assisted with the construction effort. On 10 January, a "Dyemarker" (barrier) team visited the C-2 site to inspect the defenses. According to the 1st Battalion's monthly chronology, "None of the bunkers could be considered complete. Maximum effort was later directed at bunker completion in keeping with the tactical situation."46





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