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India [Company I] walked 155mm [fire] towards friendly lines."60


The Marine company sustained four wounded and had begun to take fire from its right front. One of the wounded was one of the company's snipers who had moved too far forward and lay exposed to enemy fire. A corpsman attempted to rescue the man, but was hit himself and forced to turn back. With his gunnery sergeant laying down a base of fire, Captain Prichard rushed forward and carried back the seriously wounded Marine to the company positions. A Marine helicopter from HMM-163, in a medical evacuation (MedEvac) mission, flew the wounded out from an improvised landing zone just to the company's rear in a defilade area.61


Although the enemy attempted to jam the Marine radio net, "Smitty Tango" remained in communication with Captain Prichard and Second Lieutenant Albert B. Doyle, the company's attached forward artillery observer. At 1350, the AO checked the artillery fire and called in two Marine "Huey" (Bell UH-1E helicopter) gunships from Marine Observation Squadron (VMO) 6 that had covered the landing of the evacuation helicopter. The gunships made several passes at the enemy mortar positions in open bomb craters near the Marine positions. When the air arrived, several NVA soldiers "actually [were] standing up in their holes, only a 100 to 150 meters away from India Company and firing both at the AO and the aircraft as they conducted strikes upon them." As the lead Huey, piloted by Major Curtis D. McRaney, came in on its first run, its guns jammed. According to McRaney's copilot. Major David L. Steele, "one of the NVA must have noticed this because he stepped out of his hole and began firing at us with his automatic weapon on our next pass." This was a mistake. As Steele observed, "on successive passes ... we were able to cover the crater area with rockets and machine gun fire, killing most of the enemy." The AO reported that he saw the North Vietnamese "dragging eight bodies into a tunnel."62


After the air strikes, Lieutenant Colonel Bendell, who had been monitoring the radio traffic, decided to pull India Company back to Hill 28. By this time, the North Vietnamese had brought up further reinforcements and Bendell believed, "There was no need to assault the [NVA] position." According to Bendell, Marine supporting arms, both artillery and gunships, would have "a real desired effect upon the enemy . . . ."63

As Company I broke contact and started to withdraw, the troops saw
a large NVA unit, apparently dressed in Marine uniforms,* closing in.
The Huey gunships then laid down extensive covering fire and then the
artillery took over. By 1530, the company had returned to Hill 28. Colonel
Smith, the 9th Marines commander, personally greeted "the men of the
Hungry I" with a deserved "well done." The company, while sustaining
casualties of only four wounded, had accounted for 27 enemy dead, not
including the eight NVA taken out by the helicopters, or the unknown
number of enemy killed by the artillery. Lieutenant Colonel Bendell
recommended Captain Prichard for the Navy Cross; he received the Silver
Star.64


For the next few days, the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines had a relatively uneventful time in their forward position. In the early morning hours of 6 January, however, a listening post heard movement just outside the battalion's perimeter. The Marines opened fire with both small arms and M79 grenade launchers. One of the defenders saw something fall, but an attempt to check the area drew enemy fire. In daylight hours, the Marines found no evidence of any enemy bodies. It was apparent to the battalion, however, that its quiet period was over.65

On the following day, 7 January, the Marines on Hill 28 began to take
sniper rounds from an enemy-held ridgeline about 800 meters to their
front and situated just to the south of the DMZ boundary. Lieutenant
Colonel Bendell ordered Captain John D. Carr, the commanding officer
of Company L, to flush out the sniper who had already wounded one Marine.
Carr sent out that morning two six-man teams from his 1st Platoon. The
two teams approached the enemy-held ridge from both flanks and then
linked up into a squad-size patrol. As the squad moved over the ridgeline,
enemy AK-47s and machine guns opened up. Positioned in well-entrenched
defenses dug out of the numerous American-made bomb craters pocketing
the side of the ridge, the NVA gunners killed one Marine and wounded
another. Unable to advance or withdraw, the Marines took what cover
they could and returned the fire. In radio contact with the squad and
aware of its plight. Captain Carr ordered the remainder of the 1st Platoon
to reinforce the entrapped Marines.


* Major Gary E. Todd, a former 3d Marine Division intelligence officer, wrote
that he doubted that the NVA were dressed in Marine uniforms: "there were
several instances when Marines mistook NVA for other Marines, due to the
similarity of uniforms. They [the NVA] wore utilities of almost the identical
color to ours, and often wore Russian-style steel helmets, frequently
with a camouflage net.... We, of course, had cloth camouflage covers on
our helmets. . . . From a distance . . . the helmets were hard to distinguish."
Todd Comments.





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