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Although the platoon reached the embattled squad about 1530 that afternoon, it too found itself in an untenable position. The North Vietnamese had good clear fields of fire and also had brought up reinforcements. Employing M79 grenade launchers, hand grenades, and rifles, the 1st Platoon fought off the NVA and called for further assistance.66


Captain Carr then led the rest of Company L to the base of the ridge and flanked the enemy positions. Although unable to link up with its 1st Platoon on the forward slope, the company laid down a base of fire and Carr called in artillery to prevent the enemy from making any further reinforcements. Despite a slight drizzle and a low-lying cloud cover, the company commander made radio contact with an aerial observer who was able to adjust the supporting arms including the company's 60mm mortars. With the increased fire support, the 1st Platoon managed to hold out but with evening fast approaching the situation remained serious.67


At this point. Lieutenant Colonel Bendell ordered Captain Carr to have the 1st Platoon "to break contact and pull back across the ridgeline." To cover the platoon's withdrawal, the aerial observer called in air strikes and artillery within 100 meters of the Marines. The battalion commander also deployed two platoons of Company K to high ground about 1,000 meters west of Company L. Despite these protective measures, the enemy took a heavy toll of the Marines of the 1st Platoon as they disengaged and rejoined the rest of the company. Since its first elements made contact with the enemy. Company L sustained casualties of 6 dead and 36 wounded, 28 of whom required evacuation. Captain Carr asked for a MedEvac helicopter to take out the worst of the wounded.68


As the Marines waited, a CH-46D Boeing Vertol "Sea Knight" helicopter from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 164 (HMM-164), piloted by Captain Richard G. Sousa, took off from Phu Bai to carry out the evacuation mission. Because of the rain and heavy winds, Sousa flew low to the ground. As the helicopter approached the improvised landing zone, the Company L Marines fired illumination flares to guide the pilot "out of the darkness." Tracers from NVA machine guns made the situation literally "touch and go." After the aircraft landed, the enlisted crewmen immediately jumped out and helped the infantry load their casualties on board. The helicopter then lifted off, still under fire and unable to use its M60 machine guns because the North Vietnamese were too close to the Marine company.69


With the safe evacuation of most of its wounded and under cover of supporting arms, Company L made its way to Company K s forward positions without taking any further casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Bendell explained that he had placed Company K's two platoons on the high ground for psychological reasons as much as for tactical: "If you can pass through friendly lines when you are half-way back, it's a big morale boost to the troops, and also covers the rear of the force returning to the battalion perimeter." On the whole, Bendell praised Carr's handling of a difficult situation: "We committed early, the company commander made good time up there, and was able effectively to employ his supporting arms." Otherwise, the battalion commander believed "this one platoon would have been cur off and destroyed." As it was, in the confusion of the evacuation of the dead and wounded, the Marine company left a body of a 1st Platoon Marine on the ridgeline.70


On the following day, Lieutenant Colonel Bendell sent Company L out to recover the missing Marine. Bendell ordered Captain Carr to delay the mission until noon because of the continuing rain and low ceiling. The battalion commander wanted an aerial observer overhead to cover the Marine company. As Company L advanced toward its previous day's position, the AO spotted the body of the Marine and about 12 NVA in the vicinity. The North Vietnamese had dragged the dead man into the DMZ. Believing "that the body was being used as a bait for a trap," Bendell recalled the Marine company to Hill 28 and then saturated the area with artillery and air.71


Lieutenant Colonel Bendell then decided upon a new tactic. He and his staff worked out plans for a three-company operation, supported by air and artillery, into the Demilitarized Zone to bring back the body. Instead of approaching the objective straight on, the battalion would leave one company in blocking positions on high ground northwest of Hill 28, south of the DMZ. The other two companies were first to move northeast, then wheel due north into the DMZ, and then advance in a southwesterly direction, coming upon the enemy from the rear and the flanks.72


After a preliminary artillery bombardment and ground-controlled TPQ radar air strikes all along the eastern DMZ front so as not to give away the route of march, at 0500 on 11 January, the battalion moved out as Lieutenant Colonel Bendell remembered, "with strict radio silence."73 As planned, Captain Carr's Company L occupied the ridgeline to the northwest. Under the cover of darkness and fog, the two attack





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