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companies, Companies K and M, with Company K in the lead, and Bendell's
command group sandwiched between the two companies, advanced in a northeasterly
direction toward the DMZ. After about 1500 meters, the battalion veered
north and penetrated 500 meters into the southern half of the Demilitarized
Zone. Once in the DMZ, according to plan, the two companies swung in
a southwesterly direction along parallel paths, separated by a fallow
rice paddy. Company M, with the battalion command group, remained still
somewhat behind Company K, protecting both the battalion rear and left
flank. With the lifting of the morning haze about 0900, the first of
a trio of 3d Marine Division aerial observers arrived overhead. At about
the same time, Captain Edward O. Leroy's Company K came across the first
of several NVA bunkers near the abandoned and largely destroyed village
of An Xa. Employing both artillery and air support, the company easily
overcame scattered enemy resistance. At one point. Captain Kalm, the
Company M commander, saw what appeared to be, at first blush, three
bushes, but turned out to be well-camouflaged NVA soldiers, maneuvering
to the rear of his company column. He directed machine gun fire in that
direction "and then started calling artillery fire and the three bushes
were seen to disappear over the hill to our rear."74

For the next three hours, the two Marine companies remained in the DMZ. In and around An Xa, Company K blew up some 25 bunkers and captured about 10 weapons including one machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher (RPG), and several AK-47s and other rifles. The Marines also confiscated or destroyed cooking utensils, pieces of uniform and equipment, food, and documents that identified the North Vietnamese unit in the sector as the 2d Company, 7th Battalion, 90th NVA Regiment. In their haste, the NVA troops left cooked rice still in the pot and still warm. Further to the south, Company M protected Company K's exposed southern flank and recovered without incident the body of the missing Marine from Company L. By afternoon on the 11th, both companies had passed through Company L's blocking positions and returned to the battalion CP on Hill 28. The Marines sustained only two casualties, both wounded, and only one of whom had to be evacuated. According to Marine accounts, they killed at least 15 NVA and probably inflicted more casualties with artillery and air.75

According to Lieutenant Colonel Bendell, by "achieving surprise . . . moving during darkness," he and his operations officer. Major Richard K. Young, believed the sweep of the southern DMZ was a successful demonstration of coordination between the infantry on the ground and supporting arms. On two occasions, the aerial observers called in air strikes on NVA troops in the open attempting to flank the Marine companies. Young, who stayed behind at the battalion combat operations center (COC) on Hill 28, later stated: ". . . we were able to have artillery on 30 seconds before air got there and then we could run air strikes and then turn on the artillery . . . [we] had some type of fire on the enemy almost the entire duration of the operation." The operations officer remembered: "Several times when artillery wasn't getting there fast enough, the company commander would jump on the battalion tac [tactical radio net} and get in touch with myself back at the COC." Young would then "get 81mm fire out there to fill the void in artillery or get with my artillery liaison officer or my forward air controller and get this continuous fire while the troops were advancing along the bunker complex." Shortly after the return of the battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Bendell briefed the 3d Marine Division staff and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Leonard F. Chapman, Jr., who was on a visit to Vietnam, at the Dong Ha headquarters on the successful completion of the operation.76

With the termination of the DMZ sweep, the sojourn of the 3d Battalion,
4th Marines on Hill 28 was about over. The completion of the A-3 Strong
Point reduced the need for a forward battalion to protect the approaches.
On 12 January, Bendell's battalion began its move to a new position
along the trace near the abandoned village of An Phu and closer to Con
Thien.* For the 9th Marines in Operation Kentucky, the strongpoint system
was about as complete as it was ever going to be. Still, as Lieutenant
Colonel Bendell several years later observed: "there was evidence of
an NVA build up throughout the DMZ sector."77

Operation Lancaster and Heavy Fighting in Mid-January

By mid-January, the North Vietnamese began to intensify their efforts to cut Route 9 especially along

* Lieutenant Colonel Lehrack who was with the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines at this time noted that even with the reduced need for a forward battalion and after the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines departed Hill 28, his battalion placed two companies on the hill and kept them there for several months. Lehrack Comments.

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