(1968: The Defining Year)
withdrew to the south, crossed to the ringer on the right then turned
north again to reinforce the beleaguered 3d Platoon. Captain Dabney
remembered that at one time he called in an air strike that "dropped
napalm 100 meters from 3d Platoon to end a counterattack."60
When the 2d Platoon reached the crest, Lieutenant Thomas learned that some Marines from the 3d Platoon and the reconnaissance team were missing. Some had fallen, wounded, during the attack, while others had pursued the fleeing enemy only to be wounded and cut off from the company forward of the hilltop position. Thomas immediately organized a rescue effort, recovering six of the injured Marines under murderous enemy fire. Wounded himself while carrying out the sixth man, Thomas refused evacuation and returned to search tor the last two. Moving under fire to rescue the Marines, he was killed in action.61*
During the battle, the commanding officer of the 3d Battalion, Lieutenant
Colonel Harry L. Alderman, flew to Hill 881 South with his command group
to find the two platoons of Company M and the other Marines left atop
the hill pouring recoilless rifle and mortar fire into the North Vietnamese
on Hill 881 North as Company I fought at close quarters. Alderman asked
Lownds tor reinforcements to help clear enemy resistance from Hill 881
North and consolidate the new position. Lownds denied the request, ordering
Company I to break contact immediately and return to Hill 881 South.
His reasons would become known soon enough.
Using air strikes and artillery to cover its withdrawal, Company I
backed down the face of Hill 881
* Lieutenant Thomas received the Navy Cross, posthumously, for the action
on Hill 881 North.