Le and Thuong Phuoc. Believing Nhu Le as the focal point of the VC
mining effort, Ing decided to install a permanent company patrol base
in the hamlet, which resulted in a dramatic drop in mining and enemy
incidents. On 15 December, however, the VC, using Nhan Bieu as a staging
and harbor area, mortared the Quang Tri Airfield. The Marines then occupied
Ing, earlier, had initiated Operation Minefind. In the first phase, the 1st Marines commander assigned a Marine infantry company, reinforced by several engineer mine detector teams, to a 1,000-meter area. While the infantry provided security, the mine detector teams would sweep the sector. During the second phase of Operation Minefind, Ing inaugurated an incentive program that appealed both to the Marines and the local civilian population. The regiment rewarded any Marine that uncovered a mine with four days rest and recreation (R&R) within country and placed no restrictions on the number of times that a Marine could receive such a reward. Using a full-fledged advertising campaign, including aerial broadcasts, dropping and passing out leaflets, and passing the word by mouth during Marine Med CAP (Medical Civilian Assistance Program) visits to the local hamlets, the 1st Marines promised money payments for all turned-in explosive devices.
This program soon gained positive results. In November, the 1st Marines reported that its "Mine Awards" strategy brought in 251 pieces of ordnance as compared to some 50 items before the regiment initiated the program. By the end of the year, Marines found over 300 explosive devices themselves and local civilians turned in another 370. Yet, the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines soon discovered that at least in one hamlet, Thon Nai Bieu (2), the local children "experienced a prosperous business in exchanging grenades for reward money." The youngsters obtained grenades and other ammunition from the South Vietnamese Popular Force (PF) troops in the village and then brought them to the Marines and claimed their reward. Lieutenant Colonel William Weise, the battalion commander, quickly established liaison with the village chief and the practice became less flagrant.6
Despite the obvious potential for fraudulent claims, the program still saved lives. During the Christmas truce, for example, a nine-year-old boy approached the PFs in Thon Nai Bieu (2) where the 2d Battalion's Company G had set up defensive positions. Through an interpreter, he told the company commander, First Lieutenant Richard L. Harshman, that the VC had planted boobytraps. The boy then led the Marines to the site where the troops uncovered a Chinese grenade and two antitank mines. In this case. Lieutenant Colonel Weise gladly presented the boy with a cash "Christmas gift."7
With two battalions assigned to him for Osceola, Colonel Ing had divided
the area of operations into northern and southern sectors, largely demarcated
by the Thach Han River. The northern battalion provided protection to
the airfield while the southern battalion secured the avenues of approach.
Ing used small reconnaissance teams to patrol the further reaches of
the Osceola area under the protective cover of the attached artillery
from the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines. Occasionally the southern battalion
would make a sortie into Base Area 101 or into the Ba Long
Valley, usually with only limited success.
During late December and early January there was a reshuffling of infantry battalions in the Osceola operating area. In the southern sector, Lieutenant Colonel Marcus J. Gravel's 1st Battalion, 1st Marines shortly before Christmas reverted to its parent regiment's control after a few months' stint at Con Thien. It relieved the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Evan L. Parker, Jr., which took over the Con Thien outpost. Shortly before New Year's Day, the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, under Lieutenant Colonel Richard W. Goodale, formerly the SLF (Special Landing Force) battalion Alpha of the Seventh Fleet, left the operational control of the 9th Marines and came under the 1st Marines. At noon on l January, Lieutenant Colonel Goodale assumed command of the Osceola northern sector and responsibility for the security of the Quang Tri Airfield from Lieutenant Colonel Weise. Early on the morning of 2 January, the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines transferred to the direct control of the 3d Marine Division in preparation for becoming the new battalion landing team (BLT) of SLF Alpha.8
This succession of units caused a minor disruption of operations, especially in the northern sector. With its pending departure, the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines evacuated Nhan Bieu on 30 December. On 5 January, however, the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines reestablished a company-size patrol base near Nhan Bieu and the neighboring hamlet of An Don. The Company A commander, Captain David Hancock, formed a provisional rifle company consisting of his 2d and 3d Platoons reinforced by a South Vietnamese Popular Forces (PF) platoon from Mai Linh District. Hancock, together with an improvised command group, the battalion civil affairs officer, and an artillery forward observer team, linked up with the PFs and two South