Page 076

Page 76 (1968: The Defining Year)

About then, the other Marine outpost received incoming small arms
fire and someone threw a grenade into their positions. The Marines responded
with their own salvo, including M-79 rounds. In the confusion and darkness,
the enemy broke contact and slipped away. The next morning, the Nhan
Bieu hamlet chief notified Captain Hancock that the VC had murdered
a villager during the night. A subsequent investigation disclosed that
the 60-year old man may have died as a result of "friendly fire." Many
questions still remained: What was he doing in the woods during the
night and why did the village chief blame the killing on the enemy?
There probably were no good answers.12

While maintaining a presence in the hamlets. Lieutenant Colonel Goodale
attempted to keep the enemy off balance with an occasional excursion
into the foothills and numerous river valleys in his western sector.
In one typical such operation on 14 January, Goodale launched a two-company
"hammer and anvil" assault against a suspected enemy main force battalion
in the area. At 0730, the battalion command group together with Company
D, "the anvil," occupied the hamlet of Ai Tu about 2,000 meters west
of the airfield. Company D then moved another 2,000 meters further west
and settled into a blocking position in the high ground along a secondary
road, Route 604, leading off Route 1, and south of the Vinh Phuoc River.
The "hammer" company. Company B, located 2,000 meters south, then advanced
along a stream bed to the north, hoping to smash any Viet Cong or NVA
against Company D.

Shortly after beginning its advance, Company B encountered small arms fire, about 30 rounds, from its front. The Marines responded with their M-16s and 60mm mortars. After progressing another 2,000 meters without resistance, the company again engaged the VC, in this instance calling upon artillery support. At the same time, about 0900, the Viet Cong hit a Company D position with about 20 rounds. Fifteen minutes later, members of a Marine Combined Action Platoon (CAP), attached to Company B for the operation, saw seven North Vietnamese soldiers in the open, carrying weapons and packs, attempting to flank the advancing Marines. The CAP warned Company B and called artillery down upon the enemy troops. Company B received some sniper fire from its rear, but otherwise met no further opposition. By noon, the two Marine companies had linked together. The casualty scoreboard was about even: the Marines sustained one wounded man from Company B and found no enemy bodies.13

The reconnaissance Marines attached to the 1st Marines and the southern
battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Gravel's 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, played
much the same "cat and mouse" game with the NVA and VC, occasionally
with more success. On 2 January, Gravel conducted a two-company operation
about three to five miles southwest of Quang Tri City just north of
the Thach Han River. Acting on intelligence that a NVA battalion commander,
a Captain Minh Chau of the 4th Quyet Tien Battalion, had established
his command post in Thuong Phuoc on the northern bank of the river,
the Marine battalion secured the hamlet. A search for the NVA command
group proved fruitless, but the battalion, based on its intelligence
information, uncovered an NVA "harbor" site in the hills about three
miles west of Thuong Phuoc. The site contained a kitchen and a personnel
bunker large enough to accommodate nine persons. After destroying the
enemy site, the Marines returned to their base area. During the operation,
a Company C patrol near a bend in the river saw 13 enemy troops in green
uniforms and took them under both rifle and artillery fire, killing
at least one. In his January report, the battalion intelligence officer
noted that during the day the battalion sighted some 57 enemy at ranges
of 500 meters or more and brought them under artillery fire. The battalion
claimed killing 10 of the enemy, although these figures are not confirmed
in the regimental account.14

Two days later, on 4 January, a reconnaissance team from the 3d Reconnaissance
Battalion at 1415 engaged about 12 NVA in about the same area where
the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines' operation on 14 January took place. The
team killed two of the enemy, recovered two AK-47 rifles, a pistol,
a pair of binoculars, a wallet containing 5,500 piasters, and miscellaneous
papers, rice, and clothing.15

On the 14th, another team from the 3d Force Reconnaissance Company,
perched on the high ground overlooking the Thach Han River, saw about
30 NVA "with full equipment, helmets, and heavy packs" and one .50-caliber
machine gun moving south towards the river. The Marines called an airstrike
on the enemy, but were unable to observe the results. These NVA may
have been from the same North Vietnamese units that were attempting
to evade the two 1st Battalion, 3d Marines companies to the north.16

Throughout the operation. Lieutenant Colonel Gravel's 1st Battalion continued to see daily enemy troop movement in small groups of two to eight in the rolling hills south of its combat base at Lang Va, north along the Thach Han River, and across the river in the

Page 76 (1968: The Defining Year)