Page 080

Page 80 (1968: The Defining Year)

December, both General Tompkins, the 3d Marine Division commander,
and Colonel Dick remained concerned about enemy intentions in both the
CoBi-Thanh Tan corridor and in the coastal region of northern Thua Thien
Province, especially in the "Street Without Joy" sector. The total of
24 enemy dead in Neosho at a cost of 4 Marines killed and 66 wounded
reflected neither the casualties in Operation Granite nor the SLF Bravo
operation Badger Tooth. Badger Tooth took place in the "Street" from
26-28 December in and near the coastal hamlet of Thorn Tharn Khe just
north of the Quang Tri-Thua Thien border. In the operation, the SLF
battalion, BLT 3/1, suffered 48 dead and 86 wounded while inflicting
only 30 casualties on the enemy.* To the southwest in Neosho, furthermore,
Marine reconnaissance patrols continued to report the heavy movement
of enemy forces eastward through the CoBi-Thanh Tan. One battalion of
the NVA 6th Regiment, the 802d Battalion, had supposedly
departed the valley for the Phu Loc District south of Phu Bai. The other
battalions of the regiment remained in the CoBi-Thanh Tan either to
screen the approaches to Base Area 114 or to move into the
coastal lowlands when the opportunity presented itself.26

At the end of December 1967, General Tompkins provided General Cushman,
the III MAF commander, his thoughts about the situation in the CoBi-Thanh
Tan and the "Street Without Joy" sectors. He recommended that Cushman
obtain the authorization for another SLF operation in the Badger Tooth
area to "upset long range plans of Tri Thien Hue forces in
the coastal area and along routes to their vital base area 114." According
to Tompkins' plan, the SLF battalion would land around 6 January 1968
in the former Badger Tooth amphibious operational area (AOA) and stay
about five days there. The BLT then would come under the operational
control of the 3d Marine Division and 4th Marines and move into the
CoBi-Thanh Tan corridor. It would remain in the valley for another nine
days to disrupt the continuing infiltration of the NVA regulars into
the coastal lowlands. Tompkins mentioned some 27 sightings in the past
month of enemy troop movements in the CoBi-Thanh Tan, some consisting
of forces as large as 150 to 450 men.27

Despite the obvious increase of enemy activity in the CoBi-Thanh Tan, neither III MAF nor the Seventh Fleet had the capability of reinforcing the 4th Marines there at the beginning of the year. SLF Alpha was in the midst of an exchange of units while BLT 3/1, the SLF Bravo battalion, had taken heavy casualties in the Badger Tooth operation and needed time to recuperate. With the buildup of enemy forces along the DMZ and near Khe Sanh, General Cushman had few units to spare for operations in the CoBi-Thanh Tan.

At the beginning of 1968, Colonel Dick, the 4th Marines commander, had little choice but to continue the same mode of operations in Neosho that he had used since the departure of the 3d Battalion, 26th Marines to Khe Sanh. He later credited the 15th Interrogation and Translation Team (ITT), headed by Staff Sergeant Dennis R. Johnson, which had a small facility at Camp Evans, for providing much needed intelligence through a network of village chiefs.28

The 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John F. Mitchell, continued to man outposts on Hills 51 and 674, provide company-size reaction forces when needed, and conduct sweeps along Route 1 and "saturation patrolling and ambushing in known avenues of approach within 5,000 meters of the Camp Evans perimeter." Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell remembered that he received "detailed briefings" from Colonel Dick and the 4th Marines staff on the situation and terrain. The battalion worked with the village chiefs to improve security in the sector. Mitchell assigned one of his companies to work directly with the local militia force, a Regional Force company. The RFs would raid suspected VC hamlets, while the Marines made up the blocking force. While the technique often resulted in prisoners and captured documents, Mitchell later admitted that to be truly successful it required "longevity, stability, continuity, and prior training of Marine personnel," conditions which "did not exist at this time of the war."29

The 4th Marines relied heavily on the 3d Reconnaissance Battalion
detachments for the deeper insertions to monitor enemy movement, especially
in the CoBi-Thanh Tan corridor. Although the reconnais-

*Colonel John F. Mitchell, who as a lieutenant colonel commanded the
1st Battalion, 9th Marines at the time, remembered that his Company
A was supposed to link up with BLT 3/1 in Badger Tooth at a river crossing
about 10 kilometers from the SLF landing site. Helicopters lifted the
Marine company into its objective area, but the SLF unit had to abort
its part of the mission after the fire fight in Thorn Tham Khe. With
the permission of Colonel Dick, Mitchell took a reinforced platoon from
his Company D and mounted tracked vehicles provided by an ARVN armored
unit and "blitzed 9,000 meters into the sand dunes." With this support,
Company A was able to disengage from a VC force and return to Camp Evans.
According to Mitchell, Colonel Dick called this operation '"Rommel's
War.'" Col John F. Mitchell, Comments on draft chapter, dtd 5Jan95 (Vietnam
Comment File). See also Col William L. Dick, Comments on draft chapter,
dtd 1Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Dick Comments.

Page 80 (1968: The Defining Year)