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sance Marines enjoyed some success in calling in artillery and air
to disrupt the infiltration of the North Vietnamese regulars, the enemy
had begun to take effective countermeasures. The worst incident occurred
on 2 January 1968. That day about 0900, under cover of a slight drizzle
and morning fog, a Marine helicopter inserted an eight-man patrol from
Company A, 3d Reconnaissance Battalion on a hill near the CoBi-Thanh
Tan ridgeline, about 8,000 meters southeast of Camp Evans. The hill
offered in good weather an excellent view of the valley and Route 554,
which served the NVA as a natural infiltration route into the coastal
region. The specific missions of the patrol were to determine the nature
of enemy activity in the area, call in artillery and air on targets
of opportunity, and, if possible, take a prisoner.30


The patrol maintained its outpost on an outcropping of the hill. In the belief that the two-feet-high elephant grass on the knoll concealed their presence, the Marines failed to lay out claymore mines, but did deploy in a circular defensive perimeter. In an eight-hour period, the Marines only saw enemy movement on two occasions. In the first, about an hour after arriving at their outpost, they sighted one enemy soldier, who filled his canteen at a nearby stream, and then continued on in a southwest direction. About five hours later, five more North Vietnamese soldiers came into view along the same route as the first. Well-camouflaged with brush, the "enemy appeared to fall down and disappear from view."31


For another two hours, the Marines observed no enemy activity. As evening came on, about 1715, the patrol unexpectedly came under attack. Under cover of a grenade barrage and heavy machine gun fire, about 10 to 15 enemy soldiers rushed the Marine positions. Completely taken by surprise, the Americans responded with their own automatic weapons and grenades, "but initial casualties reduced effective return fire." Still, the Marines saw three enemy soldiers felled by their counterfire. The patrol called in an "on call" artillery mission, but was unable to determine its effectiveness.32


Of the eight men in the defensive perimeter on the hill, only two survived. Marine Private First Class James P. Brown recalled that "things happened so fast-the enemy was all around us." The other survivor, the patrol radioman, Marine Private First Class James S. Underdue, remembered that he rolled over to attend to the wounds of a downed comrade when a bullet grazed his temple. His sudden movement probably saved his life. At that point, the patrol leader, a corporal, yelled for the remaining men to get out the best they could. As Underdue moved away, a grenade blast killed the corporal. Underdue and Brown both took refuge in a bomb crater about 200 meters down the hill. From the crater, they saw U.S. helicopters circling overhead. According to Underdue, they tried to attract the attention of the pilots by waving a green undershirt but that action failed to do so: "One chopper landed briefly and we thought they had spotted us. But they took off again. I suppose the canopy was too thick." Shortly afterward a Marine air observer reported that he saw the bodies of six Marines on the hill.33


After the departure of the helicopter, Underdue and Brown took off in the direction of Camp Evans. Although without a compass, the sound of American artillery provided a bearing for the two Marines. The artillery bombardment soon intensified and the two men "burrowed a hole and settled down to wait." Brown recalled, "several times I thought I heard people approaching us but it was shrapnel whistling through the undergrowth." They waited for the artillery to stop and then continued on. Private First Class Underdue remembered, "the most we stopped for was a minute to catch our breath. We had no water and hadn't eaten in two days."34


The morning of the following day, 3 January, the two men crossed an open paddy and then saw what they believed to be "a column of troops" on the crest of a nearby hill. The hill was actually Hill 51 manned by Marines of Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. About the same time Underdue and Brown spotted the Marines on the hill, a lookout from Company B on the outpost sighted them and "reported two unidentified personnel." The company commander, Captain Robert T. Bruner, then sent out a patrol to determine if they were VC or friendly. For a short period, the survivors and the Marine patrol played a "cat and mouse game." Fording a small stream, Underdue and Brown suddenly came face-to-face with the point man of the Company B patrol. According to Brown, "for a moment it looked as if he were going to open up on us. They seemed just as nervous and scared as we were." Within 40 minutes, the two reconnaissance Marines were back at Camp Evans.35


At this point, Colonel Dick ordered Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, to recover the bodies and equipment of the ill-fated reconnaissance patrol. In turn. Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell directed Captain Francis L. Shafer, Jr., the Company D commander, maintaining a patrol base near Route 554, about 7,000





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