meters west of Hill 51, to carry out the mission. Reinforced by an
engineer team and a forward air control team, two Company D platoons
on 4 January boarded Marine CH-46s to accomplish the grisly task. Lieutenant
Colonel Mitchell himself boarded the command helicopter, accompanied
the mission, and picked the landing zone. While one platoon went into
a landing zone near where the reconnaissance team was overrun, the other
remained airborne ready to assist the second platoon if necessary. The
first platoon found all six bodies and most of the equipment undisturbed
by the enemy. Two M-16s and two radios were missing. Loading the dead
men and their gear on the helicopters, the Company D Marines returned
to their patrol base while the CH-46s took the bodies and equipment
back for identification and examination.36
While the Company D Marines encountered no enemy troops, they found
ample evidence that the attack on the reconnaissance Marines was not
a chance encounter. From the fresh shell craters near the site, it was
obvious the enemy had used mortars to support the infantry. The failure
of the reconnaissance Marines to move from their initial "insertion
point" permitted the enemy time "to adequately prepare for the attack."
After interviewing the survivors, the Marine debriefer concluded that
the enemy force that so carefully planned the ambush was "the most highly
trained unit yet encountered by Recon teams on the CoBi-Thanh Tan Ridge."
He believed that the effectiveness of previous Marine reconnaissance
patrols in the sector and the calling in of artillery on enemy units
moving in the valley "prompted this enemy counter-reconnaissance action."37
Despite the disastrous results of the reconnaissance patrol of 2 January, the 4th Marines continued to monitor and inflict as much punishment as it could upon the enemy units infiltrating into the coastal region. On 7 January, a Marine aerial observer directed fixed-wing and artillery strikes against enemy bunkers and troops in the CoBi-Thanh Tan, about 2,000 meters southeast of Hill 51 resulting in a secondary explosion. The following day, Company A, under the command of Captain Henry J. M. Radcliffe, thwarted an attempt of the Communists to interdict Route 1, about 5,000 meters east of Hill 51. After studying available intelligence and previous mining incidents with Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell and the battalion intelligence officer, Radcliffe had established a squad ambush in a known enemy infiltration route into the Marine area of operations. Close to midnight, the VC triggered the ambush. The Marines killed five of the enemy, took two prisoners, and captured two 150-pound bombs that the VC were transporting for use as "surprise explosive devices on Route 1 in the vicinity of Camp Evans."38
For the next week and a half, the Marine operations in Neosho followed the same pattern. For example, on 15 January, an aerial observer controlled both airstrikes and artillery in the eastern edge of the CoBi-Thanh Tan on an enemy-held fortified hamlet on the west bank of the Bo River. The bombardment resulted in two secondary explosions, the death of seven enemy troops, and the destruction of five bunkers. Four days later, 19 January, about 4,000 meters south of Hill 51, a Company C squad in an ambush site observed about 36 North Vietnamese moving along Route 554. The squad leader reported the sighting to his company commander on Hill 51, Captain John W. Craigle. Craigle dispatched two more squads to intercept the NVA. An aerial observer in a fixed-wing spotter aircraft arrived overhead and called an artillery mission on the enemy. The two Marine squads then "deployed on line" and "swept the area." After a brief firefight, the North Vietnamese "broke contact and moved south into the mountains." The enemy left behind six bodies, one AK-47 and several documents. The documents confirmed the Communist supply routes in the CoBi-Thanh Tan. Finally, on the following day, 20 January, Marines captured an NVA sergeant and two VC officials, who "pinpointed Viet Cong and NVA supply routes, methods and times of resupply, enemy movement and other important tactical information of Viet Cong and NVA activity in the CoBi-Thanh Tan Valley"39
The 4th Marines was about to close out Operation Neosho. Through 20 January, the regiment accounted for 53 enemy dead during the month at a cost of 4 Marines killed and 34 wounded. The total results for Neosho, not including the figures for Operations Granite or Badger Tooth, were 77 enemy dead, 9 prisoners, and 10 captured weapons. Marines sustained a total of 12 dead and 100 wounded. Although the 4th Marines somewhat hampered the enemy infiltration through the CoBi-Thanh Tan, the regiment was hardly in a position to prevent it.* According to Colonel Dick, the regimental commander, "We were fighting on their [NVA] terms . . . , [and the] enemy was willing to pay the price."40
* Colonel Dick several years later remembered that although he did not know the
specific numbers of enemy moving through the valley, they were very large.
He wrote: "Groups of several hundred [NVA or VC] were repeatedly sighted"
by one regimental outpost alone. Dick Comments.