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sector, would conduct attacks by fire including rockets at U.S. and
South Vietnamese major installations, and possibly would strike against
isolated friendly forces and installations.18

In order to preempt any such concentration of the enemy local and main force units, the 5th Marines at the end of December initiated a spoiling action, codenamed Operation Auburn, on Go Noi Island. Located 10 kilometers inland from the South China Sea, the Go Noi is not a true island, but is simply an area bounded on all sides by rivers. Irregularly shaped by the meandering of the Ky Lam, the Thu Bon, the Ba Ren, the Dien Ban, and the Cau Lau rivers, the "island" is 12 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide with generally flat terrain that gradually slopes upward towards the western end. A few streams and canals cut across the low-lying land and the remains of the wrecked National Railroad tracks (known to the Marines as the "B&O") bisected the island. A number of small hamlets and villages dotted the area, mostly inhabited by women and children, the men having gone to war, either for the government or for the Communists. Hedges and bamboo thickets literally formed walls around these rural communities. The terrain between the hamlets varied, and included untended rice paddies overgrown with vegetation, open sandy areas, high elephant grass, and cemeteries with tall grave mounds. Most of the hamlets contained "a network of drainage ditches" to carry off the surplus waters. These ditches, as one Marine battalion commander observed, "provided superb, ready-made fighting trenches," for any VC "fighting a maneuver defense." With rules of engagement that limited the use of supporting arms in populated areas, any Marine penetration of the Go Noi "presented commanders with extremely difficult decisions."19

The preparations to move into the Go Noi began on Christmas Day, 1967. At that time, Colonel Robert D. Bohn, the 5th Marines commander, issued his "Frag Order" detailing the participating units and the concept of operations for Auburn. The Marine initial forces were to consist of four infantry companies, two from the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, one from the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, and one from the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines. Another company from the 3d Battalion was to be in reserve. Lieutenant Colonel William K. Rockey, the commanding officer of the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, would command the forces in the field and assume operational control of the other infantry companies. The 11th Marines provided general artillery support with one battalion, the 2d Battalion, 11th Marines in direct support. Marine helicopters from MAG-16 would bring the assault forces into the landing zones and Marine helicopter gunships and fixed-wing aircraft from both Da Nang and Chu Lai would fly landing-zone-preparation and close air support missions.20

Auburn was to be part of a larger operation involving both the ARVN Quang Da Special Zone command and the Americal Division. The Marine units were to establish blocking positions along the abandoned railroad track. After the Marines were in position, three ARVN battalions starting from Route 1 would then attack from east to west along Route 537, pushing any enemy units into the Marines. Further south, the 1st Air Cavalry's 3d Brigade in Operation Wheeler/Wal-lowa would position two companies from its 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry to close any avenue of escape in that direction and also to prevent the enemy from reinforcing his forces in the Go Noi. Operation Auburn was slated to begin at 0900 on 28 December when Marine helicopters were to bring Company E, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines into Landing Zone Hawk, an abandoned dried-up rice paddy, just east of the railroad and about a 1,000 meters south of the Ky Lam River.21

After an hour landing zone preparation bombardment by both Marine air and artillery, at 0904, four minutes later than the designated "L-Hour," the first wave of MAG-16 helicopters dropped down into Landing Zone Hawk. The troops of the lead assault company, Company E, 3d Marines, commanded by Australian Army Captain lan J. Cahill, an eight-year veteran and an exchange officer serving with the Marines, referred to themselves as the "Diggers" after the popular nickname for Australian soldiers. Greeted by desultory enemy rifle and automatic weapons fire, the "Diggers" of Company E quickly secured the landing zone but failed to silence the enemy snipers and gunners. At 0940, the forward elements of the company attempted to advance toward its first objective, a deserted hamlet in the Bao An Dong village complex, just to the southwest of LZ Hawk. Forced to pull back in the face of heavy Communist small arms fire, Captain Cahill called for an airstrike. Following the strike, succeeding waves of Marine CH-A6 Sea Knight helicopters brought in the remaining elements of Company E and Company I, 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, and Lieutenant Colonel Rockey s command group into the landing zone. According to Lieutenant Colonel Rockey, the enemy fire forced the Marines to move the landing zone progressively westward, "with each helicopter wave landing a little farther west than the last wave."22

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