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With both Marine companies and the battalion command group in the
landing zone by 1130, the Marines again tried to take their first two
objectives. Company I secured its objective, an abandoned hamlet to
the immediate front without encountering any serious resistance. In
the second objective, the same hamlet Cahill's Company E had tried to
take earlier, the Marine company was again in trouble. The seemingly
innocent empty "ville" was in actuality heavily fortified with interconnecting
trenches and fighting holes that provided the Communists with fixed
fields of fire. In a sudden ambush, the enemy killed five Marines of
Company E and wounded another nine. As the "Diggers" literally dug in
and fought for their lives, Lieutenant Colonel Rockey ordered Company
I to move to the flank of Company E. Taking advantage of the cover afforded
by the tall elephant grass that had overgrown the uncultivated paddy
field and five-foot-high burial mounds,* other Communist troops prevented
the Company I Marines from reaching the embattled company.23


At this point, with both of his forward companies unable to maneuver. Lieutenant Colonel Rockey asked for his reserve or "Bald Eagle" company, Company M, 3d Battalion, 5th Marines. Concurrently, he again called for both artillery and fixed-wing support. During the day, Marine fixed-wing and helicopter gunship aircraft flew close to 50 missions in support of the Marine battalion. Many of the 11th Marines artillery rounds fell dangerously close to the Company E positions, with shell fragments wounding several Marines. According to the battalion commander, "this was a calculated risk dictated by the situation." Lieutenant Colonel Rockey was more disturbed about the numerous "check fires" placed on the artillery whenever an aircraft left the runway at Da Nang and maintained until the plane returned. He later wrote in his after action report: "unnecessary check fires imposed on direct support artillery on D-Day was and is a matter of great concern. Vitally required fire support was needlessly withheld from the Battalion because of this imposition."24


At 1530, CH-46s from HMM-265 brought in Company M into Landing Zone Hawk. As in the arrival of the other two companies, enemy gunners took the hovering aircraft and disembarking troops under fire. Company M Marine Private First Class Jesse T. Lucero, on the lead helicopter, recalled that as he jumped out an enemy sniper round struck his helmet: "I got a little dizzy and sagged, but another Marine helped me up and I ran across the rice paddy as fast as my feet could carry me." The lead elements then cleared a treeline and secured the landing zone. Together with the battalion command group, Company M moved forward to relieve Company E.25


In the hamlet, after the initial shock of combat, and with the support of air and artillery, the Marines of Company E held their own. Able to get in closer and more accurately than both fixed-wing aircraft and the artillery, UH-1E gunships from VMO-2 provided several strafing runs that prevented the enemy troops from overrunning the company's positions.** For example, one Huey aircraft spent five hours in support of the Marine infantrymen. Its machine gunner, Lance Corporal Stephen R. Parsons, earned the nickname of "Sureshot." Credited with killing 15 enemy, Parsons later stated, "I knew I got at least seven." The aircraft itself sustained four hits and Parsons was wounded in the face. An enemy .30-caliber bullet had "entered his left cheek and exited at the roof of his mouth without breaking a tooth." About 1700, an air observer counted in front of the Company E positions 32 NVA dead, mostly clad "in green utilities."26

About an hour later, under covering fire from the other two Marine
companies, Company E pulled back a few hundred meters to the positions
of Company M. Collocated with the battalion command group just forward
of Landing Zone Hawk, both Companies E and M established their night
defenses. Only about 200 meters separated the two companies from Company
I. Unable to reach its dead, Company E in its withdrawal had left the
bodies of nine Marines in the hamlet. All told, the



* Lieutenant Colonel Gene W. Bowers, who at the time served as the S-3 or operations officers of the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, remarked that these "graves were much bigger and higher than traditional Vietnamese graves, as they had to be built up to accommodate the very high water table." He remembered that the enemy troops "had dug into the graves, evicting the previous occupants, and converted them into mutually supporting bunkers which were seemingly impervious to horizontal small arms fire." LtCol Gene W. Bowers, Comments on draft, dtd 30May95 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Bowers Comments.

** Lieutenant Colonel Bowers recalled after talking with Captain Cahill
on the radio about the graveyard bunkers: "I instructed the gunships
to shoot their door-mounted machine guns straight down into the grave
mounds to achieve penetration." He credits this tactic with reducing
the effectiveness of the enemy fire. Bowers Comments.




Page 94 (1968: The Defining Year)