reaction force commander, Captain Daniel W. Kent, who was also the
tank company commander. Again the Marines fought back and called for
support. When two UH-1E gunships appeared overhead, about 1830, the
North Vietnamese troops broke contact and disappeared. A second relief
column of two more dusters and two trucks armed with quad .50s arrived
from Dong Ha and assisted with the evacuation of the dead and wounded.
The Marines suffered casualties of 8 men dead and 44 wounded. They killed
about three of the enemy. Not only did the vehicles of the original
convoy require extensive repairs, but two of the dusters and the one
tank hit by the RPG round also sustained damage.
General Tompkins, the 3d Marine Division commander, could not tolerate this situation. It appeared that the North Vietnamese at will could cut Route 9 and thus, in effect, deny access to Camp Carroll and the other Marine bases in Operation Lancaster. Upon learning about the ambush, he transferred Lieutenant Colonel Lee R. Bendell's 3d Battalion, 4th Marines from the Kentucky area of operations to the Lancaster one and returned the battalion to its parent regimental control. The battalion was to clear the ambush site and then sweep Route 9.23
On the afternoon of 24 January, Marine helicopters brought Lieutenant Colonel Bendell, the battalion commander, a skeleton battalion command group, and Company M to Camp Carroll. At 1900, Bendell and his small headquarters group accompanied Company M under Captain Raymond W. Kalm to the ambush site to assist in the evacuation of casualties. Upon learning that the second relief force had already brought in the wounded and some of the bodies, the Marine company established night positions on a ridgeline, about 1500 meters south of and overlooking Route 9 and also screening "the NVA from Camp Carroll."24 The next morning the company would begin its reconnaissance of the battalion's planned objective area.25
At 0630, on the 25th, the company departed its nighttime positions. Lieutenant Colonel Bendell advised Captain Kalm to occupy a small hill just north of Route 9, about 2,000 meters south of the Cam Lo River. After sending his 3d Platoon under Second Lieutenant John S. Leffen, to occupy the strategic height, the Marine captain led the rest of the company to the ambush site of the previous day, about 1,000 meters to the west.*
The company recovered four of the Marine dead from the earlier action
and then began a sweep from west to east on Route 9. About 0915, the
lead platoon had no sooner passed by the damaged vehicles still strewn
along the side of the road when it came under automatic weapons fire.**
With the assistance of Leffen's platoon left on the hill, the company
obtained fire superiority. Lance Corporal Jack L. Patton, a machine
gunner with the 3d Platoon, sighted the enemy gun. Patton later laconically
stated, "my gun returned fire and we killed the enemy." In that action,
the Marines sustained casualties of two dead and two wounded and killed
three of the enemy. They also recovered the NVA light machine gun.26***
Company M then established a defensive perimeter on the hill and waited for the rest of the battalion to join it. By mid-afternoon, both Companies I and L as well as the rest of the battalion command group had arrived. Although not suffering any more killed, the battalion sustained 17 more wounded from random mortar fire from nearby enemy gunners. That night the battalion "established a three-company, tied-in perimeter" across both sides of Route 9.27
At about 0230 on 26 January, Colonel Dick, the 4rh Marines commander, radioed Lieutenant Colonel Bendell that he had received intelligence of large North Vietnamese forces operating just north of the Cam Lo River. The regimental commander wanted the 3d Battalion to secure Route 9 from the Khe Gia Bridge, about 5,000 meters west of the battalion's present position, east to Cam Lo, a distance of about 9,000 meters. Two companies were to deploy north of the river, while the remaining company cleared the road. Lieutenant Colonel Bendell suggested instead that "the mission of securing the road was best performed along the road and south of the Cam Lo River." The regiment, however, insisted that the battalion carry out the mission as originally ordered.28
Lieutenant Colonel Bendell then prepared his plans and started to
carry out his new orders. Companies I and L were to cross the Cam Lo
* Major John S. Leffen, then the platoon commander, remembered some of the events somewhat differently. He recalled moving to the hill north of Route 9 the previous evening. Maj John S. Leffen, Jr., Comments on draft, n.d. (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Leffen Comments.
** Colonel Bendell recalled that "one Marine managed to start the
abandoned tank and pulled all the convoy vehicles back toward Cam Lo."
Col Lee R. Bendell, Comments on draft, n.d. [Nov94] (Vietnam Comment
File), hereafter Bendell Comments.
*** Major Leffen, the 3d Platoon commander, recalled that the captured
enemy weapon was a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) rather than a light
machine gun. Leffen Comments.