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on the northern banks of the river while Company M secured Route 9,
south of the river. The enemy, however, forced the Marines to change
the original concept of the mission. At 0845 on the morning of the 26th,
a Company M patrol discovered that the enemy had blown a bridge on Route
9 over a small streambed, just below the hill, now dubbed "Mike's Hill"
after Company M, where the company had established its night defensive
position. The patrol reported that the road was "impassable without
engineer improvement." Just as Company I was about to cross the river,
the regimental commander changed his order about operating on both banks
of the Cam Lo.* Colonel Dick directed the battalion to "continue to
secure Route 9, to deny enemy access to bridges and culverts, and to
patrol and ambush 375 meters north and south of Route 9, occupying the
high ground on either side of the route as necessary." In effect, the
battalion was to secure that portion of Route 9 that extended from the
opening to Camp Carroll eastward to the destroyed bridge.29

During the rest of the morning and afternoon of the 26th, the three
companies patrolled the approximately 2,000 meters of Route 9, encountering
little resistance except for the occasional sniper and mortar bombardment.
Throughout the day, however, the battalion recovered enemy equipment,
including pieces of clothing and web gear, ammunition, grenades, and
even antipersonnel mines and spotted small groups of enemy soldiers.
By nightfall, concerned about the perimeter of the previous night on
relatively low terrain, Lieutenant Colonel Bendell ordered the battalion
to form three separate company defensive perimeters "on favorable high
ground on both sides of Route 9, including Company M on Mike's Hill."30

After returning to its hill for the night. Company M also established
several small ambush sites. The 3d Platoon commander. Second Lieutenant
John S. Leffen, sent out an ambush squad and established a fire team
listening post at the bottom of the hill. According to Leffen, both
the squad and fire team as they arrived at their designated positions
reported there were North Vietnamese soldiers all around them. Lieutenant
Leffen pulled back the listening post, but left the ambush squad where
it was because of its "tactical importance."31

During the night of 26-27 January, North Vietnamese soldiers attempted
to infiltrate the Marine positions through a streambed to the west of
Mike's Hill and gullies and other streambeds to the north and east.**
On Mike's Hill, Lieutenant Leffen remembered that about 0500 on the
morning of the 27th, "we heard what sounded like 'wall to wall' NVA
all around our positions." He remarked on the poor noise discipline
of the enemy troops. Although the Marines could not hear the sound of
the movements of the NVA soldiers, "What gave them away was their constant
talking." A Marine mortarman, Frank Craven,*** with Company M several
years later recalled, "They were at the bottom of the hill and we were
at the middle of the hill . . . They didn't know it and we didn't know
it until ... we butted heads." According to Craven, "we heard some noise
and then it was automatic machine gun fire from then on. It was terrible."32

The fight for Mike's Hill would last through the entire afternoon
and spread to Route 9 and involve all three companies of the 3d Battalion.
On the hill, itself, the battle turned into a wild melee. Clambering
up three slopes of the hill, the North Vietnamese employed mortars,
rocket propelled grenades, and automatic weapons to cover their advance.
The Marines responded in kind. Lieutenant Leffen remembered "when we
ran out of bullets we threw grenades and misdelivered .50 cal rounds
in a variable and alternating fashion to keep the NVA honest until the
helos could bring us more ammunition."33 From an enlisted man's perspective,
Frank Craven recalled that it was "every man for himself. You still
work as a team somewhat . . . but as far as a coordinated formal thing,
all that gets wiped away. The thicker the battle the more informal and
it was very thick." Craven particularly remembered one machine gunner
at the top of the hill that kept the enemy back: "He just kept that
area sprayed."34

From a nearby hill to the east of Company M, Company L fired 60mm
mortars and rifle rounds into an exposed enemy flank. Lieutenant Colonel
Bendell, from his temporary command post on

* Colonel William L. Dick explained in his comments that once the
bridge was blown, "a change in plans was obviously required" and required
a "rapid reevaluation." Col William L. Dick, Comments on draft, dtd
1Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Dick Comments.

** Colonel Bendell commented that the enemy had moved into attack
positions under cover of darkness and that "it appeared their principle
attack was along the road where the battalion perimeter had been located
the night earlier," Bendell Comments.

*** Frank Craven later legally changed his name to Abdullah Hassan.







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