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The following day, 29 January, the battalion reinforced by tanks and
Company H, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines returned to the destroyed bridge
on Route 9. The mission was to provide security for an engineer unit
building a bypass for the bridge and to open the road for vehicular
traffic. Company L this time occupied Mike's Hill, while Company M and
the tanks patrolled Route 9 west to the Khe Gia Bridge. Company H, 2d
Battalion, 9th Marines remained with the engineers at the downed span.
For the most part, the road-clearing mission was uneventful. Enemy gunners
once mortared Mike's Hill which resulted in two wounded Marines from
Company L. On the road patrol, a nervous Marine mistakenly shot and
wounded a second Marine, whom the first thought to be an enemy soldier.
The infantry-tank patrol also came across 30 enemy bodies and several
weapons just north of Route 9. At the damaged bridge site, Company H
took two wounded North Vietnamese soldiers prisoners. At 1530 that afternoon,
the engineers completed the work on the bypass and "a huge Dong Ha convoy
began moving through the bridge point, enroute to Camp Carroll." Route
9 was once more open.

With the completion of opening Route 9, the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines
returned to Camp Carroll, but remained under the operational control
of the 4th Marines. Lieutenant Colonel Bendell sent a personal message
to the officers and men of his command, thanking them for their efforts:
"You may all take pride in a good job, well done." The following day,
the battalion received a message from General Westmoreland, the MACV
commander, complimenting "the officers and men of 3/4 for the aggressive
attack against the enemy's 64th Regiment . . . This action
undoubtedly pre-empted enemy attack against Camp Carroll."40

Despite the hard-won accomplishment of reopening Route 9, the identification
of the 64th NVA Regiment had ominous undertones for the Marine
command. Intelligence officers were now sure that a new enemy division,
the 320th NVA, had replaced the 324B NVA Division
in the western Demilitarized Zone. The new division consisted of the
48th and 56th NVA Regiments in addition to the 64th.*
All the prisoners captured by the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines were from
the 64th, and most were recent draftees. This new enemy regiment
had crossed the Ben Hai about 10 days previously, apparently with the
mission of cutting Route 9 and isolating Camp Carroll and the other
bases in the Lancaster area. There was no doubt that there would be
another attempt.41

A Lull in Leatherneck Square

For Colonel Richard B. Smith's 9th Marines in Leatherneck Square,
things had been relatively quiet. Because of the uncertainties of enemy
intentions in the DMZ, on 20 January, General Westmoreland had agreed
to a III MAF request to suspend work on the barrier until the situation
clarified. The 9th Marines continued to be responsible for the defense
of the A-3 and A-4 (Con Thien) Strongpoints just below the cleared trace,
and their supporting combat bases. On the 21st, enemy gunners fired
upon the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines, then still under the 9th Marines
in positions about six kilometers northeast of Con Thien, with about
300 rounds of mixed caliber artillery and mortar rounds. The battalion
sustained 10 casualties, all wounded. Until the end of the month, there
were several small actions, but no major attempt of the North Vietnamese
units to penetrate in strength the Marine defenses.42

For the most part, the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines at Con Thien bore
the brunt of whatever enemy activity there was, largely continuing mortar
and artillery bombardment. Having already lost one commander to enemy
mortars, the 2d Battalion earlier had hopes that in Operation Checkers,
it would leave Con Thien and rejoin its parent regiment, the 1st Marines.
Major General Tompkins, the 3d Marine Division commander, however, told
General Cushman that "with present enemy threat.. . the relief of 2/1
at Con Thien is postponed until after Tet."43

The small hill, only 160 meters high, but less than two miles south
of the Demilitarized Zone, remained a key terrain feature for the Marines
and a favorite target for North Vietnamese gunners and small infantry
probes. Shortly after noon on 22 January, the enemy bombarded the Marine
strongpoint with 100 rounds of 82mm mortar, followed by 130 rounds of
152mm shells from guns within North Vietnam. The battalion sustained
2 men killed and 16 wounded. One-half hour later, about 1,000 meters
north of the base, Companies F and G encountered a North Vietnamese
infantry company. The enemy unit withdrew under

* There is a minor question whether the 64th NVA was involved
in the fighting for Route 9 from 24-29 January. According to the 3d
Marine Division's after-action report for Lancaster II, dated over a
year after the action, the 64th was in reserve, while the other
two regiments attacked Route 9. It claims that prisoners captured in
the action "substantiated this intelligence." Yet, all the contemporary
documents refer only to the 64th identified in this fighting.
If the 64th was in reserve, it appears contradictory that the
prisoners captured by the Marines would be from that regiment.




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