Combat Base, at least one battalion of the regiment had infiltrated
between the C-A Combat Base manned by Company C, 1st Battalion, 3d Marines
and the Cua Viet River. With the obvious mission to interrupt the flow
of supplies along the river to Dong Ha, the 3d Battalion, 803d Regiment
occupied those hamlets fronting on the river and a few just above.55
For the most part, the enemy troops built rather formidable fortifications in these hamlets. As in My Loc, their first line of defense was on the edge of the hamlet or village. They constructed these defenses in depth with bunkers, fighting holes, interconnecting tunnels, and trench lines often extending into the center of the hamlet. The North Vietnamese soldiers usually converted the villagers' "family type bomb shelters" into fortified bunkers for their own use. From the nature of the defenses and the skill with which they used them as reflected in My Loc, the enemy intended to hold their positions unless forced out by overwhelming strength.56
For BLT 3/1 the taking of My Loc was only the beginning of the attempt
to clear the enemy out of the Cua Viet sector. Several small hamlets,
while not on the river, but just above it, provided cover for the units
of the 803d. On the following day, 26 January, another company
of Lieutenant Colonel McQuown's command, Company I, encountered much
the same, if not even more tenacious resistance, in the hamlet of Lam
Xuan as Company K in My Loc.
On the morning of the 26th, while Company K continued to secure My Loc, Captain Lawrence R. Moran's Company I covered the northern flank. After a few enemy probes and calling an air strike on Lam Xuan, about 1500 meters to the northwest, Moran's company, that afternoon, advanced upon the latter hamlet. Attacking from east to west, Company I at first met hardly any opposition. The enemy troops allowed the Marines to move into the first tree line of the hamlet before opening up. Firing from well-concealed positions, especially scrub brush immediately to the rear of the Marines, the enemy, according to the battalion's report, "inflicted moderate casualties and . . . [caused] the attack to bog down."57
Lieutenant Colonel McQuown immediately sent in his attached tanks
and an attached Ontos platoon to assist the beleaguered company. Even
with the tanks and the Ontos, the latter equipped with 106mm recoilless
rifles, Moran had difficulty in disengaging. Under covering artillery
fire, smoke shells, and close air strikes, it took the Marine company
more than five hours to extract all of its casualties from Lam Xuan.
With night coming on, Lieutenant Colonel McQuown decided to pull back
Company I and concentrate the rest of his forces rather than continue
the attack. In this first fight for Lam Xuan, Company I suffered 8 dead
and 41 wounded. The Marines claimed to have killed 17 of the enemy and
taken 2 prisoners.
The first phase of Operation Badger Catch was over. At 1400 on the 27th, the amphibious ready group commander relinquished command of the forces ashore to the 3d Marine Division. In turn, General Tompkins gave operational control of BLT 3/1 to Lieutenant Colonel Toner, the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion commander and senior to Lieutenant Colonel McQuown. The 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion remained responsible for Operation Napoleon and the BLT operation became Operation Saline. For Lieutenant Colonel McQuown, outside of new reporting procedures, his task remained the same.58
On the 27th, the battalion consolidated its positions before continuing with the attack. Lieutenant Colonel Toner provided the battalion with five more tanks, the ones detached from the SLF Alpha battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Weise's BLT 2/4. At 1955 that evening, Lieutenant Colonel McQuown informed the amtrac battalion commander that he planned to attack Lam Xuan the following morning.
During the night and early morning hours of 28 January, two Marine fixed-wing aircraft carried out radar-controlled bombstrikes on Lam Xuan. This was followed shortly after 0800 by naval gunfire missions by Navy ships in the South China Sea. Then, supported by two tank platoons and the Ontos platoon. Captain Edward S. Hempel's Company L took its turn against the Lam Xuan defenses. Despite the display of U.S. supporting arms, the North Vietnamese unit in Lam Xuan remained undaunted and relatively unscathed. It had constructed its bunkers and trench-lines with overhead covers which were, as Lieutenant Colonel McQuown observed, "only subject to damage from direct hits."59
As the tanks moved up into the attack positions, enemy mines disabled three of them. Another fell into a deep bomb crater full of water and became submerged. Still with the direct fire support of the tanks and the recoilless rifle fire of the Ontos, Company L, attacking from east to west, made slow but deliberate progress. As the enemy resistance stiffened, Captain Hempel pulled his men back about noon, so that Marine supporting arms could work over the area once more. Lieutenant Colonel McQuown then reinforced Company L with Captain Regal's Company K. The