Page 131

Page 131 (1968: The Defining Year)

two Marine companies advanced on line. Company M also established a
platoon blocking position north of Lam Xuan. At dusk, under cover of
North Vietnamese guns from north of the DMZ, the NVA troops tried to
withdraw. With a flare plane overhead, the Marines continued to press
the attack against the enemy. Most of the NVA in the hamlet, nevertheless,
managed to make good their retreat, leaving a rear guard to hold off
the Marines. About 2100, Companies K and L consolidated their positions
in Lam Xuan. The following morning the Marines continued with their
mopping up. At 1445 the afternoon of the 29th, the two companies reported
that Lam Xuan was "completely secured." The Marines, however, once more
paid a price in casualties: 8 dead and 41 wounded. They had killed 69
of the enemy and captured 2 prisoners.60

The war still continued to have its surreal qualities. While the fighting
expanded all along the DMZ, the allies still prepared for the usual
annual Tet truce. According to MACV directives, the truce period was
supposed to extend for 36 hours beginning at 1800 on 29 January. In
the DMZ sector, BLT 3/1 s fight for Lam Xuan made the implementation
of the truce very unlikely. Major General Tompkins recalled that 30
minutes before the prospective cease-fire he received a telephone call
from General Cushman, "that exempted the 3d MarDiv... from any such
foolishness. It was to be 'business as usual' for northern I Corps."
An entry in the BLT 3/1 journal read, '29[January] 1800H- Received information
that the Tet cease-fire' will not go into effect." Captain Regal, whose
company still remained in Lam Xuan, remembered that he took no chances,
cease-fire or no cease-fire. At 1800, his company remained on alert
and a few minutes later "we again received the inevitable 40 rounds
of incoming." Five minutes after the bombardment the message arrived
"to disregard all previous traffic regarding the 'cease-fire;' it would
not apply to the northern provinces."61

On the day of Tet, 31 January 1968, while Company K remained in Lam Xuan, BLT 3/1 was once more engaged in a struggle for another of the hamlets on the northern bank of the Cua Viet, Mai Xa Thi. Strategically located where Jones Creek emptied into the Cua Viet, the hamlet spread over both banks of the smaller waterway. This time, Captain Raymond A. Thomas' Company M spearheaded the assault against the hamlet. Under cover of darkness, Thomas' company moved out of My Loc into attack positions just southwest of Mai Xa Thi. To the north. Captain Regal sent one of his platoons from Lam Xuan towards Mai Xa Thi, about 2,000 meters to the south. The plan was for the Company K platoon to make a diversionary attack by fire, while Company M made the main assault from the opposite direction.62

The Marines achieved surprise and the plan seemed to be working. About 0700, the Company K platoon opened fire from its positions north of the hamlet. About 15 minutes later, under cover of supporting artillery and morning fog, Company M moved through a tree line, into an old graveyard, and then across a rice paddy into the hamlet. The North Vietnamese soon recovered from their initial shock and fought back with RPGs, .50-caliber machine guns, and mortars from covered positions within Mai Xa Thi. The enemy even employed artillery in the Demilitarized Zone against the Marines in the hamlet. With his right platoon heavily engaged, Captain Thomas attempted to call in a close air strike, but the fog had not lifted and the sky remained overcast.63

At this point. Lieutenant Colonel McQuown decided to reinforce Thomas. He sent Company I up the Cua Viet in LVTs to take over Thomas' left flank. At the same time, a platoon ofLVTH-6s, amphibian tractors equipped with 105mm howitzers, arrived to provide direct artillery support. Even with the reinforcements, the Marines only made slight progress as the enemy continued to resist. From positions across Jones Creek, enemy gunners fired rocket-propelled grenades into the Marine flank. Marine artillery fire soon subdued the North Vietnamese gunners, but the Marine advance remained stalled. While Company I took over his left flank, Captain Thomas and the remaining three platoons had joined the right flank platoon. Frustrated in their attempts to force the enemy out of their well dug-in positions, the Marines needed assistance. About 1500, the two Marine companies received word to pull back as the reduced cloud cover now permitted an air strike. The bombing missions proved somewhat of a disappointment because "of haze and many duds."64

About 1600, Companies I and M returned to the attack. Lieutenant Colonel McQuown now sent in Company L to follow in trace the first two companies. While still resisting, the enemy began to give way. At 1900, the three companies reported that they were making better progress. A flare plane arrived overhead and the Marines continued to press forward under illumination. By 2130, the Marines had secured about 80 percent of the hamlet and radioed back that "sniper fire continues, but organized resistance has ceased." The following day,

Page 131 (1968: The Defining Year)