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they rushed towards us." He recalled that some broke through, but
"became trapped between us and the 2d Platoon."38


In the meantime, Lieutenant Colonel Rockey and his small command group had established the battalion command post just below the island on the southern bank of the tributary to coordinate the operation and its supporting fires. Initially the command group consisted of the battalion commander; his operations officer, Captain Gene W. Bowers; the assistant operations officer. Captain Lee C. Gound; and "artillery and mortar F.O.'s, helicopter support team, radio operators, and a few strap hangers who came along for the ride." The first disappointment was the failure of the ARVN forces to support the Marine attack. Although, as Captain Bowers recalled, he heard some outgoing firing from our left flank, but "never saw any ARVNs move forward in the paddy." Bowers sent a senior liaison staff NCO "to find their headquarters to make contact . . . but he came back, saying the ARVNs were in the defensive mode, no one spoke English, and they ignored him." Lieutenant Colonel Rockey during the interim ordered a section of 106mm Recoilless Rifles, mounted on small flatbed four-wheeled drive vehicles, called Mechanical Mules, to reinforce the temporary command group from the 3d Battalion's combat base, some 9,000 meters to the south. The Mule-mounted 106s, however, did not arrive until after dark.39


For the command group, the first crisis occurred when the enemy struck the 3d Platoon at the footbridge, causing several casualties. Among the dead was the platoon leader. Captain Bowers remembered talking to a wounded lance corporal who called the situation desperate and "pled for immediate reinforcements . . . ." With the permission of Lieutenant Colonel Rockey, Bowers hastily formed a provisional platoon of about 30 men and placed it under the command of his assistant, Captain Gound. According to Bowers, he pressed all the available men in the CP into the platoon including mortarmen, radiomen, recoilless rifle men, and even a chaplain's assistant. He told Gound to take his makeshift force and attack across the bridge and relieve the embattled 3d Platoon.40


According to Bowers, when Gound's troops departed, the only people left in the CP were Lieutenant Colonel Rockey and himself. The battalion commander "carried the Division Tactical net radio and monitored the artillery nets." Bowers carried the battalion tactical net radio, monitoring the forward air controller net as well as the company's tactical net. When the provisional platoon arrived at the 3d Platoon's position, Captain Gound radioed Bowers and asked for 81mm support against enemy troops he could see to his front. Bowers ran to where the mortars were guarded by one morrarman who told the Marine captain that "he was a new replacement ammo humper, who had no idea how to aim and fire the mortar." Captain Bowers told the man to help him break out the ammunition and then for about half an hour, the two "provided overhead free gun, dead reckoning, zero charge fire support to Captain Gound's platoon," while the latter "adjusted the fire by saying ... 'a little right,' a little closer,' and so forth." This broke the enemy attempt to overrun the Marines at the bridge.41


With the support of artillery, air, and mortars, together with their individual weapons and claymore mines, the Marines of Company I broke the back of the enemy attack. According to Gundersen with the 1st Platoon, "the sounds of the any, the rockets, the mortars, the grenades combined with the eerie swaying of the illumination on their parachutes created a hellish vision. Never before, or since have I been in such an acute state of fear." The fight, however, had gone out of the VC who began to disperse into small groups and tried to make their escape off the island. Captain Bowers recalled that under the light of the flares, the Marines reported "what they described as 'hundreds' ... of heads of swimmers attempting to escape across the river to the east." On the other bank of the river, however, the small task force from the 3d Amphibian Tractor Battalion blocked their way. The amtrac troops rounded up in the water about 105 detainees fleeing the island.42


On the morning of the 31st, the Marines of Company I, now reinforced by the ARVN and the AmTrac Marines, surveyed the results of the fighting and continued to mop up the remnants of the enemy force. At dawn, near the positions of the 1st Platoon, John Gundersen remembered "bodies of the enemy soldiers were strewn about not more than 15 meters in front of our perimeter, swelling indepth in front of the machine gun to as much as six deep. I was awed by the sight of all those bodies." He observed that the VC never realized that the Marines had moved from the fighting holes in the lower path and they "spent the whole night and their lives attacking those holes." Captain Bowers related that another "60 or so dead enemy were counted in front of Gound's position." Company I and the small command group remained in the sector until about 1500 on the 31st and then returned to their original combat camp to the south. According to Marine sources, the heavy action on this small island




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