accompanied by a Navy chief petty officer, sought him out and "made
the valid observation that we were moving too slow." Batcheller stated
that he was "never clear" about the status of LaMontagne, "who never
tried to assume command," but offered excellent advice. Actually LaMontagne
was on the way to the LCU Ramp to supervise the loading of 3d Marine
Division (Rear) equipment and personnel who were still redeploying from
Phu Bai to Dong Ha.29*
As the Marine company approached the southern suburbs of the city, they began to come under increased sniper fire. In one village, the troops dismounted and cleared the houses on either side of the main street before proceeding. The convoy then crossed the An Cuu Bridge, which spanned the Phu Cam canal, into the city. Caught in a murderous crossfire from enemy automatic weapons and B^O rockets, the Marines once more clambered off the trucks and tanks. Sergeant Alfredo Gonzalez, a 21-year old Texan and acting 3d Platoon commander, took cover with his troops in a nearby building. When enemy machine gun fire wounded one Marine in the legs, Gonzalez ran into the open road, slung the injured man over his shoulder, and despite being hit himself by fragments of a B-40 rocket, returned to the relative safety of the building. Responding to orders from Captain Batcheller, Gonzalez rallied his men, who were on the point, and the column was again on the move.30
This time the Marine convoy only advanced about 200 meters before Communist snipers again forced them to stop. The enemy was on both sides of the road with a machine gun bunker on the west side of the road. A B-40 rocket killed the tank commander in the lead tank. At that point. Sergeant Gonzales, on the east side of the road with some men of his platoon, crawled to a dike directly across from the machine gun bunker. With his Marines laying down a base of fire, Gonzales jumped up and threw four grenades into the bunker, killing all the occupants.
As the Marine company cautiously made its way northward in the built-up
area, Captain Batcheller maintained "sporadic radio contact"
with Lieutenant Colonel Gravel at Phu Bai. For the most part, however,
he heard on his artillery and air radio nets nothing but Vietnamese.
The convoy reached a "causeway or elevated highway in the middle of
a large cultivated area," and once again came under enemy sniper fire.
Batcheller went to the assistance of a fallen man and was himself wounded
seriously in both legs. Gunnery Sergeant J. L. Canley, a giant of a
man, six feet, four inches tall and weighing more than 240 pounds, then
took command of the company.
As Company A engaged the enemy on the outskirts of Hue, Colonel Hughes, the 1st Marines commander, requested permission from General LaHue to reinforce the embattled company. The only available reinforcements were the command group of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines and Company G, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, which earlier that morning had become the Phu Bai reaction force in place of Company A. Lieutenant Colonel Gravel, the 1st Battalion commander, remembered that there was no intelligence on the situation in Hue and that his own battalion was "strung out" in the Phu Bai sector with elements still at Quang Tri. He had never met Captain Charles L. Meadows, the Company G commander, until "that first day." Gravel said the only planning he was able to accomplish was to give the order: "Get on the trucks, men." For his part, Captain Meadows recalled that his task was to "get into the trucks with . . . [his] company, go up to the 1st ARVN Division headquarters and escort the CG [commanding general] back down to Phu Bai." The mission should "take no longer than two to three hours."31**
Crossing the An Cuu Bridge, Lieutenant Colonel Gravel's relief column
reached Company A in the early afternoon. With the linking up of the
two forces, Gravel kept the tanks with him, but sent the trucks and
the wounded, including Captain Batcheller, back to Phu Bai. The vehicles
returned without escort, just "truck drivers and the wounded. Some of
the wounded could fire weapons." Lieutenant Colonel Gravel determined
that this was the only feasible way to evacuate the wounded because
"we weren't going to get
* Lieutenant Colonel Karl J. Fontenot, who at the time commanded the 3d Tank
Battalion, remembered that the 3d Battalion was in the midst of displacing
from Phu Bai to Quang Tri and that the last four tanks, two gun and two
flame tanks, in the battalion were slated to go by LCD from Hue to Dong
Ha. According to Fontenot, LaMontagne was to supervise the loading of
these tanks at the LCU. Fontenot recalled that he happened by chance to
be at Phu Bai on the 31st, and was informed that the MACV compound was
under attack and that the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines was going to Hue.
He claimed that he radioed these tanks and "briefed them on the enemy
threat and advised them to load and prepare to fight." LtCol Karl J. Fontenot,
Comments on draft, n.d. [Dec94] (Vietnam Comment File).
** According to the 1st Marines account. Colonel Hughes directed Gravel
to reinforce Company A at 1030. The 1st Battalion, 1st Marines Journal
shows that the command group departed Phu Bai at 1243 that afternoon.
1st Mar ComdC, Jan68, p. m-A-4; 1/1 Jnl, 31Jan68, Encl, 1/1 ComdC, Jan68.