Page 174

Page 174 (1968: The Defining Year)



bridge and the South Vietnamese tankers in light M24 tanks "refused
to go."35


As the Marine infantry started across, an enemy machine gun on the other end of the bridge opened up, killing and wounding several Marines. One Marine, Lance Corporal Lester A. Tully, later awarded the Silver Star for his action, ran forward, threw a grenade, and silenced the gun. Two platoons successfully made their way to the other side. They turned left and immediately came under automatic weapons and recoilless rifle fire from the Citadel wall. Lieutenant Colonel Gravel recollected that it was late in the afternoon and the sun was in their eyes: "We were no match for what was going on ... I decided to withdraw."36


This was easier said then done. The enemy was well dug-in and "firing from virtually every building in Hue city" north of the river. Lieutenant Colonel Gravel radioed back to Colonel Adkisson "for some vehicle support... to come and help us recover our wounded." According to Gravel, "the trucks didn't come and they didn't come . . . ." Becoming more and more agitated, the battalion commander took his radio man and an interpreter "to find out where in the hell the vehicles were." They came upon some U.S. naval personnel and a few of the American advisors in two Navy trucks and brought them back to the bridge. In the meantime, the Marines commandeered some abandoned Vietnamese civilian vehicles and used them as makeshift ambulances to carry out the wounded. Among the casualties on the bridge was Major Walter D. Murphy, the 1st Battalion S-3 or operations officer, who later died of his wounds. Captain Meadows remembered that he lost nearly a third of his company, either wounded or killed, "going across that one bridge and then getting back across that bridge."37*

By 2000, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines had established defensive
positions near the MACV compound and a helicopter landing zone in a
field just west of the Navy LCU Ramp in southern Hue. On that first
day, the two Marine companies in Hue had sustained casualties of 10
Marines killed and 56 wounded. During the night, the battalion called
in a helicopter into the landing zone to take out the worst of the wounded.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Gravel, "it was darker than hell and
foggy," and the pilot radioed '"Where are you? I can't see.'" The sergeant
on the ground, talking the aircraft down, knocked on the nose of the
CH-46, and replied, '"Right out here, sir.'" Gravel marvelled that the
sergeant "had a knack about working with helicopter pilots . . . He
brought it [the helicopter] right on top of us."38**

The American command still had little realization of the situation
in Hue. Brigadier General LaHue later commented: "Early intelligence
did not reveal the quantity of enemy involved that we subsequently found
were committed to Hue."*** General Westmoreland's headquarters had,
if possible, even less appreciation of the magnitude of the NVA attack
on the city. Westmoreland cabled General Earle G. Wheeler, the Chairman
of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the "enemy has approximately
three companies in the Hue Citadel and Marines have sent a battalion
into the area to clear them out."39

* Lieutenant Colonel Gravel in his letter to Batcheller gave the number
of Marines from Company G that were wounded as 44. Eric Hammel in his
account gives the casualties for Company G as 5 dead and 44 wounded,
which probably does not include Major Murphy. Colonel Meadows, years
later, commented that "to my recollection LtCol Gravel did not join
us on the other side of the bridge. I remember calling him on the radio
and giving him my sitreps and eventually the urgent need for vehicles."
Gravel Itr, Feb68; Eric Hammel, Fire in the Streets, The Battle
for Hue, Tet 1968
(Chicago, 111: Contemporary Books, 1991), p.
90; Col Charles L. Meadows, Comments on draft, dtd 13Dec94 (Vietnam
Comment File).

** One of the co-authors expressed doubts about the accuracy of the
above account: "Not very long ago, I stood on an LZ trying to communicate
with a CH-46 pilot through the helicopter's own 1C (internal communication}
system. Impossible, and this helicopter was on the ground, at low power.
A hovering helicopter is louder by at least a magnitude. I have been
under them . . , when they are less than 10 feet off the deck and I
can tell you that I don't believe this story for a minute. Having said
all this, I still feel it's too good to pass up." Maj Leonard A. Blasiol,
Comments on draft chapter, dtd 30Jun88 (Vietnam Comment File).

*** General Earl E. Anderson, then the III MAF Chief of Staff at Da
Nang as a brigadier general, recalled that he was in "constant contact
by phone . . . [with] Frosty LaHue .... neither of us sleeping more
than an hour or two a night." Gen Earl E. Anderson, Comments on draft,
dtd 18Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File).




Page 174 (1968: The Defining Year)