Page 189

Page 189 (1968: The Defining Year)

with the battalion sustaining 19 casualties and advancing "only 75
yards." Gravel remembered, "The going was slow. We would go, maybe a
block. We fought for two days over one building."42

Although both battalions encountered "moderate to heavy" enemy resistance
on the 5th, Lieutenant Colonel Cheatham's 2d Battalion, 5th Marines
made somewhat faster progress. About 1630, Captain Meadow's Company
G secured the main hospital building after a 90-minute firefight supported
by a M48 tank, 106mm recoilless rifles, and 3.5-inch rockets. The Marines
removed the civilian patients as best they could from the line of fire,
killed 4 NVA soldiers, and took 30 wounded prisoners. For the day, the
three companies of the battalion accounted for over 70 North Vietnamese
dead and 40 captured enemy weapons.43

The following morning, Cheatham's battalion continued clearing the
hospital complex with all three companies on line. Two of the companies,
H on the right and G in the center, met with relatively minor resistance,
and quickly consolidated their positions. Company F on the battalion's
left flank, however, took heavy fire from its front and pulled back
to call in both 81mm mortars and for one of the few times, even 105mm
howitzer support from Marine artillery forward gun sites. About 40 high
explosive 105mm shells fell upon the enemy. By late afternoon, the NVA
broke contact under fire and the Marine company secured the last of
the hospital buildings. Down's company sustained 4 dead and 11 wounded,
but killed over 20 of the enemy.44*

In the interim, Captain Meadow's Company G, from the hospital complex,
launched its attack against the provincial prison, just to the southwest.
While the 1st Platoon provided protective fire from the second story
of the main hospital building, Marine mortarmen and 106mm recoilless
rifle gunners blasted a hole in the prison walls. One Marine corporal
remembered that the Marines fired CS canisters into the gaping hole,
hoping to force the enemy troops out, but "they threw it [the CS] back
against us."45

Believing the NVA were also equipped with gas masks, the Marine infantry,
wearing their masks, cautiously searched the rooms and cells of the
prison beginning with the top floor. As a Marine squad leader, Sergeant
G. B. Zachary, related: "Clear the top deck and work your way down."
Second Lieutenant Michael A. McNiel, Company G's 1st Platoon commander,
described the taking of his unit's first prisoner, an NVA sniper, equipped
with both a SKS and a Ml rifle and eight grenades. Although McNiel had
a Thompson submachine gun in the man's face, the prisoner tried to jump
Sergeant Zachary and take one of the latter's grenades. The Marine lieutenant
wrestled the NVA soldier down to the floor with a "half nelson" and
then bound his hands behind his back. Yet, the Marines "had to carry
him down, with him fighting all the way." According to McNiel's account,
his platoon took eight more prisoners, who threw "down their weapons,
raised their hands and came walking out."** In the capture of the prison,
Company G killed 36 NVA at a cost of only 1 Marine wounded.46

On the 2d Battalion's right flank, Captain Christmas' Company H encountered
tough going after it left the hospital and pushed forward toward the
nearby provincial headquarters. Like its sister companies, Company H
employed mortars, gas, and 106mm recoilless rifles to soften up the
objective. A Marine driver of one of the flatbed mules mounting a 106mm
recoilless rifle later stated:

NVA threw everything they had at us. We took incoming mortars and rockets
and automatic fire. We had to push the mule out, fire, and pull it back
in under heavy sniper fire while we were firing. We opened up the way
for the 'grunts' [the infantry] to take the building.

Two Marine tanks came up to support the attack. One of the tanks took
two direct hits from B-40 rockets but continued to fire. In addition,
the Marines expended over 100 81mm mortar shells, 60 recoilless rifle
rounds, and 4 E8 CS launchers in support of the assault on the headquarters.
Wearing their gas masks, the tired Marines of Company H, in midafternoon,
finally overwhelmed the NVA defenders in the provincial headquarters.
They killed 27 enemy soldiers, took

* Then captain, now Brigadier General Downs, recalled years later,
that after securing the hospital complex, his company entered a nearby
building by the Perfume River. As Downs joined his men, one of his platoon
sergeants "had two Vietnamese spread eagled up against the wall." When
the company commander asked who they were, the sergeant answered that
one of them was "trying to tell me that he is the mayor of Hue." One
of the Vietnamese turned out to be Lieutenant Colonel Phan Van Khoa,
the South Vietnamese Thua Thien Province Chief who had been hiding until
then in an attic cubby hole with his body guard. Downs Taped Comments,
Dec92. See also Chapter 12.

** Lieutenant McNiel's version is somewhat at odds with the official
after-action report. The report shows only two prisoners captured in
the fight for the prison. If the report is accurate, McNiel may have
confused the five ARVN soldiers and two South Vietnamese prison officials
who were liberated in the battle with North Vietnamese soldiers. 2dLt
Michael A. McNiel in LCpl Charles D. Bedford et al., intvw, 10 May 68,
Tape 2673 (Oral HistColl, MCHC); 2/5 AAR Hue City.

Page 189 (1968: The Defining Year)