Page 197

Page 197 (1968: The Defining Year)

grounds, which separated the Vietnamese and American Marine sectors.22

As was often the case, events overtook the plans. Although the Vietnamese
Marine Task Force A and its 1st Battalion arrived at Phu Bai from Saigon
on 9 February and came under the operational control of the 1st ARVN
Division, the Vietnamese Marines remained at Phu Bai. In a meeting with
the Vietnamese Marine commander, Major Hoang Thong, at Task Force X-Ray
headquarters, Brigadier General LaHue suggested that Thong deploy immediately
to the Citadel. Major Thong, however, declined until the rest of his
command joined him. The Vietnamese commander explained that he "was
acting under written instructions promulgated by the Vietnamese Joint
General Staff which prohibited piecemeal [commitment] . . . of his force."23*

The support elements of the Vietnamese Marine Task Force reached Phu
Bai on the night of 10 February from Saigon and Major Thong began his
preparations to move the 1st Battalion into the Citadel. On the morning
of 11 February, U.S. helicopters started the helilift of the Vietnamese
Task Force headquarters and 1st Battalion into the Citadel. Low ceiling
and drizzle forced a halt in the air movement of the Vietnamese Marines
with only the task force headquarters and one company of the 1st Battalion
in the old city. General LaHue proposed to Major Thong that he order
the remainder of the battalion be trucked to southern Hue and then board
LCM (landing craft mechanized) for the trip downriver to a landing site
north of the Citadel. The Marines would then move on foot into the city.
Again Major Thong refused "as he did not feel that either route was
sufficiently secured." It would be two days before additional units
of the Vietnamese Marine task force joined the one company in the Citadel.24

In the meantime, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines began to go into the
old city. Shortly after 1045 on 11 February, Marine CH-46 "Sea Knight"
helicopters lifted three platoons of Company B from the Phu Bai airfield
to the Mang Ca compound in the Citadel. Enemy gunfire wounded
the pilot of the helicopter carrying the 3d Platoon, forcing him to
abort the mission and return to Phu Bai with the troops still on board.
Later that day, Company A with five tanks attached from the 1st Tank
Battalion embarked in a Navy LCU at the ramp in southern Hue. After
their relatively uneventful cross-river passage, the Marine company
and tanks joined the two platoons of Company B at the 1st ARVN Division

On 11 February as well, Major Robert H. Thompson, the commanding officer
of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and his command group accompanied
his remaining companies from the Phu Loc sector to Phu Bai. Only 10
days before, Colonel Bohn, the regimental commander, had chosen Thompson,
who had served with him before as a battalion operations officer, to
take over the battalion after the wounding of its previous commanding
officer. Before assuming command of the battalion, Thompson, a lieutenant
colonel selectee, had been the III MAF Embarkation officer." The NVA
had prepared a rather undignified assumption of command ceremony for
the new battalion commander. Thompson recalled:

moment I stepped off the helicopter [at Phu Loc] we received mortar
incoming. My first 15 minutes with 1/5 was spent at the bottom of a
muddy fighting hole with my baggage and several Marines piled on top
of me.26

When Major Thompson arrived at Phu Bai, he reported to General LaHue.
The Task Force X-Ray commander told him that the 1st Marines had largely
cleared southern Hue, "but that the 1st ARVN Division was having a very
difficult time in the Citadel." General LaHue stated that Major Thompson's
battalion would be given a zone of action in the Citadel to assist the
ARVN in cleaning out the remaining NVA forces from the city. LaHue expressed
some concern about Thompson's rank or rather lack of it. According to
the battalion commander, LaHue feared that "since I was only a major,
I might be dominated or overly influenced by General Truong." General
LaHue even suggested "making me a brevet colonel." Major Thompson replied
that he did not believe that unusual action would be necessary, since
he did not usually wear rank insignia in combat. The battalion commander
had the impression that "no one seemed to know

* Colonel Talman C. Budd II, who as a major served as an advisor to
the Vietnamese Marine Task Force at Hue, commented that Major Thong
was correct in that Vietnamese Armed Forces "policy precluded the piecemeal
commitment of an operational unit so waiting until the other battalion
(the 5th) arrived was appropriate." Col Talman C. Budd II, Comments
on draft, dtd 30Mar95 (Vietnam Comment File).

** Colonel Rex C. Dillow, who served as the III MAF G^ or logistic
officer, recalled that Major Thompson had headed the III MAF embarkation
transportation section and had the responsibility for shipping of resupply
to Marine units. According to Dillow, Thompson had always wanted an
infantry assignment, but still had done an "outstanding job" for him.
Dillow stated that he, therefore, "offered no objection when Colonel
Bohn wanted him for the 5th Marines." Col Rex C. Dillow, Comments on
draft, dtd 10Nov94 (Vietnam Comment File).

Page 197 (1968: The Defining Year)