(1968: The Defining Year)
Department of Defense (USMC) Photo A371416
Marines of Company L, 3d Battalion, 5th Marines use
walls and the sides of houses to refer their advance on a key North
Vietnamese position in bitter street fighting in the Citadel. On 21
February, the company reinforced the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, relieving
the 1st Battalion's Company B.
tured all three buildings with only minimum resistance by the enemy.
Major Thompson later speculated that the North Vietnamese withdrew from
the buildings during the night to sleep elsewhere. In the morning about
daybreak, the enemy troops started to move back, providing 'a turkey
shoot' for the Marines of Company A. According to one of the Marine
enlisted men, 'Hell, the first thing in the morning we saw six NVA .
. . just standing on the wall. We dusted them all off.' According to
Major Thompson, 'this threw the NVA into utter confusion and . . . gave
our other companies the spirit they needed to continue the attack with
zest.' Despite the initial success, the North Vietnamese 'defended the
ground within the zone of action with tenacity.' By the end of the day,
the battalion had killed about 16 North Vietnamese, taken l prisoner,
and captured 5 individual weapms at a cost of 3 dead and 14 wounded
Marines. The battalion was still about 100 yards short of the southeastern
The end, however, was in sight. On the 21st, Company L, 3d Battalion,
5ch Marines had relieved Company B, which received a well-earned rest.
The following morning, the 1st Battalion prepared for the final assault
on the southern wall. Lieutenant Polk carefully briefed Company A, which
this time was to be in the vanguard of the attack. At 0930, the Marines
once more pushed forward. Except for some scattered snipers and an occasional
mortar round, the enemy seemingly had melted away. Upon reaching the
southeastern wall of the Citadel, Lance Corporal James Avella took out
a small American flag from his pack and fastened it to 'a sagging telegraph
pole.' The battalion's after-action report documented this event with
the phrase, an 'element' of Company A 'hoisted our National Ensign.'
Upon the securing of the wall. Major Thompson ordered the new company
under his command, Company L, to capture the southern gate and the immediate
area outside the Citadel leading to the bridge across the river. The
company commander, Captain John D. Niotis, made his preparations for
the assault. Major Thompson set up his temporary command post in a building
about 300 meters from the objective so that he could witness the attack.
Thompson recalled it was 'a classic combined arms effort that could
not have been executed better on a blackboard.' The sun was out for
the first time in two weeks and Marine fixed-wing aircraft dropped napalm
within 800 meters of the advancing troops. A M48 tank provided suppressive
fire to the company's rear at enemy positions on the palace wall. At