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Marines commander and in charge of the operation, calling him, "an
extremely competent Marine, a good leader," but "frustrated as we all
were without adequate resources to do the job . . . ."54


During the month, there were also continued clashes to the west of Napoleon/Saline in the 2d ARVN Regiment sector and in the 9th Marines' Kentucky area of operations. Located between Napoleon/Saline and Kentucky, the 2d ARVN operated largely east of Route 1 and west of Jones Creek. For the most part, the ARVN regiment gave a good account of itself. In their most significant engagement, on 12 March just east of Route 1 and about 2,000 meters below Gio Linh, the South Vietnamese unit claimed to have killed over 200 of the enemy at a cost of 4 ARVN killed and 15 wounded.55


Further to the west along the DMZ front, the North Vietnamese remained active in the 9th Marines' Kentucky sector. Most of the action centered in the area between Gio Linh and Con Thien. On 3 March, in one of the more significant of the encounters. Company L, 3d Battalion, 3d Marines intercepted an NVA battalion attempting to infiltrate the Marine positions. The battalion maintained a two-company outpost on Hill 28 just north of the A-3 Strong Point, manned by Companies I and L. On the morning of the 3d, Captain Roger Zensen, the Company L commander, accompanied his 2d Platoon on a reconnaissance patrol to the northwest. Just before noon, at one of the patrol checkpoints, the Marines "spotted an NVA soldier about 800-1,000 meters to the north. He appeared to be an officer with binoculars scanning the terrain to the south in our direction." Zensen recalled that the platoon sergeant asked him for permission to shoot at the man with a M16, but the company commander denied the request so as not to give away their position. Captain Zensen later wrote, "Oh if we only had our snipers, it would have been a sure kill." Instead he had his enlisted artillery forward observer call in a fire mission. The Marine platoon then checked out the area "right along the southern edge of the DMZ." While finding no enemy casualties, there was "obvious evidence of recent activity."56


At that point, the Marine platoon came under rifle and grenade fire. The Marines returned fire but the enemy troops continued to close and Captain Zensen requested reinforcements. The only available forces were two platoons of his own company on Hill 28, 600-800 meters to the southeast. At the same time, an air observer called in fixed-wing airstrikes and helped to coordinate artillery missions. Zensen remembered that the enemy "moved in close to avoid the air strikes" and also "circled our right flank." Another 20 or so enemy troops took up position to the Marine rear, taking cover in a bomb shelter. With the assistance of machine gun fire, the platoon prevented the NVA from advancing any further until the "AO was able to direct the fire of Huey gunships at the enemy and silence" one of the positions. By this time, the two other platoons arrived and reinforced both flanks. As the company disengaged, enemy artillery fired upon them, but "fortunately was not on target." In the skirmish, the Marine reports showed over 100 of the enemy killed at a cost of one Marine dead and 13 wounded.* Zensen called it "a hell of a fight and a scary afternoon." He observed that lucky for the Marines the enemy force "was apparently on the move and had not fortified their positions."


A few days later, on 16 March, again near the A-3 Strong Point, Companies M, 3d Battalion, 3d Marines and C, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines clashed with another battalion-sized enemy force. The two Marine companies called in artillery and air upon the North Vietnamese troops. Under the supporting arms bombardment, the bulk of the enemy battalion disengaged, but left a company behind to fight a rear guard action. North Vietnamese artillery from north of the DMZ answered the American supporting arms with a 400-round barrage of its own on the Marines. According to one Marine report, because of the "inaccuracy of the hastily delivered enemy artillery," the two Marine companies "assaulted into the enemy trenches, killing 83 NVA before contact was broken at 1530." Marine casualties were two killed and nine wounded. For the entire month in Operation Kentucky, the 9th Marines reported over 400 enemy dead while Marine casualties were 37 killed and more than 200 wounded.57**


* Lieutenant Colonel Zensen commented that he believed that the official
listing of enemy casualties was exaggerated, but stated that "it is
hard to know just how many enemy soldiers were killed." The reports
also indicate that Marine snipers killed the enemy officer with binoculars,
which was not the case. LtCol Roger Zensen, Comments on draft, dtd 4Dec94
(Vietnam Comment File).

** Lieutenant Colonel Otto Lehrack, who commanded Company I, 3d Battalion,
3d Marines, observed that Company M, earlier on 6 March, in the same
area as Company L on 3 March, encountered a sizeable enemy force with
the Marines sustaining casualties of 15 dead and a number of wounded.
[For a detailed account of that action, see LtCol Otto J. Lehrack, No
Shining Armor, The Marines at War in Vietnam, An Oral History
(Lawrence,
Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1992), pp. 243-52.1 Lehrack then
observed that all of these actions including the one of 16 February
took place along a major infiltration route which included Route 561
and an area that the Marines called the "Marketplace." He believed that
the battalion "forays into this area presented the NVA with little choice
but to fight." LtCol Otto Lehrack, Comments on draft, dtd 19Nov94 (Vietnam
Comment File).






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