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even smaller hill to set up an outpost on a knoll west of the quarry,
which he designated Alpha 1.* His priority at both sites was the building
of his defensive positions starting "from scratch." While "building
materials, wire, and mines" arrived from the main base as they "became
available," the battalion first depended upon its own "ingenuity and
hard work-digging- scrounging, ... to survive the incoming."


Over the next several days, Khe Sanh maintained a high level of activity, as helicopters and cargo aircraft flew in and out as often as the weather permitted, and Marines worked to improve their defensive positions. On 23 January, enemy antiaircraft fire became a significant threat, with NVA gunners downing a helicopter and a jet attack aircraft in a 20-minute period.31


Communist shelling continued, completely destroying the base post office and further damaging bunkers, trenches, and the airstrip.32 The Marines fought back, expending massive quantities of artillery and mortar ammunition in attempts to silence the enemy guns. This, however, proved to be a difficult task. The enemy gun positions were well-concealed in dense jungle, visible only when actually firing. Because these positions were usually located on the reverse slopes of hills, they were often not even visible from Marine positions. Air observers of the 3d Marine Division maintained constant patrol over the area during daylight hours, providing some of the information the Marines needed to return fire effectively.33**

Enemy long-range artillery presented an even more difficult problem.
The accepted view was that the artillerymen fired their large guns from
positions on Co Roc Mountain, a precipitous cliff southwest of the combat
base, across the Laotian border and outside the maximum range of the
artillery pieces of the 1st Battalion, 13th Marines. One 3d Marine Division
intelligence officer. Major Gary E. Todd, wrote that the reports he
read stated that "NVA artillery was dug into the eastern face of Co
Roc so as to be almost impossible to hit with counter-battery fire,
even if we had the artillery with range." These same sources reported
that the NVA gun emplacements were in "man-made caves, completely camouflaged,
and fitted out with rails similar to railroad tracks," The North Vietnamese
gunners "would roll their guns to the mouth of the cave and, with barrel
protruding, fire, then roll back smoothly into the cave and restore
the camouflage." Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Bernard D. Cole, attached
to the 26th Marines as the assistant target intelligence officer, remembered
that he "personally targeted Arc Light strikes (which came in flights
of three B-52s) on Co Roc." According to Cole, "The strikes would quiet
down the NVA gunners for a couple of hours-from the shock . . ., but
then they would resume firing."34


Captain William H. Dabney, who commanded Company I, 3d Battalion, 26th Marines on Hill 881 South had a different perspective. According to Dabney, "Co Roc was a myth, perhaps because of the imposing look of the mountain and the romantic sounding name." While granting that some rounds were fired from artillery at Co Roc, he argued that the more destructive NVA firing positions were located to the west of Hill 881 South. Dabney contended that being seven kilometers west of Khe Sanh and 1,500 feet higher than the Marines on the base, his company was in a better position to locate the enemy artillery positions. While not always hearing the guns being fired, he declared, "we could usually hear the rounds going over."35


He described how one of his artillery spotters, Corporal Molimao Niuatoa, a native Samoan and blessed with unusually good eyesight, using powerful ships' binoculars, found several of these enemy guns to the west. Because of the location of Hill 881 and its height, the Khe Sanh DASC often passed off aircraft with unexpended munitions to Company I. As Dabney explained, the Khe Sanh DASC "rarely could see targets of opportunity" and "we, conversely, always [emphasis in the original] had targets." On one such occasion, according to the Marine captain, he just had

* Bert Mullins who served as a radioman to Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell
recalled that after leaving the main base that they actually reached
first the small hill which later became A-1. He remembered Mitchell
"remarking that we must be on the wrong hill because it was much too
small." Bert Mullins, Comments on draft, dtd 7Dec94 (Vietnam Comment
File), hereafter Mullins Comments. Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell stated
that he ordered the establishment of the A-1 outpost because he believed
that the NVA would need more than one avenue of approach to make an
all-out assault on the main base and that A-1 lay "astride the west
to east axis" to Khe Sanh. Moreover, he needed "as much warning as possible
before the enemy would reach 1/9's MLR [main line of resistance}." Col
John F. Mitchell, Comments on draft, dtd 5Jan95 (Vietnam Comment File),
hereafter Mitchell Comments.

** Navy Captain Bernard D. Cole, who as a lieutenant junior grade
and naval gunfire officer assigned to the 26th Marines, served as an
assistant target intelligence officer in the 26th Marines Fire Support
Coordinating Center. He recalled that "air dropped sensors were a primary
source of targeting data for us." These sensors "were still classified
. . . and we were not supposed to refer to them as an info[rmation]
source . . . ." Cole remembered that "we received a formatted readout
from the sensors . . . [which] would indicate the sensor location and
type, and the type of target (troops or vehicles) and the approximate
number . . . ." Capt Bernard D. Cole, USN, Comments on draft, dtd 27Oct94
and 23Jun96 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Cole Comments.





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