Intense mortar and small arms fire rained down on Company E from the
attacking NVA even as the 1st Battalion, 13th Marines poured on a heavy
answering barrage. Communist sappers blasted holes in the protective
barbed wire through which following infantry advanced, shooting as they
came. Company E, having occupied the hill only a few hours before, was
not well-entrenched. Still, the Marines used every weapon they could
bring to bear, including CS gas grenades, against the oncoming North
The enemy troops pressed their attack vigorously, reaching and penetrating the 1st Platoon's perimeter. First Lieutenant Donald E. R. Shan ley and his platoon withdrew in good order to alternate positions from which they continued the fight. Meanwhile, friendly artillery rolled back and forth over the slope upon which the North Vietnamese were attacking, seeking to cut off any following reinforcements. Aircraft joined in, dropping their loads under radar control accomplished by the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing's Air Support Radar Team (ASRT) B of Marine Air Support Squadron (MASS) 3 at the combat base.
Shortly after the North Vietnamese penetration, at 0500, Lieutenant Shanley led his men from their fighting holes in a bold counterattack. The 1st Platoon fell upon the enemy with knives, bayonets, rifle butts, and fists. Captain Breeding later described the scene as "just like a World War II movie . . . Charlie didn't know how to cope with it... we just walked all over him."54 The North Vietnamese who survived the counterattack fled the hilltop, then regrouped and attacked again, halfheartedly. The Marines quickly repulsed the discouraged enemy.
While the fight for Hill 861 A cost Company E, 7 dead and 24 wounded,
a company sweep at dawn revealed over a 100 enemy dead on the slope
of the hill
Photo Courtesy of Center of Military History
Lyndon K.Johnson confers with U.S. Army Gen Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs concurred with Gen Westmoreland's
assessment that Khe Sanh could be successfully defended