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American troops and enemy tanks since the Korean War, 12 Soviet-built
PT-76 light amphibious ranks of the 202d Armor Regiment, followed
closely by infantry from the 304th Division, crashed through
the chain link fence surrounding the compound and rolled through the
camp shooting. The defenders destroyed a number of the tanks with 106mm
recoilless rifle fire, but to no avail. In a desperate and hard-fought
action, the enemy overwhelmed Detachment A-101 and the Bru CIDG companies.
Survivors remained in bunkers, among them the detachment commander,
Army Captain Frank Willoughby, a former Marine noncommissioned officer.58

From his underground combat operations center (COC), Willoughby called
for air and artillery support. The 1st Battalion, 13th Marines responded
to Willoughby's request with repeated missions, firing the brand-new,
top-secret controlled fragmentation munitions (COFRAM), colloquially
known as "Firecracker," for the first time in combat.* Overhead, Marine
and Air Force attack aircraft tried co follow Willoughby's directions
in the darkness to drop their bombs on enemy concentrations in and around
the camp.59


For most of the night, Willoughby and a few other survivors remained in the COC bunker with an enemy tank on top of them, firing, while the North Vietnamese rolled countless fragmentation and gas grenades into the bunker and called ro the soldiers in English to surrender. Willoughby remained in radio contact with the 5th Special Forces Group in Da Nang which requested that the 26th Marines execute the previously arranged contingency plan for the reinforcement of Lang Vei. Colonel Lownds refused, reporting that the combat base itself was even then being heavily shelled and that he expected an enemy assault against the airstrip at any time. Further, the difficulty of moving through the difficult terrain to Lang Vei at night with enemy tanks on Route 9 made reinforcement, in the words of one Marine staff officer, "suicidal."60

Generals Westmoreland, Cushman, and Tompkins accepted Lownds' decision.
Westmoreland later wrote, "honoring the prerogative of the field commander
on the scene, I declined to intervene until I could ascertain more on
the situation." During the late morning of 7 February at Da Nang, General
Westmoreland met with General Cushman and other senior commanders in
I Corps. While the conference dealt with the situation throughout I
Corps, General Westmoreland expressed his concern about the Lang Vei
situation. Among the participants at the meeting were Army Colonel Jonathan
F. Ladd, the commander of the 5th Special Forces Group, who had just
flown from Khe Sanh to Da Nang, and Army Lieutenant Colonel


* A projectile containing
a number of "submunitions" or bomblets, which are ejected from the shell
and spread over a wide area, each bomblet exploding like a small grenade.
It is considerably more lethal than the standard high explosive projectile.
This ammunition is still in use today under the name Improved Conventional
Munitions (ICM). Lieutenant Colonel John A. Hennelly who commanded the
1st Battalion, 13th Marines recalled that sometime earlier an Army brigadier
general and warrant officer "flew into Khe Sanh with some 105mm cofram
and a hand-written set of firing cables for the new ammo." From his
understanding, "it sounded like COFRAM would be good against troops
in the open on terrain without much vegetation." Hennelly stated that
when "things hit the fan" and the Special Forces required artillery
support, he would have preferred "HE [high explosive] rounds" with variable
or time fuzes. He, however, received orders to use the COFRAM, "The
orders were coming from Washington. D.C. (honest to Pete)." Hennelly
stated that "we fired a mission or two with Cofram but it was not the
time or situation to be messing around with a new ammo. It was slowing
the fire missions down." He directed that they switch back to conventional
ammunition and "that's primarily what we fired although I was telling
folks up-the-line we were using cofram." Hennelly Comments.


Photo from the 3d MarDiv ComdC, Feb68

Bru
civilian refugees, including many children, walk toward Ca Lu along
Route 9 after the fall of Lang Vei. Not having the resources to care
for them and fearing the possibility of enemy infiltrators, the Marines
decided against allowing the refugees into the Khe Sanh base.









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