Page 282

Page 282 (1968: The Defining Year)

Despite these indications that the battle was drawing to a close,
the North Vietnamese continued pounding the Marines with artillery fire.
On 22 March, over 1,000 rounds fell on the combat base and hill positions.
Once again, a hit on ASP Number 1 resulted in several hours of secondary
explosions and a fire which destroyed more than 900 rounds of artillery
ammunition, almost 3,000 rounds of antitank ammunition, and lesser quantities
of fuzes, demolition kits, and other assorted items. The enemy bombardment
continued the following day with even more shells striking the Marine

The enemy had far from given up the fight. On 24 March, Company A,
1st Battalion, 9th Marines engaged two North Vietnamese platoons for
over four hours. The contact resulted in 5 Marines killed and 6 wounded,
a UH-1 helicopter gunship downed, and 31 dead North Vietnamese.96
Two days later, a small-unit patrol* from Company B, 1st Battalion,
9th Marines encountered a North Vietnamese company entrenched on a small
hill that the battalion used as a daylight observation post, about 200
meters west of its perimeter. According to the Marine forward observer
with the patrol, Larry J. Seavy-Cioffi, they walked into "a well-entrenched
NVA company, 15 feet from the top . . . . " Seavy-Cioffi recalled that
the patrol point man spotted an enemy soldier "adjusting his helmet
otherwise we would have been walking dead right into their laps." The
patrol withdrew under heavy fire and called for fire support. Company
B reinforced the patrol and the Marines finally retook the hill. According
to Marine documents, the North Vietnamese lost 26 men and Company B
suffered 3 dead and 15 wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell later wrote:
"This was the closest penetration by a company size NVA to 1/9's defensive
perimeter, and never happened again during the siege."97

Settling the Score

Since the fateful patrol of 25 February, the men of Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines had a score to settle with the North Vietnamese. On 30 March, they got their chance in what one report termed "the first planned . . . attack of a known enemy position in the battle for Khe Sanh Combat Base." Lieutenant Colonel Frederick J. McEwan, who relieved Lieutenant Colonel James B. Wilkinson as the battalion commander on 15 March, recalled that he and his operations officer, Major Charles E. Davis III, planned the attack "with careful attention to every detail." With the assistance of the battalion artillery officer and air officer, they especially laid out the projected fire support to box the enemy troops in and to prevent the NVA from reinforcing. Morning fog and low air cover, however, forestalled the effective use of air and made the attack even more dependent upon its artillery arm.98

In the early morning hours, under cover of fog and darkness, Captain Kenneth W. Pipes led Company B through the perimeter wire and into attack positions 300 meters south of the combat base. As the company deployed for the attack in a line along the enemy's left flank, the 1st Battalion, 13th Marines began preparation fires to soften the enemy positions. By noon, the cannoneers would fire over 2,600 rounds in support of Company B.99

At 0755, the company launched its assault behind a rolling barrage fired by nine batteries of artillery, including heavy artillery firing from near the Rockpile. The 2d Platoon under First Lieutenant John W. Dillon seized the first objective, an NVA trenchline, near the lower slopes of Hill 471. From there, the platoon laid down a base of fire while the Company B command group and the other two platoons passed through and attacked toward the second objective, an NVA bunker complex near where the earlier patrol had been ambushed.100

The Marines advanced through the bunker complex with fixed bayonets,
grenades, flamethrowers, and antitank rockets, and in the words of one
account, "killing all NVA in sight."101 Engineers followed
the infantry, setting demolition charges to destroy the larger bunkers.
According to Major Davis, "the only serious glitch occurred when the
NVA came up on the conduct of fire net and called for a cease-fire."
Davis declared that before the battalion was able to get "the fire turned
back on," enemy mortars opened up on the attacking Marines and "inflicted
most of the casualties." Among the wounded was Captain Pipes, who still
retained command. One Marine in the 3d Platoon, Wayne Morrison, who
later was awarded the Silver Star, as was the captain, remembered that
Pipes, carrying two radios with his right arm and with a wound in his
left shoulder, came up behind him and said "we were going to have to
attack because we were pinned down."102

* There is some question about the size of this patrol. The official reports indicate a platoon, while both Colonel Mitchell and his radioman, Bert Mullins, state that it was a reinforced squad. Larry J. Seavy-Cioffi, who was an artillery forward observer with Company B, stated that he was on that patrol and it consisted of no more than six men, including himself. See Mitchell Comments, Mullins Comments, and Larry J. Seavy-Cioffi, Comments on draft, dtd 12Dec94 and 29Jan95 (Vietnam Comment File).

Page 282 (1968: The Defining Year)