adversity and for so long. But the offensive did not slow down, even
for this event. West of the base, the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines advanced
onto Hill 689 which had, for 11 weeks, dominated its position at the
quarry. The enemy, although unseen, made their presence felt through
steady and accurate mortar fire which killed 9 Marines and wounded 27
during the battalion's advance.129
No enemy artillery fire fell on the combat base on 9 April, and General Rosson, commander of the recently formed Provisional Corps, Vietnam, reported to General Cushman that airdrops of supplies were no longer necessary because the airstrip was open to all types of aircraft up to and including C-130s.* In keeping with a plan to begin supplying all units in northwestern Quang Tri from LZ Stud, Operation Pegasus forces began using the ammunition at Khe Sanh in an attempt to draw down the huge stockpiles to a manageable level which III MAF could later evacuate.130
The engineers declared Route 9 open to vehicular traffic on 11 April, ending a project involving the replacement of 9 bridges, the construction of 17 bypasses, and the repair of 14 kilometers of road. It was the first time the road was passable from Ca Lu to Khe Sanh since September 1967.131 The same day, General Rosson ordered the 1st Air Cavalry Division to make ready immediately for offensive operations in the A Shau Valley. Hours later, the division's 1st Brigade left the Khe Sanh area and the ARVN 37th Ranger Battalion followed shortly afterward.132
As Army units prepared to move south, the 1st and the 26th Marines continued offensive operations around Khe Sanh. With patrols reporting enemy units remaining on Hill 881 North, Colonel Bruce F. Meyers, the new commanding officer of the 26th Marines, ordered the 3d Battalion, 26th Marines to clear the hill, scene of the bitter fighting which had marked the beginning of the siege almost three months before and "the last enemy position posing a threat to Khe Sanh."133**
Unlike Company Is reconnaissance in force of 20 January which was the last time U.S. forces had been near Hill 881 North,*** the attack planned for Easter Sunday, 14 April, called for the entire 3d Battalion to take part. With the relief of the main base by the Army, Lieutenant Colonel John C. Studt, who had assumed command of the 3d Battalion the previous month, had consolidated his companies on Hill 881 South. Studt had expanded the area of operations to include "Pork Chop Hill," the high ground immediately to the north, which the North Vietnamese had vacated. With the order to take 881 North, the battalion commander laid on a full menu of fire support, even lining up all eight of the battalion's 106mm recoilless rifles to support the assault. In addition to the howitzers and guns emplaced at the main base and Ca Lu, the battalion also had the support of the three 105mm howitzers on Hill 881S.134
After nightfall on the 13th, the battalion prepared to mount the attack.
Shortly after midnight, under the cover of darkness, all four companies
accompanied by two scout dog teams moved along routes previously secured
by patrols into assault positions in the "saddle" located between Hills
881 South and North. Lieutenant Colonel Studt left one platoon of Company
I together with his H&S Company on Hill 881 South. He had relieved Captain
William Dabney, who had been selected for promotion to major, and placed
him in command of a battalion Provisional Weapons Company and rear security
on Hill 881 South.**** Throughout the night Marine artillery and mortar
shells crashed into Hill 881 North, destroying the enemy's bunkers and
trenches, as Lieutenant Colonel Studt's Marines waited for daybreak
and the order to mount the final attack.135
* Colonel Bruce F. Meyers, who relieved Colonel Lownds shortly after this order, remembered that on 13 April 1968, an Air Force C-130 was hit by "rocket shrapnel" as it came in for a landing, shredding its tires, lunging partially off the runway, hitting some equipment, and bursting into flames. Ground rescue crews saved the lives of the crews and most of the passengers. The only person who died in the crash was Felix Poilane, the French planter, who was returning to his plantation located near the fire base. According to Meyers, "while the C-130 was burning on the runway, it shut down the bulk of our airfield activity until it burned down and was finally put out with foam and bulldozed off the runway." Col Bruce F. Meyers, Comments on draft, dtd 20Feb95 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Meyers Comments, Feb95.
** Colonel Meyers, who commanded Special Landing Force Alpha prior to his assignment to the 26th Marines, assumed command of the 26th Marines on 12 April. He remembered that on 10 April he departed the LPH Iwo Jima and flew to the 3d Marine Division CP at Dong Ha where he received a briefing and his orders: "Move out in the attack and retake the hills around Khe Sanh . . . ." He then traveled by helicopter to LZ Stud where Major General Tolson and his staff briefed him further. After the briefing, he flew to Khe Sanh and "began walking the perimeter" with Colonel Lownds. The turnover continued during the next day and Finally on the 12th, "we had a very brief change of command ceremony." Meyers Comments, Feb95.
*** See Chapter 4.
**** Studt not only wanted to use Dabney's experience, but also to
keep him relatively safe after being in such an exposed and isolated
position for so long. See LtCol John C. Studt, "Battalion in the Attack,"
Marine Corps Gazette, July 1970, pp. 39-44.