attempt to save his commanding officer's life. Corporal Hunnicutt
was awarded the Navy Cross.21
In an operation conducted on 22 April, the 1st Marines recovered all
but three of the bodies.* The final casualty count totalled 38 Marines
and 3 Navy corpsmen killed in action and 32 Marines wounded, almost
half of them seriously. But the story did not end there. General Tompkins
appointed Colonel Walter H. Cuenin to investigate the operation and
its aftermath. In reviewing the report of this investigation. General
Tompkins noted "inexcusable" failures in reporting to division headquarters,
as well as actions which "did not reflect the urgency of the occasion."
He took administrative action to correct the problems, and relieved
Lieutenant Colonel Cahill of command.22**
This tragic and cosrly incident served as a sour note on which to
end the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines' gallant part in the defense of the
Khe Sanh Combat Base. The aftermath of the engagement, moreover, points
up the extraordinary depth of responsibility faced by a military commander.
Lieutenant Colonel Cahill, though thrice wounded while doing his utmost
in a difficult and confused situation, nonetheless, bore the burden
for the mistakes and failures laid at the doorstep of the 1st Battalion,
Operation Scotland II
By this time, Operation Scotland II was in full swing. General Glick recalled that his new orders directed him now "to continue operations in ... [the Khe Sanh] area, at least in a limited scope," rather than dismantle the base.23 The units of the 1st Marines commanded by Colonel Stanley S. Hughes had begun to take the places of battalions of the 26th Marines. For example, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines left LZ Stud to the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines and shifted west to the hills near Khe Sanh: 558, 950, 861, and 881 South. The 2d Battalion, 1st Marines and the regimental command post set up in the combat base and the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines remained along Route 9, providing security. The operation continued to grow as elements of the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines arrived at Hill 689.24
For the rest of April, the battalions patrolled the rugged country of the Huong Hoa District, occasionally making contact with the enemy, but for the most part finding only abandoned North Vietnamese bunkers and equipment and the remains of Communist soldiers left behind. Still, the NVA threatened to cut the road. On 19 April, a convoy of five trucks belonging to Battery B, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines ran into an enemy ambush halfway between Khe Sanh and Ca Lu. In the ensuing firefight, three Marines died and seven others suffered wounds. Only one truck continued on to Ca Lu, as the others were either damaged, pressed into service by the infantry to evacuate casualties, or left without drivers as a result of the casualties sustained in the ambush. Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. V. Hughes, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, remembered that the ambush site "was up a draw leading into the river . . . The NVA dug bunkers into the root masses of trees lining the top of the draw . . . The firing ports . . . were almost impossible to see unless you observed a muzzle flash."25 The 1st Marines Commander, Colonel Stanley Hughes, responded by restricting vehicle traffic on Route 9 "to only those vehicles performing tactical missions." To help control the road, he formed a "Provisional Mechanized Company" by combining elements of the 3d Tank Battalion: the Antitank Company (-); the 3d Platoon, Company B; and the 3d Platoon, Company G.26
Near the end of April, Brigadier General Carl W. Hoffman relieved General Glick. For a short time the task force was known as "TF Hoffman," but soon became known as "TF H." In the habit of pronouncing all single letters by the phonetic equivalent used on the
* Bert Mullins, who served as a radioman with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines,
commented: "This was a truly botched mess!" He remembered that Company
B, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines "was scheduled to recover the bodies,
but that was canceled when the air officer transmitted the plan in the
clear to the 26th Marines." Since the 26th Marines departed the area
on 18 April, this must have occurred probably on 17 April. After that
period "Bravo went opcon to 1st Marines and three of their companies
recovered the bodies." Bert Mullins, Comments on draft, dtd 7Dec94 (Vietnam
** General Tompkins also stated that Colonel Meyers "failed to display the initiative and force the situation called for." Colonel Meyers in his rebuttal defended his conduct stating that he offered assistance to the battalion commander and was told it was not needed. He did not learn about the actual seriousness of the situation until the early hours of 17 April. When he arrived at the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines CP later in the morning and discovered there were 20 Marines still missing, he immediately made plans for a rescue operation. Meyers Statement, Meyers Comments.
*** Lieutenant Colonel Cahill was later promoted to Colonel and continued to serve until his retirement in 1978. Colonel Frederic S. Knight, who also served as a battalion commander in 1968, wrote that "but for the grace of God, went I and every battalion commander in the 3d Marine Division." He recognized that Major General Tompkins' policy on recovering the bodies of Marine dead was part of the deep tradition of the Marine Corps of "taking care of each other, dead or alive ...." Nevertheless, this policy of bringing back all the KlAs "had the effect of creating Tar Babies for the commanders; they wanted to disengage to reduce casualties and seek a more advantageous tactical situation, but under that stricture they could not." He would advocate a policy of weighing "our traditions . . . against the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number and actions taken accordingly." Col Frederic S. Knight, Comments on draft, dtd 10Jan95 (Vietnam Comment File).