gence officers that the 304th, 308th, 325th,
and another unidentified division would attack Khe Sanh. The North Vietnamese,
he said, would cut Route 9, bring antiaircraft guns in from Laos and
overrun the combat base "as Dien Bien Phu was." Intelligence officers
placed little confidence in Hung's information, rating it "F-6" (the
lowest rating for reliability and likelihood of being true). Still,
III MAF sent Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Lamontagne's 3d Battalion,
9th Marines to reinforce the 1st Marines for the defense of Khe Sanh
against another possible major NVA effort.39
For the rest of May, TF Hotel continued the original plan for Operation Scotland II, conducting offensive operations to maintain the initiative around Khe Sanh. Enemy contact was frequent and sometimes heavy, with the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines fighting a running battle which lasted for over a week.
On 24 May, Company G, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines engaged an NVA company on a hill overlooking Route 9 four kilometers southeast of the combat base, the same position to which enemy ambushers had retreated after attacking the convoy 10 days before. The enemy occupied bunkers which withstood a preparation of artillery fire and air strikes. Indeed, when the fires lifted, the enemy left their bunkers and attempted to envelop the Marines. Observing a larger enemy force to the rear of the closest North Vietnamese positions, Company G fell back and called for additional air, artillery, and mortar support. At 1800, the Marines attacked once more, still under extremely heavy fire. With helicopter gunships, artillery, and mortars supporting their advance. Company G swept up the hill, reaching the high ground at 2015 that night. The enemy broke contact, leaving behind the bodies of 58 dead. In the day's fighting, Company G suffered 15 dead and 21 wounded. The following morning, an air observer reported a "ragged enemy withdrawal to the south and southeast."40
The 2d Battalion, 3d Marines remained near the site of the 24 May engagement. Three companies spaced about 700 meters apart stretched to the northwest in a line starting from Company F, on a small finger overlooking Route 9 about a kilometer west of the NVA bunker complex. Company E was at the intersection of Route 9 and the coffee plantation road, and Company G was on a finger between the other two companies.
At 0245, 28 May, Company F Marines, using a Starlight Scope, observed enemy movement outside their perimeter, and the acting company commander, First Lieutenant James L. Jones, called for an artillery mission. Three North Vietnamese with satchel charges suddenly leapt into one of the company's listening posts north of the perimeter and blew themselves to bits, also killing three of the four Marines at the post. Immediately, an NVA battalion charged up the slope from the north on a wide front using a very heavy volume of small arms fire and more than 40 RPG rounds. With the enemy already in the perimeter, Lieutenant Jones gave the order to employ the final protective fires.*
Noticing that the North Vietnamese were using pencil flares, apparently as signals, Lieutenant Jones fired a red pencil flare of his own, at which the NVA precipitously broke contact.** The respite was brief, however. After a momentary lapse, the assault continued with renewed fury as the enemy battalion poured machine gun and rocket fire into Company F's lines. After several minutes of fierce fighting, the enemy drove the 1st Platoon from its holes and overran the company's 60mm mortar position. Under intense fire, the 2d and 3d Platoons restored the defensive perimeter while the 1st Platoon regrouped to establish a new position on a knoll to the east of the company perimeter.41
At 0330, after the enemy gained a foothold in the Marine perimeter, their attack slackened momentarily, but as if to demonstrate coordination, 40 rounds of 130mm artillery fire from enemy guns fell on Company G. A Douglas AC-47 "Spooky" gunship, accompanied by a flareship, reported on station at 0415 to light the battlefield and fire in support of the Marines. The NVA took the planes under heavy fire with .50-caliber machine guns and resumed their attack on Company F, this time from all sides.42
For two hours, the battle raged, literally within Company F's original perimeter. Again and again, the NVA regrouped and stormed the Marines, attempting to overwhelm their defenses with massive ground assaults as RPG gunners on dominant high ground to the southeast smothered Company F under an estimated 500 rounds of rocket fire. With the flareship lighting the scene, "Spooky"
* The "FPF" is a defensive tactic used to stop imminent penetration
of a unit's defensive lines. It employs supporting arms firing in pre-planned
locations and the unit's own riflemen and machine gunners firing along
predetermined lines at the maximum rate to create what is known as "interlocking
bands of grazing fire." The significance of firing the FPF lies in the
fact that it is an act of near desperation, a final resort which, if
unsuccessful, will give way to hand-to-hand combat within the fighting
holes of the defending unit.
** Harold R. Blunk, who in 1968 was a PFC and a forward observer with Company F, commented that now-Lieutenant General James L. Jones told him in June 1996 that he fired the red flare rather than the green one because '"Green for go-Red for stop. It was that simple.'" Harold R. Blunk, Comments on draft, dtd 27Jun96 (Vietnam Comment File).