Page 348

Page 348 (1968: The Defining Year)



Spotting a 75mm recoilless rifle, he singlehandedly assaulted the
position, capturing the weapon and killing or driving off its crew members.
Corporal Fante continued to lead his squad on a rampage through the
enemy's defenses, clearing bunkers with hand grenades and pursuing the
retreating North Vietnamese. He was leading this advance when killed
by enemy fire. For his courageous acts, Corporal Fante was awarded the
Navy Cross posthumously.58

After overrunning the enemy position, the Marines found 23 North Vietnamese
dead and 34 tons of rice, in addition to the recoilless rifle captured
by Corporal Fante. Fante was the only Marine killed in the fight, but
21 others and 1 Navy corpsman suffered wounds.59 An additional 46 Marines
sustained injuries when an aircraft accidentally dropped a load of napalm
bombs on Company F's position during the fight. Lieutenant Colonel Stemple
recalled that a bomb hit the reserve platoon of Company F and just missed
his command group by a few yards.60


The two battalions continued the search and clear operations in their assigned sectors for the next nine days without significant contact. The Marines searched caves, bunkers, and dwellings, patrolled roads and rice paddies, and killed Communists one or two at a time. Casualties continued to trickle into the hospitals and aid stations in the rear as Marines fell victim to the familiar enemy formula: mines, boobytraps, and sniper fire by day; harassing mortar fire by night.


Indications that the enemy was preparing to launch his expected offensive continued to build. On 10 August, acting on intelligence reports, the 1st Marine Division issued instructions directing subordinate units to prepare to assist in the defense of the DaNang vital area. The order called for reduced "day workloads ... to allow adequate rest [for] all hands" and a concomitant increase in night activities. The tanks sighted in the Arizona Territory a few weeks earlier now caused a flurry of interest in reviewing and updating the division's antimechanized plans.61

On 16 August, "usually reliable sources, in addition to two counter
intelligence agents" disclosed that the 402d Sapper Battalion,
the R-20 Battalion, and possibly a regimental headquarters
were located three kilometers southeast of Liberty Bridge in the village
of Chau Phong.62 The location of such a large concentration of enemy
troops less than 30 kilometers south of Da Nang was a further indication
that the enemy offensive would soon begin, accompanied by the previously
anticipated sapper attacks on the city proper. The 1st Marine Division
acted quickly, ordering the 5th Marines to surprise the enemy battalions
at Chau Phong and to destroy them in their staging areas.

At 2300, the night of 16 August, three Marine infantry battalions
silently converged on the hamlet of Chau Phong (2). Lieutenant Colonel
LeRoy E. Watson's BLT 2/7, participating in Operation Swift Play in
the hills south of Go Noi Island, shifted into a blocking position 1,200
meters east of the objective along a major stream. Stemple's 2d Battalion,
5th Marines sealed the west side of the objective along another stream
2,000 meters from Chau Phong. The 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, now under
the command of Lieutenant Colonel Rufus A. Seymour, flew into An Hoa
and conducted a night approach march into an assembly area near My Son
(l), about five kilometers southwest of the Communist positions. H-hour
was set for 0700, 17 August.63


Lieutenant Colonel Ben A. Moore, Jr. s gunners of the 2d Battalion, 11th Marines drew first blood with an artillery preparation that began at 0400 and lasted until 0700. The original plan called for the artillery barrage to be followed by a low-level air attack, also dropping smoke and CS gas on the objective area. According to Lieutenant Colonel Stemple, torrential rains after midnight, however, forced the cancellation of the air strikes until mid- and late-morning without the smoke or CS. The original plan called for his battalion to initiate a predawn "attack by fire" so as to confuse the NVA as to the direction of attack and to hold them in place. The 3d Battalion, 5th Marines was then to make the main assault attacking northeast into Chau Pong (2). Stemple's troops opened fire, according to plan, but he recalled that inadvertently, elements of BLT 2/7 moved in front of Seymour's battalion and delayed the main assault. About 200 North Vietnamese, however, attempted to flee to the east at 1200, and Companies F and G, BLT 2/7 were waiting for them. Marines of these two companies reported killing 53 of the enemy while suffering only 11 men wounded. At 1500, the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines finally assaulted and captured the hamlet, finding "many enemy dead, weapons, equipment, and food supplies." The enemy cache yielded significant quantities of stores, including 88 tons of rice and enough medical supplies to support 500 men.64


During the night of 17 August, the three battalions adjusted their lines. At first light, the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines moved northward across a branch line of the National Railroad to search the hamlet of Chau Phong (l). At the same time, BLT 2/7 crossed







Page 348 (1968: The Defining Year)