Page 357

Page 357 (1968: The Defining Year)

The Eastern DMZ

The enemy generally avoided contact with 3d Marine Division forces operating within the Lancaster II, Kentucky, and Napoleon-Saline areas of operation during the month of June. Although wide-ranging division patrols did engage small groups of enemy forces, no major engagements such as those of May took place.

Within the Napoleon-Saline area of operations, Colonel Hull's 3d Marines, with the assistance of the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion and companies of the Army's 8th and 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, continued to patrol the northern and southern banks and tributaries of the Song Cua Viet with the mission to ensure both the uninterrupted passage of shipping and to deny the enemy access to possible rocket sites. Patrols from the 3d Marines also continued to scour the coastal region of the province to protect the ongoing rice harvest. In addition, the regiment provided security for both equipment and personnel involved in dredging operations throughout the Cua Viet river system.

Throughout the month the 3d Marines conducted numerous daily sweeps and ambushes within its area of operations, concentrating on trail networks, river crossings, and village complexes known to harbor enemy sympathizers. Although finding and destroying a large number of enemy bunkers, spider holes, and supply caches, the Marines encountered few enemy.

While avoiding direct contact with Colonel Hull's patrols, the enemy instead relied on his DMZ-based artillery to inflict casualties on friendly forces. On 19 June and again on the 21st and 24th, Camp Kistler received a total of 111 rounds of enemy artillery resulting in 10 minor casualties and the destruction of a large ammunition bunker and gasoline storage facility. Artillery and naval gunfire counter-batteries produced several secondary explosions.

On 25 June, the 3d Marines assumed responsibility for the eastern portion of Leatherneck Square. Despite the lack of enemy contact, the heliborne assault and five-day search of the area marked the first time in a year that the regiment, its three organic battalions, and direct support artillery had operated together.

To the west, in the Kentucky area, Colonel Richard B. Smith's 9th Marines continued to conduct numerous sweeps and ambushes from static positions at Con Thien, A-3, C-2, and C-3. At the same time. Colonel Smith gradually reduced the regiment's security commitment to these four positions by shifting an ever increasing proportion of Marines under his command to field operations. In addition, regimental forces continued to develop a viable road network and a series of landing zones within the western portion of Leatherneck Square.

While there was a sharp decrease in enemy contact and artillery, mortar, and rocket fire compared to the previous month, the few engagements which took place were sharp and deadly. Shortly after noon on 6 June, for example, a reinforced platoon from Company E, 26th Marines observed and then engaged an estimated enemy company while on patrol 1,800 meters southeast of Con Thien. Reinforced by the command group and a rifle platoon from Company H, the patrol took the enemy under fire with small arms and 81mm mortars. The result was 14 enemy killed and 25 Marine casualties, 14 killed and 11 wounded.

The same day, the 9th Marines assumed responsibility for the Lancaster II area of operations from the 4th Marines, and a regimental command group was deployed from Dong Ha to Camp Carroll. Like the Kentucky area, the Lancaster area experienced no major enemy-initiated ground action during June, although the enemy did attempt to interdict Route 9 with ambushes and land mines and took Camp Carroll and Landing Zone Stud under rocket fire, resulting in the destruction of several ammunition and gasoline dumps and the wounding of 10 Marines.

Near the end of June, Lieutenant Colonel Michael V. Palatas' 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, in conjunction with Army Special Forces and Vietnamese regional, popular, and National Police Field forces, began a deliberate cordon in the Cua Valley, southeast of Camp Carroll. During operations around Khe Sanh earlier in the year, many native Montagnards were brought to the Cam Lo area where they were resettled temporarily with a large number of Vietnamese that had been evacuated from Leatherneck Square following Operation Hickory in 1967. In early June, it was decided to resettle the Montagnards permanently in the Cua Valley near the village ofThon Duc Kinh, four kilometers southeast of Camp Carroll. Palatas' battalion was given the task of clearing the village of known Viet Cong suspects and ensuring the area was secure enough to begin construction of the resettlement camp.

On the night of 21 June, squad-sized patrols from the battalion walked into the area, secured landing zone sites, and blocked likely enemy escape routes. At dawn the following morning, a platoon was helilifted into each landing zone, completing the cordon around Thon Duc Kinh. Later in the day, Marine and

Page 357 (1968: The Defining Year)