Page 365

Page 365 (1968: The Defining Year)





Shortly after dawn on the 17th, the 2d and 3d Battalions, 9th Marines
assaulted two landing zones in what was commonly called Helicopter Valley,
three kilometers south of the DMZ. At the same time, the 1st Battalion,
9th Marines walked from the vicinity of C-2 into blocking positions
south of the 2d Battalion in the area of operations most eastern sector.
To the west, the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines assaulted into a landing zone
at the upper end of Helicopter Valley, while the 1st and 3d Battalions,
2d ARVN Regiment moved overland into blocking positions west of the
Song Cam Lo valley. The remaining battalions, the 1st and 3d, of the
3d Marines, since 15 July under Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn R. Stuart,
would join the operation on the 18th and 19th, respectively, with a
heliborne assault into landing zones just north of Dong Ha Mountain.

As Captain Jack D. Schaeffer's Company K, 9th Marines moved from Landing
Zone Sparrow north toward Mutter Ridge, it was engaged by an estimated
reinforced NVA squad deployed in an extensive, well-fortified bunker
system. Schaeffer's Marines immediately returned fire and moved back
a sufficient distance to employ artillery and air. While four Marine
A-4 Skyhawks and two F-4 Phantoms flew close support missions directed
at destroying enemy automatic weapons and mortar emplacements, it became
evident that the NVA unit was at least of company size. As the battalion's
other forward companies moved into position for a flanking assault,
Schaeffer's Marines carried the enemy complex late in the afternoon.
The Marines lost 9 killed and 29 wounded while counting 38 NVA dead.

During the course of the operation, elements of Lieutenant Colonel
Frederic S. Knight's 2d Battalion, 9th Marines maneuvered northward
to secure the high ground in preparation for the final attack.* Moving
to within one kilometer of the DMZ on the afternoon of 21 July, the
battalion came under a heavy 82mm mortar attack, which caused the death
of one Marine and the wounding of nine others. Within an hour of the
mortar attack. First Lieutenant Arthur A. Pierces Company F observed
approximately 35 NVA, carrying two mortars, moving west on a trail paralleling
the southern boundary of the DMZ. The company took the enemy force under
fire with mortars and artillery, and then moved to close with the NVA
unit. Preceded by eight fixed-wing sorties, one of which scored a direct
hit on an active 82mm mortar position, Pierce s Marines reached the
trail and found over 20 NVA dead. A subsequent search of the area revealed
10 weapons, 59 packs, 41 gas masks, and a large variety of equipment,
all of which were new, indicating that the enemy unit recently had infiltrated
from the north or had been resupplied.

Lieutenant Pierces company contact on the 21st prompted Colonel Barrow
to request permission to enter the southern half of the DMZ if the tactical
situation so dictated. The request went forward rapidly through the
chain of command to MACV, which denied it to the surprise of Colonel
Barrow.31 As he later commented:

...
it ... still has not been sufficiently explained to me why at any time
we seemingly arbitrarily give the enemy our half of the DMZ, particularly
when we know he uses it not only as a sanctuary, but as an area from
which he can launch mortar attacks against our forces.32

Without the permission to enter the southern half of the DMZ, the
regiment swung its attack to the south, "the direction which he [the
enemy] was primarily oriented anyway."33

Although the sweep south through jungle-covered hills and valleys
produced little contact, the 9th Marines did discover a number of large
elaborate base areas, which the enemy had been able to construct and
maintain during more than a year without allied interference. One fortification,
located by Lieutenant Colonel Knight's battalion, six kilometers southwest
of Con Thien, was unique. Composed of 60 A-frame timbered bunkers built
into the sides of bomb craters, each with an average overhead cover
10-feet-thick, the system was connected to a large command bunker by
a network of interconnecting tunnels. The command bunker, capable of
accommodating up to 40 personnel, featured an aperture overlooking Con
Thien and C-2. Documents found in the bunker indicated that the NVA
had been plotting, tallying, and reporting the traffic patterns of helicopters,
tanks, and trucks entering and leaving those two positions.

In addition to fortifications, the attacking forces also uncovered
tons of enemy ordnance, ranging from 122mm rockets to small arms ammunition
and explosives. On the 19th, Captain Matthew G. McTiernan's Company
I, 3d Marines unearthed the most significant

* Colonel Knight remembered that General Davis had "dropped in" at
his headquarters and told him "Fred ... I have decided to make you my
swing battalion." Knight asked what a swing battalion was and received
the answer "Whenever anyone finds the enemy, I'm going to drop you right
on top of them." Col Frederic S. Knight, Comments on draft, did 10Jan95
(Vietnam Comment File).









Page 365 (1968: The Defining Year)