Michael, Jr., who had assumed command two days earlier. The operation
was considered a success not only in terms of enemy troops and equipment
destroyed, but also in providing the units involved with additional
experience in the conduct of highly mobile mountain warfare. The operation,
as the task force commander later wrote, "taught us that, with effort
and energy properly focused on a selected location, we can prepare LZs,
build FSB's, virtually anywhere. The tougher the terrain, the more vital
the systematic application of resources. But we reject the notion that
there are areas too difficult to conquer." Operation July Action, he
continued, "also reminded the enemy that he has no safe havens.... Most
important, perhaps, our pioneering greatly facilitates our return whenever
While the planning for operations in the Dong Ha Mountain and Mutter
Ridge complex took place, Task Force Hotel looked longingly at the rugged
terrain west of Landing Zone Stud in the Scotland II area of operations.
The area was known to contain the base area of the 8th Battalion,
29th NVA Regiment and was a source of a variety of nasty enemy
activities. Allied fixed-wing planes and helicopters that wandered over
the region often received antiaircraft fire which resulted in a number
of lost aircraft. Supply convoys travelling Route 9 to Landing Zone
Stud faced a constant threat of ambush as they turned south at the Rockpile.
Also, with the closing of Khe Sanh and the movement of Task Force Hotel
to Landing Zone Stud, the new combat base was increasingly a target
for enemy rocket gunners.
General Hoffman's task force originally planned to employ a battalion of the 1st Marines, upon its departure from Khe Sanh, to land on Dong Ca Lu or Hill 715-the area's dominant feature-and search the surrounding terrain, six kilometers west of Landing Zone Stud or Vandegrift as it was to be renamed. Colonel Dwyer nominated the 1st Battalion, but by 6 July, when the 1st Marines departed Khe Sanh, the 1st Battalion remained behind to battle an enemy force on Hill 689. The battalion spent another six days in battle before it could retrieve eight Marine bodies from the forward slope of the hill.
On 9 July, the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines arrived at Landing Zone Stud and relieved the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines temporarily as the combat base's security force. The following day, Landing Zone Stud took several volleys of enemy 122mm rockets. On the 11th. Task Force Hotel assumed direct operational control of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, as no other battalion was available, and the battalion was transported by helicopter to Hill 715.*
The first wave of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas H. Galbraith's Marines scrambled from their CH-46s, and like the two waves that followed, encountered no enemy opposition. But a helicopter in the fourth wave, while hovering a few feet above the landing zone, took several bursts of .50-caliber machine gun fire and crashed in a ball of flames. Miraculously, the CH-46's full load of troops made it to safety, and only one of the air crewman sustained injury.
Braving constant mortar and sniper fire as they swept the area, Galbraith's Marines found numerous heavily fortified enemy positions that recently had been occupied. On the 13th, as Company B moved westward down a trail, the company's point element was struck by a command detonated mine. The company immediately pulled back, set up a perimeter, and sent a squad forward to retrieve the body of one Marine and to look for another. As the squad inched forward, the enemy detonated another mine and raked the company's position with .50-caliber, mortar, and grenade fire. The following day, Company A assisted with the recovery of casualties, but it too encountered command detonated mines, resulting in four additional killed, including the company's commanding officer, Captain Henry D. Banks.** The company withdrew, and on the 15th, Galbraith's battalion was flown to Landing Zone Stud to relieve forces slated to participate in Operation July Action.36
During the next 10 ten days. Colonel Edward J. Miller's 4th Marines conducted mobile defense operations to the west of Fire Support Bases Shepherd and Cates with little enemy contact. In addition, elements of the regiment secured Ca Lu, Landing Zone Stud, and Route 9 from Ca Lu north. As the division's reserve regiment, it could, if ordered, provide forces for operations anywhere within the division's area of operations.
On 25 July, Lieutenant Colonel Galbraith's battalion was ordered back to Hill 715, not only to expand
* Elements of the 4th Marines were committed to assisting the 1st Battalion,
1st Marines with the righting on Hill 689 and securing Fire Support
Bases Shepherd and Cates.
** This was the same Captain Banks, who had commanded Company A, 1st
Battalion, 9th Marines, and had been seriously wounded in that company's
engagement on Hill 689 near Khe Sanh on 16 April. See Chapter 16. Colonel
Galbraith wrote that when he assumed command of the 1st Battalion, 4th
Marines, Captain Banks was the battalion assistant S-3 and that the
Company A commander had just been transferred: "Hank asked for the company,
and I gave it to him. His death has always weighed heavily on me." Col
Thomas H. Galbraith, Comments on draft, n.d. [Dec68] (Vietnam Comment