two kilometers south of the river, Highway 1 forks, sending each of
its branches across the Song Cau Do toward Da Nang on its own bridge.
The easternmost of these, called the Cam Le Bridge, after the hamlet
on its northern side, led directly to the Da Nang Airbase, less than
two kilometers away. Two kilometers upstream from the Cam Le Bridge,
to the west, lay a combination highway bridge-railroad trestle known
as the Song Cau Do Bridge.
Marines guarded these bridges, both to prevent VC saboteurs from destroying them and to prevent enemy infiltrators ftom crossing them with weapons and explosives for use in the city. The numerous support units stationed in Da Nang each assumed responsibility for a sector within the city and its suburbs. The 1st Tank Battalion's area included the Song Cau Do Bridge; the 1st Military Police Battalion's area included the Cam Le Bridge. For the most part, bridge security consisted of checking the identification papers and packages of civilians crossing the bridge and keeping a lookout beneath the bridge to foil sapper attacks. At random intervals, bridge sentries dropped small explosive charges into the water nearby to discourage enemy swimmers from approaching the pilings.
At the Song Cau Do and Cam Le Bridges, the duty was routine, the only excitement being the occasional detention of a Vietnamese whose identity papers were not in order. South of the river, infantry units of the 1st Marine Division formed an additional screen protecting the city from major attacks, so it seemed unlikely that the enemy, in force, would ever get as far as the bridges.
Company D, 1st Military Police Battalion was responsible for security at the Cam Le Bridge. The company command post was in a bunker at the north end of the bridge, alongside of which stood an observation tower. An old French bunker and another observation tower stood at the approach to the south end. Normally, one of Company D s platoons occupied the bunkers, towers, and several listening posts and ambush sites on both sides of the river, while the other two platoons remained in the company's rear area at the edge of the Da Nang Airbase, two kilometers to the north.
On the afternoon of 22 August, the company commander departed Da Nang for an "R&R" in Hawaii, leaving his executive officer, First Lieutenant Michael J. Kelly, in command.* Lieutenant Kelly was scheduled to begin his own R&R in Hawaii on 28 August, but for the next six days, he would bear responsibility for the protection of the Cam Le Bridge.16 Unknown to him, during the early morning hours of 22 August, 80 Viet Cong of the Q. 91 Company, 2d District, Quang Da Special Zone, in disguise and using forged identification papers, had individually crossed the Cam Le Bridge, then took a city bus to a safe house on Quang Tung Street to retrieve previously cached weapons and equipment and to await the hour for their attack.17
At 2130, responding to reports of movement along the Song Cau Do, Lieutenant Kelly ordered the 2d Platoon to move from its barracks to reinforce the 3d Platoon at the bridge. Within an hour, the Marines had reached the bridge and took up positions on the peninsula that curves out from the north bank to touch the span itself. At midnight, the Marines of the 1st Tank Battalion who were guarding the Song Cau Do Bridge, two kilometers to the west, spotted six people in the water and took them under fire, but because of the extreme darkness, could not determine whether the fire was effective.18
The Marines at the Cam Le Bridge did not have to wait long for their share of the action. At 0100, 23 August, Sergeant Larry K. Bucklew, the platoon sergeant of the 2d Platoon, spotted six sampans crossing the river near his position on the peninsula. The 2d Platoon opened fire, driving some of the sampans back across the river, while others pressed on, landing on the north bank.19
Before the Marines on the Cam Le Bridge could react to the firefight on the river to their west, exploding RPG rounds and mortar shells engulfed the security position on the south bank. The 1st Squad, 3d Platoon, under Lance Corporal Stephen D. Hott, was taken by surprise as Communist troops swarmed over its position. Lance Corporal Arthur Costello, manning a .50-caliber machine gun mounted in an old French bunker, tried to get his gun into action, but an enemy soldier outside the bunker held the barrel fast, and Costello could not bring it to bear.20
Lance Corporal Hott, in the nearby observation tower with Private First Class Pedro L. G. Francisco, ordered Costello to disable the machine gun and withdraw. Hott then grabbed an M60 machine gun and ammunition and ran for the bridge. Costello, finding the enemy already inside his bunker, fought his way out, then paused to throw in a fragmentation grenade in hopes of "spiking" the machine gun.21 Making his way onto the bridge, Costello joined Lance Corporals John W. Thomas and Hylan L. Crowder running with
* Abbreviation commonly used for "Rest and Recreation." Each Marine
was authorized one "R&R" during his 13-month tour of duty in Vietnam.
Many sites were available throughout the Pacific area, including Hong
Kong, Australia, Thailand, Japan, and Malaysia.