Hott towards the company command post on the north bank. Francisco
was still on the south side, his fate unknown. The rest of the squad,
dispersed in listening posts and ambush sites near the bridge's southern
approaches, remained in their positions, unseen by the enemy.
Moments after the Communists struck, Lieutenant Kelly organized a counterattack from the north bank of the river. Corporal Wayne D. Brown led his squad across the bridge toward the fight, meeting Hott's squad halfway. Hott had been wounded in the head, so Brown ordered him back to the command post at the north end for treatment and, in the confusion, Hott took the machine gun with him. Unwilling to risk an attack without the machine gun. Brown organized his men for a defense of the middle of the bridge, using a sandbagged position already in place, then sent Lance Corporal John A. Eller back for the gun.
Eller returned with the gun, but with no ammunition. Brown himself went back to the north side, which was now under heavy mortar and rocket fire, and retrieved the ammunition. Finally ready to counterattack, the Marines charged across the bridge, hugging the sides for protection as Eller, leading the way, sprayed the enemy with machine gun fire. Reaching the observation tower, Eller was felled by a long burst from an enemy automatic weapon. While down, a ricochet struck him in the chest, wounding him a second time. He tossed a grenade into an enemy fighting hole, then died.22*
Within one minute of Eller being hit, Brown himself and two of his
men were wounded. With the machine gun lost and enemy fire mounting.
Brown ordered a withdrawal to the bridge. As the Marines assumed new
fighting positions near the water's edge, the enemy hit them with either
tear gas or CS gas.** Only one Marine in the squad had a protective
mask, and the effects of the gas soon made the position untenable. The
Marines withdrew further, to the sandbagged position in the middle of
the bridge from which they had counterattacked. The gas, although still
present, was not as strong there and the men were able to keep fighting.
Brown reported the situation to Lieutenant Kelly. The lieutenant's response
was, "Hang tight."
At that moment, there was little Lieutenant Kelly could do to help
Corporal Brown. Enemy troops on the north bank were pressing hard against
the company command post, advancing under heavy mortar, RPG, and small
arms fire. The north bank observation tower, pounded by Communist shells,
collapsed at 0200, burying three Marines sheltering beneath it, and
immediately afterwards, the enemy used gas against the Marines on the
north bank. As with Corporal Brown's squad, the Marines had no protective
masks. Some withdrew to the middle of the bridge where the gas was not
as strong, while others dipped their heads in the water to clear their
eyes and throats, and desperately tried to hang onto their positions.23
While Company D, 1st Military Police Battalion fought to hold the
Cam Le Bridge, the third offensive erupted all over the Da Nang area.
The security force at the nearby Song Cau Do Bridge, although not under
ground attack, was shelled by enemy mortars. Downstream from them, toward
the Cam Le Bridge, Communists continued to cross the river in sampans
and the Marines on the Song Cau Do Bridge kept up steady machine gun
fire into the enemy boats. Between 0245 and 0315, 19 units in the Da
Nang area recorded over 300 rounds of mortar and 122mm rocket fire detonating
on or near their positions. Enemy infantry attacked the 1st Tank Battalion,
three company positions held by the 27th Marines, the headquarters of
the 11th Marines, and three Combined Action platoons in the 7th Marines
TAOR. Many other units received mortar fire. Viet Cong sappers struck
the Special Forces compound two kilometers south of Marble Mountain
Air Facility. Advancing under a mortar barrage, the sappers penetrated
the perimeter and swept through the position with satchel charges, killing
16 Special Forces and Civilian Irregular Defense Group personnel and
wounding 125 more. When finally driven off, the enemy left behind 32
dead. Later, a prisoner revealed that this enemy force was a company
of the R-20 Battalion, reinforced by a platoon of the Q.92
Sapper Company. Their mission was to seize the Marble Mountain
Air Facility and hold it for one day, destroying as many aircraft and
facilities as possible.24
The 2d and 3d Platoons of Company D, 1st Military Police Battalion were still under heavy attack at the Cam Le Bridge when the 1st Platoon left the airbase shortly after 0300 to relieve them. Moving in trucks down Highway 1, the rescuers came to a sudden stop after moving only a few hundred meters from the
* For his courageous action, Lance Corporal Eller was posthumously
decorated with the Silver Star.
** "CS" is the designation of a chemical riot control agent used in
Vietnam. Its effects are similar to those caused by tear gas: burning
of the eyes, throat, and mucous membranes. Although powerful, the effects
are temporary, usually disappearing within minutes of the gas dissipating.