Page 379

Page 379 (1968: The Defining Year)



Counterattack


The infantry unit nearest the south end of the bridge was the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, with its command post at Duong Son, four kilometers to the southwest. At 0645, the battalion commander, Major Kenneth J. Skipper, ordered Company A, located at the battalion command post, to launch an immediate counterattack to recapture the Cam Le Bridge. Two of the company's three platoons were already detached, with one deployed to Christmas Island, 1,000 meters northeast of the bridge, and the other supporting a Combined Action platoon in the hamlet of Lo Giang (l), 1,000 meters southeast of the bridge. Further, one squad from the remaining platoon was on a patrol, leaving a total of two rifle squads available to the company. The company commander, Captain William O. Moore, reinforced these two squads with other members of the company who were present in the command post. Marines trained to operate mortars, rocket launchers, and even typewriters suddenly became riflemen again. Said Captain Moore, "we took our clerks, we took our sick, lame, and lazy, we took everybody we had and moved out."30 Within five minutes of receiving the order, the small force was on the march.


Having departed without full knowledge of the enemy situation, Captain Moore tried to gather information along the way. Passing through an ARVN compound, he spoke with the U.S. Army advisors who pointed out suspected Communist positions lining both sides of Highway 1. The company continued north along the highway, stopping outside of Cam Nam, only two kilometers from the Communist positions on the south end of the bridge. While there, Captain Moore received orders from Major Skipper to detach yet another squad from his seriously depleted force to assist the platoon in Lo Giang (l), which had reported being surrounded and under attack. He sent 16 Marines to reinforce the supposedly beleaguered garrison and requested permission to proceed toward the bridge. Major Skipper, however, told him to remain in position and wait for a platoon of tanks which would support the attack.


The Marines sent to Lo Giang (l) soon radioed back that they had arrived to find the hamlet quiet, with the Combined Action Marines reporting they had not had contact with the enemy for three hours. Captain Moore, assuming that someone had "cried 'wolf,'" asked for the return of the 16 Marines, but Major Skipper denied his request.


At 1145, the tanks arrived: four 90mm gun tanks and a name tank from Company B, 5th Tank Battalion. The Marines of Company A had never operated with tanks before. Indeed, many of those with Captain Moore had never participated as riflemen in any operation before. Nevertheless, the "company," reduced in strength once again to two ad-hoc squads, pressed forward toward the hamlet of Cam Nam on their way to the Cam Le Bridge. The road was raised above the surrounding paddies with a sharp drop down on both shoulders, so the tanks were forced to advance in column, with one infantry squad on either side. At the same time, Company D, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines prepared to attack Cam Nam from the west.


When Captain Moore and his men were less than 400 meters from Cam Nam, the enemy opened fire with RPGs, mortars, and small arms. The initial burst killed two Marines and wounded four others, but the rest continued the attack, firing and maneuvering toward the enemy, inching forward with only low paddy dikes for cover. Two hundred meters from the hamlet, an RPG hit the lead tank, causing minor damage. Captain Moore spotted the RPG and pointed it out to the tankers, who returned fire with 40 rounds of high explosive, 4 rounds of "Beehive," and 3 rounds of white phosphorous.31 With this. Communist troops began to run from one dwelling to another within the hamlet, the tanks cutting them down with machine gun fire and blasting with 90mm rounds any structure they entered. A machine gun fired at the Marines from within a straw hut, and the flame tank drenched the hut liberally with burning fuel. Soon, the entire hamlet was ablaze, with virtually every structure leveled. "This," related Captain Moore, "about ended our problem."32


The Communists had blocked the highway with vehicles, which also provided cover for the enemy. Five more rounds of 90mm fire blasted away this makeshift obstacle and the tiny force again surged forward toward the Cam Le Bridge. As they passed through the burning hamlet, the company received word that a platoon from Company E, 2d Battalion, 27th Marines would soon join them. Captain Moore ordered his platoon on Christmas Island, which had already made one unsuccessful bid to recapture the bridge, to join the counterattack from the east.


The .50-caliber machine gun abandoned in the bunker the previous night had not been destroyed by Lance Corporal Costello's hand grenade and the Viet Cong now had it in action against the Marines. Even after a fearful pounding by aircraft, there was no sign







Page 379 (1968: The Defining Year)