Page 421

Page 421 (1968: The Defining Year)



lenging. At times, the Marines needed lifelines to negotiate steep
hills covered by a thick jungle canopy and dense undergrowth.22


Back on Route 4, the 2d Battalion, 5th. Marines was still involved in a heated battle against 'North Vietnamese units in the hills overlooking the road. At one point, where the road passed along a very narrow gap between the river and a large, steep hill, the enemy put up a spirited defense, beating back the Marines' first two assaults. After a third pounding by supporting arms, the battalion attacked and captured the hill, gaining control of the vital pass.23


In the late afternoon, Colonel Beckington ordered the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, already "shot out" of one LZ that day, to mount a helicopter-borne assault into LZ Kiwi, nine kilometers northeast of LZ Sparrow. Accordingly, the battalion landed at 1740, then marched a kilometer north and established a defensive position on a hilltop overlooking the southern bank of the Song Vu Gia. With the exception of an assault by two squads of North Vietnamese against the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, the night passed quietly.24


On 7 October, the 7th Marines began to close the circle around Thuong Duc. To the west, the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines attacked along the valley of the Song Con and along the ridges overlooking it. It did not make contact with the enemy, but lost one Marine to heat stroke in the torrurous terrain. Likewise, southeast of Thuong Duc, the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines moved southwest into the rugged mountains, suffering eight casualties from a combination of heat and falls from the steep slopes.25


General Youngdale assigned the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines to the operation, and Colonel Beckington ordered it to attempt another helicopter-borne assault into LZ Sparrow. Since the aborted assault of the previous day, attack aircraft had thoroughly blasted the area around the LZ with 750-pound bombs and Fuel-Air Explosive (FAE)* bombs, but this, apparently, "did not faze the defenses." As the helicopters once again descended into LZ Sparrow at 0910, Communist antiaircraft gunners once more opened up with an overwhelming fire, turning away the assault for the second time.26


The main action of 7 October occurred along Route 4 where the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines ran into strong enemy opposition. Company A, 5th Marines, under the control of the 2d Battalion, engaged two entrenched North Vietnamese platoons on a steep hill adjacent to the highway, only 200 meters west of the hill the battalion had seized the previous day. Even after aircraft and artillery fire pounded the objective, the North Vietnamese still resisted fiercely. Company A fell back with 12 wounded and occupied the same position as it had the previous night. According to Marine sources, the enemy lost 42 dead in the fight.27


After another full day of preparation fires. Company E, 5th Marines, supported by four M48 tanks, attacked the hill late in the afternoon of 8 October, finally capturing it just before dusk after a brisk fight in which one Marine died and nine others suffered wounds. On the hill, the Marines reported 37 dead North Vietnamese.28

Elsewhere in the operation, the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines continued
its slow advance along the steep ridge west of Thuong Duc which separated
the Song Vu Gia from the Song Con. The 3d Battalion, 5th Marines moved
ever deeper into the mountains south of the Special Forces camp, struggling
against heat and rough terrain which combined to result, on 8-9 October,
in 40 nonbattle casualties, some fatal.29**

The North Vietnamese reserved their main effort against the 2d Battalion,
5th Marines in the fight for control of Route 4. At 0400, 12 October,
82mm mortar fire began falling on Company E. Following a preparation
of about 40 rounds, an NVA company struck the Marines. As the North
Vietnamese infantry attacked, the mortar fire continued, but shifted
to Company G, which was to the rear of Company E. Using a heavy volume
of small arms and RPG fire, the enemy closed to within grenade-throwing
range. Company E held fast, calling for fire support, which involved
more than 1,000 rounds of artillery (including 8-inch howitzers) and
mortar fire, attack aircraft, and AC-47 gunships. The Marines reported
killing 46 North Vietnamese and capturing 1 in the fight. Lieutenant
Colonel Stemple, the battalion commander, commented "this was a particularly
vicious attack against 'E' Company that almost succeeded." He cred-


* An aircraft-delivered canister which releases an explosive aerosol vapor over an area, then ignites the vapor, creating blast overpressure which causes casualties and explodes mines.

** The largest number of non-battle casualties involved Marine helicopters.
In addition to the casualties on the 8th and 9th, on 11 October, a resupply
helicopter from HMM-265, "carrying replacements and supplies . . . was
struck from below by a H-34D helo [from HMM 362] that had just taken
off." According to Colonel Stemple, who witnessed the accident, "both
helicopters exploded in flames a few hundred feet over the river [Song
Vu Gia} and crashed." There were no survivors. Stemple Comments. See
also MAG-16 ComdC, Ocr68; HMM-265 ComdC, Oct68; and HMM-362 ComdC, Oct68.







Page 421 (1968: The Defining Year)