On 17 October, with the mission accomplished, the rain seriously hampering
offensive operations, and the enemy relatively quiet. Colonel Beckington
ordered all units to prepare to withdraw. By 19 October, only the 3d
Battalion, 7th Marines remained, and Operation Maui Peak officially
came to a close.33*
The End of Mameluke Thrust and Renewed Attacks on Da Nang
Operation Mameluke Thrust** ended on 23 October, after five months,
with the participating units reporting 2,730 enemy killed, 47 prisoners,
and 8 ralliers. As the 5th Marines closed Mameluke Thrust, it opened
Operation Henderson Hill in the same AO. The net result of this was
a continuation of the same operation, in the same area, under a new
operational codename. Lieutenant Colonel Stemple remembered that the
2d Battalion, 5th Marines had returned to the An Hoa sector after Maui
Peak, and on the 23d, his battalion command group and two of his companies
were patrolling the area east of Liberty Road, when he received word
to disengage. The Marines boarded trucks and returned to An Hoa where
Stemple was met by Major General Youngdale and several members of the
1st Marine Division staff. According to Stemple, the division commander
told him that a new NVA regiment, the 90th, was suspected of
having moved into the Arizona Territory and that there had been numerous
sightings of enemy troops in the area. After a quick aerial reconnaissance,
Stemple and the MAG-16 helicopter coordinator selected a primary and
secondary landing zone. While enemy small arms fire prevented the landing
in the primary zone, the Marine battalion reached its assigned objectives
in the Arizona before nightfall, but no indication of the reported large
numbers of North Vietnamese troops. In a series of sweeps as part of
Henderson Hill during the next few days, both the 2d and 3d Battalions
of the 5th Marines developed little enemy contact, but captured a 24-page
document describing the enemy's proposed "Winter-Spring 1968-69 Campaign."
The operation then continued in the An Hoa and Go Noi Island sectors
October ended as the first month since December 1967 during which the enemy launched no rocket attacks. NVA commissars and VC cadres, though, dramatically stepped up their political proselytizing. They visited hamlets, ostensibly to "train" the populace for upcoming elections which were supposed to result in the formation of "People's Revolutionary Committees." Enemy propagandists distributed leaflets and used loudspeakers to appeal to ARVN troops to desert. In the village of Nui Dat Son, which was adjacent to the large Marine base at Hill 55, the villagers conducted an antiwar demonstration calling for an end to U.S. bombing of villages. South Vietnamese National Police arrested 71 of the demonstrators, 60 of whom they later released. Intelligence reports filtering in to III MAF indicated that the Communists planned a nationwide demonstration during November, in which "the people" would demand the neutralization of central Vietnam.35
On Halloween night, President Johnson announced from Washington that, effective 0800, 1 November (2100, Saigon time), the U.S. would halt all bombing of North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese, who had stridently insisted on an unconditional bombing halt, had finally accepted a compromise agreement which allowed the inclusion ofrfie South Vietnamese and Viet Cong in the Paris peace negotiations. The only military conditions imposed were an end to North Vietnamese violations of the DMZ, and an end to their attacks on cities and towns in South Vietnam. The Presidents announcement had no noticeable effect on the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing's "out-of-country" sortie rate. The missions previously flown over North Vietnam were transferred to Laos.36***
Again, the Communists stepped up political and propaganda activity in the villages of ICTZ. Commissars hailed the bombing halt as a great Communist victory. They conducted further controlled elections of so-called "Liberation Committees", proclaiming that "a coalition government for South Vietnam is near at hand."37
Meanwhile, the war went on. In Operation Henderson Hill, the 5th Marines
surrounded and attacked the NVA 1st Battalion, 36th Regiment
at the familiar battlefield of Chau Phong, site of so many earlier engagements.
Uncharacteristically, the enemy did not defend, but rather, attempted
to escape, the NVA
* Colonel Stemple, the commanding officer of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, believed it was obvious that the North Vietnamese were "not investing too much in Thoung Due except using it as 'bait' to invite a III MAF response along Route 4 where they could select and prepare positions from which they could attack the U.S. reaction force." While stating that "2/5 beat its head out against the 141st (well dug-in)," Stemple understood that later reports indicated that the NVA regiment "took such a beating that . . . [it] never recovered." Stemple Comments.
** See Chapters 17 and 19.
*** See also Chapters 20 and 24.