Page 427

Page 427 (1968: The Defining Year)

Photo is from the Col Robert G. Lauffer, USMC. (Ret), Collection

Robert G. Lauffer, the commander of the 1st Marines in Operaton Meade
River, is accompanied in the field by 1sLt Francis B. Ahearn, the S-2,
or intelligence officer, of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines.

Early on the morning of 20 November, seven Marine battalions, under
the control of the 1st Marines, began moving into prearranged positions
to form a ring around part of Dodge City.* Using 72 aircraft, the 1st
Marine Aircraft Wing in one of its largest helicopter operations lifted
tour battalions (one of them from amphibious shipping lying offshore).
Trucks moved another battalion, and two battalions marched in. By 0825,
Dodge City lay within the 1st Marines' cordon. Colonel Lauffer observed
that a helicopter was available to him throughout Meade River and that
"concerned commanders were given numerous airborne views to enhance
our tactical decisions."46

In the initial hours of the operation, the Marines encountered light resistance. The Communist forces shot down two 1st Marine Aircraft Wing helicopters and damaged several others during the assault. On the ground, they used a command-detonaced mine to destroy a truck, killing l Marine and wounding 23 Marines and 2 ARVN soldiers.47**

Along the Song La Tho, where the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines manned
the northern edge of the cordon, helicopters lifted in two towers. In
the flat terrain, these rowers provided improved observation for Marines
controlling artillery fire and airstrikes. Snipers also manned the towers
and engaged enemy troops in Dodge City. Clockwise around the cordon
from the l st Battalion, 1st Marines were: BLT 2/26; the 2d and 3d Battalions,
5th Marines; the 3d Battalion, 26th Marines; BLT 2/7; and finally, the
1st Battalion, 7th Marines.48

Just before noon. Lieutenant Colonel Neil A. Nelson's BLT 2/7 began
the next phase of the operation by attacking from its position on the
western side of the cordon toward the railroad berm. By 1600, Company
H secured the southern end of the battalion's objective, after only
minor contact with the enemy. At 1630, however, the battalion ran headlong
inco a strong Communist defensive complex located at a large bend in
a stream which Marines called the "Horseshoe." Company G, attacking
in the center of the BLT 2/7 zone of action, made heavy contact with
what proved to be North Vietnamese regulars. Under fierce fire from
mutually supporting bunkers, Company G withdrew one kilometer, leaving
behind six Marines, believed dead.49

When darkness fell over Dodge City, artillery and aircraft units illuminated the area with flares. Psychological operations (PsyOps) ream used powerful loudspeakers to advise civilians of the cordon and to direct them to central collection points for the c]uestioning which was intended to winnow out the Communists among them. BLT 2/7 licked its wounds and prepared to resume the assault on the Horseshoe.50

Colonel Lauffer decided to reinforce BLT 2/7 for the attack. He ordered Company D, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines and Company L, 3d Battalion, 26th Marines to report to Lieutenant Colonel Nelson for duty. Nel-

* Colonel Lauffer commented that he actually had operational control
ot nine intanrry battalions. While seven participated in Operation Meade
River, he kept two battalions in his regular area ot operations, "particularly
concentrating on the rocket and mortar belts." Because of the large
size of his TAOR, he normally had lour battalions under his control.
Col Robert G. Lauffer. Comments on draft, dtd 29Nov94 (Vietnam Comment
Pile), hereatter Lautter Comments.

** According to Colonel Lauffer, the mine knocking out the truck could
have been even more devastating: "Highway 1, in many areas was rimmed
on either side with rice paddies or low wet areas. A breech in the road
could have been catastrophic." To prevent such a breech, the Marines
had "strategically prepositioned dump trucks loaded with yravel and
marstcn mattiny." This precaution permitted the convoy to continue "to
join [hose in front of the explosion with little delay." Lautter Comments.

Page 427 (1968: The Defining Year)