Determined to eliminate the enemy bunker complex, Colonel Lauffer
reinforced BLT 2/7 still again, placing Company K, 3d Battalion, 26th
Marines under Nelson's control. On the 24th, after a morning of preparatory
fire, Companies H, BLT 2/7 and K, 26th Marines attacked from the south,
in the Marines' fifth attempt to eject the North Vietnamese from the
Horseshoe. At 1530, the two companies came under extremely heavy fire
from enemy troops in bunkers and a treeline 100 meters to the front.
Unable to force the position by frontal assault, both companies tried
to drive in an enemy flank, but to no avail. Colonel Lauffer added yet
another unit, Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, to the attack.
Company C moved in from the north, but not in time to help. At 1830,
once again frustrated by the enemy's stiff resistance, the Marines broke
contact and withdrew with 5 dead and 31 wounded.
Marine Sgt H. D. Vines, a section leader of an 81mm mortar section
with BLT 2/7, snaps off a shot with his M79 grenade launcher at an enemy-held
treeline during Meade River. A puff of smoke from the grenade can be
seen by the trees.
Photo from the Abel Collection
On the morning of the
25th, the Marines near the Horseshoe pulled back and began pounding
the area with artillery. Low clouds over Dodge City precluded airstrikes.
Following the preparation, BLT 2/7 surged forward, encountering no resistance.
By noon, the Marines overran the entire Horseshoe and the battalion
consolidated its position along the railroad berm. A search ot the area
revealed bunkers constructed of reinforced concrete, railroad ties,
and rails, covered with six feet of earth. Lieutenant Colonel Nelson,
the BLT commander, remembered an order "to destroy" the railroad berm,
but "after many tons of explosion being wasted the destruction was called
It was apparent that the enemy forces trapped within the cordon was
somewhat larger than originally anticipated. At the Horseshoe, the Marines
had encountered regular enemy troops, specifically the 3d Battalion,
36th NVA Regiment. While pushed back, the NVA battalion remained
a formidable fighting force.56
Since the beginning of the operation. South Vietnamese troops and
police had worked to evacuate 2,600 civilians from Dodge City to interrogation
centers. With these civilians out and the Horseshoe finally cleared,
Colonel Lauffer launched the next phase of the operation. BLT 2/26 and
the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines attacked from the eastern edge of the
cordon toward the Suoi Co Ca to relieve the 51st ARVN Regiment which
had earlier established blocking positions at the river.
Over the next four days, the Marine battalions tightened the cordon as they advanced. Using probes fashioned from metal stock especially for Operation Meade River, the Marines located many caches of enemy arms and supplies. Enemy troops attempted to evade at night, but almost continuous flare illumination and Marine ambushes turned them back. When engaged, the enemy would break contact and flee. Captain James F. Foster, the commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, later related that his Marines not only found several enemy caches, but also captured "13 North Vietnamese soldiers who all had automatic weapons and a large amount of South Vietnamese Piasters."57
As the cordon grew smaller, fire support coordination problems grew larger. Units in contact with the enemy often experienced interruptions in fire support caused by interference from neighboring units. Worse srill, the close quarters created by seven battalions in a constantly shrinking area resulted in severe safety problems and occasional instances of friendly fire impacting Marine positions. One unit reported, "continuing problems with friendly artillery fire which