port. Fortunately, the seasonal monsoon did not develop, and incoming
loads totalled some 250 tons per day, which were dispersed among the
units at bases and those on patrol. General Dwyer later characterized
the helicopter support during the operation as "a mixed performance,"
noting numerous instances of performance that was less than adequate.
In the final analysis, however, he allowed that, "... the net effect
was: We had plenty of artillery, plenty of food, plenty of ammunition.
. . ."101*
Throughout the last half of December, units of the 3d Marines searched the eastern half of Base Area 112, frequently finding signs of the enemy's recent presence, but only rarely encountering Communist troops. The area included scores of NVA rest camps, kitchens, small unit headquarters, surgical facilities, and even apparent prisons (or POW holding areas), all abandoned. Usually, the Marines found enemy graves, small quantities of stored food, weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, or documents. Occasionally, patrols engaged small groups .of North Vietnamese or Viet Cong, but no major contacts developed. Lieutenant Colonel Stemple remembered that his F and H Companies, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines during patrols on a slope west and south of FSB Pike had "sharp short engagements with small NVA units." According to Stemple, he initially assigned two scout dog teams to each company in this triple canopy terrain "to sniff out any enemy to the front or flank." Because of the restricted visibility, the advantage lay with the side who spotted the other first. The battalion commander stated that the North Vietnamese very quickly observed that it was to their benefit to kill the dogs before shooting at Marines. In late December, he recalled that he had the opportunity to make his case for more dogs during a visit to Vietnam by the Commandant of the Marine Corps General Leonard F. Chapman. The flow of scout dogs to the combat units soon increased and that in the later stages of Taylor Common, Stemple assigned three dogs to a company.102
The second phase of Operation Taylor Common ended with 1968 on New
Year's Eve. During the third and final phase of the operation, which
lasted until March, TF Yankee pushed west to within 30 kilometers of
Laos, finally encountering more enemy troops.** The task force accomplished
its mission by locating and destroying the enemy logistics infrastructure
in Base Area 112. Although Operation Taylor Common did not attract a
great deal of attention-owing this, thought General Dwyer, to the remoteness
of the AO-it was a successful large, mobile operation. The multi-regiment
task force, operating far from its permanent bases, carried III MAF
offensive striking power deep into enemy territory, using much the same
tactics as that of the 3d Marine Division in the north.
* Colonel Stemple, the commander of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, remembered that while his unit established itself on Fire Support Base Pike and the battalion was in the process of building ammunition storage revetments there he was told that a large number of helicopters was to bring in the next day the entire ammunition storage level to Pike. According to Scemple, he protested the order, stating that the ammunition dumps were far from ready. Nevertheless, the following morning, "a literal daisy chain of helicopters" brought in heavily laden cargo nets filled "with 155mm artillery shells and boxes of green and white bag gun powder for the 155s and boxes of 105 and 81mm mortar ammunition." With the operation in full swing, enemy rocketeers took the base under fire. Two rockets landed in one of the revetments containing 155mm gun powder. The battalion commander related the "resulting explosion was visible for miles around and secondary explosions rocked the fire support base." Miraculously only one Marine was killed. A Marine and Army ordnance disposal team deemed tons of the ammunition as unstable which had to be then helilifted to facilities at Da Nang. Colonel Stemple remembered that, "the ammunition stock levels at the support base were reduced and the stocking completed as safe storage was completed." Stemple Comments.
** For a complete treatment of the closing phase of Operation Taylor
Common, see Charles R. Smith, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1969: High
Mobility and Standdown (Washington, D.C.: Hist&MusDiv, HQMC,
1988), pp. 88-102.