Page 453

Page 453 (1968: The Defining Year)

ered, went unchallenged.

Two days later, Hopkins ordered Captain Richard J. Murphy's Company F to cross the Song Ngan valley and assault the ridgeline extending along the southern boundary of the DMZ, the site of several suspected enemy mortar positions. After heavy air and artillery strikes, the company seized the western portion of the ridgeline under fire. As Murphy's Marines moved eastward, hidden NVA opened up with small arms and automatic weapons on the lead elements of the company. The enemy was well entrenched and dense vegetation made it difficult to spot the sources of enemy fire. Having fought its way into the middle of a large, well-laid out bunker complex, the company now found it hard to maneuver without taking additional casualties and leaving its wounded.

Despite overwhelming odds, Murphy's company extracted its casualties, reorganized, and following another heavy air and artillery strike, prepared to assault. Turning to his troops, platoon leader Second Lieutenant Steven P. Brodrick shouted: "All right Marines, take this hill and earn your pay!" Brodrick then led his platoon back into the enemy complex and maneuvered forward until he was killed by a direct burst of automatic weapons fire.11

Alerted earlier in the day to follow in trace of Company F, Hopkins quickly committed Company H to reinforce Murphy's Marines. Attempting to envelop the enemy complex from the north, it too ran into heavy enemy fire and a fierce firefight ensued. However, once Company H was able to bring its full firepower to bear, the enemy withdrew and by the time Company G moved in to reinforce its engaged sister companies, the battlefield had quieted. Enemy losses were unknown, but the battalion suffered 13 killed and 31 wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Hopkins remembered that the battle, "took place on a hill on which the southern boundary of the DMZ ran across the topographical crest." The NVA kept its forward defensive positions south of the DMZ, "while the bulk of his forces" remained in the so-called demilitarized area.12

Following air, artillery, and mortar missions, Captain Joseph M. Dwyer's
Company G led out in the assault on 12 December. Those of the enemy,
who could, had escaped, and the attacking companies searched the area
without contact. One North Vietnamese soldier was found alive and unharmed
in a bunker and he quickly was relieved of his loaded light machine
gun and whisked off to the battalion command post. Under interrogation,
he told his captors that the position had been occupied by the 1st
Battalion, 27th NVA Regiment
, and that the battalion commander
and his staff had died in the fighting. Lieutenant Colonel Hopkins later
wrote about his frustration of not being permitted "to pursue the fleeing
27th NVA Regiment. . . ." He recalled bitterly, "standing on
the topographical crest.. . showing various media representatives the
blood-stained trees on both sides of the trails leading into the DMZ
. . . ." Hopkins was convinced "that a significant volume of enemy casualties
and materiel could have been captured or uncovered before being moved
back across the Ben Hai."13

During the next two weeks, Hopkins' battalion searched east and west along the ridgeline, dubbed "Foxtrot Ridge." Employing tactics to draw the enemy south of the DMZ, the battalion repeatedly maneuvered out of the area as if leaving, then quickly struck back. But, because of his losses, the enemy apparently had decided not to contest the terrain, and no further engagements occurred. On the day after Christmas, the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines departed the area by helicopter for the Cua Viet sector where they participated with the 3d Battalion, 2d ARVN Regiment in cordoning the village of Xuan Thanh.*

The first days of November found Colonel Robert H. Barrow's 9th Marines scattered throughout the southern portion of the division's area of operations, where the Scotland area was expanded due to the departure of the 1st Cavalry Division. Lieutenant Colonel George W. Smith's 1st Battalion, which had relieved elements of the Cavalry division's 1st Brigade at Fire Support Base Anne, southwest of Quang Tri, continued to conduct company-sized patrols of the surrounding area in search of the enemy, his supplies, and base camps. Later in the month, the battalion participated in two combined cordon operations: the first with the 3d Marines in the Mai Loc area and the second with elements of the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division around the Thuong Xa and Mai Dang village complexes south of Quang Tri City.

The 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, under Major Frederick E. Sisley, which had been inserted into the eastern portion of the Vietnam Salient in late October, by

* Brigadier General Hopkins remembered rhar rhe week before Christmas,
bad weather restricted helicopter resupply and then the weather cleared
a few days before the holiday. When resupply resumed, the battalion
faced the dilemma of either receiving C-rations or "the Christmas packages
stacked up in the rear awaiting delivery." The Marines decided upon
the "Christmas packages." Hopkins quoted one of his troops, "if we don't
get enough food in the Christmas packages, we can always find a few
more rice caches." BGen Joseph E. Hopkins, Comments on draft, dtd 6Dec94
(Vietnam Comment File).

Page 453 (1968: The Defining Year)