DA NANG--Leathernecks of the 1st Marine Division had to fight through their own command post recently to drive out North Vietnamese Army (NVA) sappers who breached the defensive lines of the 3rd Amphibian Tractor Bn., south of Da Nang.|
Attacking the camp from the north and south under cover of mortar fire, the sappers crawled through the defensive barbed wire. The NVA attacking the northern perimeter were driven back by Marines before they could get inside the camp.
The communists assaulting from the south managed to destroy two Leatherneck bunkers and moved to the AmTrac parking area inside the command post. Some vehicles were damaged or destroyed with satchel charges and rocket propelled grenades before Marines could drive the NVA from the area.
It was around 2300 hours on May 4, 1968 when the hootch next to ours exploded from an incoming rocket. Fortunately, the Marines that normally slept in that hootch were not in the battalion area at the time. Somehow sappers had infiltrated our "secure" battalion area which was guarded by 2 Marines atop amtracs, each with an infrared scope for night vision. These amtracs were manned with 30 caliber machine guns and were spread around our perimeter. We also maintained foot patrols outside the wire. Not long after the first incoming rocket everybody was where they should have been.|
Since I was one of "B" Co's Radio Operators, it was my duty to report to COC (Command Operations Center) in a situation such as the one unfolding. COC was located some one hundred meters from our hootch. Even though continual flares were being shot off ligthing the night area, I could still see tracer rounds coming from every direction. As I ran in a zig zag direction towards COC, I heard myself yelling, "Don't shoot damn it all; don't shoot I'm an American!" I could hear the thumping sounds of the rounds kicking up the sandy ground next to my feet while I continued to yell the same thing over and over. Looking back on it now, the yelling was kind of foolish, or at best, a waste of time. Anyway, there was mass confusion throughout the battalion area for those first several minutes. Explosions and small arms rifle fire were continously peppering our area.
When I arrived at COC, I wasn't surprised to see the underground bunker filled with battalion officers. Some of them were listening to the squaking radios, others were just standing around chatting with each other. One of the officer's who had looked my way as I'd dashed down the narrow wooden steps leading to the bunker told me to catch my breath and go back outside behind the wall of sandbags. The three feet high wall of sandbags encircled the bunker. About 20 Marines from "H&S" Co. had also been ordered down to COC to offer more security. Nobody believed that these sappers were there to overrun 3rd Amtrac's Battalion area. Their sole intention was to kill as many Marines as they could. Once they had situated themselves they "probably" didn't move the entire night or if they did move it wasn't too far from their original positions, knowing of course that there was no way they were getting out of the battalion area. They had to know that at daylight it would be all over for them. They would fire off a magazine of rounds from their well-concealed positions and then we would return fire, causing a commotion of cross-fire. This went on for somewhile until orders circulated to each company area not to shoot unless absolute enemy sighting. Eyes can play tricks on you at night and possibly the sappers were seen moving, maybe not, however, throughout the night a handful of rounds would go off with possible enemy sighting and then the shooting would start all over again. While this was going on we had absolutely no idea how many of them had penetrated our wire.
At the first light, squads were dispatched to find the sappers. It took a while to find what we then discovered were 8 of them; none of whom died at their own hand but were clearly hit from American rounds. They were all collected from their different positions and then lined up on the ground next to each other.
I remember the date well because I was born on May 4th, however, there is a big discrepancy in what the newspaper article didn't say and what several other Marines who were also there that night remember. They emailed me saying basically the same thing. "I remember that night very well and during the exchange of fire there were two Marines who died that night and some 37 others were wounded. I am very saddened that these brave Marines weren't even mentioned in this military newspaper article. If any of you guys know the names of these Marines please give me a shout. Thank you!
I just didn't know...PLEASE read our XCO "Col. Stub Chace's" account of that night...He offers far more knowledge of that night than my memories recall from a basically safe position behind the wall of sandbags.
I don't know Spanish, so I'm not sure about the way to spell 5th of May. It
is however a big holiday in Mexico and for some of us, one to remembered, in
Vietnam in 1968. If you haven't done so you should go to Roy Stanford's web
site (you're already here) and click on "In the wire" It offers two other accounts on what happened that night.|
On the 5th of May 1968, 3rd Amtracs had the following officers in Command positions'
Lt Col Haebel C.O.
There were 3 KIA's and 45 WIA's..45 Purple Hearts awarded to in country members of the Battalion. 15 LVT's were damaged or destroyed (6 Destroyed 9 damaged) 3 were destroyed and 7 damaged by satchel charges; (5th of May) 3 destroyed and 2 damaged by mines. So not only was it a very busy month, but the events on the morning of 5 May will long be remembered by many of us.
It was around midnight when the 1st of an estimated 82 rounds of mortars were fired into the CP, resulting in the destruction of 4 buildings. At the same time we lost contact with LVT bunker in the southwest corner of the Camp. It was a half buried P-5 facing south. Attempts to communicate were futile. When the mortar rounds went off we cranked up our siren and everyone headed for the wire. B Co Marines reached the Amrtrac Bunker and called in that the sentry was dead. By this time we knew we had been penetrated. With all the Marines on the wire except for H&S Marines around COC, we had Sappers running in all directions throwing satchel charges in the LVT's of H&S. One LVT was quite close to COC and was filled with 20 mm rounds. The vehicle caught fire but it did not explode the ammo. At that, I remember a Marine falling down the steps into COC. He was badly burned and the skin hung loosley from his upper torso and arms. The corpman in the bunker grabbed a 5 gallon can of water and poured it over him..then another and then another. He was given a morphine shot and carried to sick bay. He had been in one the vehicles that took a satchel charge. We had called for illumination from the 3rd Marines and some was provided by the Green Beret "Nung" Camp to our north. The CP was like day light..but dangerous. There were so many shells being fired, that the cannisters were bouncing all over the place. At one point, we lost contact with the bunker just south of the LVT road that led to the beach.
I decided to check it out and on the way down the road, I saw a Marine lying in the roadway. I reached down and felt his jugular vein and there was no pulse. His right foot was at right angle to his leg and it appeared to have been blown off. Sgt Cobis was with me and I heard him say "It's Joe Foot.' We checked out the bunker and the sentry was wounded. He had taken a grenade. Back in the CP, we got the word that several of the sappers were in an unoccupied bunker near the Staff NCO club. Haebel asked me if I thought we could take one of the sappers alive. With Ben, our Chu Hoi, and a sound powered microphone and Cobis, I went to south corner of the Staff NCO Club and told Ben to tell them to surrender. There were several in the hole. Ben began his speech but a grenade was the answer. It fell harmlessly about half way to where we were. By this time there was a semicircle of Amtracers there. Ben started hollering in English, over the mike "Kill those fuckers," which he repeated several times before I got the phone away from him I told him one more time to see if they would come out. Another grenade came out. I then took the phone and told the Marines to unload. A whole bunch of fire followed and a couple of grenades went into the hole, and it was over. There were 6 in the bunker.
I was really surprised, when at first light,I retuned to the bunker. They looked like teen age kids. Wearing only tan shorts and from one I took a Russian wrist watch which I still have.
What ever happened to the rest, I don't know. It was estimated that 28 were inside the wire. The question then became what to do with the 6 bodies. I don't know of the communications that took place with the ARVAN's but I do know there was no plan for picking up the NVA'/ s who were killed. I finally talked to Cobis about turning over the bodies to the Bhuddist Priest on Chin Strap. This was agreed to. We put the bodies in body bags and drove a P-5 over to the stairwell leading to the Bhuddist Temple. We also supplied six bags of lime as requested. What happened after that, I don't know. I assume that 6 bags of lime were used to decompose the bodies.
When the sun came up, I put on my bathing suit and went to the beach. It was a beautiful morning. Somewhere during the night I had run into a wire of concentina and my left arm was on fire. I remember laying there in the surf zone trying to figure out what had happened.
Around 0800, I went to the CP and met with the Sgt Major. He gave me a list of WIA"s at the Naval Hospital. I told him that the list was wrong and that Joe Foot was dead. He told me, at that time, that the Marine who was so badly burned was the son of a Sgt Major in the 1st Division. Later during the day, I found out thar Joe Foot was alive and in intensive care. I never met the Sgt Major whose son had been so badly burned...our Sgt Major told me about him from time to time. In early August I was reading the morning message traffic and it said the Marine had died of pneumonia in the burn center in Texas and to send his sea bag to the following address. By this time I was CO of the Battalion and I remember trying to write to the Sgt Major and his wife about their loss. It was one of the most unpleasant days of my life, since I thought the Marine had made it. As for Joe Foot, I was in the SNCO Club at Camp DelMar when Joe arrived on two elbow cruthches. I remember hugging him and crying since the last time I saw him was in roadway thinking he was dead. All he could say and he said it many time thereafter, "Here's the colonel who said I was dead!"
It was a night to be remembered. I remember talking to Bill Cobis the morning after and I said "Why did you follow me all night?" He replied that although I had my pistol in my shoulder holster, I had no clips of ammunition with me. Maybe someday I will be able to record the affection that Cobis and I had for each other, going back to Korea.,and for many years there after.
Anyway, so much for the 5th of May. Another interesting time was in August as described in Roy's net about the Sappers Repulsed. I was there.
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