Marines in Vietnam


Overview of Marines in Vietnam

By Bruce Eades 04/11/15

WELCOME HOME MARINES!

And Good Morning Bradley T. Arms Detachment. We normally meet to discuss community service project such as “TOYS FOR TOTS” for those less fortunate. It is Natural and God Given for us Marines to want to help children and especially orphans (of whom Wars have produced many, both here and in Vietnam). But today we have a different assignment, and it has been one of the toughest since being in NAM almost 47 years ago.

Today, we are here to dedicate these bricks that memorialize our fallen Brothers and those Battles that we fought together in Vietnam.

         As hard as it is to conger up these old memories of those gentle heroes we lost in the rice paddies, deltas, jungles, mountains and cities and villages of I Corps; it is important that we take a backward glance at what these brave Marines have taught us with their dying and keep their memory alive.

         It was February 1965 and the 9th Marines Expeditionary Brigade, over 7,000 Marines under General Karch had been standing off coast of Vietnam for 2 months.  Finally in rough seas on March 8th BLT 3/9 hit Red Beach DaNang at 0900 hrs and were met by the Mayor, Vietnam General Thi in purple camo, and a bevy of pretty Vietnamese college girls with flower leis.  Embarrassed General Karch and his Marines would rather have been hitting the beaches of North Vietnam.

         By summer (5) infantry Regiments were in country supported by (4) aircraft groups.  Operation Starlite pitted the 7th Marines in a 3 prong attack on 2000 Viet Con in BaTanGan peninsula south of Cha Lai.  (Ironically Ba Tang An means 3 villages of peace in Vietnamese).  Over 1000 Viet Cong were killed in ensuing battle that forever changed the Viet Cong strategy to that of an insurgery … rockets, mortars,

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ambushes, sniper and worst of all the hideous mines and booby traps.  But the 26th Marines would, 4 years later, return here for largest amphibious landing of the war.  The first local Marine casualty, LCpl. Tom Grinnell, who’s Mighty Mite Jeep, like the one inside the museum, hit a mine at Hai Van Pass on 3 Sept 1966 (just 13 days before he was due to rotate home).

         About that time Intel indicated that the 324th North Vietnam Division Had crossed the DMZ and were in the hamlets across the Cau Viet river from Dong Ha. Thus started Operation Hastings, as the Marines took on a new enemy with superior weapons and supplies. Concurrently Operation Prairie against 341st NVA went on around the Rockpile through May. Combat firebases were being established in an area known as Leather Neck Square extended out from Dong Ha north to Gio Linh and west to Con Thien near the DMZ and south Rockpile/CamLo on Route 9.

         April of 1967 saw the 2nd area Marine casualty PFC Doug Wallace killed in Action by booby trap as 9th Marines operated west of Phu Bai. When I arrived in country one month later, like most of us, I was a “F”NG (brand new guy) point rifleman with Lima 3/1 making a sweep of the Happy Valley “Rocket Belt” west of  DaNang on Operations Union.  To the South as part of same operation, there was also heavy fighting by 5th Marines in Que Son Valley southwest of Hoi An.   Things were getting even bloodier in the Northwest Corner of Quang Tri around Hill 861 and Khe Sanh.

         That Spring also saw Marines trading in M-14’s and being re-armed with M-16’s.  As we all know, there were initially a lot of problems with the new rifle jamming and the lack of proper cleaning kits.  It was great at short range with terrific velocity and together with lighter weight loose uniforms and jungle boots and flak jackets, we were

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ready for Bear.  But what we got were Divisions of NVA soldiers (29,000 crossed the DMZ in 6 months, many didn’t make it back).  They carried AK-47’s, a much more powerful and reliable weapon.  In fact it and their RPG Rockets, which you can also see and hold in the museum, are the weapons of choice for today’s terrorist.

         Mid-Summer of 1967 (after just 2 1/2 years) Marine casualties in Vietnam past the total for the entire Korean War and Vietnam became 2nd largest war in the Marine Corps history.

         Fall of 1967 saw heavy fighting by 2nd B/ 1st Marines around Leather Neck Square in Northern I Corps.  Our third local casualty Sgt. Allen Firth, who is depicted here in guard tower at Con Thien, was killed by artillery from DMZ.

         TET Offensive of 1968 actually started for us the day after Christmas 1967 when our BLT 3/1 made an Amphibious landing North of Hue in Operation “Badger Tooth”.  We hit the wrong village and then were caught in the open by a regiment of NVA who were dug in preparing for their attack on Hue. Out of range any air, artillery or navel guns support, our losses that day are indescribable; my only solace is the fact that 1 month later, during Operation “Badger Catch, we were able to trap and decimate them in the Hamlet of Lam Xuan East near the DMZ.

         Although the enemy was not successful in their TET attacks on DaNang and the other cities of I corps, they were able to infiltrate the open city of Hue in civilian clothes.  Midnight January 30th, they changed into uniforms, let go rocket and mortar barrages and revealed themselves essentially in control of the city.  After 23 grinding days of street fighting (an experience that the Marine Corps used to advantage later in Faluja, Iraq)  1/1 and 1/5 along with Vietnamese Marines reach

 

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Southeast wall of Citadel.  Mop up continued for a week and on March 2nd Battle for the Hue declared over.

        Of course a lot was happening in the North, near the DMZ, particularly with the 26th Marines around Khe Sanh (the longest battle of the war) where our 4th casualty PFC Howard Hollar was shot down in C-130 which had been cleared to land and then was waived off for another fateful pass, because of an ARVN pilot who had ditched his radios in an 0-2 Birddog dropped in the same time, Howard died along with 47 other Marines (a real tragedy).

Mid-April brought what the Marines called “Second TET or Battle of Dai Do”. Determined NVA Divisions attacking Dong Ha fought a seesaw battle with 2/ 4 Marines in the deadliest battle of the war!   Equally deadly was the fight the 27th Marines got into clearing GoNoi Island of NVA area Southwest of DaNang in Operation Allen Brook. Heat index was 130 degrees!

         After Tet, General Cushman’s plan for Spring was three phases: Relief of Khe Sanh, a Raid of the A Shau Valley and a Sweep of the DMZ.

         On Operation Pegasus, our BLT 3/ 1st Marines after 3 months working the area between DMZ and the River, winning a PUC for managing to keep the Cua Viet supply line open to Dong Ha, we moved west to Camp Carrol and then on to Ca Lu to protect Route 9 from 308th NVA operating from Laos. They were guarding a tank roadbuilding effort, which had already made it 30 miles east into Vietnam towards Hue when it was discovered.  Sharp battles and ambushes broke out as we set up platoon size units at bridge positions and fought off the rejuvinated  301st  NVA.  The 1st Cav leapfrogged ahead of us to meet 26th Marines working southeast out of Khe Sanh.  Meanwhile General Davis ordered the 4th   Marines and one Battalion of

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9th Marines to get out their defensive posture and back to fast moving, high mobility operations, for which the Marines are trained.  These Operations “Robin North” and “Robin South” southwest of Khe Sanh near Laos, were deemed extremely successful decimating the brand new 308 NVA div. in less than 2 weeks.  Meanwhile as the 320th NVA was being ejected from DMZ by 3rd Marine Div, local hero Warrant Officer Robert Marshall, while winning the Bronze Star at Con Thien, became our community’s 5th loss.

         Monsoon season pitted six Marines Battalions of 1st and 4th Marines on Operation Meade River in Dodge City area South of DaNang along with 5th Maries in Arizona Territory pushing west opening Route 4 to Special Forces camp at Thuong Duc (it was the second Special Forces Camp to Lang Vei to be overrun).  The Operation ended with a 1400 NVA and 100 Viet Cong Body Count.  Not worth it, because our community lost our 6th man, a pilot 1st Lt. Charles Butler, who achieved a Distinguished Flying Cross, before crashing his CH-46 due to instrument failure while returning in a storm through Hai Van Pass.

         Tet 1969 was only a pale shadow of the TET 1968.  So after the second Dewey Canyon in the Da Krong Valley in SW corner of Quang Tri, and with the enemy’s base camp cleaned out, the war was over for the 9th Marines.    They returned to Okinawa as part of drawdown of the troops.

         By the end of 1969, in the five Northern provinces of Vietnam composing I Corps, 94% of the population was judged to live in secure areas.

         The pacification programs were accelerating with county fairs and CAP (Combined Action Platoons) growing to number 110 Marines Squads now living among the villagers along with a platoon of local

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popular forces, whom the Marines were training to defend themselves.  The all-volunteer program had a 50% causality rate, but was successful enough that the model was used for subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  One of these CAP Marines was another local hero, LCpl Howell Blakey who died of small arms fire while patrolling with two other Marines and a scout dog.  Upon being ambushed he sent the other two Marines for help and held off Viet Cong until he was KIA when they returned.  

The enemy had reverted to guerrilla and terrorist operations in 1970 and Marine casualties were down to 403 and continue to tail off in 1971 compared to 600 week in 1968 (the deadliest year of the War).

        Still Lance Corporal Walter Ross became our areas’ final Marine casualty in July 1970 while winning the Bronze Star with Combat V for his actions in firefight in Arizona Territory West of Hoi An.

        With the new policy of “Vietnamezation of the war”, Marine units continued to leave Vietnam for re-deployment around the globe. The last operation “Frequent Wind” a ground security force from BLT 2/4 evacuated 978 Americans and 4,475 Vietnamese from Tan Son Nhut and the Embassy in Saigon. The last CH-46 carrying the last 11 Marines took off from the roof at 0753 on April 30 1975. Marines Casualty figures in Vietnam were high (1/3 of all American casualties):over 14,000 Marines killed as a result of enemy action and 88,000 wounded.

May we have a Moment of Silence to remember our Brothers.

Another 47 marines were POW’s and 105 are still listed as missing in action. That is why we on May 24th, we are RIDING the 28th Rolling Thunder 1st Amendment demonstration for a full accounting of our soldiers and Marines.

We owe thanks to Carlton Crenshaw who generously funded these Memorial Battle Bricks.

Recently, he reminded me that the Vietnam War was unique in that the Marines were not only fighting the larger Operational battles depicted here today.  Unlike any other previous war, we were in constant danger daily from ambushes and firefights, snipers, booby traps, land mines and artillery, rockets and Mortars----------LORD, it is no small miracle that we are here today to remember our Fallen Heroes.                                                                                                                  

                                                SUMMARY

         The Marines were the First Combat troops in Vietnam and the last to leave.

            They bore a greater portion of the fighting than any previous war.

            Trained as an attacking force, many times Marines found themselves in an unfamiliar defensive role.

             Rapidly they adapted to this new type of counter insurgency warfare….living up to their legendary fighting tradition in these hard fought Battles that we honor here today! 

                                                OOH RAH    

*** Today many Marine Vietnam Veterans are still fighting battles, rather it be from old wounds, PTSD or the effects of Agent Orange.

It is the Hope of our Curator, Craig LaMountain, and Dick Thompson and the rest of the Volunteers of The Vietnam Experience Museum, that this place will help our Veterans HEAL by educating the public and our families of our struggles for Freedom so far from home in VIETNAM. Special thanks to Alan for making our visual aid Maps….you guys are all Great!                                   Semper Fi                    

Once A Marine, Always A Marine