Khe Sanh Hill Fights of ‘67
Compiled by Ray Stubbe
All Rights Reserved by the Author
Conflict, Carnage, Conquest 30 April 1967
1stLt David Rogers, of M/3/3, recalls the day: "The weather on the morning of April 30, 1967, was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky and one could see for miles. There was no fog, smog, or air pollution that far away from civilization. Only North Vietnamese soldiers, Bru Montagnards, US Marines, and wild animals roamed those picturesque mountains, even tigers. The only things visible were Marines as the NVA had expertly camouflaged themselves on Hill 881 -South under the protection of intermittent fog... I should have figured that everything was going to go to hell after calling in a fire mission just prior to starting up the hill. I called for white phosphorus marking rounds before calling for high explosive. I was lucky I did as the first round whistled by real close and nearly hit a couple of Marines in front of us. I told the command group that I felt the battery at KSCB had made an error in azimuth computations. The battery was alerted and told to recheck their data. They admitted a human error had been made and said the error would be corrected by battery personnel. For the remainder of the day, subsequent rounds would land where called for."
On the morning of 30 Apr, shortly after first light, H/2/3 moved into the area of M/3/9's contact of 29 Apr (XD 791449). The enemy allowed Co H to move to within 100 meters of their bunkers and then opened up with .50s as well as sniper rifles with high-powered scopes. There were an estimated 50 NVA soldiers dug in bunkers to their front and 15 on their left flank at XD791447. The company immediately began taking heavy casualties from the intense crossfire of an estimated two enemy platoons at XD 793446. Second and Third Platoons of H/2/3 were immediately pinned down and took heavy casualties. H-2 had set up a base of fire on a small ridge less than 100 meters from the enemy emplacements while H-3 had moved over the forward slope of the ridge into a draw where the North Vietnamese opened up from well concealed and highly fortified positions.
1stLt David Spencer Hackett, the Co XO, was in a depression from where he could observe the source of the enemy fire. He charged 30 meters through a hail of murderous fire to direct the fire of a M-60 MG team near him against the enemy bunker firing on them.
LCpl Gary Eugene Mettler, a machinegunner attached to 2nd Platoon H/2/3, ignored the heavy volume of enemy fire and moved his M-60 machine gun to a vantage point to provide optimal fire support for his platoon. While moving across the fireswept terrain, he was painfully wounded. He refused medical evacuation and succeeded in emplacing his weapon and delivering accurate suppressive fire against the hostile positions. Despite his painful injury, he continued to fire his weapon until he was out of ammunition. Still under fire, he ran to a wounded Marine, retrieved the ammunition he was carrying, and continued to bring fire on the enemy. Only after friendly artillery had silenced the enemy position did LCplMettler consent to have his wound treated.
2ndLt Bruce Edwin Griesmer, the Platoon Commander of Second Platoon, was seriously wounded in the initial burst of fire, he continued to command the situation by skillfully maneuvering his men to more advantageous positions and directing the delivery of a heavy volume of fire on the hostile force. Continuously refusing medical evacuation, he continued commanding the situation, providing covering fire for the evacuation of the wounded and dead until, overcome with pain and loss of blood, he lost consciousness. One of the Navy corpsmen, Hospitalman Richard L. Kinney, rushed forward through the intense enemy crossfire, moving from one injured Marine to another to attend their wounds. While thus serving his fellow men, he was killed by the enemy.
With the other Corpsmen also wounded, Cpl Mark Leroy Black moved to the side of one of the corpsmen, retrieved his Unit One, and began rendering medical aid to the casualties. Disregarding his own safety, he fearlessly exposed himself to the hostile fire as he moved from one casualty to another, administering aid and comforting the wounded. Subsequently he organized several stretcher teams and helped carry the wounded to safety. Several Marines lived because of Cpl Black's actions.
Cpl Thomas Lance Brewer, a squad leader of H/2/3, noticed that one of his men had a serious wound, and moved through the heavy hostile fire to assist him. While attempting to move the casualty, Cpl Brewer was himself wounded in his arm, but, ignoring his painful injury, remained with the Marine to provide protective fire until further assistance arrived and the man was moved to a position of relative safety.
PFC Eugene Wall noticed a Marine trapped at the point, seriously wounded, and unhesitatingly moved through the heavy volume of fire to render aid to his comrade and carry him to a place of relative safely. Throughout the firefight, PFC Wall repeatedly moved across the fire-swept terrain to assist his wounded companions and move them to covered positions.
1stLt Hackett, constantly moving through one of the pinned-down platoons to organize the evacuation of the seriously wounded, sent his radioman to the Company Commander, Capt Raymond C. Madonna, since his radioman had been killed. Without means to communicate with the base of fire established by H-2, he rose from his position of safety despite the heavy enemy fire hitting around him, to direct fire from the base of fire. While moving, he was killed by an enemy rifleman.
PVT Michael Makovec of 3.5" rockets disregarded his own safety and moved through a heavy volume of fire to a vantage point to deliver accurate rocket fire against an enemy MG that was inflicting numerous casualties. Repeatedly exposing himself to hostile fire, he continued to fire his weapon until the MG was destroyed.
H/2/3 pulled back with its casualties and cleared the area for close air support strikes. Results of the fire fight were: 9 Marines KIA, 43 WIA (29 evacuated), 14 NVA KIA (confirmed) and another 25 probables.
E/2/3, meanwhile, moved on the left flank of H/2/3, receiving several rounds of sniper fire during Company H's contact. E/2/3 continued its advance unhindered to the southern approaches of Objective #3, Hill 881-North. The company spotted enemy troop movement (at XD 780451 ) at I 1 40H and at 161 OH took the enemy under fire while calling in gunships and air. At 1700H, E/2/3 (at XD 778452) received small arms fire from XD 782449 wounding 5 Marines.
The Third Platoon of E/2/3 had the mission of seizing the high ground on the right flank of the company objective when it suddenly came under intense small arms and automatic weapons fire and was pinned down. When he observed the wounded separated from the rest of the platoon and exposed to continuing hostile fire, Hospitalman John Charles Burke, Jr., completely disregarded his own safety as he dashed through the heavy volume of fire to aid the fallen Marines.
Despite the concentrated enemy fire, he moved from one man to another, skillfully administering first aid and evacuating them to the safety of covered positions during the 3-hour battle. On one occasion he was unable to move a Marine who had lost a considerable amount of blood. He fearlessly lay in a prone position shielding the Marine while he gave him medical aid, undoubtedly saving the man's life.
Simultaneously, Third Platoon's Right Guide, Cpl Robert Paul Foreit, began to maneuver to the wounded, using his own body as a shield to protect the wounded and a corpsman, HN Ronald E. Mclntyre. When rounds from the enemy fire landed only inches away, Cpl Foreit remained very calm and joked and talked to the wounded Marines to bolster their morale. When he located other casualties time and time again he gave cover to HN McIntyre so he could reach and treat the wounded. He then carried some of the casualties to a safer location. [A few days later, on 3 May, while rushing to the aid of a wounded Marine, Foreit was painfully wounded and evacuated].
Gunships were called to neutralize the enemy, and the casualties were successfully extracted. At 1927H, E/2/3 reported receiving sporadic small arms fire from XD 774453, to their northwest and reported its troops heard a warning device making a "beep" sound every time an aircraft passed over the area bounded by Hill 861, 881South, and 881North. As a result of their contacts, E/2/3 drew in tight within their perimeter at XD 778452 for the night as H&I’s were fired into the area. At mid-afternoon, after traveling one and a half hours through extremely dense foliage, G/2/3 arrived at the area where H/2/3 had had contact in the morning and withdrew in order to blast the area with supporting arms. The attack position was a small ridge line about 300 meters from the top of a very steep but nearly barren hill which lay in front of them, about one click northwest of Hill 861.
At this point, the First Platoon, G/2/3, moved two squads down to the base of the incline and got on line to assault the hill. One squad, Second, remained on the ridge line to be used as a base of fire in order to provide close support as the remainder moved into an extremely precarious situation, half crawling, half walking, up the bomb-riddled slope. The move was without incident until they came to the crest, at which time the assaulting elements came under intense fire from automatic weapons and extremely accurate sniper fire form the top of the hill, about 75 meters to their front. Despite heavy supporting arms, the enemy was still in the area. It was frighteningly eerie: "The ammo had no noise to them ... We couldn't hear the rounds go off - just bodies falling down, making it hard to distinguish where these rounds were being fired from. The best way we thought to assault the position was throwing a lot of hand grenades."
Immediately there were casualties. LCpl Rodin spotted an enemy bunker, but had trouble with his weapon and crouched in a kneeling position too long while attempting to clear it. An enemy sniper shot him in the left lung and left shoulder. Another casualty, PFC Yizzerea, was shot through the neck and bled profusely. SSgt Ruben Santos came to his aid, placing his finger inside the bullet hole and greatly reduced the flow of blood. The platoon corpsman, HN David L. Boucher, later declared that this immediate action undoubtedly saved PFC Yizzerea's life.
When the corpsmen arrived, SSgt Santos resumed his duties as platoon sergeant as the attacking squads sought what little protection the crest of the hill afforded. It was noted at this time that approximately a squad of the enemy was dug-in on top of the hill in bunkers and spider holes, which had withstood a continuous barrage of heavy bombs and artillery that early morning. They were armed with automatic weapons, including a MG and sniper rifle. It was evident that these enemy remained behind to delay the advance, a suicidal attempt to kill as many Marines as possible, thereby covering their retreating main force.
It was about 1830H and darkness was fast approaching, as the two assault squads lay pinned down just beneath the crest of hill. At this time, 2ndLt Peter M. Hesser decided to use the squad on his right as a base of fire and move the left squad further left and higher on the hill so they could assault across the front of the enemy. The squad on the right threw grenades and on command the squad on the left assaulted across the front, killing several of the enemy in their holes and bunkers.
The enemy were entrenched, having a wide field of fire. SSgt Santos, unconcerned for his own life, went from bunker to bunker, spraying the area with rounds and throwing grenades. At one time he caught a live grenade and dropped it into an enemy bunker, one which was facing the Marines advancing up the hill, saving many Marines' lives.
PFC Michael T. Mills, also maneuvering through the enemy fire, threw a hand grenade inside an enemy bunker, killing the enemy soldier and enabling his unit to continue to the top of the hill. When he spotted an enemy MG, he and LCpl Robert G. Cameron aggressively attacked the bunker and destroyed it with a hand grenade. Cpl David M. Coleman also was attacking the enemy bunkers and spider holes, exposing himself to enemy fire while throwing hand grenades into the occupied holes. Due to twilight, several of the spider traps were passed unnoticed as the hilltop was seized and the platoon established a 360° perimeter.
At this time, Cpl Coleman saw Cpl Richard Travis Schmitz being pulled into an enemy bunker. Cpl Coleman, without delay, jumped in front of the bunker, grabbed hold of Cpl Schmitz and attempted to pull his body free. The NVA inside, shooting through Cpl Schmitz's body, wounded Cpl Coleman in 5 different places, knocking him to the ground. Although shot in his legs, Cpl Coleman again crawled back trying to aid Cpl Schmitz, whom he thought was still alive. At this time, SSgt Santos arrived and Coleman was brought back to be treated by the platoon corpsman.
SSgt Santos, disregarding his own safety, fearlessly advanced and tied a line to the man's legs. As he attempted to pull the Marine from the hole, the enemy soldiers fired through the casualty's body, inflicting flash burns on SSgt Santos' face and hands. Realizing that Schmitz had succumbed to his wounds and that further attempts to clear the bunker in the darkness would cause additional casualties, he ordered his men to cover the bunker with logs and block all exits. On the following morning, investigation of the bunker revealed two dead enemy soldiers, one still alive-alive because he sat on a grenade; it blew off his ass, but he was still alive.
G/2/3 had sustained two killed and nine wounded in this action, and set in for the night at XD 789449.
On the morning of 30 April, M/3/3, prior to its assault on Objective #2, Hill 881-South, commenced a search of the adjacent draw in which the enemy troops had been massing on the preceding night prior to the artillery saturation with VT fuse (at XD 778446). While in the area, elements of the company located 5 NVA bodies and 2 NVA wounded. One of the wounded NVA attempted to escape and was killed; the second was captured but later died from previously inflicted wounds.
Prior to M/3/3's search of the draw, K/3/9 at 0615H had commenced movement from its nighttime position to link up with M/3/3. The company linked up with the rear elements of M/3/3 at 0815H, while the lead elements of M/3/3 attacked Objective #2 at 0800H. The assault by M/3/3 was led by Capt Raymond H. Bennett of Columbus, Ohio, Commanding Officer of a Marine detachment on USS ENTERPRISE who had requested TAD [Temporary Additional Duty] assignment in order to participate in the Khe Sanh operation. The CO of M/3/3, Capt Griggs, was on R&R.
The attack plan called for First Platoon, led by Lt Billy D. Crews, to move to the top of the hill, turn right along the ridgeline, while 3d Platoon, led by Lt Joseph Robert Mitchell, Jr., would follow in trace and turn left. Lt. Douglas Houser's training 2nd Platoon would provide the base of fire and reserve reinforcement to the lead platoons.
Hill 881-South consists of two high knolls with a saddle between, and several fingers sloping downward from the hill. The NVA occupied the hill with a battalion minus. [Note: the sizes of NVA units are greatly different than USMC. A NVA Division contains approx. 6,000 or more; a NVA Regiment approx 1,500, a NVA Battalion 400, a NVA company approx. 100, and a platoon, 30.] Both peaks were defensive strong-points employing perimeter defenses, while a lineal defense was employed between the knolls. Defensive positions also extended down the fingers to the northeast, north, and west. Both strong points had a CP but the main CP was on the western peak. Communication wire ran from the CP to three mortar pits on the hill at XD 778444 and to three mortar pits on the western side of the hill. An estimated platoon occupied each of the knolls at XD 778444, XD 764443, and XD 773423.
For the Marines of M/3/3, the threat contained on Hill 881South was anything but obvious. Artillery had fired on it all night. But what was up there?
1st Lt. David G. Rogers, an artillery officer of C Battery, 1/12, was with Capt Raymond H. Bennett, the Company Commander, 1stLt Joseph A. Cialone, the XO, and assigned radio operators: "..we didn't know exactly what was up on Hill 881 South. It was a real deceiving place to be in.. If somebody were to have told me that there was an entire battalion of North Vietnamese up on top of that hill, I think I would have looked at him and told him he was crazy. First of all, you couldn't really see any signs of North Vietnamese up there. We know there was people up there because we had seen them the night before. However, like I say, a larger unit, a battalion-sized unit, up on top of that hill - I just couldn't imagine it. We could see some bunkers, I'd say at the very most I saw probably five bunkers.. The rest were so well camouflaged, expertly camouflaged, that the average Marine couldn't see them unless we actually walked up on the position itself."
At 0830H, M/3/3 sighted 4 NVA soldiers on Objective #2 and called in artillery with unknown results. By 1025H the leading platoon of M/3/3, led by Lt Billy D. Crews, had reached the top of Objective #2, Hill 881-South, on the western end (XD 778438) and began moving east on top of the hill, receiving sporadic small arms fire. Lt Crews reported it was nothing he couldn't handle, and Capt Bennett ordered him to keep pressing eastward. At this time, Lt Crews ran into heavy opposition, and another platoon, led by Lt Houser, was dispatched to reinforce. With the second platoon joining them, the company closed on the enemy and was hit by heavy fire from a well dug-in enemy in heavily camouflaged positions and by sniper fire from individual riflemen located in trees. The two platoons also received 30 rounds of 82. The platoons were trapped, unable to advance or withdraw. The North Vietnamese had permitted the Marines to advance past their bunkers while going up the hill. They had excellent fire discipline. When the Marines attempted to come down the hill the same way they advanced, the North Vietnamese opened up on them. They could not move. The battle was to last some 6 hours. A special problem with Hill 881-South was the use of artillery. The only friendly artillery that could support Marines on 881South was 155 howitzers. These at KSCB were the old towed-type howitzers requiring a considerable amount of time to shift action, especially in the very muddy conditions then prevailing, usually about half an hour. 1stLt. David Rogers "..was with the command group which consisted of the Company Commander, Executive Officer, their radio operators, and my radio operator. The CO maintained radio contact with the platoon leaders as their platoons began the ascent. The firing of weapons was sporadic at first as the Marines of Mike Company advanced forward. A few explosions could be heard (grenades) and first reports via radio indicated only light resistance was being encountered and that the situation could be handled. I don't know how far up the hill the Marines had advanced before everything just seemed to explode on the north side of the hill. They got pinned down and couldn't be seen by the command group. The noise level increased sharply and reports started coming in via radio that resistance was extremely heavy. It was soon apparent that Mike Company had walked into a death trap. A perfect ambush had been executed and for those on the hill there was no way back down safely as they had become surrounded and victims of murderous crossfire. The hunters had suddenly become the hunted. Reports of Marine casualties came in including the death of a platoon leader, a friend of mine. [Lt "Buzzy" Mitchell]. Finally, only one radio was transmitting from the top of the hill to the command group. It appeared nearly impossible to coordinate the assault with the number of casualties being suffered.
"At the same time the command group had clustered together in a bomb crater located at the edge of a ring of death which had begun to fill with dead and wounded Marines and NVA soldiers. The crater provided some protection except for the mortar rounds which had begun to drop around us. One landed in front of us and about a minute or so later one landed behind us. To an artilleryman, that's called 'bracketing' - the next round lands in the middle of where the first two landed, which was where we were located. Fortunately, it never came, but I kept expecting it to show up for a long time. I knew if it landed in the bomb crater we would all be dead."
"I remember seeing from the command position one black Marine close to us charging up the slope of the hill when suddenly a mortar round went off behind him. He buckled at the knees, remained stationary with both knees planted on the ground for about 10 seconds, and then suddenly got up and kept moving forward. I thought for sure he had been seriously injured, but apparently the shrapnel had blown away from him and only the concussion from the explosion had momentarily stunned him."
Disregarding his own personal safety, 2ndLt Billy Derrell Crews, Platoon Commander of First Platoon, M/3/3, the point element, led his men up the hill, becoming wounded from a mortar in the assault. Despite his wounds and the continuous mortar attack, Lt Crews repeatedly moved up and down the hill to assist in carrying his wounded Marines to safety, exposing himself to enemy fire each time.
During this time, Cpl Bernard G. Elkins, Right Guide of First Platoon, M/3/3, repeatedly went from positon to position to provide battle dressings to his men. When the supply of battle dressings was exhausted, Cpl Elkins ran from position to position, under heavy fire, gathering all extra battle dressings and then returned to use them on the wounded. In the process he himself was wounded in the chest and arm. He was moved to the LZ for evacuation but insisted on gathering extra ammunition as he moved along and then carrying it back to his platoon and distributing it among the troops. He was instrumental in calming the wounded by talking with each man. He refused to be medically evacuated until all the other casualties had been loaded aboard.
The thick vegetation and intense enemy fire had resulted in the various squads of Lt Crews' First Platoon to become separated. One squad was forced to seek cover several meters in advance of the remainder of the platoon where it remained some 5 hours. The increasing intensity of the bitterly contested engagement saw several enemy assaults quickly deplete the remaining ammunition supply of this advance squad. The squad, like the platoon, could neither move forward nor withdraw without producing many casualties. In addition, they had taken several casualties, which made it even more difficult to move.
Realizing the necessity of rendering assistance and supplying the advance squad with critically needed ammunition, PFC Dorsey Burwin Williams unhesitatingly exposed himself to the enemy fire by crawling forward with ammunition. Advancing only a few meters, PFC Williams sustained a painful shoulder wound, but refused to return to safety despite being urged to do so, and continued forward. Approximately 10 meters from the advance squad PFC Williams threw several magazines of ammunition to them, while at the same time, enemy soldiers rushed from the thick foliage. Reacting quickly, PFC Williams wounded the enemy soldiers, but before he could again fire, the enemy soldier fired a burst of automatic weapons fire into his head, killing him.
The Second Platoon of M/3/3 was assigned the mission of moving up Hill 881-South and securing the left flank. Fire from one particular enemy bunker was inflicting heavy casualties and halted the advance of Second Platoon.
PFC Randy McPhee [2nd Fire Team, 2nd Plt, M/3/3] was on the point and got off the first shot, which triggered an ambush, killing him and the next three Marines within seconds. "Randy McPhee, our point man…that was his second tour of duty there. Just before we went into this particular battle-he was considered a 'Marine's Marine' kind of thing - but he fell down before the Sergeant there and cried and begged him not to go to this particular fight because, he said, 'If I go, I'm going to die.' And it kinda shook us all up because we knew he was no coward. But he went, took two rounds in the chest." Due to intense hostile fire, his unit was forced to withdraw, leaving his body behind (at XD 776438). [During the next two days, after the hill had been subjected to intense artillery fire and aerial bombing, when the Marines returned to recover remains of those killed on 30 Apr, none of the remains recovered were identified as those of PFC McPhee. He was MIA]
Realizing the necessity of eliminating the position, LCpl James H. Whisenhunt, a rocket squad leader with M/3/3, on his own initiative, advanced into an exposed area, a clear field of fire, and commenced to deliver accurate and effective M-79 rounds on the enemy. Scoring a direct hit, he then advanced across an open, exposed area to secure and destroy the bunker completely. In the process, enemy MG fire inflicted fatal wounds on LCpl Whisenhunt.
SSgt Karol R. Bauer was approaching the crest of the hill when he began warning his comrades to remain back and take cover as he heard mortars pop from their tubes. His warning was responsible for saving many lives as moments later an enemy mortar barrage saturated the Marine advance. After the barrage, SSgt Bauer rushed to assist the casualties to points of safety. While assisting one Marine, an enemy sniper mortally wounded him.
The numerous casualties kept the attached Navy Corpsmen frenetically moving from one to another in the area of bullets and mortars. Petty Officer Henry Cornell Steward's actions were typical. Fearlessly and repeatedly exposing himself to the hostile fire, he rushed through open area on three different occasions to assist movement of wounded Marines to places of relative safety, administering first aid and speaking words of encouragement. His professional ability and quick thinking helped to save the lives of 10 Marines that were seriously wounded and who would otherwise have died.
Although pinned down, the Marines were not by any means cowering. Typical of all was PFC Thomas Burrlan Knapp who moved his mortar to a dangerously exposed vantage point and, holding the weapon in position with his bare hands, began delivering accurate fire against the NVA. When his assistant gunner was killed, PFC Knapp continued to deliver effective fire unassisted until he sustained a painful head wound. Despite his wound, he refused medical evacuation and administered first aid to the other casualties.
Cpl Robert J. Schley, a MG team leader attached to First Platoon, moved his team to an advantageous firing position on his own initiative by moving across an open clearing and was able to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy.
After several hours of fighting, the gun was low on ammunition and Cpl Schley dashed from hole to hole, again under heavy fire, trying to locate additional ammunition. Although successful, he was painfully wounded in his shoulder. Refusing medical evacuation, he returned to his gun position as the only remaining member of his team able to fire. He continued to fire effectively on the enemy and then received a serious neck wound. Although profusely bleeding, he continued to fire, halting numerous enemy assaults until he died from loss of blood and his wounds.
Third Platoon was sent to assist Second Platoon and secure the eastern half of the hill. They, too, came under heavy fire and took numerous casualties, including the platoon commander. Don Hossack, radioman for the fallen Platoon Commander, 2Lt Joseph Robert Mitchell, laid the Lt across his legs, holding him and feeling for the carotid artery and looking up and listening for the gunships. The scene became the basis for a sculpture for a Vietnam Memorial in San Antonio, Texas by Austin Deuel. The Lt had only a tiny piece of shrapnel in his left cheekbone, which evidently deflected right up into his brain. Reacting instantly, 2Lt Douglas Houser organized the remainder of both platoons into an effective fighting force and, rallying his men, directed and encouraged them to continue the assault.
[Postscript: In March 2009, Don Hossack was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on 4/30/1967. Also awarded Silver Stars in 2009, for actions on 4/30/1967, were Ray Calhoun and Tommy Wheeler.]
During the ensuing 6-hour battle, he repeatedly exposed himself to the intense hostile fire to coordinate the advance of his men while he simultaneously supervised the medical evacuation of all casualties and assisted in their evacuation. While Lt Houser organized both platoons, SSgt Terrance Leo Meier immediately assumed command of the platoon upon the death of the platoon commander. Subsequently, becoming separated from his platoon, he remained with 6 seriously wounded companions and provided protective fire for them until he was able to move the men to a captured enemy bunker. From here, despite continuous incoming enemy fire, he called in artillery fire on the enemy force. Then he called in 81 mm WP rounds to cover their movement.
During this time, Cpl Larry M. Smith led his squad from the Third Platoon, M/3/3, to assist the point elements. Dangerously exposing himself to the intense enemy fire, he led his squad and maneuvered them into positions whereby the lead elements could be effectively supported by fire, until he was fatally wounded by incoming mortar fire.
HM3 Charles Allen Halstead, a Navy Corpsman of the Third Platoon, quickly moved to the position where most of the casualties were located and, under heavy fire, moved from man to man to treat their wounds. Evacuation of the wounded was undertaken under heavy enemy fire, but despite the mortar and enemy sniper fire, HM3 Halstead refused to leave until all of his patients had been evacuated first.
The battle was, after all, a maker of the people. Capt Raymond H. Bennett, commanding M/3/3, observed:
"The most impressive thing I saw is the actions of the American youngster. The same longhaired kid that loves rock and roll music and sometimes appears to the public to be a weak generation, comes through with flying colors when the chips are down. At one point I ran across a couple of men badly shot up. It was obvious to me, and to them, that they were dying. Yet there was no screaming or crying or moaning. They only gave good information to newly arriving troops on the locations of enemy targets such as machine guns."
The overwhelming volume of enemy fire made it apparent that M/3/3 must disengage in order to permit supporting arms, particularly air, to reduce the objective. Although the hill had been heavily bombarded, many of the bunkers remained intact or only lightly damaged. Additional heavy bombardment was essential prior to continuation of the attack.
1stLt. David Rogers with the M/3/3 CP in the bomb crater saw the survivors: "The Marines started trickling back off the hill slowly. Some were visible to the command group as they approached us carrying the wounded. I recall seeing one Marine whose breasts appeared to have been almost shot off, apparently shot at and hit from a 90° angle. Another half of an inch and surely he, too, would have been among the dead. I remember seeing one Staff Sergeant [SSGT Terrence Leo Meier], an outstanding NCO and leader, carrying one of his wounded men piggyback along with two rifles. He was cursing as he stomped back off the hill. His bitterness about what had happened was very apparent. He was later nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor. He never did receive it, and died a few months later of meningitis in a Naval hospital in DaNang." First Platoon, M/3/9, was sent to assist in the evacuation of casualties and came under heavy fire; the enemy attempted to prevent the link-up by pouring heavy blocking fire between the two Marine units.
Cpl Milton P. Vasquez, knowing it was too dangerous to lead his squad across without covering fire, dashed across the open, fireswept area, and single-handedly laid a base of fire which enabled his men to cover the distance with relative safety. The reinforcing unit nevertheless took many casualties. Numerous acts of heroism were involved in caring for and rescuing them.
Hospitalman Michael A. House continuously maneuvered across the fire-swept area to the side of his wounded comrades. Realizing that the casualties urgently required medical treatment prior to being moved, he courageously remained exposed to the enemy fire and skillfully administered first aid. Repeatedly, he placed himself in the most dangerous positions to care for the wounded.
PFC Vernon W. Metcalf fearlessly moved through the heavy volume of enemy fire to carry a casualty to a place of relative safety, himself becoming wounded as he did so. Ignoring his painful injury, he refused to be medevaced, and throughout the attack repeatedly exposed himself to the intense hostile fire to assist evacuation of other wounded Marines and their gear.
LCpl Karl G. Gimple repeatedly crawled through an open field, which was under heavy MG and mortar fire to retrieve several dead and wounded Marines as well as their gear. While carrying an injured Marine to the medical collection point, Cpl Gimple was wounded in the neck and shoulder. Ignoring his painful injuries, he resolutely completed carrying the wounded Marine to safety. Upon reaching the collection point, he refused medical aid and continued to assist in the evacuation of casualties.
Spotting a wounded Marine Iying in an exposed position, LCpl David Robert Barnard, with complete disregard for his own safety, moved through the heavy volume of enemy fire to carry the casualty to a place of relative safety. Throughout the attack, he repeatedly moved across the fire-swept terrain to carry the wounded or assist in their evacuation, saving the lives of numerous Marines.
PFC Leslie C. Wyeth, knowing fully the consequences, ran through an enemy barrage to a fallen Marine, picked him up, and ran back through the enemy's killing zone, sustaining a painful leg wound as he went. Ignoring his wound, PFC Wyeth refused medical aid and remained with his unit assisting in administering first aid and evacuating casualties.
Observing several wounded Marines Iying in an open area exposed to enemy fire, LCpl Joseph F. O'Neill unhesitatingly ran across the fire-swept terrain to assist his wounded comrades. As he carried one of the casualties through the hazardous area, LCpl O'Neill sustained a serious neck wound. Ignoring his painful injury, he steadfastly continued to assist the wounded to a place of relative safety.
KILO Company, 3/9, moved towards the base of Hill 881South and formed a defensive 360. The squad leaders were summoned: K/3/9 was to stand-by to assist if there were any trouble. And trouble there was!
"About an hour later was when all hell broke loose up on the top of the hill. You couldn't hardly hear yourself think where we were so much small arms fire and mortar fire going on." K/3/9 advanced to assist M/3/3 and M/3/9 to disengage. About noon, K/3/9 proceeded up 881South, company on line, platoon column. Second and Third Platoons went up the left side; First Platoon went up the right.
Reaching a small knoll about halfway up the hill, First Platoon became pinned down by a sniper who seriously wounded the rockets man. The corpsman immediately began attending to his wounds when the Lt got hit in the leg and someone called "Corpsman Up!" The Corpsman jumped up and started to run across the hill, but was shot through his head. One enemy dashed across an opening, attempting to climb a tree for a better shot at the Marines. He was shot and knocked out of the tree. Another NVA soldier ran across the opening; he was tore apart by Marine fire. Still pinned down, another Marine began to carry out the Corpsman, but was shot in the shoulder and fell. The Marines began to fire 3.5" rockets, and the platoon began to withdraw. The Marine who had been shot in the shoulder was again shot, this time in his leg. The enemy began pouring mortars. The Marines took cover in some North Vietnamese bunkers as the mortars exploded around them. Then the Lt gave the order to withdraw. Everyone ran off the hill-fast. "We went back and sat in, and they waited that night for whoever was going to come back, to come back. They brought the wounded and the dead back in, and it wasn't very pretty. They - quite a few of my friends were dead or wounded pretty badly."
Leading the point squad of Second Platoon, K/3/9, Sgt Dale E. Partee observed an enemy MG bunker and immediately directed his unit in a vicious assault, which resulted in the destruction of the emplacement. LCpl Orie O. Linn quickly located the enemy MG emplacement and, completely disregarding his own safety, moved forward through the hostile fire and without assistance, courageously assaulted the enemy fortification. Armed only with a .45 caliber pistol, he killed the occupants and seized their crew-served weapon. Second Platoon encountered devastating sniper rounds both on their way up, once up the hill, running across a little open space. "We lost quite a few men. I know I lost quite a few buddies. And those of us that made it got in the beeline up there which we knocked out a gook bunker and stayed up there. It was a hillside, which we couldn't see too far over it. We kept getting fire." Quickly and alertly assessing the situation and, realizing that prompt action was required to rescue those already wounded and without regard for his own safety, Cpl Edward J. Bohannon ran to a bomb crater forward of the wounded Marines. He deliberately exposed himself to the enemy to draw the enemy snipers' fire to himself He continued to draw their fire while simultaneously returning fire on the enemy. He remained in this dangerous position until all the wounded were safely evacuated. [Cpl Bohannon was killed 21May67 on a subsequent operation].
The Second Platoon now began to receive heavy small arms and automatic rifle fire from 3 enemy bunkers located across a 50 meter wide clearing in a tree line. Quickly assessing the situation and disregarding his own safety, Sgt Stanley Charles Butterworth formed up his squad and charged across the clearing through intense enemy fire and successfully silenced all 3 enemy bunkers. When the enemy attempted to organize a counterattack using a reverse slope defense, Sgts Partee and Butterworth organized their squads to deliver a high volume of accurate and suppressive fire, inflicting heavy enemy casualties and forcing them to flee. Their actions saved the lives of many Marines.
The platoon began recovering their wounded and dashed off the hill amid a shower of exploding mortars. During this, Sgt Partee and another Marine were wounded by an exploding mortar round. Ignoring his own painful wounds, Sgt Partee carried his wounded comrade to a place of relative safety.
Third Platoon, K/3/9, moved up Hill 881-South through a ravine. The vegetation was thick, but moveable, and began thinning out towards the top of the hill. The Marines of Third Platoon could see that the other platoons were pinned down by enemy fire, "..but we weren't receiving any fire of any kind from our movement up the hill. So we continued moving up on the hill, thinking that the VC hadn't spotted us yet and we might be able to get in behind them. That's when we underestimated them." The NVA force was prepared and had lulled the unsuspecting Third Platoon into a trap.
First Squad veered off to the left with the Platoon Commander, 1stLt John Braxton Woodall, and immediately found itself in the midst of an interlocking enemy bunker system. The initial burst of enemy fire felled the two point men who were closest to one of the hidden bunkers. Several attempts to reach the two critically wounded Marines were thwarted by a hail of deadly fire from the enemy positions. Immediate medical attention was necessary to save their lives. With a total disregard for his own personal safety, 1stLt Woodall grabbed a rifle and placed accurate fire into the bunker. He then charged the bunker and killed both of its enemy occupants. From this position he laid down covering fire enabling the two Marines to be carried to safety. As he covered their withdrawal Lt Woodall was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper.
There was a yell: "Corpsman up!" A Corpsman ran up to treat a wounded machinegunner. He said the machinegunner would be alright. But the wound was greater than at first apparent; the machine gunner died. Then the Corpsman was killed, and the whole squad wiped out. Then came the yell: "Get the other squad up there!" First Squad proceeded up the hill, but could not locate the point squad. Six Marines of First Squad made it to the top, but were pinned down as soon as they arrived.
"The VC had U-shaped bunkers in this one corner that we moved up on. And as soon as we reached it, they started throwing grenades and heavy volume of small arms fire in to us. They would come up out of the bunkers, and just throw a grenade, duck back down, and as you were concentrating on the one bunker that the grenade come through, there would be another one come up from behind you, and throw another grenade. At the same time-we don't know what kind of machineguns it was, but it had to be a pretty heavy caliber-it was coming in, just tearing up trees and anything that was in front of us."
The Marines of First Squad attempted to retrieve the casualties of the point squad after they were finally located: "..when we finally found them, we noticed they were all dead… over in the left-hand corner. They walked right into the enemy bunkers that were almost in a 360, right on top of the hill."
The remnants of Third Platoon managed to reach the bottom of Hill 881-South, regrouped, and about an hour later, charged back up the hill to recover their dead and wounded. LCpl Henry Rose, Jr., was checking the dog tags of the wounded and dead when a machine gunner, McQuillan, said, "Rose, Rose, the VC got a mortar over there. I can see it. I can see it! Can you hit it with a LAW?" Due to the large amount of canopy, Rose knew he could not. McQuillan fired at the enemy position with his machinegun, left-handed, from the off-hand. Then more mortars came and McQuillan was wounded in his back. "The mortar hit about ten feet in front of me and I did not get a wound, not a scratch on my body, but people behind me, all around me, got hit by this mortar. I didn't hear it when it came in. It was 60 mortars. They were - I never heard it at all."
Third Platoon finally reached the bomb craters and a heavy tree line where most of the dead and wounded were, and managed to move most of the wounded. "But the dead we couldn't hardly even more to get at em- snipers and machineguns set up." Cpl Kenneth W. Shields, a Squad Leader of First Squad Third Platoon, K/319, repeatedly exposed himself to fire from enemy bunkers to determine their exact location. After alertly pinpointing the exact location of several fortified bunkers, Cpl Shields effectively directed his squad's fire and assisted in the destruction of the enemy emplacements. Observing several wounded Marines lying in an area exposed to hostile fire, he disregarded his own safety and maneuvered through concentrated enemy fire barely escaping death from accurate snipers to carry them to safety.
Simultaneously, Cpl Walter Junior Washut spotted several dead and wounded Marines in an open area covered by heavy MG and rifle fire. With complete disregard for his own life, Cpl Washut maneuvered through the intense fire, making repeated trips until all the casualties were moved to safety. [Cpl Washut was later killed by a burst of enemy fire on 20May67 near Cam Lo while giving first aid].
Cpl Washut was not alone in rescuing casualties. He observed LCpl Roland F. Wing leave his position of relative safety and carry a wounded Marine through the hostile enemy fire to a covered position. Then he returned and brought another wounded Marine to safety. While attempting a third evacuation, he was felled, wounded by mortar fragments. But two Marines owe their lives to LCpl Wing.
The rocket men fired their 3.5" and the machinegunners fired for about 5 minutes without let-up. WP was called for a smoke screen. Third Platoon was able to withdraw. 37 dead marine bodies had been abandoned on top of the hill; trying to retrieve them would have meant the loss of much additional life. "..From what I saw I didn't think it was really feasible to go up there and sacrifice other Marines to get dead Marines down off the hill, even though you are taught in basic training to never leave a dead Marine out on the field if at all possible."
The Battalion (M/3/3, M/3/9, and K/3/9) now disengaged from the area of heavy enemy contact, moved to XD 782445, and set up for the night. Evacuation of casualties was completed by 302155H. Final casualty figures for the 881-South battle of 30 Apr were: 43 Marines killed, 109 wounded (90 of which were medevaced), 125 NVA killed (confirmed) and another probable 85. Most of the casualties were suffered by M/3/3, the initially engaged unit. 33 Marine bodies along with body parts were left on Hill 881, recovered 022100H by 3/3 who evacuated the body parts in one bag.
1st Lt. David Rogers was with the M/3/3 CP, which clustered together for a staff meeting. "Some comments were made by those who had been on the hill during the battle. Staff Sergeant Meier described how Second Lieutenant Mitchell had been killed: "'He got his face shot off.' It was very upsetting. My feelings were so intense I could barely sleep that night. Instead I composed a poem in my mind. The next day I wrote down the poem, either in a small green diary I had or on a sheet of paper - I cannot remember for sure. I dedicated it to the men who had died during the battle for Hill 881 South."
DEATH AT MY DOOR
Day is over as danger hastens
Young Marines at their battle stations
Instruments of war outline the sky
Means of death are standing by.
Can it be true on this high hill
Forces will clash only to kill?
Silence fills the near moonless night
Restless thoughts of a bloody fight
Endless memories for those awake
Meaningful discussions experience would make
Though silent world in which we live
Permits only God's comfort to give.
Somewhere through the darkness creeping
A date with death is in the keeping
Alone I sit and question why
Life itself, to be born to merely die?"
[This poem is inscribed in the base of the Vietnam Memorial statue by Austin Deuel in San Antonio, Texas, dedicated on 9 Nov 1986, a 15-Foot bronze sculpture depicting Don Hossack, a radioman, treating a wounded Marine on the battlefield of Hill 881South during the Battle of the Hills at Khe Sanh].