Khe Sanh Hill Fights of ‘67
Compiled by Ray Stubbe
All Rights Reserved by the Author
The Battle Won 07 May 1967
LtGen Victor H. Krulak, CG, FMFPAC, saw Khe Sanh as another Dien Bien Phu: "Because of its critical nature, the destruction of the base and forces at Khe Sanh probably has been an enemy objective of long standing. Enemy determination to destroy Khe Sanh or to attack it as a means of attracting US/ ARVN forces into a Dien Bien Phu type situation has been whetted by the fact that Khe Sanh is isolated in an area that favors the enemy in terms of terrain and weather."
The key terrain occupied and the enemy routed, the battle had been won, won by the determination and heroism of the individual Marine trooper.
Capt Rogers noted: "As far as the individual Marine goes, I think I learned to respect the individual Marine- the 18, 19 year old, 20 year old, more in this one particular battle than any other time that I've been in the Marine Corps. He was given a job; he went up in the face of danger, in the face of just being blown away, more or less, and he went up and did his job. To see the faces of the Marines dragging back their dead buddies, their wounded buddies, you could see how close the Marines really were with each other. It was true brotherhood, and I was really proud at the conduct of the Marines."
Lurking Death 09 May 1967
Major battles may be won and decisive victories achieved, but there nevertheless remain the "mopping up" operations that are just as deadly as the encounter with death in the decisive battle. The Angel of Death continued to lurk at Khe Sanh. On 09 May 1967, F/2/3 patrolled to the west of Hill 881-N (near XD 747473). Two platoons were moving along a trail that was fairly well used along a stream and then pulled off the trail to proceed up the slope of Hill 778. F-3 running point ran into what was at first assumed to be the point of a squad. Then F/2/3 began to receive automatic weapons fire from 3 or 4 directions. Since it was fairly light, they continued to maneuver, one squad on line. The fire rapidly grew in intensity and the Marines pulled off onto higher ground, taking heavy casualties. Cpl James H. Ward had a tail fin of one of his 3.5" rockets hit, that he was holding in his hand. He threw the 3.5 launcher to the ground, grabbed a rifle, and shot at some NVA he spotted coming up over a ridgeline., He shot one who "spun in the air," and then picked off enemy one by one.
Six feet from Cpl Ward lay the wounded FAC, Lt Harris, with a badly shattered leg. Four feet away, behind a rock, LCPL Simpson received a ricochetted round in his arm and leg. A couple of enemy bullets landed between Cpl Ward's legs, three inches from him. Cpl Ward began to drag Lt Harris to a safe place behind a rock where he applied a battle dressing.
The Platoon Commander, Lt Carroll, had been hit in both legs and an arm. SSgt Watts was hit in his shoulder and mouth. Cpl McKeen was hit in his chest and both lungs. There was only one corpsman remaining to provide medical help.
Cannon: "They first started off with messages such as 'Pigmallion 6 this is Foxtrot 6, we have encountered snipers, we have I kangaroo (KIA) and 3 wolves (WIA.)' In no time, it became, 'We have 5 kangaroos and 9 wolves.' Their problems were becoming larger with every passing moment."
LtCol Earl R. "Pappy" DeLong, CO of 2/3, immediately ordered E/2/3 to reinforce Co F. 1stLt John F. Adinolfi, acting XO of E/2/3, called in arty behind the enemy and then personally led his company with a platoon attached from Co H down into the ravine to evacuate the dead and wounded of Co F. Cannon: "As we came to the base of the hill to our front, I deployed my platoon for the assault and up the hill we went. Upon reaching the top, the platoon went into a hasty defense. I dropped to my belly and took out my field glasses to see if I could determine what was going on with Foxtrot Company."
"What I saw horrified me. The North Vietnamese were crawling over men of Foxtrot Company and stabbing what appeared to me as being wounded Marines. Foxtrot Company had been drawn into a saddle along a small ridgeline and couldn't move. I saw the NVA attempt to drag off what looked like a wounded Marine. "I grabbed a M-60 machinegun and determined that a clump of bushes, which appeared to me to be the closest the NVA had got to Foxtrot Company, would be my reference point. I determined that all left of those bushes were dead Marines and NVA. I opened up with a long burst of fire, raking the ridgeline from the bushes to the beeline at the left end of the finger. The range was about 1100 meters. I turned and told the weapons platoon sergeant to take the other gun, watch my tracers, and rake the finger from the bushes to the left. Our fire was right on target. "Meanwhile, my company commander had come up behind me. He shouted, 'Get off the gun, Cannon!' 'Go to hell,' I replied and kept firing. I meant no disrespect. He had not seen what I had. I knew what I was doing."
"After driving the NVA off, I turned the gun over to the gunner with instructions to keep the NVA off that finger. stLt Adinolfi was on the radio with battalion. As soon as the radio conversation was over, Adinolfi fumed to me and said, 'Jim, you're a leader, go pull them out.' I answered, 'You're a commander, give me some support.'"
"1stLt Adinolfi informed me that Foxtrot 6 was hit and that the entire company was pinned down and couldn't move. He said that LtCol Delong had told him, 'Send Cannon down there.' "I fumed to Frank Izenour, the 1st Platoon Commander, and asked him to guide me to the base of the finger where the bushes I used as a reference point were. I always carried a pen flare in my helmet cover band. I would pop one of these every few minutes and Frank could adjust me."
"We moved out. We knew it would be rough going and that time was of the essence. Somewhere along the line we had inherited a combat photographer, a Corporal, and before we had moved out, he asked if he could go with us. I could use all the help I could get. He grabbed a rifle from somewhere and left his camera behind..."
"Suddenly, shots rang out to my front. My point had made enemy contact. I saw my point man as I moved forward. He had two additional rifles slung over his shoulder. They were enemy rifles. We didn't have time to chat about what had taken place but apparently he had run into two unalert NVA and had killed them both. He pointed to his right. There, as far as I could see, were freshly dug graves. Bloody web gear lay all about." [203 enemy graves, at XD 750463]
"I informed Frank that I would be securing the high ground to Foxtrot's rear. At the top, I found 2Lt Carroll and three other Marines. Of the four, two had been wounded and two had not. It was payback time. I was glad that I could help him and Foxtrot Company. He had helped me so much just six days earlier."
"Meanwhile, back on Hill 803, where I had just been, the battalion commander had flown in by chopper with a skeleton staff, a 106 RR section, and another 81mm mortar section. They, too, were under fire from a hill to the north of them. I again asked for support but was denied at the time because they were under fire."
"It was time to act. One fire team and one machinegun, along with the combat photographer, would lay down a base of fire over the heads of us and Foxtrot. Two fire teams would assault through Foxtrot. As the assaulting fire teams passed through Foxtrot, the base of fire would shift their fire from the finger to the edge of the beeline. They would cease fire on a red smoke and join us by hand and arm signal. I would be with the assaulting fire teams."
"We moved out and the base of fire opened up over our heads. As we passed through Foxtrot, I overheard a big black Marine ask, 'Who was that on the machinegun ?' I asked as I passed him, "Why?' He replied, 'He saved our asses.' I felt relieved. I believe he was a gunnery sergeant."
"We passed through Foxtrot Company and opened up with our assault fire. My Marines began to run, firing and screaming across the northern finger... [The position was secured]. We were all to be helilifted back to Hill 881N."
Co F had 24 KIA and 19 WIA.