Excerpted from a “buddy letter” submitted to the Baltimore, Maryland Regional Office of the Veterans Administration in behalf of HM2 Rodney A. Hardin in support of a Disability Claim in May 2004 by Larry S. Green, Captain, USMC (Retired.) Reprinted with the Skipper’s kind permission. A few names and dates were added for editorial and historical clarity of personnel, time and place.
Our Battalion returned to RVN in October of 1966 from refitting in Okinawa and as a part of Operation Prairie, made a combat landing in Northern I Corps in the vicinity of Mai Loc south of Dong Ha. We later relocated westward to a series of hills north of the landmark known as the “Rockpile.” The location was within artillery range of the DMZ, within 82-mm mortar range of Hill 400 (Mutter’s Ridge) to the north and within 60-mm mortar range of a sharp 4,000 meters long promontory appropriately known as the “Razorback” to the west. Mike Company’s mission was to aggressively patrol the area west and north of our position to interdict infiltration routes used by the enemy. At least three reinforced squad combat patrols prowled the area west of the battalion daily. A corpsman accompanied each of these patrols. At least three ambush patrols went out after sundown and remained out until after dawn. On several days a reinforced a reinforced platoon combat patrol sallied forth to the area directly north of the Razorback. Enemy contact was light during the period in October through November , except for frequent mortar attacks. However, much evidence was gathered of increasing infiltration by NVA forces from the DMZ toward the western side of the Razorback. On occasion on clear nights, when it did not rain, the infiltrators could be seen with binoculars in a column hundreds of meters long moving southwest along a trail on Mutter’s Ridge. They were using flashlights and some kerosene type lanterns. We took them under fire with an M-48 tank and artillery. The lights would shut off for a few minutes and then turn back on and scurry around as the enemy gathered their casualties. Mike Company [3/3] made two major operations during the period of my command. The first was an operation in which Mike and India Companies with a command group lifted by helicopters into the vicinity of Mai Loc, ostensibly to destroy the VC and NVA units gathering there. We departed about a week prior to Thanksgiving . We carried only three meals and relied upon air support for re-supply. After sweeping the enemy from the villages the monsoon set in grounding all air support. We organized a perimeter, sent out patrols and bided our time. After several days without food the battalion began to forage for food, digging roots and harvesting green bananas. Some captured rice was eaten. Three small chickens and one skinny pig were consumed. A water buffalo charged one of my men and was shot by a marine. We were refused permission to butcher, roast and eat the buffalo. We were finally re-supplied by two Amtracs with a platoon from Golf 2/9 riding shotgun after ten days. Dehydration and diarrhea devastated the troops. The weakened marines, who had crew-served weapons, had to be helped with carrying the weapons and ammunition aboard transportation. I had been a robust, muscular 185-pounds at the start of the operation. I lost more than 35-pounds and never felt more terrible in my then 30-years of life. We arrived back at the battalion area north of the Rockpile on or about the first of December . Patrolling was curtailed pending the recovery of the troops. On 8 December 1966 Lt. Col. DeLong, the battalion CO, called me to his CP. He informed me that Recon units had detected a detected a major buildup of the enemy in the vicinity of the Razorback. He had been tasked by regimental command to send a company-sized combat patrol to the west of the Razorback and find the enemy. The colonel agonized for our weakened condition. But Mike Company was the obvious unit to conduct the patrol, because we knew the area. We attached an air liaison unit, including a lieutenant pilot, because artillery could not protect us once we turned the corner south past the northern hook of the Razorback. We would have to rely on air support in “iffy” conditions. The monsoon was in full swing. The colonel’s instructions for me were simply to “Go behind the Razorback. Pick a fight and see if it’s an ass-burner. I’ll bring the rest of the battalion to bail you out.” I led Mike [Company] out of the battalion perimeter at 0300 on the 9th of December . We marched westward the two kilometers to the north end of the Razorback and started crossing the Song Cam Lo River at 0500. The river was only about 20 meters wide. It was a torrent. We had to send four of our best swimmers with climbing ropes to get our troops and equipment across. We completed the crossing by 0900, having no contact with the enemy. The point man of the leading element soon walked upon an NVA soldier filling canteens at a stream. The NVA soldier fled. The Marine fired a magazine at full automatic at him and missed. Buck fever. Twenty-one enemy canteens were left behind. With the element of surprise gone I hurried the company west to seek a way to get to high ground. We started climbing to a defensible position. This, through the most difficult terrain I have ever experienced in all my life. Upward through extremely steep double canopy jungle with underbrush laced with sharp rocks, “wait-a-minute” vines and thorn bushes. The exhausted company made high ground about 1400, formed a hasty perimeter and took a brief respite. I set up the company CP in a bomb crater and started planning patrols to our south and west. I could observe parts of the western slope of the Razorback from my position. It loomed about 200 meters away and towered above us about 200 meters. I had just called for my platoon commanders to join me when we were suddenly taken under plunging fire by five light machine guns lined up on a ledge about 50 meters below the crest of the Razorback. I called for air support and ordered Lt. [John] Admire, my 2nd platoon commander, to mark the north and south boundaries of the enemy unit with 3.5-inch white phosphorus rockets. Within a short time a Huey gun-ship appeared and attacked the enemy gunners, briefly suppressing their fire. The ALO, Lt. [Otto] Fritz, requested fixed-wing air support and a medevac helicopter to evacuate our casualties. I quickly learned that one of our sergeants [Sgt. Lucius Lionel Everett], an outstanding squad leader, was killed. Lt. [Freddie] Cook, [1st platoon CO,] was shot through his upper left arm. The medevac arrived, protected by another gun-ship and took away our wounded, except for Lt. Cook who refused to be evacuated. As the helicopter lifted off the firefight continued and lasted for about an hour, until two F-4s arrived and put bombs and napalm on the enemy position. By this time Mike [Company] was running low on ammunition. An aerial re-supply was requested. More wounded were added to the bomb crater where the LZ had been established. An H-34 helicopter arrived, carrying a pallet of ammunition slung underneath. The helicopter drew machine gun fire and the pilot “pickled” the pallet of ammunition about 25-feet above the LZ. It fell on a wounded marine [Pfc. Jose Bernardino Gonzales, Los Lunas, NM], killing him. We managed to get all of our casualties out, except the sergeant, before dark. The battalion commander felt that my position was untenable and ordered me to return to the battalion area as soon as total darkness arrived. We gathered all of the casualties’ weapons and assigned men to carry them. The sergeant’s remains would prove to be a particular burden. He was a huge man. He stood at 6’ 4” and weighed over two hundred pounds. Darkness brought rain. It was so dark that I was alarmed that the luminous dial of my watch could be seen. I put it in my pocket. The company departed down hill to the east with Lt. Admire’s 2nd platoon in the lead. Each man had to hold onto the back of the man’s pack in front of him to insure that no one got lost. We moved downhill until we reached a small stream and turned left and followed the stream until we got to the river. We made the river as first light was breaking. Lt. Admire led his platoon across the river. I joined his trailing squad with my company radio operator, part of the ALO’s communicators and a mortar squad. The river was higher than the day before and was more difficult to cross. Lt. [John Stephen “Steve” Sayer Watertown, NY] Sayer, executive officer, stayed with the rest of my command group and was charged with keeping the troops dispersed in the even of attack. The 2nd platoon formed a small perimeter north of the river and the mortar squad deployed to protect the crossing. I noticed a Marine OE-1 “Bird Dog” in the area and felt comfort that air support would be close, if we needed it. I stood about 30 meters north of the river and observed the slow movement of men across the torrent. An hour later I looked up at the northern peak of the Razorback, which rose almost vertically I’d estimate at about 80 degrees. I was alarmed to see a Marine A-4 bomber appear just above the peak. To my horror the pilot released two high-drag, “Snake-Eye” 250-pound antipersonnel bombs. I repeatedly shouted for troops to disperse and take cover. “Bombs on the way!” While shouting, I watched the bombs fall in slow motion. I prayed they would hit the trees. They didn’t. Just prior to impact I did an about face and fell to the ground.
The bombs burst. I thought my trousers were on fire.
I jumped up and saw that one bomb had struck the south
bank of the river in the center of my command group.
The second bomb had struck the river. A large geyser
was descending. I screamed for the ALO radioman
to call off the attack air and to get medevac choppers
enroute to us. I observed total carnage on the south bank.
Men from the rear of the column responded to the scene.
Our assistant senior corpsman, Doc Donald Rion, sat up, calmly removed his web belt and used it as a tourniquet on one of his own shattered legs. A nearby marine removed his own web belt and placed it on Rion’s other leg stump. Rion started crawling to other casualties to treat them and directed marines in treating others. Doc Rion ignored his mortal injuries, refused morphine, and attended to the wounded until he succumbed to shock. Rion’s valor inspired all of those who were around him. Marine helicopter pilots flying CH-46’s distinguished themselves that day. They maneuvered their choppers over the river with rotor blades clipping leaves and small limbs from trees, as the casualties were loaded. The choppers were hovered over the river with the ramp down on a riverside boulder. Marines loaded the dead and wounded with the help of medevac crewmen. Mike Company suffered dearly on this operation. There were a total of fifty-nine casualties over that two-day period; twenty-seven men were killed. Among the dead were Lt. Sayer, my XO and Jerry Patrick, my battalion radioman who was due to rotate home in a week. He had been ordered to the rear, but requested mast with me and begged me to allow him to go on that operation. Additionally two seasoned platoon sergeants were lost. Lt. Edmund Hale, the 3rd platoon CO, a Korean War veteran, had career-ending wounds to both of his legs. He was later medically retired and eventually, years later lost a leg to bone infections. It took the rest of the daylight hours to evacuate our casualties and get the troops and equipment across the river. We headed toward the battalion base. Another dark night ensued. We had to stop frequently to rest and get our bearings. After each stop I would make my way to the rear of the column then move forward, shaking and kicking sleeping marines and getting them on their feet. We arrived at the battalion area at about 0400. It is amazing but most of our casualties’ gear and weapons were returned to the CP by the surviving marines, with the exception of one M-14 that was discarded by an inexperienced newcomer. He was dealt with appropriately. This is a testament to the professionalism of these brave men. To this day I do not know why we were bombed. It certainly affected me. I was sent to Da Nang for a formal investigation of the incident and was dismissed as not “being needed” after two days. No one of higher rank could tell me why it happened. I loved those men as brothers and still do. I still grieve for those who fell. They were and remain the most magnificent men that I have ever had the privilege of having an association.
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