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Bravo Company Arrives First

The Cua Viet River TAOR (1966 - 1967)

by: Former Capt. Patrick J. McDonnell USMC
Bravo 4, 1st AmTrac Battalion

Camp "Phuc U" Forward
November and December 1966
We Gain Experience
January to March 1967
McNamara's Folly
March and April 1967
The Hill of Angels
May 1967
The AmGrunts
June to October 1967


As I write of my experiences as the platoon leader of Bravo 4, 1st Amtrac Battalion, it has been almost forty years since I lived them. In many ways, the memory is dim. In others, the memory is as vivid as if the events occurred yesterday.

I'm inspired to write of these experiences after reading the history of the 1st AmTrac Battalion written by Lieutenant Colonel Poindexter M. Johnson, the S-3 of 1st AmTracs and later the CO of Alpha Company. Given his perspective, the narrative focuses primarily on the activities of Alpha from the time the Battalion arrived at the Cua Viet in April 1967 until July 1969. This was the period of the 1st AmGrunts as the Battalion was known. Colonel Johnson's excellent narrative is a fitting tribute to the courage and valor of the men of Alpha - and the Battalion -- during that period. I am honored to have served with and to have known many of them.

In reading the history, it occurred to me that little mention was made of Bravo Company, whose operations at the Cua Viet TAOR preceded those of the Battalion and Alpha Company by about eight months. As I recall, the base camp had been established several months before our arrival from the SLF in November 1966.

That is not a slight to Bravo. Throughout this period, Bravo essentially performed the traditional amtrac role - combat support. In that regard, my experiences are unique only to me. Alpha bore the brunt of the ground combat. No history of 1st AmTracs, however, would be complete without the Bravo story - and that is the point of my narrative. Hopefully, it will motivate others to complete the history.

I am writing from memory, so I am to be forgiven if the events, names, specific times, dates and places are misplaced. Perhaps, those with access to the Command Chronologies can test my memory. I stand to be corrected. Also, the river all the way to Dong Ha is referred to as the Cua Viet.

I also write this from the perspective of a platoon leader, which I was until becoming the Bravo XO in July 1967. Like most junior officers, my sphere of influence was not broad. My world was small, and very personal. Finally, Bravo 4 was opcon to the 4th Marines and later the 9th Marines from early March to late June 1967, first in building the infamous McNamara Strip and then based at Con Thien. As such, I was not involved in the daily operations of Bravo during this time.

However, I believe I am the only officer in that era to have completed his entire tour in Bravo Company. For that reason, I claim the title of historian until displaced. Other Bravo veterans from whom input should be sought are retired Colonel Bill DiBello, Former Captain John Heller, retired Master Sergeant Charlie Streck, and former officers Craig Noke and Mel Bailey. These are all outstanding Marines who I am proud to have known and to have served with.

I am proud to have served in the Marine Corps and to have had the privilege of forming Bravo 4 in the summer of 1966 at Camp Pendleton, deploying to Westpac with 3/26 and serving in Bravo Company from November 1966 until October 1967.

This is the story of that period.

Camp "Phuc U" Forward
November and December 1966

Its real name was the Cua Viet River Combat Base, but that was the name bestowed by Bravo Company, 1st Amtrac Battalion, its builder and guardian.

The base was located on the south bank of the river as it met the South China Sea, about 15 kilometers south of the DMZ. Strategically, it was important as an LST docking facility whereby supplies would be loaded on LCMs for the trip up the river to Dong Ha. At the time we arrived, a civilian engineering company was dredging the river to accommodate LSTs. Until they were finished, the only ocean going vessel that could land was an LSM.

From Dong Ha, supplies would be distributed to Marine bases from Gio Linh on the east to Khe Sahn on the west. The area included the infamous Leatherneck Square formed by Gio Linh to the northeast, Con Thien to the northwest, Cam Lo to the southwest and Dong Ha to the southeast.

It was vital that the Cua Viet base be protected not only from ground attack, but that the NVA be held off from effective mortar range. That job had been given to Bravo Company, 1st Amtrac Battalion. Supporting Bravo were infantry companies that rotated in every few weeks. At that time, November 1966, Bravo Company at the Cua Viet consisted of two platoons - 2nd Lieut. Bill DiBello's Bravo 3 and now mine, Bravo 4. Bravo also had a platoon - Bravo 1 -- stationed in Thau Thien Province guarding a facility and patrolling the area where the Perfume River met the sea east of Hue.

Also at the Cua Viet base, in support of the logistics operation, were Marine and Navy supply and engineering personnel. Their job was to off load supplies and man a fuel farm. They were at the extreme western end of the base. Adjacent to them was an ARVN riverboat patrol team with Navy advisors. Infantry tents and bunkers were situated between us and the logistics base.

Tactics consisted of daily sweeps north and south of the combat base along the coast. Infantry patrols were sent out each night north of the river to ambush any mortar teams coming down the berm. Listening posts were set out south of the base. Our job was the traditional amtrac combat support role -- haul the infantry and serve as blockers on the sweeps.

Our tour with Bravo Company began with the conclusion of an uneventful tour with the SLF in late November. The view through my binoculars from the helo deck of the USS Vancouver indicated a flat sandy coast line with a berm line of pine trees set back about 100 yards from the surf line.

Over the next ten months, I was to learn that the wooded berm line extended from a few yards to almost a half mile wide. Beyond the berm line to the west were sand dunes and scrub for about another mile to a series of ridges at which point the sand gave way to rice paddies, villages and shallow hills and scrub rising several more miles to Highway 1, the north south highway from Saigon to Hanoi. That terrain configuration was consistent from the DMZ down south almost to Hue.

The Cua Viet Combat Base was set in a wooded berm extending east and west, parallel with and on the south bank of the river, with a wire perimeter and bunkers facing to the south. At the extreme northeast corner of the base was a company of How 6 armored amtracs. They were to provide our artillery screen.

There were two avenues of approach from the north which we needed to block -- the berm line on the coast and the string of villages on the western side of the sand along a north south ditch that came to be known as Jones Creek. The only prominent terrain feature was Hill 31 that was north of the river about 5000 meters, where the sand dunes gave way to the rice paddies. South and east of Hill 31 was a small lake. The previous summer, the villages along the coast north of the river had been evacuated to a "resettlement ville" on the north bank of the river across from the Combat Base. The villages to the south were occupied.

While contact in the immediate area had been minimal, it was considered a dangerous area. Highway 1 from Hue north to Dong Ha was the infamous Street Without Joy of which Bernard Fall wrote. It was along this stretch of road and the surrounding paddies and villages that the French fought fierce battles with the Viet Minh.

Gio Linh was located at Highway 1 and the DMZ. Dong Ha was located at the intersection of the river, Highway 1 and Route 9, the east west highway that extended west from Dong Ha, past Khe Sahn to Laos.

According to my orders, we were to land just south of the combat base and report to Captain John Legge, Commanding Officer of Bravo Company. The landing was uneventful. As I pulled up on the beach, I was met by a small group that included Bill DiBello, a friend from Basic School, and TVS, and Captain Legge. After reporting to him, he introduced me to Master Sergeant Hagel, the Company Gunny, the First Sergeant and the maintenance chief, Gunny Klein.

The platoon that I presented to Captain Legge was fit, well trained, disciplined and as prepared as my sergeants and I could have made it since we had formed back at Camp Pendleton in July 1966. We were formed as the third platoon of Alpha Company, 5th Amtracs under the command of Major G.V. Jeffries. The first platoon, under Bill DiBello and Gunny Howard deployed in June 1966 with 1/26. The second platoon under 1st Lieut. John Heller and the fourth platoon under another Basic School and TVS friend, 2nd Lieut. Dennis Vandervoort deployed with Alpha Company and 2/26 in July. Heller and Vandervoort were with Alpha Company at Hill 327.

After having served as the Alpha Company 5th Amtrac's embarkation officer, I was directed to form a platoon in July as an attachment to 3/26. At that time, the platoon sergeant was Staff Sergeant McNally, a veteran of Iwo Jima and Korea. The section leaders were Sergeants Torres, a reservist from Texas and Charles F. Streck, a six year veteran whose most recent tour was instructing at the Track Vehicle School at Camp Delmar. It was as his student that DiBello, Vandervoort and I had first met Sergeant Streck earlier in the year.

As very few 1833 amtracers were available after forming the first three Alpha platoons, most of my crewmen were 0311s that I had selected from "F" troop of 3/26. Fortunately, we were able to select the best and they quickly responded to our intense training schedule. They had also attended ITR which would prove to be an enormous advantage. They became the core of the platoon.

I can no longer recall the names of everyone in the platoon, but the following are several that stand out. Harris and French were among the 0311s. Crew chiefs in November '66, they eventually made sergeant and served as section leaders. Other crew chiefs that I recall included Fuson, Bennet, Betta, Herring, Hannas and Sherman, all of whom eventually made Corporal. The names of the other two crew chiefs I simply can't recall. We also had three maintenance men, Sergeant Pat Neal, and Corporals Cleveland and Denisinko. The Corpsman was Doc Kelly. The crew on my tractor was Corporal Fuson and Lance Corporals McAttee and Hair.

We had lost Staff Sergeant McNally to a torn Achilles heal during our final battalion field maneuver at Camp Pendleton. I had replaced him with Sergeant Streck and appointed our senior maintenance man, Sergeant Neal as the first section leader. It was with this complement that I reported to Captain Legge.

Captain Legge expressed concern about the lack of experience in the platoon. Other than me, and with Sgt. Neal joining company maintenance, the platoon leadership included only two E-5 sergeants, Streck and Torres. Captain Legge assigned a Staff Sergeant Rector, a ten month veteran, as platoon sergeant. Sergeant Streck assumed the role of first section leader.

After turning the platoon over to Rector with instructions to get the troops and the tractors squared away, I found the tent that I was to share with Bill. After depositing my gear, Bill took me on the tour. There wasn't much to it.

Our tent faced south toward the bunker line. Immediately north of the bunker line and wire were three platoon tents, one for his platoon, one for mine and one mostly empty. The tractors were parked between them and the river -- several hundred yards north. The tent Bill and I shared was to the right of the last platoon tent. Across from our tent toward the wire was a large tent that housed the senior NCOs.

To the right of our tent was the company office and to its right the maintenance platoon. In front of them was Captain Legge's quarters and the command bunker. To the right of Legge was a tent that served as a mess hall. Last but not least was a very solid bunker in back of the command bunker and the NCO tent that served as the Staff NCO Club. It served as club and mess hall for the NCOs and -- as their guests - the officers -- the Captain, Bill and me.

Virtually every tent was sandbagged to a height of about four feet and sandbag bunkers were adjacent to each of them. The command bunker and NCO Club were well built. The wire was at least triple thick concertina and ran from the ocean at the west end of the camp to the other end by the ARVN Navy.

The rest of the day was spent getting settled. It was the height of the monsoon and it was raining, windy and cold. In spite of our foul weather gear, we remained wet. The entire camp was sitting on a sand dune in a pine tree woods. The conditions were primitive but manageable.

That first night I was introduced to the NCO Club. Every club has its rules and this one was no exception. It didn't take long to figure out that Gunny Hagel ran the show. He was the classic 6'2" raw boned Master Sergeant who was tough, competent and fair. The interior of the NCO Club consisted of the sand deck, a picnic table in one corner and aluminum chairs arranged around the room. A kerosene lantern hanging from the ceiling provided the light. The bunker was heavily sandbagged, especially the side that faced the perimeter.

As the New Guy, I was directed to a vacant chair and told it was mine. The evening ritual consisted of Gunny Hagel coming around with a bottle of Jack Daniels and pouring a very stiff shot in your coffee cup In deference to the circumstances, you only got one - provided you were not on duty.

Among the stories told every night in the NCO Club was "the night the VC hit Hill 327." The previous summer, a sapper team had infiltrated 1st Amtracs in Da Nang and had blown away several tractors. The VC had also been blown away in the resulting firefight. By the time that story had been endlessly retold as in "lieutenant, you should have been there the night the VC hit Hill 327," one would have thought it was the second battle for Tarawa. But being a good boot New Guy, I just smiled, nodded in respectful awe of the veterans retelling the story and kept my mouth shut.

Most operations consisted of an infantry company and an entire platoon from Bravo. At other times, a section would accompany a platoon on a more limited patrol. Streck or I would always accompany the section. With only two platoons to support the infantry and secure our section of the wire, we were stretched. Every day, the infantry conducted an operation north or south of the river depending upon intelligence and intuition about enemy movement and intentions. Either Bill or I would transport and support the infantry on these sweeps. Upon returning, usually late the same day, the field platoon would PM their vehicles and man the night perimeter watch.

Next day that platoon would work on the vehicles, provide working parties to fill sandbags or string wire, man the daylight watch and get some sleep. Late in the afternoon, elements of this platoon would drop off the night ambush patrol north of the river. That night, this same platoon would serve as the reaction team to either come to the aid of the patrol north of the river, if it had contact, or defend the perimeter if we were attacked. That meant that each platoon was in the field every other day and manned the perimeter every other night. Between the schedule and the maintenance requirements, the troops quickly reached the point of exhaustion wherein they remained for the next ten months.

We didn't waste any time getting acclimated. Next morning, Streck, Torres and I accompanied Bill's platoon on a sweep north of the river. The sweep was routine, nothing was expected to happen and nothing did. The mission was to run up the beach about half way to the DMZ - about five miles, drop the infantry off, then move back down the beach about half way back to the river to serve as a blocking force while the infantry swept the tree line and berm back south to where we were waiting.

Next day, it was our turn. We were to haul the infantry about five miles south of the river, drop them off and then block north while they swept the villages and berm line on the coast. This time, Bill and two of his sergeants went with us. We then moved north up the west side of the villages to a point where we were to meet the infantry several hours later.

I was fortunate to have Bill as a friend and coach. He was an experienced, competent platoon leader. He was extremely helpful in explaining terrain features and the effect they would have on operations and helping me relate terrain features to the map. At that point it was all a blur. In time, we came to know every village, rice paddy and tree line in the TAOR.

Tree lines were bad. If we were going to catch any fire, that's where it would come from. We kept at least 100 yards from a tree line if possible as that was about the effective range of an RPG. The other weapon of concern was the 37 mm recoilless rifle. It could kill from a quarter of a mile.

We were fortunate to not encounter mines at that time - that would not happen until the following summer. Nevertheless, we made it a practice to stay off roads, and travel the beach at the water line; the theory being that the surf would expose the mines. We also made it a practice to never use the same path in from the beach more than once. We were also sensitive to being "channeled" by terrain features.

Among the first things we had done upon landing was place a layer of sandbags on the deck of the tractors to provide an extra second to bail out of the tractor before the gas explosion from a mine would engulf us. We also built a sandbag bunker atop the vehicles for the .30 cal. Part of the cause of the lousy hearing in my left ear is standing in the crew chief turret for ten months while a crewman hammered away with that .30 next to my head. The driver had the same problem with his right ear.

It was unlikely the infantry would establish any significant contact in the villages. The purpose of the sweeps was mostly to find any signs of buildup. Previous sweeps south had flushed the odd NVA from bunkers and tunnels. The most significant aspect of that was establishing that such bunkers were occupied.

There had been no contact in the northern tree line.

If there was one word to describe our tactics - it would be cautious. Our policy was continuous diligence while in the field. We had practiced it for months and now it was paying off. Whenever we halted, we went into perimeter dispersion. In those situations where we found ourselves in, or too close to, tree lines, we put out flanks to protect us from surprise. At least one Marine on each tractor was on watch at all times. We constantly reminded the troops about the perils of land mines. They were to track each other on the move but never follow any type of previous "tracks" if it could in any way be helped - especially in tree lines, across paddies or any other place where a "channel" was evident.

Sometime in December, Bill was accompanying an infantry sweep up north when the infantry stumbled upon a bunker and killed three NVA. They brought the bodies and documents back to the camp where an S-2 intelligence officer flew in from Dong Ha for an inspection. We buried them outside the wire.

It was about this time that Bravo 4 took its first casualty. The cause was a "short round." It was standard procedure for the How 6s to fire H&I fire randomly north and south at odd times during the night at trails and other terrain features. Among the casualties was one of our former 0311 "F" Troopers named Biggs. He was medevaced, not to return.

We Gain Experience
January to March 1967

Our first indirect encounter with the NVA occurred one dull, rainy afternoon as we were set in a blocking position south of the river on the far west side of the dunes - near the Street Without Joy. The infantry, Lima 3/4, was sweeping from the south toward us.

We were in our normal blocking position perimeter when the infantry began to trade small arms fire with NVA in a tree line. Immediately, Lima 6 directed me to send two tractors to his position to pick up a squad to sweep the tree line.

The next day, Bill accompanied two infantry platoons and Lima 6 back to the village beyond the tree line where they had taken fire. Their sweep was uneventful, but Lima 6 decided to remain over night and sweep the entire area at dawn. To do so would require the other Lima platoon still back at the compound. That meant my platoon would need to transport them out there. Since we needed to man the wire, Bill would return to the compound before dark.

Lima 6 was hoping that in the confusion of tractors coming and going, the NVA would assume that we had all pulled out. By the time, we left the compound, it was late afternoon and it would take about an hour to reach the infantry.

Bill of course was supposed to stay in place until I arrived and set in, so the NVA would not realize that we were still there. It was almost dark when I arrived. In the meantime, one of Bill's Marines tripped a booby trap. He was not badly hurt, but needed attention and the confusion wasted more time.

By the time Bill left, it was dark. He had to go. There couldn't have been fifty Marines in our compound - not nearly enough to man the perimeter, to say nothing of defending it. We weren't too worried about Bill being hit on the way. I had just come through the area and had encountered no opposition. We were all relieved when Bill made it back about an hour later.

We set in for the night in a wooded area of paddies and abandoned huts. The infantry was dug in a perimeter with the tractors interspersed among them. My tractor was in the center in some woods. Lima 6 used the tractor for his command post. The infantry sent out ambush patrols, including one on a north south hard backed trail about fifty yards to our west.

Sometime during the night, I crawled under the ramp and wrapped myself in a poncho to get some sleep. It was cold and a light rain was falling, but that was normal. In no time, I was asleep. Sometime later, a sudden eruption of fire indicated that the ambush on the trail had been sprung. We were instantly alert.

The squad leader reported that he had KIA NVA on the trail. Next morning, there were three KIA along with AK-47's. Each was dressed in shorts, shirt and sandals and wearing a knapsack. The size and appearance of one of the dead NVA was remarkable. He was tall, well built and looked clean, well fed and fit. In his pack, we found a pistol, uniform shirt with what the infantry described as the insignia of a colonel, maps of the area and more documents.

We threw the three KIAs in a tractor with the gear and the infantry conducted their sweep. With a squad for security, we surrounded the village and blocked. The sweep was uneventful and by late afternoon we were back at the compound. The S-2 flew in again to retrieve the KIA colonel, his documents and gear. We buried his two body guards outside the wire.

By the middle of December, we weren't battle hardened warriors, but we weren't exactly New Guys either. We had survived the first weeks without getting ourselves killed or severely embarrassed. My confidence in the platoon was growing. We could operate, shoot and the infantry trusted us. I was no longer hearing about Hill 327.

With the latest rounds of promotions, the tractor chiefs were all corporals. Most of the others were now lance corporals. Streck was now on the list for staff sergeant. He would become official sometime in spring 1967. By the end of December Streck was back in the platoon sergeant job. Rector was getting short and was sent down to Da Nang to serve his last few weeks.

We also welcomed a platoon off the SLF led by a 1st Lieut. Malone. With three platoons, we were able to operate more effectively. Even better -- we were no longer the New Guys.

About that time, Mike Company 3/4 replaced Lima as our supporting infantry. The skipper's name was Jackson. As I recall, he had inherited the company after the previous skipper, J. J. Carroll, a Notre Dame grad, had been killed leading the company up what came to be known as Mutter's Ridge. Captain Carroll was awarded posthumously the Navy Cross and Camp Carroll, west of Cam Lo on Route 9, was named in his honor.

Under Captain Jackson, our operations became more aggressive. While Jackson understood that the south warranted attention - especially west of the sand where we had worked with Lima, a look at the map told him - as it had told us -- that the NVA would not allow themselves to be trapped in the coastal berm with no way to escape except across the sand toward the west.

He understood that the real threat was north - along the coastal berm and the north south string of villages along Jones Creek on the west side of the dunes. The NVA could use these routes to approach the river. Both of these avenues were therefore to be swept continuously for signs of enemy activity. Ambush patrols would be in place every night to intercept NVA mortar teams.

The Captain was right about Jones Creek. In the winter and spring of 1968, the entire area would be the scene of fierce fighting as the NVA attempted to cut the flow of traffic up the Cua Viet River. In December 1966, though, it was relatively calm, but clearly infiltrated by the NVA.

Under Captain Jackson, over the next few weeks, we pushed up the berm until we were virtually on the south edge of the DMZ. From there, we moved west toward Gio Linh before moving back south. We had sporadic contact mostly sniper fire. Mike 6's policy up north where there were no civilians was to use our .30 cal machine guns to recon by fire as he advanced.

For Christmas 1966, Gunny Hagel had the company jeep outfitted with a red bow and a sign that said "Merry Christmas to Lt. McDonnell from Santa." The previous night I had observed that amtrac platoons had no ground transportation. The tank, Ontos and engineer platoons all had a jeep for transportation. We did not, and I gotten around Subic Bay, Da Nang and Okinawa hitchhiking. Gunny Hagel's WW II logic was understandable - why do you need a jeep when you'll never get off the beach?

Another Christmas present was a visit from Major Jeffries, our Camp Del Mar Alpha Company, 5th Amtracs CO, who was on a two week "orientation" tour to observe amtrac operations in the field. The Major stayed for several days. He went with me on the field operation. Luckily nothing happened and he caught a Mike boat up the river a few days later.

The weeks passed and the routine was much the same. As the monsoon began to ease, our contacts began to increase. Nothing big, but while before we did not expect any contact, now we began to come across more signs of activity - from bunkers to sniper fire.

Civilization was also creeping in. We now had a real mess hall and a gunny mess sergeant to run it. And now that it wasn't raining all the time, we built a movie screen on the beach behind my tent and showed movies every night. The usual fare was reruns of Gunsmoke, Rawhide or Maverick.

With three platoons now operating, the troops usually had at least one night out of three to sleep in their racks - the other two spent either in the field or on perimeter watch. The platoon with the "night off" was the reaction platoon whose job it would be to come to the aid of any of the several patrols that Captain Jackson now had every night north of the river.

It was just a matter of time until one of those patrols had contact. As it happened, we were the reaction platoon when they finally did. During a rerun of Gunsmoke, the word came down that the patrol in the north tree line had been ambushed. They had wounded and the NVA were still in contact.

In no more than five minutes, Lieut. Crowley of Mike and the rest of his platoon were climbing aboard four tractors. It was a squad of Crowley's that had been hit. As we sped up the beach, I raised the How 6s and requested illumination rounds. Crowley had radio contact and was being told to hurry. The NVA were hanging in there. We flew up that beach toward our first direct confrontation with the NVA -- our inevitable baptism of fire.

As we had planned, my two tractors bypassed the fight that seemed to be about 30 to 40 yards into the tree line to a position where I had a field of fire north of the ambush. Crowley and his troops were off before the tractors stopped and headed into the trees. Streck had swung in south of the ambush and the troops had approached the firefight from the south.

Suddenly, through the smoke and illumination we could see the NVA break out of the trees to the left and run across the fifty yards of open ground to our front. We immediately engaged with the.30s and M-14s, catching return fire from the woods to our right front. It soon subsided.

Streck came on to tell me that he had a KIA and two WIA Marines and needed to head back for the river ASAP to medevac the wounded. He also said he had the patrol aboard. I told him to move out and waited for Crowley. He and his troops came out of the trees with three KIA NVA. I told him there were at least two more to our right front and he sent his troops to retrieve them as we fired into the northern tree line to cover them.

With everyone aboard, I was pulling out when Crowley jumped off the tractor and headed into the trees to ensure that he had all of his people. In a minute he was back. He gave me the word and we were soon across the river. The whole operation took little more than an hour.

Not long after that, Bill had to reinforce a patrol from up north that had run into a group of NVA. They broke off the fight before Bill got there and the patrol was recovered without casualties.

Our turn soon came again. This time, the patrol was south of the lake, northwest of the resettlement ville. We were having more contact in that area and Captain Jackson wanted to keep the NVA out of mortar range. There were two ways to get to the ambush site. The first, and most obvious, was to cross the river and skirt the resettlement ville to the north. The other was to swim up the river to a point south of the ambush site and proceed north. I was becoming wary of the northern route as it was getting so much use we had begun calling it the San Diego Freeway.

The river route was by far the safest. So, with four tractors and an infantry squad, I headed up the river, found a spot I liked, climbed out of the river and headed north. By the time we reached the ambush site the fight was over. There were three dead NVA on the trail, but unfortunately, the patrol leader was KIA. We also had a WIA Marine who, while not serious, needed to be medevaced.

The obvious play was to head east to the mouth of the river, following the freeway. Since there were NVA in the area who by now knew where we were going, and it being still dark, I thought the freeway was high risk -- so I decided on a modified approach that I had not used before. I cut off the freeway just west of the ville - and the tree lines -- and approached the river keeping as close to the ville as I could. It turned out to be a bad choice.

It was approaching dawn as I sent the first tractor cautiously into the water. The tide was running out and if the water level had dropped too far, it would get stuck before he could make the deep water. Sure enough. He went in just far enough before he became stuck to complicate recovery.

Getting stuck was routine. We knew the drill for recovery. I told the infantry squad leader to form his troops in a 180 to our rear. It would take two tractors to pull the stuck one from the mud, so we turned the fourth tractor - the one with the wounded Marine and a corpsman - to the northwest facing a graveyard, another likely avenue of approach.

With that done, and having told Captain Legge the problem, I directed the recovery of the stuck vehicle and in short order, we reformed and, holding my breath, took the freeway back to the river with no further incident. While it had been a fiasco, we had made it back in one piece, although it had taken most of the night.

It was now the end of January and Captain Legge was due to rotate. Our new skipper -- John Heller, now a Captain - was on his way north to take command. John was an extremely competent, fearless leader. John was also a bit detail oriented, but, he was smart, courageous and honest, and was well respected. He was also bringing with him an XO, a first lieutenant named Ed Hinson.

Gunny Hagel and Gunny Klein rotated home in January as well. Gunny Klein was replaced by a warrant officer - Gunner Meyer. We had also received a new first sergeant - a Bostonian named Francis P. Kelly. Gunny Sergeant Mattis also reported aboard as the new company gunny.

Over the next few weeks, as the weather improved, Captain Jackson took a new interest in the villages. We were now going to "win the hearts and minds of the people." The pacification strategy had always been a key element of Marine policy in I Corps but we had not participated.

The cornerstone of pacification was an operation called a "county fair." It involved sealing off a village, rounding up the inhabitants, interviewing every one while corpsmen treated the kids and we passed out food. We also searched every inch of the ville for bunkers or tunnels. It was an interesting change of pace. This was the first real contact we had had with villagers. Our role had not allowed us much contact, but now we were the source of the food and medical supplies being passed out.

Once the word got out, the villagers south of the river quickly came to relate the tractors surrounding their ville at dawn with free food and cigarettes. They were generally relaxed and quickly related to the program. They shared food and tea and we played with the kids. We passed out cigarettes. It was on these operations that I came to experience that staple of the local peasants - fish heads and rice doused in fish sauce. As we choked it down, the locals would all giggle with glee. The kids were friendly and the village head would be much in evidence. It was apparent that he could talk to us with little fear of reprisal.

Not so up north. When we surrounded a ville, the villagers would head for their bunkers and had to be rooted out by our ARVN interpreters. The infantry would then literally herd them to the food, medical treatment and interviews. They were frightened and generally refused everything but food and medical care for the kids. The kids were always a mess - we saw everything from wounds to cancerous sores to cleft palates.

The further north and west we went, the worse it was. By the time we hit the villes along Jones Creek - including the big one at the river called "The Marketplace", the villagers were almost hostile. It was obvious they were terrified of reprisal. Generally, these visits were uneventful, but every now and again, the infantry would flush an NVA from a hole or discover a bunker with two or more hiding from our search. These events usually resulted in two or three quick shots, a flurry of grenades and several dead NVA.

The good life for Mike Company came to an end early in February. They went back to Leatherneck Square and were replaced by Charlie Company 1/9. For us, it was more of the same routine.

The Navy had now arrived. The dredging of the last few months had created an anchorage deep enough to beach an LST. At least one a day came in, offloaded and pulled out before nightfall. This not only improved the quality of life due to better food and anything we could steal or barter from the Navy, but it also gave us overnight access to Da Nang.

Captain Heller called me in one day and told me to go to Phu Bai and meet with the G-3 of the Third Marine Division about an operation they wished to conduct.

Upon presenting myself, the Major asked me if I knew the Quang Tri River that flowed down from Quang Tri City and met the Cua Viet west of the combat base. I had never been up that way so I told him no, I did not.

He told me that I would be supporting an infantry company that would be guarding Navy engineers surveying the river to see if it would accommodate Mike boats all the way to Quang Tri City. The river looked to be wide, but not deep. Based on the Major's description and the way it looked on the map, it looked like it would be a difficult river to navigate.

Why stage supplies at Quang Tri.? Second lieutenants don't ask questions like that and the Major didn't offer. But he obviously knew what the rest of us were going to find out that summer - the NVA were moving 130 mm guns into the DMZ with the range to reach Dong Ha.

The Major never called and I never saw the Quang Tri River.

McNamara's Folly
March and April 1967

Every Marine knows that USMC stands for U're Sh_____g Me, Colonel! (or Captain, Corporal or Chief, depending on the circumstances). And that was precisely what my fellow second lieutenants and I sitting in the back row of a briefing tent at Dong Ha were thinking in early March as we listened to a Colonel describe the operation in which we were about to participate.

We could hardly believe it as we stared at the map and listened to the Colonel. With a straight face, he was telling a room full of officers that we, a task force consisting of Alpha and Bravo Companies of 1/4 with an engineer platoon and my Bravo 4, were going to bulldoze the earth about 300 to 500 meters wide from Gio Linh west to Con Thien.

This was the idea of Robert S. McNamara himself, and came to be known as McNamara's Wall or McNamara's Folly. This Strip, or Trace or Firebreak, as it came to be known, would then be laced with barbwire and land mines with watch towers to halt enemy infiltration across the DMZ.

Not only was the concept ludicrous, the mission would be dangerous. Any NVA with a map and compass would know precisely where we were and where we were going. We could imagine our counterparts staring in disbelief at a map showing that we were going in a straight line for at least a month. They would be registering fire on every terrain feature in our path. To people who endeavored to never used the same path twice, this was beyond comprehension.

When I got back to the river and told Captain Heller, he couldn't believe it. The reaction of Streck and the troops was similar. I had thirty-five sets of eyeballs locked on me with their best "you must be sh___g me, sir," stare.

We soon departed for Dong Ha on what was to become a three month vacation from real food, clean clothes and showers. In retrospect, while combat support was the role, for Bravo 4, it represented a new - and very dangerous - phase of our tour. It was to test all that we had learned during four months of operations and the previous months of training.

The jump off point was the Gio Linh Combat Base. With the bulldozers, trucks dropping off the infantry and loading us with fuel, ammo, chow and water, we must have been such an unusual target for the NVA that they were stunned into inactivity. They never fired a shot and eventually the dozers set off behind a screen of infantry and covering tractors.

Our job was combat support. We carried spare machine gun barrels, fuel for the dozers, 81 mm rounds for the mortars, ammo and grenades for the infantry and water and C rations to supply the entire outfit. Our other task was to screen the dozers as they worked and support the infantry at the front and flanks of the operation. We were also responsible for protecting the rear of the advance.

By the time we got underway, we only made it about 500 yards before the 1/4 CO, Lieutenant Colonel W.T. Willis called a halt for the night. At that rate, it would take us more than the anticipated forty days to reach Con Thien - an estimate that proved to be optimistic. At night, we formed a perimeter with the tractors and infantry facing outboard around the bulldozers, mortars and headquarters. The infantry put out listening posts and ambush patrols while the engineers replaced them on the perimeter.

We were mortared the first night. It had been our practice to set in with the ramp down. That meant that with rounds coming in, we would start engines to raise the ramp. Next morning, the Colonel called me and explained that firing up the engines interfered with counter battery operations. From then on, we buttoned up. If we needed to drop the ramp to pass out mortar rounds or take in wounded, we could do so without the engines.

Captain Heller showed up the next day. Just as he was about to leave with a departing truck convoy, the NVA mortared us. The best place to be in a mortar attack was under the ramp when it was in the down position. The Captain and I were face down as the NVA walked the rounds up and down the strip crowded with dozers, tractors, infantry and trucks. It always surprised me how little damage was actually inflicted in these barrages. To hear it and be under it, you would think we would be nothing but twisted junk and KIAs. Such was rarely the case.

We did not escape unscathed. The casualties included three of my Marines, including Corporal Fuson, the chief on my tractor. None was critical, but all required evacuation. After the choppers left, Captain Heller wished me luck and departed.

We covered another 300 to 400 yards that day before we settled in for the night. That night the north side of the perimeter was probed. A listening post traded grenades with the NVA and several other grenades and M79 rounds were tossed along the perimeter at sounds and shadows.

The days and nights began to fall into a routine as we slowly made our way west. The efficiency was offset by the slowly changing terrain. As we moved west, the scrub and gently rolling hills gave way to heavier brush and trees, higher hills with more frequent gullies and ravines. These areas were proving to be excellent ambush points. Since the NVA knew where we were, silence was not an issue. Therefore, every likely ambush spot was hit with 81 mm mortars and swept with .30 cal fire from the tractors accompanying the lead platoon.

As the weeks went by, the contact increased - both in frequency and severity. The point platoon was often ambushed in spite of our mortar, artillery and .30 cal prep fires and we were probed most nights. One afternoon, the infantry became involved in particularly intense firefight. Soon they were running low on ammo. The Colonel told me to head to the firefight with reinforcements and ammunition. The two tractors up there were also low on .30 cal and calling for more.

I wasn't sure who was who in the brush, so I led my two tractors in the direction indicated by the noise and the NVA's green tracers. I soon ran into a hard packed road that led in the general direction of the fight, so I followed it until I saw our tractors and infantry in the brush. I couldn't see the NVA, but I had a pretty good idea they were close. With the reinforcements, ammo re-supply and mortars beginning to find the range, the infantry and our tractors went on line and swept through the area.

It turned out that we had hit reinforced bunkers and trenches, which explained the intensity of the resistance. As we moved forward, the infantry directed our fire into the bunkers and trenches. Soon, we had swept through to the other side and the NVA had broken off and fled. We policed the area gathering a number of NVA weapons, bodies and assorted gear. After the Marines were medevaced and NVA were buried, the weapons were inventoried and choppered out.

To the best of my recollection, we identified the road as Route 561. It ran from Cam Lo on Route 9 northeast up to and through the DMZ to the Ben Hoi River. It was a gravel, all weather hard packed road dissecting Leatherneck Square and appeared well used. Just north of the Strip along Route 561 was a deserted village that came to be called the "Market". In July it, and this entire area, would be the scene of a major fight involving 1/9 and elements of the Fourth Marines.

I never could understand why the NVA had not assaulted us. The terrain favored them and our perimeter consisted of nothing but a line of foxholes interspersed with tractors. We expected it every night. One night in particular the NVA mortared us so hard that we were certain we were in for the long awaited ground attack. We remained alert through the pounding as the NVA tactic would be to come in under their own fire and penetrate the lines while you had your heads down.

As the barrage began, I was standing in the crew chief turret staring out into the black night. It was about 0300. As the rounds began to walk toward us, it was time to duck and close the hatch until they passed. As I reached up to pull the hatch down, I felt a sharp pain in my right forearm just above the wrist. It felt like a hot knife had been sliced across it. As I calmed down and examined it with a flashlight, it was obvious that it was only a very deep slice.

The round that hit me had also wounded two Marines in a hole next to the tractor. One was in bad shape and we called for a corpsman. The other side of the perimeter opened up and we were sure that we would be assaulted. We were all alert peering into the smoke and flickering light from illumination rounds.

It soon ended with no further action on our side of the perimeter. As we gathered the WIA, the corpsman told me to come with him to the command post for treatment. I was "treated in the field and returned to duty." The result was stitches, a sore arm and a cheap Purple Heart. It healed over the next few weeks leaving nothing but what is now a faint scar.

There were several seriously wounded who required medevac. The first two - old CH 34s - made it in and out without incident. As the third came in, the NVA opened up again and a round landed next to the chopper. As it flared, it tipped over and we all ducked expecting to see the rotor blades whiz by and the chopper explode.

The only Marine who didn't duck was one of my NCOs, Sergeant Harris. He ran to the chopper and began pulling the crew out. The chopper did not blow and Harris, now with a little help, pulled the crew free. It was an incredibly brave thing to do.

Somewhere along the way we encountered the crash site of an F-4 Phantom. The plane had not burned, but the hole was huge and the pieces small. It had already been picked over by the NVA and the infantry were very careful of booby traps as they looked for remains. What little we found were medevaced.

By now it was late April and we were within sight of Con Thien. The monsoon was long gone and we were now heading into the dry hot months. We received just enough rain to turn the red clay into mud and leave us wet and uncomfortable. Of course, in the weeks to come as the rain gave way to blistering sun and endless dust, we would have welcomed the mud.

Early one morning, we were startled by the sound of incoming artillery. The rounds impacted on a small hill in the center of the perimeter - right on the battalion CP. We naturally assumed it was NVA, but by examining the crater and with the aid of a compass and map, it was quickly determined that the rounds had come from the direction of Camp Carroll. This was friendly, H&I fire. The only casualty was Colonel Willis. He caught enough shrapnel to warrant medevac. The Colonel did not return and the XO, a major, assumed command.

McNamara's Folly was completed around the first of May.

The Hill of Angels
May 1967

As we neared Con Thien, the terrain began to rise gently to the west. There was no question as to why Con Thien was strategically critical. It was the highest terrain feature in Leatherneck Square. On a clear day, with binoculars we could stand on Con Thien and watch NVA across the DMZ, Marines at Gio Linh, LSTs at our base camp, traffic moving on the river and activity at the Dong Ha airstrip. It was also disconcerting to catch occasional glimpses of NVA double timing south across the Strip.

Con Thien at that time was still relatively unscathed. It was known as the Hill of Angels in tribute to the beauty of the hill itself and the surrounding area. Most of the surrounding villages were abandoned. A road ran south where it intersected Route 561, the road we had encountered on the Strip.

At the intersection of Route 561 and the Con Thien road were the remains of a village with several substantial concrete houses. Its most prominent feature was the shell of a large church with a bell tower. This area was called the "Churchyard" and it had changed hands several times over the past few months. Sometime later in the summer of 1967, a Marine tank took out the bell tower, which at the time was being used as an NVA observation post.

Farther south, 561 crossed a large ravine that was basically the head waters of the Cua Viet. Except during the monsoon, the river was a mere stream but the ravine was a natural ambush site. Generally, the infantry kept a platoon there to keep the road open. Once past the ravine, it was a relatively straight shot through rolling terrain to Route 9 and from there east to Dong Ha, several miles away.

We made a number of trips down the road as far as the ravine - and into the surrounding area to transport and re-supply the infantry. We had always made it a practice to carry as much water, food and ammo as we could because the infantry never had enough of anything. It was now the hot season and the infantry needed as much water as we could beg, borrow or steal.

The defense of Con Thien consisted of Delta Company 1/4 and a company of ARVN regulars with attached regional paramilitary irregulars known as Ruff Puffs. Advising the ARVNs was an Australian Warrant Officer and two NCOs. 1/9 was due to relieve 1/4 so we set in on the south side of Con Thien until the relief was effected.

Our continuing role was unclear. Since this was good tracked vehicle terrain and we had demonstrated some value, 1/9 had requested that we remain indefinitely. I didn't particularly care, but we had been in the field over two months and needed to regroup. The tractors were a mess and so were the troops. As I recall, we dragged tractor B-40 up the hill to Con Thien as it was in need of repairs for which we did not have parts. The troops were worse. Morale was sky high, but they had not had a hot meal or a shower since leaving the Cua Viet Combat Base early in March.

I often visited Delta's CP on the north perimeter to see an old Basic School friend, Hank Preston, who was the XO and Captain Silver, the CO. Delta's lines tied into the ARVN on their left and with the Strip on the right. The ARVNs held the line from Delta back around to the Strip. The engineer platoon spent most nights dug in behind the ARVN's on the north side of the perimeter. We were set up south of the hill, outside the lines, in a separate perimeter. A road ran parallel with, but outside, an inner barbwire perimeter from our compound to the Delta CP.

Contact at that time was limited to occasional snipers, mortar barrages and firefights with small units of NVA patrolling the area. It was apparent though that the instances of contact were increasing as were the sizes of the units encountered.

The relative peace was about to change.

About 0300 on the 8th of May, an extremely intense and sustained mortar barrage hit Delta's lines. Soon after, as we monitored the net, we heard Captain Silver advise the 1/4 XO that he had NVA in the wire. The long anticipated ground attack was at hand. We went to full alert.

Over the next ten to fifteen minutes, as the mortars kept coming - now on us as well, it became evident that Delta was being penetrated. The NVA were through the wire and throwing satchel charges in Delta's bunkers and trench lines. From where we were we could see the flashes and the green and red tracers ricocheting into the night sky. Captain Silver reported that they were holding their own, but he thought the NVA had breeched the line where they tied in to the ARVNs. He was also asking for reinforcements and ammo.

Knowing what that meant, I told Streck to get a section ready and made my way through the barrage to the 1/4 command post and reported to the XO. The Major told me to get two tractors loaded with ammo and two squads of troops. He insisted that the troops be carried inside the vehicles instead of on top. I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted that small arms fire was more likely than mines and he wanted all the protection available. Accompanying me would be an army "duster," a vehicle with 40 mm guns mounted on a light tank chassis.

With this getting done, the Major and I raised the Ausie Warrant Officer who told us that his troops held the inner perimeter along the road and could hold it while we made our run into Delta's command post, which was at the end of the road. That had provided the answer to the question of route. The alternative to the road would have been to swing farther to the east toward the outer perimeter over what had once been an airstrip and now was the west end of the Strip. While creating some distance from the inner perimeter, the terrain was uneven, with depressions, rocks, some debris and piles of dirt. In the dark, that route would be slower and would include the risk of losing a track. Besides, the closer I would get to Delta, the closer I would come to the outer perimeter - now active with NVA. The XO directed that I use the road. I agreed.

With two tractors and the duster -- me in the lead -- we headed for Delta. We turned a tight corner to the left and through the flashes and smoke I could see Delta's command post several hundred yards down the road. I told the driver to step on it and stuck my head down in the tractor to tell the infantry to stand by.

Suddenly, we were under fire and I felt the tractor slowing down. I yelled at the driver, Langan, to step on it, but we slowly came to a halt. At the time, I could not understand why we had stopped, but we were under fire from the trench line. Langan was KIA, as was - eventually -- the gunner on top of the tractor, Corporal Cleveland. By this time, my legs had been hit with shrapnel and phosphorous from the RPGs that were now impacting us. I dropped down in the tractor. It was a cauldron of smoke and fire. To this day, I do not know how the ramp dropped. Either Langan dropped it before expiring, or the infantry did it. At any rate, the survivors were scrambling to get out.

I came back up the turret, told Cleveland to follow me, and dropped to the ground as more RPGs hit the tractor. My thought was to yell at the second tractor to go around me. But I was too late. I could see the section leader, Sergeant French, in the turret. The ramp was down and the infantry was strewn from the tractor to the wire. As Cleveland was found by Streck the next day in front of the tractor, it is unclear whether he did not hear me, or was hit before he could follow me over the side.

The last thing I remember was yelling at French and firing at the flashes and figures across the wire. The next thing I recall is lying on the ground between the tractors. I couldn't see and I couldn't hear. French told me later that he had seen me fall among the small arms fire and concussion grenades - and didn't move, he assumed I was KIA. Eventually, I do not recall how long I was out -- my head began to clear and I could begin to see light and confusion.

As I came around, it was obvious that crawling toward the trench line was not an option. The incoming fire indicated it was full of NVA. Getting up and running was also out of the question. The only alternative was to slide down hill and take cover in a depression. Once out of the immediate area, I could then try to make my way toward Delta's lines. I recall crawling when I came across a wounded Marine. His leg was in bad shape. He also had an M-1 carbine.

He seemed to come out of it as I spoke with him. He kept telling me that the trench was full of NVA and to not go there. He had been trying to get out of the trench with the carbine he had found when he had been hit. I told him my plan. We were a good team. I could not see very well and was half out it. He could not walk - which was not a problem as we were still under fire. I pulled his battle dressing out and tied it to his wounds and his belt around the leg just above the knee.

We then started crawling as I pulled him and held on to the carbine. We made it far enough that I felt we were out of the range of the grenades. By now the tractors were on fire and the ammo was cooking off. It was difficult to tell whether we were under fire from the NVA or the burning tractors.

We were in a depression so I thought we should just sit tight. By now, my head had cleared somewhat. I could see through my right eye. My left was swollen shut. I could hear through the ringing, especially if the Marine shouted into my right ear.

From our vantage point, we could see the occasional figure get up and run - either back toward 1/4 or toward Delta. Each of them was hit. That confirmed that the NVA still held the trench line. Several people also crawled under the tractors. That was suicide because the fire would eventually ignite the gasoline. I couldn't help but wonder what had happened to the Ausie Warrant Officer. To this day, I don't know if he had been overrun or whether the NVA had always held the line.

Eventually, the NVA began to break from the trench line and head for the outer wire. It was approaching day light, and the NVA knew it was time to go. Also, unknown to me at the time, the engineer platoon had counter attacked toward Delta and the NVA were flanked. We were relatively safe, but my Marine had lost a lot of blood and if he didn't get some help, he wouldn't make it. The ARVNs were now visible in the lines firing indiscriminately toward the outer wire - and over us. Every time I raised up to signal them, they shot at me. Fortunately, the depression was deep enough to protect us.

All I could do was wait it out. It was frustrating and I felt awful as the reality began to sink in. There in front of me were the burning remains of two my amtracs and the duster. I had no idea how many casualties we had taken, but I was sure most of the infantry and the crews were KIA. It was then that I began to develop the survivors' guilt that I carry to this day.

It was now past dawn. At the sound of tractors, I looked up and saw three tractors with infantry now on top, led by Streck. One swung by and we soon had the wounded Marine on board and we headed for Delta. Streck had reached Delta's lines and he and the infantry were cleaning out NVA. By the time I got to Delta's CP, Streck had moved west to where the Delta lines had met the ARVNs. His action was credited with sealing the breach and trapping many NVA in the lines where they were now being slaughtered. He subsequently was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V.

After offloading the infantry and ammo, I picked up an M-14, and together with the .30 and a box of grenades, the tractor crew and I joined the final stage of the battle -- eliminating the NVA trying to leave our lines. Some were in holes returning fire, others were merely trying to escape. Very few at our end of the line escaped. Eventually, the firing tapered off for lack of targets.

Our tractor then became the aid station. As the Delta WIAs were collected, Streck's vehicles came back up the road. One of his crewmen had taken an AK hit and - along with many others, including my Marine - needed an emergency medevac. I never found out if my Marine made it. I don't know his name. Bravo 4 casualties included two KIA and three WIA. The total Marine losses were 40 KIA, with many WIA. The NVA lost more than 200 inside the wire.

As I recall, it was now about 0900 and I had left 1/4 about 0330. It had been a long night. As the adrenaline wore off, I felt drained. My head hurt and my hearing was minimal. I was passing in and out of consciousness - a condition of the severe concussion that I learned later I had sustained. About all I recall at that point was a corpsman tagging me and telling Streck to get me on the next chopper.

Next stop was Charlie Med at Dong Ha, then on to Phu Bai and the USS Repose.

When I was finally examined in Phu Bai later that day, a corpsman informed me that the damage to my head, face and neck was burns and lacerations, shrapnel and embedded dirt. The leg wounds were similar - burned and lacerated. I had also suffered a severe concussion and badly perforated eardrums. The concussion would require time and observation. I looked far worse than I was wounded. I had been very fortunate. I then spent time in surgery where my wounds were cleaned and the debris was extracted to preclude infection.

The next several weeks of recuperation on the Repose were comfortable and uneventful. One afternoon was interrupted with a visit from General Lew Walt. He said he had been at Con Thien the afternoon after the fight. As he pinned on a Purple Heart, he asked about my role and I gave him a brief description of what had happened. When I concluded, he fixed me with the sharpest blue eyes I've ever seen, shook my hand and wished me well.

Finally, after about two weeks, it was decided that my head, legs and ears had sufficiently recovered that I could be returned to duty. I was soon on my way back north.

In the meantime, Staff Sergeant Streck was more than an adequate replacement as leader of Bravo 4. He functioned in that capacity from my medevac until my return in late June. By that time, 1/4 had been replaced by 1/9 and Bravo 4 operations had ceased due to enemy shelling. In effect, the tractors were nothing more than bunkers for 1/9.

The AmGrunts
June to October 1967

It was now late May and I had been away since early March. During my absence much had changed. The camp was crowded with new faces, including several new lieutenants. Alpha Company and 1st Amtrac Battalion had arrived. We now had a "hardback" mess hall and more were going up to house the increasing cadre of Navy logistic personnel. Bravo still had the same old tents.

Bill DiBello had transferred to Alpha where he and Vandervoort were platoon leaders along with Don Head and another who I did not know. The CO of Alpha was Captain Leo Jameson, who I came to know well. The "Amgrunts" as they were now known had replaced the infantry in the sweeps and patrols up north, especially in an area west of Jones Creek known as "The Box". The area was the source of the rocket artillery impacting Dong Ha and our base camp.

It was during a conversation with Captain Heller that I learned the answer to the question that had been haunting me since the ambush. Why had Langon slowed down and stopped on the road to Delta? It was my sense that the ambush had not been sprung until we had almost come to a halt. Captain Heller explained that Langon had cut the turn too close and the left track had caught the barbwire perimeter. As we moved down the road, the wire wrapped into the track channel, stopping the vehicle.

If not for a few feet we would have had a clear road to Delta's CP. Whether we would have made it or not, given the number of NVA in the trench line, is subject to conjecture, but those few feet had sealed our fate.

I was anxious to get back to Con Thien, but Captain Heller explained that since Bravo's new role would include patrolling north of the river, I was to spend the next few weeks with Alpha and Bravo patrols, both as an observer and then as a leader.

For the next several weeks, I renewed my acquaintance with the terrain north of the river as a patrol observer with Alpha, or leading those with new Bravo Lieutenants, Craig Noke and Mel Bailey as observers. They were right from TVS at Camp Del Mar and had not had the weeks of training on the way over that I had had. Fortunately, both at Camp Pendleton and in training excises with 3/26 in Okinawa and the Philippines, my platoon had practiced patrolling, often serving as the "enemy" to ambush 3/26 infantry patrols. We were also fortunate that most of the platoon were converted 0311's who had been to ITR.

During this period, I led several multi day patrols up the familiar berm line and over near Hill 31. Other than calling in artillery on suspected movement one night, the nightly patrols were uneventful, but I was gaining experience and I knew the terrain.

I'll never forget the date - June 12. It was the first anniversary of the baptism of my goddaughter, Leah Ann DiBello. Ironically, May 8, the date of the Con Thien attack, was her first birthday. I reminded Bill of both of these facts as we crouched in a bunker as the 130's came roaring in. It was the first time the Cua Viet had been hit with this long range artillery. The barrage lasted for what seemed like hours. Fortunately, the NVA shot long - most of the rounds landed south of the wire. As I recall, the only KIA was a Sergeant Kistler, the leader of listening post south of the camp. Eventually, the camp was named in his honor.

Captain Heller soon directed me to extract Bravo 4 from Con Thien. They were badly needed at the Cua Viet. With our new patrolling responsibilities and the need to support Alpha's patrols in the Box, Bravo needed all hands.

I journeyed up the river and the next morning I caught the daily convoy heading west on Route 9 and then up 561 to Con Thien. This was normally high risk, but our run was uneventful and we arrived at Con Thien late in the morning. The convoy staging area was on the south side of the hill - approximately where our CP had been the night of the fight. Nothing looked familiar, except the two burned tractors still sitting on the road. Con Thien was now a bulls eye and everyone was dug into very deep bunkers. The hill was constantly hit with everything from mortars to 130 mm artillery. The entire hill was vulnerable.

It didn't take long to find Streck. The tractors were dug in - in effect steel bunkers for the infantry. They had not been operated in weeks, though Streck had done the best he could to maintain them. They were fueled, armed and ready to go.

I couldn't leave without confirming what Captain Heller had told me. Had we caught the wire in making the turn? Sure enough, about 100 yards of wire was now wrapped firmly around the tracks, completely filling the track channel.

About that time, the NVA opened up. They knew the routine. Every afternoon, the convoy formed for the return trip and that's when they hit us with 130 mm artillery. Streck had warned me to have a spot picked out to hit because there would be no time to find one when needed. The ground was rock hard and when the rounds landed, the shrapnel went far and wide. I hugged my six inch fox hole and prayed. In time it lifted.

With a tank in front, followed by trucks and then Bravo 4 bringing up the rear, the convoy left for Dong Ha. Once past the Churchyard and the ravine, we began to breathe easier. The remainder of the trip to Dong Ha and then back to the river was uneventful. For Bravo 4, it was the first time they had experienced clean clothes, showers and hot food for over three months.

I have seen it written - and a picture of a burning tractor - that suggest that Bravo 4 was also at Gio Linh. We were never based there and I doubt that Streck operated that far east while I was gone. That picture is incorrrect. The burning tractor on 8 May of '67 is mine at Con Thien.

Bravo 4 had seen a good deal of operation and, from building the Strip to operating around Con Thien, it had acquitted itself well. We had lost two tractors, incurred two KIAs and another dozen WIAs. Our tractors looked terrible, liberally peppered with small arms and shrapnel dings, but were well maintained. Our weapons were clean, but the barrels on our .30s were in need of replacement.

In our absence, the NVA's efforts to block the river had become more evident. The area from Hill 31 to Jones Creek was now a focal point of their efforts as the villages offered cover and opportunities to fortify. It was now the task of the 1st Amgrunts to keep them at bay. Pursuant to this strategy, Bravo would generally patrol north up the berm line Alpha was responsible for the Box and east back to Hill 31.

Bravo 4 underwent an intense refresher course in patrolling to sharpen skills and pass on lessons learned and the tactics developed over the previous weeks. Fortunately, the experience gained with 3/26 in the summer and fall of 1966 accelerated our preparation and by late June, we had assumed our share of operational responsibility.

As in our support role, caution was our primary tactic. It was high risk to move into a night position before dark. So, after dark, we would move and set in an ambush. The risk of moving was less than the risk of staying.

When on the move, day or night, we moved slowly and cautiously, taking advantage of available cover. We never crossed open ground if we could avoid it, opting to skirt it along tree lines. When we could not avoid it, our policy was to halt and send the point fire team across to secure the other side. When all was clear we would slowly make our way across in two stages. The first moving while the second covered and then the first would cover the second. Points and flankers were always employed.

My memory of that summer is blurred as the repetitious patrolling and supporting Alpha in the Box created a monotonous routine separated only by occasional moments of contact. Somehow, it all runs together.

The Bravo routine was one day and night on patrol north of the river, the next day in support of Alpha in the Box, and the third day in camp providing security. The platoon coming off patrol was usually designated the reaction platoon to assist Alpha. The northern patrol generally consisted of being dropped late in the afternoon, moving to an ambush position for the night and then conducting a sweep over a designated area the next day. The routine was often disrupted by tactical needs.

As July unfolded, Bill was getting short - about a month to go. Captain Heller and Denny Vandervoort, each had about two months. Bill had had a few close calls. Actually, by the time he rotated, he had three Purple Hearts. He picked up the last one during Operation Hickory II in July.

The field had its dangers, but it was no worse than being in camp. The NVA were now hitting us with 130 mm artillery. We had started to take casualties. We lost a parked tractor about this time. The round landed next to it and tore out the side. The armor was thick enough to absorb a near miss from an 82 mm mortar, but not a 130 mm artillery round.

Somewhere during the first part of July, my injured left ear became infected. Back through the medical chain I went, this time finding myself at the Naval Hospital in Da Nang. For the next several days, the morning began with a draining of my ear. Fortunately, the air in the Stone Elephant was sufficiently clean to facilitate healing. Returning one night, I found a note from Ed Hinson., the Bravo XO. He was on his way home and had stopped by to say good bye. Ed's rotation was also bad news. I was now the senior lieutenant in Bravo and with more new lieutenants arriving, I feared that my platoon leader days were coming to an end.

All too soon, it was back to the river and my fate. I was Bravo 5, the XO. 2nd Lieut. Craig Noke was now Bravo 4. I knew my duties would be routine while Captain Heller, who was a hands on manager, went to the field and ran the company. Turning the platoon over to Noke was difficult. I had been the platoon leader over a year. We had been through a great deal together, and I would miss being with them in the field.

I had also arrived back just in time for Operation Hickory II. According to our share of the plan, Bravo would support Alpha in a sweep north up the berm line to the DMZ, west across the southern side and then south back to the Hill 31 area and then to the river. The objective was to eliminate the NVA in the Hill 31 area. Bravo's contribution would be two platoons with Captain Heller in command in support of Alpha. The sweep would begin north of the resettlement ville and extend north on line up the coast.

As expected, my job was to remain at the river, oversee security, manage the re-supply process and replace disabled tractors - typical XO duties. The sweep soon had contact, with two Bravo 4 tractors taking RPG hits and several WIAs in need of medical care. Most of my time was spent in the comm. bunker in contact with Captain Heller. We soon had casualties streaming back for medevac. We'd load the tractors with ammo and water and send them back to rejoin the operation. Alpha and Bravo were consuming ammo at a rapid rate.

The next day, as the operation neared Hill 31, Captain Heller directed me to meet him at Hill 31 with a re-supply of ammo, water and replacement troops. They also had a disabled tractor that I would tow back to the river. We loaded up and left the First Sergeant in charge with the assurance that I would be back before dark.

My trip was uneventful. As I approached Hill 31 from the east, I could hear the volume of fire increase as Alpha was engaged around Hill 31 and the line of villages just to its southwest. The villages were fortified and were held by the NVA. Alpha was pushing into the first village while Bravo tractors supported from the flank. The NVA were dug in and hanging tough as their only choice was to hold us off while they escaped to the west toward Jones Creek. I could hear Captain Heller on the radio and in a few minutes I could see him.

He directed me to a point north of the hill where I could drop the supplies, gather what now had become several casualties and hook up the disabled tractor. Captain Heller declined my suggestion that I remain to assist him in the field, directing me to return immediately. The trip was uneventful, thus ending my field time on Hickory II.

It was almost dark by the time I made it back. We got the wounded medevaced and the guard mounted and then I settled into the comm. bunker for what was to be a long night. After being probed and sniped at all night, Alpha and Bravo completed their sweep to the river in the morning in the face of heavy contact. As I recall, they returned to the river late that same day, or possibly the next.

Hickory II was a major operation and the performance of the 1st Amgrunts confirmed the effectiveness of the strategy. The traditional amtrac combat support role now included direct combat as well. It thus proved the soundness of Marine Corps doctrine -- every Marine is a rifleman and every officer is an infantryman.

The next few weeks were routine. Other than administrative supervision of the platoon leaders, my job consisted of sitting in the company office with the First Sergeant. The Top was ably assisted by the company clerk, a second year law student from Duke. Between the Top and his clerk covering the paperwork and Captain Heller supervising operations, I had little to do.

I took every opportunity to go to the field. I accompanied the platoons on support and patrol operations. We reinforced the procedures we had worked out over the past weeks. I stressed caution when on the move and explained the need to probe areas of potential danger, and to cross open ground with a point fire team - especially at night. I stressed the need to establish a base of fire to cover the point as it moved and then when the all clear signal was given, to cross the open area in two elements with one covering the other. Never take chances and never lose control.

The word came down from battalion about this time that I had been awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Gold Palm for the night action at the ambush site back in December. As I recall, it was awarded at the same ceremony at which Streck was awarded his Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V for his actions at Con Thien on May 8th.

Sometime in early August, a routine afternoon had Noke and Bravo 4 conducting a patrol up north, another platoon making a run out to the Box and the third in camp. The routine was interrupted with the message that Bravo 4 had been ambushed. I alerted the reaction platoon and joined Captain Heller in the comm. Bunker as he was trying to raise Noke. He directed me to establish contact with Bravo 4, and coordinate supporting fire with How 6 while he took the reaction team north.

I kept trying to contact Noke while alerting How 6 for a fire mission. Finally, through the overhead speaker, we heard Noke's radioman - a Marine named Preacher Williams - come on the radio. We could hear gun fire in the background as he told me that Lieutenant Noke had run to the point when they were hit and was now pinned down in the dry paddy. He didn't know where Streck was but they were taking a lot of fire from the tree line across a dry paddy that the platoon had been crossing when it had been hit.

I knew the area and had a pretty good idea where they were. I asked Preacher to describe any landmarks he could see with his back to the beach. When he described a pagoda with a green roof and a collapsed side, I knew where they were. He quickly told me where the pagoda was relative to his position and where the NVA were relative to the pagoda - and, with this information, I called in a spotter round. By now, Captain Heller had arrived. Through Preacher, he gave me the adjustment and we fired for effect. After a minor correction, How 6 fired again. The NVA then disengaged, leaving one KIA.

Unfortunately, it had been costly. The point fire team had included Corporals Fuson, who had returned from the hospital, and Herring. They were both KIA, having been hit in the initial contact. Also KIA was a corpsman who had rushed to their aid. Herring had achieved notoriety in Olongapo City the previous fall, when, at a platoon party, he had stumbled up to Streck and me and, with a big smile on his inebriated face, told me that he didn't think I was nearly as big an a____e as he had back at Camp Del Mar. In what became a ritual, I would regularly ask Corporal Herring how I was doing. He would either give me a thumbs up or tell me "you're doing good, sir." Like the others, he would be missed.

It was a solemn Bravo 4 that returned to camp. Notwithstanding the debrief I attended, the details of this ambush are best known to Noke, Streck and Captain Heller. However, as I recall, the platoon was spread out and a base of fire was covering the point moving across a paddy -- pursuant to our practice when Fuson, who was the farthest out in the paddy, turned and yelled back to Noke that he saw people in the tree line.

Those were his last words. He was cut down in a hail of AK fire. Noke, ran forward to help the wounded Marines and was pinned down, where he remained. Streck had quickly organized return fire and was beginning to flank from the north when the reaction platood arrived and the fire mission was complete. The NVA broke off after the first fire for effect and the second one caught them moving, producing a KIA.

As quickly as it had started it was over.

As far as I was concerned the hero of the day had been Preacher - so named because he had been a fundamentalist preacher before enlisting. As I recall, I wrote him up for an award, but I do not recall whether it was awarded.

Noke's encounter was but one of many. About that time, an Alpha patrol in the Box incurred several casualties, including its platoon leader, 2nd Lieut. Duke Jorey, who was KIA. I had operated with him earlier, but did not know him well. Duke was the first KIA amtrac officer since the battalion had displaced to the river.

Throughout this period, Bravo had two platoons guarding a fuel dump and ferry crossing on the coast, east of Hue. They had had virtually no contact. I had long considered them underemployed and now I suggested to Captain Heller, who was about to rotate, that we replace both of them with Bravo 4. The platoon deserved a break having been in the field since the previous November. As one of his last decisions, Captain Heller agreed. It was with a great deal of relief that I watched Streck lead the platoon aboard an LCI for the trip down to Hue to become Bravo 1.

About this time, Captain Heller rotated and he was replaced by Captain Skip Brunsvold. I remained the XO. The routine continued, but I was more active helping the new skipper become acquainted with our operations. September was spent supporting Alpha in the Box and conducting patrols up north. As I recall, we had one major operation early that month. With Mel Bailey and Craig Noke gaining experience, my trips to the field were limited mostly to recovering our now more frequently mined vehicles.

The NVA were finally beginning to impact our lives. The NVA had line of sight into our camp from the DMZ because of the way the coast curved to the east north of the DMZ. Now they had the weapon - the 130mm gun - to reach us as well. Their accuracy was increasing and we were now taking casualties. Fortunately, the rounds burrowed their way into the sand before exploding, significantly reducing the blast effect.

Operating was becoming more dangerous. We could hardly cross the river before the 130 mm's began to chase us up the beach and into the trees where we became more exposed to the mines the NVA now began to scatter among the trees and dunes. Fortunately, the sand muffled the explosions sufficiently to minimize a gasoline explosion. A tractor I was on one day hit one with just enough force to blow the track.

Our first serious explosion occurred one afternoon as Noke's platoon was returning from the Box. By now, the spot where I had become stuck in the river had become a favorite when the tide was in. To approach the spot meant passing between the resettlement ville on the east and a very large cemetery on the west. As Noke moved through the area, his tractor hit a mine. The tractor burst into flame. Fortunately, Noke was ejected from the crew chief's turret suffering no more than superficial burns. The driver was also ejected. I do not recall his wounds, if any.

The Navy was also having its problems. A squadron of Swift Boats had moved in with the ARVN Navy and had been running patrols up and down the coast to intercept supplies being landed at night. Every now and then, each of us had accompanied them on these patrols, mostly as a break in the routine. The Navy was soon having enough success to cause the NVA to react. One night, a "Swifty" approached the beach to look over a sampan just south of the DMZ. As it approached the surf line, the NVA opened up from the tree line and, very quickly, the Swifty was aflame. As I recall, they incurred a number of KIA and lost the boat.

One of our newest additions, 2nd Lieut. Mel Bailey had developed into a very capable platoon leader. He was also a character. He had been a fullback at Bradley University and was built like a bulldog. He was smart, courageous and popular with the troops. He was a leader. He was also black which meant nothing to us but came in handy on the day of the "General's Inspection."

On the day in question, Mel was with his platoon at their tent on the far east end of the compound. Suddenly, a chopper landed on the beach and General Metzger, the Assistant Division Commander and his aides got out to "inspect" the area. Mel saw them coming, noting that the General was becoming more annoyed with every step. The problem was cigarette butts. Since we had been flipping butts into the sand for about ten months, they were present to the depth of about a foot.

Bailey knew that it would not be good to be the first officer the General encountered. Thinking quickly as the General approached, he took the brown bar from his utility cover, pulled the cover down to his ears and quickly converted himself into a stereotype, "Stepin Fetchit," private. I wasn't so lucky. I was the next officer the General encountered and not being as smart as Bailey, found myself responsible for every butt he had encountered along the way.

Bailey's luck almost ran out one afternoon early in September. The Navy called to tell us that a Swift Boat on patrol up north had spotted a Russian SAM Missile embedded in the sand about fifty yards into the tree line and they wanted to inspect it ASAP. Alpha would provide security and we would supply the transportation. The call came in to the company office as Mel and I were spending an otherwise uneventful afternoon. I told him to get a section of his platoon ready and I called the Skipper to tell him what was up.

The Skipper agreed to the plan and after our final words of caution, Bailey, a squad of "amgrunts" and a Navy inspection team headed north. We kept asking ourselves -- How did a SAM find its way so conveniently to our beach? We reminded Bailey to be cautious and began to assemble the reaction team and alerted How 6. Again, we could not understand how a missile could appear so conveniently.

About twenty minutes later Mel Bailey walked into a horseshoe ambush.

As we later learned, Mel had approached the site from the south with the tractors pulling into the tree line. While the security watched from the top of the tractors, the Navy approached the missile with several riflemen and Bailey trailing behind. All but Bailey were killed instantly as the ambush was triggered. Bailey was hit in the right shoulder but was functioning.

The fight was on with Bailey's troops leaping from the tractors and firing at the NVA who were now trying to encircle them. The tractors were trying to maneuver to bring their .30s to bear as RPGs were launched. There were casualties on both sides.

In just a few minutes, the Skipper was on his way north as I tried to establish contact. This time, I didn't have a "Preacher" on the line, just crewman yelling to each other. I couldn't raise anyone and I didn't know well enough where they were to risk artillery. All I could do was talk to the Skipper and wait. I told How 6 to stand by.

By the time the Skipper arrived, the NVA had broken off and fled north. Bailey and several others were hit badly enough to warrant medevac from the field. The rest - along with our KIA and several KIA NVA - were recovered.

Bailey never returned. He was eventually discharged with a badly damaged shoulder. According to the witnesses, Bailey had performed with courage in spite of his wounds and had kept going until passing out from loss of blood. At one point he killed an NVA with an M-79 grenade, the round hitting him the chest. Based on that and similar stories, I wrote him up for a Bronze Star which eventually was awarded.

The month of September is a blur to me at this point. I do recall Captain Brunsvold sending me on an inspection trip down to our operations east of Hue sometime in September. For some reason, I took the higher risk overland route - a flight from Dong Ha to Phu Bai and then to Hue by convoy. From there, it was still a long journey down a lonely road by jeep to the ferry landing. The problem was Dong Ha. The airstrip was now zeroed in by the 130's. I made my way to Dong Ha and made it aboard a C-130 in the midst of a barrage for the flight to Phu Bai. With the most dangerous part of the journey over, I quickly caught a convoy to Hue arriving just before dark.

I spent the night in the MACV advisors compound on the south side of the Perfume River in Hue in the company of a dozen Army and Marine officers and senior NCOs, most of whom were advisors to ARVN units in the field. During the Tet Offensive in January 1968, this compound was the only part of Hue that the NVA never took. I can understand why as I have read the accounts. A group of officers, similar to those I met, held the place until the 5th Marines arrived.

Next morning, while waiting for a jeep to pick me up, I walked around Hue. The pre Tet city was beautiful -- and as I watched the well fed, clean beautiful local girls walking and talking, it was hard to believe there was a war on. On the south bank was the city proper, including a university and sports clubs along the river where high ranking officials of all three sides - South Vietnamese, Viet Cong and U.S. - played tennis. The highlight was a beautiful Cathedral sitting on the main square of the city. The Citadel was on the north side of the river.

The road to the coast was generally safe during the day. Our trip was uneventful with the road full of locals. I spent the night at the fuel dump compound with Streck and the platoon. I had never met the platoon leader of Bravo 1, a 1st. Lieut. named Van Horn, who had spent virtually his entire tour at the fuel dump. The place was clean, well organized and the platoon was well fed and well treated. It was as close to an R&R tour as one could get. The fact that the place had never been hit supported the rumor that the dump served the local VC as well.

The next morning, I dropped in on the other platoon on my way back to Hue. It was set in a large house surrounded by a high wall adjacent to the ferry landing. Their job was to guard the landing and conduct amphibious security patrols in the area. It was also routine duty. My visit resulted in a number of "suggestions" for immediate improvement in appearance, security and discipline.

The trip back was without incident except for the 130 mm barrage in Dong Ha. Back at the river, I briefed the Skipper on my inspection tour. I am reasonably certain that the platoon leader received a follow up message of "encouragement" relative to addressing my suggestions.

The remainder of September was routine, yet increasingly more intense. It was clear that the fight for the river was rapidly intensifying. I was now within about two weeks of my rotation date. It was time to get Streck and the platoon back up north. The decision had also been made to re-deploy those members of the platoon who were not short to Camp Evans, a base camp, as I recall, north of Hue just west of Highway.

While I was at it, I was to take a section of tractors to Dong Ha for use in support of the infantry working in the Box. With that, at the end of September, I headed for Dong Ha with five tractors from Bailey's platoon. As I recall, the rest of Bailey's tractors had been used to bring the other two platoons up to strength.

By that time, it was too late to fly to Phu Bai, so I remained in Dong Ha with the tractors until morning. I turned the tractors over to the 9th Marines and hopped a ride to Phu Bai to get transportation to Hue and then down to the ferry landing. By the time I got there late the next day, Streck was on his way back north by LCI with the platoon, leaving only the section that I was to take to Camp Evans.

The next morning, after stopping by to inspect the now model platoon at the ferry landing, I formed up the section for the run to Camp Evans. Other than the hassle of river crossings on Highway 1, it was uneventful. By the time we got to Camp Evans, it was too late to catch a convoy.

It took me another day to make my way to Quang Tri and then to Dong Ha. After another night at Dong Ha, I made it back to the river. It was now October and I had now been on this task for the better part of a week. When I got back, my orders were in!

Best of all, our rotation date was only days away. Streck, the remnants of the platoon and I were directed to process out and find our way to Da Nang. I had one last decision to make. We could either go to Dong Ha and fly to Da Nang or wait until late afternoon and catch an LST for an overnight trip. This was a tough call. The fly route was quicker, but would entail running the 130 mm gauntlet at the Dong Ha airstrip - a high risk proposition. However, the alternative - remaining all day at the river- was also not without risk as the NVA could be counted on to hit the camp sometime during the day.

Streck and I huddled as the troops watched - waiting for my final command decision. After some discussion, we opted to wait for the LST ride. The shelling at Dong Ha would be a certainty while we could conceivably go all day without getting hit from the 130s at the river.

It also gave us one very long day to sweat out. Checking out took part of it. For the first time, I met the Battalion CO, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Toner. He shook my hand, gave me a well done and dismissed me.

As I walked back, I noticed that our long anticipated hardbacks were replacing the ratty tents that had served us so well in Bravo Company. Civilization was upon us. It was vastly different from the camp I had first seen back in November of '66.

Late in the afternoon, an LSM pulled in. It was our ticket out. After handing over everything we owned except for the clothes on our backs, we were standing around the LST ramp waiting for the word to board.

Just as we were beginning to relax, the NVA gave us the 130 mm send off - and they were right on the button. I remember very vividly lying in the bottom of a slit trench next to Corporal Hannas. We looked at each other as the rounds crashed all around and couldn't help but laugh. After all of this, we're going to get it waiting for the ride out? The NVA finally gave us a break and the Navy took advantage of it to make for the open sea.

I remember standing on the deck of the LSM surrounded by the remnants of Bravo 4 watching the Cua Viet slide from view. While we were enormously relieved, we also had a feeling of sadness. Much had happened in fifteen months, and we had been in it together. We had lost four KIA and another twenty plus WIA. Our original thirty-five man platoon was down to no more than twenty. We had also lost half our tractors.

While remembering our comrades we nevertheless rejoiced.

We were going home.

* * *

Patrick J. McDonnell
Lake Forest, IL 60045
March 2005

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