Marine Corps Memoirs

Following their arrival in Vietnam in 1965, the U.S. Marines Corps were assigned responsibility for South Vietnam's "I Corps Tactical Zone", which contained the provinces closest to North Vietnamese territory. They continued to fulfill that mission through March 1970. Initially sent to Vietnam as advisers, Marine activities expanded to include counterinsurgency and close air support. At the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Marine units concentrated on large-scale search and destroy operations.

RUMOR OF WAR (40TH ANNIV ED)

By Philip Caputo

Caputo radioed for a medevac and the usual complications followed. How many wounded were there? Four walking wounded and five needing evacuation. Nine casualties from a single mine? What kind of mine? A homemade Claymore probably, electrically detonated, black powder. But how did it happen? I'll tell you later, just get me a medevac. I've got one, maybe two who'll be "dead of wounds" if we don't get them out of here. How big was the mine? Four to five pounds of explosive with plenty of shrapnel, placed on an embankment while the platoon was down below in a rice paddy. Most of the shrapnel went over their heads, otherwise there would have been several KIAs.

Caputo radioed for a medevac and the usual complications followed. How many wounded were there? Four walking wounded and five needing evacuation. Nine casualties from a single mine? What kind of mine? A homemade Claymore probably, electrically detonated, black powder. But how did it happen? I'll tell you later, just get me a medevac. I've got one, maybe two who'll be "dead of wounds" if we don't get them out of here. How big was the mine? Four to five pounds of explosive with plenty of shrapnel, placed on an embankment while the platoon was down below in a rice paddy. Most of the shrapnel went over their heads, otherwise there would have been several KIAs.

Watching from his perch atop Hill 861, he realized the napalm was headed for the Echo Company outpost. Abort! Abort! Abort! he screamed into the radio handset. But it was too late. He could only watch in horror as the first canister hit, and jellied gasoline boiled across the Marine trench line in a burst of fire and smoke. Another canister slammed into the ground, and the fear grew that he had killed everyone on the hill. An anxious hour passed before he was informed that the Americans on Hill 861 had received advance notice of incoming airstrike and were in their trenches and bunkers when the napalm hit. A few men had suffered singed hair, but no one had died or even been seriously injured.

Watching from his perch atop Hill 861, he realized the napalm was headed for the Echo Company outpost. Abort! Abort! Abort! he screamed into the radio handset. But it was too late. He could only watch in horror as the first canister hit, and jellied gasoline boiled across the Marine trench line in a burst of fire and smoke. Another canister slammed into the ground, and the fear grew that he had killed everyone on the hill. An anxious hour passed before he was informed that the Americans on Hill 861 had received advance notice of incoming airstrike and were in their trenches and bunkers when the napalm hit. A few men had suffered singed hair, but no one had died or even been seriously injured.

Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills

By Charles Henderson

Hathcock knew that Captain Jim Land would not be pleased to see the snipers return without him, but he had developed a rapport with several of the unit commanders. They let him call many of his own shots and plan sniper operations. With each operation that Hathcock planned and brought off, his reputation grew, and he liked that. His ego thrived as he enjoyed a status shared by few other enlisted Marines, even as he became more gaunt and weathered. Still, he remained mentally sharp, demonstrating increased cunning with each outing. No matter how bizarre the plan or dangerous the mission, his opinion meant much to his superiors. Hathcock had sold "snipers" to the Marine Corps.

Hathcock knew that Captain Jim Land would not be pleased to see the snipers return without him, but he had developed a rapport with several of the unit commanders. They let him call many of his own shots and plan sniper operations. With each operation that Hathcock planned and brought off, his reputation grew, and he liked that. His ego thrived as he enjoyed a status shared by few other enlisted Marines, even as he became more gaunt and weathered. Still, he remained mentally sharp, demonstrating increased cunning with each outing. No matter how bizarre the plan or dangerous the mission, his opinion meant much to his superiors. Hathcock had sold "snipers" to the Marine Corps.

The monsoon season had arrived. With one hard downpour, Mother Nature accomplished what the North Vietnamese could not. Con Thien was cut off and isolated. Alarmed that the Marine regiment stationed there had been cut off by the main supply route washout, two maneuver companies were ordered inside the perimeter. A full-scale ground attack by the North Vietnamese army seemed imminent. Con Thien was never intended to house more than two reinforced Marine companies, and now its residents had to house double the original number. Tankers were kicked out of their bunkers; they could live in their tanks, after all. Some bunkers originally intended to house a squad of infantry were taken over by a full platoon.

The monsoon season had arrived. With one hard downpour, Mother Nature accomplished what the North Vietnamese could not. Con Thien was cut off and isolated. Alarmed that the Marine regiment stationed there had been cut off by the main supply route washout, two maneuver companies were ordered inside the perimeter. A full-scale ground attack by the North Vietnamese army seemed imminent. Con Thien was never intended to house more than two reinforced Marine companies, and now its residents had to house double the original number. Tankers were kicked out of their bunkers; they could live in their tanks, after all. Some bunkers originally intended to house a squad of infantry were taken over by a full platoon.

Hill 488

By Ray Hildreth

After a Huey gunship was downed at Hill 488, a flight of A-4 Skyhawks scrambled from the air base at Chu Lai to deal with the problem once and for all. The Skyhawk attack aircraft carried 250-pound bombs and were equipped with 20mm Vulcan cannon. A Marine Captain took command of the flight after the squadron commander reported radio trouble and turned back ... this commander had a reputation for experiencing "radio problems" in order to avoid potentially dangerous missions. Targets were close to friendlies and the Skyhawks flew too fast to select their own marks, so a little fixed-wing Cessna zipped in low, relatively slowly, laying smoke rockets on suspicious holes and craters. The jets followed it in.

After a Huey gunship was downed at Hill 488, a flight of A-4 Skyhawks scrambled from the air base at Chu Lai to deal with the problem once and for all. The Skyhawk attack aircraft carried 250-pound bombs and were equipped with 20mm Vulcan cannon. A Marine Captain took command of the flight after the squadron commander reported radio trouble and turned back ... this commander had a reputation for experiencing "radio problems" in order to avoid potentially dangerous missions. Targets were close to friendlies and the Skyhawks flew too fast to select their own marks, so a little fixed-wing Cessna zipped in low, relatively slowly, laying smoke rockets on suspicious holes and craters. The jets followed it in.

It looked like the camp was still being set up. The area was huge, with way more than just the 5th Marine Regiment located there. Temperatures were approaching 120 degrees again. It was late May, and Dixon remembered the 120 degree temperatures when they first landed in-country in June. Each day, temperatures rose above 100, but for some reason Dixon didn't mind it like he had a year before. He saw his first tank. Several civilians were walking around. Some were technical advisers, some were contractors who worked with the engineers, and there were also reporters. They had been given strict instructions not to complain to the reporters about anything - especially about the M-16 rifles.

It looked like the camp was still being set up. The area was huge, with way more than just the 5th Marine Regiment located there. Temperatures were approaching 120 degrees again. It was late May, and Dixon remembered the 120 degree temperatures when they first landed in-country in June. Each day, temperatures rose above 100, but for some reason Dixon didn't mind it like he had a year before. He saw his first tank. Several civilians were walking around. Some were technical advisers, some were contractors who worked with the engineers, and there were also reporters. They had been given strict instructions not to complain to the reporters about anything - especially about the M-16 rifles.

The search team wound up finding only three bodies. Shredded web gear covered with blood lay strewn around, indicating more than three kills, but as usual the North Vietnamese had done an incredible job of retrieving their dead. One Marine found a dead leg, took the bloody stump and shoved it into the crotch of one of the stiffs, then laughed at the three-legged corpse until his eyes were filled with tears. Clark wondered what he was like before the war - maybe this was just his way of coping. An hour before darkness they split into two squads of eight men each and headed back toward the corpses. The NVA had a habit of returning for their dead, so Clark's unit developed a habit of waiting for their return.

The search team wound up finding only three bodies. Shredded web gear covered with blood lay strewn around, indicating more than three kills, but as usual the North Vietnamese had done an incredible job of retrieving their dead. One Marine found a dead leg, took the bloody stump and shoved it into the crotch of one of the stiffs, then laughed at the three-legged corpse until his eyes were filled with tears. Clark wondered what he was like before the war - maybe this was just his way of coping. An hour before darkness they split into two squads of eight men each and headed back toward the corpses. The NVA had a habit of returning for their dead, so Clark's unit developed a habit of waiting for their return.

General Westmoreland piled on a bit of insult to injury to the Marines by placing the U.S. Army in charge of siege ground and air activities, tapping the Army's 1st Air Cavalry to lead Operation Pegasus, the effort to fight through to the air base and break the siege of Khe Sanh. Eight days after it began, the Air Cavalry passed through the destroyed village of Khe Sanh, finding little but rubble. From there, they slogged on to meet up with the Marines who had defended the combat base throughout the seventy seven day siege. By this time, the Marines did not need relief, as most of the North Vietnamese shelling had ceased. Enemy forces in the hills were pulling in their claws and preparing to withdraw.

General Westmoreland piled on a bit of insult to injury to the Marines by placing the U.S. Army in charge of siege ground and air activities, tapping the Army's 1st Air Cavalry to lead Operation Pegasus, the effort to fight through to the air base and break the siege of Khe Sanh. Eight days after it began, the Air Cavalry passed through the destroyed village of Khe Sanh, finding little but rubble. From there, they slogged on to meet up with the Marines who had defended the combat base throughout the seventy seven day siege. By this time, the Marines did not need relief, as most of the North Vietnamese shelling had ceased. Enemy forces in the hills were pulling in their claws and preparing to withdraw.

They linked up and found no Viet Cong caught between the hammer and the anvil; only thin air. If the village was overrun with VC, they had slipped out of the trap, as they would do many times during the weeks ahead. The Marines swept back through, without seeing anything different, and started digging in on the village perimeter facing outward, as if they were expecting the Viet Cong to attack. “Frenchy” was standing knee-deep in his freshly excavated fighting hole. “There ees more VC behind us in the village, mon ami, than in front of us”. That observation added tension to the first of many dark nights they were to endure waiting in holes dug in the ground.

They linked up and found no Viet Cong caught between the hammer and the anvil; only thin air. If the village was overrun with VC, they had slipped out of the trap, as they would do many times during the weeks ahead. The Marines swept back through, without seeing anything different, and started digging in on the village perimeter facing outward, as if they were expecting the Viet Cong to attack. “Frenchy” was standing knee-deep in his freshly excavated fighting hole. “There ees more VC behind us in the village, mon ami, than in front of us”. That observation added tension to the first of many dark nights they were to endure waiting in holes dug in the ground.

Marines are assault troops. They are aggressive and offensively oriented by doctrine, by training and by nature. Khe Sanh was not the kind of situation they desired; dug in for a prolonged period, having to endure constant shelling and unable to conduct local attacks or even aggressive patrolling. “V-ring” is Marine terminology for the rifle target's bulls-eye, and this is how Marines felt at the combat base and hills at Khe Sanh. North Vietnamese artillery, rocket and mortar fire fell on the base at an average rate of 150 rounds per day, and occasionally topped a daily rate of one thousand. Their preferred targets were the airfield, ammunition dumps and Marine artillery.

Marines are assault troops. They are aggressive and offensively oriented by doctrine, by training and by nature. Khe Sanh was not the kind of situation they desired; dug in for a prolonged period, having to endure constant shelling and unable to conduct local attacks or even aggressive patrolling. “V-ring” is Marine terminology for the rifle target's bulls-eye, and this is how Marines felt at the combat base and hills at Khe Sanh. North Vietnamese artillery, rocket and mortar fire fell on the base at an average rate of 150 rounds per day, and occasionally topped a daily rate of one thousand. Their preferred targets were the airfield, ammunition dumps and Marine artillery.

Attack on Hill 881N, January 20, 1968: A squad was providing security for a medevac landing zone. As a CH-46 helicopter approached the zone, it was hit by an antiaircraft weapon and immediately caught fire. The pilot, apparently wanting to avoid crash-landing a burning aircraft in an LZ where several severely wounded men were staged, veered off into a gulley and made a controlled crash-landing close to the source of the antiaircraft fire. Without waiting for orders, the security force immediately and spontaneously rose and charged down the hill toward the burning aircraft, where they extricated all of the Marines from the helicopter before it burst into flames.

Attack on Hill 881N, January 20, 1968: A squad was providing security for a medevac landing zone. As a CH-46 helicopter approached the zone, it was hit by an antiaircraft weapon and immediately caught fire. The pilot, apparently wanting to avoid crash-landing a burning aircraft in an LZ where several severely wounded men were staged, veered off into a gulley and made a controlled crash-landing close to the source of the antiaircraft fire. Without waiting for orders, the security force immediately and spontaneously rose and charged down the hill toward the burning aircraft, where they extricated all of the Marines from the helicopter before it burst into flames.

In a classic recipe for disaster, an armored column was being sent into the midst of an aroused enemy in a tangle of trails and woodland, without infantry protection. Sergeant Dan McQueary, the platoon maintenance chief, later stated his belief that mistaken instructions had been given to them, in terms of where they were supposed to proceed to, and they lacked communications equipment. Lieutenant Colonel Ray Stewart wasn't nearly so generous, saying that the commanders didn't know what to do with tanks and armor. The Marine Corps had always practiced tank-infantry coordination. They wouldn't fight tanks separately, without infantry cover, yet that was done on Operation Starlite.

In a classic recipe for disaster, an armored column was being sent into the midst of an aroused enemy in a tangle of trails and woodland, without infantry protection. Sergeant Dan McQueary, the platoon maintenance chief, later stated his belief that mistaken instructions had been given to them, in terms of where they were supposed to proceed to, and they lacked communications equipment. Lieutenant Colonel Ray Stewart wasn't nearly so generous, saying that the commanders didn't know what to do with tanks and armor. The Marine Corps had always practiced tank-infantry coordination. They wouldn't fight tanks separately, without infantry cover, yet that was done on Operation Starlite.