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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I am not sure how long we have been at this. It feels like a week maybe, but my memory blurs into one long day...or night, I can't tell. Our baptism by fire long past, we push through open desert where single small homes dot the moonscape seemingly oblivious to the chaos that brought us here; or that chaos that we bring.

We have brought death as only we know how. Marine DNA is forged through centuries of pain and want and victory. All that had opposed us now smolders behind in thick black smoke while the dogs fight past the flies to fill their bellies. Meaningful resistance was crushed violently. I am still unsure in this culture whether these other nuisance pop shots were attempts at heroism or martyrdom, but we gave them the later and spilled their blood.

Our blood was not immune from falling into this dirt though. Away from the serenity of the open spaces,small villages bristle with hate, coiled at their chance to pick from our number. We are a powerful giant, but barefoot, and these **** encrusted towns are thorns for us. The aluminum armor of those amtracks drip into molten heaps following an RPG volley. The grunts fight like hell against streams of tracers and grenades.

Not me though. I am cradled in the seat of my tank watching everything unfold though my three outlets to the world; my vision blocks. The front of a main battle tank is the heaviest, most impenetrable armor on the battlefield. My M1A1 Abrams armor is so effective they won't even tell me what it is, but it works. We have shuddered a bit when struck by an RPG, and a buddy lost a wheel and split track from a mine that caused them a few hours delay for repair. My job as the junior crew member is to do what the tank commander tells me to. “Driver right,” “driver stop,”and so on while watching from my three little periscope windows. I can see the main gun when it is pointed straight ahead and feel the concussion as it sends destruction. I do this from the recliner-like driver's seat, with dimly lit instruments and gumdrop shaped indicator bulbs bathing me in warm light as my headset whispers white noise between crew commands.

Tonight we are on the move again. The various combat teams have been leapfrogging from objective to objective, but we lead each time and only pause long enough to resupply. We can't sleep when moving, and when we do stop at least one of the four of us has to stay up for security and radio watch. Night ops take on a surreal, video game quality to them. My middle vision block gets replaced with a thermal viewer and now the war is just like watching TV. The black and white screen shows me the heat on the road left from the tracks of the tank in front of me. I can see the tank I am following too, its heat glowing on my screen further ahead. Good dispersion. I hear the gunner scanning for threats behind me from the rhythmic whine of the hydraulics as I rock softly in my seat to the Cadillac smooth suspension. It is a quiet move, nobody has anything to say, my only company the soft hiss of the intercom in my ear.

I don't even realize that my eye lids have not recovered from the last blink. That's how it happens,right? You fight sleep so hard you blink slow and begin to dream about how good you are doing to stay awake. The tank rolls smoothly on, the chatter of the track muffled through layers of steel and my headset. The 70+ ton monster barely quivers when it begins to rub into the guardrail of the bridge.

“DRIVER, LEFT!” breaks the silence! “What the ...”. It's all too late. The track breaks over the edge of the bridge and the negative g's pull at my insides faster than I can react. I have never felt this in a tank, something is wrong. Just as fast, I am slammed into the hatch and again onto my side as I lose grip on the controls that were my last sense of connection to this machine. I don't know which way is up but we have stopped. The engine roars for a moment then goes silent, but I do not. I scream! I don't know what I am yelling, “Get me out of here! What the****?! Everyone okay?!...” No responses and I can't see anything by the **** light of the controls. The light is starting to fade too. Now I see the lights are under water. The dark water is filling my compartment and mud oozing around me! flicker, blink, the lights go out.

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12,227 Posts
Geez, I hope it's fiction. Sounds more like a horror story. Never been in a tank so don't know much about that but have spent many hours in the lowest deck of a ship, well below the waterline. Often thought about having to try and swim out if we sank or capsized.

Premium Member
10,460 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Geez, I hope it's fiction. Sounds more like a horror story. Never been in a tank so don't know much about that but have spent many hours in the lowest deck of a ship, well below the waterline. Often thought about having to try and swim out if we sank or capsized.


2,342 Posts
by Captain Francis J. West, Jr., USMCR
History and Museums Division
Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps
Washington, D. C.
Printed 1967; Reprinted 1977


Preface: The author was on another patrol the night of the Howard fight. He met with the men of Charlie Company, who relieved Howard's platoon, immediately upon their return and taped their comments and reactions. Then he went to the hospital at Chulai and interviewed Howard and his men, talking later with the pilots, the Special Forces officers, and Howard's company and battalion commanders.

The Marine Corps has a tested tradition: it will never leave alone on the field of combat one of its fighting men. It will go to fantastic lengths and commit to battle scores of men to aid and protect a few. This is the story of a few such Marines, of the battle they fought, and the help they received from all the services, not just the Marine Corps.

Some 20 miles inland to the west of the Marine base at Chulai runs a range of steep mountains and twisting valleys. In that bandits' lair, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese could train and plan for attacks against the heavily populated seacoast hamlets, massing only when it was time to attack. In early June of 1966, the intelligence reports reaching III MAF headquarters indicated that a mixed force of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese was gathering by the thousands in those mountains. But the enemy leaders were not packing their troops into a few large, vulnerable assembly points; they kept their units widely dispersed, moving mainly in squads and platoons.

To frustrate that scheme and keep the enemy off balance, the Marines launched Operation KANSAS, an imaginative concept in strategy. Rather than send full infantry battalions to beat the bushes in search of small enemy bands, Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt detailed the reconnaissance battalion of the 1st Marine Division to scout the mountains. The reconnaissance Marines would move in small teams of 8 to 20 men. If they located a large enemy concentration, Marine infantry would be flown in. If, as was expected, they saw only numerous small groups of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, they were to smash them by calling in air and artillery strikes.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur J. Sullivan had set high training standards for his battalion. Every man had received individual schooling in forward observer techniques and reconnaissance patrol procedures. He was confident his men could perform the mission successfully, despite the obvious hazards. "The Vietnam war," he said, "has given the small-unit leader--the corporal, the sergeant, the lieutenant--a chance to be independent. The senior officers just can't be out there looking over their shoulders. You have to have confidence in your junior officers and NCOs."

One such NCO was Staff Sergeant Jimmie Earl Howard, acting commander of the 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. A tall, well-built man in his mid-thirties, Howard had been a star football player and later a coach at the San Diego Recruit Depot. Leadership came naturally to him. "Howard was a very personable fellow," his company commander, Captain Tim Geraghty said. "The men liked him. They liked to work for him." In Korea he had been wounded three times and awarded the Silver Star for bravery. In Vietnam he would receive a fourth Purple Heart and be recommended for the Medal of Honor.

As dusk fell on the evening of 13 June 1966, a flight of helicopters settled on the slope of Hill 488, 25 miles west of Chulai. Howard and his 17 men jumped out and climbed the steep incline to the top. The hill, called Nui Vu, rose to a peak of nearly 1,500 feet and dominated the terrain for miles. Three narrow strips of level ground ran along the top for several hundred yards before falling abruptly away. Seen from the air, they roughly resembled the three blades on an airplane propeller. Howard chose the blade which pointed north for his command post and placed observation teams on the other two blades. It was an ideal vantage point.

The enemy knew it also. Their foxholes dotted the ground, each with a small shelter scooped out two feet under the surface. Howard permitted his men use of these one-man caves during the day to avoid the hot sun and enemy detection. There was no other cover or concealment to be found. There were no trees, only knee-high grass and small scrub growth.

In the surrounding valleys and villages, there were many enemy. For the next two days, Howard was constantly calling for fire missions, as members of the platoon saw small enemy groups almost every hour. Not all the requests for air and artillery strikes were honored. Sullivan was concerned lest the platoon's position, so salient and bare, be spotted by a suspicious enemy. Most of the firing at targets located by the platoon was done only when there was an observation plane circling in the vicinity to decoy the enemy. After two days Sullivan and his executive officer, Major Allan Harris, became alarmed at the risk involved in leaving the platoon stationary any longer. But the observation post was ideal; Howard had encountered no difficulty, and, in any case, thought he had a secure escape route along a ridge to the east. So it was decided to leave the platoon on Nui Vu for one more day.

However, the enemy were well aware of the platoon's presence. (Sullivan has a theory that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, long harassed, disrupted, and punished by reconnaissance units in territory they claimed to control absolutely, had determined to eliminate one such unit, hoping thereby to demoralize the others. Looked at in hindsight, the ferocity and tenacity of the attack upon Nui Vu gives credence to the colonel's theory.) In any case, the North Vietnamese made their preparations well and did not tip their hand. On 15 June, they moved a fresh, well-equipped, highly trained battalion to the base of Nui Vu. In late afternoon hundreds of the enemy started to climb up the three blades, hoping to annihilate the dozen and a half Marines in one surprise attack.

The Army Special Forces frustrated that plan. Sergeant 1st Class Donald Reed and Specialist 5th Class Hardey Drande were leading a platoon of CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) forces on patrol near Nui Vu that same afternoon. They saw elements of the North Vietnamese battalion moving towards the hill and radioed the news back to their base camp at Hoi An, several miles to the south. Howard's radio was purposely set on the same frequency and so he was alerted at the same time. Reed and Drande wanted to hit the enemy from the rear and disrupt them, but had to abandon the idea when they suddenly found themselves a very unpopular minority of two on the subject. Describing the reactions of the Special Forces NCOs later, Howard could not resist chuckling. "The language those sergeants used over the radio," he said, "when they realized they couldn't attack the PAVNs, well, they sure didn't learn it "at communications school." Even though the Special Forces where not able to provide the ground support they wished to, their warning alerted Howard and enabled him to develop a precise defensive plan before the attack was launched.

Acting on the report, Howard gathered his team leaders, briefed them on the situation, selected an assembly point, instructed them to stay on full alert and to withdraw to the main position at the first sign of an approaching enemy. The corporals and lance corporals crept back to their teams and briefed them in the growing dusk. The Marines then settled down to watch and wait.

Lance Corporal Ricardo Binns had placed his observation team on the slope 40 meters forward of Howard's position. At approximately 2200, while the four Marines were lying in a shallow depression discussing in whispers their sergeant's solemn warnings, Binns quite casually propped himself up on his elbows and placed his rifle butt in his shoulder. Without saying a word, he pointed the barrel at a bush and fired. The bush pitched backward and fell thrashing 12 feet away.

The other Marines jumped up. Each threw a grenade, before grabbing his rifle and scrambling up the hill. Behind them grenades burst and automatic weapons pounded away. The battle of Nui Vu was on.

The other outposts withdrew to the main position. The Marines commanded a tiny rock-strewn knoll. The rocks would provide some protection for the defenders. Placing his two radios behind a large boulder, Howard set up a tight circular perimeter, not over 20 meters in diameter, and selected a firing position for each Marine.

The North Vietnamese too were setting up. They had made no audible noises while climbing. There was no talking, no clumsy movements. When Binns killed one of their scouts, they were less than 50 meters from the top.

The Marines were surrounded. From all sides the enemy threw grenades. Some bounced off the rocks; some rolled back down the slopes; some did not explode, but some landed right on Marines and did explode. The next day the platoon corpsman, Billee Don Holmes, recalled: "They were within twenty feet of us. Suddenly there were grenades all over. Then people started hollering. It seemed everyone got hit at the same time."

Holmes crawled forward to help. A grenade exploded between him and a wounded man. Holmes lost consciousness.

The battle was going well for the North Vietnamese. Four .50 caliber machine guns were firing in support of the assault units, their heavy explosive projectiles arcing in from the four points of the compass. Red tracer rounds from light machine guns streaked toward the Marine position, pointing the direction for reinforcements gathering in the valley. 60mm mortar shells smashed down and added rock splinters to the metal shrapnel whining through the air.

The North Vietnamese followed up the grenade shower with a full, well-coordinated assault, directed and controlled by shrill whistles and the clacking of bamboo sticks. From different directions, they rushed the position at the same time, firing automatic weapons, throwing grenades, and screaming. Howard later said he hadn't been sure how his troops would react. They were young and the situation looked hopeless. They had been shocked and confused by the ferocity of the attack and the screams of their own wounded.

But they reacted savagely. The first lines of enemy skirmishers were cut down seconds after they stood up and exposed themselves. The assault failed to gain momentum any place and the North Vietnamese in the rearward ranks had more sense than to copy the mistakes of the dead. Having failed in their swift charge, they went to earth and probed the perimeter, seeking a weak spot through which they could drive. To do this, small bands of the enemy tried to crawl quite close to a Marine, then overwhelm him with a burst of fire and several grenades.

But the Marines too used grenades and the American hand grenade contains twice the blast and shrapnel effect of the Chinese Communist stick grenade. The Marines could throw farther and more accurately than the enemy. A Marine would listen for a movement, gauge the direction and distance, pull the pin, and throw. High pitched howls and excited jabberings mingled with the blasts. The North Vietnamese pulled back to regroup.

Howard had taken the PRC-25 radio from one of his communicators, Corporal Robert Lewis Martinez, and during the lull contacted Captain Geraghty and Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan. With his escape route cut off and his force facing overwhelming odds, Howard kept his message simple. "You've gotta get us out of here," he said. "There are too many of them for my people."

Sullivan tried. Because of his insistence upon detailed preplanning of extraction and fire support contingencies, he was a well-known figure at the Direct Air Support Center of the 1st Marine Division and when he called near midnight, he did not bandy words. He wanted flare ships, helicopters, and fixed wing aircraft dispatched immediately to Nui Vu.

Somehow, the response was delayed. And shortly after midnight, the enemy forces gathered and rushed forward in strength a second time. The Marines threw the last of their grenades and fired their rifles semiautomatically, relying on accuracy to suppress volume. It did and the enemy fell back, but by that time every Marine had been wounded.

The living took the ammunition of the dead and lay under a moonless sky, wondering about the next assault. Although he did not tell anyone, Howard doubted they could repel a massed charge by a determined enemy. From combat experience, he knew too that the enemy, having been badly mauled twice, would listen for sounds which would indicate his force had been shattered or demoralized before surging forward again. Already up the slopes were floating the high, singsong taunts Marines had heard at other places in other wars. Voices which screeched: "Marines--you die tonight!" and "Marines, you die in an hour."

Members of the platoon wanted to return the compliments. "Sure," said Howard, "go ahead and yell anything you want." And the Marines shouted back down the slopes all the curses and invectives they could remember from their collective repertoire. The North Vietnamese screamed back, giving Howard the opportunity to deliver a master stroke in psychological one-upmanship.

"All right," he shouted. "Ready? Now!"

And all the Marines laughed and laughed and laughed at the enemy.

The North Vietnamese did not mount a third major attack and at 0100 an Air Force flare ship, with the poetic call sign of "Smoky Gold," came on station overhead. Howard talked to the pilot through his radio and the plane dropped its first flare. The mountainside was lit up. The Marines looked down the slopes. Lance Corporal Ralph Glober Victor stared, then muttered: "Oh my God, look at them." The others weren't sure it wasn't a prayer. North Vietnamese reinforcements filled the valley. Twenty-year-old Private First Class Joseph Kosoglow described it vividly: "There were so many, it was just like an ant hill ripped apart. They were all over the place."

They shouldn't have been. Circling above the mountain were attack jets and armed helicopters. With growing frustration, they had talked to Howard but could not dive to the attack without light. Now they had light.

They swarmed in. The jets first concentrated on the valley floor and the approaches to Nui Vu, loosing rockets which hissed down and blanketed large areas. Then those fast, dangerous helicopters--the Hueys--scoured the slopes. At altitudes as low as 20 feet, they skimmed the brush, firing their machine guns in long, sweeping bursts. The Hueys pulled off to spot for the jets, and again the planes dipped down, releasing bombs and napalm. Then the Hueys scurried back to pick off stragglers, survey the damage, and direct another run. One of the platoon's communicators, Corporal Martinez, said it in two sentences: "The Hueys were all over the place. The jets blocked the Viet Cong off."

Two Hueys stayed over Howard's position all night; when one helicopter had to return to home base and refuel, another would be sent out. The Huey pilots, Captain John M. Shields and Captain James M. Perryman, Jr., performed dual roles--they were the Tactical Air Controllers' Airborne (TACAs) who directed the bomb runs of the jets and they themselves strafed the enemy. The North Vietnamese tried unsuccessfully to shoot the helicopters down and did hit two out of the four Hueys alternating on station.

By the light of the flares, the jet pilots could see the hill mass and distinguish prominent terrain features but could not spot Howard's perimeter. To mark specific targets for the jets, the TACAs directed "Smoky" to drop flares right on the ground as signal lights and then called the jets down to pulverize the spot. Howard identified his position by flicking a re-filtered flashlight on and off, and, guiding on that mark, the Huey pilots strafed within 25 meters of the Marines.

Still on the perimeter itself the fight continued. In the shifting light of the flares, the pilots were fearful of hitting the Marines and had to leave some space unexposed to fire in front of the Marines' lines. Into this space crawled the North Vietnamese.

For the Marines it was a war of hide and seek. Having run out of grenades, they had to rely on cunning and marksmanship to beat the attackers. Howard had passed the word to fire only at an identified target--and then only one shot at a time. The enemy fired all automatic weapons; the Marines replied with single shots. The enemy hurled grenades; the Marines threw back rocks.

It was a good tactic. A Marine would hear a noise and toss a rock in that general direction. The North Vietnamese would think it was a grenade falling and dive for another position. The Marine would roll or crawl low to a spot from which he could sight in on the position, and wait. In a few seconds, the North Vietnamese would raise his head to see why the grenade had not exploded. The Marine would fire one round. The range was generally less than 30 feet.

The accuracy of this fire saved the life of Corpsman Holmes. When he regained consciousness after a grenade had knocked him out, he saw a North Vietnamese dragging away the dead Marine beside him. Then another enemy reached over and grasped him by the cartridge belt. The soldier tugged at him.

Lance Corporal Victor was lying on his stomach behind a rock. He had been hit twice by grenades since the first flare had gone off and could scarcely move. He saw an enemy soldier bending over a fallen Marine. He sighted in and fired. The man fell backward. He saw a second enemy tugging at another Marine's body. He sighted in again and fired.

Shot between the eyes, the North Vietnamese slumped dead across Billee Holmes' chest. He pushed the body away and crawled back to the Marines' lines. His left arm was lanced with shrapnel, and his face was swollen and his head ringing from the concussion of the grenade. For the rest of the night, he crawled from position to position, bandaging and encouraging the wounded, and between times firing at the enemy.

Occasionally the flares would flicker out and the planes would have to break off contact to avoid crashing. In those instances, artillery under the control of the Special Forces and manned by Vietnamese gun crews would fill in the gap and punish any enemy force gathering at the base of Nui Vu.

"Stiff Balls," Howard had radioed the Special Forces camp at Hoi An, three miles south. "If you can keep Charlie from sending another company up here, I'll keep these guys out of my position."

"Roger, Carnival Time." Captain Louis Maris, of the Army Special Forces, had replied, using Howard's own peculiar call sign. Both sides kept their parts of the bargain and the South Vietnamese crews who manned the 105mm howitzers threw in concentration after concentration of accurate artillery shells.

"Howard was talking on the radio. He was cool," Captain John Blair, the Special Forces commanding officer, recalled afterwards. "He stayed calm all the way through that night. But," he chuckled, "he never did get our call sign right!"

In the periods of darkness, each Marine fought alone. How some of them died no one knows. But the relieving force hours later found one Marine lying propped up against a rock. In front of him lay a dead enemy soldier. The muzzles of their weapons were touching each others' chests. Two Marine entrenching tools were recovered near a group of mangled North Vietnamese; both shovels were covered with blood. One Marine was crumpled beneath a dead enemy. Beside him lay another Vietnamese. The Marine was bandaged around the chest and head. His hand still clasped the hilt of a knife buried in the back of the soldier on top of him.

At 0300, a flight of H34 helicopters whirled over Nui Vu and came in to extract the platoon. So intense was the fire they met that they were unable to land and Howard was told he would have to fight on until dawn. Shortly thereafter, a ricochet struck Howard in the back. His voice over the radio faltered and died out. Those listening--the Special Forces personnel, the pilots, the high ranking officers of the 1st Marine Division at Chulai--all thought the end had come. Then Howard's voice came back strong. Fearing the drowsing effect morphine can have, he refused to let Holmes administer the drug to ease the pain. Unable to use his legs, he pulled himself from hole to hole encouraging his men and directing their fire. Wherever he went, he dragged their lifeline--the radio.

Binns, the man whose shot had triggered the battle, was doing likewise. Despite severe wounds, he crawled around the perimeter, urging his men to conserve their ammunition, gathering enemy weapons and grenades for the Marines' use, giving assistance wherever needed.

None of the Marines kept track of the time. "I'll tell you this," said Howard, "you know that movie--The Longest Day? Well, compared to our night on the hill, The Longest Day was just a twinkle in the eye." But the longest night did pass and dawn came. Howard heralded its arrival. At 0525 he shouted, "O.K., you people, reveille goes in 35 minutes." At exactly 0600, his voice pealed out, "Reveille, reveille."' It was the start of another day and the perimeter had held.

On all sides of their position, the Marines saw enemy bodies and equipment. The North Vietnamese would normally have raked the battlefield clean but so deadly was the Marine fire that they left unclaimed many of those who fell close to the perimeter.

The firing had slacked off. Although badly mauled themselves, the enemy still had the Marines ringed in and did not intend to leave. Nor did haste make them foolhardy. They knew what the jets and the Hueys and the artillery and the Marine sharpshooting would do to them on the bare slopes in daylight. They slipped into holes and waited, intending to attack with more troops the next night.

Bursts of fire from light machine guns chipped the rocks above the Marines' heads. Firing uphill from concealed foxholes, the enemy could cut down any Marine who raised up and silhouetted himself against the skyline. Two of the .50 caliber machine guns were still firing sporadically.

There came a lull in the firing. A Huey buzzed low over the hillcrest, while another gunship hovered to one side, ready to pounce if the enemy took the bait. No one fired. The pilot, Major William J. Goodsell, decided to mark the position for a medical evacuation by helicopter. His Huey fluttered slowly down and hovered. Howard thought the maneuver too risky and said so. But Goodsell had run the risk and come in anyway. He dropped a smoke grenade. Still no fire. He waved to the relieved Howard and skimmed north over the forward slope, only 10 feet above the ground.

The noise of machine guns drowned out the sound of the helicopter's engines. Tracers flew toward the Huey from all directions. The helicopter rocked and veered sharply to the right and zigzagged down the mountain. The copilot, First Lieutenant Stephen Butler, grabbed the stick and brought the crippled helicopter under control, crash landing in a rice paddy several miles to the east. The pilots were picked up by their wingman. But Major Goodsell, who had commanded Squadron VMO-6 for less than one week, died of gunshot wounds before they reached the hospital.

The medical pickup helicopter did not hesitate. It came in. Frantically, Howard waved it off. He was not going to see another shot down. The pilots were dauntless but not invulnerable. The pilot saw Howard's signal and turned off, bullets clanging off the armor plating of the undercarriage. Howard would wait for the infantry.

In anger, the jets and the Hueys now attacked the enemy positions anew. Flying lower and lower, they crisscrossed the slopes, searching for the machine gun emplacements, offering themselves as targets, daring the enemy to shoot.

The enemy did. Another Huey was hit and crashed, its crew chief killed. The .50 calibers exposed their position and were silenced. Still the North Vietnamese held their ground. Perhaps the assault company, with all its automatic weapons and fresh young troops, had been ordered to wipe out the few Marines at any cost; perhaps the commanding officer had been killed and his subordinates were following dead orders; perhaps the enemy thought victory yet possible.

But then the Marine infantry came in. They had flown out at dawn but so intense was the enemy fire around Nui Vu, the helicopters had to circle for 45 minutes while jets and artillery blasted a secure landing zone. During that time, First Lieutenant Richard E. Moser, a H34 helicopter pilot, monitored Howard's frequency and later reported: "It was like something you'd read in a novel. His call sign was Carnival Time and he kept talking about these North Vietnamese down in holes in front of him. He'd say, 'you've gotta get this guy in the crater because he's hurting my boys.' He was really impressive. His whole concern was for his men."

On the southern slope of the mountain, helicopters finally dropped Charlie Company of the 5th Marines. The relief company climbed fast, ignoring sniper fire and wiping out small pockets of resistance. With the very first round they fired, the Marine 60mm mortar team knocked out the enemy mortar. Sergeant Frank Riojas, the weapons platoon commander, cut down a sniper at 500 yards with a tracer round from his M14. Marine machine gun sections were detached from the main body and sent up the steep fingers along the flanks of the hill to support by fire the company's movement. The North Vietnamese were now the hunted, as Marines scrambled around as well as up the slope, attempting to pinch off the enemy before they could flee.

The main column climbed straight upwards. While yet a quarter of a mile away, the point man saw recon's position on the plateau. The boulder which served as Howard's command post was the most prominent terrain feature on the peak. The platoon hurried forward. They had to step over enemy bodies to enter the perimeter. Howard's men had eight rounds of ammunition left.

"Get down," were Howard's first words of welcome. "There are snipers right in front of us." Another recon man shouted: "Hey, you got any cigarettes?" A cry went up along the line--not expressions of joy--but requests for cigarettes.

It was not that Howard's Marines were not glad to see other infantrymen; it was just that they had expected them. Staff Sergeant Richard Sullivan, who was with the first platoon to reach the recon Marines, said later: "One man told me he never expected to see the sun rise. But once it did, he knew we'd be coming."

The fight was not over. Before noon, in the hot day-light, despite artillery and planes firing in support, four more Marines would die.

At Howard's urging, Second Lieutenant Ronald Meyer quickly deployed his platoon along the crest. Meyer had graduated from the Naval Academy the previous June and intended to make the Marine Corps his career. He had spent a month with his bride before leaving for Vietnam. In the field he wore no shiny bars, and officers and men alike called him "Stump," because of his short, muscular physique.

Howard had assumed he was a corporal or a sergeant and was shouting orders to him. Respecting Howard's knowledge and performance, Meyer obeyed. He never did mention his rank. So Staff Sergeant Howard, waving off offers of aid, proceeded to direct the tactical maneuvers of the relieving company, determined to wipe out the small enemy band dug in not 20 meters downslope.

Meyer hollered for members of his platoon to pass him grenades. He would then lob them downslope toward the snipers' holes. By peering around the base of the boulder, Howard was able to direct his throws. "A little more to the right on the next one, buddy. About five yards farther. That's right. No, a little too strong." The grenades had little effect and the snipers kept firing. Meyer shouted he wanted air on the target. The word was passed back for the air liaison officer to come forward. The platoon waited.

Lance Corporal Terry Redic wanted to fire his rifle grenade at the snipers. A tested sharpshooter, he had several kills to his credit. In small fire fights he often disdained to duck, preferring to suppress hostile fire by his own rapid accurate shooting. Meyer's way seemed too slow. He raised up, knelt on one knee, and sighted downslope looking for a target. He never found one. The enemy shot first and killed him instantly.

Meyer swore vehemently. "Let's get that *****. You coming with me, Sotello?" "Yes, Stump." Lance Corporal David Sotello turned to get his rifle and some other men. Meyer didn't wait. He started forward with a grenade in each hand. "Keep your head down, buddy, they can shoot," yelled Howard.

Meyer crawled for several yards, then threw a grenade at a hole. It blasted an enemy soldier. He turned, looking upslope. Another sniper shot him in the back. Sotello heard the shot as he started to crawl down.

So did Hospitalman 3d Class John Markillie, the platoon corpsman. He crawled toward the fallen lieutenant. "For God's sake, keep your head down!" yelled Howard. Markillie reached his lieutenant. He sat up to examine the wound. A sniper shot him in the chest.

Another corpsman, Holloday, and a squad leader, Corporal Melville, crawled forward. They could not feel Meyer's pulse. Markillie was still breathing. Ignoring the sniper fire, they began dragging and pushing his body up the hill.

Melville was hit in the head. He rolled over. His helmet bounced off. He shook his head and continued to crawl. The round had gone in one side of the helmet and ripped out the other, just nicking the corporal above his left ear. Melville and Holloday dragged Markillie into the perimeter.

From Chulai, the battalion commander called his company commander, First Lieutenant Marshall "Buck" Darling. "Is the landing zone secure, Buck?" "Well," A pause. "...not spectacularly." Back at the base two noncommissioned officers were listening. "I wonder what he meant by that?" asked the junior sergeant. "What the hell do you think it means, stupid?" replied the older sergeant. "He's getting shot at."

Ignoring his own wounds, Corpsman Billee Holmes was busy supervising the corpsmen from Charlie Company as they administered to the wounded. With the fire fight still going on to the front, helicopter evacuation was not possible from within the perimeter. The wounded had to be taken rearward to the south slope. Holmes roved back and forth, making sure that all his buddies were accounted for and taken out.

The pilots had seen easier landing sites. "For the medical evacs," Moser said, "a pilot had to come in perpendicular to the ridge, then cock his bird around before he sat down. We could get both main mounts down--first--the-tail--well--sometimes we got it down. We were still taking fire."

Holmes reported that there was still one Marine, whom he had seen die, missing. Only after repeated assurances that they would not leave without the body were the infantry able to convince him and Howard that it was time they too left. They helped the Navy corpsman and the Marine sergeant to a waiting helicopter. Howard's job was done.

Another had yet to be finished. There was a dead Marine to be found somewhere on the field of battle. But before a search could be conducted, the last of the enemy force had to be destroyed.

First Lieutenant Phil Freed flopped down beside Melville. Freed was the forward air controller attached to Charlie Company that day. He had run the last quarter mile uphill when he heard Meyer needed air. With the rounds cracking near his head, he needed no briefing. He contacted two F8 Crusader jets circling overhead. "This is Cottage 14. Bring it on down on a dry run. This has to be real tight. Charlie is dug in right on our lines." At the controls of the jets were First Lieutenants Richard W. Deilke and Edward H. Menzer.

"There were an awful lot of planes in the air," Menzer said. "We didn't think we'd be used so we called DASC (Direct Air Support Center) and asked for another mission. We got diverted to the FAC (Forward Air Controller), Cottage 14. He told us he had a machine gun nest right in front of him."

As they talked back and forth, Menzer thought he recognized Freed's voice. Later he learned he had indeed; Freed had flown jets with him in another squadron a year earlier.

Freed was lying in a pile of rocks on the military crest of the northern finger of the hill. Since he himself had flown the F8 Crusader, Freed could talk to the pilots in a language they understood. Still, he was not certain they could help. He didn't know whether they could come that close and still not hit the Marine infantrymen. On their first run, he deliberately called the jets in wide so he could judge the technical skills and precision of the pilots. Rock steady.

He called for them to attack in earnest. When they heard the target was 20 meters from the FAC, it was the pilots' turn to be worried. "As long as you're flying parallel to the people, it's O.K.," Menzer said. "Because it's a good shooting bird. But even so, I was leery at first to fire with troops that near."

Unknown to them, the two pilots were about to fly one of the closest direct air support missions in the history of fixed-wing aviation. They approached from the northeast with the sun behind them, and cut across the ridgeline parallel to the friendly lines. They strafed without room for error. The gun-sight reflector plate in an F8 Crusader jet looks like a bullseye with the rings marked in successive 10-mil increments. When the pilots in turn aligned their sights while 3,000 feet away, the target lay within the 10-mil ring and the Marine position was at the edge of the ring. The slightest variance of the controls would rake the Marine infantrymen with fire. In that fashion, each pilot made four strafing passes, skimming by 10 to 20 feet above the ridge. Freed feared they would both crash, so close did their wings dip to the crest of the hill. The impact of the cannon shells showered the infantrymen with dirt. They swore they could tell the color of the pilot's eyes. In eight attacks, the jet pilots fired 350 20mm explosive shells into an area 60 meters long and 10 to 20 meters wide. The hillside was gouged and torn, as if a bulldozer had churned back and forth across it.

Freed cautiously lifted his head. A round cracked by. One enemy had survived. Somebody shouted that the shot came from the position of the sniper who had killed Meyer. The lieutenant's body lay several yards downslope.

The F8 Crusaders had ample fuel left. Menzer called to say they could make dummy runs over the position if the Marines thought it would be useful. Freed asked them to try it.

The company commander, Buck Darling, watched the jets. As they passed, he noticed the firing stopped momentarily. The planes would be his cover. "I'm going to get Stump. Coming, Brown?" he asked the nearest Marine.

Lance Corporal James Brown was not a billboard Marine. His offbeat sense of humor often conflicted with his superiors' sense of duty. His squad leader later recalled with a grimace one fire fight when the enemy caught the squad in a cross fire. The rounds were passing high over the Marines' heads. While everyone else was returning fire, Brown strolled over to a Vietnamese tombstone, propped himself against it with one finger, crossed his legs and yelled: "You couldn't hit me if I was buried here!" His squad leader almost did the job for the enemy.

On the hill relieving the recon unit, however, Brown was all business. He emptied several rifle magazines and hurled grenade after grenade. When he ran out of grenades, he threw rocks to keep the snipers ducking. All the while he screamed and cursed, shouting every insult and blasphemy he could think of. Howard had been very impressed, both with Brown's actions and with his vocabulary.

He was not out of words when Darling asked him to go after Meyer's body. As they crawled over the crest, Brown tugged at his company commander's boot. "Don't sweat it, lieutenant, they can only kill us." Darling did not reply. They reached Meyer's body and tried to pull it back while crawling on their stomachs. They lacked the strength.

"All right, let's carry him." said Darling. It was Brown's turn to be speechless. He knew what had happened to every Marine on the slope who had raised his head--and here was his officer suggesting they stand straight up! "We'll time our moves with the jets." When the jets passed low, they stumbled and scrambled forward a few yards with their burden, then flattened out as the jets pulled up. The sniper snapped shots at them after every pass. Bullets chipped the rocks around them. They had less than 30 feet to climb. It took over a dozen rushes. When they rolled over the crest they were exhausted. Only the enemy was left on the slope.

The infantry went after him. Corporal Samuel Roth led his eight man squad around the left side of the slope. On the right, Sergeant Riojas set a machine gun up on the crest to cover the squad. A burst of automatic fire struck the tripod of the machine gun. A strange duel developed. The sniper would fire at the machine gun. His low position enabled him to aim in exactly on the gun. The Marines would duck until he fired, then reach up and loose a burst downhill, forcing the sniper to duck.

With the firing; the sniper could not hear the squad crashing through the brush on his right side. Roth brought his men on line facing toward the sniper. With fixed bayonets they began walking forward. They could see no movement in the clumps of grass and torn earth.

There was a lull in the firing. The sniper heard the squad, turned and fired. Bullets whipped by the Marines. Roth's helmet spun off. He fell. The other Marines flopped to the ground. Roth was uninjured. The steel helmet had saved a second Marine's life within an hour. He was not even aware that his helmet had been shot off. "When I give the word, kneel and fire," he said. "Now!" The Marines rose and their rounds kicked up dust and clumps of earth in front of them. They missed the sniper. He had ducked into his hole. The Marines lay back down. Roth swore. "All right--put in fresh magazines and let's do it again." "Now!"

Just as the Marines rose, the sniper bobbed up like a duck in a shooting gallery. A bullet knocked him backwards against the side of his hole. Roth charged, the other Marines sprinting behind him. He drove forward with his bayonet. A grenade with the release pin intact rolled from the sniper's left hand. Roth jerked the blade back. The sniper slumped forward over his machine gun.

The hill was quiet. It was noon. Darling declared the objective secure. In the tall grass in front of Riojas' machine gun, the infantrymen found the body of the missing Marine. The Marines paused to search 39 enemy dead for documents, picked up 18 automatic weapons (most of them Chinese), climbed on board a flight of helicopters, and flew off the plateau.

The Marines lost 10 dead. Charlie Company and the Huey Squadrons each lost two. Of the 18 Marines in the reconnaissance platoon, 6 were killed; the other 12 were wounded. Five members of Charlie Company were recommended for medals. Every Marine under Howard's command received the Purple Heart. Fifteen were recommended for the Silver Star; Binns and Holmes were nominated for the Navy Cross; Howard was recommended for the Medal of Honor. [The actual awards were 18 Purple Hearts; 13 Silver Stars; 4 Navy Crosses; and Howard's Medal of Honor.]

If the action had centered around just one man, then it could be considered a unique incident of exceptional bravery on the part of an exceptional man. It is that. But perhaps it is something more. On June 14th, few would have noticed anything unique about the 1st Reconnaissance Platoon of Charlie Company. Just in reading the names of its dead, one has the feeling that here are the typical and the average, who, well-trained and well-led, rose above normal expectations to perform an exemplary feat of arms: John Adams, Ignatius Carlisi, Thomas Glawe, James McKinney, Alcadio Mascarenas, Jerrald Thompson.

Premium Member
10,460 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
by Captain Francis J. West, Jr., USMCR
History and Museums Division
Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps
Washington, D. C.
Printed 1967; Reprinted 1977

Those men are legend. A recon Marine that I spoke to that knew one of the survivors recounted using a lot of picked up enemy weapons too due to their ammo supply running out. A portion of their remaining ammunition counted later was found loose in random pockets, unbeknownst to everyone.

Also, the part about throwing rocks instead of grenades, the enemy would start to figure that out too. When a few rocks could not flush them out of cover, they lobbed a real grenade which was ignored until it detonated.

2,342 Posts
i didn't know any of them, i was up north on the DMZ. i used to post on another board with Jack Riley of this tale

India 3/9/3 Combat History

These pages are Dedicated to the combat history of the

3rd Battalion 9th Marines and support units

H&S company

India company

Kilo company

Lima company

Mike company

Fox Battery 2/12


Some of the events on these pages are from the men in their own words who were there;

and as how they remember the event.

There are many views from different points within a battle and each has his own story.

I just post what is sent to me giving credit to the sender.


From Leatherneck Magazine February, 2009

Flaming I, Getlins Corner
February 2009
The "Flaming I" At Getlin's Corner

By R. R. Keene

It was like so many days in country; hot enough for men to get first-degree burns off the flash suppressor of their M14 rifles.

The infantrymen of Company I, 3d Battalion, Ninth Marine Regiment had been tactical, on the march and under the sun, for almost three days. Their canteens were empty, their lips were parched, and they could only swallow their thirst. The "skipper" warned them there would be no medevacs for heat casualties. They were the bait on their battalion's sweep southwest of Con Thien and north of Cam Lo. For the most part they were well-seasoned combat veterans, albeit very young ones, which was not unusual in Vietnam.

While nobody likes being hung out as bait, it is not an uncommon tactic. "India" Co's skipper, Captain Michael P. Getlin, had seen telltale signs of the North Vietnamese Army being in force in the area. He knew they were biding their time, watch*ing and waiting.

Keying his radio, Getlin reported that contact was "imminent." Get*lin wanted to consolidate his company and dig in, but battalion headquarters split the company into three ambush locations. Although Getlin voiced his concern, Marines obey orders, and by all standards he was an outstanding Marine.

It was 30 March 1967, and the U.S. mil*itary had just announced that 274 Americans had died on Vietnam battlefields during the previous week, making it the deadliest span up to that point in the war. For the Marines on Operation Prairie III, the fighting and casualties were about to ratchet up even more.

"It was late afternoon and hot as blue blazes," said then-Corporal Jack Riley, a 22-year-old squad leader with 2d Platoon, which was setting up on what was marked on the map as Hill 70 when they came upon a tiny stream. "We let fire teams fill their canteens for the squads. Canteens filled, we moved out, then we found a dead Vietnamese upstream."

"I was so thirsty, I didn't wait for the Halazone [water purification tablets] to kick in," said Joe Lempa, then a 19-year-old lance corporal and machine-gunner. "It was so hot everybody just used more Halazone and drank anyway."

It is remembered because it was the last event of significance before the killing started.
Riley said: "We were spread out almost two clicks [kilometers] with just one company. That's when three guys walked out of a tree line and out across an old bomb crater. Corporal Paul Arcand's 3d Squad challenged them. The NVA pointed their weapons at them." The Marines let loose with a hail of gunfire.

"We took them out. And that's when they let all hell loose," said Riley. "It was a typical NVA ploy: They would sucker you into a position they had pre-mapped where all their fire control and weapons were in place."

North Vietnamese mortar rounds left their tubes and "whomp!" the first rounds exploded starting the carnage. Riley stated, "They started walking their mortars over our hill." Then came the distinct chatter of AK47 rifles. "They immediately tried to use infantry to overrun us. We only had two squads protecting the hill."

Lempa was with his machine-gun team: LCpl Tom Butt, the team leader; LCpl Sam Phillips, gunner; with Private First Class Billy Joe Hill humping the ammo. Lempa said: "They hit us full force at once with mortars and heavy machine-gun fire. We didn't know where they were or where they were coming from. We just hunkered down."

Hospital Corpsman Third Class Kenneth R. Braun had extended his field time as the 3d Plt corpsman and wasn't even supposed to be there. He was supposed to be on rest and recuperation leave, R&R. "Doc," at 18 years old, also was the most combat-experienced corpsman within the command group. Capt Getlin and Second Lieutenant John P. Bobo of Weapons Plt had asked for him to be in the command group on this operation. To Doc, both men were distinctly different but well respected by everyone. Doc wouldn't and couldn't let them down. "I told them if we are go*ing to get into something, I'll go."

Capt Getlin looked at him and said, "I'll guarantee you we're gonna get into something."
Sadly, he was all too right. When the mortars and gunfire punctured the air, Doc Braun, like everyone, dove for cover. "One mortar hit between me and another Marine," Braun recalled. "It stuck in the ground and, thankfully, it didn't go off. Things started getting hot and heavy."

Men in pain started screaming, "Corps**man up!"

"We went out and brought one or two Marines back," said Braun. "I was trying to set up a safe staging area where I could bring the wounded. Charles Dockery, who as a second class, was our senior corpsman. He, too, was combat experienced and knew what to do. He told me to get the seriously wounded Marines and bring them back; treat the others on the spot so they could keep firing. I never got back. I got cut off from Dockery. He got hit four, five or six times."

India Co was quickly giving back as good as it took, but the NVA force was massive and ready for blood. Jack Riley recalled: "My squad was fronting to the north. We were taking them out. It was pretty easy shooting. It was one of those rare situations where you actually saw them being stupid enough to attack in the open. My squad was literally stacking them up like stove wood."

Joe Lempa recalled: "Captain Getlin was left of Sam Phillips and me. The NVA were moving so close. I was gathering every*one's grenades and tossing them out. Billy Joe Hill was picking 'em off with his rifle, and Sam was hitting them with the M60 machine gun. Once I ran out of grenades, I just lay there with Sam and made sure the ammunition belt kept linked up." Links and brass casings piled up fast. "I think we had about 2,000 rounds. We damn near ran out of ammunition. With only one gun team on the hill, they had to keep moving to prevent the NVA from concentrating their fire on the only crew-served gun.

"Two NVA soldiers came up on our right flank. I yelled, 'Sam!' and threw myself over his back so I wouldn't have to shoot over him. I shot the two NVA in the chest. Seconds later Sam got hit in the leg, and he crawled to where Doc Braun was taking care of the wounded."

According to Riley, after the initial attack, Getlin still seemed confident that they could handle the attack without reinforcements. However, "that's when the mortars really started to rain on us and we started taking so many casualties."

The issue, however, was in doubt. With the company split, the NVA concentrated on the command element. NVA soldiers also were attacking India's 1st and 3d platoons now trying to come to the aid of the command group. On the northwestern perimeter, Marine riflemen and the rocket team were being riddled by fire from up close. By this time Riley had lost two men in his squad: PFC Ruben Armenta and PFC Larry Crumbaker.

"It was getting close to being hand to hand," Riley said. "We were chest high in grass and firing out 360 degrees, killing NVA all around us."

"Their Chicom [Chinese Communist] grenades were coming at us," said Braun. "We were throwing them back, and they were throwing our grenades back at us."

Lempa remembers: "Captain Getlin was calm through the entire thing. He kept saying, 'Good job, Marines. Good job, Ma*rines!' [He] yelled directions and pointed where to throw the next grenades."

Doc Braun also remembers seeing his company commander. "Getlin was fighting with his shotgun and killed a bunch."

The Marines saw at least six NVA soldiers felled by blasts from Getlin. He was hit but kept firing even after his shotgun barrel split. Although having suffered mul*tiple wounds, the skipper got on his radio and called in artillery fire. He ordered Riley and his squad to attack back over the crest of the bullet-swept hill and provide security. At the same time, Bobo was trying to assist the rocket team and single-handedly prevent the command post from being overrun.

In came three more grenades. Getlin threw one back and was killed when a grenade that he attempted to retrieve and throw exploded.

Lempa said: "I was looking over to the left and saw he was dead. John Loweranitis was hit with the captain, and John went crazy."

Corporal John L. Loweranitis had been up and down the rank structure. Those who served with him say he was not a particularly sterling garrison Marine, but everybody wanted him around when things got hot. He had already been awarded the Silver Star. Joe Lempa said that when it came to fighting, John "enjoyed what he was doing." When the firing started, Loweranitis had fought his way through mortar and machine-gun fire, grabbing wounded Marines on the hill's slope and dragging them to safety. As the NVA assaulted, he calmly aimed his rifle and shot five dead.

"I think John got fed up with everything," stated Doc Braun. "He just got p----- off and charged them all right in front of us."

When Getlin ordered Riley to counterattack, Loweranitis, a mortarman who had fired all the rounds he had, and PFC Wallace Williams of the rockets section joined with Riley's squad. Williams was killed along with PFC Albert Anter and PFC Frank Thomas.

"Loweranitis continued attacking into the NVA position after I had placed my squad in position," said Riley. "He was killed."

Doc Braun stated: "I couldn't see what happened to him, but I could hear the rounds hitting. He tried to take as many with him as he could because he probably figured this was going to be it for us as we were running out of ammo and everything else."

If anybody in India Co could be described as well-liked, respected, obeyed and a leader all in the same breath, it was soft-spoken 2dLt John Bobo, 24, from Niagara Falls, N.Y. A solid 170 pounds and 6 feet tall, it is said by all that he had a command presence and proved in previous firefights to possess excellent instincts.

Doc Braun said, "Mr. Bobo always made it a point to walk around the perimeter and talk with the guys for a few minutes."

Cpl Jack Riley, who of all the enlisted men probably knew him best, said: "We trusted him with our lives. He really cared about every Marine and was the kindest person I ever met: a truly good person who never said a bad thing about anybody. He would always try to keep the morale up. The Marines loved him and would have followed him anywhere. Both [Bobo] and Getlin were outstanding officers."

The balance in the fight on the slopes of Hill 70 rested at the northwest sector of the Marine perimeter. If the NVA could overrun the bloodied and beleaguered few Marines from Wpns Plt doggedly holding their ground, they'd have a conduit right up to the command post. It was at that perimeter where 2dLt John Paul Bobo made his stand.

Cpl Jim Blevins, the rocket team lead*er, and his loader, PFC Eddie Cannon, had been cut down by NVA gunfire.

"I couldn't figure what was wrong with [Eddie Cannon]," said Doc Braun. "He only had a little hole in his chest. I couldn't revive him. I turned him over and saw a big hole in his back."

Doc turned his medical attention to LCpl Tommy Butt, the machine-gun team leader who had been shot through the arm, but was still helping the lieutenant who was trying to get the 3.5-inch rockets into action. Bobo pulled a rocket launcher from the casualties and, with a few Ma*rines, directed fire at the oncoming NVA.

"That's when a mortar round hit and took off Mr. Bobo's leg," said Lempa.

It was getting dark, but for Doc Braun and the Marines, time was becoming inconsequential. Wounded and with adrenaline pumping, they felt as though time was going in slow motion.

The NVA were deftly exploiting the weakness of that sector of the Marine perimeter, which had taken heavy casualties. Second Lt Bobo was holding them at bay with deadly rifle fire.

"Had he not, they would have been right up our backs with nothing to stop them," said Riley.

Joe Lempa's machine-gun team was down to him and Billy Joe Hill. "The adrenaline keeps you so alert you catch every moment, but after Sam got hit and it started getting dark, you seem to lose some of that. I got so scared I was shaking. I thought we were going to die that night."

Company First Sergeant Raymond G. Rogers Jr. was painfully shot up. Earlier, when Capt Getlin was killed, he used grenades and rifle fire to keep the NVA's heads down as he made his way to his skipper's position. Now, he was among the first to reach 2dLt Bobo, who told the senior staff noncommissioned officer to prop him into a firing position.

Doc Braun reached Bobo, grabbed some*one's web belt and threw a tourniquet around the bloody and slippery mess that was left of Bobo's leg. Doc torqued the tourniquet down about the size of his wrist. He stuck the lieutenant with a dose of morphine, marked his forehead with an "M," and got ready to move him out of the line of fire.

"He told me, 'Doc, let me die fighting here.' "

Joe Lempa remembers it. "Lieutenant Bobo said, 'Leave me here!' He just wanted to be propped up against a tree. He pushed his stump down in the dirt to help stem the bleeding, and he kept shooting."

Doc Braun answered the wounded officer: "This is Doc, and you're not going to die fighting here. Come with me, and everything is going to be OK."

Riley said: "Doc wasn't going to leave anybody and was going to drag Mr. Bobo over the crest of the hill while my squad laid down a base of fire.

"He dragged him about 15 yards when I heard an AK47 on full automatic. I turned around and saw an NVA. I shot him through the heart. I didn't know he'd shot Doc Braun three times and shot Lieu*tenant Bobo."

Doc remembers Bobo's death: "The rounds came right through his chest. I saw his eyes, and I knew right then he was gone. I also knew I was gone because of the way I was hit. The last conscious thing I said to myself was, I wonder how my wife is going to do."

First Sgt Rogers was now in command of India Co, at least what was left of it. (Capt Ralph Pappas, the forward air controller, was the only other officer on the hill, and he had been killed early in the battle.) Rogers' assumption of command required him to crawl over open ground to reach a radio and re-establish contact with the battalion. The NVA soldiers were relentless and still coming. He needed more artillery and air support.

Jack Riley had managed to revive and patch up Doc Braun whose back and should*er were ripped open. About that time, HM2 Chuck Dockery showed up and was pulled into what was now a small perimeter. He had been pinned down and almost shot to pieces, but went right to work. He eventually would lose both legs.

Braun recalls Riley saying to him: " 'I don't have anything to patch you with.' He then took battle dressings off some of our dead Marines because they didn't need them anymore.

"We crawled into a briar patch. By now it was dark and the NVA were still looking for us. We were pretty much out of ammo and could hear them within a few feet. We could hear them shooting those left out in the field alive."

With their ammunition nearly gone, 1stSgt Rogers was calling for artillery strikes directly on their own positions. Braun explained, "We figured if they were going to kill us, we would take as many of them as we could with us."

Battalion headquarters refused.

Rogers kept working the radio and reached a Huey gunship, call sign "Deadlock Playboy," from Marine Observation Squadron 2, piloted by Capt Chris Brad*ley, on station. Deadlock Playboy made three strafing runs, firing rockets and machine guns at the advancing NVA reserve company. In between, Rogers led six wounded Marines to a covered position and helped them establish a hasty defense.

"That helicopter pilot saved our a--," said Lempa. "We'd have been overrun for sure. First Sergeant Rogers told Jack Riley to counterattack with his squad because he saw the NVA were about to mount another attack on us.

"Also, the NVA had captured several Marines and had their hands wrapped up with comm [communications] wire," said Lempa, who went on to explain that it was the gunships who made an escape possible by keeping the NVA at bay and away from their prisoners.

The first sergeant then got "Puff the Magic Dragon," the Air Force AC-47 Skytrain, with three 7.62 mm miniguns, on station. Puff went to work, raining what looked like molten lead from the aircraft's left portals.

Rogers called for medevac helicopters. The chopper crews could see only tracers and flashes of explosions in the darkness. First Lieutenant Richard I. "Butch" Neal, an artillery forward observer, led India's 1st Plt after its commander, 2dLt John Prickett, had been seriously wounded by machine-gun fire. The 1st Plt established a landing zone and linked up with 1stSgt Rogers and 2d Plt's two squads. Then 1st Plt, with a reinforced squad from 2d Plt, commanded by 2dLt Dan Pultz, fought its way to consolidate with 2d Plt.

"PFC Raymond Lloyd ran out in pitch darkness with a flashlight and waved the helicopters in for a landing," said Lempa. "I thought that was one of the bravest things I ever saw.

"I also remember that Corporal Riley was shot up. He didn't leave on a medevac chopper until the next day. He stayed with us though he had three wounds."

By dawn it was over. The sun was once again hot enough to cause a burn from exposed metal while the thirst of those still alive was slacked by a resupply of potable water. The NVA pulled its usual vanishing trick, but left 67 dead on a finger of a grassy hill just north of a dried-up rice paddy that was now being called the battle for "Getlin's Corner."

The Marines solemnly retrieved their dead. Additionally, they captured two NVA, some heavy machine guns and automatic weapons, but at a price in a war where casualties were becoming heavier every week. India Co grieved its losses: 15 Marines killed in action, including the company commander, FAC officer and the weapons platoon commander; 47 more were wounded, including the company first sergeant.

The battle-although only mentioned in a few paragraphs of the Corps' history-is disproportionately marked by its awards for valor:

One posthumous Medal of Honor: 2dLt John P. Bobo

Four Navy Crosses: Capt Michael P. Getlin (posthumous), Cpl John L. "Jack" Loweranitis (posthumous), HM3 Kenneth R. "Doc" Braun and 1stSgt Raymond G. Rogers Jr.

Enough Silver Stars, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts to weigh down a field marc*ing pack

But body counts and even medals are no measure of the courage common through*out the fighting in Vietnam at places such as Hill 70.

The survivors and many of the families of those who didn't survive gather for a reunion once every other year. In August 2008, they met at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., where they ate at the Officer Candidates School mess hall named after John P. Bobo and presented the com*pany's beloved "Flaming I" guidon for display.

Such gatherings make it impossible for any of them to forget-not that they ever would-the events of March 30th and 31st in 1967 just south of the Demilitarized Zone, Republic of South Vietnam.

Joe Lempa said: "Someone asked me how I can remember the many names of the guys that were killed. I've always thought it would be disrespectful to forget their names."

Author's note: Four other Marines not listed in the story were killed in action at Getlin's Corner: Cpl Walter J. Nerad Jr., Cpl David A. Siemon, LCpl Roman R. Villamor Jr. and PFC Donald W. Krick Jr. Their fellow Marines who survived did not want their names to be left out.
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