27 February 2009


In late February 1969, we had been at Charlie Base Camp for nearly two months. Around 20 February, a company from 3/5 came out of the mountains as Operation Taylor Common was winding down. They reported to the Base camp and we prepared to move out into the Thu Bons—north of the base camp and east of An Hoa.

Because we had not “humped the bush,” i.e., spent several days or weeks continuously patrolling, the learning curve was a bit steep. We had received many new troops, and Third Herd was now up to about 30 Marines.

We moved out on the afternoon of 21 February and hiked about 5 clicks north. As the sun set, we moved into a ville and began to dig in. I was setting in one of my M-60s in the back garden of a thatch hooch when a child rolled the rice mat "door" away to look at us. Mama-san smacked him, and the door was once again covered. I wondered what would be my Mother’s reaction if she opened her back door one night to find a bunch of rough strangers digging holes in her garden and setting up machine guns.

We had a quiet night. The next morning, we moved further north towards the river before we got word to return to the base camp. We moved inside the wire at about 1700. Captain Wilson offered to share the lines with the other company commander, but the 3/5 guy said, “Nah. My guys are in place. Let your Marines get some sleep.”

Mike, Chip, Dick and I moved into one of the camp buildings and settled in for a night of no responsibility.

Suddenly, at about 0200, the world rattled. We rushed outside to see a massive fireball rising from An Hoa. The ammunition dump had exploded. For the next two hours, we watched as additional explosions lit off, sending white hot ordnance flying high into the sky.

At about 0600, we were ordered to return to the Thu Bons to search for the NVA sappers who had penetrated An Hoa and attacked the dump. As we saddled up, my radio operator took my picture.
We lined up in a column to move out. As we passed the Skipper’s driver—who would return to An Hoa—he snapped to attention and saluted me. It was only after I returned his salute that it dawned on me that he was saying “good bye.”

Our search was uneventful and we were once again ordered to return to the base camp. The company from 3/5 rotated into the Arizona Territory across the river from An Hoa, and we resumed our road security role.

The “Arizona Territory” or “Arizona Valley” was the area north of the Song Thu Bon, South of the Song Vu Gia, and east of the Anh Tu slope. It was so named because an early operation there was Operation Arizona. (An area northeast of us, in the 7th Marines Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) was known as “the Dodge City” after Operation Dodge. There was a lot of western terminology used in my war, including the frequent reference to bad guy territory as “Indian Country.”) The Arizona was a very bad place, but we will get to that later.

On March 19, my platoon was at Strong points Alpha and Bravo. A PF detachment had come up to reinforce us and we had followed the usual routine--they were assigned to one bunker and told that under no circumstances were they to leave it. We then placed two claymore mines close to the door and aiming in. Our greatest concern was that one or more VC would be in the PF detachment, and we took no chances.

At about 0130, I had just stretched out when the radio watch tapped my boot. “Sir, they want you in Tower 1.”

Tower one was on the northeast corner of the compound. As I moved in that direction, in the distance I could hear the steady “bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump” of a machine gun being fired by a really good gunner.

When I climbed into the tower, the duty Marine, one of our new joins, said, “Look, sir. They are fam firing at Phu Loc (6).”

Fam firing (familiarization firing) is never done at night. The sky over Phu Loc (6), some eight clicks away, was full of flares and tracers were flying in bright red streams. I reported this to Captain Wilson.

“Yeah, I know. Stay off the net. In crease your alert.” I got everybody up.

The next morning, we learned that an NVA sapper unit of 93 soldiers had penetrated the west side of the hill in the area of Battery D, 2/11. Two of the six gun pits were over-run. The Marines in Pits 3 and 4 were shooting it out with the NVA in Pits 1 and 2, while guns 5 and 6 continued to shoot fire missions in support of Marine units in the Arizona.

HM2 David R. Ray, U.S. Navy, was Delta Battery’s senior Corpsman. As attested to by his Medal of Honor citation, when the first explosion occurred, Doc Ray moved from gun pit to gun pit, rendering emergency medical treatment to the wounded. He was seriously wounded early in the attack, but refused medical aid and continued caring for his Marines. While he was bandaging a wounded Marine, two NVA attacked his position. He killed one and wounded the other. He kept moving from one casualty to another, treating the wounded and holding off the enemy until he ran out of ammunition. He was killed in action when he threw himself across a wounded Marine when an enemy grenade landed nearby. He died, but his patient survived. The title "Doc" is one our Corpsmen take with pride. Doc Ray set the example.

USS David Ray is named in his honor.

At some point during the fight, an NVA flame thrower operator destroyed Delta Battery’s Fire Direction Center (FDC), killing all in the bunker. A Marine from 1/5 walked up behind the gook, tapped him on the shoulder, and when he turned, calmly shot him between the eyes. The Russian flame thrower hung in 1/5’s CP for as long as I was in country.

Across the road, a couple of NVA tried to take refuge in the mess hall. The battalion mess chief, GySgt Floyd M. Keefe, had once declared that “If any of those bastards ever try to take my mess hall, it will be the Alamo all over again. “ The Gunny kept his word. The next morning, his body was found surrounded by several dead NVA. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

Lyn Pompper was also severely wounded that night and evacuated out of country. Ultimately, 13 Marines and two Navy Corpsmen died in the attack - 12 from Delta 2/11 and 3 from the 1/5 CP. Seventy-nine NVA bodies were found in the artillery compound alone, and 11 more were in the 1/5 area.

Two days later, we were relieved by a company from 2/5. We headed out to the area east of Phu Loc (6) on what would be a most eventful operation.


Rev Kim said...

Another powerful installment. Thanks again for sharing your story and the story of the faithful Marines with whom you served.

Kangaroostew said...

Your blog is such a blessing. It provides insight, comfort, and support in so many ways.

I would like to send you a message other than on this public forum. Please supply a contact address.

God bless you,

Mac said...


Try mc106086@verizon.net