Khe Sanh Hill Fights of ‘67
Compiled by Ray Stubbe
All Rights Reserved by the Author
CARING FOR EACH OTHER 29 April 1967
The attack began on 29 Apr as 3/3 moved toward Battalion Intermediate Objective "A" (XD 782445). The lead element, M/3/9 became engaged in a draw at XD 792448 with an estimated enemy platoon 1120H to 130011 resulting in 2 Marines killed, 10 wounded, 2 NVA killed (confirmed) and 19 killed (probable).
Cpl Robert L. Allen, a squad leader with First Platoon, M/3/9, had just set his squad in a defensive position when they began to receive heavy enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire from entrenched enemy fortifications.
Two men were caught in the open and seriously wounded during the initial exchange of fire. When he observed that they were unable to move, Cpl Allen, with complete disregard for his own safety, dashed through the heavy enemy fire to the wounded men and immediately carried one of them to safety.
Undaunted by the continuing hostile fire, he quickly returned to the remaining Marines. Although he received a painful wound as he re-crossed the open area, he ignored his own injury to carry his companion to safety. Refusing medical attention for himself, he skillfully directed accurate fire into the North Vietnamese position while administering first aid to his wounded companions.
During this same action, Cpl Vincent M. Kowalewski and Cpl Wayne Kretler both observed a wounded Marine in an open area, and unhesitatingly exposed themselves to the heavy enemy fire to lift a wounded comrade to their shoulders and each move one of their wounded comrades to a position of safety.
The platoon radioman of Second Platoon, LCpl Ira G.R. Johnson II, spotted several wounded Marines Iying in an open area within the enemy's killing zone and unhesitatingly ran through the intense enemy automatic rifle and small arms fire to a wounded comrade and calmly administered first aid while remaining exposed to the enemy fire, and then carried the man to a place of relative safety. Observing a corpsman attempting to bring another wounded Marine to safety, he returned through the murderous enemy fire to assist the Marine to safety.
LCpl Jerry M. Vanderhoff, observing his wounded companions Iying exposed to hostile fire immediately moved through the heavy volume of enemy fire to a position from which he could deliver effective 3.5" rocket fire at the enemy positions. With complete disregard for his own safety, he repeatedly exposed himself to the hostile fire as he fired white phosphorous rocket rounds into the North Vietnamese positions, providing a smoke screen that enabled the Marine casualties to be evacuated. Although painfully wounded, he refused medical attention or evacuation until he had expended all his ammunition.
Directing the efforts of LCpl Vanderhoof was 2ndLt Edward J. Kresty, a platoon commander in M/3/9 who saw that the lead elements of M-2, the point platoon, had become detached from the rest of M-2. Several Marines had been seriously wounded during the initial burst of fire. "It was then that I saw 2ndLt Kresty furiously move through this heavy fire to an exposed position forward of his platoon. On the way up he moved from position to position. He must have immediately realized what the situation was, because just as he reached the exposed high ground, he began to give instructions to the cut off squad by radio and because he could see from his exposed position he calmly directed the cut off squad back to the platoon's position by another route and consolidated their position. After this was accomplished, and although he could have then returned to a safe position, he remained to draw fire while he directed the successful evacuation of the wounded. After this was completed he still remained under this heavy automatic fire to mark the enemy position with WP from a 3.5 rocket launcher for supporting arms. During this time the artillery FO was seriously wounded and unable to render any assistance so Lieutenant Kresty called in the artillery fire mission on the enemy positions, which was as close as 75 meters to his own position. Lieutenant Kresty showed no concern at all for his own safety. I am sure that if he did not react the way he did, his platoon and the company would have suffered heavy losses. 2nd Lieutenant Kresty's knowledge and devotion to duty saved the lives of many Marines that day, without any regard for his own safety."
During this contact, the second element, M/3/3, passed to the south of the fire fight and continued the attack toward the battalion objective, and secured Objective "A" at 191' H, remaining in this position, about 600 - 700 meters northeast of Hill 881-South, for the evening. At 19001, M/3/3 sighted 20 NVA soldiers on Objective 2 moving in a western direction across the top of the hill. In addition, two enemy mortar teams were sighed setting on Objective #2 and just to the west of M/3/3's position at XD 780444.
1st Lt. David G. Rogers of C Battery, 1/12, recalls the Commanding Officer of Co M, Capt Bennett, ".. called me over. I was standing about 15 meters from him-and he told me what he was doing and he said, 'Look, Dave, there's a North Vietnamese up on top of that hill up there. Get some arty up there real fast.' So I think that was about the fastest fire mission I ever fired in my life. I think we got rounds up there within a matter of two minutes or less. And I can still remember real vividly the sound of these rounds coming over our heads. You could really hear them whistling... The Company Commander was constantly calling for more and more artillery on top of the hill."
Counter-mortar fire was brought to bear immediately, permitting the enemy to fire only four rounds of 82mm before being dispersed. At 20151, M/3/3 sighted an estimated NVA company advancing towards its position. Artillery with VT fuse was called in on noise and lights resulting in screams of pain among the enemy. M/3/3 remained on the intermediate objective during the night with no further contact. The remainder of 3/3 was to the east, near XD 792442, within support and reinforcement range of the lead company. 2/3 encountered no contact and only one sighting during the day. The search of Objective #1, Hill 861, yielded two enemy bodies with ID cards, numerous items of enemy equipment, and two AK47 assault rifles, along with the bodies of 4 previously un-recovered Marine KlAs. 2/3's nighttime positions ranged from the top of Objective #I to the west.
Hill 861 was found to be well fortified with bunkers constructed from bamboo, dirt and grass. Some of the bunkers were as much as six feet thick and wee capable of receiving direct artillery hits without suffering internal damage. Approximately 25 bunkers and 62 fighting holes were found on top of Hill 861, all mutually supporting and very well camouflaged. A total of 400 fighting holes were counted on Hill 861 and the ridges to the north and west. Defenses were primarily oriented toward the finger running up the hill from the south. Mortar positions were found on the reverse slope (northwest) laid in the direction of KSCB. If all the positions had been occupied at one time, Hill 861 could have held two NVA companies plus supporting arms. The battle area was extremely well policed by the enemy; virtually no equipment or information of intelligence value remained. Due to the large amount of ordnance expended on Hill 861 many of the positions were destroyed or buried. The odor of dead and decaying bodies was strong. As a result of the massive supporting arms brought to bear on Hill 861, the 18th NVA Regiment was severely mauled and was relieved by the 95th Regiment of the 325C Division, which defended Hills 881-South and 881-North during the remainder of the battle.
The remaining regiment of the 325C Division, the 101st, remained in reserve near Highway 9 in Laos.
The 18th NVA Regiment had been a well-disciplined force, well entrenched in bunkers and caves. Their camouflage was such that attacking Marines were within their position before realizing it. They survived artillery and air strikes and were not routed until 1000 and 2000 pound bombs with delayed fuses were used against" them. Enemy fire discipline and marksmanship were excellent. Many Marine casualties were shot through the head and upper body. The enemy force on Hill 861 had been supported by snipers, .50 and .30 caliber MGs, 60mm and 82mm mortars on 861 and from XD 798446, XD 806446, and XD 778444. When 2/3 secured the hill, the Marine KlAs, which had been left during the fighting, were found stripped of all equipment.
Supporting arms for 29 Apr included 195,000 pounds of air delivered ordnance including 40,000 pounds of napalm and a mixture of 250 to 2000 pound bombs. Artillery fired 2040 rounds during the day, primarily in support of M/3/9's morning contact and M/3/3's evening contact. Air recon of the area to the west of Hill 881-South and 881-North disclosed a large number of previously undiscovered enemy positions, including 12 .50 cal. positions.