Khe Sanh Hill Fights of ‘67
Compiled by Ray Stubbe
All Rights Reserved by the Author
881 - North 03 May 1967
At 021015H, G/2/3 and E/2/3, from separate positions, commenced their movement toward Hill 881-North after heavy preparation over 1400 rounds of artillery prep for G/2/3 alone. The enemy force in the Khe Sanh area was now estimated to be a regiment.
At 1455H, 2ndLt Andrew B. McFarlane's First Platoon, G/2/3, advanced up the narrow ridgeline, which approached Hill 881-North from the northeast. The First Squad, led by Cpl Robert E. Torter, was assigned as assault squad, and moved on line to sweep through a wooded portion directly on top of this knoll. (2Lt McFarlane enlisted in Nov '48, was a PFC on 15 Sep '50 with F/2/1 in the Inchon Harbor, Korea, landing. He went through Seoul, Pusan and the Chosin Reservoir. By 1966 he was a First Sergeant "I got commissioned- or 'demoted'-as I used to kid about, in May, 1966." He was now 37. Lt Peter Hesser, along with Sam Marrone (2nd Plt Cdr) and Bruce Grismer (in Madonna's Company) were all Naval Academy graduates; McFarlane was the Weapons Plt Cdr. Hesser noted: "We worshipped the ground that guy walked on!")
Cpl Torter organized his squad and maneuvered his squad toward a tree line (at XD 778460) and took no enemy fioore, but spotted 2 NVA getting up and running. Cpl Torter led his squad in an aggressive a tack on the fleeing enemy, pinpointing hidden weapons and destroying them. As they continued, they were suddenly taken under fire by heavy automatic weapons from their leR front. The assault was temporarily halted and Cpl Torter told his men to reload their magazines. At this time, 2 more Marines were wounded, the First Team Leader and Torter's radioman. After reloading, they stood up to assault the position a second time, but the newly issued M-16s malfunctioned. The squad took 5 KIA and 5 WIA and only had 3 rifles that functioned. Unable to communicate, Lt McFarlane moved his Second Squad forward to aid Cpl Torter to pull back. As the Second Squad advanced, Cpl Torter fearlessly left his covered position and with complete disregard for his own safety, moved to retrieve his wounded. Driven back time and again by the intense fire, Cpl Torter nevertheless managed to retrieve some of the wounded, but not all. Cpl Torter returned to the treeline where the other casualties were located, called out their names, but received no answer. He ceased his valiant efforts only after being directed to do so by the Company Commander.
Following artillery and air strikes on the high ground where the MlAs were located, and augmented by Marines led by Sgt Harry W. Steere, Jr., he again advanced towards the knoll. Two Huey gunships arrived and placed fire around the knoll and adjoining high ground, taking sniper fire.
Additional air support was not possible, however. Between 1600H and 1645H, extremely heavy rain squalls with 40 MPH winds, and three NBC [Non-Battle Casualty] medevacs from 3/3 due to lightning, precluded further air support. A Marine in a foxhole with Austin Deuel said, "Even God's against us!" which became the title of Deuel's art-work illustrated book on the Hill Battles. Due to the inclement weather and the late hour with darkness approaching, the Marines advanced with 13 men (including the Lt, the Platoon Sergeant, two squad leaders, and a radioman) to assault the knoll and attempt to retrieve the MlAs. The rain was very heavy, and there was a fog rolling off 881-North-forever a most mysterious and ominous place, shrouding the Marines as they advanced.
Two of the MIAs were spotted in a small grassy clearing just out of the heavy grass going towards the beeline. As the Marines attempted to recover them, they took heavy automatic fire from the beeline from fox-holes, ground-level, resulting in another Marine killed, the squad leader, and one wounded.
"We found that any movement at all towards these MIA was a hazardous risk because they had the ground so well covered in that area. We began to try to take our wounded back and in doing this we took two more WIAs from fragmentation ChiCom grenades which were being thrown at us."
One of the favorite tactics of the NVA was to wound and then to kill all those who came to rescue.
"At this time the sky cleared some and the captain advised that we should withdraw and try to hit the area with arty and dislodge the enemy before we moved in. We withdrew, leaving the four MlAs."
[The 4 MIA were recovered on 05 May at 1450H. "One Marine had his weapon between his legs with a rifle cleaning rod down his weapon. Also he had a penknife in his hand. As we looked over the weapon, a M-16, we found that there was a cartridge in the chamber. After speaking to his squad leaders, this man had definitely been cleaning his weapon earlier and was always cleaning his weapon. It was due to a malfunction. All the Marines found there were shot through the head."]
Due to the contacts and the violent stormy weather, it was deemed advisable to pull the 2/3 forward units back to more defensive terrain for the night.
Attack On Echo 03 May 1967
E/2/3 returned to its position. 2Lt James R. Cannon, Plt Cdr of E-2, recalls the unfolding terror:
"It became increasingly dark during our movement back to our previous position, and by the time we arrived, it was night. It was still raining. Everyone was tired and miserable and bone-chilling rain didn't help. We searched out the inner perimeter and, after doing so, each platoon took up their old positions. It was still raining hard. We put out our trip flares and claymore mines, put out our security, and established 50% security for the night: in each 2-man fighting hole, one man would be awake while one man slept. "In my bunker were: Me, my platoon sergeant (SSgt Morningstar), and my radioman (LCpl Hovietz). It was 0400 in the morning. The rain had stopped and there was an eerie mist hovering over the hill. I had taken my boots off, wrung the water from my socks, and turned my boots upside down to allow them to drain. Everything was quiet."
Sgt Billy Joe Like, a squad leader in E-2, was walking the lines of the perimeter on the hill checking his squad positions, heard a noise to his front and yelled: "Who’s out there?" The answer was a burst of automatic fire that seriously wounded Sgt Like in his stomach. Though seriously and painfully wounded, Sgt Like remained standing and shouted, "We're being attacked!" By his action, he undoubtedly alerted his company ahead of time of a heavy enemy assault which if not triggered prematurely would without question have cost many more Marines dead and wounded during the 7-hour ensuing battle.
Cannon continues: "With that challenge, the entire northern half of the hill exploded. We were hit. I shouted to Morningstar, "Let's go!" and sprang for the bunker entrance. As I did so, one of my Marines was blown in on top of me. He was badly wounded. I told Morningstar to take care of him and told my radioman to come on. From my right front at about 2 o'clock, enemy machineguns were raking my section of the perimeter. At the same time, enemy mortars were falling over the entire hill. I could hear the machine gun near the first squad chattering in long bursts and I knew this was not a probe."
HM2 Clarence Walter Young immediately left the safety of his position and raced about the lines giving aid to wounded Marines. His first patient was Sgt Like. The enemy had already penetrated his position. Disregarding the intense small arms fire and grenades, HM2 Young went to the aid of Sgt Like and treated him even though the enemy was within yards. While so doing, HM2 Young was wounded in both arms, but continued to treat the man and subsequently moved him to a place of relative safety. He then ran back into the darkness to help others until the pain of his wounds caused him to be evacuated.
HM3 Danny P. Williams, who had helped save the FAC in the attack on 01 May, repeatedly exposed himself to the hostile fire to render medical aid to the seriously wounded Marines despite wounds in both of his arms.
PFC John R. Meuse, radio operator of the First Squad, E-2, who had chased down a wounded man on May 1st, was seriously wounded during the initial burst of fire. When asked by Lt Cannon of his situation, he informed him he had been hit and gave the impression he was dying. He also said that his squad had been penetrated and their positions heavily overrun. Though mortally wounded, he refused to abandon his position and seek the medical help that could have saved his life. He instead remained on the radio for over an hour to inform his Company Commander, Capt Al Lyons, and his Platoon Commander, Lt Cannon, of the situation. This accurate information on the disposition and nature of the enemy force enabled them to make essential decisions on the employment of maneuvering elements and coordination of supporting arms necessary to repulse the enemy assault.
[PFC Meuse was found about noon, still in his position, his radio hit but still working, his handset still in his hand, and 5 dead NVA in front of his position.]
Although painfully wounded in the initial moments of the assault, Sgt Ronald Edward Kolodziej, a squad leader of a MG team, quickly deployed his MG section into effective firing positions in front of the perimeter areas where he could do the most good. When his M-60 became inoperable, Sgt Kolodziej fearlessly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to reach an adjacent infantry squad's position where he remained throughout the ensuing battle. Only after the enemy was repulsed and the company position consolidated, 6 hours later, did he accept to be medevaced.
LCpl James G. Hawley, a machine gunner, was in a fox-hole when he noticed SSgt Noakes wounded in a nearby fox-hole. Cpl Hawley left his position to bring SSgt Noakes into his own foxhole and then began to move throughout the fire-swept area to retrieve other wounded and carry them to the CP.
When Sgt Powell was hit, LCpl Hawley went to get him, knowing that the enemy was waiting on him. Obtaining an operable MG, he courageously moved forward and began to deliver a heavy volume of fire on the NVA, successfully repelling the enemy assault.
An engineer attached to E/2/3, LCpl William Thomas Womble, unhesitatingly rushed from his position, retrieved ammunition from the overrun positions, and proceeded to redistribute badly needed MG and 60mm mortar ammo. With complete disregard for his own life, he continued to move through extreme automatic weapons fire until positions in critical need of ammo were resupplied. Then, observing several Marines pinned down in the Second Platoon command bunker, he opened fire with his M-14 and single-handedly engaged the enemy, drawing fire upon himself so that the Marines in the bunker could gain fire superiority. As he daringly delivered a large volume of well-aimed, accurate fire into the enemy, he was instantly killed by heavy automatic weapons fire.
All during the battle, the Second Platoon Commander, 2ndLt James Cannon, repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as he moved from position to position, and skillfully directed the defense of his critical position. As he moved he occasionally engaged in hand-to-hand combat killing enemy who had penetrated the perimeter. At one point he was cut off from his CP.
Cannon relates: "Casualties were mounting. The situation was extremely bad. I called the command post and told the Company Commander [Capt Al Lyons] that I needed help, that we were under assault by a large force, and that all of my crew served weapons had been knocked out I also asked for my preplanned artillery concentrations to be fired and called for a flare ship. I was informed that I couldn't have both. I was somewhat pissed. I knew that the flare ships could fly above the maximum ordinance of artillery and I needed both. I asked for arty and waited. No arty. I screamed into my radio, 'Damn the arty, give me some light.' Another casualty. I told Hovietz to get him in the bunker with Morningstar. "Capt Lyons told me he was sending a squad from the 1st Platoon up to help me. They never arrived. Another squad was dispatched to me. They too failed to arrive. I learned later that both squads were badly hit as they tried to reach my platoon. "I made my way toward the company CP. I stopped at the XO's bunker [1stLt Jack Adinolfi] He was gone. I thought, 'God, I hope he hasn't been captured.' I again radioed the Skipper. I asked him to send me a 3.5 rocket launcher team to knock out the enemy machinegun to my right front. I met the team near the XO's position and took them up just behind my second squad. From there, I had a good field of fire and a safe backblast area. I was in the process of directing their fire when an explosion went off just in front of us. My rocket team was knocked out. I was still standing. For some ungodly reason, I thought nothing could touch me. I had put my radioman in the bunker with Morningstar to help with the wounded. As far as I knew, I was the only one alive up there except those that were in my bunker. "The enemy machinegun was still spitting out deadly fire. Trip flares were going off to my right front. I found no one alive in my first or second squads, yet there was movement all around me. My platoon was in trouble. I needed help. "I was able to reach the command post and inform my company commander of the situation. There I found my XO. I was glad he was alive. He would soon take over the company. "I informed my company commander that my entire first and second squads were wiped out; that there was only one friendly position up there, and of my bunker where Morningstar, Hovietz, the two wounded, were. My third squad, although lightly engaged, was still intact and had suffered no casualties. They were my extreme right defensive squad.
"Capt Lyons informed me that a platoon of FOXTROT Company was moving up from the rear to help block the penetration. I passed the word to keep my bunker protected, that it was occupied by friendly troops. Sometime, from somewhere, I grabbed a M-16 rifle, firing it until it jammed. I threw it down and picked up a M-14. I overheard reports that the NVA were wearing flak gear and Marine helmets and some were in trees shouting, 'Marine, you die.’ They were hard to stop. Even point blank firing into their chests would not ensure they would be stopped. Some had to be beaten with entrenching tools or anything one could get his hands on. Consequently, there was much hand-to-hand combat that morning. We found later that several Marines had died trying to clear jams from their M-16’s..."
"It wasn't long before 2ndLt Carroll's platoon from FOXTROT Company arrived. I briefed him on the situation and cautioned him that my platoon sergeant and radioman, along with two wounded, were still in my bunker. I then moved forward with Carroll's platoon and, taking up a position beside a machinegunner, began to direct his fire into the position of the enemy machinegun. He started firing but soon stopped. 'Damn jam,' I thought as I turned toward him. I then saw why he had stopped firing. Blood was running down the side of his face. I rolled him over toward me so the assistant gunner could take over."
During the dark early morning hours of 0430 - 0630H when Second Platoon's positions were overrun, LCpl Frederick Gregory Monahan, a Bn S-2 Scout, constantly exposed himself as he fired and threw hand grenades. 1Lt Adinolfi later wrote: "His output of fire was that of ten men; his energy and downright stubbornness that of fifty of the enemy." This, despite being himself wounded. With complete disregard for his own safety, he skillfully drew the enemy in towards him and then fearlessly locked with and destroyed them in hand-to-hand combat. His fire stopped the NVA advance, holding them at bay for the two hours before daybreak, when reinforcements of Co. F arrived.
Another Marine instrumental in helping to contain the enemy was Cpl William K. Downing, a member of a composite squad organized by the Company Commander and headed by 2ndLt John L. Eller (3rd Plt Cdr) to repel the advancing enemy force. Cpl Downing, second in command of this squad, moved his fire team in the direction of the enemy penetration and was wounded in the leg. The squad was able to halt the advance of the enemy. Someone yelled. I asked if he needed medical attention, and Cpl Downing shouted, "Don't come down here and help me; take care of the rest of the men first."
He remained, courageously delivering continuous and effective fire on the enemy forces as the casualties were removed under his covering fire. Having ensured that the last wounded Marine was evacuated, he remained firing from his position. His body was found later with 6 dead NVA around his position. After a period of bitter fighting the penetration was contained and means were sought to eliminate it.
Cannon: "It was now light. I heard the Hueys behind us. Relief was just a few rockets away. Smoke was thrown to mark our positions and to direct the Hueys' rockets north of us. One of the first rockets fired hit our Command post, wounding our company commander and killing or wounding several other key personnel including our Forward Air Controller, Arty FO, and senior Corpsman, Doc Kleindschmidt. Doc, knowing that I always carried a plastic tube with me, asked me to perform a tracheotomy should he stop breathing. I promised I would. He had been hit in the side of his left jaw."
First Platoon of F/2/3 under the command of Lt John R. Schworm, was lifted in to counter-attack the penetration. Arriving on the scene at 0745H, F-1 counter-attacked the penetration at the point where it had penetrated the perimeter. Simultaneously H/2/3 moved northwest to cut off the penetration from the rear between the position held and Hill 81North.
First Squad of Lt Schworm's F-1, led by Cpl Jerry K. Fite, was given the mission of holding the right flank and, if possible, to push the enemy back. Although suffering casualties, he continued to direct his men forward as they regained many bunkers then held by NVA soldiers. The fight continued well into the morning; progress was slow.
About 1100H, Cpl Fite had moved his men into a position where they were now drawing fire form a series of bunkers that covered both the front and the right flank. Every means possible was attempted to reduce these bunkers-rockets and LAW's were ineffective due to the thickness of vegetation. During repeated attempts, the squad sustained 2 casualties.
Automatic weapons fire spewed out of two mutually supporting bunkers. Realizing the seriousness of the situation and disregarding his own safety, LCpl Larry Hayden Weaver crawled forward and hurled several grenades into the nearest bunker. He was driven off by heavy fire from the MG in the other bunker, wounded in his shoulder and head, and returned to an NVA fighting hole. While he was in the fighting hole, the NVA threw several grenades into his position, but he advanced and assaulted the enemy bunker with his M-16, killing the 4 NVA inside.
Cpl Fite also crawled forward then threw WP grenades into the lead bunker which was halting the advance. Although he killed 5 NVA in these daring attacks, they had little effect.
At this time they learned that First Platoon of H/2/3 was approaching on the extreme right, moving northwest along the ridgeline XD 785450 - XD 778460, placing them at the rear of the troublesome bunkers. They requested that the bunkers be marked. Again Cpl Fite volunteered to crawl forward and successfully marked the target with smoke grenades. They were eventually destroyed.
H-l took casualties from a series of well-fortified and well concealed bunkers and spider holes. Observing the assault momentarily stopped, LCpl Daniel L. Critten, Jr., quickly and aggressively moved forward delivering effective fire on the enemy. His quick maneuver inspired the platoon to move onward while providing cover for evacuation of the casualties. In the ensuing action, he continued to deliver effective fire on the enemy until he fell seriously wounded in his chest and spine. His quick action saved the lives of many of his comrades and inspired his platoon to continue the assault.
With complete disregard for his own safety, PFC Roy William Demille advanced through the hostile fire, crawled into one of the enemy bunkers and, armed only with a .45 pistol, killed 2 NVA. Observing that his unit's advance was still halted by the intense fire from another bunker 20 meters away, PFC Demille again exposed himself to enemy fire, jumped into the enemy-held bunker, and killed the NVA with his pistol.
As a result of the F/2/3 counterattack, the enemy penetration was sealed. The enemy, however, had reoccupied some old bunkers in the area that had not yet been destroyed and fought tenaciously to the end, employing automatic weapons and hand grenades with deadly effect. So well emplaced was the enemy that initial attempts to destroy his positions were unsuccessful. Cannon: "Until now, there had been no prisoners taken. It didn't surprise anyone. With the anger built up in our Marines and the tenacity with which the NVA fought, I didn't expect any. From somewhere-God only knows where- word came that "Pappy" Delong would give 20 days R&R to the man that got him a prisoner. Within minutes, we had three. From these three, it was learned that another NVA division was on their way south to retake the hill complex.
(Two of the NVA POWs, Pvt Le Van Lan and Pvt La Huu Chau, reported they were members of the 325C Division and had entered South Vietnam on 13 March and arrived at Khe Sanh on 20 March. Pvt Lan stated that half the members of his regiment were only 16 years old. The third POW, Pvt Mai Thanh Tan, was unable to answer questions coherently because of his wounds) "I was on pins and needles. I wanted to reach my two squads that were still up there. I prayed that some were still alive but everyone knew there was no hope. Still, I wanted to pull them out. Firing was still going on. We continued to wait.
"Finally, I pulled my third squad leader back and informed him on what I was about to do. I told him to get the third squad on their bellies, that we were going to crawl back over the crest of the hill and take up the first and second squad's positions. I told him, that upon reaching those positions, we would watch out for HOTEL and, should they approach, mark their positions with air panels. We would kill everything that wasn't Marine. We did just that.
"The fighting continued and at about 1130 that morning, 3 May 1967, we reached our forwardmost positions. The look on Morningstar's face as he crawled out of his bunker was one of disbelief. After all, he had been in the midst of hell for well over 7 hours and survived. He would die 2 months later by a single shot from a sniper's rifle.
"I surveyed the first and second squad's positions. Only then did I realize the strength with which the enemy had attacked. There were bodies everywhere, mostly NVA. In front of my first and second squads lay about 80 NVA bodies. The remainder of the hill was literally strewn with bodies. There was no telling how many had been dragged off or died later from this fight. I could not tell black Marines from white Marines; they were all black.
"I should have cried but I didn't. I didn't have time. I would cry later, and when I did, the tears would never completely stop. The memory of these Marines-so young, so brave-would stay with me forever. "The official body count of the dead NVA was 137 but we stacked 236 weapons. On top of the hill, just behind my bunker, I found a dead NVA. Strapped around his neck was a rectangular metal box. Half of the box contained a radio and radio equipment. The other half contained cooked rice. They had come to stay...
"After we helilifted our dead and wounded out, I sat down with our First Sergeant, "Top" Patrinas, who was sitting on a log near the XO's old position. It was then that I learned several of the men I thought were dead had been medevaced with wounds. In my platoon alone, I had 11 KIA and 17 WIA.