21 August 1965

                               (Front Page)



                     "VC BATTER ARMORED SUPPLY COLUMN"


                             by Peter ARNETT


    VAN TOUNG, Vietnam (AP)

--The mission of Supply Column 21 was simple: get to the beachead, resupply a U.S. Marine company and return to the Seventh Fleet mother ship anchored one mile out in the bay. The Marine supply group figured they had an easy run. They had heard that line companies landed earlier Wednesday were getting heavy fire from Viet Cong positions on the peninsula. But Supply Column 21 was a formidable force made up of five steel-shod "amtraks"--35-ton amphibious vehicles--to carry the food and ammunition, and two M-48 tanks to escort them when they arrived on shore.

  The Viet Cong would hesitate to tangle with this, the men told themselves as they surged toward the beachead. They didn't know it at the time, but the biggest battle of the war was shaping up. This group of 30 men was to become deeply involved in one of the most

vicious encounters of the war. Supply Column 21 fulfilled only one of its objectives. It got to the beach. It did not resupply the Marine company, and it did not return.

  The paths that led the column to its destruction were paved more with confusion than anything else. First, they failed to locate the company, so they set out to look for it. The Amtraks, once out of the water, were unwieldy. They flopped from one rice paddie to another, calling at one battalion then the next. No one seemed to pay attention to it. This proved fatal. At 11 a.m. Wednesday, Supply Column 21 was about 400 yards ahead of the nearest line company. They were deep in Viet Cong territory. Suddenly, they were deeply in trouble.

  The survivors of the column recall that the Viet Cong rose out of hedgerows and the swamps. Lance Cpl. Richard PASS, from Homewood,Ill., remembers his amtrak veering aside as a crescendo of shattering sound erupted around them. The lead tank was hit with an armor-piercing round. Two men inside were wounded. The terraced paddyfields made tactical maneuvering difficult, and the

supply men were not trained for it. The five amtraks attempted to get good fire positions. Three backed into deep paddy field and were bogged down.

  The other two went near the tanks for shelter. One of them didn't make it. A Viet Cong grenadier knocked it out by dropping a grenade down its hatch, killing two Americans inside and wounding others. Mortar fire began bouncing off the vehicles and cannon fire put three holes in one tank. The wounded driver squeezed himself through the 18-inch wide escape hatch under his vehicle only to be riddled by bullets. PASS saw the Viet Cong move right up to the amtrak 30 yards to his left. The doors of the vehicle clanged open as the driver attempted to make a break to Pass's vehicle. One American was killed as he leaped from his amtrak. The other was plunging through the muddy paddyfield swinging his Marine knife when he went down. When pulled out of the swamp the next day, he still had the knife clutched in his hand.

  Soon after noon, the Viet Cong knocked out the third amtrak. By this time the enemy was moving freely around the terraced paddyfields

and jungled tree lines, recalled Cpl. Frank GUILFORD. The machine guns on the armored vehicles were slicing into them, but they kept coming. GUILFORD said the Viet Cong were so well camouflaged that they could only be spotted when they moved. Even close up, they blended with the terrain when they stopped. The survivors had massed in the two remaining amtraks by early noon. Pfc James REEFF, from Seattle, Wash., was in one of them, taking his turn to man the four peepholes on the top of his vehicle from where he could get a shot at the enemy. "But I couldn't maneuver up there," he said. REEFF, along with everyone else who took turns at the holes, was wounded slightly. Some were hurt more seriously. As the afternoon wore on, and the heat in the vehicle became stifling, a young Corporal could stand it no longer. He shouted to his buddies, "Okay, men, we're Marines. Let's do the job." He pulled himself out through the peephole, but he didn't even get his rifle to his shoulder. A bullet hit him between the eyes and he tumbled down into the sweating interior of the amtrak.

  In the other amtrak, the extreme heat and the noise of the battle and contant clanging of bullets on steel, got on the nerves of those inside. SSgt. Jack MERINO remembers almost fainting with heat exhaustion. They took turns splashing water over each other from the water cans in their vehicle. MERINO said he was with the Marines in the battle of Okinawa. "I thought we were gone, and I prayed," said MERINO.[MARINO,Sr.] Midafternoon he heard a voice outside outside whispering "Amtrak, amtrak." It was a wounded man from a tank. MERINO said he and those inside pulled him in. "It was a hair-raising moment, but we managed it," MERINO said. That was the last time he left the vehicle until daybreak Thursday. 



[From the archieves of "Starlite Survivors" Assoc, ewn]


Note: Jack Marino's Son Jack Jr is at <>


    I'll tell you what I know about the ambush, I'll try not to ramble.  the best historical source is the official Marine Corps discription of Starlite.  I was a corporal the crew chief of 3-A-01, command tractor we were part of the regimental rolling CP with Col. Peatross and his officers. After landing we moved along behind the advancing infantry, we had all the radio frequencies and our radio operators monitored the action. We had stopped in column, there were several of these command tractors along with a contengency of grunt security.  I think it was about eleven AM.  After awhile I was milling around trying to stay out of peoples way I heard that there was radio traffic from a column of tracs under heavy fire. The radio operators were trying to get a fix on their position to call in air support.  The marine on the radio was in a panic and didn't know his position, either would I.  Air support could not find the column.  At some point it was decided to form up a rescue column to go find these marines.  About that time a flame tank rolled into the CP.  The tank had been with column 21, which by the way I didn't know that it was called that until recently. I remember the tank had about a one inch hole through the turrett, damndest thing I had seen, recoilest rifle I was told. Anyway these grunts are loading aboard three P-5's as I stood and watched, when all of a sudden my platoon sgt, ssgt Forsythe told me him and I were going.  He told me to grab some 3.5 rockets and he grabed a 3.5 tube and we jumped in the last P-5. Away we went, first time I had ridden inside as a grunt.  Well we rode along for awhile and the next thing I know we come to a screeching halt the ramp drops and everyone runs out.  It was crazy, explosions, rounds flying everywhere.  ssgt Forsythe and I ran around to the back of the tractor. We saw what looked to be five VC running in single file into brush about fifty yards away in the direction of the small arms fire. He knelt down in a firing position right against the back of the tractor, I loaded him up and just as he was going to squeeze one off the tractor backed down and knocked him over.  I grabbed him pulled and he scrambled out of the way.  The rocket tube went right under the track loaded and ready to go, smashed flatter than a pan cake. Right as the tractor was backing up it was hit by what probably was a motar round.  the round came in just to the right front of the drivers hatch. The driver was badly wounded in the leg and Sgt Strickland, who had been standing on the gunners stand was hit in the chest and later died at the scene. theround blew a large hole in the top of the tractor and started a fire in the electrical circuts behind the drivers instrument panel. Ssgt  Forsythe and myself had found cover behind a hedge row and observed two marines on top of the tractor trying to get the cargo hatches opened, they were yelling that someone was inside the tractor.  Smoke was bellowing out of the drivers hatch. We got the tractor ramp down and got sgt Strickland out but he was unconsious and died from a massive chest wound.  We took the 30 cal. Machine gun out of the turrett and set it up on a tripod started firing at the area where the small arms fire was coming from.  The shooting slowed down. There were wounded and dead lying everywhere,ended up being 5 KIA and 17 WIA.  Medivac started coming in (H-34's) taking out the wounded and dead. the column re-fromed and headed out in the two remaining P-5's.  SSgt Forsythe, myself, and about three other marines were left behind to guard the downed tractor.  We gathered up all the weapons and ammo that was laying around from the dead and wounded that had been evacuated and set up firing postions and waited, dreading night fall, we were scared. Nothing happened, about two in the morning remnantes of a grunt company came to our rescue.  They had been fighting all day.  The squad leader that came to my position told me that he had been in Korea and had never seen anything like the fighting that day, he had two people left in his squad, the company cammander had been killed. they were carrying one KIA. We moved out with that company and immediately came under fire, it stopped as quickly as it started.  We walked back to the CP.  I returned later during the operation to that site as well as the site of column 21. My good friend L/cpl Victor Flores Jr. was killed with Column 21.  He was from Austin, Texas were I now have lived for the past twenty five years. I retired from the Texas Department of Public Safety after 27 years as the Assistant Commander of the Narcotics Service, I now command a narcotics task force in San Marcos, Texas.  Thats all I have to say about operation Starlite.


Semper Fi.  and may God bless

Regis DeArza                     


--- Ed Nicholls wrote:

 Regis, below is what I've put together after 34 years. Our memories were/are short. Then, a "Doc" reminded me:

"Hell we were always on patrol, doing something and we were so far down the chain of command, it's amzing we remember

 anything". There is a tad more in the almost 200 letters I have, however, I'sd sure like to get more on this for US

ALL & history. If you come up with anything else pls let me know.


Feel free to pass this along Buddy. I don't know if anyone really gives a dam any nore.

Thx $ SF


Sgt Nick


LCpl Starlite

3dFTL, 1stSqd

2d Plt, K 3/3 18Aug 65



{researching: Ed Nicholls, Starlite Survivor's-





 To Start: 1. Green Beach landings, Wave 1 & 2 &

 resupply runs fr ships.

                       a. CP Groups

                       b. supply column

                  2. BLT 3/7's Trac movements.

                      3dPlt "C" Co 1st ATBn       1/0


                      3dPlt "B" Co 1stTkBn        1/0


                      3dPlt "A" Co 3dAmTrcBn  


                      Supply Column's call sign,


                                  [Some vehicles:

 LVTs: #25 & #41, NFI.]




     * Marine in Column 21(Tracker), attacked

 treeline w/K-Bar,KIA,...*

     *  BATSON, Robert Filmore, Sgt (2 Daughters),

 One of Sgt Dave HORNEs men.                              


     * 2d Lt. Robert Fishel COCHRAN,Jr., MS.,  Plt

 Ldr, Column 21    *     

     *   Amtracks,KIA 18 Aug '65. 02E/55.           


     * 2d Lt. ARMSTRONG (?) (per Comer paper)       





 Sgt. James F. MULLOY, Jr. H&S 3/3. Assisted in

 the security of this Combat Supply Mission. C-narative "Navy

 Cross Award,SecNav". Is in area, still. West Coast.


 Cpt. Jack LEMON,Bn Staff, OIC Supply Column (17

 Dead and wounded Marines*)(TLAB-23-5KIA-WIA+-9 survivors

 unscathed)(63 VC KIA)


 SSgt  MERINO JACK (Traks) (Co. B., 1st Amtrk Bn,

 3rd  Mar Div){Deros 7 May '65 - 6 Apr '66][Silver

 Star][WIA] NCOIC, Supply Column 21[^]. Also on Blue Marlin.

 (Starlite Co A,1st Trcs, 13 Nov 65-Da Nang 3/3 to B Co. Interviewed

 while in B Co, 2d Amtrc Bn, Force Troops, Cp Legeune,NC., 25

 Nov '66. Rumored retired Cop, AL.


 LCpl MISU, MISHU (ph)(live mprob)(not listed as

 KIA.)[marino tpe]


 SSgt BELL, (traker?)


 LCpl DUBOSE(ph), a mos 1833 Tanker on radio,

 blocking transmissions.


 Cpl GUILFORD, FRANKl (Traks)^---------died five

 years ago


 Cpl ADAMOLI, Rowland J. Cpl A 1st AmTracBn KIA 18

 Aug '65 (c-dBase, many members of ADAMOLI Fam.)


Lt. COCHRAN, Robert Fishel ,Jr., MS.,  Plt Ldr,

 Column 21    *  Amtracks,KIA 18 Aug '65.


HEARN- as mentioned by PEAVEY [ TC on a flame

 tank in that column]


Sgt  STRICKLAND  Lessie (chest shot) {mentioned by HUMMEL, Jim L.CRAWFORD


KING, Roger-  MSgt Ret.      last heard working

 for Humane Soc. 'Oside


    REEFF       { on west coast WA. or OR.



          {mentioned by Arnett

Lance Cpl.  PASS, Richard, from Homewood,Ill. (regis dearza) I also

 knew sgt Lesse Strickland he was killed with the rescue


SSgt Forsythe, James who I have lost and he was

 a awarded the Bronze Star on Starlite. Last heard 80's   { info fr



L/Cpl Flores Jr, Victor  [he was KIA in the

 column 21 ambush] fr: RD


 [note: thru the years I recall SOMEONE was wounded &

 backed over by a trac or tank during the firefight/ambush- EdN]