On March 8th, 1965, the 4,000 strong 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (9th MEB) landed at Da Nang, the first elements of the USMC to be sent officially into combat in South Vietnam. (A number of Marine units, including air defence elements, transport helicopters, engineers, and Company D, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment were already there, but March 8th is the official date). The 9th MEB were committed to ensure the safety of the Army, Air Force, and Marine aviation units that were already based at Da Nang. After a perimeter around Da Nang was secured, additional landings were made at Chu Lai, and other enclaves along the coast in I Corps, again with the purpose of securing enclaves to operate aviation elements. By May, the number of Marines ashore in Vietnam had risen to 17,000, and IIIrd Marine Expeditionary/Amphibious Force was established to control the Marine units in Vietnam. (It was decided that the term 'expeditionary' smacked a bit too much of the now departed French, so that term was officially dropped). The 1st Marine Air Wing was set up to control all Marine aviation elements in country, and Marine strength totaled some 25,000 by the end of July.
The Marine ground units had been restricted to operating in the immediate area about the air bases, and were not allowed to move out and engage the Viet Cong. After the 1st Viet Cong Regiment had won an impressive string of victories against the ARVN forces in the area south of Chi Lai in the summer of 1965, the Marines stationed there were given permission to move out of their defensive perimeter and engage the enemy. The stage was set for Operation Satellite. (Unfortunately, the power failed while the operations order was being typed, and it was completed by candlelight. The clerk misread Starlite for Satellite, and so typed that throughout the order).
The plan for Satellite/Starlite was as follows;
Headquarters, 7th Marines, along with elements of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines (3/3), would board the transports in Chu Lai that had just brought the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines (1/7) there. This force would sail south, hoping to rendezvous with the 7th Fleets Special Landing Force, on which the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines (3/7) was embarked. (The Special Landing Force was off station at the moment, and was on a high speed run back to Vietnam from Subic Bay. It remained to be seen if they would arrive in time). The 3/3/ Marines would arrive off An Cuong 1 on the morning of the 18th, and land on the beach there at 0630 and drive inland.
The 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines (2/4), would be lifted by the helicopters of the Marine Squadrons 161, 261 and 361 into the LZ's Red, White and Blue at the same time. The 2/4 would drive for the coast, linking up with the main body of the 3/3. To the north, Company M, of the 3/3, would move south to secure the Tra Bong River.
Operation Starlite (August 1965) was the first large-scale US ground operation in Vietnam. The target of the operation was the 1st Viet Cong Regiment, reported to be at a strength of about 1,500 men, that had been located in the Van Tuong village complex. The attack force was under the command of the 7th Marines and consisted of the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines and the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines from Chu Lai, and the 1st and 3d Battalions of the 7th Marines from the Special Landing Force. Starlite began on August 18, 1965, with 2/4 and 3/3 leading the dawn attack. The 3d Battalion, 7th Marines landed by helicopter and over the beach later that day; 1/7 joined the operation on August 20. At the completion of Operation Starlite on August 24, 1965, 613 Viet Cong had been killed at the cost of 17 Marines killed and 203 wounded.
This below illustration is from "US Marines in Vietnam, the Landing and the Buildup, 1965"
Jack Shulimson and Major Charles M. Johnson, USMC, History and Museums Division,
Headquarters, US Marine Corps, Washington, DC, 1978.
On August 15 the marines received their first break. A deserter from the Vietcong 1st Regiment in-formed General Thi of a major build-up of enemy Maine Force units in the Van Tuong village complex, twelve miles southeast of Chu Lai along the coast. The VC goal was to achieve a great psychological victory by surprising the isolated marine base at Chu Lai in the first major engagement between American and enemy forces. Marines rush a wounded Veitcong prisoner-one of more than one hundred captured in Starlite to a Huey helicopter. Operation Starlite General Thi, informing none of his own subordinates, immediately relayed the information to General Walt. Marine intelligence had by this time received sufficient evidence on its own to corroborate the deserter's story. Colonel Edwin Simmons, newly arrived operations officer for III MAF, recommended a "spoiling attack" to prevent the anticipated VC strike against Chu Lal. The timing was fortuitous. The arrival of reinforcements at the Chu Lai base on August 14 enabled Walt to reassign two experienced combat battalions, 2d Battalion of the 4th Marines (or 2/4), and 3d Battalion, 3d Marines (3/3) to the command of Colonel Oscar F. Peatross, commander of the 7th Marines. In addition, another marine battalion, afloat offshore, served as a reserve force that could be thrown into the battle when and where necessary. Finally, two U.S. Navy ships in the area, the U.S.S. Galveston and U.S.S. Cabildo, could provide offshore fire support. The operation, code-named Starlite, would be a classic marine encounter, combining land and sea forces, including an amphibious landing and coordination with the navy. It would be a very different battle for the Vietcong, accustomed to fighting with their backs to the sea, knowing that against South Vietnamese forces the water could always be used as an avenue of escape. ,
Operation Conducting an aerial reconnaissance of the operational area, which was about ten miles south of Chu Lai, Colonel Peatross found that the terrain was dominated by sandy flats, broken by numerous streams and an occasional wooded knoll. The scattered hamlets possessed paddy areas and dry crop fields. While airborne, Peatross selected the assault beach as well as three landing zones among the sand flats, about one mile inland from the coast.
Operation Operation Starlite began inauspiciously at 10:00 A.M. on August 17, when Company M of the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, took a short ride south of Chu Lai before marching four miles farther south and camping for the night just north of Van Tuong. They met only light resistance and, since marine patrols in the area had been frequent, aroused no suspicion. Seven hours after Company M departed, the rest of the 3/3 and the command group embarked on three amphibious ships which, after a decoy maneuver, arrived in the area of the landing beach at five in the morning of August 18. Fifteen minutes before the 6:30 A.M. H-hour, marine artillery and jets began to pound the three landing zones west of Van Tuong, LZ Red, LZ White, and LZ Blue (see map). Eighteen tons of bombs and napalm were dropped, adding to the firing of 155MM guns. At H-hour the troops of the 3/3 began their beach assault and pushed inland as planned. At 6:45 A.M. Company G of the 2/4 landed at LZ Red, while Company E landed at LZ White and Company H landed at LZ Blue forty-live minutes later. The 3/3 approached Van Tuong from the south, while companies E, G, and H of 2/4 were to move in from the west. Company M blocked any retreat to the north by the VC, and the navy ships prevented an escape to the east via the South China Sea. Van Tuong and the Vietcong were surrounded. For the most part, the marines met little resistance as they closed in, but fierce fighting broke out near LZ Blue.
Operation In the VietNam War, intelligence was never precis and Company H had landed right in the middle of the Vietcong 60th Battalion and found itself surrounded. The VC let the first helicopters land without incident, then opened up on succeeding waves, a tactic they had used successfully against ARVN. Three U.S. Army UH-lB helicopter gun ships were called in to strafe the VC strong hold, a small knoll just east of LZ Blue called Hill 43. (Hill were given numerical distinctions according to the height in meters.) Meanwhile the infantry protected the LZ until the full company had landed. Company H commander, First Lieutenant Homer K. Jenkins, ordered an assault on the hill by one platoon, but it quickly stalled. Regrouping his men, and realizing that he had happened upon a heavy concentration of VC, Jenkins ordered in strikes against Hill 43 and then assaulted it with all three of his platoons. Reinforced by close air support and the marines overran the enemy position, claiming six KIA at one machine-gun position alone. Hill 43 was taken.
Operation Heavy fighting also took place in the village of An Cuong (2)-approximately two miles northeast of Hill 43 when two platoons of Company I attempted to clear the village of enemy snipers. After an initial setback, the company's reserve platoon was thrown into battle and the troops cleared the village. Company I's commander, Captain Bruce D. Webb, was among those killed in the early fire, and his company executive officer, First Lieutenant Richard M. Purnell, assumed command of the successful counter assault. Purnell counted over fifty enemy bodies when the fighting ended. One Company I squad leader, Corporal Robert E. O'Malley, single-handedly killed eight Vietcong that day and became the first marine to win the Medal of Honor in VietNam. (Later, a posthumous award was made to Captain Frank S. Reasoner, killed in action in July.)
Operation The most dramatic fighting of the day was the result of another favorite VC tactic :ambushing a relief column. between 11:00 AM. and noon Major Andrew G. Comer sent a resupply column to aid beleaguered Company I. The column, which included three flame tanks, the only tactical fire support available, quickly lost its way. Suddenly, VC recoilless rifle fire and a barrage of mortar rounds rendered the tanks useless in providing fire support. Using only their small arms, the entrapped marines attempted to hold the advancing VC infantry. The marine radio operator panicked and, according to Major Comer, "kept the microphone button depressed the entire time and pleaded for help. We were unable to quiet him sufficiently to gain essential information as to their location." Finally Comer organized a rescue mission, led by the already exhausted Company I and including the only available M48 tank. By luck, one of the trapped flame tanks managed to break through the VC infantry and return to Comer's command post. The crew chief was able to lead the rescue mission to the location of the column. Approaching the besieged supply column, the relief force quickly drew heavy fire. Recoilless rifle fire knocked out the M48. Within minutes five marines lay dead and seventeen wounded. Comer called for artillery fire and air support, and enemy fire soon sub-sided. As Comer put it, "It was obvious that the VC were deeply dug in, and emerged above ground when we presented them with an opportunity and withdrew whenever we retaliated or threatened them."
Operation The heavy fighting of the first day proved to be the only major contact of the seven-day operation. For Companies H and l it had been an exhausting time. Together the two companies had sustained casualties amounting to over 100 of their original 350 men, including 29 dead, but in return they claimed 281 VC dead.
Operation On August 19, Starlite's second day, sporadic and isolated fire came from enemy soldiers covering their main force's retreat, but organized resistance had ended. The operation extended for five more days with the Marines, now joined by ARVN troops, conducting village-by-village searches. At its conclusion the marines could claim 573 confirmed enemy dead and 115 estimated, while suffering 46 deaths themselves and 204 wounded. The battle had been won by overwhelming American firepower. Artillery support from Chu Lai had fired over three thousand rounds while the navy ships had supported the infantry with 1,562 rounds, sunk seven sampans apparently carrying fleeing VC, and pinned down one hundred enemy soldiers attempting to escape from the beach. Moreover, the Marines had benefitted from the close coordination of tactical air power, a coordination that ARVN never seemed to achieve. General Walt later commented that air support was used "within 200 feet of our pinned down troops and was a very important factor in our winning the battle. I have never seen a finer example of close air support." The marines had won by doing what American troops do best coordinating their firepower on land, sea, and air. But most important, the marines had learned at least one valuable lesson from Starlite.
Operation At General Thi's insistence no ARVN commander was even aware of the planned operation. At the last moment General Hoang Xuan Lam, whose men augmented the marines during the second day of operations, was in formed of his role. Even American reporters did not arrive on the scene until the second day. As a result the VC were caught by total surprise. Future operations, similar in nature to Starlite, were much less successful. For political reasons the Marines had to inform ARVN of future operational plans and there by risk the likelihood of this knowledge somehow reaching the enemy.
Operation The experience taught many minor lessons as well. The planned ration of two gallons of water per man each was insufficient in the heat of Vietnam. The M14 automatic rifle proved too heavy and bulky, especially for support troops who often crammed into small personnel carriers and the search began for a lighter, more maneuverable basic weapon.
Operation Finally, for the Marines the operation dramatized the complexity of fighting a war among civilians. Publicly the Marines declared that only fortified enemy villages were destroyed, but the official "after-action" report stated: "Instances were noted where villages were severely dam aged or destroyed by napalm or naval gunfire, where the military necessity of doing so was dubious."
Operation Perhaps the most important outcome of Operation Star lite was its psychological lift. In the first major engagement between American troops and Main Force Vietcong soldiers the Americans had been victorious. Had the American forces lost-a real possibility given their in experience-the effects might have been severe indeed The old tactics of the VC, which had worked so well against ARVN, failed to rout the Marines. So the enemy learned a lesson as well; it would be many months before they would again stand to fight against the Marines
Operation For the Marines, Starlite, or the Battle of Chu Lai as became known in their lore, took on an almost mythic' importance. For those marines who came later and for, whom the landings at Iwo Jima and Inchon Beach were the glory of another generation, the Battle of Chu Lai remained for many months the only evidence of what the marines could do if the enemy stood and engaged.
The source of this Information was the: History of Vietnam & The Vietnam War web page
USS IWO JIMA
For date 650507
HMM-161 was a US Marine Corps unit
USS PRINCETON was a US Navy unit
USS IWO JIMA was a US Navy unit
4 MARINES was a US Marine Corps unit
Primary service involved, US Marine Corps
Quang Tin Province, I Corps, South Vietnam
Location, Chu Lai
Description: As part of the amphibious landings at Chu Lai, elements of the 1st Battalion and 2d Battalion, 4th Marines landed over RED Beach. After landing, they moved approximately three miles inland to secure LZ ROBIN which overlooked Route 1. HMM-161 lifted two companies from the 1/4th Marines from the USS Princeton onto ROBIN as part of RLT-4. Later in the day, the Navy substituted amphibious assault ships and HMM-161 relocated to the USS Iwo Jima to continue supporting the Chu Lai landings. The troops met no resistance and occupies their planned objectives. Elements of the 2nd ARVN Division had been operating in the area for security reasons since earlier in the month. By the end of the first day, the 4th Marines defensive postions extended in an irregular arc from the Ky Ha Peninsula in the north, to the high ground in the west, and from there seaward to a point three miles south of RED Beach
Comments: LTC Morrison, Gene W.; HMM-161 CO;
The source of this information was USMC 1965 History P:29+
Battle of Chu Lai: the Main Force Viet Cong were poised for an attack on Chu Lai in August 1965, but their plans \were foiled in a "spoiling attack" by Marines in what would be the first major U.S. battle of the Vietnam War. (Deadliest Vietnam Battles)
VFW Magazine, Oct, 2003, by Al Hemingway
Gen. Lewis W. "Silent Lew" Walt, commanding general of the III MAF (Marine Amphibious Force), was in a quandary. Intelligence revealed that the 1st VC (Viet Cong) Regiment was massing for an assault on the airfield at Chu Lai, South Vietnam. Chu Lai, situated on the coast, was located in the southern I Corps region of the country.
Walt discussed his options with his staff and finally decided to strike the enemy in their stronghold on the Van Tuong Peninsula, approximately nine miles south of Chu Lai itself. It was a daring plan since it would leave the airstrip defenses weakened. Walt, however, felt the gamble was worth it.
Starlite is Born
Col. Oscar Peatross, 7th Marine Regiment commander, was in charge of the operation, which was dubbed Starlite.
He opted for a two-pronged strike at the VC. He selected the 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, for the amphibious assault and 2nd Bn., 4th Marines, for the helicopter strike. "The proposed battleground was mostly rolling country," Peatross later wrote, "about three-quarters cultivated, and elsewhere there was thick scrub [spread] from six to 100 feet ... and there were few rice paddies. The beaches were sandy, with dunes in some places as far inland as 200 yards."
The 3rd would come ashore on Green Beach just north of the village of An Cuong No. 1; the 4th would be choppered into three landing zones (LZs) named Red, White and Blue.
Just after 6 a.m. on Aug. 18, 1965, K Btry., 4th Bn., 12th Marines, fired the opening salvo of the battle for Chu Lai. As the 155mm shells pounded VC positions, the destroyers USS Orleck and Prichett, and the heavy cruiser USS Galveston, let loose a barrage on the enemy. In addition, fighter aircraft from Marine Air Groups (MAG) 11 and 12 dropped 18 tons of ordnance to soften the enemy's bulwarks.
After the preparatory bombardment, the 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, made its way ashore and quickly moved inland. As the village of An Cuong 1 was secured, I Company set out to take An Cuong 2 and link up with the 2nd Bn., 4th Marines.
The "Magnificent Bastards" of the 2nd Battalion would find the going much tougher than originally thought. E Company soon found itself fighting a well-entrenched enemy on a ridgeline near the LZ. A forward observer spotted more than 100 VC moving into the open.
He quickly called for a 107mm "Howtar"--a 4.2-inch mortar mounted on a 75mm howitzer frame. The unique weapon was swung into action and within minutes more than 90 VC soldiers were killed.
Meanwhile, UH-34Ds from Helicopter Marine Medium (HMM) Squadrons 261 and 361 began touching down on LZ Blue. As H Company Marines leaped from the aircraft, the enemy hit them with withering fire from atop Hill 43, a small knoll southeast of the LZ.
The first few moments were terrifying. A helicopter door gunner had his jaw torn apart from enemy fire. One Marine was struck in the throat. Another stumbled and fell with a huge wound in his stomach. "You just have to close your eyes and drop down to the deck" said Capt. Howard Henry, a chopper pilot with HMM-361.
'All Hell Broke Loose'
Unknown to the Marines, H Company had landed atop the headquarters of the 60th VC Battalion. 1st Lt. Homer Jenkins, company commander, quickly organized his men to assault Hill 43 and eliminate the threat. Skyhawks and Phantoms from Fighter Squadrons 513 and 342 hammered the hilltop as the infantrymen pushed forward. Assisted by M-48 tanks, the Marines soon dislodged the VC from Hill 43.
While Hill 43 was being cleared, I Co., 3rd Bn., was inching its way toward An Cuong 2. The hamlet consisted of 25-30 huts, fighting holes and camouflaged trench lines connected by a system of interlocking tunnels.
As the Leathernecks moved cautiously into the village, a grenade killed Capt. Bruce Webb, the company commander, instantly. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his extraordinary heroism that day.
"I was there when Capt. Webb got killed," said Sgt. Dwight Layman. "A gook threw a grenade into the command group. It also killed the radio operator. I immediately grabbed an incendiary grenade and tossed it into the spider hole and fried him. I was setting up LZs for the choppers to evacuate the wounded when a round caught me in the back of the neck and went out through my shoulder. That was it for me. My part in Starlite was over."
But before the riflemen could secure An Cuong 2, they were told to reinforce K Company, which was engaged in a heavy firefight about 2,000 meters to the northeast.
H Company was moving on An Cuong 2 to meet up with I Company. As they approached the tiny village of Nam Yen 3, it was decided to bypass it and keep going. Without warning, the company was struck with intense automatic weapons fire. An open area between the villages was strewn with spider holes and machine gun nests hidden in grass huts.
"As we came nearer, snipers opened up and then all of a sudden all hell broke loose," remarked Sgt. Victor Nunez of Weapons Platoon. "It seemed a whole damned division of VC was out there waiting for us. Those bastards had us zeroed in [with] machine guns, mortars, recoilless rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. I saw a lot of our guys get hit ... our company Gunny was killed also."
Pfc. Paul Meeters was serving with the Anti-Tank Plt., H & S Co., 3rd. Bn., 7th Marines, when he was called off a helicopter carrier to engage the enemy. He remembers "almost buying the farm" at Van Tang. "We went into the village and received fire from the huts, but as we cleared each hut, fire came from behind us. We later learned the ville was honeycombed with tunnels."
As medevac choppers tried desperately to land, Lance Cpl. Joe Paul, a "baby faced" 19-year-old fire team leader, positioned himself between the helicopters and the enemy. As he laid down covering fire, wounded Marines were placed aboard the aircraft for evacuation. Unfortunately, Paul was struck several times and died. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
The fighting was fierce. Lance Cpl. Ernie Wallace saw enemy soldiers hidden behind hedgerows. He screamed: "Start killing trees? He began delivering accurate fire at the treeline nearby, killing some 25 VC in the process. His keen observation saved the lives of his fellow Marines. He, too, was awarded a Navy Cross.
Cpl. Robert O'Malley of I Company eliminated an enemy position and was a source of inspiration to his fellow Leathernecks. Although wounded three times, he would not permit himself to be evacuated until all of his squad was aboard the helicopter. He and Paul were the first Marines to be awarded the Medal of Honor for Vietnam.
Squeezing the Vice
Soon, elements from the 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, were landing to reinforce the assault battalions. As the additional rifle companies came ashore, the enemy quickly departed the area. Starlite, though, would last another five days as the riflemen combed the area, eliminating VC spider holes they encountered. The Marine units pushed eastward to "squeeze the vise" around the VC and drive them toward the sea.
In the end, 614 VC were confirmed killed. The Marines also took nine prisoners and confiscated 109 assorted weapons. The Leathernecks sustained 45 dead and 203 wounded.
By all counts, Starlite was a success. The Marines had thwarted a major attack against Chu Lai. But despite their battering, the tenacious 1st VC Regiment would return to fight another day.
AL HEMINGWAY, a Marine Vietnam vet, has written extensively on the war.
NOTE: This is the first article in VFW's Vietnam War series. Personal accounts from the battles requested in the June/July 2003 issue, p. 8, are still needed for upcoming stories.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States
From date 650907 to 650910
for 7 MARINES
4 ARVN REG
7 MARINES was a US Marine Corps unit
3 MARINES was a US Marine Corps unit
4 ARVN REG was a Vietnamese Army unit
MAG-16 was a US Marine Corps unit
Primary service involved, US Marine Corps
Quang Ngai Province, I Corps, South Vietnam
Location, Batangan Peninsula
Description: A search and destroy follow-up to operation STARLITE aimed at the remnants of the 1st VC Regiment. Its secondary purpose was to shut down reported places of entry for a VC network of seaborne infiltration. MAG-16 used 40 UH-34D's to assault the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines into LZ OAK, four miles inland from the amphibious landing of another battalion. This assault took three hours. Then 16 UH-34D's went to Quang Ngai and began shuttling two South Vietnamese battalions into LZ BIRCH and PINE escorted by four Army gunships. At these LZs, the Marine helicopters received fire but it was not serious. The next day, the Marines found a large VC force in a cave which they flew after attempting to convince the enemy to surrender. They counted 66 VC bodies in the cave. Sadly two Marines died of oxygen starvation in the same cave. The SLF was off shore as the reserve. Casualties: US 2 KIA, 14 WIA; ARVN 5 KIA, 33 WIA; VC 183 KIA and 360 POWs
Operation Piranha began on the 7th of September 1965, with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines coming ashore by landing craft on the Batangan Peninsula. It's sister unit, the 3rd Battalion, was brought to the objective area by helicopter. Support came from South Vietnamese units while the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines acted as the reserve force during the engagement. Results were less than expected and less spectacular than Starlite, as the Marines found no large concentrations of enemy personnel.
Operation Starlite began on the 18th of August 1965 as a combined amphibian-helicopter assault on enemy fortified positions on the Van Tuong Peninsula, with major ground units being the 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines, 2nd Battalion 4th Marines, and 3rd Battalion 7th Marines. Marines landed behind enemy lines and drove them to the sea. The classic encirclement was successful in that the units of the 1st Viet Cong Regiment were forced to stand and fight. After seven days the enemy was severely mauled and decisively defeated
Having eliminated the threat posed to the Chu Lai base by the 1st VC Regiment, intelligence sources indicated that its remnants had withdrawn to the Batangan Peninsula. Walt considered the time oppurtune to complete the destruction of the enemy Regiment.
Col. Peatross once again was to be the commander of the landing force, two Marine Battalions, LtCol. Kelley's 1st Battalion, 7th Marines and Muir's 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines would be embarked on ships, Muir's Marines to remain at sea as a floating reserve. LtCol. Bodley's 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines would conduct a heliborne assault of the objective area. Participating Vietnamese battalions, the 2nd Battalion, 4th ARVN Regiment, and the 3rd Vietnamese Marine Battalion would be moved by helicopter south of Bodley's position.
By 0500 on the morning of 7 September , all amphibious forces were in position with the exception of the reserve Battalion of Marines which arrived later in the day. From 0555 to 0615 Marine Air strafed the landing beach, and a single A-4 laid a smoke screen. Eight F-4s and four A-4s dropped "Daisy Cutter" bombs to prep the helicopter landing zones. The first waves of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines landed at 0635 with the entire Battalion ashore within 20 minutes.
The 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines was heli-lifted to their objective four miles to the west of LtCol. Kelley's Marines on the beach, the Marines encountered no opposition and completed the helilift in less than three hours. After inserting the Marines the helicopters moved the Vietnamese troops to their landing zones. Two of the Marine helicopteers were hit by ground fire, as the Vietnamese troops moved out the firing stopped.
During the three day operation, only the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines found a significant number of the enemy. On 8 September, a VC field hospital was discovered in a large Cave. The Marines captured four prisoners but then came under fire from other VC in the cave. Eventually explosives were placed in the cave and after the detonation the Marines counted 66 bodies inside. They also found medical supplies, some small arms, and ammunition.
During Piranha, allied forces killed 178 VC, captured or detained 360 enemy or suspects. Allied losses were two Marines and five South Vietnamese killed, 14 Marines and 33 Vietnamese wounded. Considering the magnitude of the allied effort the operation hardly could be called a success. Local villagers told the Marines that units of the target 1st VC Regiment had been in the area but left less than 24 hours before Operation Piranha started.
USS Princeton LPH-5
September 7, 1965 - September 10, 1965
Seeking to complete the destruction of the Viet Cong unit that had withdrawn further south to the Batangan Peninsula Operation Piranha began on September 7, 1965, with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines coming ashore by landing craft on the Batangan Peninsula. Its sister unit, the 3rd Battalion, was brought to the objective area by helicopter. Support came from South Vietnamese units while the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines acted as the reserve force during the engagement. Results were less than expected and less spectacular than Operation Starlite, as the Marines found no large concentrations of enemy personnel.
The 2nd Battalion in Qui Nhon, who's main task was defense of the airfield, port, and American installations, was re-deployed in November 1965 to Chu Lai, where the remainder of the regiment was situated. The regiment, with it's responsibility of defending installations in and around Chu Lai, continued to expand its TAOR through aggressive patrolling, counter guerrilla activities, and battalion or multi-battalion operations. By the end of 1965, the number of encounters with regular North Vietnamese Army units had become increasingly more common. The Viet Cong, however, still remained the primary adversaries in the regiment's area of responsibility. Having eliminated the threat posed to the Chu Lai base by the 1st VC Regiment, intelligence sources indicated that its remnants had withdrawn to the Batangan Peninsula. Walt considered the time opportune to complete the destruction of the enemy Regiment. Col. Peatross once again was to be the commander of the landing force, two Marine Battalions, Lt. Col. Kelley's 1st Battalion, 7th Marines and Muir's 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines would be embarked on ships, Muir's Marines
to remain at sea as a floating reserve. Lt. Col. Bodley's 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines would conduct a hellebore assault of the objective area. Participating Vietnamese battalions, the 2nd Battalion, 4th ARVN Regiment, and the 3rd Vietnamese Marine Battalion would be moved by helicopter south of Bodley's position. By 0500 on the morning of September 7, all amphibious forces including the USS Princeton were in position with the exception of the reserve Battalion of Marines which arrived later in the day. From 0555 to 0615 Marine Air strafed the landing beach, and a single A-4 laid a smoke screen. Eight F-4s and four A-4s dropped "Daisy Cutter" bombs to prep the helicopter landing zones. The first waves of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines landed at 0635 with the entire Battalion ashore within 20 minutes.
The 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines was heli-lifted to their objective four miles to the west of Lt. Col. Kelley's Marines on the beach, the Marines encountered no opposition and completed the heli-lift in less than three hours. After inserting the Marines the helicopters moved the Vietnamese troops to their landing zones. Two of the Marine helicopters were hit by ground fire, as the Vietnamese troops moved out the firing stopped. During the three day operation, only the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines found a significant number of the enemy. On 8 September, a VC field hospital was discovered in a large Cave. The Marines captured four prisoners but then came under fire from other VC in the cave. Eventually explosives were placed in the cave and after the detonation the Marines counted 66 bodies inside. They also found medical supplies, some small arms, and ammunition. During Operation Piranha, allied forces killed 178 VC, captured or detained 360 enemy or suspects. Allied losses were two Marines and five South Vietnamese killed, 14 Marines and 33 Vietnamese wounded. Considering the magnitude of the allied effort the operation hardly could be called a success. Local villagers told the Marines that units of the target 1st VC Regiment had been in the area but left less than 24 hours before Operation Piranha started.
The Enemy Refuses to Give Battle:
Operation PIRANHA-Much Ado About CS, Operation STOMP-October-November Operations
After Operation STARUTE, HI MAF entered a new stage of operations aimed at striking at enemy main force units. Having eliminated the threat posed to the Chu Lai base by the 1st VC Regiment, General Walt considered the time opportune to complete the destruction of the enemy regiment. His intelligence sources indicated that its remnants had withdrawn to the Batangan Peninsula, eight miles south of Van Tuong. After consulting with General Thi, General Walt issued a warning order on 26 August to Colonel Peatross for the 7th Marines to plan for a coordinated operation in the area. * In contrast to STARUTE, the planning and preparations for the new operation were extensive. From 31 August through 2 September, Marine and naval commanders travelled between Da Nang and Chu Lai. They were briefed by the in MAF staff and prepared detailed plans. Captain McKinney and Colonel Peatross once more were to be the respective commanders of the amphibious task force and landing forces. They coordinated their activities with the the South Vietnamese and on 3 September the plans were complete. That date, the 7th Marines published Operation Order 423-65, codenamed PIRANHA.
The concept of operations for PIRANHA was similar to that of STARLITE. Two Marine battalions, Lieutenant Colonel Kelly's 1st Battalion, 7th Marines and Muir's 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, would be embarked on Seventh Fleet shipping, while another battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Bodley's 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, would conduct a heliborne assault of the objective area.** On D-Day, Kelly's battalion would land across WHITE Beach, north of the Batangan Peninsula, and push south, while Bodley's helilifted Marines would set up blocking positions 4,000 meters inland. Muir's battalion would remain at sea as a floating reserve. Participating Vietnamese battalions, the 2d Battalion, 4th ARVN Regiment and 3d Vietnamese Marine Battalion, would be moved by helicopter into the region south of Bodley's position. There the South Vietnamese would conduct a search and clear mission on the An Ky Peninsula which was separated from Batangan by the Sa Ky River.
On 6 September, Captain McKinney's task group, consisting of the attack transport Bayfield, two dock landing ships, Belle Grove and Cabildo, and three tank landing ships, sailed for the amphibious objective area. They arrived early the following morning and were joined by the naval gunfire ships, the cruiser Oklahoma City (CLG 5), and two * Colonel Wyckoff, the 3d Marine Division G-3 at the time, recalled that following STARUTE, he worked closely with Major Charles T. Williamson, the Division G-2, to locate the 1st VC Regiment: 'The Division G-2 staff sought for indicators in two general areas: the eastern edge of the mountains coming down toward Chu Lai and the cave-dotted Batangan Peninsula. In the latter they found a 'V of older field fortifications pointing inland with its open end toward the sea. Kept under visual and photographic surveillance, a second 'V of new positions, inland of the older ones showed under development. A series of transparent overlays was made up, showing the progression of activity over several days. General Walt concurred in the analysis and a staff team was flown down to Saigon to brief General Westmoreland, using the same set of maps and overlays.' Col Don P. Wyckoff, Comments on draft MS, dtd 160ct76 (Vietnam Comment Pile).
In early December, three Marine battalions - the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, the 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines, and the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines - were deployed to an area midway between Chu Lai and Da Nang to relieve the pressure on South Vietnamese forces that had been hit hard by the 70th Viet Cong Regiment. On the 18th, the 80th Viet Cong Battalion ambushed the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, although the Viet Cong gained fire superiority in the beginning, the Marines turned viciously on the enemy. With the accurate artillery support from the 4th Battalion, 11th Marines, forced the Viet Cong to leave the field of battle and sustaining heavy casualties. Lt. Nicholas H. Grosz Jr., the CO. of H&S Company was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that day, and Lt. Harvey C. Barnum Jr. an Artillery FO earned the Nations highest Award for Valor, The Medal of Honor.
The Threat to the Nui Loc Son Basin
On the evening of 17 November, the 1st VC Regiment, with all three of its battalions, the 60th, 80th and 90th, overran Hiep Duc District Headquarters and the South Vietnamese reported 174 of the defenders missing and 315 weapons lost. Two South Vietnamese battalions were heli-lifted by the Marines and supporting them with air strikes after a bitter fight Hiep Duc was retaken by the ARVN on the 19th of November although the 1st VC Regiment continued to control the critical terrain to the northwest.
On 4 December, General Walt and General Thi the South Vietnamese I Corps commander met and agreed on a joint operation which became Harvest Moon/Lien Ket 18. A temporary command Task Force DELTA was activated, with Brigadier General Henderson as the Commanding Officer.
Two Battalions, LtCol. Utter's 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines and LtCol. Dorsey's 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, who had only one of it's own companies, "Lima", "Echo" from the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, and "Golf" from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines were attached for this operation. The SLF remained in reserve. The ARVN forces under Brigadier General Lam, consisted of the HQ Group, 1st Battalion, and 11th Ranger Battalion of the 5th ARVN Regiment.
The ARVN were directed to enter the Que Son Valley along the Thang Binh-Hiep Duc road on 8 December, contact was not expected until the second day. On the 9th , LtCol. Utter's battalion was to be inserted behind the enemy to force them towards the advancing ARVN.
On the first day 8 December, at 1330 about halfway to Que Son, the 11th Ranger Battalion, was hit hard by the 70th VC Battalion . In the first fifteen minutes of battle the Rangers lost nearly one third of their unit and were overrun. Marine air support was called in from Chu Lai and Marine Helicopters evacuated the wounded, the 1st Battalion ARVN, attempted to reinforce the Rangers but was unable to. Eventually the 1st Battalion 6th ARVN Regiment was moved from Tam Ky replacing the Rangers and established a night defensive perimeter. The next morning, the 5th ARVN Regiment command group and it's 1st Battalion bore the weight of the VC attack. On 9 December, about 0645, the 60th, and 80th VC Battalions struck. The ARVN Regimental commander was killed and his force scattered to the south and east. At this point General Henderson decided to commit his Marines. LtCol. Utters 2nd Battalion 7th Marines was heli-lifted from Tam Ky just west of the ARVN, and By late afternoon only encountered a few Viet Cong. The same afternoon LtCol. Dorseys 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines who had motored south from DaNang were heli-lifted from a point near Thang Binh to a landing zone southeast of the 5th ARVN Regiments command group and it's 1st Battalion. Before the Marines could reach Hill 43 they ran into a force of 200 VC. The battle raged until darkness fell and resulted in 11 Marines WIA, and 17 WIA with the VC sustaining a loss of approximately 75 KIA.
On the 10th, General Henderson ordered Utter to drive east, and Dorsey to push northeast, LtCol. Robert T.Henifin's 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines were to be heli-lifted into the area and the avenue of escape for the VC to the south was to be closed. At 1100 "Fox" Company was heli-lifted to a landing zone near the hamlet of Cam La, the helicopters came under 12.7mm machine gun fire from Hill 407 and the Marines in the landing zone were kept under continuous machine gun and mortar fire. Since the rest of the Battalion landed West because of the intense ground fire, LtCol. Utter's Battalion was ordered to move South to aid the hard hit unit. "Echo" Company finally reached the stranded unit but was hit hard on its right flank; the Marines managed to join forces but sustained casualties of 20 dead and over 80 wounded for the day. As darkness fell on the battlefield that day, General Walt relieved General Henderson, and BrigGen. Jonas M. Platt became head of Task Force DELTA
On the 11th, Task Force DELTA maneuvered to consolidate it's position, by the end of the day it was apparent that the enemy had vanished. General Platt suspected that the 1st VC Regiment retreated into the Phouc Ha Valley. B52 strikes were planned and carried out on the 12th before the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, and 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines entered to search the Valley. The 1st VC Regiment was not found but large amounts of enemy supplies and equipment were found and destroyed.
The Fight at Ky Phu
While the two Marine battalions were operating in the Phouc Ha Valley, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines sought the VC along the northern bank of the Song Chang, also known as the Khang River. Except for a few snipers the Marines had more trouble with the weather, Monsoon rains harassed the Marines every step
On 18 December, on the last leg of its long trek, the Marines encountered the 80th VC Battalion in strength. In the morning the 2nd Battalion moved out in a column, with "Golf" In the lead, followed by "Fox", H&S and "Hotel" Company from the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines who had replaced "Echo" because of it's high casualties, "Hotel" Company 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines was not with the Battalion but was providing security for the 107mm Mortar Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines. The Viet Cong allowed the Lead Company to pass through the village of Ky Phu before opening up fire on "Golf" Companies advance guard. Thinking it was an enemy force of snipers "Fox" was ordered to move forward. As "Fox" passed through the East End of Ky Phu enemy mortar rounds began to drop on H&S Company, which was still in the open rice paddies. As the mortars rained down on the Marines, the CO of H&S Company, Lt. Nicholas H, Grosz Jr., crossed the open area between his Company and the Command group warning Col. Utter of the impending danger to the Marines. Grosz then dashed across the fire swept rice paddies to rally his men against the insurgent forces. Two Viet Cong Companies were trying to enter the gap between "Fox" and 'H&S" Companies and envelope the command group. Having been warned by Lt. Grosz, and realizing that he was engaged with a major force Utter ordered "Fox" to turn and attack the "main VC positions on the H&S right flank". Supported by "Huey" gunships and artillery the Marines counterattacked, the VC just broke and ran. At the rear of the column, the VC stuck "Hotel" Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, from both the flank and the rear. Both the company commander and radio operator were mortally wounded. Lt. Harvey C. Barnum Jr., the attached artillery forward observer rallied the company and after four hours of bitter fighting led the Company into Ky Phu and rejoined the Battalion. For his heroic exploits that day he was awarded the Medal of Honor. By nightfall the 80th VC Battalion broke, leaving 104 bodies on the battlefield, LtCol. Utter's command had sustained 11 killed and 17 wounded.
The next day, the 19th, all three Marine Battalions completed their movement for all practical purposes the operation was over, Harvest Moon/Lien Ket 18 officially ended on 20 December. The USMC-ARVN Operation accounted for 407 enemy killed, 33 captured, Marine casualties were 45 killed and 218 wounded. General Lam's ARVN suffered 90 killed, 91 missing, and 141 wounded, most occurring during the first two days. Despite poor weather conditions air power played a major role and the Marines learned valuable lessons in air-ground coordination for future operations
The plan for OPERATION HARVEST MOON / LIEN KET 18 directed the 5th ARVN Regiment, consisting of the Headquarters Group and 1st Battalion and the 11th Ranger Battalion to enter the Que Son Valley along the Thang Binh-Hiep Duc road on 8 December 1965. The objective for the first day was a point south of the village of Que Son, 8 miles southwest of Route 1. According to allied intelligence sources, the 1st VC Regiment was west of this area; contact was not expected until the second day.
On 9 December, Lt. Colonel Utter's battalion was to be inserted behind the enemy to force them eastward into the advancing ARVN. Lt. Colonel Dorsey's battalion would then be inserted to reinforce Utter's unit when needed.
The VC Strike...and the Marines are committed
The 5th ARVN Regiment left Thang Binh on schedule with the 11th Ranger Battalion on the right of the road, and the Regiment's 1st Battalion on the left. During the first few hours, the advance was uneventful. At 1330, about half way to Que Son the Ranger battalion was ambushed by the 70th VC Battalion.* The enemy allowed the ARVN to close within twenty meters and then opened fire. In the first 15 minutes of the battle, the Rangers lost nearly one third of their personnel and were overrun. According to an American advisor who was with the ARVN force, "They attacked in a mass and hit us from all sides...people were dropping around us right and left."
The badly mauled Ranger unit was able to withdraw to a position 1200 meters to the northwest and then called in Marine air support. Skyhawks from MAG-12 at Chu Lai attacked the Communist positions while Marine helicopters evacuated many of the casualties.
The first ARVN Battalion attempted to reinforce the rangers but was unable to cross the road because of enemy mortar fire and the U.S. air strikes. Later in the afternoon, General Lam, using 10 UH34Ds from Lt. Colonel Rex Denney, Jr's HMM-161, moved the 1st Battalion, 6th ARVN Regiment from Tam Key to reinforce the surviving rangers and established a night defensive perimeter.
The next morning, the 5th ARVN Regiment command group and its 1st Battalion bore the weight of the VC attack. Although the battalion had been probed during the night, it had not seen heavy action. On 9 December, at about 0645, the 60th and 80th VC Battalions struck. In the heavy fighting that followed, both the 1st Battalion and the regimental command group were overrun. The ARVN regimental commander was killed and the ARVN force was scattered to the south and east. At about the same time, another VC battalion attacked the 6th ARVN Regiment to the northeast, but this ARVN unit managed to hold its ground.
At this point, General Henderson decided to commit his Marines. At 1000 hours, UH-3Ds from Denny's HMM-161 and Lt. Colonel LLoyd Childers HMM-361 lifted Utter's 2nd Battalion from Tam Key to a landing zone 5 1/2 miles west of the ARVN troops. After the landing, the battalion moved northeast, securing a hill mass 2,500 meters from the landing zone by late afternoon.
Utter's Marines encountered only a few Viet Cong and one of his platoon leaders complained: "The enemy always seemed one step ahead of us." The same afternoon, General Henderson directed Dorsey's 3rd battalion, 2rd Marines to land 1 1/2 miles southeast of the 5th ARVN Regiment's 1st Battalion and then move to link up with the shattered South Vietnamese unit.
Lt. Colonel Dorsey's Marines had left Da Nang by motor convoy that morning and were at the logistics support area on Route 1, 3 miles north of Thang Binh. Lt. Colonel Mervin B. Porter's HMM-261, the SLF helicopter squadron on board the LPH Valley Forge, was assigned the mission of ferrying the battalion into a landing zone southeast of the 5th ARVN Regiment's command group and its 1st Battalion
The 3rd Battalion landed at 1400 hours, and an hour and a half later, the battalion's lead unit, Company L, made contact with elements of the ARVN battalion and pushed northwestward toward Hill 43, 1 1/2 miles from the landiing zone. Before the Marines could reach the hill, they ran into a force of 200 VC. The firefight raged into the early evening. Supported by Marine air and artillery, Dorsey estimated that his battalion had killed 75 VC. Eleven Marines were dead and 17 wounded. The VC broke contact as darkness fell and the battalion established night positions. The next morning, the Marines took Hill 43, where they joined 40 South Vietnamese soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment.
On the 10th of December, General Henderson ordered Utter to drive east and Dorsey to push northwest to compress the enemy between them. The avenue of escape to the south was to be closed by Lt. Colonel Robert T. Hannifin Jr's 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, the SLF battalion which would be lifted into the area by Porter's HMM-261.
At 1100, 15 UH-34Ds from the Valley Forge lifted the assault elements of Company F to a landing zone near the hamlet of Cam La, 5 miles southeast of Que Son. As the helicopters landed, they came under heavy 12.7mm machine gun fire from emplacements on Hill 407, 2,000 meters to the south. The intense, heavy caliber fire surprised the Marines
Colonel Michael R. Yunck**, the 1st MAW G3, who had volunteered to act as Tactical Air Controller (Airborne) for the assault mission remembered: "We thought the LZ was far enough from the hill to the south to nullify effective fire from that distance and pretty well scrubbed the immediate area of the LZ." As the assault helicopters lifted off, Yunck maneuvered his UH-1E over the landing zone to locate the enemy gunners, but in the process was wounded by a 12.7 round. His Co-pilot, Major Edward Kuykendall, took control of the air operation and directed the remaining helicopters carrying Hannifin's command group and Company G to land in another LZ further west.
Company F at the first landing site was in trouble. The enemy kept the Marines under continuous machine gun fire and then opened up with mortars and small arms fire. The company took what cover it could in the open rice paddies and waited for reinforcements. Since the rest of the battalion had landed to the west, the task force commander ordered a company from Utter's battalion to move south to aid the hard-hit unit. Company E, 2/7, pushed southward to Hannifin's Company F, but was hit on its right flank by enemy fire. With some difficulty, Company E reached an area from which it could support the stranded company. Company F began withdrawing under the relief force's covering fire. Ten hours after the first helicopter had landed. Hannifin's battalion command group, Companys G and F, and Company E from Utter's battalion joined forces. Both Companies E and F had suffered substantial casualties during the day...20 dead and over 80 wounded.***
As darkness fell on the battlefield that day, General Walt relieved General Henderson. Brigadier General Jonas M. Platt became the head of Task Force Delta. General Platt, appraised of the battle situation, ordered another of Utter's companies to reinforce the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines. Company G, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines arrived at Hannifin's position at 0300 the next morning.
The Search of the Phouc Ha Valley
On the 11th of December Task Force Delta manuuevered to consolidate its position, and General Platt, airborne in a helicopter, studied the terrain from which the Marines of Company F and helicopters of HMM-261 had received such extensive fire on the 10th of December. The General, surprised that his craft did not draw any fire, surmised that the Viet Cong must have abandoned their positions on Hill 407 during the night. Platt, therefore, ordered Col. Utter to seize the hill, a task which 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines accomplished without opposition.
In the interim, Col. Dorsey's 3rd Battalion searched the area north of Hill 407, while the remaining two companies of Hannifin's 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines were helilifted from the ARG ships to join the battalion. By the end of the day, it was apparent that the enemy, except for a few snipers, had vanished. General Platt suspected that the regiment had retreated into the Phouc Ha Valley, a smaller valley paralleling the Que Son Valley, 5 miles to the southeast. The Phouc Ha Valley was known VC base area. When General Thi was questioned about going into the valley after the Communists, The I Corps commander replied, "Be very, very careful." On the afternoon of the 11th, Platt was visited by Brigadier General William DePuy, General Westmoreland's J-3, who suggested that USAF B-52s from Guam could could strike the objective area before the Marines entered. General Platt accepted the offer and the first of several B-52 raids occurred on the morning of the 12th.
Lt. Colonel Joshua W. Dorsey (left) Commanding Officer, 3rd Bn, 3rd Marines confers with Brigadier General Jonas M. Platt (right). Dorsey's battalion is about to enter the Phuoc Ha Valley, a known VC main base area.
General Platt, on board a helicopter observed the first strike and directed Dorsey and Hannifin to move their battalions in to exploit the bombing mission. During the afternoon, Hannifin's battalion deployed south of the valley while Dorsey moved along two ridges, Hills 100 and 180, overlooking the northern entrances to the Phuoc Ha Valley. During the night of 12 December, General Platt ordered Dorsey to move 1,000 meters to the north so that the B52's could strike the valley again.
The next morning, after the second B52 air strike, the two Marine battalions entered the valley from both the north and the south. While searching the target area, Dorsey's battalion did not find the 1st VC Regiment, but discovered large amounts of enemy supplies and equipment. The two battalions remained in the valley for the next few days, but encountered little organized resistance.
The fight at Ky Phu
While the two battalions were operating in the Phouc Ha Valley, Utter's battalion sought the VC along along the northern bank of the Song Chang, also known as the Khang River, seven miles south of Que Son. The battalion then turned eastward toward Tam Ky, sweeping the southern boundary of the Harvest Moon objective area. The Marines had more trouble with the weather than the enemy. Except for occasional snipers, the enemy could not be located, but the monsoon rains harassed the Marines every step. During the prolonged search, the battalion slogged over 20 miles through extremely rugged terrain, varying from rice paddies to jungle-covered hills.
On 18 December, the 2nd Bn, 7th Marines, on the last leg of its long trek, encountered the 80th VC Battalion in strength. Earlier that morning, after evacuating 54 Marines suffering from immersion foot, the battalion moved out in column formation with company G in the lead, followed by Company F, H&S, and Company H, 2nd Bn, 9th Marines. The Marines moved along a narrow road which wound through hedgerow-bordered rice paddies. The Viet Cong allowed the lead company to pass through the village of Ky Phu before opening fire on the Company G advance guard. At first, Col. Utter thought that the enemy force consisted only of a few snipers and ordered Company G to clear the area south of the road and moved Company F forward.
Company F had just passed through the east end of Ky Phu when enemy mortar rounds dropped on H&S Company, still in the open paddies west of the hamlet. Two VC companies tried to enter the gap between Company F and H&S and envelop Utter's command group and H&S Company. 1st Lt. Nicholas Grosz, Jr. recalled that he crossed the area between his company and the battalion command group and told Col. Utter of the "H&S deteriorating situation". Realizing that he was engaged with a major enemy force, the battalion commander ordered Company F to turn and attack the "main VC positions on the H&S right flank."
Supported by "Huey" gunships and accurate artillery from Battery M, 4th Battalion, 11th Marines, the Marines counterattacked. Company F rolled up the VC from the rear while H&S Company fought its way into Ky Phu. According to Grosz, who accompanied the lead elements of Company F in the attack, "Once we got them going, the VC just broke and ran. It was just like a turkey shoot."
At the rear of the column, Company H remained in contact with the enemy; a VC company struck the Marines from both flanks and the rear. Both the company commander and his radio operator were mortally wounded. 1st Lt. Harvey C. Barnum, the attached artillery forward observer, did what he could to save the two dying Marines, strapped the radio on his back and assumed command. The young officer rallied the company and the Marines established a defensive position on a small hill north of the road.After four hours of fighting, Barnum led Company H into Ky Phu and rejoined the battalion.****
By nightfall, the fight at Ky Phu was over. The 80th VC Battalion broke, leaving 104 bodies on the battlefield, 76 of them killed by the artillery fire. Col. Utter's command had sustained 11 killed and 71 wounded.
The next day, 19 December, all three of the Marine battalions completed their movement out of the operation area. For all practical purposes, the Operation was over, but Operation Harvest Moon / Lien Ket ended officially on 20 December when all allied forces returned to their enclaves. The combined USMC-ARVN operation had accounted for 407 enemy killed, 33 captured, and 13 crew-served and 95 individual weapons seized. In addition, 60 tons of food and ammunition were taken in the Phuoc Ha Valley. Marine casualties were 45 killed and 218 wounded. General Lam's forces suffered 90 killed, 91 missing, and 141 wounded, most occurring during the first two days of the operation.
Operation Harvest Moon was not without its problems. The hastily established provisional headquarters, the fast moving ground situation, poor weather conditions, and the large number of tactical aircraft operating over the Que Son Valley caused coordination and control difficulties. Marines learned valuable lessons in air/ground coordination for future operations.
Harvest Moon was the last of the Marine's big battles in 1965. These large-scale efforts had become a regular feature of the war for General Walt's forces. During the last half of its first calendar year in country, III MAF conducted 15 operations of battalion size or larger. American intelligence agencies indicated that during 1966, General Walt's forces would face even larger enemy forces as North Vietnamese troops entered South Vietnam to join their Vietcong comrades. The big unit actions were only one aspect of the Marine war, nevertheless, in I Corps, According to Lt. General Victor Krulak: "we cannot be entrapped in the dangerous premise that destruction of the VC organized units per se is the whole answer to winning the war, any more than we can accept the erroneous view that pacification and civic action will solve the problem if major enemy forces are free to roam the countryside".
*The 70th Battalion, although not organic to the 1st VC Regiment, was attached during this period. Colonel Ralph E. Sullivan recalled that information on Harvest Moon was severely restricted. According to Sullivan, the 5th ARVN regimental commander was told his mission "was to be a routine 'sweep and clear' along Highway 1 to the vicinity of Key Lam. Upon reaching the vicinity of Thang Binh [the regimental commander] was brought to the "bunker" at Da Nang about 1500 on 7 December and apprised of his actual mission. General Thi warned us not to discuss the operation with any of the ARVN except for a select few in his own headquarters and that of General Lam's. The fact that at 1330 hours, 8 December the 11th ARVN Ranger Battalion walked into a "prepared" ambush is prima facie evidence that if the the regimental commander was kept in the dark, the commander of the 1st VC Regiment was not."
**Colonel Yunck was the 1963 Marine Aviator of the Year. He was awarded his second Silver Star for his actions during Harvest Moon. His leg had to be amputated as a result of the wound he suffered during the battle.
***One of those casualties was Captain James E. Page, Company F commander, who had been pronounced dead on the battlefield. The next day medical personnel checking the bodies detected a faint heart beat and evacuated Capt. Page to a hospital The captain recovered.
****Lt. Barnum was performing temporary duty in Vietnam from his permanent station at Marine Barracks, Pearl Harbor. He had volunteered for 60 days of "on-the-job" training under the FMPac combat indoctrination program. For his heroic exploits in this engagement, Lt. Barnum was awarded the Medal of Honor.