1/5 Combat Ops

1/5 Combat Ops - Phase 1

• 26 March – 6 April 1966 - Operation JACKSTAY. Rung Sat Special Zone (IV Corps)

Operation Overview:

The 1 st Battalion, 5 th Marines arrived in Southeast Asia in 1965, conducting many short but difficult amphibious or heli-borne assaults ashore against suspected Viet Cong strongholds. These amphibious operations were launched from their shipboard base aboard the USS Princeton (LPH5), in the South China Sea , off the coast of the Republic of South Vietnam . In December 1965, 1/5 landed and stayed ashore for awhile, this time at Chu Lai. From their base at the Chu Lai airfield, 1/5 conducted defensive operations for the security of the critically important airbase, as well as many squad, platoon and company-sized offensive operations.

Operation JACKSTAY was an amphibious operation, launched from the USS Princeton, that utilized surface borne and helicopter borne assault forces. D-day for this search and destroy mission: 26 March 1966 . The scheme of maneuver dictated two phases over a period of about ten days. Phase One: a provisional rifle company lands over Red Beach and establishes blocking positions, and lands an artillery battery over Red Beach as well. At the same time, the Marines of Charlie Company heli-lifted into LZ Sparrow and established blocking positions; Alpha Company lands in LZ Rob in to secure the LZ and provide a defensive perimeter for subsequent landings, and Bravo, Delta and H & S Companies and other combat support and service support elements follow Alpha Company into LZ Rob in. The initial phase of the operation focused on securing three objectives within approximately two days. Phase Two operations would largely depend on the situation as it developed, the availability of helicopters and surface craft, and the time and space factors dictated by the terrain and weather.

1/5 landed and spent almost two weeks in the swamps of the Rung Sat Special Zone, a swampy area intersected by waterways, during Operation JACKSTAY.

As planned, on 6 April 1966 , the Marines of 1/5 withdrew from the Rung Sat Special Zone and went back aboard the USS Princeton. According to the Combat After-Action Report for Operation JACKSTAY, compiled by Lt. Col. Coffman, CO of 1/5, at least 63 Viet Cong were killed by 1/5 Marines and probably 60 more were either killed or wounded. In addition, a substantial amount of enemy equipment and material was captured and/or destroyed by BLT 1/5. Overall, the Marines of 1/5 had accomplished their mission with great success, while taking very few casualties. The Rung Sat Special Zone turned out to be a very difficult area to conduct combat operations, but the Marines were up to the task.

• 27 April - 4 May 1966 – Operation OSAGE. Phu Loc – Bach Ma (I Corps)

Operation Overview: On 27 April 1966, the Marines of 1/5 departed the USS Princeton once again, having been committed to another search and destroy mission called Operation OSAGE. Although the mission was the same as that of Operation JACKSTAY (search and destroy), the terrain could not have been more different. This time the steep, mountainous jungles of I Corps would challenge them.

The Marines of 1/5 were heli-lifted to LZ Crow, which was situated at the top of a mountain called (Nui) Bach Ma, one of the dominant mountains located north of the Hai Van Pass, south of Phu Bai, in the Phu Loc District (Quan Phu Loc). There was an old French compound atop Bach Ma, complete with a swimming pool and a cluster of very substantial buildings. After the Marines of 1/5 landed on the top of the mountain, they worked their way eastward, down toward the coast, searching for the elusive Viet Cong.

Seven Marines in Charlie Company, 1/5, were killed on 29 April 1966 during Operation OSAGE at the hands of a command-detonated bomb that had been hidden by the Viet Cong in a drinking hole. That date would be remembered as one of the deadliest single days for Charlie Company, 1 st Battalion, 5 th Marines during the entire Vietnam War. There would be many such bloody days in the long years to come for the Marines who served with 1/5, but none would be more shattering than the day the VC set off that horrible command-detonated bomb, instantly transforming a peaceful, idyllic place into a Dante-esque scene from hell.

Despite this terrible incident, Operation OSAGE was considered to be a significant success by Marine Corps operational planners.

• May - June 1966 – Established Hill 54 Combat Base.

Map Bullet #3 Back to I Corps Map

Operation Overview: The Marines of 1/5 quickly established control of its assigned TAOR, an area that surrounded the critically important supply route, Highway One, north of the Chu Lai airfield. Numerous squad, platoon and company-sized patrols and ambushes were conducted on a regular basis to ensure the ongoing integrity of the Hill 54 Combat Base, denying the enemy access to the approaches to the Chu Lai airfield.

• 12 February – 5 March 1968 – Operation “HUE CITY.” Citadel Fortress of Hue.

On 31 January 1968, the Marines of 1/5 were spread out over a large area of I Corps. The Marines of Charlie Company were based at Lang Co Village, which was located adjacent to the Lang Co Bridge situated at the northern approach of the Hai Van Pass. Their mission was to protect this bridge at all costs. The Marines of Delta Company were fighting for their lives at the top of the Phu Gia Pass, protecting the small combat base that contained a battery of 105mm artillery and two 155mm “Toads” which were critically important supporting arms for the entire battalion. The rest of the battalion, including Alpha, Bravo and H & S Companies, were manning the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base, which had been under heavy attack since the 7th of January.

Early the next morning, the North Vietnamese Army or NVA (also known as the People’s Army of Vietnam, or PAVN) launched a surprise attack against major American and ARVN Combat Bases as well as every large city in South Vietnam. Over 30% of the major city of Saigon was under enemy control. Marines defending the U. S. Embassy were fighting for their lives. The city of Hue, which was the spiritual, commercial and historical center of the Vietnamese people had been overrun by hordes of NVA and Viet Cong soldiers; 90% of that city was under enemy control. Many small American and ARVN combat bases had been overrun and destroyed. The Tet Offensive of 1968 nearly succeeded in their missions to capture the major cities and drive the Americans out.

Within hours, however, ARVN and American forces reacted with force. An ARVN Airborne battalion, located about twenty kilometers north of Hue, fought across country to the 1st ARVN Division Headquarters inside the Citadel Fortress of Hue, succeeded in getting inside the headquarters compound, reinforced the beleaguered ARVN soldiers and managed to repel repeated enemy attacks. On the south side of the Perfume River, in the so-called “New City” of Hue, the Marines and Soldiers defending the MAC-V Compound also repelled repeated ground attacks and held out until the Marines of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment managed to fight their way up Highway One and reinforced the defenders of the MAC-V Compound.

For the next two weeks, with huge battles raging across South Vietnam, friendly forces attacked the enemy from these “beachheads” and steadily blunted the enemy’s offensive. ARVN forces held the NVA at bay inside the Citadel, and the Marines of Alpha 1/1 and 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines went on the offensive against the NVA, who were there in force. After two weeks of bloody fighting in Hue, the Marines had managed to crush the enemy forces. Post-battle assessments indicate that a total of 11,000 enemy soldiers had attacked the city of Hue. Now, half of them had been eliminated and the “New City” was considered secure.

On 11 February, the Marines of 1/5 traveled north from Phu Loc (6) and Phu Bai to Hue and prepared to launch a major attack against the enemy forces still occupying the Citadel. The Marines of 1/5 were able to enter the Citadel without a shot being fired because of the 1st ARVN Division’s successful defense of their Headquarters Compound and the northeast “gate.” On the morning of 13 February 1968, however, there were still approximately 5,000 enemy soldiers inside the Citadel fortress, and they were planning to stay. The mission of the 1,000 Marines and Sailors of 1/5 was to attack and destroy those enemy soldiers, but since the Citadel fortress was considered a “World Heritage Site” and extremely important to the Vietnamese people, all heavy support (artillery, tanks, air strikes) were strictly prohibited. The enemy had used the two weeks it took our battalion to get into position for the attack very effectively by reinforcing defensive positions inside homes and buildings and digging trenches and foxholes between the buildings. Over the next three days, many frontal assaults were repelled by the enemy at huge cost to the Marines. Over 40% of the 1/5 Marines on the attack had either been killed or wounded badly enough to be medevacced, and no progress had been made. On the evening of 16 February, the first artillery mission was authorized, and from that point forward both air strikes and tank cannon fire were used to good effect.

After three days of heavy fighting on the Dong Ba Tower, the Marines of Delta 1/5 finally secured the high ground (at great cost) and the Marines of Bravo and Alpha Companies had managed to cross the first street, dubbed phase line green, and established a beachhead. Over the next two weeks, with their supporting arms, 1/5 advanced despite being seriously outnumbered, due to their superior firepower and the incredible courage and bravery of the Marines fighting in Hue City. On 5 March 1968, Hue was considered “secure.”

All told, 142 Marines were killed in action during Operation HUE CITY, and nearly 1,000 were badly wounded and medevacced. Several thousand NVA and Viet Cong soldiers lost their lives during their failed Tet Offensive, and an estimated 5,000 Vietnamese civilians, most of them considered leaders of the South Vietnamese people, had been rounded up and murdered by the invaders. Although the results of this battle were initially badly mis-reported, and the leaders of the American government were severely and negatively affected by this, the actual results of this historic battle showed that the Viet Cong were eliminated as a fighting force, and the NVA were not able to mount any military offensive of any significance until four years later.

1/5 Combat Operations Chronology

To be presented in 3 Phases 

PHASE 1 Click Here

(Major Events:  December 1965-September 1967)

  • 26 March – 6 April 1966 – Operation JACKSTAY.   Rung Sat Special Zone (IV Corps)
  • 27 April – 4 May 1966 – Operation OSAGE.  Phu Loc – Bach Ma (I Corps)
  • June 1966 – Established Hill 54 Combat Base.  10 Kilometers NW of Chu Lai airfield
  • 16 June 1966 – “Sparrow Hawk:  Sgt. Howard’s Recon Patrol.  West of Tam Ky
  • 6 – 15 August 1966 – Operation “ COLORADO.”  Hiep Duc – Song Ly Ly Valley
  • 21 April – 17 May 1967 – Operation “ UNION I.”  Que Son Valley
  • 17 May 1967 – Established Hill 51 Combat Base.  Que Son
  • 26 May – 5 June 1967 – Operation “UNION II.”  Que Son Valley
  • 4 – 15 September 1967 – Operation “SWIFT.”  Que Son Valley

1/5 Combat Operations Chronology
PHASE 2 – Planned for Spring 2006

(Major Events:  October 1967 – April 1968)

  • 2 October 1967 – Established Hoi An Combat Base.  Triem Trung (2)
  • 26 December 1967 – Established Phu Loc (6) Combat Base.  Phu Loc (6)
  • 7 January 1968 – Major enemy attack on the Phu Loc Combat Base and the Phu Loc District HQ. Bn. CO wounded and med evacced;  Sgt. Major KIA.
  • 8 – 23 January 1968 – Continued enemy attacks on the Phu Loc Combat Base and Highway 1, increasing in intensity.1 February 1968; 0100 – The NVA’s Tet Offensive is launched throughout South Vietnam. Targets include major cities, CAP outposts, and Marine Combat Bases. Highway 1 is closed down by the destruction of many key bridges.
  • 1 February 1968 – Continued enemy attacks on the Phu Loc Combat Base and the Phu Loc District HQ. 1/5 Bn CO is wounded and medevacced.
  • 12 February – 5 March 1968 – Operation “ HUE CITY.” Citadel Fortress of Hue.
  • 5 March – 30 April 1968 – Operation “ HOUSTON.” Phu Bai to Hai Van Pass.

1/5 Combat Operations Chronology

PHASE 3 – Planned for Summer 2006
(Major Events:  May 1968 – April 1971)

  • 1 April 1968 – Established Combat Base at coord. 930073. 10 Kilometers south of Phu Bai.
  • 1 May 1968 – Continued operations in support of Operation “ HOUSTON.”
  • 29 July – 23 October 1968 – Operation “MAMELUKE THRUST.” The Arizona Territory and the An Hoa Basin.
  • 23 October – 6 December 1968 – Operation “ HENDERSON HILL.” Duc Duc and Duy Xuyen Districts, Quang Nam Province.
  • 7 December 1968 – 6 April 1969 – Operation “ TAYLOR COMMON.” Duc Duc and Duy Xuyen Districts, Quang Nam Province. REM: What happened on 14 December 1968? (10 KIA’s from C/1/5)
  • May – November 1969 – Continued combat operations in and around The Arizona Territory, Liberty Bridge and the An Hoa TAOR.
  • 22 November 1969 – 1970 – Continued combat operations in and around the Hill 65 TAOR.
  • 3 March 1970 – 15 April 1971 – 1/5 Displaced to the Da Nang TAOR and took part in the Southern Area Defense Command on Pacifier Operations and Quick Reaction Force Operations.
  • 15 April 1971 – 1/5 Returned to CONUS.

1/5 Combat Ops - Phase 2

• 2 October 1967 – Established Hoi An Combat Base. Triem Trung (2)

The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines relocated from the Hill 51 Combat Base in the Que Son Valley to the Hoi An area in early October, 1967. 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Division relieved 1/5 of the responsibility for Hill 51 and the Que Son Valley TAOR. The turnover of responsibilities commenced on 2 October 1967; however, completion of the equipment heli-lift and forward displacement of the rear echelon wasn’t accomplished until 12 October due to restrictive weather conditions. The annual monsoon season had arrived in I Corps, during which time huge, drenching downpours regularly swamped the countryside.

1/5 relieved 1st Battalion, 1st Marines (1/1) of the responsibility of the Triem Trung (2) Combat Base, located approximately 4.5 kilometers west of downtown Hoi An, and the TAOR around Hoi An. The Hoi An TAOR covered the Hieu Nhon District and a portion of the Dien Ban District. 1/5 assumed the responsibility for this large and challenging chunk of real estate on 2 October upon the arrival of the 1/5 Command Group and the Marines of Alpha and Bravo Companies.

From 15 – 17 October 1967, the Marines of 1/5 conducted Operation ONSLOW in the Hoi An TAOR. Despite a lack of enemy contact, the new battalion commander, Lt. Col. Van Den Berg, felt that the operation provided valuable experience in that it gave the Marines an opportunity to become acquainted with the operating area, and to gain an appreciation of the difficulties of maneuvering through flooded rice paddies, the dominant terrain feature of this TAOR. In fact, the entire Hoi An TAOR seemed to be one vast rice paddy, with a few meandering rivers and streams and scattered villages strewn randomly around the countryside. The 1:50,000 terrain maps of this area showed very few contour lines that would indicate high ground. This represented an entirely new type of terrain, and the Marines of 1/5 would have to adjust their tactics and strategies to take this into account.

The Marines of 1/5 spent the remainder of October conducting squad, platoon and company-sized operations designed to keep the enemy off balance and to familiarize the Marines with their new area of responsibility. In addition to these combat operations, they conducted programs designed to “win the hearts and minds” of the local populace, including the Med Cap programs which treated a total of 821 Vietnamese civilians, mostly children, for a variety of maladies. Interestingly, the battalion presented several “General Walt Scholarships” to needy students living in the area in a ceremony at Cam Ha School on 27 October 1967. Also, the Marines of 1/5 donated 200 canisters from expended 81mm mortar rounds to the Quang Nam province chief for use as rat traps, and built 12 cribs for the Catholic Orphanage in Hoi An. As always, the Marines got very creative with methods to win the local populace over. Battalion leadership considered this kind of activity critical, feeling that if we helped the locals, they would help us detect the presence of Viet Cong and NVA, and let us know about potential dangers.

And, although the month of October proved relatively calm, especially in comparison to the summer months spent in the Que Son Valley, plenty of danger remained. During the month of October, a total of 11 Marines died and 36 sustained wounds serious enough to require medical evacuation. During the brief but violent confrontations that caused these casualties, the Marines saw very few enemy soldiers.

That trend continued during the month of November. On two occasions, vehicles moving along Route 538 (the east-west secondary paved road that connected Hoi An with Highway One) were destroyed by command detonated mines resulting in Marine casualties. To add insult to injury, the Marines of Alpha 1/5 celebrated the Marine Corps Birthday on 10 November 1967 by detecting mines, “improvised explosive devices,” wired in series at two different locations in the vicinity of their small combat base, located near the South China Sea, about six clicks north of the battalion combat base. The mines were constructed of dud 105mm artillery rounds, and other assorted high explosives.

In November, 1967, Charlie Company made its home in a small outpost about 5 clicks east of the 1/5 Battalion combat base. Located a couple of clicks east and slightly north of Hoi An’s main marketplace, this dreary little company compound sat a few hundred meters north of the Song Thu Bon (Thu Bon River). Almost all of Charlie Company’s squad and platoon-sized patrols run out of this compound headed either to the east toward the coastline, or north toward Da Nang, with an occasional hazardous foray south, across the Song Thu Bon.

The remainder of the battalion worked out of the battalion combat base, about four kilometers west of Hoi An, sitting astride Route 538. The 1/5 Combat Base at Hoi An was made up entirely of sand. A typical Marine defensive structure, this combat base measured several hundred meters on each side, shaped like an imperfect square. Bulldozers had created a high berm of sand that surrounded the entire complex, with fighting positions established on its crest and hard-point bunkers dominating the perimeter at strategic locations. Hard-backed tents and a few wooden buildings, the mess hall and chapel, filled the interior of the structure. The 5th Marines combat base, located further west, sat near the intersection of Route 538 and Highway One. Route 538, a narrow, old and crumbling paved road, carried the main flow of military and civilian traffic between Highway One and the city of Hoi An, the primary supply route for the Marines of 1/5.
Command stayed stable during the months of October, November and December, with Lt. Col. O. W. Van Den Berg, Jr. remaining at the battalion helm after taking command from Lt. Col. Pete “Highpockets” Hilgartner, in late September.

The major “set-piece” battles with large NVA units that had defined the summer of 1967 would not occur in the Hoi An TAOR. Our enemy in Hoi An, almost exclusively comprised of the elusive Viet Cong, had a different agenda; their mission was to try to hurt us without being detected, and they used different weapons against us. The weapons of choice for the Viet Cong located in the Hoi An TAOR consisted mainly of command-detonated mines and booby-traps. When the 1/5 Vietnam Veterans gather at reunions today, great debates spring up about which was worse: confronting large NVA forces in all-out battles, or getting hit sporadically and unexpectedly by snipers, booby-traps, and an occasional command-detonated mine. There is no clear answer to that question; both scenarios happened frequently, and both were bad news. During the month of December 1967, Charlie Company alone was hit twice by command-detonated bombs, devastating two squads of Marines.

Hoi An days were long, cold, wet and filthy, often uneventful, even downright boring. Some Hoi An days, however, overflowed with blood, terror and death, and so we were very happy to learn, in late December 1967, that 1/5 would soon move north. During the monsoon months of October, November and December, 1967, a total of 23 Marines serving in 1/5 lost their lives; 12 of them were Charlie 1/5 Marines. Well over a hundred 1/5 Marines sustained serious wounds, requiring medical evacuation. Most of the wounds came at the hands of booby traps, mines, and the VC’s weapon of choice, the command-detonated bomb. Although a much lower casualty rate than that which we had endured during the summer months in the Que Son Valley, the Marines of 1/5 were all happy to leave the Hoi An TAOR. We had been forced to fight a very frustrating war against an enemy who had no face. Their hit and run tactics discouraged us, and our quick reactions and firepower accounted for only about fifty confirmed enemy KIA’s during our entire stay in the Hoi An TAOR.

On the day after Christmas, 1967, the Marines of the First Battalion, Fifth Marines moved north. With the exception of a small advance party who had left several days before, about half of the Marines of 1/5 flew in several waves of the giant CH-53 helicopters. In one smooth and easy flight, we moved north of Da Nang, over the treacherous Hai Van Pass, and arrived at our new home, the combat base at Phu Loc (6). The other half of the battalion had to endure the long and dangerous ride over the Hai Van Pass on a truck convoy.

• 26 December 1967 – Established Phu Loc (6) Combat Base. Phu Loc (6)

When the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base, situated on a big lump of red dirt, became strategically important to the 1st Marine Division’s planners, they ordered it built, occupied, and defended by the First Battalion, Fifth Marines. Actually, the Marines of 1st Platoon, Company B, 1st Engineer Battalion accomplished most of the construction of the combat base. The Engineers first dug a deep trench around what would become the perimeter of the combat base, and then they erected extensive concertina and tangle-foot barbed wire defenses just outside the main trench line, and hard-point bunkers at strategic locations around the perimeter. As a result, the 1/5 combat base at Phu Loc (6), even in its very early stages, proved to be a very rugged and defendable home for 1/5’s Marines. However, the combat base’s location was dominated on three sides by steep, jungle-covered mountains, and on the fourth side by a village complex.

At first the NVA and VC left the Marines of 1/5 alone in our new Combat Base. We enjoyed a period of about two weeks of relative peace and quiet. It seemed to us as though our enemy stayed completely ignorant of our location. As with many of the better things that happened during the Vietnam War, these peaceful days proved too good to last.

In early January, 1968, enemy units began to fire on the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base with mortar, rocket and recoilless rifle fire, as well as small arms fire. At the height of this engagement, in late January and early February, 1968, over 1,000 rounds of enemy high explosive mortar rounds and shells impacted this lump of dirt every single day. Then, after the initial tide of the enemy’s Tet Offensive began to ebb, in late February and early March, the enemy faded away from the area, and in mid-March of 1968 American forces dismantled the Combat Base and abandoned it. The Phu Loc (6) Combat Base had a very short, but terribly bloody history.

Situated a click south of a cluster of villages that comprised Quan Phu Loc, the Phu Loc “District,” the Combat Base sat at the foot of a range of very steep, severely rugged, and extremely hostile-looking jungle-covered mountains. Route 591, a narrow and roughly paved road, terminated at its intersection with Highway One in the center of the main village. The narrow road wound tightly through approximately 2 kilometers of the sleepy villages of the Phu Loc District before the village hootches petered out. The combat base location started a kilometer past the last village hootches astride Route 591, and then the old, crumbling highway departed the combat base and began to climb up into the mountains toward a complex at the top of a mountain called Bach Ma.

Delta Company got the task of manning a company-sized combat base, located at an old French outpost complete with a couple of concrete bunkers, to provide security for a battery of 105mm artillery pieces, and a couple of 155mm “toads.” The Delta Company Combat Base dominated a steep, winding pass called the Phu Gia Pass, located on Highway One about 16 clicks east of the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base. This artillery base became critical, because the Marines who currently protected the Lang Co Bridge and the Hai Van Pass operated too far away to receive support from the artillery units based at Phu Loc (6) or Da Nang to the south. The rest of the infantry companies, H & S Company, and a detachment of engineers were situated inside the primary combat base at Phu Loc (6).

The 1/5 Command Group began to understand that our stay in the Phu Loc (6) area was not going to be a picnic. On the morning of 5 January 1968, an Engineer road sweep team, protected by a squad of Marines from Delta Company, triggered a VC ambush up on the Hai Van Pass. A six-by truck, hauling some of the security force, was attacked, receiving six incoming grenades, two of which landed in the bed of the truck, and heavy automatic weapons fire from an estimated enemy force of 25 VC. The truck driver accelerated to reach a safer position, but was killed by enemy fire causing the truck to run off a steep incline. Additional casualties were sustained in the crash at the bottom of the hill. The remaining Marines regrouped and fought off the enemy attack, and battalion dispatched a reaction force of 2 more squads of Delta 1/5 Marines and two Ontos’s. One Marine died, and 19 sustained wounds, 16 of them serious enough to require medical evacuation.

The next morning, 6 January, a command-detonated mine destroyed an Ontos traveling with a convoy just a few hundred meters from the ambush site of the previous day, killing the driver and seriously wounding a crew member. Later that afternoon, another Delta 1/5 Marine died from enemy fire in the same general vicinity.

The real nastiness at the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base started abruptly; early on the morning of 7 January 1968. At 0335 that morning, the 1/5 Command Post received an urgent radio message from the 5th Marines Liaison Team based at Phu Loc (6) District Headquarters stating that their position was receiving mortar fire. Combined Action Group (CAG) Headquarters also reported that CAP H5, located near the District HQ, was under mortar attack and that they had lost communications with CAP’s H6 and H7, two more Combined Action Platoons in the area. At 0340 the enemy hit the 1/5 Assembly Area (the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base) hard with an initial volley of at least 60 rounds of enemy mortar fire, a dozen or so rounds of 57mm recoilless rifle fire, along with sporadic enemy small arms fire. That first volley of incoming mortar fire impacted in and around the main trench line that served the Battalion CP Group, seriously wounding Lt. Col. Van Den Berg, our Commanding Officer, and killing the Battalion Sergeant Major, Sgt. Major Lawrence K. Sepulveda. During that single day of fighting, a total of 20 Marines died in the 1/5 TAOR, as well as one U. S. Army Soldier serving with Phu Loc (6) District Headquarters; 94 Marines and soldiers sustained wounds, with 71 of them requiring emergency medical evacuation. In that one day of brutal fighting, the Marines of 1/5 lost more casualties than we did during the three previous months combined. For all the Marines occupying it, the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base quickly became a recurring nightmare.

The worst thing that happened at the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base occurred that next morning. Six members of a squad of Marines from one of the other companies, and two men from the Charlie Company Weapons Platoon, decided to go have breakfast at the mess tent. The Battalion Mess Sergeant made sure that hot food, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, were available at the mess tent, but lately most of the Marines of 1/5 had made a silent vow to enjoy C-rations for a while. You see, the mess tent stood out like an aiming stake just below the top of the hill. Anyone who had spent any time at all inside the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base knew to avoid the mess tent.

That morning, eight 1/5 Marines decided that hot food was more important than their lives. Just a couple of minutes after receiving their hot chow, sitting at a typical mess hall table with room on the bench seats for four on each side, a single 82mm enemy mortar round tore through the roof of the canvas mess tent and exploded in the center of the table. Seven of the eight men, died instantly. The eighth Marine, although physically unharmed, would certainly never forget that moment. That marked the end of hot meals at the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base.

Events outside the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base continued to escalate. On 12 January 1968, around mid-afternoon, the enemy hit a four vehicle convoy racing across the infamous stretch of Highway One that we referred to as “The Bowling Alley.” The Marines received one rocket round and four 60mm mortar rounds as the convoy slowed to negotiate a bridge. Two U. S. Marines died and three were wounded and evacuated. The M35 truck they rode in sustained serious damage. Over the next few days, the enemy hit road security patrols and other combat patrols with regularity. On 15 January a mine sweep team took a barrage of thirty rounds of 82mm mortar fire over a 2 ½ hour period at a different stretch of The Bowling Alley; four more Marines died and five were wounded and evacuated.
During the rest of January, 1968, the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base took hundreds of rounds of enemy mortar and rocket fire a day. Intense duels between the 106mm recoilless rifle teams of 1/5 and the 57mm and 75mm recoilless rifle teams of our enemy took place at several points around the perimeter. Ground assaults hit the Combat Base on three occasions. All of the enemy fire and the enemy assaults met with failure. Although 1/5’s casualty rate mounted, the Marines withstood the pounding, which climaxed early on the morning of 31 January 1968, the “kickoff” of the North Vietnamese Army’s infamous Tet Offensive.

• 31 January 1968; 0100 – The Tet Offensive

31 January 1968; 0100 – The NVA’s Tet Offensive is launched throughout South Vietnam. Targets include major cities, CAP outposts, and Marine, U. S. Army, and ARVN Combat Bases. Highway 1 is closed down by the destruction of many key bridges.

At approximately 0200 on the morning of 1 February 1968, the 1/5 Combat Base once again came under heavy enemy mortar and rocket attack, and the H5 CAP Unit, located at the intersection of Highway One and Route 591, got hit hard, with mortars, rockets, and ground forces. A relief force from Phu Loc 6 District Headquarters moved towards CAP H5 at first light, but they could not reach the beleaguered Marines there. A second relief force moved toward the CAP unit from the Battalion Command Post, but they were also unsuccessful, so Alpha Company received orders to move to the area of CAP H5 to reinforce them. On their way there, Alpha Company came under heavy attack by an enemy force of undetermined size.

Throughout that day it seemed like the entire TAOR in Phu Loc 6 came under enemy attack, except for those in Charlie 1/5 at Lang Co. Eventually, late in the day on 1 February, the Marines of Bravo 1/5 reached the Phu Loc (6) District Headquarters and CAP H5, and reinforced those positions. CAP H5 reported four Marines Missing In Action. At least 100 enemy soldiers died during the various battles that day, and an untold number were wounded. 1/5 lost another Battalion Commander; badly wounded and medevacced, Lt. Col. Whalen would not return.

Although the war continued to escalate, the gunfire at the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base slacked off shortly after the Tet Offensive started. The main forces of the enemy were now engaged in heavy fighting in and around the major cities of South Vietnam. The enemy having finally bypassed it, the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base became less and less strategically important to both sides in the overall scheme of things.

One day, in mid-February, the incoming mortar fire at Phu Loc (6) stopped altogether. The enemy simply left. At the end of March 1968, another squadron of bulldozers arrived at the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base. We vacated the Combat Base, and everything of value was stripped from the hill. The rest was simply bulldozed under. Within a few hours, all signs of the presence of the war, save the red, scarred laterite soil, were obliterated.

The Phu Loc (6) Combat Base, that pain-filled, blood-drenched, and tear-stained place, reverted once again into what it had been all along — a lump of dirt.

• 12 February – 5 March 1968 – Operation “HUE CITY.” Citadel Fortress of Hue.

On 31 January 1968, the Marines of 1/5 were spread out over a large area of I Corps. The Marines of Charlie Company were based at Lang Co Village, which was located adjacent to the Lang Co Bridge situated at the northern approach of the Hai Van Pass. Their mission was to protect this bridge at all costs. The Marines of Delta Company were fighting for their lives at the top of the Phu Gia Pass, protecting the small combat base that contained a battery of 105mm artillery and two 155mm “Toads” which were critically important supporting arms for the entire battalion. The rest of the battalion, including Alpha, Bravo and H & S Companies, were manning the Phu Loc (6) Combat Base, which had been under heavy attack since the 7th of January.

Early the next morning, the North Vietnamese Army or NVA (also known as the People’s Army of Vietnam, or PAVN) launched a surprise attack against major American and ARVN Combat Bases as well as every large city in South Vietnam. Over 30% of the major city of Saigon was under enemy control. Marines defending the U. S. Embassy were fighting for their lives. The city of Hue, which was the spiritual, commercial and historical center of the Vietnamese people had been overrun by hordes of NVA and Viet Cong soldiers; 90% of that city was under enemy control. Many small American and ARVN combat bases had been overrun and destroyed. The Tet Offensive of 1968 nearly succeeded in their missions to capture the major cities and drive the Americans out.

Within hours, however, ARVN and American forces reacted with force. An ARVN Airborne battalion, located about twenty kilometers north of Hue, fought across country to the 1st ARVN Division Headquarters inside the Citadel Fortress of Hue, succeeded in getting inside the headquarters compound, reinforced the beleaguered ARVN soldiers and managed to repel repeated enemy attacks. On the south side of the Perfume River, in the so-called “New City” of Hue, the Marines and Soldiers defending the MAC-V Compound also repelled repeated ground attacks and held out until the Marines of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment managed to fight their way up Highway One and reinforced the defenders of the MAC-V Compound.

For the next two weeks, with huge battles raging across South Vietnam, friendly forces attacked the enemy from these “beachheads” and steadily blunted the enemy’s offensive. ARVN forces held the NVA at bay inside the Citadel, and the Marines of Alpha 1/1 and 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines went on the offensive against the NVA, who were there in force. After two weeks of bloody fighting in Hue, the Marines had managed to crush the enemy forces. Post-battle assessments indicate that a total of 11,000 enemy soldiers had attacked the city of Hue. Now, half of them had been eliminated and the “New City” was considered secure.

On 11 February, the Marines of 1/5 traveled north from Phu Loc (6) and Phu Bai to Hue and prepared to launch a major attack against the enemy forces still occupying the Citadel. The Marines of 1/5 were able to enter the Citadel without a shot being fired because of the 1st ARVN Division’s successful defense of their Headquarters Compound and the northeast “gate.” On the morning of 13 February 1968, however, there were still approximately 5,000 enemy soldiers inside the Citadel fortress, and they were planning to stay. The mission of the 1,000 Marines and Sailors of 1/5 was to attack and destroy those enemy soldiers, but since the Citadel fortress was considered a “World Heritage Site” and extremely important to the Vietnamese people, all heavy support (artillery, tanks, air strikes) were strictly prohibited. The enemy had used the two weeks it took our battalion to get into position for the attack very effectively by reinforcing defensive positions inside homes and buildings and digging trenches and foxholes between the buildings. Over the next three days, many frontal assaults were repelled by the enemy at huge cost to the Marines. Over 40% of the 1/5 Marines on the attack had either been killed or wounded badly enough to be medevacced, and no progress had been made. On the evening of 16 February, the first artillery mission was authorized, and from that point forward both air strikes and tank cannon fire were used to good effect.

After three days of heavy fighting on the Dong Ba Tower, the Marines of Delta 1/5 finally secured the high ground (at great cost) and the Marines of Bravo and Alpha Companies had managed to cross the first street, dubbed phase line green, and established a beachhead. Over the next two weeks, with their supporting arms, 1/5 advanced despite being seriously outnumbered, due to their superior firepower and the incredible courage and bravery of the Marines fighting in Hue City. On 5 March 1968, Hue was considered “secure.”

All told, 142 Marines were killed in action during Operation HUE CITY, and nearly 1,000 were badly wounded and medevacced. Several thousand NVA and Viet Cong soldiers lost their lives during their failed Tet Offensive, and an estimated 5,000 Vietnamese civilians, most of them considered leaders of the South Vietnamese people, had been rounded up and murdered by the invaders. Although the results of this battle were initially badly mis-reported, and the leaders of the American government were severely and negatively affected by this, the actual results of this historic battle showed that the Viet Cong were eliminated as a fighting force, and the NVA were not able to mount any military offensive of any significance until four years later.