It was on the afternoon of the seventeenth of March, 1967, when I joined the 1st Platoon, Lima company, ¾ Marines, 3rd Marine Division, commanded by Lieutenant O'Sullivan. We took off at approximately 1500 hours from the Dong Ha airstrip in CH-46 helicopters and landed in the rice fields near the village Gio Do. Our mission, the lieutenant informed me, was to sweep the village and an adjacent hamlet, which the VC had supposedly been through earlier that morning.
No contact was made in the village, but when we started sweeping the second hamlet, sniper fire opened up and was followed by automatic weapons fire. Everyone dived into the small depressions beside the road and in the bushes. I recall Lt. O'Sullivan jumping across a barbed-wire fence and running to see where the heavy firing was coming from. After reloading my camera, I ran along a small ditch, jumped over the fence, and caught up with the lieutenant. The firing had slacked and O'Sullivan ordered his left flanks to move up again on line.
Sniper fire began again as we began crossing a dry rice field, and by the time we had reached the middle of the field we spotted a VC about seventy-five meters to our right rear. The lieutenant took a grenade, slowly maneuvered himself toward the enemy, and tossed a grade into the sniper's hole. Heavy firing continued as he ran back to my position, but his action destroyed the enemy position, killing the VC.
We continued for about twenty meters, when the enemy again opened up on us with machine guns. They had us in a crossfire. O'Sullivan, the point man, the radioman, and a rifleman were pinned down near a bushline paralleling us. I was pinned down about fifteen meters from them but managed to continue filming.
Soon our machine gunner's ammunition was nearly exhausted and then he was hit. He slumped over and Lt. O'Sullivan grabbed the machine gun and returned fire. Then his radioman was shot through the stomach. The lieutenant yelled to me to relay more ammo but a marine fifteen meters from me couldn't understand me. I waved to him to join us and he ran across a stretch of open field and manned the machine gun. I stopped filming and crawled over to the wounded radioman and opened his jacket with my knife, but I could only apply a bandage to his wound to try to slow the bleeding. Then I helped him crawl past the machine gunner and directed him along a ditch that led away from the enemy fire and told him to crawl to a thatched hut nearby. Lt. O'Sullivan started to regroup his men in the ditch, and I crawled back with my camera and bag.
I filmed a few more scenes as the fire grew more intense, and I believe the lieutenant was hit at this time. I assumed we were still in the enemy's open field of fire so I continued to crawl toward the thatched hut. An enemy gunner walked his rounds in on me, one bullet piercing my canteen then another ricocheting off the earth and hitting me in the forehead. I lay still, hoping the enemy would assume he had killed me, then yelled to one of the men in the hut as I ran for the hut. Inside were the wounded radioman, our forward air controller, and another radioman. Through an opening in the hut I could see the VC moving to our right flanks with automatic weapons, trying to envelope us.
I yelled to Lt. O'Sullivan, who was trapped in the ditch with the wounded and dead twenty-five meters from the hut. I tried to relay his orders to the marines to position themselves back on line and establish a perimeter defense, but the heavy firing kept them from doing so.
The radioman called for reinforcements and gave our situation report to battalion. The FAC tried to call in helicopter gunships but didn't want to take the chance without knowing where all our men were. I told him I would observe and went around the rear of the hut to make sure from the lieutenant where all the men were. He replied that all the men were behind us, and to do whatever was necessary. I suggested calling in air support and asked the lieutenant to pop smoke and then have the gunships make a trial run. The first strafing run was slightly off. We called for correction and the subsequent runs were on target. The enemy was approximately fifty meters in front of the lieutenant's position.
After the firing runs by the gunships, the enemy fire subsided, but from the hut I could see more VC coming from the front. I warned the lieutenant to anticipate another attack. Battalion headquarters called and advised us that Kilo Company was coming out to reinforce us and that we would be a blocking force for their sweep. I told the radioman to advise battalion that we had heavy casualties and I didn't think we could hold as a blocking force. Our flanks were completely pinned down.
Then a corporal arrived at the hut and took charge of the remnant of our platoon. He called Kilo Company and asked them to give position reports. Our platoon was scattered, and with darkness coming on our positions couldn't be determined visually. The men started yelling, "Kilo!" in the darkness to make sure the reinforcements wouldn't fire on them.
At about 1930 hours, Kilo Company approached our lines and we directed them to our positions. At this time we were able to get Lieutenant O'Sullivan and the dead and wounded marines out of their position where they had been pinned down for so long.
Marine Sgt Frank Lee served as a combat correspondent in Vietnam from Nov 1966 to Dec 1967.
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