January 30, 1968
There were no casualties from the mortar attack, and rumors were flying around . . . maybe it was a probe or prep for a larger attack. By lunch it had escalated to a more immediate issue: Mike Company 3/7 had abandoned Hill 52, and they were due here for dinner. This would mean serving 700 Marines on little notice. Captain Cavagnol, knowing the difficulty of serving so many, solved the issue. It would be a “Soup Supper.” The choice was Beef Vegetable or Chicken Noodle. Each Marine would receive a canteen cup of the soup of his choice and a thick slice of bread. The mess hall opened at 1600 and closed at 1700. No one was allowed to sit in the dining room . . . get your soup and move out.
The 220 Marines from Mike Company were spread out around our perimeter, and we were placed on 100% alert before the sun set. Arriving at my bunker there was a Marine Grunt with an M-60 machine gun fixed on the roof. He had added sandbags as I had planned and was fully set up for battle.
He introduced himself as Private Mott and said he had been assigned this position. After a short discussion we decided to man the bunker together. He pulled his shirt open and asked me to look at a wound on his side. It was a marble sized shrapnel hole and was forming a scab. He was worried it might get infected so I said, “Just go to the Corpsman.” He said no because he already had two Purple Hearts. If he got another, he would be transferred out of country. I thought he was nuts, but he had a plan to finish his tour and then extend six months so he could spend 30 days on R&R in Bangkok, Thailand.
Just as the sun was setting there was automatic weapons fire. It was an India Company OP 50-cal machine gun shooting toward the river. There were dozens of sampans crossing and lines of enemy troops marching our way. The ARTY guns started firing, and the projectiles were exploding on the enemy. There were many air bursts, and it was obvious the NVA was taking a beating. Our battery was firing hundreds of rounds on another position further out in Arizona, and a Spooky gunship was directing fire into the same area.
Top showed up with a case of grenades (12) and issued me two extra magazines and a bandoleer of 100 rounds. Mott showed me how to prep the grenades and as I did, he was collecting large baseball-sized rocks. He said, “Fake grenades – it will make them give their position away.” I wondered where he ever learned such a thing.
As we laid in the dark I thought about getting in the bunker and Mott said, “No way, this is going to be a ground attack.” His theory was sometime after midnight they would appear right in front of us in the barbed wire and try to breach the perimeter.
Just twenty yards to our left was a three-man OP with a 50-cal machine gun and twenty yards to the right was another. In front of us was triple strand loops of barbed wire with trip flares embedded in it. Mott commented we would probably see muzzle flashes coming from the rice paddy, but the real danger would be right up close. He said, “Don’t waste any ammo on the rice paddy” (300 yards below our position).
As the night progressed, illumination flares popped and everything was eerily quiet. Then just before midnight we observed rockets being fired toward Da Nang. The northern horizon was flashing with explosions, and it was clear this was a coordinated attack as Dai Loc was being mortared just a mile away. There was a large explosion at the PF headquarters, and they were obviously overrun.
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