Operation Hastings

Marines Turn North, Operation Hastings
Finding the Enemy —Reactivation of Task Force Delta and Heavy Fighting Along the DMZ,
12-25 July 1966—
Hastings Comes to an End, 26July-3 August 1966

Finding the Enemy

The reconnaissance phase of the operation in the north was to last a couple more weeks. With the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Hanifin's 2d Battalion, 1st Marines at Dong Ha, he assumed operational control of the Dong Ha-Cam Lo sector while Major Colby retained responsibility for the reconnaissance activity. Colby recalled that the resulting command relations were delicate in that Hanifin's mission was to support the reconnaissance effort, without actual control over it. The reconnaissance commander credited both Hanifin and himself with "A great deal of tact and self-control . . . to make this relationship function."'

Despite reinforcement by the infantry and additional reconnaissance units as well as a change in designation from Task Unit Charlie to Detachment A, Recon Group Bravo in early July, little had changed for Colby's reconnaissance Marines. They continued to observe and encounter, in increasing numbers, uniformed regulars of the North Vietnamese Army. On 4 July, a patrol, led by First Lieutenant Theard J.Terrebone, Jr., moved into the area 16 miles west of Dong Ha where a 700 foot "sort of toothpick-type mountain stuck out in the middle of an open area," with "sheer cliff straight up and down," and known as the Rockpile, dominates the landscape. During the 24-hour period the patrol remained in the vicinity of the Rockpile, the Marines observed several well-camouflaged enemy firing positions including trench lines, mortar pits, and fighting holes. After calling an artillery fire mission on some nearby enemy forces, the patrol returned to its base area. For the next 10 days, the Marines continued their reconnaissance effort, but of the 18 patrols conducted during this period, 14 had to be withdrawn because of enemy contact. The reconnaissance Marines sighted more than 300 North Vietnamese troops.

During this period, South Vietnamese Army units operating in the same region obtained more evidence about the movement of North Vietnamese regulars across the border. On 6 July, 1st ARVN Division troops captured a NVA soldier near the Rockpile. He identified his unit as part of the 5th Battalion, 812th Regiment of the 324B Division and stated that the other regiments of the division, the 90th and the 803d, also had entered South Vietnam.

Three days later, a lieutenant from the 812th Regiment surrendered in the same area. He provided detailed intelligence on the positions and designations of the 324ff Division, and declared that the mission of the North Vietnamese division was to "liberate" Quang Tn Province. The enemy lieu tenant further explained that other NVA and VC units, both in Quang Tn and Thua Thien, were to block any ARVN reinforcements attempting to move north.

This information finally convinced the senior Marine commanders that the NVA had indeed advanced into South Vietnam through the DMZ. General Kyle recommended to Walt that the Marines "move troops north to try to get them [the North Vietnamese out of there and drive them back." Walt agreed and so advised General Westmoreland, who needed little persuasion.'

There followed a brief two to three days of hasty consultation and planning. On 11 July, Brigadier General Lowell E. English, the 3d Marine Division ADC, conferred at Hue with General Truong, the CG, 1st ARVN Division, and Colonel Sherman of the 4th Marines about combined plans for com bating the enemy threat in the north. Meeting at the 1st ARVN Division Headquarters, the three officers agreed on a general concept of operations. A Marine task force was to move into the area south of the DMZ to participate in Operation Hastings, the codename given on 7 July to the Marine recon naissance in northern Quang Tn. ARVN forces were to engage in a counterpart operation, Lam Son-289, south of the Marines. The original plan called for a D-Day of 13 July for the new phase of Hastings.

General Kyle agreed to the need for an expanded operation and authorized Colonel Sherman to establish a forward headquarters at Dong Ha. The 3d Marine Division commander, however, had reservations about the D-Day date. He believed that more detailed planning was required, especially in relation to the logistic implications, before the second phase of Hastings could begin.

In Saigon, during the interim, General Westmoreland, on 11 July, met with General Cao Van Vien of the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff. According to Westmoreland, he told Vien that they knew that the 324B Division was moving south,

- but not its destination. The MACV commander suggested that he and Vien meet with their respective subordinate field commanders. On 12 July, Westmoreland and Vien flew to Da Nang where they visited with Generals Lam and Walt. The four generals then went to Hue, discussed the situation with General Truong, and later attended a briefing at Dong Ha. Convinced that the enemy had moved in force across the DMZ into northern Quang Tn, Westmoreland directed Walt to move up to a division to Quang Tn. He told the III MAF commander that he would make the necessary arrangements with CinCPac to have the Seventh Fleet SLF available for the operation, while Vien promised Lam the use of five battalions of the South Vietnamese general reserve. They reassured Walt and Lam that III MAF and I Corps would have the necessary resources for the successful execution of an allied counterstroke in the north

Reactivation of Task Force Delta and Heavy Fighting Along the DM7, 12-25 July

On the afternoon of 12 July, General Kyle ordered the reactivation of Task Force Delta at 0800 the next morning and once more selected his ADC, General English, as its commander. Colonel Sherman's 4th Marines Headquarters provided the nucleus for the staff, while Sherman himself became Chief of Staff. In addition to the 4th Marines Headquarters, Task Force Delta consisted of four infantry battalions, 2/1, 1/3, 2/4, and 3/4; one artillery battalion, 3/12; and other supporting forces. The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing was to furnish both fixed-wing and helicopter support. VMGR- 152's KC- 130s flew the first elements of English's command to the Dong Ha airstrip, and on 14 July, General English established his command post near Cam Lo · seven miles west of Dong Ha and south of the Cam Lo River, a tributary of the Cua Viet River which empties into the South China Sea. Dong Ha Airfield served as the command's logistic support area and provided a forward helicopter staging area.

The terrain in which the task force was to operate varied from coastal plain east of Route 1, traversable by wheeled and tracked vehicles, to dense undergrowth and jungle forests inland covering the rugged mountains. Between Dong Ha and CamLo, the ground is fairly level and cultivated, with populated areas along the Cam Lo River. North of Cam Lo, the terrain consists of rolling hills covered with scrub growth and coarse elephant grass~ west of this piedmont area, the terrain is composed of a series of ridges and steep hills rising to an elevation of 550 meters. Heavy foliage and rough terrain made all ground movement difficult and reduced the number of possible helicopter landing zones. The heaviest fighting of Hastings was to occur in the Song Ngan Valley, six miles northwest of Cam Lo and about one-to-three miles south of the DMZ.

After studying the available intelligence based on the air and ground reconnaissance, the allied commanders determined that the 90th NVA Regiment, estimated at a strength of 1,500 men was using the Ngan Valley as one of its major infiltration routes in to Quang Tn. Furthermore, they believed that the 324B Division had established its command post on Hill 208, a strategic height overlooking the southwestern portion of the valley. Working from these premises, General English drew up his plan of action . . . to take the enemy by surprise on his key trails and behind his own lines and to smash and destroy him before he had a chance to regain his balance and momentum.

Shortly after the activation of his command and before his move to Dong Ha, General English issued his order for the expansion of Hastings. Based largely on the plan developed at the conference at Hue on the 11th, but with D-Day postponed from 13 to 14 July, and finally firmly established for 15 July, English's concept of operations called for a two- battalion helicopter assault in the Ngan Valley. Lieutenant Colonel Vale's 3d Battalion, 4th Marines was to land in the southwestern sector of the valley and establish blocking positions below the bend of the river to prevent enemy movement. Three miles further to the northeast, the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Arnold E. Bench; was to land near the mouth of the valley and attack southwest along the high ground toward Hill 208 and the 3d Battalion's blocking positions.

The plan for the Marine thrust into the Ngan Valley required an extensive buildup of allied forces in the north together with supporting operations. Two Marine battalions were to remain at the base areas. The 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, since 2 July commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Jack D. Spaulding, would provide security for Dong Ha, while Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Dickey Ill's 1st Battalion, 3d Marines at Cam Lo protected General English's CP and the nearby artillery positions. Lieutenant Colonel Bell's 1st Battalion, 1st Marines was scheduled to join Task Force Delta at Dong Ha on 16 July to relieve the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines of its airfield security mission. On 16 July, the Seventh

Fleet SLF battalion, BLT 3 / 5, was to conduct an amphibious assault, Operation Deckhouse II, eight miles northeast of Dong Ha. After the SLF had established a firm foothold ashore, Deckhouse II was to be terminated and BLT 3 / 5 was to join Task Force Delta further inland. In the meantime, the South Vietnamese 1st ARVN Division and an airborne task force were to conduct Lam Son-289. The ARVN division was to operate in the area west of Route 1, north of Dong Ha, while the airborne task force was to operate south of Route 9.  Major Colby's reconnaissance Marines were to screen the western approaches of the Hastings area of operations."

The success of the planned extended infantry operations in northern Quang Tn depended on the close coordination of Marine supporting arms. Colonel Richard M. Hunt, the commanding officer of MAG- 16, assumed the additional duty of tactical air commander for Task Force Delta and established a forward headquarters at the small airfield at Dong Ha. In his latter capacity, Hunt had control of both fixed-wing and helicopter support for Hastings. He collocated a direct air support center (DASC) with the Task Force Delta fire support coordination center at the Cam Lo CP. Major Samuel M. Morrow, commanding officer of the 3d Battalion, 12th Marines, had five artillery batteries under his operational control on 15 July. The reinforced artillery batteries consisted of 30 tubes, 18 105mm howitzers and 12 155mm howitzers. Morrow had moved one 105mm battery three miles southwest of Cam Lo to provide direct support for the ARVN task force operating south of Route 9. To support the Marine battalions, the artillery commander positioned his other batteries at the Cam Lo Combat Base.

On the morning of 15 July, the Marine penetration of the Ngan Valley began. A-4 Skyhawks from MAG-12 joined F4-B Phantoms from MAG-11, bombing and napalming the two helicopter landing zones.  Once the Marine attack aircraft had completed their bombing runs, Morrow's artillery fired an opening salvo at 0725 on Landing Zone Crow, the objective of the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines. After 20 minutes of preparation fire, 20 CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters from HMM- 164 and -165 brought the first wave of Marines into Crow, five miles northeast of the Rockpile.

Although the Marines met no initial resistance in the landing zone, small arms fire and the terrain took their toll of men and machines. The landing zone was small; two helicopters collided and crash ed. A third CH-46 hit a tree while trying to avoid the first two. As a result of these collisions, two Marines were dead and seven were injured. All three helicopters were too badly damaged for recovery and would have to be destroyed. Later that evening, the North Vietnamese shot down another troop-laden helicopter, which fell near Lieutenant Colonel Vale's CP, killing 13 men and injuring three others. Thereafter, the Marines referred to the Ngan Valley as "Helicopter Valley.

Lieutenant Colonel Vale had arrived in LZ Crow with three of his four companies.  Company M had stayed at Phu Bai as security for the base. He established his CP in the landing zone and held Company I as battalion reserve. First Lieutenant Charles L. George's Company I formed a defensive perimeter around the landing zone. Vale's two other companies, K and L, were to establish blocking positions south and west of LZ Crow. Company L, under First Lieutenant William E. Healy, encountered occasional small arms fire as it moved to occupy Hill 200, one kilometer west of the CP.

Captain Robert J. Modrzejewski's Company K followed a trail that meandered along the southern bend of the Song Ngan. The company's objective was a ridgeline 500 meters below the river and 1,800 meters south of the landing zone.  As Modrzejewski's platoons advanced toward the river, NVA snipers, hidden in the dense vegetation, opened fire. The Company K commander recalled:

"Underneath the jungle canopy we found a complete 200-bed hospital in a bamboo building about 30 yards long and 20 yards wide. One man was guarding it, and we shot him. Inside we found 1,200 pounds of small-arms ammunition being guarded by three men. We shot them too."

After this brief flurry, the Marine Company continued to move southward toward its objective.

At 0935, while Vale's battalion was establishing its blocking positions~ the Sea Knight helicopters of HMM- 164 and -165 brought Lieutenant Colonel Bench's 2d Battalion, 4th Marines into Landing Zone Dove three miles to the northeast. With Companies H on the left, G on the right, and E bringing up the rear, Lieutenant Colonel Bench began advancing toward the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines. Bench's battalion, like Vale's, had left one company behind at the Phu Bai TAOR. Although the 2d Battalion made no contact with the enemy, oppressive heat and high elephant grass slowed progress. By mid afternoon the battalion had covered less than two miles. Captain John J. W. Hilgers, the commander of Company H, in 1978 still vividly recalled:

the problems we were having negotiating the terrain, particularly the vegetation. Though we knew our location, we could not see where we were going; trusting only to our compasses. The heat with no breeze and unlimited humidity was devastating.'6

At the same time, Vale's battalion, continued to encounter heavy resistance. The North Vietnamese repulsed Company K's attempt to cross the Song Ngan, with a loss of three Marines killed and five wounded. After three more unsuccessful attempts to cross the river, Captain Modrzejewski decided to establish night positions on a hill 200 yards from the river. By this time, the NVA had begun to organize countermeasures and attacked the battalion with small arms, mortars, and machine gun fire. This fire continued unabated, even though the battalion call ed in air strikes and artillery on suspected enemy positions. At 1930, Lieutenant Colonel Vale reported that he was completely surrounded, but one-half hour later the enemy fire diminished. Vale believed that the opposing NVA unit had pulled back, but 45 minutes later, at 2015, a reinforced North Vietnamese company tried to overrun Company K's lines. After a nearly three-hour fire fight, the enemy finally fell back. According to Captain Modrzejewski:

It was so dark we couldn't see our hands in front of our faces, so we threw our trip flares and called for a flare plane overhead. We could hear and smell and occasionally see the NVA after that. . . but in the morning. . . we found 25 bodies, some of them only five yards away, stacked on top of each other."

By early evening, in the interim, Lieutenant Colonel Bench had halted his battalion about a mile short of its first objective, and directed that the battalion establish its night defenses. Earlier, about 1600, Lieutenant Colonel Vale had requested that the 2d Battalion come to the aid of the 3d Battalion, which was then under attack, but Bench had radioed back that "the terrain and time of day made immediate efforts [to reach the 3d Battalion] infeasible." With General English's permission, the 2d Battalion commander decided "to abort . . the sweep mission toward Hill 208," and take advantage of the "lower, easier, terrain" along the river to close in on Vale's positions the following morning.58 During the 15th, Task Force Delta had sustained total casualties of 18 killed and two wounded as opposed to enemy losses of 31 dead.

The enemy started the next morning with a mortar attack on Lieutenant Colonel Vale's CP. The battalion commander immediately called in Marine air and artillery which silenced the enemy weapons. South of the battalion CP, Modrzejewski's company still was unable to cross the river. The advancing Marines found it difficult to flush out the camouflaged NVA. The Company K commander stopped, organized a defensive perimeter, and called for air and artillery to neutralize the enemy. During the day, Lieutenant Colonel Vale's other two companies probed north and northwest of the battalion CP. Lieutenant Healy's Company L uncovered an ammunition cache which included 35 boxes of 12.7mm ammunition, 24 antitank mines, and 1,000 rounds of small arms ammunition.

To the northeast, Lieutenant Colonel Bench's 2d Battalion moved off the high ground shortly after dawn toward the Song Ngan. Advancing in a generally westerly direction, the lead company, Company G, reached the river shortly after 0800 where the Marines killed two NVA and captured their weapons. The company then followed the river southwest toward the 3d Battalion. Bench's unit had one serious clash with the NVA when Company G, about 1045, received heavy fire from enemy positions on the high ground to the west of the river. The battalion commander several years later remembered that he "called very close air strikes while we took cover in the deep banks of the river.”25 Marine aircraft scored two direct hits on the enemy, but not before the Marine company sustained losses of two dead and seven wounded. Despite further occasional resistances the lead elements of the 2d Battalion arrived at Lieutenant Colonel Vale's CP shortly after 1445.

Although the link up of the two Marine battalions had not been challenged seriously, the enemy renewed attacks during the night of 16 July. Once more, Captain Modrzejewski's Company K bore the brunt of the assault. The company had remained in its defensive positions 800 meters south of the junction point of the two battalions. At 1930, the North Vietnamese attacked the entire company perimeter, concentrating heaviest pressure on the left platoon. For the next three and a half hours, the NVA made repeated assaults against the Marine Company. Modrzejewski's Marines repulsed three attacks, one of which came to within five meters of their positions. The company commander credited Marine artillery fire "and a flare ship which stayed with us all night" in helping him to stave off the enemy. In bearing back the NVA, the Marines suffered one dead and five wounded. Captain Modrzejewski reported that 30 to 40 other Marines had sustained minor wounds as a result of "grenades being thrown back and forth from distances as close as 10 meters." The enemy suffered more grievous losses. According to Modrzejewski.

While the two battalions had been moving toward each other in Helicopter Valley, General English repositioned his reserve. The arrival of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines on 16 July at Dong Ha permitted the task force commander to free Lieutenant Colonel, Spaulding's 2d Battalion, 1st Marines from its security mission there. Over 30 helicopters from squadrons HMM-161, -164, -265, and -163 lifted Spaulding's battalion to Landing Zone Robin, 3,000 meters east- northeast of Landing Zone Crow. From this position, the battalion could readily reinforce either Vale's or Bench's battalion.

Also on the morning of 16 July, the SLF of the Seventh Fleet began Deckhouse II on the coast east of the Hastings area of operations. With clear weather, moderate seas, and minimal surf, Companies I and K of Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Bronars' BLT 3/5 landed with ease at 0630 across Blue Beach, 2,500 meters above the mouth of the Cua Viet River. Simultaneously Lieutenant Colonel James D. McGough's HMM-363, the SLF helicopter squadron, lifted Company L 3,500 meters inland from the landing beach. By evening, the entire BLT was ashore and had established its defensive perimeter. Although technically Bronars' BLT did nor come under General English's operational control for another two days, it blocked NVA routes of advance through the DMZ into Quang Tn Province east of Route 1, and was readily available to reinforce Task Force Delta if necessary. In fact, the SLF helicopter squadron, HMM-363, immediately came ashore and was assigned to the operational control of MAG-16's forward headquarters.

During the late afternoon of 16 July, General English achieved tactical surprise in his southwestern area of operations with the commitment of only a small force. At 1600, a platoon of Marines from Major Colby's 1st Force Reconnaissance Company rappelled from a MAG- 16 helicopter onto the summit of the Rockpile. From this perch, the reconnaissance troops had a commanding view of the relatively open terrain in this sector. Three hours later, the Marines spotted a column of North Vietnamese troops below them, 2,000 meters to the east-northeast. After 155mm howitzers from the 3d Battalion, 12th Marines fired 51 rounds at the enemy column; the reconnaissance Marines reported 21 enemy dead. Later that night, the Marine platoon observed flashing lights 1,000 meters south of the Rockpile near the bend of the Cam Lo River. They called for artillery; 3d Battalion guns once more replied. The mission results could not be observed due to darkness, but the reconnaissance Marines reported "excellent effect on target.

Based upon the sightings from the Rockpile, General English decided to move Spaulding's battalion from Landing Zone Robin, 10 kilometers to the northeast, into the river valley east of the Rockpile. Twelve UH-34s and eight CH-46s from MAG- 16 lifted the battalion into its new area of operations during the morning of 17 July. Spaulding's battalion encountered only minor resistance.

During the 17th, the two battalions operating in Helicopter Valley also had very little contact with the enemy. In Landing Zone Crow, Lieutenant Colonel Vale abandoned any further attempts to advance to the south and ordered Captain Modrzejewski's Company K to remain in its defensive positions and not to cross the Song Ngan. Anticipating a renewed enemy night assault on his forward company, the battalion commander ordered Lieutenant Healy's Company L to reinforce Company K. By evening, Vale's and Bench's battalions had established a common perimeter.

With the enemy on the high ground south of the Ngan blocking the Marine attempts to cross the river, General English decided to change his scheme of maneuver. On the evening of the 17th, he directed the two battalions to move out of the valley the next day along a corridor to the northeast. Lieutenant Colonel Bench's 2d Battalion was to sweep and clear out any enemy as it advanced, and then establish blocking positions astride the Song Ngan, about a mile south of the DMZ. Vale's battalion, in the meantime, was to destroy the captured enemy ammunition and the three downed helicopters, and then move to Hill 100, a mile southeast of the 2d Battalion's blocking positions. From Hill 100, the 3d Battalion was to attack southeast across high ground on the morning of the 19th and assault Hill 208, basically the same route of attack that the 2d Battalion would have followed ac cording to the original plan."

General English also planned to insert the SLF battalion, BLT 3/5, on the 18th into a small valley, a suspected NVA marshalling area, 3,000 meters south of the Song Ngan. U.S. Air Force B-52s had bombed this area on the afternoon of 17 July and the Marine battalion was to exploit the results of this strike.  This valley, in the center of the Hastings operations area, was also an avenue of escape from the Song Ngan; the SLF battalion would be in position to support Vale's and Bench's battalions.

Deckhouse II ended on the morning of 18 July and Lieutenant Colonel Bronars SLF battalion was helilifted into its new area of operations that afternoon. Only Captain Harold D. Pettengill's Company M encountered serious resistance after landing. After Marine jets responded to Pettengill's call for support, the Marine Company overran the enemy positions, killing 21 of the enemy and capturing two machine guns and 11 rifles. During the day, BLT 3/5 Marines killed three more NVA and then established night defenses.

As the SLF battalion was landing 3,000 meters to the south, the two 4th Marines battalions began to carry out General English's new orders. The 2d Battalion moved through the valley in wedge formation with Company H on the left flank. By mid afternoon the battalion had completed its sweep and Company H established a blocking position on the high terrain to the north and across the river."

At about 1400, the 3d Battalion started to follow the 2d Battalion out of the valley. Company K, which had remained behind to provide security for the battalion command post and the engineers, who were to blow the ammunition and destroy the helicopters, was about to depart the area of the former landing zone about one half-hour later. At this time, the enemy struck, first with mortars, then with infantry. Lieutenant Colonel Vale, who had not yet left his CP, recalled several years later:  

Since we had already filled in our fighting holes there was nothing to do but clear out of there on the double to the east, which we did. Unfortunately, the rear guard did not move fast enough and it was still in the area when the enemy infantry attack started.

In the landing zone, Company K's 1st Platoon, under Staff Sergeant John J. McGinty, which had become separated from the rest of the company, endured the full thrust of the enemy assault. According to the platoon leader:

We started getting mortar fire, followed by automatic weapons fire from all sides . . . they were blowing bugles, and we could see them waving flags

'Charlie" moved in waves with small arms right behind the mortars, and we estimated we were being attacked by a thousand men. We just couldn't kill them fast enough. My squads were cut off from each other, and together we were cut off from the rest of the company. I had some of my men in the high grass, where our machine gunners had to get up on their knees to shoot, which exposed them. "Charlie" never overran us, but' he got one or two of his squads between us.

Captain Modrzejewski tried to maneuver his other platoons to support McGinty, but to little avail. Air and artillery support was brought in, and as Modrzejewski later recalled:

We were getting mortars right in the landing zone and the bombs and napalm were dropping only 50 yards away from us. At one point, the NVA were trying to get the am mo out of those three wrecked helicopters that were still sitting there. Napalm got about 20 of them and then another 40, in the middle of the landing zone. I remember one kid shouting, "Here come some more Marines!" But they weren't Marines at all—they were NVA. And when they saw us, they ducked into the river on our flank. All we could see was their heads and their rifles above water it was like shooting pumpkins.

Lieutenant Colonel Vale, in the meantime, "rounded up" his command group, "particularly the radiomen, to reestablish communications and get things sorted out."5~ He directed his executive officer, Major Clark G. Henry, to bring Company L to reinforce Company K. At the same time, he radioed Lieutenant Colonel Bench to come to his assistance.

Shortly before 1700, Company L joined Company K in the landing zone while Lieutenant Colonel Bench, with a hastily formed forward headquarters and his Company G, established supporting positions on the high ground. Quickly attaining fire superiority, the Marine reinforcements relieved the pressure on McGinty's platoon. Under covering fire, McGinry and his men were able to withdraw, evacuating their wounded, but forced to leave the dead behind. Two platoons from Company I rein forced Companies K and L and according to Modrzejewski, "We formed a column of walking wounded, 'wounded to be carried, security, and then proceeded upstream, where the wounded were evacuated that night.

For all practical purposes, the battle was over. By 1900, the two battalions formed a common perimeter where Lieutenant Colonel Bench had left his Company E, about 1,700 meters northeast of Landing Zone Crow. The enemy's attempt to obliterate the Marine rear guard had been costly. While friendly casualties numbered 14 dead and 49 wounded, enemy losses were 138 known dead; estimates ran as high as 500.  Modrzejewski's Company K, especially McGinty's platoon, had been hit hard. Of the 32 men in the already under strength platoon, 8 were dead and 14 were wounded. According to Modrzejewski, "our company was down from 130 to 80, and I had kids who were hit in five or six places."  Both Modrzejewski and McGinty received the Medal of Honor for their actions in Helicopter Valley.

Undoubtedly, Marine supporting arms had spelled the difference between success and disaster on the 18th. Major Morrow's 3d Battalion, 12th Marines fired 120 missions, expending nearly 1,000 rounds of 105mm and 155mm ammunition in support of the Marine battalions. Aircraft from MAG- 11 and 12 flew 70 close support sorties. At one time, the Marine aviators were supporting three battalions at the same time: 3d Battalion, 4th Marines in Helicopter Valley; 3d Battalion, 5th Marines to the south; and an ARVN battalion to the east, with the "action too fast to count damage.""

Following the heavy fighting on 18 July, the enemy attempted to avoid battle and fought only when he had no choice. The remainder of Operation Hastings, with one exception, was characterized by a series of sharp, brief clashes followed by an enemy withdrawal.

On 19 July, the two battalions exchanged missions. The 3d Battalion, 4th Marines, with the exception of Company K which was pulled out for rehabilitation, remained in its blocking positions, while the 2d Battalion consolidated its forces for the assault on Hill 208. Captain Hilgers' Company H, which had spent a long day and night, 18-19 July, on forward positions across the Ngan under constant NVA probing, rejoined the rest of the battalion on the afternoon of the 19th, having sustained relatively light casualties. The following morning, the 2d Battalion, after heavy air strikes, attacked over the high ground toward Hill 208, the suspected CP of the 324B Division. According to General English, "Hill 208 was heavily fortified, but the position was only lightly defended, and the division command post still eluded us.

On the morning of 21 July, Company H, which had provided flank security for the attack on Hill 208, returned to "Helicopter Valley" to recover the Marine dead left behind during the fighting on the 18th. Moving against scattered enemy resistance, the company located six Marine bodies on a sand spit as if "they had been placed there in anticipation of evacuation." Further on, the troops found two more dead Marines, an officer and an NCO. Several NVA dead were also strewn about the former battlefield. Captain Hilgers, in 1978, remarked:

The startling thing about the whole situation is that none of the bodies (with one exception — the first NVA en countered, had no weapon and someone had attempted to hastily cover him with dirt) had been disturbed. They all had their weapons. The Marine lieutenant still had his pistol, binoculars and wrist watch. The helicopters had not been touched.

While one platoon secured a hastily made HLZ and another platoon occupied itself with the evacuation of the Marine dead, Hilgers and his 1st Platoon continued to press forward. Later that afternoon they captured an enemy, soldier, but then came under heavy enemy fire and returned to the HLZ. The following day the rest of the battalion joined Company H and continued the search of the valley.

During this time, General 'English began to deploy other Marine battalions farther to the south. On 20 July, Lieutenant Colonel Bell's 1st Battalion, 1st Marines joined with BLT 3/5 in the valley below the Song Ngan. The 1st Battalion had been relieved at Dong Ha by the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines which had arrived at the airfield earlier that day from Da Nang. Both Bronars' and Bell's battalions met light but persistent resistance during the next three days as they moved west. According to the BLT commander, most of the encounters were with NVA units of less than 30 men:

The small [enemy] units appeared to be one of two types: Those who were assigned to delay and harass friendly units and those who had become separated from their present units and stumbled into contact with Battalion Landing Team 3/5

In order to close out any avenue of retreat for the enemy, on 20 July, General English ordered Lieutenant Colonel Spaulding's 2d Battalion, 1st Marines to establish blocking positions at the western exit of the valley, 4,000 meters north of the Rockpile. By the next morning, the battalion commander had deployed two of his Companies, F and H, there. On the night of 21 July, both companies were taken under fire along their entire front. The Marines responded with small arms and mortar fire, as well as fire from the attached 4.2-inch Mortar Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines. The attack was broken up.

Although the NVA made a concerted effort to eliminate the Marine blocking positions, the enemy assault became more and more disorganized as it progressed. Shortly after midnight, Lieutenant Colonel Spaulding reported that the enemy action had subsided. The Marines had suffered two killed and 13 wounded; there was no way of determining North Vietnamese casualties.

For the next two days, action was sporadic, but, on the 24th, the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines found a North Vietnamese battalion 3,500 meters northeast of Spaulding's blocking positions. Lieutenant Colonel Bronars had ordered Company I, under Captain Samuel S. Glaize, to establish a radio relay station on Hill 362. Glaize's men had little difficulty reaching the top of the hill, getting there about noon, but when his 2d Platoon moved down the other side to put in forward defenses the North Vietnamese opened up. Taking full advantage of the concealment of 60- to 90-foot-high jungle growth, enemy soldiers cut down the Marines with rifle and machine gun fire.

Lance Corporal Richard A. Pittman, 1st Platoon, rushed forward with a machine gun to cover the am bushed 2d Platoon.  The platoon survivors and Pittman fought their way back to the crest of the hill, but had to leave their casualties behind. According to Lance Corporal Raymond L. Powell, one of the wounded men of the 2d Platoon, the North Vietnamese soldiers went through the American bodies, methodically shooting "anyone who moved. It was darn near like a massacre. I pretended I was dead when they got to me. They took my cigarettes and my watch, but they didn't shoot me. *Lance Corporal Pittman was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

The North Vietnamese then turned on the Marines on the crest of Hill 362. Two enemy mortars on each flank of the Marine position began to fire with deadly accuracy. According to one of the attached Navy corpsman, the Marines suffered most of their casualties in the first few minutes of the enemy mortar barrage.  The Marines quickly dug in and there were relatively few casualties from there on. They remained under constant mortar fire for the next two hours until a Marine UH-lE gunship from ;VMO-2 temporarily silenced the enemy weapons.

As soon as Lieutenant Colonel Bronars heard about the Company I ambush, he ordered Captain Richard E. Maresco's Company K to assist Glaize. Company K moved to within 300 yards of Company I's position on Hill 362 before meeting heavy enemy resistance. Despite the cover of Marine air and artillery, Company K was unable to advance and Captain Maresco had no choice but to dig in for the night.

The elements also worked against the Marines. Rain squalls of Typhoon Ora and the thick jungle canopy hindered helicopter evacuation of the wounded. Temporary landing zones had to be blasted out of the jungle. Even after engineers were lowered to the ground by hoist from helicopters to help cut landing zones, MAG- 16 helicopters could only take out the 11 casualties from Company K.

Captain Glaize's company spent "one long night" on Hill 362. The North Vietnamese made repeated assaults against the Marine positions, often closing to within 15 to 30 feet of the company perimeter. Marine Corporal Mark E. Whieley ex claimed, "The Commies were so damn close we could hear them breathing heavily and hear them talking."4' By dawn, however, the North Vietnamese had disappeared, and the Marine Company remained intact.

By midmorning, under clearing skies, Company K had joined Company I on top of Hill 362. Company I had 100 casualties, 18 dead and 82 wounded, but, the enemy had been hurt too. The Marines counted 21 enemy bodies on the battlefield, recovered two NVA mortars as well as 27 rifles, a machine gun, and a recoilless rifle. Glaize's men also had captured two NVA soldiers, but one died during the night. As a result of the interrogation of the surviving captive, Bronars learned that his two companies had engaged the 6th Battalion, 812th Regiment.

The bloody fighting of 24-2 5 July marked the end of the large-scale action during Hastings. On the 25th, General Kyle met with General English at Dong Ha to discuss the battle. He ordered his task force commander to withdraw his battalions to the south and southeast because "of the difficult terrain currently being encountered, the obstacles to infantry maneuver, and the paucity of landing zones for helo assaults." Kyle suggested that the Marines "saturate those difficult terrain areas in the vicinity of the DMZ which contain clearly defined enemy military activity with maximum artillery" and air strikes.

Hastings Comes to an End, 261u1y-3 August 1966

On 26July, General English implemented his new orders. Lieutenant Colonel Bell's 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, operating in the eastern sector of the same valley as the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, was ordered to move south toward Cam Lo. The SLF battalion, on the other hand, was to continue its advance to the southwest of the valley and operate just north of the Rockpile. Lieutenant Colonel Spaulding then moved his 2d Battalion, 1st Marines 3,000 meters east of the Rockpile into the Cam Lo River on 27 July 

The Marines also began withdrawing from the Helicopter Valley region. As early as 21 July, General English had replaced Lieutenant Colonel Vale's 3dBattalion, which had been bled in the early fighting, with Lieutenant Colonel Dickey's relatively fresh 1st Battalion, 3d Marines in the blocking positions in the northern sector of the valley. Lieutenant Colonel Bench's 2d Battalion, 4th Marines had continued with its search mission in the southern portion of the valley against small but persistent enemy forces until 25 July. On one occasion, the battalion maneuvered against an enemy automatic weapon position. Bench described the event as one of the more unusual episodes of his career, declaring:  I was on a slope of the valley.., a fire fight was going on below me in a relatively open area. Two of my companies were engaged, and I could see both of them, as well as at third one, which was behind me. I was able to control the whole operation by arm signals, and as I stood there moving my arms I could see North Vietnamese and Marines firing and falling.

On the night of 24-25 July, the Marine battalion sustained casualties of one killed and 64 wounded from an NVA mortar attack.  Later, on the after of the 25th, the battalion CP received a direct hit by two 250lb bombs, dropped short of their target by U.S. aircraft, but Miraculously, no one was killed.

On 26 July, General English relieved the battle weary 2d Battalion, 4th Marines with Lieutenant Colonel John J. Hess' 2d Battalion, 9th Marines. The following day, both Hess' and Dickey's Battalions marched south out of the valley.  On the 29th the 2d Battalion 9th Marines arrived at the task force Delta CP while Dickey's battalion established a new area of operation, 3,5000 meters northwest of Cam Lo.

With the withdrawal of the infantry battalions to the south, the role of the reconnaissance Marines became even more important. From the beginning of the operation, Major Colby's men had conducted deep patrols and called down supporting arms upon enemy forces. Colby had laid down four basic rules:

1. Stay together no matter what happens;

2. Upon reaching an observation post, call artillery fire upon a set of known coordinates so later fire missions can be called by shifting from a reference point;

3. Maintain constant radio communications with headquarters;

4. Never stay in one spot more than 12 hours."

On 28 July, one of these patrols, led by Sergeant Orest Bishko (and accompanied by Captain Francis J. West, a Marine reservist who was on a special assignment from Headquarters Marine Corps to develop small unit combat narratives of Marines in Vietnam) reported approximately 150 to 250 North Vietnamese troops about three and one-half miles southwest of the Rockpile. The team adjusted artillery fire on the enemy force. As a result of this particular action the enemy lost 50 men.

According to West, after he returned to III MAF Headquarters and described the patrol to General Walt and Colonel Chaisson, they both expressed the opinion that such missions deserved a special section in the reporting system and selected the name "Stingray" for this purpose." Major Colby claimed that the marriage of the reconnaissance Marines and artillery was one of the major innovations of the war, declaring "Recon elements are a truly deadly force in hiding among enemy units with this capability in hand.

The action of 28 July was the last significant sighting of a large body of enemy troops during Hastings. The 324B Division either had crossed into the DMZ or was hiding in the inaccessible jungle to the west. On 30 July, Lieutenant Colonel Bronars' BLT 3/5 reverted to the operational control of the Seventh Fleet and returned to the Princeton. Two days later, General English deactivated his head quarters and the operation came under the control of the new 4th Marines commander, Colonel Alexander D. Cereghino. Hastings officially ended on 3 August. Only Lieutenant Colonel Bench's 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, supported by an artillery battery and reconnaissance elements, remained in the Hastings area of operations.

During Hastings, Marine supporting arms played a decisive role. Marine F-4B Phantoms, A-4 Skyhawks, and F-8 Crusaders maintained a sortie rate of 100 a day, averaging 32 close air support missions, 40 interdiction missions, and 28 radar- controlled missions. During the entire operation, at tack aircraft completed 1,677 tactical sorties against the enemy. At the same time, MAG-16 helicopters flew nearly 10,000 sorties and lifted a daily average of 620 troops. On the ground, Major Morrow's artillery fired nearly 34,500 rounds in support of the Marine and South Vietnamese infantrymen."

Logistic support during the operation had also been massive. By 18 July, the KC-130 transport planes from VMGR-152 and -352 had hauled 1.3 million pounds of supplies from Da Nang to Dong Ha. From that date to the end of the operation, the transport pilots brought in 115 tons per day to sustain the Marine task force. In addition, "Rough Rider" truck convoys, using Route 1, brought 120 tons of ammunition from Phu Bai to the task force logistic support area at Dong Ha. MAG- 16 and -36 helicopters were used exclusively to move the sup plies from the LSA to the battalions in the field. Despite the fact that after 21 July all CH-46A helicopters were grounded for mechanical reasons, the 42 UH-34s and four CH-37s at Dong Ha lifted an average of 75 tons per day, with a peak of 110 tons, to supply the infantry.   General English later reminisced: "I was a battalion commander at Iwo Jima and I didn't get anywhere near the support I was able to give these Marines here.

Operation Hastings/Lam Son-289, the largest and most violent operation of the war up to that point, involved 8,000 Marines and 3,000 South Vietnamese. The number of North Vietnamese regulars engaged probably equaled the total American and South Vietnamese strength. During the battle, the Marines fought elements from all three regiments of the 324B Division: the 99th ,the 803d, and the 812th.

Both sides suffered heavy casualties. The Marines had lost 126 killed and 448 wounded while the ARVN had 21 killed and 40 wounded. The allies inflicted a still higher toll on the enemy; reported enemy casualties numbered over 700 killed and 17 captured. Enemy equipment losses were significant, included were over 200 weapons, 300 pounds of documents,* and over 300,000 rounds of ammunition.

Summing up this major engagement along the DMZ, General Walt described the enemy in the following terms:

We found them well equipped, well trained, and aggressive to the point of fanaticism. They attacked in mass formations and died by the hundreds. Their leaders had misjudged the fighting ability of U.S. Marines and ARVN soldiers together; our superiority in artillery and total command of the air. They had vastly underestimated . . . out mobility.