"The Worst Day in My Life"
Operation Pegasus

By SSgt Charles V. Thompson USMC

Fox Company, 2nd. BN. 1st. Marines
Vietnam 1968
Served 1962 - 1972
Email: [email protected]
On April 1st 1968,  I was platoon sergeant and acting platoon leader for the 3rd Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment..

My Platoon had the honor of leading the attack down Hwy 9 when Operation Pegasus opened. I had a tank attached to my Platoon and would use it's cannon fire on likly ambush sites.

Most of the time it was the 3rd platoon that would lead our company.Capt. Oliver would put my platoon in the lead on moves.  I was excellent at reading maps and can proudly say we were never ambushed while the 3rd led, and never got lost or off track, where the Captain wanted us to go..

We had to guard a bridge on route 9 that we captured. We were to guard it overnight till our attack could be resumed.  Well into the night we kept hearing noises from under the bridge. So we fired M-79 rounds and threw grenades under it to deter the enemy demo teams. Than in daylight I crawled under the bridge to investigate and came face to face with a 15 foot Python Snake which I promptly shot 3 times in the head. A picture was taken of the dead snake being held by LEEATUMO VIAEO [misspelled] from my platoon (a Samoan) standing by a Route 9 milepost.
We are now at the Khe Sahn base and my platoon has the lines at the wreckage of the C-130 plane. The Company was living on the perimeters edge, looking out into the killing fields. Some NVA bodies were still  visible because we could not get a party out to bury them without NVA artillery hitting us.A no-mans land, tangle foot barbed wire crisscrossed the ground, with tripwire flares to warn of enemy movement at night and c-ration cans hung also along the wire. Buried in the ground were 55 gallon drums full of C-4 plastic explosives, diesel fuel, old dirty ammo, which we connected to detonating devices in our fighting positions. Mines were buried and claymores were in position in front of us.

The bunkers were both home and fighting areas. They were stockpiled with ammo and hand grenades. The trenches had emplacements built with sandbags and timber; you could almost walk around the whole base in that trench unexposed and was it muddy when it rained. The base was heavily damaged, blown up bunkers left gapping holes, both ammo dumps had blown in the past, casting explosive rounds about. Most of the sandbags around the bunkers were torn and tattered fluttering in the breeze, making it look shabby. The Marines were pretty rough looking with ripped, dirty clothes, unshaven, smelly, but friendly..

We needed our morale boosted so I called for volunteers on different occasions and about five of us would sneak thru our defenses loaded with 4 to 6 grenades each. We would get on line and heave them all at once than rush back into our lines. It was quite exhilarating and a hell of a rush..

We now rotated platoons from the main supply route (MSR) minesweeping Route 9.Than did convoy and bridge security plus I would take out a  4 man killer team every so often and  squad patrols within sight of the base.

On the morning of May 19th I was ordered to prepare to engage an enemy ambush on the main supply route (MSR) within sight of the combat base. 3rd platoon led out with Company CP (Command Post) following and 1st Platoon bringing up rear. As we approached the ambush site, I went with 1st squad up the middle with 2nd squad on the right and 3rd squad on the left (on line and in echelon), and began assaulting the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) line of trenches.     

By this time one tank was smoking and immobile and the second tank had been hit but still moving. My assault had reached a point that had passed all friendlies including a tank and truck that were hit by RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). 2nd squad 3rd platoon got pinned down by a volume of heavy fire. Now, 1st squad was getting hit with the same heavy fire. We took cover in a crater near the center of the road and up higher than most of the NVA trenches that dug the night before with interlocking trenches, covered by machine guns, plus RPG crews, and B-40 Rockets.

My 3RD squad, commanded by CPL Terry Molyneux from Utah was instructed to work its way up towards my left flank. So, as to be on-line as much as possible with the NVA trenches which (some) were within 15 meters to relieve some of the fire on my position. The 2nd squad 's position where they were pinned down was just too far back and too the right to be of help to either my position or the CP's position.  At that moment about seven RPGs and B-40 rockets overshot the remaining tank and landed in my 3rd squads position and killed all but Cpl Terry Molyneux and a black kid named Alexander. Immediately after that , the last tank was hit by multiple RPG fire. There was a Six by Six truck that had been hit and knocked out sitting off to our right rear that had a 50 caliber ring on it and a Marine was still firing the 50 CAL when the tank was hit. The tank drove up the rear of the truck and the Marine had to jump off. He was hit 3 times in the chest but later I heard he lived. We had him in our crater that we were fighting from and Doc Pipkin was tending to his wounds.
I was on the radio calling in mortar and air-strikes but someone on the radio said that it was already being done. We were pinned down by a enemy machine gun emplacement which proved to be the enemy's furthermost position across the MSR. I asked my 1st squad leader if he had a LAAW (66mm disposable rocket). We had to look around for one and a grunt said Sarge I been carrying this for 3 months, please use it.  

The enemy machine gun position was about 75 meters up the road, almost level with our position. I took aim and (there were so many incoming rounds) my guys were yelling for me to hurry up and fire. I was popping up and down and will never know how but, that LAAW fired and exploded on a tree just above the gun. I thought I missed but, the blast killed the 3 NVA and the gun never fired again.

We were being assaulted and someone had taken over calling in missions so, we were repelling  (killing NVA) coming into our zone. The Company CP had been over-run and killed to a man. I still regret to this day not being able to help Captain Troy Robert Oliver Jr. and the CP group. I did not realize at the time we assaulted into the ambush that we had about 25 yards of trench to our right that held NVA that we had crossed their front and they were now to my right rear firing on the CP group even as we were pinned down by a terrific volumn of machine gun fire, small arms and RPG's and B-40 rockets.

The fighting went on for 8 hours with three assaults by the NVA which were repulsed by my fighting hole which contained seven Marines plus three wounded. Golf company must have linked with Colonel Duncan's CP and also the rest of Fox company. But, that was 200 yards from where my Marines were fighting for our lives.

Each time we were assaulted we pushed them back by killing them sometimes not once, but twice. I remember firing my grease gun and hitting the NVA rushing to get within grenade range and as the .45 caliber bullets hit them they would fly backwards.

And, one I really remember because I hit him in the chest with three 45's and than the next round hit him in the elbow. His elbow and arm was dangling almost off and after hitting the ground he was still struggling to get up on his feet and kill me.

Some of them would struggle to get up again as if they were on drugs and their wounds did not matter. It was quite un-nerving to watch this but, of course a pitched battle is quite un-nerving in itself. So, we had no choice but to keep shooting at them till they were dead and stayed that way. The ones that got around our fighting position would find our dead and dying Marines and shoot them multiple times..

We had been in continuous combat for about 8 hours and I realized we were almost out of ammunition. Even though I didn't understand it, I realized that day just what we were up against here in Vietnam. They were dedicated to their ideals. They were single NVA soldiers that would attempt to crawl up as close as they could to toss grenades on us. They had no other weapons on them. And, to my way of thinking that was either stupidity or total dedication. But, whichever it was, it sure was an eye opener for me. Also they used radios to communicate. I fired at one who had a radio on his back but when we went to find his body the radio was gone. 

As the NVA were throwing grenades and shooting at us, I hollered Fix Bayonets!. We all looked at each other and began to laugh hysterically for a moment because, we never carried bayonets, as they were impractical in the jungle. We than got back to the business at hand.

We were running dangerously low on ammo so I got on the radio and requested a tank to support and reinforce my position because I could see it sitting on the road from the intersection of Route 9 and the road to the base maybe a 1/4 mile away. After asking for the tank to support us it began moving towards us (very slowly) and about 40 meters pass the NVA machine gun position I had destroyed with a Laww which was  their anchor for their horseshoe style  ambush, I began to move towards the tank so I could direct it's fire on the remaining NVA in the trenches.

During the battle we had been supported by gun-ships, jets with napalm, artillery, mortars and the North Vietnamese Army were still confronting us in battle. I knew where the enemy was and wanted to show the tank as a show of strength. But, I did not want a repeat of Corporal Fred Kellogg's tank being missed  by numerous RPGs and B-40 rockets and killing any remaining 3rd platoon Marines in the process.

I didn't know that back in 1966 they had removed the radios from the rear of the tanks which they kept in a small box. It was there for grunts like me to direct the tank where to fire. Anyway I was up and running for it, praying I wasn't mistaken for the enemy. Also I was worried that the  RPGs and B-40 Rockets being shot at the tank wouldn't miss and would get the tank and me at the same time.

I pointed to the NVA trenches and the tank pivoted to the right and began firing Pheshett Rounds and HE  at the trenches . The incoming enemy rounds began to noticeably decrease in our direction. Wasn't long before the tank crew was hard-pressed to find a target and the rest of my platoon began to mop up what we saw. We moved along and finished off what NVA remained.

This wasn't a One Marine Show. But what has bothered me all these years was why it took so long for two Marine Company's and Tanks to get to us. We were under intense fire for about 8 hours and what I didn't realize was we had assaulted through the original ambush platoon and my sister platoon was still getting into assault position with our brave captain between us. And when he said attack, we went full force into the heart of the NVA.

I was never asked for a statement of this action and this is my first time since May 19th,1968 that I sat down and wrote down what I recalled about that terrible bloody day in May 1968. That is why I have to change some of it, because my 3rd Squad leader contacted me to correct me about not losing my whole 3rd squad.

Hell! I didn't know I was being awarded the Bronze Star with Combat V until I was Medevaced while out in the field on an operation (November 10th 1968) when I collapsed into a coma. I woke up in a Guam Hospital recovering from Japanese B Encephalitis (Sleeping Sickness) with a general placing a Bronze Star with Combat V on my robe.

[SSGT] 2007387 USMC 1962 - 1972


The Battalion S-3 combat records (declassified) state:   Page 318  (1968: The Definitive Year)

An even bigger fight was yet to come. During the night of 18-19 May, the enemy moved a battalion to within two kilometers of the combat base. At about 0400, an enemy platoon attacked Company H, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines southeast of Khe Sanh along Route 9. Assaulting from all sides with heavy small arms fire, grenades, satchel charges, and RPGs, the North Vietnamese killed three Marines and wounded three others before retiring. They left behind eight dead. Almost simultaneously, an enemy company, using 60mm mortar support, probed Company I, 3d Battalion, 4th Marines on Hill 552. After a short fight, the Marines heard the North Vietnamese digging in. Exchanges of fire continued through the night. In the morning, the Marines assaulted the nearby enemy, driving them from their positions with 42 dead and 4 taken prisoner. Four Marines suffered wounds.

At 0710, 19 May, while Company I was still fighting near Hill 552, a platoon of Company F, 2d Battalion, 1st Marines and two tanks headed south from Khe Sanh along the coffee plantation road, sweeping ahead of a convoy bound for Ca Lu. About 300 meters from the road's intersection with Route 9, the Marines triggered an NVA ambush at a range of 25 meters. An enemy company, dug in, forced the Marines to take cover under a storm of automatic weapons fire, RPGs, and grenades. The Marines attempted an assault, but the enemy repulsed them, adding a heavy barrage of mortars to the Marines' discomfort. The rest of Company F, waiting at the combat base with the convoy, immediately reinforced the endangered platoon, then assaulted with the entire company. The Communists not only threw back the Marines a second time, but even left their own positions to counterattack. This time, it was Company F's turn to hold fast, and the Marines repulsed the enemy assault. Lieutenant Colonel Billy R. Duncan, the battalion commander, recalled that by this time he had arrived at the scene with a small command group. The company commander, however, had been mortally wounded and "contact during the next hour was mixed with serious probes by both sides."

Company G advanced south along the road to join the fight, killing three North Vietnamese who had sneaked to the rear of Company F. After the two companies linked up, Lieutenant Colonel Duncan asked for napalm air strikes. According to Duncan, the enemy was anywhere between 35 to 50 yards distant from the Marine positions and too close for artillery support, therefore the call for napalm. While some of the Marines accidentally also were covered by napalm jelly, the fixed-wing strikes broke the enemy "will to stay and fight." As the enemy retreated. Company E, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines struck the NVA from the flank. With the ambush site cleared, the rest of the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines went to the field and searched the area south-southwest of the combat base trying to regain contact until 22 May, but met only minor resistance. During the operation, 8 Marines died, including the commanders of Companies F and G, and 34 fell wounded. The battalion captured 3 North Vietnamese and reported killing 113, of whom 69 were found in the ambush site.
The enemy troops killed and captured by the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines were described as "clean, well dressed, and neatly groomed." According to Lieutenant Colonel Duncan, one of the prisoners stated the enemy mission was to "stop all movement along Route 9." This did not match the depiction of the enemy forces in the Khe Sanh area as defeated and on the run.

To realize that my marines and I lay under fire for almost 8 hours because some higher ups  was holding back our ground support and tank support  because they were afraid of a bigger NVA attack on the base is very disturbing to me for this reason. How could the higher ups hold back support[Ground and Tank] for over 8 hours while we were in a continuous firefight thinking the base would be hit? Would'nt it stand to reason that my unit was stopping any enemy movement towards the base. I have talked [by e-mail] with a tanker and a 2/1 company C. O.  and both apolized for not being able to come to our aid that day.

One of my sister companies was twice moved on the base perimeter and could hear the firefight and are disturbed to this day that they could not come to our aid. The tanker was in a tank at the base and was held back from helping my unit. The tank that came to our aid is the one I saw down the road and requested by radio for aid and said on prc-25 Fox net, "I can see a tank down the road, can he assist us  due to my unit being almost out of ammo". And only then did the tank start moving towards my position and finally reached us and began it's fire which broke all  the rest of resistance.

I do not mean to sound bitter but deep down I guess I am because I feel some of my comrades might still be alive IF, and that's where I stop with IF. That's a big word in combat and to use it afterwards is not right. What happened, happened, because that is the way it is in a Firefight or a Battle that's fought and nuff said.

CHARLES V THOMPSON  [SSGT] 2007387 USMC 1962 - 1972

Semper Fi,   Chuck