In late August 1965, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th
Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, had spent the better part of a
week occupying the Village of Duong Son(2). We had dug in around the outside perimeter of the
Village and had literally encased the Village within a wall of Marines.
Duong Son (2) was no more than 8 or 10 miles
West of DaNang, and had recently been infiltrated by Viet Cong. It was our mission
to run the VC out of the area. So we constantly manned our foxholes for 24-hour
security, and ran day and night patrols to ensure the safety of the Village.
Approximately 1 mile from Duong Son(2) there
was a series of 4 small hamlets, which made up the village complex called Cam Ne. Cam Ne
proved to be a problem throughout the Vietnam War. The village chief and the
majority of the other occupants, were major VC/NVA sympathizers, who constantly
gave food and refuge to the enemy.
During my term with G/2/9 we would see a lot of
action around the railroad tracks from Cam Ne south to Liberty Bridge.
On our last night of Duong Son(2) occupation, we had a major
skirmish with a large group of VC (20 to 30) who attacked us from a small hamlet
that was adjacent to, and part of the Duong Son(2) village complex that wasn’t
occupied by Marines. We drove the VC out of their positions around midnight and
later we found out that they had retreated into Cam Ne.
The next morning, September 1st 1965, we mounted up
and began a sweep in the direction of Cam Ne. I was LCpl Bob Lamkee’s Assistant Gunner, having recently been busted back to Pvt for a rear area screw up that
involved the excess use of alcohol (see The Hand Grenade Incident).
Being busted from Gunner wasn’t all that bad, a Rocket
Gunner in Vietnam was something less than exciting most of the time, you rarely
got the chance to use you skills, (they always kept the 3.5’s in reserve, the
ammo was bulky, hard to carry and we only had 7 rounds per gun, so they wanted to
limit its use to emergency situations). I was actually happy to get my trusty M-14 back, although
I did miss my .45, - the .45 was very comforting at night when the potential for close in combat was more likely.
Bob Lamke was a good team leader and because of my experience,
I was his assistant gunner. We would go on to win a Bronze star 13 days
later when our 3.5 saved the day (see A Bronze Star Story).
Cam Ne (we’re back to Cam Ne) like so many other Villages in
Vietnam, was actually made up of several inter connecting smaller hamlets,
connected by a commonly farmed rice field. Throughout the hump from Duong Son(2) to Cam Ne,
we encountered several small hamlets, which we inspected as we
This was the first time that I really took note of the lack of
young men in these villages. These hamlets all looked normal at a glance, young
women with small children, older children playing, older women working on the
next meal and old men, women and children of all ages working the rice
fields. But, no young men to be seen, this was a dead giveaway.
In any village where you do not see young men, or South
Vietnamese soldiers, you have a VC sympathetic village, where most of the young
men are members of the Viet Cong.
By noon we had come within 1,000 meters of Cam Ne without any
encounters with the enemy, so our CO Capt. Osborne, decided that we would stop,
eat and rest before we entered and occupied Cam Ne.
As we finished up our noon C rations, we rested in a shady
area along this path leading into Cam Ne. It was near 1:00 pm when the first
shot was fired, 1st Platoon, our lead platoon, was under fire.
But almost as soon as the first few shots rang out, it stopped.
Unfortunately, one of us was badly wounded by an enemy sharp
shooter who got lucky from almost 1,000 meters. It was rare to encounter a VC
who could really shoot. Most of the Viet Cong were not well trained, but this one was a very good shot! (later that day we found a spent 7.62x58 Mosin cartridge, the sniper had used a WWI Russian sniper rifle).
Upon encountering the enemy, Captain Osborne ordered us to
our feet, and we assumed a defensive position. The next order of business was to
send out a patrol to recon the situation, which we immediately did.
The first squad of 1st Platoon was sent out to
approach the village, the rest of us sat tight and waited. The patrol headed out with orders to stop just outside the Village in the
area of a large burial ground.
This burial ground was a very large one. With the high water table
perfect for growing rice, the only place you can bury your dead is above ground,
so every village had its own above ground cemetery.
As the patrol approached this burial ground at the outer edge
of Cam Ne, everything seemed quiet, and the sniper incident had appeared to be
random and isolated, as most sniper incidents were.
When the patrol radioed back that they were in position, they
were given the go-ahead to enter the village, this turned out to be a very bad
decision. As the patrol crossed onto the cemetery, remotely controlled land
mines began going off. Bouncing Betty’s, mines that bounce out of the ground
and explode about waist level, were capping off as the patrol reached the top.
This was our single worst day since arriving in Vietnam. This day marked the first KIA’s suffered by 2/9
since our entry into the war. We had suffered 14 casualties, 5 of our own were
dead, and we were in a state of realty shock.
Battalion ordered in the Amtracks, we boarded, crossed the
1000-meter rice field and basically went in one end of Cam Ne and came out the
other. No more enemy were encountered, so we left the Amtracks and re entered the
village and began a house to house search, looking for arms, explosives and young
men. We found neither, but one old women and the village chief were wounded when
they refused to come out of a room they were hiding in.
We were definitely on a mission of revenge, although I didn’t
personally witness any wrongdoing, and I was present when the village Chief and
the old women were wounded.
It was a multi room adobe house and very dark, we couldn't actually see who was in there, just that there were two or three shadows inside. We had an interpreter but they refused to come out,
so they were warned and then ordered shot.
This wasn’t a random act of violence, our troops were
viscously attacked and we acted accordingly. The shooting of the Chief and old
women was also not a random act of violence but rather an unfortunate act of war. They were
warned several times in their own language, they were told they would not be
hurt if they came out and would be shot if they didn't, we spent the better part of 30 minutes trying to coax them out before
they were shot and only wounded at that.
There were over 100 village members that cooperated and were
not mistreated in any way, and by the time the CBS news team arrived on the scene
early that evening, the dust had settled, the wounded civilians were being
treated and we had the situation was under control.
It was in the late 80’s while watching a Discovery Network
series on Vietnam, that I discovered that Dan Rather was one of the on scene CBS
news team members. As I watched the segment, I began to get extremely upset at
what I was hearing.
The picture painted by Dan Rather was much different than I
remembered. It is true that the U.S. Government paid the Village $43,000.00 for
the damage caused to their Rice crops by the Amtracks, I knew about this shortly
after the incident happened, but the way Dan Rather portrayed the Marines, you
would think that this was a prelude to the Mai Lai incident.
I am sorry that civilians were hurt, but we did no wrong that
day and we should not be slandered for the sake of journalism.
In retrospect, I am sure that it was Dan Rather’s reporting
that provoked the 43k restitution payment to the village for the damaged rice crops and I'm sure that the 43k went directly into uncle Ho's bank.
As for Golf Company 2/9, we were awarded the Presidential Unit
Citation for our actions that day.
*Foot Note I - our KIA’s - Cpl Jerry Lee Roberts, Pfc Louis
Royston, Pfc Nelson Edie Wilson, Pfc Michael Hoyer and Cpl Alvin Forney,
**Foot Note II - In 1965 and 66 we had a real edge in Vietnam. We won all of our battles
and suffered very few casualties in the process. We were also developing
positive relationships with the peasant population.
We were not War Mongers or Baby Killers, we
were highly trained combat soldiers, trying to do a very difficult job, under
very difficult conditions, with unrealistic rules of engagement.
None of this ever reached the American
It was the negative news reporting, like this by Dan Rather
in Cm Ne, and other "Liberal" and biased news agencies, that worked against,
and in fact defeated our efforts early on in that war.
All of this daily news reporting would ultimately
serve to remove all advantage our training may have given us, because it turned the American People against the very ones sworn to protect them.
Click on Map to enlarge - Hills
10, 22, 44 and 327 are also marked on this map grid. This map shows the two villages marked
with red dots, the red X marks the spot where we
began our sweep into Cam Ne.