By; Bob Neener Golf 2/9 13 Sept 1965
We would occupy many villages during our lengthily stay in
Vietnam, and the occupation program was a good working program, at least in
In 1965 the occupation of these key villages proved to be very useful to
both the U.S. military mission and to the security of the average Vietnamese
Peasant, who just wanted to farm his rice field and provide for his family.
The problem with this occupation program was that there
werenít enough of us Grunts to go around. We would occupy a village for a few
days, or in some cases weeks, using day and night patrols to clean out the VC,
and then leave to go on to another problem area. In order for this occupation
program to work in reality, we would have had to simultaneously occupy every village in Vietnam.
So instead, we chased the VC around the countryside from village to village, we would clean out the VC and move on, and the VC would move right back in behind us. Many
times we would find ourselves recognizing the area and remembering that we had
been there before, shed blood there before and lost brothers there before. The An Trach area was one of those hot spots
that was hard to forget.
It was 13 September 1965, Golf Company, 2nd
Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division was
performing squatting duty in An Trach(1). (I say squatting duty because thatís
what we were doing, squatting, occupying
this village. I believe that 2/9 was occupying
this entire triangle area of villages, although I never ran into any of the other
companies during this time.
An Trach(1), Yen Ne(1) and Le Son(4), form a triangle group
of villages that share and farm the same rice fields. An Trach and Le Son both
butt up against the western side of the SONG YEN River, and are about a mile
apart. Yen Ne is located about a mile west, near the railroad tracks.
Yen Ne, had a Catholic Church with a steeple that stood
way up out of the trees and could be seen for several hundred meters away. An Trach
is located almost a mile between the other two.
(Click to SEE MAP) These three villages were approximately 3 miles north of Hill 55
and 10 miles south of DaNang and maybe 2 miles from Cam Ne and Dong Son.
We had our platoon CP set up in an old mortar schoolhouse;
this schoolhouse was small, but made a real good CP (command post) and was used
by many, to get in out of the afternoon monsoon rain that poured down late every afternoon.
On the morning of Sept 13th our platoon leader,
1st Lt Charles Sherwood, informed us that we were going on a platoon strength, daytime
patrol. We would begin in An Trach and follow the perimeter of the rice field to
each of the other two villages and back, it would be a complete circle.
We started out about 10:00 and expected to be back by 17:00.
Our first leg was eventless, but as we left An Trach for Yen Ne, we drew sniper
fire from a treed area in front and in the direction we were traveling. (This
rice field was peppered with clumping trees almost completely covering its
western perimeter between An Trach and Yen Ne. We were moving just inside the
tree line, using it for cover).
Two or maybe three VC were taking
pot shots at us as we crossed
the openings in the bamboo. We drew more sniper fire as we moved forward, and
this time the shooter was very near by.
As we moved into the rice field, my
squad leader ( a real life SGT Striker) nailed one of the snipers in the back as he was running away from us, with one shot from his .45.
That trusty old .45 will knock you down every time, and thereís no
getting back up. This was the first VC I got an up close and personal look at,
the first dead enemy I had seen.
(I had been in Country for 2 1/2 months and I had seen a
few shot, but by the time we would get to where we thought they should be, they
were gone, and we were second guessing out marksmanship)
This time we finally had our selves a body. He was just a
kid no older than I was at the time, but I didnít reflect on that back then.
He was just a dead enemy, the only good enemy!
As we continued on our approach to Yen Ne, we spotted
several people in black pajamas running across our forward position carrying AK 47's, moving in the
direction of our next objective, Yen Ne.
ďCANíT SHOOT - TILL SHOT AT"
Rule strictly enforced, we all hesitated to take action without direct orders.
This would prove to be an error later on.
(This rule was imposed in early July 1965 to help
circumvent the accidental shootings of South Vietnamese ARVN troops by U.S. troops).
Accidents happen in war, friendly losses are one of the
many ugly byproducts of war, this Rule was another command error that would cost us
dearly, it was hard enough on U.S. troops, without any inept rules of
engagement that actually aided the enemy and helped contribute to our casualties!
A half hour later we saw another group of armed VC running across the rice field and Lieutenant Sherwood alerted someone to fire a couple of
40mm M79 grenades in the direction of these VC. They were clearly carrying AK
47ís, and we had just been under fire a half hour earlier, so the Lt
determined that we were under attack and reacted. Clearly following the rules of engagement as
closely as he could decipher them.
The M79ís did the trick, the VC immediately abandoned
their attempt to cross over to our front and disappeared, so we continued on our
As we reached the outer perimeter of
Yen Ne, we began making the turn from the most western portion of this
triangle back to the south and east towards Le Son. Yen Ne was on our left flank
as we passed the Catholic Church with the tall steeple.
There was a binjo ditch (Natural Irrigation Conduit)
running parallel to the tree line and church that made a 90-degree turn back
towards the church. When the entire platoon had reached this ditch, all hell
broke out. We were getting bombarded with rifle and machinegun fire coming from
the southern most portion of Yen Ne at our forward position.
Everyone took cover in this binjo and the first M60
Machinegun team set up on top and began returning fire. Moments later the Gunner
was hit and then his assistant gunner got hit while trying to take over the M60.
LCpl Bob Lamke and myself were the forward 3.5 Rocket team,
Lt Sherwood ordered us to take out the enemy machinegun. So Lamkee and I ran
from the binjo ditch to a grassy, dry area to our right front, far enough away from the
rest of the platoon so that our back blast wouldnít hurt any of our guys.
3.5 Rocket Launcher is a recoilless weapon, open on both ends, and uses an
switch that generates 1/10 volt to fire its 11 lb self propelled rocket round.
When fired, it sends a back blast, scattering rocket propellant and anything
else in its path up to 150í).
As an ďAĒ Gunner, it was my job to load the weapon for
the gunner. Because I had previously been a Gunner, Lamkee usually conferred with me as
to our choice of targets and distance.
We were spotted by the enemy while taking our position, receiving
small arms fire as we ran out to set up. The VC were waiting for us to show our
selves again and we didnít know where the hell the enemy machinegun position was, so we took
turns looking around over the tall elephant grass, to assess the situation.
There was the tail end of Yen Ne to our left front at about
300 yards, there was a clump of small thatched huts to our right about 150 yards
and there was the Catholic Church to our left about 100 yards.
It was clear the enemy machinegun was somewhere to our
front as was most of the other enemy fire, rounds were hitting around us
everywhere, we were sure that there were enemy
flanking us as well.
We were in plain view from the Huts on right, but it was all
quiet there. We were also in plain view of the Church Steeple, which had a bell
tower that would make a perfect snipers nest, but it was also quiet there also, and
you donít blow up a Catholic Church without a real good reason, so we decided
to concentrate on the Huts in front and to the left of us.
The 3.5 rocket rounds came in aluminum canisters, each
gun team carried 6 rounds. (3) HEAT, High explosive rounds and (3) WP, White
Phosphorous rounds. The ďAĒ Gunner always carried one open and the rest we
kept in the canisters on our backpacks, until we needed them.
I loaded the HEAT round that I had been carrying for about a month, and suggested that we blow up this
clay walled Hut in middle of the tree line in front of us. There were several
Huts in this tree line but only one was constructed of clay and mortar. I
figured that if Lamkee could drop one right in the window or door opening, the place
would blow up from the inside out. I was sure that there would be enemy in there
because of the protection it would provide them from our small arms fire.
Lamkee didnít think he could be accurate enough to hit
the window or door opening and we argued for a moment about the range. He thought it was
300 meters and I thought it was closer to 275.
We agreed on 275 meters and he set up and FIRED, or should I
say squeezed the Magneto trigger, but nothing happened? No contact, so I removed the Round and tried to clean the copper band with some sand. I got it all nice and shinny and reloaded the rocket tube and again Lamkee set up and
tried to fire, and again nothing happened, We had a DUD round and we also had given away our position and began to draw heavy enemy fire.
We moved several more yards to the right by crawling
through the tall grass. When we stopped crawling, I opened a WP canister to get
a new round; I figured that the copper band on the HEAT round was damaged or
something was interfering with contact and besides the
WP is a better anti personnel device because of its wide coverage of burning White Phosphorus.
I loaded the tube and Lamkee took aim and again we had a DUD. Now weíre in big trouble. We had a DUD
Rocket Launcher; it was a bad Magneto switch, probably corroded contacts from the daily late afternoon monsoon rains,
we cleaned the damn thing every evening, but the humidity was just awful in
South Vietnam during the Monsoon season.
We were pegged by the Cong and we had to get back to the
ditch and fast, so we took off running, Lamkee first, then me. As we neared the
edge of the ditch and safety, the enemy machinegun began tracking us and all
enemy weapons were trained on us. We were the only clear target that the enemy had,
and just like in the Movies, we were only a foot or so ahead of this mass of
bullets hitting the ground behind us.
Lamkee dove head first into the ditch and I was right
behind him, one round (with my name on it) had narrowly missed my head, creasing the shoulder pad of my
flack jacket as it whizzed passed me breaking the sound barrier with a big crack.
dove into the ditch but, the one that almost got me, made me turn my head for just a
split second, and there it was, a smoking machinegun, on a burial mound about
250 meters directly in front of us, and right in front of the clay
Hut we had targeted just a few moments earlier.
Now we were mad as hell. The entire platoon is pinned down
in this ditch, we've got wounded that need to evacuated, we have a clear target, and
our Rocket launcher is a DUD.
We now know where the target is, all we need is a Rocket Launcher that
works. So, Lamkee decides we should go back to the rear of the platoon and grab the 2nd
Rocket tube and go back out and frag that machinegun.
We begin making our way through the ditch to the rear, it was only about
30 meters but the mud is a
foot deep and sucking us down with each new step. So we get up on top and do a
classic Marine Low run to the rear, all the time the enemy is shooting at us,
bullets are still hitting all around and Lt Sherwood is yelling orders to us to get
down. When we get to the rear, we jumped back into the ditch and ranted about the
target and how we need the other Rocket Launcher.
Lt Sherwood gave us the green light and the other Gunner
was very happy to let us use his Rocket launcher. Now all we have to do is make
one more trip back out there without getting shot, and bow up a machinegun nest.
We also know that they are going to be laying for us, so we
low crawl another 150 feet until we are clear of the platoon. Now all we have to do is get the
distance correct and weíre home free.
Well, if youíve been paying attention to this story, you've probably figured out by now that Lamke and I
were having a problem agreeing on the target range.
I guessed 225 meters; Lamkee thought it was closer to 250
meters. I suggested that we go with 225 because if I was wrong, and it was 250
meters, at least the WP would put up a nice smoke screen on our side of the
machinegun nest, and we would have time to reposition and take cover before our
That made sense to Lamkee so he stands up and takes very careful aim and fires, and this time with a big Bah-BOOM and the rocket
round took off flying.
Now it shouldnít be too hard to figure out what happened next. You guessed it, Lamkee was right, The rocket round fell about 25 meters
I only brought out two rounds out on this last trip into the tall grass, one WP
and one HEAT. So under the smoke screen from our last shot, we repositioned, I loaded the HEAT round and when the WP smoked cleared, Lamkee
fired, and Bulls Eye, a direct hit, 86 one Chinese .30 Machinegun and two
confirmed dead VC in lots of little burning pieces.
Once we took out their machinegun, the battle basically ended faster than it started. This whole incident lasted maybe 45 minutes, but it still seems like hours. After we had taken out the machine gun, a forward air
observer flying a Cessna, sighted 21 VC leaving via the rear of the village and happily called in
a 155 artillery strike.
We reached our CP around 19:30 and Lamkee and I were
immediately summoned to the COís HQ. Upon entering, we see LT Sherwood seated
alongside Captain Osbornís field desk making his report. We came to attention
and Lt Sherwood began to read us the riot-act for disobeying direct orders.
appears that when we were going for the 2nd rocket launcher and
running atop the ditch, the LT was ordering us to get back into the ditch and take cover, and we had clearly disobeyed him.
Just when Lt Sherwood was getting the part, ďif this ever
happens againĒ the Capt interrupted him and informed us that LT Sherwood had just recommended us both for the Silver Star.
The Captain then congratulated us and
dismissed all of us including the LT, who walked back to our Plt CP with us. Lt
Sherwood told us that he was mad that we disobeyed him but that the end
sometimes does justify the means in his book, and shook both of our hands.
I am proud to have been awarded the Bronze Star, even though initially
recommended for the Silver Star, I guess headquarters Marine Corps or Congress
saw things differently, and at the time, Lamkee and I felt
were only doing our job. I guess we were downgraded to the Bronze Star because
it took us two trips out there to bag that machinegun!
It was a very strange experience for both of us. Being in
Rockets, we didnít get much of a chance to exchange fire with the enemy. This
was only the 2nd time we fired the Rocket in 2 months. We were
naturally frustrated, every time the shooting would start, we were ordered to
hold back until told otherwise.
All Lamkee and I were doing, was joining the game, it was
our turn with the ball, our turn to vent some pent up frustrations and
exhaust some of our fears. We didnít think about the possibilities, we just
went out into no-mans land and blew up an enemy machinegun nest that was putting
a serious hurt on the rest of our guys. This was our job, this is what we
were trained to do.
Several months later when I was nearing the completion of
my tour of duty, I gained a new respect for what Lamke and I had done that day.
and I did is likened to a couple of kids on the 4th of July
with a Big Firecracker. (You canít wait for the big Boom and you donít care
if it is dangerous) Short Timers were by nature, very cautious and methodical.
There were times when I would brake out in a cold sweat thinking about my Bronze
Star day, it had finally scared the hell out of me!
On 13 September 1965 We suffered (5) wounded but no KIAís.
I would return to this very spot (7) months later with Lima Company 3/3, and we
lost our CO, Capt De Martino WIA, our Sr. corpsman WIA, and one KIA, PFC Frank
The 3rd Marines would fight and die
in this area for four years. All of our battles were successful, we never
lost one battle in Vietnam.