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Operation Harvest Moon Revisited

By: Jack Swallows  Lt Col  U.S.M.C. Retired


Editors note;  on 9 December 1965 Jack Swallows was a 1st Lt FO (Forward Observer) attached to Lima Company 3/3

Jack also Served as FO with 2/9 and  3/9. He finished his tour as fire direction officer for a 105 mm battery at An Hoa.

6 March 2003

Just got back from Vietnam trip. It's 1:30 AM here but my body feels like 10:30AM.

I had many interesting experiences, too many to mention but thought an account of one of my days might be of general interest.

THE BACKGROUND:  8 December 1965 two s. Vietnamese battalions were given orders to turn westward from Highway 1, about 30 miles south of Da Nang, with the expectations that they would come in contact with the 1st VC Regiment. Their orders were kept secret from them until the last minute in order to keep the movement secret from the VC. This tactic did not work as the Viet Cong were waiting for them a few miles down the road. Both battalions were attacked, and as happened frequently in those days, broke and ran.

The next day my battalion Lima 3/3 was lifted by helicopter to rescue the remnants of one of those ARVN battalions. After landing we proceeded west towards hill 43. Just at dusk we were attacked by the VC who were in the close-by tree lines and about 700 meters away at the base of hill 43.

During this fight 11 Marines were killed and over 40 wounded. The first medical evacuation helicopter was shot down about 100 feet from me and the pilot killed. During the fight I sheltered behind a large rock with several of my artillery forward observation team as well as the air liaison team.

Later I determined that I was on the wrong side of the rock since most of the fire came from our rear. The next morning we proceeded to hill 43 where we joined up with about 40 survivors of the S. Vietnamese battalion. Over the next 10 days we searched for the VC but did not have any further significant contact.

........MY GOAL: 37 years later, To find the exact same spot where this fight took place. I had a Marine map taken from a history publication which showed that the fight had taken place about 10 miles south of Hoi An where I was conveniently staying. The plan was to go south 10 miles on Highway 1 to the town of Thang Binh, turn west on road number 534, go about 8 miles and hill 43 should be on the left side very close to the road.

Problem 1: Thang Bing turned out to be about 25 miles south of Hoi An.

Problem 2: after turning west we should cross over railroad tracks close to highway.

We cross the tracks OK but after going about 3 miles. If the map is off this far regarding location of hill 43 I'll probably never see it. It's not jungle hear, but there is a lot of tree bamboo, etc. Not to worry, 8 miles down the road hill 43 appears right as scheduled.

For you non military people, Hills on military maps are given numbers which correspond to their height above sea level. In this case 43 meters above sea level or about  140 feet. The road is probably 30 feet above sea level. So my driver and I start up the hill. Two locals join us, a young guy and an old guy of about 50.

After a not too difficult climb we reach the top. I remember the look of the place, 37 years, two months, and 16 days later. Zero evidence that a desperate fight took place here; the VC came close to overrunning the defenders. No c-ration cans, no shell casings, no batteries, nothing.

Jack's driver atop Hill 43 looking North

Now to find my rock. We head down the hill in an Easterly direction. I thought that our fight had taken place about three hundred meters from the hill. I start moving away from the hill zigging and zagging, walk some more, look back at the hill to get my bearings. Walk some more, look back, walk some more.

Artillery Officers are the best map readers in the world. I'm getting a little frustrated that I can't find my spot. Of course I'm not working off a real map.

Now I'm about 700 meters from the hill. I don't remember being this far, but the site picture back to the hill is getting better. Walk some more and the site picture is better yet.

Now I am out of water. It is very hot and humid. I tell my driver 100 more meters then we go back. Around the next bend>>>>>>MY ROCK!. It's the right size, the distance from the tree line is right, the site picture back towards the hill is right. I am 99.9% sure this is the spot where 11 brave marines died long ago.

click on photos to enlarge


Hill 43 is centered in photo 1,  and on the left on photo 2

Editors note: Jack found his Rock, that's him in the photo on the right. What Jack didn't realize when he took the photo on the left was that he also found the exact spot where myself and John Miller were both wounded and where Doc Richard Croxen was killed. All by the same Chi Com mortar round fired from the base of Hill 43. it's the dyke 30 yards up and to the left of Jack's Rock

I am walking with a cane due to knee surgery. I twirl it over my head trying to imitate the movement of a helicopter. One of the local guys shouts ""yes, yes" and takes me to a spot exactly 110 feet from my rock.

In the rice paddy is a large bomb crater that is now full of water. To prevent salvage of any parts from the helicopter, we moved away the next morning and directed an F4 Phantom bomber to drop a bomb on the helicopter and the crater remains.

Now there is no doubt>>this is the spot. I take many photos of the rock, the crater, and the surrounding tree line. I hold my hat over my heart as a token of respect for my lost comrades. The thought comes to mind that I may be the first Marine to revisit this spot since the battle.

Bomb Crater with hill 43 in background  -  the tree line in front of hill 43 was not there in 1965, it was all open rice paddy, and we were caught in a triangle ambush with no where to go.

As we leave the scene a women in a house about 75 meters away invites us over for water. My driver drinks but I respectfully decline. She dips the water out of the cistern with a GI canteen cup. I notice but don't take a closer look. Later I wish I had looked to see if it had Marine markings on it. Could well have said Army even if it came from a Marine. In those days Marines used a lot of old Army gear.

village in background, the woman on left offered water

Now a straight walk back to the road. My driver leaves me to retrieve the car. I am very tired, hot, and very thirsty. Two guys pull up on motorbikes, better dressed then the locals and not smiling.

This was my 8th day in country and EVERYONE had been very friendly. They ignore me and start talking to the old guy. I can tell from his gestures that he is replaying our walk. My driver returns with the car. They talk to him: he does not look happy. I ask "problem?" he says "yes, problem" These guys are a couple of local cops doing a field investigation.

Turns out no outsiders are supposed to be in these parts. We are way off the beaten path. I'm tired but my energy is returning. Thoughts of kicking their commie asses start going through my mind. But reason prevails. After about 20 minutes they release us and we return to civilization for a very large bottle of water and a small bottle of Tiger Beer.

After I rest awhile I remember why I had misjudged the distance to the hill. I had fired my M14 rifle at VC on the hill and 700 meters is way too far to see people through the open sites of a rifle. I had spotted them first through my powerful field binoculars and then emptied several magazines of ammunition towards the hill. Thus in my memory I thought I was closer.

Earlier in the day the battalion commander had centralized all requests for artillery support with the battalion command group. Since I couldn't call in artillery support I became a rifleman. I shouldn't forget to mention that my scout sergeant earned the Silver Star that evening for risking his life to carry several of the wounded to safety.

I was in Vietnam for 14 days. The people are remarkably friendly towards Americans. I stayed at the five star Hilton Hanoi, and the five star Furama hotel in Da Nang.

Finally got my swim in the South China sea which I had missed out on 37 years ago. In eleven months in the field I had 4 non duty hours plus 5 days R&R in Okinawa.

I served with four rifle company's and five company commanders. I was fire direction for a 105 MM artillery for about a month. I saw my last dead Marine on the way to the airport for my return home. So I was very lucky, not even a purple heart. I got off the track. I also stayed at a couple of hotels that were not five star, but still received friendly, courteous service.

If you are adventuresome and want to try something different, consider a trip to Vietnam.  If you can afford it, spend a week at the Furama in Da Nang. It's beautiful. Go to one of the local markets , Try out some dog meat. It's not bad.

It's great to be home.

Semper Fi,  Jack     

Jack Swallows saluting our lost brothers at the edge of the bomb crater.

Editors note: This crater was most likely also part of the crater used as a field hospital which was only a few meters from where the Med Evac chopper went down. The two were probably joined into one when they demolished the chopper by air strike the next day.

See Chopper Pilot Major Reilly's Navy Cross

Jack's Battlefield Map

This map is as accurate as they come

There are more of Jacks Vietnam trip photos in the photo section