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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Jack's Battlefield Map
This map is as accurate as they come