By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches
On March 31, 2004, a private contractor’s convoy was traveling through Fallujah when it was ambushed by heavily armed insurgents. Safeguarding the convoy were four Blackwater USA employees – Scott Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, and Michael Teague. The four were killed by machine gunfire and a grenade thrown through a window of their SUVs. Their charred bodies were dragged from the burning wreckage of their vehicles by a mob, mutilated, dragged through the streets, and two were hung on display from a bridge over the Euphrates river as the crowd celebrated below.
The public display of the beaten and burned bodies of the four security contractors triggered worldwide outrage. In response to the gruesome slaughter of the private security guards, a U.S.-led operation to retake Fallujah began on April 4, 2004 – only four days after the macabre incident.
Within a week, a third of the city had been retaken, but due to the considerable destruction of the city and heavy civilian deaths by U.S. airstrikes, the interim Iraqi government pressured the American forces to withdraw from the city on May 1, 2004. The U.S. then turned over military operations to 1,100-man Fallujah Brigade, led by Muhammed Latif, a former Ba’athist general, but when the brigade folded in September, American weapons and equipment fell into the hand of the insurgents, foreign fighters, and criminals. The Marine command vowed to return and establish some semblance of peacefulness in Fallujah.
The U.S. suffered 27 deaths in the campaign; some 200 insurgents were killed and approximate 600 Iraqi civilians; 300 of them believed to be women and children.
By the early fall of 2004, the chief objective of the American campaign was to eliminate burgeoning insurgency in safe havens in advance of Iraq’s first parliamentary elections after the American invasion. The legitimacy of the interim government, and the upcoming elections appeared to hang in the balance. Fallujah, a city of 250,000 less than an hour’s drive from Baghdad, was the mother of all safe havens and was among the cities to be retaken.
This metropolis on the edge of the desert had a well-earned reputation as a home for former Ba’athist party enforcers and other criminal elements. It was a squalid, unattractive place, unfriendly to strangers – a city, writes military historian Bing West, “comprised of two thousand blocks of courtyard walls, tenements, two-story concrete houses, and squalid alleyways. Half-completed houses, garbage heaps, and wrecks of old cars cluttered every neighborhood.”
The Corps couldn’t wait to assault the city and mix it up with a colorful mÃ©lange of al Qaeda, freelance Islamist extremists from across the Middle East, and several Sunni militia groups.
That chance came in November and December 2004 with the Second Battle of Fallujah – code-named Operation Al-Fajr and Operation Phantom Fury – as part of a joint American, Iraqi, and British offensive. It turned out to be the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War and is notable for being the first major engagement of the war fought solely against insurgents rather than the force of the former Ba’athist Iraqi government, which was toppled in 2003.
Unlike the recent struggle to take the city back from ISIS, the outcome of the fall 2004 encounter was never really in doubt. Superior numbers, training, and an immense advantage in firepower ensured that the Fallujah would fall to the Americans. The critical questions were, how much blood and treasure would it take to wrest the city from the enemy? Would the city have to be destroyed to be saved? And most importantly, would victory in Fallujah reverse the momentum of an insurgency steadily growing in both numbers and intensity across much of the country?
Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the top commander of Marines in Iraq, had the luxury of several months to prepare their plan of attack, which proved to be a very successful plan. A preliminary feint from the southwest 24 hours before the main assault would draw off considerable numbers of jihadists from the northern sector of the city, the direction from which the main attack would proceed. A U.S. Army armored brigade had thrown a tight cordon around the entire city, preventing reinforcements or resupplies from reaching the enemy.
Crucially, the Iraqi government and the Americans had managed to persuade/cajole well over 90 percent of the city’s populace to evacuate their homes, so if the American infantry ran into exceedingly tough resistance, they could employ the full range of their lethal supporting arms – Abrams tanks, the steel rain of 105-mm shells from circling C-130 gunships, jet fighter-bombers, and of course, artillery fire – without fear of causing large numbers of civilian casualties.
During this time, it was clear that an assault on the city was imminent and the insurgents prepared a variety of defenses and strong points. The attack on the city was assigned to Lt. Gen. Sattler’s I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MED).
With the city cordoned off, efforts were made to suggest that the Coalition attack would come from the south and southeast as had occurred in April during the Firsts Battle of Fallujah. Instead, I MEF intended to assault the city from the north across its entire breadth. On November 6, Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT-1), consisting of the 3rd Battalion/1st Marines, 3rd Battalion/5th Marines, and the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion/7th Cavalry, moved into position to assault the western half of Fallujah from the north.
They were joined by Regimental Combat Team 7 (RCT-7), made up of the 1st Battalion/8th Marines, 1st Battalion/3rd Marines and the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion/2nd Infantry which would attack the eastern part of the city. These units were joined by Iraqi as well.
With Fallujah sealed, operations began at 7 pm, November 7, when Task Force Wolfpack moved to take objectives on the west bank of the Euphrates River opposite Fallujah. While Iraqi commandoes captured Fallujah General Hospital, Marines secured the two bridges over the river to cut off any enemy retreat from the city.
A similar blocking mission was undertaken by the British Black Watch Regiment south and east of Fallujah.
During the cold, rainy evening of November 8, the northern rim of the city came under a thunderous and sustained bombardment from artillery and warplanes. Hundreds of 155-mm shells and 500-pound high-explosive bombs shook the earth across a three-mile front, obliterating a train station and a large apartment complex on the outskirts of the city.
An eerie silence followed. Suddenly the two Regimental Combat Teams of Marine infantry and Army armored battalions, about 8,000 men in all, crossed a railroad embankment and began to push south into the city proper. Within seconds, the American advance was met with an avalanche of small arms and mortar fire. Over the earsplitting din of simultaneous fire from thousands of weapons, loudspeakers on Marine Humvees blared Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” and insurgent commanders barked orders in Arabic over their own loudspeakers, ensconced in the minarets of several of the city’s 200 mosques.
Thus, began ten straight days of brutal, close-in fighting to sweep through this labyrinth of a city, north to south, and wrest it from the insurgents’ grasp. The jihadists had spent the better part of half a year constructing bunkers, strong points, and laying out avenues of retreat, and ambush sites. Hundreds of rooms and entire houses had been expertly booby-trapped, and IEDs had been liberally planted in the streets and alleys. Road blocks of Jersey barriers and junk cars designed to funnel the attackers down lethal avenues of approach seemed to be around every other corner. As the insurgents came under fire from the advancing American battalions, they tended to react in one of two ways: they either held their ground and fought to the death, or they rapidly retreated down side streets or into alleys, hoping to lure the Marines and soldiers into prepared kill zones.
Dexter Filkins, a New York Times war correspondent who had covered half a dozen wars and was embedded with a Marine rifle company in Fallujah, described the combat there as “a qualitatively different experience, a leap into a different kind of battle.” He was hardly the only veteran reporter to register that reaction. Filkins himself narrowly escaped death at least once in the fighting and saw several of the men with whom he was embedded die as well.
Later Gen. Sattler recalled the battle “was intense, close, and personal, the likes of which have been experienced by U.S. forces on just a few occasions since the battle of Hue City in the Vietnam War. There were no real front lines, because the insurgents would get behind you constantly.”
On November 9, after 16 straight hours of fighting to take a fortified mosque being used as a command post, men in B Company, 8th Marines, saw a car pull up behind them. Out poured six insurgents wielding rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. The Marines sprung in action, killing four in a matter of seconds before the insurgents could get off a single round of fire. The two remaining insurgents dashed for a courtyard, where they were rapidly cornered by several Marines. Suddenly, one of the insurgents pulled a cord on his suicide vest, sending himself and his brother fighter to instant martyrdom. Virtually every infantry company in Fallujah could report at least one such encounter.
Forty-eight hours into the fight, the Marines had advanced methodically through about one-third of the city, and seized the government center, having leveled several hundred enemy strongpoints to rubble with air strikes, tank fire, and armored bulldozers that proved critical in keeping the advance moving. The insurgents were so entrenched that by the end of the fight, the Marines had been forced to level some 10,000 of 50,000 residences – most were rebuilt at American expense.
On the fourth day of the battle, November 12, both Regimental Combat Teams crossed Highway 10, the six-lane, east-west artery that divided the northern half of the city from the grimy industrial southern half. Southern Falluja had been far more heavily fortified than the north. Here the Marines came up against dozens of unyielding defensive pockets and had to fend off a series of suicidal counterattacks that left the streets littered with bloated, stinking corpses. “Almost as soon as the insurgents were dead, the dogs started gnawing on their bones,” recalled a Marine officer. Heavy rains prevented the authorities from burying these bodies for several days.
It sometimes became necessary to slip small units of Marines in behind the enemy-held pockets to clear them out. Marine Capt. Elliot Ackerman’s platoon slipped behind insurgent lines in the middle of the night, and took up residence in a four-story building.
Author Bing West, who was embedded with a company of Marines in the battle, gives this vivid account of what followed in ‘No True Glory’: “At first light, on both sides of their building, insurgents were slipping forward in bands of four and six unaware of the Marines until the M16s opened up, hitting three or four before the others ducked into the surrounding buildings.”
The insurgents scattered for cover, then converged on the platoon. Within minutes the fighting fell into a pattern. The platoon held a stout building with open ground on all sides, which made a frontal assault suicidal. Instead, enemy snipers, RPG teams, and machine-gunners were running from floor to floor and across the roofs of the adjoining buildings looking for angles to shoot down.
The Marines tried to pick out a window or a corner of a building where an insurgent was hiding and smother it with fire. The shooters on both sides were like experienced boxers, jabbing and weaving and never leaving themselves open. The Marines punched mouse holes in the walls and threw up barricades in front of their machine guns, shifting from room to room every ten minutes.
A particularly effective method for reducing stubborn enemy positions within apartment buildings or other large structures was for the American artillery to fire a “shake and bake” mission: First, a battery of cannons fired incendiary white phosphorus smoke rounds into a building to flush the insurgents outside, and then, after a short delay, they bracketed the building with high explosive rounds to kill them as they exited.
After ten days of grinding, close combat, the Americans, supported by two elite Iraqi Army battalions, had captured the city.
The heavy fighting continued for the next several days as Coalition forces went house-to-house eliminating insurgent resistance. The fighting was not as intense as it had been during the clearing phase, but it was still dangerous, exhausting work. More than 20,000 structures were searched and cleared – some as many as three times, as insurgent hangers-on re-infiltrated previously cleared dwellings. If the Marines were forced to withdraw from a house due to heavy fire from inside, they would reduce it to rubble by attaching a patch of C-4 explosive to two propane canisters and throwing them through a window.
By the time it was all over on December 23, U.S. forces had uncovered more than 450 weapons caches, three torture chambers, one of which contained a live prisoner who’d had his leg sawed off, and 24 bomb-making factories. According to a log cited in Bing West’s book, one Marine platoon cleared 70 or more buildings a day for more than a week, during which time they engaged in an average of three firefights a day, and killed 60 insurgents.
The outcome for taking Fallujah was 95 Americans killed in action, and 450 seriously wounded. According to a report from Gen. George Casey Jr., commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, of the 8,400 insurgents killed in 2004, 2,175 had fallen in the Second Battle of Fallujah. Unfortunately, hundreds of Islamist insurgents had either left Fallujah before the battle or slipped through the cordon in small groups and went on to join their brothers to spark new uprisings in Mosul, Ramadi, and East Baghdad.
Even though Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi – the mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and video beheadings in Iraq – was not captured during the operation, the battle severely damaged the momentum of the insurgency. Tactics that were developed in the battles of Fallujah were used on larger scales to capture Ramadi and other surrounding areas afterward. After the Second Battle of Fallujah, the insurgents avoided open battles, but the number of attacks on coalition troops began to rise more. Four years after the bitter fighting, the city was turned over to Iraqi Forces and the Iraqi Provincial Authority.
The Second Battle of Fallujah joins the ranks of Tarawa, the Chosin Reservoir, and the Battle for Hue as one of the Marine Corps’ bitter, hard-won triumphs that unfortunately had little strategic impact on the war of which it was a part.
One veteran of the battle, Col. John Toolan, was hardly the only thoughtful officer to question whether the kind of fighting that had gone on in Fallujah was counterproductive in the long run. “What’s the impact on a ten-year-old kid when he goes back and sees his neighborhood destroyed? And what is he going to do when he is 18 years old?”
Hearts and minds are not won by leveling cities, and by late 2004, the American military was finally waking up to the fact that it was in the middle of a protracted insurgency war, and hearts and minds were what it was all about.
Twelve years later, the Marines have left Iraq, the insurgents remain, and the country finds itself deeply mired in civil war. But Fallujah has at last been retaken, and the Islamic State is clearly on the defensive – at least in Iraq. And that’s good news for Iraq, for the United States, and for the American Marines and soldiers who fought the good fight for Fallujah in 2004.
Unfortunately, even today, more than a decade later, much of Iraq and the Middle East is still beset by violence.
By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches
U.S. Marines are known for being hard-chargers; for never giving up and overcoming whatever obstacle they may face. Perhaps no Marine exemplified this willingness to prevail against overwhelming odds better than Guy Louis Gabaldon – “The Pied Piper of Saipan.” He earned the sobriquet in June 1944 when he was 18-years-old by capturing or persuading over two thousand Japanese Soldiers and civilians to surrender during the battles for Saipan and Tinian islands during World War II.
Gabaldon was born in Boyle Heights, California on March 22, 1926, one of seven children in a Mexican-American family. As a ten-year-old, he helped his family by shining shoes on skid row in downtown Los Angeles. Growing up in a tough Hispanic barrio, he became a member of a multi-ethnic gang known as the “Moe Gang.” Like the rest of his gang members, he had a disregard for authority and was always in some kind of trouble. That began to change, however, when he was twelve and “adopted” by the Nakano family, a loving Japanese-American family who raised him as part of their extended family. While living with the Nakano family, he attended Japanese language and culture classes with the family’s children, eventually learning to speak Japanese.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Nakano family, like most Japanese-American families living on the West Coast at the time, was sent to an internment camp at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, in Wyoming. “I wanted to go to the internment camp with them, but they wouldn’t let me,” Gabaldon would later say. Instead, he moved to Alaska to work in a cannery. On March 22, 1943, his 17th birthday, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was sent to Camp Pendleton for basic training. Gabaldon then attended the Enlisted Marine Japanese Language School at Camp Elliot and following graduation, he was then assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, as a Scout and Observer.
As the Marine Corps island-hopped across the Pacific and closed in on Japan, military officials were faced with the dilemma of whether or not to launch a land invasion of the Japanese home islands. Eventually, American military officials decided against invading Japan, as it would cost an estimated one million American and countless more Japanese lives. Instead, the island of Saipan, located in the Northern Mariana Islands, was chosen as a base of operations on which airfields could be built to launch B-29 Superfortress bombers against the Japanese mainland.
After two days of intense bombardment by fifteen battleships of the Armada, on June 15, 1944, more than 300 LVTs landed an initial 8,000 Marine force, including Marines from the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions, on the west coast of Saipan under covering fire from eleven support ships, including battleships cruisers and destroyers to being the invasion against a force of more than 30,000entreneched Japanese Soldiers. This was just a fraction of 71,000 American force who would eventually load on Saipan and battle the Japanese. To further complicate matters, Japanese Soldiers, under the impression that they would be immediately executed by the Americans, rarely surrendered. Even as it became apparent that the Americans would eventually take the island, the Japanese Soldiers were ordered by their commanding officers on Saipan to kill seven Americans for every Japanese soldier lost or to commit suicide rather than be captured or surrender. The term “human bullets” was coined by the Japanese to describe these suicidal forces, in their first honest reporting following the loss of the island.
It was against this fanatical force that, after arriving on Saipan, Gabaldon defied orders and left camp his first night on the island to try to capture Japanese Soldiers and brought back two prisoners using his limited Japanese. For leaving his post without permission, Gabaldon was reprimanded by his superior officers and threatened with a court-martial. Despite the threat of disciplinary action, Gabaldon left his post again the following night for the same reason. This time, he approached a cave, shot two guards, and yelled in Japanese to the Soldiers inside, “You’re surrounded and have no choice but to surrender. Come out, and you will not be killed. I assure you will be well-treated. We do not want to kill you.” The Soldiers exited the cave and the next morning Gabaldon returned to camp with 50 prisoners. As a result of his effectiveness, Gabaldon received permission from his commanding officer, Capt. John Schwabe, to act as a “lone wolf” operator. He could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. The perfect task for a tough Hispanic kid from the East Los Angeles barrios.
On July 6, Gabaldon left on another of his evening patrols and entered an area near Saipan’s northern cliffs. It seemed fairly deserted at the time, but before daybreak, he realized that hundreds of enemy infantry were moving onto the flats and gathering for an assault. By this time he was cut off from any path of retreat and any attempt to show himself would have resulted in a quick and noisy death. He remained under cover and listened as thousands of Japanese troops and some civilians drank sake and loudly prepared for the largest banzai charge of the campaign. The island’s commanding Japanese office, Lt. Gen. Yoshitsugu Saito, had mandated that all able-bodied civilians and all mobile wounded forces join in one final suicidal attack, saying “There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops. It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than be captured.” In addition, Emperor Hirohito had sent our an imperial order encouraging the civilian of Saipan to commit suicide, resulting in the death of many thousands of civilian, maybe as many as 12,000. Above photo is the funeral of Yoshitsugu Saito by American military personnel, Saipan, 1944.
The following morning, July 7, 1944, the battle to secure the Japanese occupied island of Saipan peaked in one of the largest banzai charges of the Pacific War. At dawn, with a group of 12 men carrying a great red flag in the lead, the 3000 remaining able-bodied Japanese troops under Lieut. Gen. Saito, plus the civilians he had coerced into joining them, charged forward in the final attack, followed by the barely armed wounded with bandaged heads and hobbling on crutches. The charge lasted over 15 hours and brought the total Japanese losses for the island battle to over 30,000, almost the entire Japanese garrison. Two American battalions were nearly annihilated in the battle leading to 650 casualties, while their fierce resistance resulted in over 4300 Japanese killed. Three Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously for that battle.
The next morning, American Marine reconnaissance patrols edged their dangerous way forward to map out Japanese lines. As one patrol approached the seacliffs lining the north side of the island, they were greeted by an extraordinary sight. On the flats at the top of the cliff was Guy Gabaldon surrounded by hundreds of Japanese troops, many of them still with weapons. One might have thought that this Marine was experiencing his last moments on earth. But as the incredulous scouts looked on, it became apparent that the lone Marine was actually ordering his hundreds of “prisoners” into smaller groups, even as more Japanese streamed quietly up from their ocean-side caves. Eventually, over eight hundred Japanese Soldiers and civilians surrendered to Gabaldon, an astonishing number considering that the battle for Tarawa a few months earlier had produced only 146 prisoners from a total garrison of nearly 5,000. The prisoners were turned over to the U.S. military authorities.
By the time of his July 8 capture of 800 prisoners, Gabaldon had already become well known on Saipan for his capture of hundreds of other die-hard enemy troops using a brisk combination of fluent Japanese and point-blank carbine fire.
Gabaldon continued to capture more Japanese people on Tinian. While back on Saipan fighting Japanese guerrillas still on the island, he was seriously wounded in an enemy machine-gun ambush. Gabaldon was credited with the capture of approximately 1,500 Japanese Soldiers and civilians on Saipan and Tinian and was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his commanding officer, Capt. John Schwabe, who noted that Gabaldon single-handedly captured more than ten times the number of prisoners taken by legendary Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. Alvin C. York, in World War I. Despite this recommendation, Gabaldon was awarded a Silver Star Medal.
Overall, the Americans counted over 14,500 casualties in the battle for the island, among them nearly 3000 killed in action. Future Hollywood actor Lee Marvin of “I” Company, 24th Marine Regiment, was among the many Americans wounded on Saipan, shot in the buttocks by Japanese machine gun fire. Saipan causes another unexpected result: the loss of the island and the resulting shakeup in the Imperial Japanese Navy’s war staff led to the first honest reporting to the Japanese people of the events taking place in the Pacific as their forces were defeated and territory was lost, with a devastating effect on Japanese public opinion.
Gabaldon received an Honorable Discharge from the Marine Corps as a result of his combat wounds. After returning to civilian life, he moved to Mexico and ventured into various businesses such as a furniture store, fishing, and the import-export of Mexican goods. When his first marriage to June Gabaldon ended in divorce, he met the woman who became his second wife, Ohana Suzuki. For 20 years Gabaldon and his family lived in Saipan, where he worked at various jobs, including police chief and drug abuse counselor.
Gabaldon’s World War II exploits became public when in 1957, he was the invited guest of “This is Your Life,” a popular television program aired by NBC in the 1950s. Hosted by Ralph Edwards, the show presented the life stories of entertainment personalities and “ordinary” people who had contributed in some way to society.
The fact that Gabaldon captured at least 1,500 Japanese prisoners was verified on the national program by Marines Corps intelligence officers Col. Walter Layer, Col. John Schwabe, Maj. James High, and several enlisted men from military intelligence.
Hollywood producers also became interested in Gabaldon’s story and in 1960 released the film “Hell to Eternity” where his actions on Saipan were memorialized. He was portrayed by actors Jeffrey Hunter as an adult and by Richard Eyer as a boy. Gabaldon himself served as an adviser in the filming of the movie.
John Schwabe said he had recommended Gabaldon for the Medal of Honor, but the Marine never received it and instead honored Gabaldon with a Silver Star. But his 1950s appearance on the television show “This is Your Life” led to the making of “Hell to Eternity” resulted in an upgrade to the Navy Cross, second highest award for gallantry to the Medal of Honor. The case to upgrade his Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor is currently under review by the Department of Defense.
In addition to the Hollywood movie, producer Steve Rubin made a documentary film about Gabaldon titled “East L.A. Marine: The Untold True Story of Guy Gabaldon.” Henry Godines also unveiled a commissioned portrait, titled The Pied Piper of Saipan, Guy Gabaldon.
According to Rubin, he was proud of the film. “I think that movie was very inspirational to a lot of baby boomers,” Rubin said. “It was one of the first World War II combat films to portray a sense of humanity in war. The fact of the matter is Guy ended up saving not only hundreds of Japanese lives but American lives as well with a little touch of humanity.”
Decades later in his memoir “Saipan: Suicide Island,” he wrote an expanded account of his wartime experiences.
In 1961 Gabaldon gathered a force of 1,000 Americans to travel to Cuba to wage war against Communist leader Fidel Castro. The trip was blocked by then-Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy, who “called me a vigilante,” Gabaldon told a Los Angeles Times reporter in a 1978 article. Years later Gabaldon advertised for men willing to go with him to Nicaragua to “help fight the Communist take-over.”
Called ‘Gabby’ by his friends, he was an outspoken member of right-wing political organizations. In 1964, he unsuccessfully ran for US Congressman in his Southern California district.
During his lifetime, Gabaldon received many awards and recognitions, including resolutions honoring him from the City of Los Angeles, the City of Chicago, and the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas.
On November 12, 2005, he was the recipient of the Chesty Puller Award from the World War II Veterans Committee, a prominent organization which showcases the veterans of World War II and their history.
On July 7, 2006, he was honored by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles City Council. The Mayor and the City Council sent a resolution to the White House requesting the Medal of Honor for Gabaldon. That same year the World War II Veteran’s Committee in Washington, D.C., featured Gabaldon on the cover of their quarterly magazine. Also in July, Gabaldon was honored by the National Council of La Raza, a national organization, and a leading Latino civil rights advocate.
On August 31, 2006, Gabaldon died at the age of 80 of heart disease. He was survived by his second wife, Ohana; his sons Guy Jr., Ray, Tony, Yoshio, Jeffrey, and Russell; his daughters Aiko, Hanako and Manya. Two members of his “adopted” family were actor Lane Nakano and his twin Lyle. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
A short introduction to the “Hell to Eternity” can be viewed at the following site: https://www.amazon.com/Hell-Eternity-Jeffrey-Hunter/dp/B003Y5UP3K
A short PBS film interview with Guy Gabaldon can be viewed at the following site: http://www.pbs.org/video/2365053267/
By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches
Alvin Cullum York was one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nests, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He was also a conscientious objector.
York was born on December 13, 1887 to William and Mary York of Pall Mall, Tennessee and raised in a two-room log cabin in a rural backwater in the northern section of Fentress County. He was the third oldest of a family of eleven children. Like many families in the county, the York family eked out a hardscrabble existence of subsistence farming supplemented by hunting. York’s father, also acted as a part time blacksmith to provide some extra income for the family.
In the wake of his father’s death in 1911, York, as the eldest still living in the area, was forced to aid his mother in raising his younger siblings. To support the family, he began working in railroad constructions and as a logger in Harriman, Tennessee.
As York came of age he earned a reputation as a deadly accurate marksman and a hell raiser. Drinking and gambling in borderline bars, York was generally considered a nuisance and someone who “would never amount to anything.” That reputation underwent a serious overhaul when York experienced a religious conversion in 1914. In that year two significant events occurred: his best friend, Everett Delk, was beaten to death in a bar fight in Static, Kentucky; and he attended a revival conducted by H.H. Russell of the Church of Christ in Christian Union. Delk’s senseless death convinced York that he needed to change his ways or suffer a fate similar to his fallen comrade, which prompted him to attend prayer meetings.
A strict fundamentalist sect with a following limited to three states – Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee – the Church of Christ in Christian Union embraced a strict moral code which forbade drinking, dancing, movies, swimming, swearing, popular literature, and moral injunctions against violence and war. Though raised Methodist, York joined the Church of Christ in Christian Union and in the process convinced one of his best friends, Rosier Pile, to join as well. Blessed with a melodious singing voice, York became the song leader and a Sunday school teacher at the local church. Rosier Pile went on to become the church’s pastor. The church also brought York in contact with the girl who would become his wife, Gracie Williams.
By most accounts, York’s conversion was sincere and complete. He quit drinking, gambling, and fighting. When the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, York’s new found faith would be tested. He received his draft notice from his friend, the postmaster and pastor, Rosier Pile, on June 5, 1917, just six months prior to his thirtieth birthday. Because of the Church of Christ in Christian Union’s proscriptions against war, Pile encouraged York to seek conscientious objector status. York wrote on his draft card: “Don’t want to fight.” When his case came up for review it was denied at both the local and the state level because the Church of Christ in Christian Union was not recognized as a legitimate Christian sect.
York was assigned to Company G, 328th Infantry Regiment 82nd Infantry Division known as “The All American Division” and posted to Camp Gordon in Georgia. The 82nd lives today as the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.
York proved his skill as a crack shot but was seen as an oddity because he did not wish to fight. This led him to have extensive conversations with his company commander, Capt. Edward C.B. Danforth, and his battalion commander, Maj. G. Edward Buxton, relating to the Biblical justification for war. A devout Christian, Buxton cited a variety of Biblical sources to counter his subordinate’s concerns.
Challenging York’s pacifist stance, the two officers were able to convince the reluctant soldier that war could be justified. Following a ten-day leave to visit home, York returned with a firm belief that God meant for him to fight.
Traveling to Boston, York’s unit sailed for Le Havre, France in May 1918 and arrived later that month after a stop in Britain. Reaching the Continent, York’s division spent time along the Somme as well as at Toul, Lagney, and Marbache where it underwent a variety of training to prepare it for combat operations along the Western Front. Promoted to corporal, York took part in the St. Mihiel offensive that September as the 82nd sought to protect the U.S First Army’s right flank. With the successful conclusion of fighting in that sector, the 82nd was shifted north to take part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a battle that cost 28,000 German lives and 26,277 American lives, making it the largest and bloodiest operation of World War I for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).
Entering the fighting on October 7 as it relieved units of the 28th Infantry Division, York’s unit received orders that night to advance the next morning to take Hill 223 and press on to sever the Decauville Railroad north of Chatel-Chehery. Advancing around 6 am the next morning, the Americans succeeded in taking the hill.
Moving forward from the hill, York’s unit was forced to attack through a triangular valley and quickly came under German machine gun fire on several sides from the adjacent hills. This stalled the attack as the Americans began taking heavy casualties. In an effort to eliminate the machine guns, 17 men led by Sgt. Bernard Early, including York, were ordered to work around into the German rear. Taking advantage of the brush and hilly nature of the terrain, these troops succeeded in slipping behind the German lines and advanced up one of the hills opposite the American advance.
In doing so, they overran and captured a German headquarters area and secured a large number of prisoners including a major. While Early’s men began securing the prisoners, the German machine gunners up the slope turned several of their guns and opened fire on the Americans. This killed six and wounded three, including Sgt. Early, leaving York in command of the remaining seven men. With his men behind cover guarding the prisoners, York moved to deal with the machine guns. Beginning in a prone position, he utilized the shooting skills he had honed as a boy.
Picking off the German gunners, York was able to move to a standing position as he evaded enemy fire. During the course of the fight, six German soldiers emerged from their trenches and charged at York with bayonets. Running low on rifle ammunition, he drew his pistol and dropped all six before they reached him. Switching back to his rifle, he returned to sniping at the German machine guns. Believing he had killed around 20 Germans, and not wishing to kill more than necessary, he began calling for them to them to surrender.
This resulted in German First Lieutenant Paul Jurgen Vollmer – a highly decorated officer who had recently assumed command of the 120th Wurttemberg Landwehr Regiment’s 1st Battalion – emptying his pistol trying to kill York while he was contending with the machine guns. Failing to injure York, and seeing his mounting losses, he offered in English to surrender the unit to York, who accepted. Rounding up the prisoners in the immediate area, York and his men had captured around 100 Germans. With Vollmer’s assistance, York began moving the men back towards the American lines. In the process, another thirty Germans were captured. Advancing through artillery fire, York succeeded in delivering 132 prisoners to his battalion headquarters. This done, he and his men rejoined their unit and fought through to the Decauville Railroad. In the course of the fight, 28 Germans were killed and 35 machine guns captured. York’s actions clearing the machine guns reinvigorated the 328th’s assault and the regiment advanced to secure a position on the Decauville Railroad.
Upon returning to his unit, York reported to his Brigade Commander, Gen. Julian R. Lindsey, who remarked “Well York, I hear you have captured the whole damn German army.” York replied “No sir. I got only 132.”
For his achievements, York was promoted to sergeant and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Remaining with his unit for the final weeks of the war, his decoration was upgraded to the Medal of Honor which he received on April 18, 1919. The award was presented to York by American Expeditionary Forces commander. In addition to the Medal of Honor, York received the French Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, as well as the Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra. When given his French decorations by Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme allied commander commented, “What you did was the greatest thing ever accomplished by any soldier by any of the armies of Europe.” Arriving back in the United States in late May, York was hailed as a hero and received a ticker tape parade in New York City.
That York deserves credit for his heroism is without question. Unfortunately, however, his exploit has been blown out of proportion with some accounts claiming that he silenced thirty-five machine guns and captured 132 prisoners single-handedly. York never claimed that he acted alone, nor was he proud of what he did. Twenty-five Germans lay dead, and by his accounting, York was responsible for at least nine of the deaths. Only two of the seven survivors were acknowledged for their participation in the event; Sgt. Early and Cpl. Cutting were finally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1927.
York’s life caught fire in the American imagination not because of who he was, but what he symbolized: a humble, self-reliant, God-fearing, taciturn patriot who slowly moved to action only when sufficiently provoked and then adamantly refused to capitalize on his fame. George Pattullo, the Saturday Evening Post reporter who broke the story, focused on the religion-patriotic nature of York’s feat. He titled his piece “The Second Elder Gives Battle,” referring to York’s status in his home congregation in Pall Mall, Tennessee.
York turned his back on quick and certain fortune in 1919, and went home to Tennessee to resume peacetime life and married the love of his life, Gracie Williams. Over the next several years, the couple had seven children.
Largely unknown to most Americans was the fact that Alvin York returned to America with a single vision: he wanted to provide a practical educational opportunity for the mountain boys and girls of Tennessee. Understanding that to prosper in the modern world an education was necessary, York sought to bring Fentress County into the twentieth century. Thousands of like-minded veterans returned from France with similar sentiments and as a result college enrollments shot up immediately after the war.
A celebrity, York took part in several speaking tours and eagerly sought to improve educational opportunities for area children. This culminated with the opening of the Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute in 1926. Though he possessed some political ambitions, these largely proved fruitless. Throughout the 1920s York went on speaking tours to endorse his hopes for education and raise money for York Institute. He also became interested in state and national politics. A Democrat in a staunchly Republican county, York’s endorsement carried a degree of clout for pols. York also used his celebrity to improve roads, employment, and education in his home county.
York withdrew from the national spotlight during the 1930s, and focused his waning political aspirations on the state rather than the local level. He considered running for the U.S. Senate against the freshman senator, Albert Gore (father of Vice President Al Gore). In the 1932 election, he changed his party affiliation and supported Herbert Hoover over Franklin D. Roosevelt because FDR promised to repeal Prohibition. Once the New Deal got underway, however, York returned to the Democratic Party and endorsed the president’s public work relief programs, especially the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
In 1939, York was appointed superintendent of the Cumberland Homesteads near Crossville. The community was envisioned by federal planners as a model of cooperative living for the region’s distressed farmers, coal miners, and factory workers. While the cooperative experiment failed and the federal government withdrew from the project in the 1940s, the Homesteads community nevertheless survived.
In 1935 York delivered a sermon entitled, Christian Cure for Strife, which argued that the vigilant Christian should ignore current world events, because Europe stood poised on the brink of another war and Americans should avoid it at all costs. Recalling his career as a soldier, York renounced America’s involvement in World War I. He said, “In order to achieve world peace, Americans must first secure it at home beginning with their own families. The church and the home, therefore, represented the cornerstones of world peace.”
At the same time, the threat of war had rekindled the interest of some filmmakers, most notably Jesse L. Lasky, into reviving the story of York’s exploits during World War I. Lasky, having witnessed the famous New York reception of the hero from his eighth floor office window in May of 1919 had wanted then to tell York’s story.
Because the Church of Christ in Christian Union condemned movies as sinful, Lasky had a tough time convincing York that a film based on his life was justified. York finally agreed when he decided that the money made from the film could be used to create an interdenominational Bible school.
Through York’s association with Lasky and Warner Brothers, he became convinced that Hitler represented the personification of evil in the world and turned belligerent. York’s conversion to interventionism was so complete that he wholeheartedly agreed with Gen. George C. Marshall that the U.S. should institute its first peacetime draft. Governor Prentice Cooper approved York’s endorsement by naming him chief executive of the Fentress County Draft Board, and appointed him to the Tennessee Preparedness Committee to help prepare for wartime.
In 1937, York not only condemned war but also questioned America’s involvement in the First World War. In that same year, York joined the Emergency Peace Campaign which lobbied against any U.S. involvement in the growing tensions in Europe. A pious peaceful man, York had fought his country’s enemy only after great deliberation and had to be convinced that war was sometimes necessary. His personal struggle in World War I found new resonance in an America at odds over the recent European war, for York personified isolationist Christian America wrestling with its conscience over whether or not to engage in the current war abroad.
In 1940-41, York joined the Fight for Freedom Committee which combated the isolationist stance of America First, and York became one of its most vocal members. Up until Pearl Harbor, York battled another legendary American hero, the man who symbolized America First to the general public, Charles Lindbergh. Meantime, the film “Sergeant York” starring Gary Cooper, became one of the top grossing Warner Brothers films of the entire war era and earned Cooper the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1942.
During the war, York attempted to reenlist in the infantry but could not do so due to age and obesity. Instead, through an affiliation with the Signal Corps, York traveled the country on bond tours, recruitment drives, and camp inspections. Ironically, the Bible school that was built with the proceeds from the movie opened in 1942, but the very people the school was intended for had either enlisted in the armed services or moved north to work in defense related industries. The school closed in 1943 never to reopen.
York’s health began to deteriorate after the war and in 1954 he suffered from a stroke that would leave him bedridden for the remainder of his life. In 1951, the Internal Revenue Service accused York of tax evasion regarding profits earned from the movie. Unfortunately, York was practically destitute in 1951. He spent the next ten years wrangling with the IRS, which led Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and Congressman Joe L. Evins to establish the York Relief Fund to help cancel the debt.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy ordered that the matter be resolved and considered the IRS’s actions in the case to be a national disgrace. The relief fund paid the IRS $100,000 and placed $30,000 in trust to be used in the family’s best interest.
York died on September 2, 1964 and was buried with full military honors in the Pall Mall cemetery. His funeral was attended by Governor Frank G. Clement and Gen. Matthew Ridgway as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s official representative. He was survived by seven children and his widow.
When asked how he wanted to be remembered, the old sergeant said he wanted people to remember how he tried to improve basic education in Tennessee because he considered a solid education the true key to success. It saddened him somewhat that only one of his children went on to college, but he was proud of the fact that they all had received high school diplomas from York Institute. Most people, of course, do not remember him as a proponent for public education. York’s memory is forever tied to Gary Cooper’s laconic screen portrayal of the mountain hero and the myth surrounding his military exploits in the Argonne in 1918.
Battle scene from Sergeant York starring Gary Cooper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtk488k1-yM
By Maj. Allan C. Bevilacqua, USMC (Ret)
There were 80 of us on that hill when an estimated 600-800 Chinese hit us hard that night. Sixty-six of us were killed, wounded or missing.”
PFC Edgar “Bart”Dauberman, USMC
“Easy”Company, 2d Battalion 5th Marines
In the spring of 1952, General James A. Van Fleet, USA, Commander, 8th United States Army in Korea and supreme commander of all Allied Forces in Korea, undertook one of the most audacious operations in the history of warfare. With his Army fully engaged against Chinese and North Korean communists across the Korean peninsula, General Van Fleet completely realigned his entire force. Dubbed Operation Mixmaster, thousands of men and vehicles and thousands upon thousands of tons of supplies and equipment were shuttled hundreds of miles to new positions over a period of more than one week. It was a daringly unprecedented operation, and the Chinese and North Koreans, who could have ruined it all, were caught flatfooted.
For Major General John T. Selden’s First Marine Division, Operation Mixmaster meant a move across the width of Korea, from positions near Pohang on Korea’s eastern coast to a new location on the extreme left of the 8th Army line in the far west. From its new position on the Kimpo Peninsula west of Seoul on the Yellow Sea, the assigned sector of the 1stMarDiv stretched 32 miles eastward to the Samichon River, where it linked up with its “brother” division, the British Commonwealth Division. Thirty-two miles was an extraordinarily large stretch of front for a division to cover, but it was no coincidence that the two divisions were sited in such a manner. In planning the relocation of his forces, Gen. Van Fleet specifically directed what he termed “the two most powerful divisions in Korea”be positioned to block any Chinese attempt to access the Uijongbu Corridor, the traditional and natural geographic invasion route into South Korea.
One of 1stMarDiv’s first tasks in taking over its sector of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR), dubbed the Jamestown Line, was the establishment of a Combat Outpost Line (COPL) designed to break up any Chinese attack against the MLR. Most of these outposts were quickly, if unofficially, dubbed by Marines with names of famous motion picture and TV stars; Hedy, Dagmar, Marilyn, Esther and Ingrid, while others reflected names in the news: Siberia, Warsaw, Berlin and East Berlin. One of the first combat outposts received nothing more in the way of identification than a number, Outpost 3 (OP 3). It would be the scene of the first Chinese attempt to test the COPL, and while it was a small engagement in light of things to come, it would entail some of the heaviest fighting of the Korean War. There, on an otherwise insignificant hill, a small reinforced platoon of Marines withstood every attempt by two Chinese regiments to exterminate them and wrote a lasting tale of courage in their blood and steadfast resistance.
Before there was any shooting, however, there was a full ration of plain, old-fashioned, back-breaking work. Not an overpowering hill compared to the heights that confronted 1stMarDiv in the eastern region of Korea, OP 3 boasted an elevation of 400 feet. That, however, was the hill’s elevation above sea level. In tactical terms, the hill rose little more than 70 feet above the surrounding terrain. If not overpoweringly tall, the hill covered a good bit of ground, a very good bit of ground to be defended by a platoon, even a reinforced platoon. Nor did the hill possess even the most rudimentary of fighting positions. Every bunker, every weapons emplacement, every inch of trench line had to be dug and dug and dug.
The task of all this digging, manual hauling of timbers and filling of sand bags, fell to the 2d Platoon of Capt. Charles C. “Cary” Matthews’ E Company, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines (“Easy”/2/5). There would be a full ration of sweating, straining work and, while none of the platoon were aware of it, not overly much time to complete it. Watching them intently from concealed positions on the bulky hill mass of Taedok-San to their front, Chinese observers were following their every move. Farther to the rear, two entire regiments of the 195th Division, Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) 65th Army were making final preparations for what they intended to be the obliteration of the handful of Marines on OP 3. They would be supported by the fires of 10 artillery battalions fielding 106 guns, in calibers ranging from 76 mm to 152 mm and one battalion of self-propelled, high-velocity 76 mm direct fire guns, all courtesy of the Soviet Union.
As Tuesday, April 15, 1952, dawned over OP 3, Lieutenant Dean Morley, platoon leader of 2d Platoon of Easy/2/5, awakened to what appeared to be yet any other day, one he hoped would be uneventful. Throughout the day, Dean Morley got his wish. The Chinese continued to be relatively nonconfrontational. On OP 3, the Marines of the 2d Platoon contented themselves with making improvements to their positions, gnawing at C-rations, making small talk and speculating on when the battalion would be withdrawn to regimental reserve and the intriguing possibility that there might be a shower point set up. Two machine-gun squad leaders, Sergeant Arthur G. “Artie” Barbosa and Corporal Duane E. Dewey, made their usual daily checks of ammunition supply and marking stakes for principal direction of fire and final protective lines. In the 60 mm mortar section like routine preparations were undertaken. None of it was lackadaisical, and everything was done competently and professionally. There was no sense in getting caught with your skivvies at half-mast. All in all, though, it was just another day on OP 3.
That ended abruptly during the waning hours of April 15th. At 2330, a single green star shell was fired from the vicinity of Hill 67, which subsequent information would reveal to be the forward headquarters of the 195th CCF Division some 1,900 yards to the northwest. Everyone who was on watch on OP 3 saw it. Everyone back on the MLR saw it. Everyone knew what it meant. The Chinese were about to register their preparatory fires as a prelude to a major ground attack.
When the Chinese fire came, it came methodically and deliberately in the form of 76 mm howitzers and 122 mm mortars controlled by forward observers on Taedok-San. The Chinese, who tended to be quite skillful in these matters, raked OP 3 from front to rear and from side to side, concentrating their effort on key positions. The Marines of the 2d Platoon, who had sweated, strained and voiced their displeasure at all the manual labor that went into fortifying the hill, hunkered gratefully in the bunkers they had built as the ground about them rocked like an earthquake, fires lighting up the night sky with the brilliance of a fireworks display.
Amazingly, despite the intensity of the Chinese fire, there were no Marine casualties as the Chinese gave OP 3 a first-class working over. To Marines with an ear for such things, though, there was a disturbing uneasiness at the lack of any evidence of the presence of incoming 122 mm or 152 mm artillery rounds in the downpour of shells pummeling the position. That could mean but one thing: the Chinese were saving their heavy hitters for the main event. It wasn’t a comforting thought.
As suddenly as it had begun, the volcano of fire that engulfed OP 3 ended about 20 minutes later as another green star shell was fired from the same position as the first. No Marine on OP 3 had to be told what would be coming next. After an eerie quiet that lasted about five minutes, a third signal pyrotechnic fired once again from Hill 67 bathed the area out in front of OP 3 in a lurid green light which gave every tense face on the outpost an unsettling corpse-like tinge. No one had much time to contemplate that. Even before the illumination completely burned itself out, the Chinese, in what seemed to be inexhaustible numbers, came out of the dark and began moving toward OP 3.
When the Chinese came, they came in near mechanical waves, as though there were some manner of machine back behind Taedok-San grinding out rank after rank of automatons. If they were automatons, they were well-directed automatons, advancing implacably against the front and both sides of the Marines’ defensive positions. The entire perimeter erupted in a blaze of muzzle flashes as the defenders of OP 3 laid into the oncoming tide of Chinese with everything they had. It was a one-sided contest. There were too many Chinese and not enough Marines spread over too large an area.
Soon enough, the attacking Chinese had totally enveloped OP 3 on all sides and were firing into the defenders from every point of the compass. With more Chinese following close behind, some forced their way into the forward positions by sheer weight of numbers. In the process they gave Hospital Corpsman Second Class Jerome “Jerry” Natt a baptism of fire that would have been hard to duplicate.
Jerry Natt had joined Easy/2/5 shortly after noon that day and had been sent forward at dark to join the platoon on OP 3. Assigned to a bunker with two Marines and advised to get some sleep, he was told that he would get an orientation tour in the morning. The Chinese arrived first, and with them came casualties. Immediately there was the cry of, “Corpsman!” One of the first to send up that call was one of the Marines Natt had shared the bunker with to “get some sleep.”
The wounded Marine – Natt didn’t know his name – was outside in a firing position. It was as dark as the inside of a cat out there. The corpsman could only attempt to find the man’s wound by feel. Eventually, it was revealed to be a chest wound. Only because of the strobe-like light produced by incoming was Natt able to see well enough to stop the bleeding and put a dressing on the wound. Natt never forgot his abrupt “Introduction to Ground Combat 101,” nor did he ever learn the name of the first combat casualty he treated. There would be more.
One among those was platoon leader Lt Morley, who went down hard hit (he would survive) and unable to continue. Lt Bill Maughan, a “short timer” due to depart in only several days, assumed command of the platoon. Maughan, a former enlisted Marine who had served in China before being commissioned, was immediately confronted by a problem, one that had been a disturbing possibility and was now a reality. Outpost 3 was too big an area to defend and there were too few Marines to adequately defend it.
Slowly, steadily, the defenders of OP 3, taking their wounded with them and keeping the Chinese at bay, withdrew into a tight perimeter in the southeastern corner of the hill. It was a barroom brawl every step of the way, Marines and Chinese locked into a welter of personal combat featuring rifle butts, fighting knives, entrenching tools and bare fists. They were getting help from the 81 mm mortars of Weapons Co, the 5th Marines 4.2-inch mortars back on the MLR and the 105 mm howitzers of Lieutenant Colonel James R. Haynes’ 1st Battalion, 11th Marines that pounded the Chinese relentlessly. Adding their voices to the symphony of explosives were the 155 mm howitzers of LtCol Bruce F. Hillam’s 4th Battalion, 11th Marines ranging farther back to punish Chinese assembly areas. It was not at all easy. Through rock-hard resistance and inspiring acts of personal courage beyond counting, the Marines established a defensible perimeter, but something had been left behind.
A member of the 60 mm mortar section was the first to notice it. A significant amount of 60 mm ammunition had been left behind. When you have both hands engaged in fighting the man who is attempting to kill you, there aren’t enough hands left over to tug along a crate of ammunition in the bargain. Another part of that bargain is the fact that a pair of 60 mm mortars are of scant use if there is no ammunition for them. Somehow that ammunition had to be retrieved by whatever means necessary. That was when Stanley “Stan” Wawrzyniak took over. Wawrzyniak, the company gunnery sergeant and no stranger to combat, had volunteered to accompany the platoon to OP 3 just to see if he could “help out.”
GySgt Wawrzyniak could smell a firefight from 5 miles off, and he couldn’t be paid to miss one. The situation on OP 3 looked promising. Already a holder of the Navy Cross for his valorous acts while “helping out” during the bitterly contested battle for Hill 812 in eastern Korea the previous fall, he proved once again his uncanny ability to be the right man at the right time. A man utterly without fear, he waded into the hail of incoming fire and swarming Chinese not once or twice but three times, returning each time with two cases of urgently needed ammunition. Being wounded during one of these forays didn’t stop him. After his final trip, he waved off medical attention to make a complete circuit of the new perimeter to direct the fires of individual positions. Only after that, did Wawrzyniak consent to allow a corpsman to stop the leakage of blood from two separate wounds. For his actions in the early morning hours of April 16, 1952, GySgt Stan Wawrzyniak would receive a gold star in lieu of a second Navy Cross.
(Author’s note: It was my good fortune to know LtCol Stan Wawrzyniak as a friend for many years until his death. He truly was that combat oddity, a man utterly without fear. Stan Wawrzyniak would not have backed off from an enraged gorilla.)
As chaotic as the situation on OP 3 was, it was not without one saving grace. For all the ferocity of the Chinese ground assault, that assault was not properly supported by artillery. Despite meticulously registering their fires on the positions of Easy/2/5 on the hill, when the Chinese infantry moved forward, the fires of the artillery were, for the most part, some 1,000 yards off target. While there was enough incoming on the hill itself to keep life from being dull and uninteresting, the bulk of the Chinese fires were falling off to the west at the time when they were most needed. Had some Chinese forward observer misread his map? Had the Chinese fire direction center incorrectly calculated elevation and deflection? Had someone erred in plotting the gun- target line?
Whatever the cause, it was enough to allow the defenders of OP 3 a few fleeting moments to catch their breath. As quickly as the Chinese attack had begun, it stopped, and the Chinese infantry withdrew to regroup before coming on again, this time properly supported by artillery.
While the first Chinese attack had approached tidal-wave proportions, the second Chinese attempt to wrest control of OP 3 struck like a human avalanche. By this time half of the defenders of OP 3 were dead or wounded. That didn’t prevent the wounded who still were capable of using a weapon, however, from using it to good effect. The Chinese were resolved to take the outpost. The Marines were even more resolved to hold it.
Hell was in session on OP 3, and machine-gun squad leader Sgt Artie Barbosa was suddenly fighting a one-man war. With his entire squad but one down, killed or wounded Sgt Barbosa manned the gun himself, laying withering streams of fire on Chinese attacking from two directions. As one after another of his squad fell, Barbosa, despite the deadly Chinese fire directed at him, single-handedly carried the machine gun and tripod to a position where it could enfilade both sides of the Chinese avenues of attack. Through his actions, Sgt Barbosa laid a carpet of dead Chinese at the points where the attackers came closest to breaching the perimeter.
While it cannot be said that any one man saved the day on OP 3, had Artie Barbosa not been there, the outcome of the firefight on OP 3 may have had a different ending. The Marine Corps felt the same way. For his courage and complete disregard for his own safety, Sgt Artie Barbosa would receive the Navy Cross. Rifleman Bart Dauberman, who lives today in Pennsylvania, still thinks it should have been the Medal of Honor.
If Artie Barbosa didn’t receive America’s highest award for military valor, Cpl Duane Dewey did. Duane Dewey, the squad leader of the other machine-gun squad that fought on OP 3, had his hands as full as anyone beating off what seemed to be a never ending supply of Chinese. Then a Chinese grenade landed alongside a corpsman who was caring for a wounded Marine.
Duane Dewey didn’t hesitate. He shoved the corpsman aside and threw himself atop the deadly device – after first putting his helmet over it. Incredibly, despite offering up his own life to save the lives of others, Cpl Dewey lived. One year later, fully recovered, Duane Dewey went to the White House where recently inaugurated President Dwight D. Eisenhower placed the blue ribbon of the Medal of Honor about his neck. Asked why he had first placed his helmet over the grenade that was about to detonate, he replied that he thought “maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad.” Duane Dewey is made of tough stuff. He spends his time today in Florida and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He still attends Easy/2/5 reunions.
There were courageous acts aplenty in a night that was torn apart by explosions and the never ending deadly roar of gunfire. One of the most courageous among those was the action of SSgt Quinton Barlow, the 2d Platoon’s platoon sergeant – he was the man who seemed to be everywhere at once. If there was any point at which the Chinese threatened to break through the perimeter, SSgt Barlow was there to pitch in and help beat it back. Moving from position to position amid a whiplash storm of incoming fire, Quinton Barlow went undeterred from one threatened point to another, giving no thought to his own safety, always managing to be in the most dangerous location. Quinton Barlow would become the third defender of OP 3 to receive the Navy Cross.
Almost as quickly as the firefight on OP 3 had begun, it ended. The Chinese attackers had met more than their match. Two entire regiments of Chinese never succeeded in their objective of wresting OP 3 from less than 100 Marines who intended to hold the hill or die on it. The sole Chinese who succeeded in breaking through that stalwart wall were three who were immediately overcome and taken prisoner. They seemed to be glad to be out of it.
At daybreak on April 16, the defenders of OP 3 were relieved. As they filed off the hill, they brought nine of their dead and 39 of their wounded with them. They brought as well one Medal of Honor, three Navy Crosses, six Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars and a basket full of Purple Hearts.
Has there ever been such an engagement in all of Marine Corps history, one in which so many testimonials to bravery and valor were showered on a single reinforced platoon? It would be interesting to find out.
Less than a week later, OP 3 was abandoned. The hill was simply too large to be defended by much less than a company, and the MLR could not spare a company for duty on an outpost. The war in Korea would go on and battles involving much larger units would be fought. Places with names such as Yoke, Bunker Hill, Ungok, the three Nevada Outposts (Reno, Carson and Vegas) and the Hook would all find their way into the record before the guns fell silent at Boulder City on July 27, 1953.
The firefight on OP 3, a minor engagement compared to the much larger battles in that war 65 years ago, would be forgotten, earning at most a page or two in Korean War histories. It would not be forgotten, however, by the Marines of Easy/2/5 who were there. They will gather one last time this summer, those who are still with us, men well into their 80s, to recall those long ago days and the men they shared them with. So many of those Marines of Easy/2/5 have answered their final roll call. After this last gathering, the proud banner that hung over their annual reunions will be presented to the 1stMarDiv for safekeeping, perhaps to serve as a testimonial to what rock-hard Marine resolve and Marine courage can achieve.
Author’s note: Deep gratitude and appreciation are owed MGySgt Leland “Lee” Brinkman, USMC (Ret) and Marine veteran PFC Edgar “Bart” Dauberman, Easy/2/5 Marines who were there, for their invaluable assistance in putting this narrative together.
Author Allan C. Bevilacqua is a former enlisted Marine who served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, as well as on an exchange tour with the French Foreign Legion. Later in his career, he was an instructor at Amphibious Warfare School and Command and Staff College, Quantico, VA.
Reprinted with permission from the Marine Corps Association & Foundation, Leatherneck Magazine, May 2017
By LtCol Mike Christy-TogetherWeServed Dispatches
The War of 1812 is a relatively little-known war in American history, but it is also one of its most important. It lasted from June 1812 to February 1815, and was fought between the United States of America and the United Kingdom, its North American colonies, and its Native American allies. It also defined the presidency of James Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution.” Despite its complicated causes and inconclusive outcome, the conflict helped establish the credibility of the young United States internationally. It also fostered a strong sense of pride among the American people that is reflected and preserved in one of the fledgling nation’s most famous patriotic songs, the U.S. national anthem.
Causes of the war included British attempts to restrict U.S. trade, the Royal Navy’s forced impressment of as many as 10,000 American merchant sailors, and America’s desire to expand its territory. The United States suffered many costly defeats at the hands of British, Canadian and Native American troops over the course of the War of 1812, including the capture and burning of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., in August 1814.
Nonetheless, American troops were able to repulse British invasions in New York, Baltimore, and New Orleans, boosting national confidence and fostering a new spirit of patriotism. The ratification of the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815, ended the war but left many of the most contentious questions unresolved. Nonetheless, many in the United States celebrated the War of 1812 as a “second war of independence,” beginning a new era of partisan agreement and national pride.
At the outset of the 19th century, Great Britain was locked in a long and bitter conflict with Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. In an attempt to cut off supplies from reaching the enemy, both sides attempted to block the United States from trading with the other. In 1807, Britain passed a series of decrees called the Orders in Council, which required neutral countries to obtain a license from British authorities before trading with France or its colonies, outraging many neutral trading partners. In 1809, the U.S. Congress repealed Thomas Jefferson’s unpopular Embargo Act, which, by restricting trade, had hurt Americans more than either Britain or France. Its replacement, the Non-Intercourse Act, specifically prohibited trade with Britain and France. It also proved ineffective, and in turn was replaced with a May 1810 bill stating that if either power dropped trade restrictions against the United States, Congress would in turn resume non-intercourse (blocking trade) with the opposing power. As a result, that November, after Napoleon hinted he would drop restrictions, President James Madison blocked all trade with Britain, contributing to already-tense relations between the two countries. This maintained a natural alliance between the U.S. and France against Great Britain that began during the Revolutionary War just a few decades prior.
Meanwhile, new members of Congress elected that year – led by two popular statesmen, the famous orator and future Speaker of the House and Secretary of State Henry Clay, and political theorist and future Vice President John C. Calhoun – had begun to agitate for war, based on their indignation over British violations of maritime rights as well as Britain’s encouragement of Native American hostility against American expansion in the West, allying the British with a confederation of native American forces led by Shawnee chief Tecumseh.
Lacking artillery and strength of numbers, these Indian allies of the British avoided pitched battles and head-to-head conflicts that could potentially result in heavy losses. They sought only to fight under favorable conditions, relying on mostly irregular warfare, including raids and ambushes. Their weapons were mostly primitive, including a mixture of tomahawks, clubs, knives, and arrows. But British-supplied swords, rifles and muskets gave them the ability to effectively conduct asymmetric warfare. Indian warriors were brave, but being outnumbered led to tactics that favored a more defensive approach to fighting, risking little and only striking when they had the advantage.
In the fall of 1811, Indiana’s territorial governor William Henry Harrison led U.S. troops to victory over the native confederacy in the Battle of Tippecanoe, earning him a reputation that eventually carried him to the White House. The defeat convinced many Indians in the Northwest Territory that they needed, even more, British support to prevent American settlers from pushing them further out of their lands. Americans on the western frontier demanded an end to this British intervention and support of the native confederacy, adding to the tensions.
By late 1811 the so-called “War Hawks” in Congress were putting more and more pressure on Madison, and on June 18, 1812, the president finally signed a declaration of war against Britain. Though Congress ultimately voted for war, both the House and the Senate were bitterly divided on the issue. Most Western and Southern congressmen supported the war, while Federalists (especially New Englanders who relied heavily on trade with Britain) accused war advocates of using the maritime rights issue to promote their expansionist agenda.
In order to strike at Great Britain, U.S. forces almost immediately attacked Canada, then a British colony. The British government believed it to have been an opportunistic ploy by President James Madison to annex Canada while Britain was fighting a ruinous war with France. The view was shared in much of New England and for that reason, the war was widely referred to there as Mr. Madison’s War. As a result, the primary British war goal was to defend their North American colonies. However, some historians believe that the U.S. only intended to capture Canada in order to cut off food supplies for Britain’s West Indian colonies and prevent the British from continuing to arm the Indians, as well as creating a bargaining chip to force Britain to back down on the maritime issues.
American officials were overly optimistic about the invasion’s success, especially given how underprepared U.S. troops were at the time. On the other side, they faced a well-managed defense coordinated by Sir Isaac Brock, the British soldier and administrator in charge in Upper Canada (modern Ontario). On August 16, 1812, the United States suffered a humiliating defeat after Brock and Tecumseh’s forces chased the forces of Michigan’s William Hull across the Canadian border, scaring Hull into surrendering Fort Detroit without firing a shot.
Things looked better for the United States in the Northwest Territory, as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s brilliant success against the Royal Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813 placed the territory firmly under American control. Harrison was subsequently able to retake Detroit in October 1813, with a victory in the Battle of Thames, in which Tecumseh was killed. Tecumseh’s passing weakened the native resistance to American expansionism and forced them to retreat westward. But Tecumseh subsequently became an iconic folk hero in American, Aboriginal, and Canadian history, being the subject of books, movies, documentaries, and a yearly outdoor theater drama in Chillicothe, OH that recreates his powerful speech to the leaders and warriors of his tribal confederacy from atop a large rock, prior to the raid that helped the British capture Fort Detroit.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy had been able to score several victories over the British Royal Navy in the early months of the war. With the defeat of Napoleon’s armies in April 1814, however, Britain was able to turn its full attention to the war effort in North America and began mobilizing its forces against the United States. As large numbers of troops arrived, British forces raided the Chesapeake Bay and moved in on the U.S. capital, capturing Washington, D.C. on August 24, 1814, and burning government buildings, including the Capitol and the White House.
On September 13, 1814, Baltimore’s Fort McHenry withstood 25 hours of bombardment by the British Navy. The following morning, the fort’s soldiers hoisted an enormous American flag, a sight that inspired Francis Scott Key, imprisoned on a Royal Navy ship and witness to the battle, to write a poem he titled “Defence of Fort McHenry.” Later set to the tune of an old English drinking song, the poem became the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner” which was adopted as the U.S. national anthem. The Battle of Baltimore resulted in American forces repulsing sea and land invasions of the busy port city of Baltimore, Maryland, and the death of the commander of the invading British forces. British forces subsequently left the Chesapeake Bay area and began gathering their efforts for a campaign against New Orleans.
By that time, peace talks had already begun at Ghent (modern Belgium), and Britain moved for an armistice after the failure of the assault on Baltimore. In the negotiations that followed, the United States gave up its demands to end impressment, while Britain promised to leave Canada’s borders unchanged and abandon efforts to create an Indian state in the Northwest. On December 24, 1814, commissioners signed the Treaty of Ghent, which would be ratified the following February. On January 8, 1815, unaware that peace had been concluded, British forces mounted a major attack on New Orleans, only to meet with defeat at the hands of future U.S. president Andrew Jackson’s army. News of the battle boosted sagging U.S. morale and left Americans with the taste of victory, despite the fact that the country had achieved none of its pre-war objectives.
Though the War of 1812 is remembered as a relatively minor conflict in the United States and Britain, it looms large for Canadians, who see it as vindication for maintaining their national boundaries, and for Native Americans, who see it as a decisive turning point in their losing struggle to govern themselves. In fact, the war had a far-reaching impact in the United States, as the Treaty of Ghent ended decades of bitter partisan infighting in the U.S. government and ushered in the so-called “Era of Good Feelings.” The war also marked the demise of the Federalist Party, which had been accused of being unpatriotic for its antiwar stance, and reinforced a tradition of Anglophobia that had begun during the Revolutionary War. It birthed a new generation of great American generals and helped propel 4 men to the presidency: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe and William Henry Harrison. Perhaps most importantly, the war’s outcome boosted national self-confidence and encouraged the growing spirit of American expansionism that would shape the better part of the 19th century.
By LtCol Mike Christy-TogetherWeServed Dispatches
Pham Xuan An was a brilliant journalist and an ever better spy. A friend to all the legendary reporters who covered the Vietnam War, he was an invaluable source of news and a fountain of wisdom on all things Vietnamese. He was also a masterful double agent, an inspired shape-shifter who kept his cover in place until the 1980s, when he was honored in his homeland as a national hero and revealed to have the rank of Colonel. He ranks as one of the greatest spies of the twentieth century.
As a reporter for Reuters, The Christian Science Monitor and Time magazine, An covered American and South Vietnamese military and diplomatic events and was one of a handful of reporters admitted to off-the-record briefings by American authorities. In appreciation for his dedicated work, Time made him a full staff correspondent, the only Vietnamese to be given that distinction by a major American news organization.
An seemed to do his best work swapping stories with colleagues in Givral’s café, on the old Rue Catinat. Here he presided every afternoon as the best news source in Saigon. He was called “Dean of the Vietnamese Press Corps” and “Voice of Radio Catinat” – the rumor mill. With self-deprecating humor, he preferred other titles for himself, such as “docteur de sexologie,” “professeur coup d’état,” “Commander of Military Dog Training” (a reference to the German shepherd that always accompanied him), “Ph.D. in Revolutions,” or, simply, General Givral.
At the same time, An was delivering a steady stream of secret military documents and messages written in invisible ink to North Vietnamese Politburo authorities in Hanoi, using an ingenious series of dead-letter drops. He was also using a Hermes typewriter bought specially for him by the North Vietnamese intelligence service to write dispatches, some as long as a hundred pages, at night. Photographed and transported as undeveloped rolls of film disguised as egg rolls hidden inside rotting fish, his typewritten reports were run by courier out to the Cu Chi tunnel network that served as the Communists’ underground headquarters. From Cu Chi, An’s dispatches were hustled under armed guard to Mt. Ba Den, on the Cambodian border, driven to Phnom Penh, flown to Guangzhou (Canton), in southern China, and then rushed to the Politburo in North Vietnam. In addition, every few weeks beginning in 1952, An would leave his Saigon office, drive twenty miles northwest to the Ho Bo woods, and descend into the tunnels to plan Communist strategy.
An’s role was so precarious that of the 45 couriers and agents responsible for getting his intelligence to the Communists, 27 of them were captured and/or killed. His writing was so lively and detailed that General Giap and Ho Chi Minh are reported to have rubbed their hands with glee on getting these dispatches from Tran Van Trung – An’s code name. “We are now in the United States’ war room!” they exclaimed, according to members of the Vietnamese Politburo.
Pham Xuan An was born in 1927 just north-east of Saigon in Binh Truoc in what was then French Indochina. As the firstborn son of a government surveyor establishing property lines and tax rolls in Vietnam’s southern frontier,An had the rare honor of receiving a French colonial birth certificate.
At the beginning of World War II, France was swiftly conquered by Nazi Germany and the governing of France and the colonial French Indochina passed to the Vichy French government, a Puppet state of Nazi Germany. At the same time, Japanese forces invaded Vietnam. The Vichy government relinquished control of Hanoi and Saigon to Japan, and by 1941, Japan extended its control over the whole of French Indochina.
In 1941, Ho Chi Minh returned home from China and founded the Viet Minh – a communist-dominated independence movement – to fight both the Japanese occupiers and the Vichy French. Assisting him in his guerrilla warfare was his most trusted and devoted Lieutenants; General Vo Nguyen Giap, a brilliant military strategists, and Pham Van Dong.
By LtCol Mike Christy-TogetherWeServed Dispatches
A separate design for a version of the Medal of Honor for the U.S. Air Force was created in 1956, authorized in 1960, and officially adopted on April 14, 1965. Previously, members of the U.S. Army Air Corps, U.S. Army Air Forces, and the U.S. Air Force received the Army version of the medal. The first person to receive the new U.S. Air Force Medal of Honor was Major Bernie Fisher during the Battle of A Shau Valley in March 1966. He also received a Silver Star during the same battle.
The A Shau Valley is located in Thua Thein Hue Province, 30 miles southwest of the coastal city of Hue, along the border of Laos. The valley runs north and south for twenty-five miles and is a mile-wide flat bottomland covered with tall elephant grass, flanked by two strings of densely forested mountains that vary from three to six thousand feet. Its geography and isolation made it a primary infiltration route for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) into South Vietnam for men and material brought down from the north along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Located just five miles from the border with Laos was A Shau Special Forces camp with the mission of detecting and interdicting enemy forces. Defending the camp were 10 Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group and 210 South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG). Out of friendly artillery range, it was supported by Air Commando units equipped with vintage A-1 Skyraiders and AC-47 Spooky gunships.
The camp consisted of some barracks buildings, a triangular fort, and an airstrip made of pierced steel planking just outside the barbed wire perimeter east of the camp. The fort had a mortar bunker at each corner. The walls consisted of steel plate and sandbags.
The camp was routinely harassed by small Vietcong (VC) formations leading up to the battle. Throughout February andMarch, 1966, platoon-sized troops from the camp were sent out to conduct reconnaissance patrols in the surrounding area. On March 5, two North Vietnamese Army (NVA) defectors turned up at the camp. Under interrogation, they indicated that four battalions of the North Vietnamese 325th Division were planning to attack the camp.
Based on that information, night patrols were dispatched to confirm the enemy positions but no sightings were made. However, Air Commandos conducting reconnaissance flights observed large build-ups of NVA troops along with anti-aircraft emplacements. As a result, airstrikes were ordered against enemy positions.
On March 7, Air Force C-123s brought in reinforcements in the form of a MIKE force, increasing the strength of the camp to 17 Green Berets and 368 South Vietnamese irregulars and Chinese Nung mercenaries.
On March 8, the camp was placed on general alert and the camp’s defenders had taken up their positions. During the night a small enemy assault was launched but thrown back.
Shortly after midnight on March 9, with the cloud ceiling at 400 feet, an Air Force AC-47D “Spooky 70” from the 4th Air Commando Squadron got through the clouds and flew up the valley at treetop level, strafing the attacking NVA formations. On the gunship’s second pass, it was hit hard by ground fire. The right engine was torn from its mounts. Seconds later, the other engine was knocked out, too. The bullet-riddled AC-47 crash-landed on a mountain slope, five miles farther up the valley. All six crewmen survived but were attacked by NVA troops. Three crewmen were killed but the other three were eventually rescued by a U.S. Air Force HH-43 helicopters.
About 2 am, March 9, a second attack began with enemy bombardment emanating from the surrounding hills. Mortars, artillery, and rocket-propelled grenades pounded the camp, killing two Americans and wounding 30. The barrage set buildings and the supply dump afire and reduced defensive positions to rubble. The enemy artillery barrage stopped at dawn.
Early in the morning of March 9, two A-1Es from Pleiku were diverted from other targets and sent to the aid of the fort at A Shau. Leading the A-1E flight was Air Force Maj. Bernard F. Fisher, a 39-year-old fighter pilot from Kuna, Idaho and a devout Mormon who did not drink, smoke, or use strong language. He had been in the Air Force for 15 years.
There weren’t many jets in Vietnam in the early part of the war, so Fisher had volunteered to fly the A-1E, which was in use both by the South Vietnamese Air Force and by U.S. Air Commandos. Fisher was initially sent to Bien Hoa, where he trained South Vietnamese pilots to fly combat in the A-1E. He then transferred to the 1st Air Commando Squadron at Pleiku.
Arriving in the area of A Shau Valley, Fisher and his wingman Bruce Wallace found the mountains blanketed by clouds and began probing to find the canyon in which the camp lay.
On his third attempt, he emerged from the overcast and barely missed colliding with a helicopter that had just come from A Shau with wounded aboard. The helicopter pilot directed Fisher toward a saddle in the mountains, where he found an opening in the clouds about five miles northwest of the camp. He and Wallace went through the hole and flew down the valley at very low level. The enemy AAA was intense.
A C-130 airborne command post told Fisher to destroy the crashed AC-47 before the NVA captured the three 7.62 mm Gatling guns, which could fire 6,000 rounds per minute and which were still in working order. Fisher assigned that task to Wallace – who dropped six bombs on the wreckage and obliterated it – while Fisher went to the direct assistance of the fort.
For the next several hours, Fisher and Wallace collected arriving aircraft above the clouds and led them down into the valley. Fisher guided a CH-3C helicopter that came to evacuate the badly wounded. He also led A-1Es in a strike to break up a force that was massing to attack the fort.
Fisher went up again to bring down two Air Force C-123s. The mountains were tight on all sides, and forward visibility was less than half a mile. They began taking fire seven miles north of the camp. Fisher suppressed the ground fire as the transports air-dropped supplies for the fort from an altitude of 50 feet.
Low on fuel, Fisher went through the clouds one more time to help a forward air controller lead two B-57 bombers down the valley. In all, Fisher spent about two hours under the clouds. He made an emergency landing at Da Nang, 20 minutes away, with almost no fuel left in his tank.
Fisher was awarded the Silver Star for his role as on-scene commander and Wallace received the Distinguished Flying Cross. However, Fisher had not yet seen the last of the A Shau Valley.
In the afternoon on March 9, supplies of ammunition were flown in by C-123 and CV-2 aircraft, but the resupply drops often landed outside of the camp and could not be retrieved. At the same time, helicopters were called to evacuate the wounded. Because of bad weather, however, reinforcements from Hue and Phu Bai could not be deployed, forcing the camp’s defenders to repair as well as they could their defensive wall and dug in for the night.
Sometime between midnight and 3 AM during the night of March 10, the NVA launched yet another attack with mortar and recoilless rifle fire. Two C-123s and an AC-47 dropped flares throughout the night. Before daylight, an enemy assault team penetrated the east wall of the camp, where hand-to-hand combat took place for three hours. By 8 AM, the defenders were pushed into the camp’s north wall and the NVA dug in between the airstrip and the camp.
Throughout the day U.S. Marine Corps and Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) aircraft strafed NVA positions around the camp, but as fighting continued the situation deteriorated with ammunition supplies running short.
About 11 AM, the defenders reported that they could hold out no more than another hour and that airdrops to resupply them with ammunition should stop since they could not retrieve the bundles.
Bernie Fisher and his wingman that day, Capt. Francisco “Paco” Vazquez, were en route to provide air support to Army forces near Kontum when they got an emergency radio call to divert to A Shau. Fisher’s call sign was “Hobo 51,” and Vazquez was “Hobo 52.”
By 11:15 AM, Hobo flight had joined numerous other aircraft that were stacked and circling at 8,000 feet and higher above the valley. They had not yet gone to the aid of the fort because of the danger of running into mountain peaks hidden by the cloud cover.
One of the other A-1 flights in the stack was led by Maj. Dafford W. “Jump” Myers from the 602nd Fighter Squadron at Qui Nhon. Myers was “Surf 41,” and his wingman, Capt. Hubert King, was “Surf 42.”