Letter written by 2nd Lt. Williams
Sunday 7 Aug. 66
Chu Lai, Vietnam
We have been in Chu Lai for about 4 or 5 days, and have been taking it easy. Yesterday the whole 5th Marine Regiment started on "Operation Colorado". "I" Co. is acting as security for the regimental C.P area and probably wont see any action in this operation.
Now to explain what happened on Operation "Hastings". To start with, "I" Co. is still a fighting unit.
We were in the valley to the south of the ridge line I have drawn. The Company was ordered to occupy hill 362. My platoon, (1st Plt) led the way up the side of the ridge. When we got to the top, we spotted the trail running E & W. We turned east (or right) and started heading toward hill 362. About the time my trailing rear squad reached the trail, 3 North Vietnamese walked up the trail from the left. Fire was exchanged. I was near the head of the platoon (to the right) and went back to the firing after leaving the point squad with orders to watch towards hill 362. After joining the rear squad (1st Sqd. Under Sgt. Possio) we proceeded to pursue the enemy down the trail to the left. We killed 1 and captured 2. One of those who was captured was wounded and died later on. They were a 3 man detail carrying mortar ammunition.
By this time the C.O. had reached the trail, so I took the prisoner back to him. The P.O.W. told us (one of my men can speak a little Vietnamese) there were more enemy along the ridge to our right. I wasnt sure he was telling the truth and I figured there might have been a translation mix-up. I knew we had enemy contact to the left, so I suggested Woodys plt. Go right and I go left. I figured my platoon would have the best chance for enemy contact.
A little after Woodys plt. (2nd Plt.) passed hill 362, they made contact with small groups of North Vietnamese and pursued them along the trail. At about Point A they were hit heavily by machine gun fire from their front and flank and immediately started to take heavy casualties. The 2nd Plt. Needed help so the 1st Plt. (mine) turned around and moved along the ridge to help them. As we passed the top of Hill 362 I dropped off a fire team to start making a clearing so the wounded could be lifted out by helicopter.
I didnt take the Plt. all the way forward but left them a little to the rear while I went up to see Woody and find out what we could do to help. By this time Woodys casualties were quite heavy. You see, they had the trail zeroed in with heavy machine guns. They were firing through the brush, (Im sure they had registered on them previously) and we couldnt locate them. We decided to pull back and call in an air strike. I then called down a squad to help pull out the dead and wounded and went back to get another. About this time, I got a call over the radio. (We need Help! We need help!) so I turned around and ran back down the trail. I didnt know it but those up at the very front had just been overrun and without knowing it, I ran past the last live marine and smack into a North Vietnamese who caught me by surprise and started shooting at me with his automatic rifle from about 25 fee away. I dove into the brush and and set a new worlds record for crawling. I got back to where our people were and found Woody wounded. He seemed to be all right so I got 2 men and tried to work down the left flank of the trail to see if we could knock out the enemy or see if there were any wounded Marines there. The brush was so thick we could hardly move. We were very close to the enemy but couldnt see for the brush. We would yell, "Is that a Marine firing, Is that a Marine?" Answer up or we will throw a grenade." We kept this up for 15 or 20 minutes then headed back to our own positions. We brought Woody along with us.
Pictures from Hill 362
When we got back with our troops we tried to drag 2 bodies up the trail with us. The enemy fire was coming in quite heavy and we were having to drag the bodies up hill. Finally, I gave the order to leave the bodies and withdraw to where Mike had set up a covering for us. We (the Sergeants with me) practically had to kick the men up the trail. They didnt want to leave the 2 dead bodies. I hated to leave them myself, but the fire was so heavy Im sure we would have lost several more if we hadnt left the dead.
We got back to where Mike was (Position B) and set up a blocking force across the ridge. The brush and trees thinned out enough so we could move off the trail. By this time we had moved most of our dead and wounded to the HLZ and also started organizing a perimeter defense. I had the section from C through B to D, Mike had the section from D clockwise to C. By this time we started to receive a few rounds of mortar fire. They didnt do much damage at this time. The perimeter was made up by grabbing anyone available and putting him in place. We had received enough casualties by this time to disorganize the various units. In one portion of my perimeter we dug a trench. It was manned by about 20 men, 75% of whom were wounded. The man I put in charge was a L/Cpl. Who couldnt walk. He used a PFC as his legs to see that orders were carried out.
We now started to receive heavier and more accurate mortar fire. Some of the wounded were hit again. Some were hit a couple of times more. We also had several people killed.
We started to dig holes for the wounded, who could move at Point E. For those who were hit too critically to move, we dug holes on the HLZ. This was done while under fire. These Marines were magnificent. We had tried to get choppers in to lift out the wounded, but they got shot full of holes by machine gun fire.
All through the night we were probed by small groups. One North Vietnamese got within 6 feet of a Marine. The Marine tried to shoot him and his rifle jammed. (It had started raining and everything was caked with mud.) The enemy tried to fire, but his rifle also jammed. Needless to say, I think both men probably aged 10 years when they heard the others rifle click. The enemy promptly made a high speed exit. We finally got the mortar knocked out with artillery fire.
The next morning we started enlarging the landing zone so choppers could evcuate the wounded. The terrain was too rough to evacuate most of the wounded overland. We finally got chain saws in to help in the clearing but most of it was done with machetes. We had to run the walking wounded off. They were trying to chop on the trees. That included some with wounds in both arms.
By this time the North Vietnamese had withdrawn. At least they had stopped shooting.
A Little after it got light, some of my men heard someone calling for help. They immediately formed a small patrol and went out. (I was at the other end of the perimeter and didnt hear the man yell.) It turned out to be my radioman, Pfc. Bednar, I didnt know he had followed me down the trail and when I ran into the North Vietnamese, he evidently got shot and knocked unconscious as I dove into the brush. As I said before, we had tried to see if there were any Marines alive in this area. Evidently there was one other man who had been hit and knocked out but was still alive in the same area.
Anyway, after the shooting was over, the enemy started bayoneting the dead. This other man groaned when struck and was immediately shot. Bednar heard this and managed not to move or make any noise when they bayoneted him. He did such a good job that they thought he was dead and took his watch, cigarettes, pistol and radio. When it got dark, he started crawling up the trail toward us. Thank goodness it was an extremely dark night. Everytime one would pass him, he would play dead or crawl off the trail. During the night he crawled about 150 yards with a gunshot wound and three or four bayonet wounds. One of the bayonet wounds opened up his intestines and they were hanging out. The amazing thing about it was that when he was picked up, he didnt ask for first aid or complain about his wounds. He must have thought I got hit when he did. The first thing he said was, "Is Lt. Williams O.K.?" Everytime I think of him and what he went through I almost cry. I know Marines arent supposed to do that sort of thing, but after seeing these kids die trying to save a wounded buddy, and digging holes for the wounded while they were under fire and watching them comfort the hurt, I cant help it and dont feel a bit ashamed about crying.
The total dead was around 25 and the wounded that had to be evacuated was in the neighborhood of 70. As you know, a man who is wounded or killed, receives the Purple Heart. About two nights before, Mikes platoon had 8 killed and 4 wounded in an ambush. During a period of 3 days, our Company earned 116 Purple Hearts. Some of the wounds were minor but most were serious.
If anyone ever tells you todays Marine isnt as good as those in World War II and Korea, you set them straight. They fought like real pros. They sacrificed themselves so their friends would live. They held out when they should have run, and I consider it a privilege and honor to be able to lead these men and number them among my friends.
I miss both of you very much.
(Lt. R. S. Williams)
P.S. The boys names I like best are, Timothy Robert and Samuel Patrick.
For girls, how about Kelly Ann or Sandra Lea?