Hastings At 34, Part 4. (July 21-22, 1966)


It took a while for the whole company to skirt the badlands. This is what I labeled the area where the B-52’s had scorched the earth bare. One thing we all tried to do in the field was give the enemy as little a target as possible. One of the biggest rules of Marine combat tactical movement, was to never cross open ground if at all possible. The same reasoning that went right along with, never leaving a silhouette on the horizon. Of course there were times it was unavoidable. I think back on it now, and it may have been because of this minor delay, that we made our evening camp a little later then normal. With all the activity of the past three days there was certainly just cause to minimize our presence as much as we could. Other than that, I can’t think of anything unusual happening for the rest of that evening.

There was an urgency to send out our ambush teams for the night. I may be wrong after all of these years, but I believe we always tried to get at least two ambushes set up every night. At least when we were on company sized operations. I’m pretty sure that they were usually about squad size, and there would almost always be a machinegun team (two men) sent along to consolidate the fire power. A squad if it were up to strength, which was very seldom, would usually have about twelve to fourteen guys. I’m going to give those who read this, that aren’t familiar with the nomenclature of a rifle squad, a little bit of an idea of what is involved here.

A squad is supposed to have three fire teams of four men each, a grenadier, and a squad leader – usually a corporal or sergeant E-5. Each of these fire teams is made up of an automatic weapons guy (in the Marine Corps of 1966, he usually carried an M-14 rifle with a selector set on automatic), and an assistant automatic weapons guy, and two rifleman scouts – all who carried M-14’s without the selectors. The grenadier carried an M79 Grenade launcher. Nifty little weapon, that looked like a large fat single barreled sawed off shotgun. It cracked open, and loaded like a shotgun. It fired 40 millimeter projectiles that could be high explosive, illumination or smoke. Handy little weapon – but not much good unless you had at least twenty feet of space for the projectiles to arm once they left the barrel. Usually one man in the squad was designated the assistant grenadier in case he was knocked out of action, and usually had been through the same training as the grenadier. Along with my official titles of rifleman scout, and tracker, I was also an assistant grenadier. I’ll admit to it now - I was always hoping something would happen to the grenadier, because I loved that blooper . . .

Of course, just about everyone knows of the firepower an M60 machinegun can put out. So, theoretically at least, you had around fifteen well armed men, at least three who carried automatic weapons, a fourth that carried a ‘big’ automatic weapon, and a guy that could pump out some grenades as fast as he could crack, extract, load and shoot. Awesome! I think most of us saw demonstrations of this fire power in action, at one time or another.

To further give the reader an idea of the rest of the table of organization (TO) within a rifle battalion, there were three squads to a platoon, and three platoons to a company. Weapons Company which was divided up within the battalion’s four rifle companies, consisted of 3.5 rockets, 60 mm. mortars, and of course the stalwart M60 machine gunners.

So, with this in mind, I’m going to say from my memory of it back then, that you’d have two squads on ambush duty – one from each platoon, with an imaginary third team on reserve. And, then because those squads were supposedly on 100 % alert all night (fully awake), they’d take up a reserve slot the next day with little or light duty. These ambush duty slots were rotated accordingly through all three platoons, with the thought that not only was it the fair thing to do, but you could function better that way. Let me tell you . . . nobody liked ambush duty!

Unfortunately . . .none of the squads, in our platoon anyway - were up to strength. There were a lot of reasons why. Although heat wasn’t as much of a problem as it had been on previous operations, there were still some minor heat casualties. At least some of our absences were in fact from previous operations for one reason or another. We weren’t getting a lot of replacements in at the time (that I was aware of) to compensate for it. Also, and I may be wrong here, some of the guys who’d been abruptly left behind in the Philippines – still hadn’t caught up with us yet. There are some interesting stories behind that missing movement event that would make up a chapter all of it’s own. Some other time . . .

With all of the above said and done let me proceed with the rest of this segment. In my account of the this operation ‘The Battle For Hill 362’, which I wrote off the cuff in 1996 – thirty years after the battle, I mention the ambush of July 21, 1966. Actually, I originally recorded it as the 20th of July. I’m going to revise the date now, as I’m pretty sure my present timetable is more accurate, and with what (little) I’ve learned since 1996 – fits in better with later upcoming events. Understand, that I had not yet learned fully the facts of India Company’s tragedy on Hill 362. I’m still trying to piece it all together in any case. So, let’s go with the night of July 21st, until someone someday - sets it straight.

July 21, 1966 - 1800 hours. (or later?)

Fire team leader LCpl. Bob Sorenson's squad has ambush duty tonight. It's getting late to be going out looking for a site. All of us have been pushing it to the limits. We're dead tired, hungry, and every squad has had casualties of one sort or another. (if not from the enemy - then from the heat, and dysentery.) Water, for the first time, was not a problem. There were streams all over the place.

Sorenson gets his men together. Among them are Gerry Hohol and Tom Palardy. He can't get a machine-gun for some reason tonight, which leaves maybe one or two M-14s on automatic. I think there is a total of seven men on this team - not even two whole fireteams.

{Every night there would be at least one or more ambushes set up. They would usually be concealed along a trail or path, leading into the companies AOR (Area of Responsibility). A machine-gunner was almost always sent along to solidify the accumulated firepower within the team. The idea behind an ambush was to set in - in an area with good concealment - and hopefully an area that would leave little, if any, cover for the enemy. A rope attached to each man would be used by the team leader to make sure everyone was awake throughout the night. One tug (You awake?), two tugs back (Yeah), on down the line. You would only spring an ambush if the enemy could be seen, front to back within your TAR (Target Area of Responsibility). With the element of surprise on your side, and the right firepower - an ambush was a deadly tool. Course we were taught that if WE were ambushed, our best chance of survival was to turn into the ambush and charge - hoping to psyche out our foe, and gain the advantage.}

Sorenson gets his team into a site just before darkness sets in. It’s not a very good one, but with the only time available, the best he can do. Everyone ties up with the rope. It’s a warm night. Bugs crawl into your nose and eyes, but you don’t dare slap them, or make any kind of movement or noise. You hope a Cobra or other poisonous snake doesn’t decide to make your body heat - home.


Palardy nods off to sleep, and starts to snore. A loud grating snore. Everyone attached to him tug the rope as hard as they can to try and wake him up.

Then it happens . . . The first NVA soldier enters the trap! Then another, and yet another. Asshole to bellybutton, more and more are entering the ‘killing zone’. With a final frantic tug of the rope, Palardy is finally yanked from his beauty sleep. Fortunately the enemy doesn't hear his last abrupt snort. What he sees in front of him causes his eyes to pop out, and his heart and breathing to stop. Hohol and the others also stop breathing. For by now the whole zone is full of NVA! They are filling the trail in front of them - not more than ten feet away!

Sorenson looses count after thirty or forty. He is torn as to what to do. It is with the firing of his weapon that the ambush will be sprung. With the firepower he has in his team, they might with luck get maybe a dozen. It’s sheer suicide. There are too many - too well armed. The enemy has enough cover on the other side of the trail, to protect them when the shooting starts. The company is too far away to reach them - in the dark - in time. He starts to squeeze the trigger. He is a good Marine - he will fight . . . to the death . . .

Beads of sweat are pouring from Palardy's face. He's afraid the sound of it hitting the leaves close to him will be heard by the enemy. Hohol, too, is sweating profusely, and is worried that his thoughts can be heard by the enemy. "Don't do it, Bob - please don't pull that trigger . . .", he's thinking - "We'll all die!" He has a grenade launcher, but it won't do much good at such close range (takes at least twenty feet for the grenades to arm). He tries to remember how many magazines he'd brought along for his pistol.

Sorenson re-assesses the situation. Can't see the last of them yet, and the first ones are already shuffling out of sight - no telling how many more are coming through. He relaxes his trigger finger . . .

They spend the rest of the night afraid - to even blink an eye.

I wake up to the sound of Sorenson getting his ass chewed up one side and down the other. Can't remember who was doing the chewing. This after he reported back in - and was honest about his ‘predicament’.

{Over the years, there's been a lot of controversy over this incident. Many have felt he should have sprung the ambush - regardless. "Could have prevented Hill 362", some say.

I talked with every man on that ambush, and everyone said the same thing - suicide.

Everyone of those men were good Marines - there was no questioning their courage. And had they committed suicide on that ambush, our whole company might have gone down several days later in the fight for hill 362. Gerry Hohol and Tom Palardy ended up defending the fighting hole next to mine that day. And had they not been there (also defending their position with an M-14 on automatic) - we surely would have been overrun.

Corporal Bill Troy, several years ago during a phone conversation, pointed out the fact that we had been trained ‘not’ to spring an ambush - unless the enemy was totally within it's fields of fire.

My feeling then, as now, is Lance Corporal Bob Sorenson - made the right decision.}

Having recently discussed this ambush once again with Bill Troy, I stand by the way I originally wrote it.

I feel it would be hypothetical (even now) to assume the enemy that passed unscathed through the Sorenson ambush, might have been the same that attacked India Company the next day. With so much enemy activity all over the whole area – who could be certain? It may very well be, that one day it can all be deciphered from publicly released after-action reports and so on, but the fact still remains that had the ambush gone down that night . . . A bunch of good Marines would have surely gone down with it.

Next, click on: Hastings At 34, Part 5 (July 22-23, 1966)

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