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Excerpt from YOUNG BLOOD: a History of the 1st Bn., 27th Marines

Copyright 1999, Gary E. Jarvis, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Overview of the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines in Vietnam

February-September 1968

Soon after arriving in Da Nang, Vietnam on February 23-28,1968, the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines participated in a very short period of indoctrination patrols with the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines and immediately commenced patrol activity on its own in a large region southwest of Da Nang. Because of its history as an infiltration route for the VC/NVA, the northeast section of this tactical area of responsibility, TAOR, was the most active area for the battalion in the month of March 1968. The 1st Marine Division directed that one of 1/27's companies be maintained in the Con Dau area while the remaining companies focused their attention to the area known as the "Rocket Belt." During the month of March 1968, a total of 505 patrols, 214 ambushes and 8 company size search and destroy operations were documented.   

While the newly arrived battalion's Marines were in Vietnam, the dependents of the officers and enlisted personnel who had been left in Hawaii were required to vacate the base and move to the continental United States per the orders of the Air Wing commander. Second Lieutenant John Lancaster was assigned the unenviable task of assisting the angry dependents in Delta Company.   

The battalion performed more than just offensive operations. MEDCAPS, a medical civil actions program, and civic action projects that were part of an overall program intent on establishing an effective people to people program, which emphasized personal contact with the local Vietnamese military and local hamlet/village leaders were also initiated by the battalion. Additionally, Company A was under the operational control of the 1st Military Police Battalion south of Da Nang City until March 30, 1968.

On March 31, 1968, the battalion went north to the outskirts of Hue City under the operational control of Task Force X-Ray. During the month of April, enemy troop concentrations increased substantially in 1/27's area of operation in the Phu Vang and surrounding Hue City regions. The battalion encountered elements of the 804th NVA Battalion, the local force companies and hamlet guerrillas. The battalion also engaged in several combat operations against elements of the 802d NVA Battalion, 810th Local Force Battalion, C-116 Local Force Company, and the C-117 Local Force Company. Enemy initiated contacts included: harassing and sniper fire, probing of platoon patrol bases, mortar barrages and a significantly bloody confrontation with the enemy on April 13, 1968, which resulted in twenty-six (26) dead and forty-six (46) wounded Marines and corpsmen. The Marines killed sixty-two (62) enemy soldiers during the day’s action.

In the month of April, seventy-seven (77) enemy casualties were documented and the battalion suffered thirty-four (34) KIA and one hundred and forty-two (142) wounded. From a numerical perspective regarding casualties, the total dead and wounded in April actually totaled more than the total troop strength of one out of the four rifle companies in the battalion. The losses could have been much higher. In retrospect, it was the combat experience of the second tour veterans and expertise of the platoon and company level leadership that contributed immensely to the reduction of friendly casualties, considering the fact that the battalion was in daily contact with an elusive enemy who generally chose his place of battle and kept the battalion in a game of perpetual "cat and mouse" that continued through to "Mini Tet" in the month of May.

Much of April and the first half of the month of May was spent chasing the NVA/VC during numerous "No Name" operations. However, in the first week of May, the enemy was more aggressive and launched offensive actions more frequently than during the previous month. One of those offensive enemy actions occurred on May 5, 1968 when second platoon and the command group from Delta Company’s east and northwest perimeter was attacked by a company of NVA. The numerically superior NVA force overran the Marines during the early morning battle. However, the enemy did not leave victoriously and escaped at dawn with heavy casualties. Before the light of day, most of the enemy survivors hastily fled, abandoning their C-117 Local Force Company commander dead on the battlefield within 2d platoon's perimeter. Alpha Company was also attacked during the darkness of the early mornings of May 5 and 6, 1968. Alpha Company repulsed both enemy attacks. Another enemy confrontation occurred during daylight on May 6, 1968 when eleven (11) enemy killed were found on the battlefield.

During approximately six weeks of intense combat activity in Hue and the surrounding area, most of the enemy contact occurred during the execution of five (5) "No Name" Operations. The battalion paid a high price in human resources to achieve its combat objectives. Numerically, the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines sustained losses equivalent to the troop strength of more than two out of four of the battalion's rifle companies. The tallied losses included 48 dead, 225 wounded with another 43 removed as heat casualties during six weeks in Hue. However, the significant costs in Marine resources were not in vain. The enemy was no longer free to move during the day or at night in what was once an enemy-dominated canal area. When the battalion departed Hue for a new assignment on May 15,1968, the enemy had lost control of their previously dominated area. The insurgents had been pushed further into the extreme eastern sector on the outskirts of Hue City closest to the coast.

While in the operational area south of Da Nang from May 16 to 27, 1968, enemy contacts were brief and the enemy withdrew immediately. The most dangerous activity was the mines and surprise firing devices that were frequently used by the enemy. Forty-two (42) mine/surprise-firing devices were encountered with nine (9) being detonated by friendly troops and thirty-three (33) uncovered and blown in place. The surprise firing devices were more frequently called "booby traps" rather than surprise firing devices by the Marines. But in military documentation it appeared to be more appropriate to call the instruments of destruction surprise firing devices since the victim of a booby trap would technically be a "booby" and virtually no one who was wounded or killed was called a booby. 

On May 25, 1968, the battalion sent Marines to Go Noi Island and assumed control of Operation Allen Brook on May 28. The 1st Battalion, 27th Marines soon discovered that the enemy on Go Noi was the 36th and 38th Regiments of the 308th NVA Division and documents captured also indicated that the 36th and 38th Battalions of the 101st NVA Regiment had been encountered. The villages in the area were heavily fortified with trenches, spider traps and bunkers. The North Vietnamese Army, NVA, and Viet Cong, VC, had historically controlled the area intermittently for years.

Before the battalion fulfilled its combat roles on Go Noi Island on June 23, 1968, the Marines endured numerous encounters with well-armed and well-equipped large NVA/VC units that fought with determination and retreated only when threatened with being overrun. Friendly casualties totaled 31 dead, 154 wounded and 58 heat casualties.

On June 23, 1968, the battalion left Go Noi Island and returned to Camp Duong Son II. In less than four (4) weeks in June, the battalion incurred casualties equivalent to the average troop strength of nearly two out of four  rifle companies in the battalion.

The final week of June provided a brief break for the physically and mentally fatigued Marines since no significant combat activity was encountered.

From July 1-31, 1968, the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines conducted patrols with the 51st ARVN Regiment within the "Rocket Belt" and "Mortar Belt" outside of Da Nang. Search and clear operations and blocking forces were also employed in conjunction with ARVN operations south of the battalion TAOR. Additionally, the battalion assigned units to ROUGH RIDER duty and security duty for the 7th Engineer Battalion that operated in the ROK Marines Brigade TAOR. The main enemy force suspected to be in the area was local force guerrillas probably from the Q82 Company.

On July 14th, Lieutenant.Colonel John E. Greenwood was transferred and Major Kenneth J. Skipper took over as the new commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines. Also, in the middle of July, the battalion assumed the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines TAOR and returned to Camp Duong Son on July 31,1968. Although the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines command chronology described the month of July 1968 as being a period of light contact, the battalion suffered thirteen (13) deaths, and one-hundred and four (104) wounded along with five (5) heat casualties. Many of the Marines died or were wounded from encounters with booby traps. In fact, there were twenty-three (23) surprise devices, booby traps, encountered. Six (6) were detected and destroyed.

The month of August began with essentially the same mission as that of July. Saturation patrols in the "Rocket Belt" and "Mortar Belt" were conducted to prevent attacks on Da Nang and to prevent enemy infiltration against Da Nang. Intelligence reports indicated that the enemy planned a "Third Phase Offensive" sometime in August. Intelligence report prognostications came true when three (3) VC/NVA battalions committed themselves to an all out assault against the USMC and ARVN positions. The enemy officially launched the “Third Phase Offensive” on August 23, 1968. During the first assault, the enemy attacked and managed to take control of the southern end of the Cam Le Bridge. The enemy confrontation at the bridge first involved the South Vietnamese Popular Forces and the 1st Military Police Battalion who were guarding the bridge when the attack began in the early morning hours. While the battle for control of the Cam Le Bridge was in progress, Marines from all of the battalion's companies were engaged in combat with the communists at many different locations outside of Camp Duong Son and Da Nang. Later toward the end of the day, a platoon from E Company 2d Battalion, 27th Marines and tanks from the 5th Tank Battalion joined in the battle with 1/27. Contact with the enemy culminated with the near annihilation of the VC Main Force V-25 Battalion when the action finally ended on August 26, 1968. During the remainder of the month, the battalion resumed its routine patrols under a high state of alert. The majority of the battalion's casualties in the extremely hot month of August occurred during the last week of the month. All totaled, there were twelve (12) deaths, fifty-six (56) wounded, and four (4) heat casualties in August.

After serving a little less than seven (7) months in country, the battalion's colors and a skeleton staff departed Vietnam on September 12, 1968. As most of the Marines left the battalion during the first and second weeks of September 1968, Typhoon Bess waved a final farewell with winds exceeding 50 kilometers. Subsequently, the majority of the Marines were transferred to other units in the 1st or 3d Marine Divisions to finish their tour of duty in Vietnam or if they had served their time in country, they may have returned to the United States with the skeleton contingent who departed with the unit's colors to Hawaii. A select few second tour Marines in the battalion were transferred to the 2d or 3d Battalion, 27th Marines who, after leaving Vietnam, returned to their base in California and participated in a parade for the 27th Marine Regiment held in San Diego, California on September 17,1968. However, there was no parade for the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, unless of course, you consider the regimental parade for the 27th Marines to be a vicarious representation of the 1st Battalion.  

According to a news release in the Windward Marine newspaper (Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; September 1968), in less than seven (7) months, 1/27 Marines earned 145 medals. Leathernecks earned 20 Silver Stars, 73 Bronze Stars, and 52 Navy Commendation Medals for acts of valor and meritorious conduct during combat. In addition, it was noted that two Navy Crosses, five Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and a Navy Commendation Medal were pending at the time of the news release. The total killed and wounded in the battalion is reflected in the fact that over 660 Purple Heart Medals were awarded to Marines and corpsmen in the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, which is a number equivalent to more than the total troop strength of all of the rifle companies in March or August 1968. 

After exhausting countless hours inquisitively reviewing and analyzing Marine award citations for valor in other units since leaving Vietnam in 1969, it became apparent that the standards for expected combat performance demanded by the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines was unique, in the very least, and that it would be a terrible injustice not to note that there are countless Marines in 1/27 who displayed bravery and courage, which was worthy of the highest decorations for valor. However, many individual Marines were not written up for awards and administratively recognized for their courageous actions under enemy fire. Many Marines frequently exhibited combat behavior far above and beyond the call of duty worthy of the nation’s highest decorations for valor and consequently, many lives were saved. An enormous debt of gratitude should be extended to these unrecognized dead and alive heroes in the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines. 

       The most heroic of all were the Marines and corpsmen who were killed in action. They will always be held in the highest of esteem and remembered as the true heroes by their fellow warriors in the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines. They unselfishly made the supreme sacrifice for their brothers in arms. 

     In summary, the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines time in country unequivocally proved to be a magnificent demonstration of espirit de corps. The Marines and corpsmen of 1/27 served gallantly and achieved difficult objectives oftentimes at high costs and with very little recognition while enduring some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. Combat maneuvers and operations were conducted in rugged terrain (swamps, sand, rice paddies, rivers, tunnels, elephant grass, hills) while being constantly exposed to the elements (hot blazing scorching sun, stifling heat, torrential rains, etc). Often the terrain was heavily booby- trapped. The Marines were constantly vigilant, never knowing what awaited them. They very seldom ate hot meals. It was not uncommon to go weeks without bathing. Dehydration, physical exhaustion and emotional fatigue also took its toll on the Marines. The Marines frequently drank dirty, bug-infested water and suffered from sleep-deprivation. They stayed on the offensive and defensive, battling elusive and oftentimes well-equipped determined enemy forces who generally fought only when it was on their terms. Despite the daily hardships and the hostile combat adversities, the Marines in the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines fought honorably and with unrivaled tenacity.

 

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