Magnificent Bastards

LIEUTENANT COLONEL WEISE, CO, BLT 2/4: “AT NO TIME during the period 30 April through 2 May was the 320th NVA Division blocked from the north. BLT 2/4 was not reinforced during the battle, but the enemy continued to reinforce his units and to replace his casualties. Thus, the enemy became stronger while BLT 2/4 became weaker from casualties and exhaustion.”

Less than ninety minutes after E and H BLT 2/4 had been forced back from Dinh To with heavy casualties on 2 May 1968, F and G BLT 2/4 were advancing from Dai Do for the next assault. The order had come from Colonel Hull, CO, 3d Marines, who was himself responding to instructions from division. BLT 2/4 was to seize Dinh To and then Thuong Do, which sat on the eastern bank of the tributary that drained into the Bo Dieu River. An ARVN mechanized infantry battalion in position near Dong Lai, opposite Dai Do, was to simultaneously advance up the western bank of the creek to seize Thuong Nghia, which was opposite Thuong Do. The tributary was to serve as the boundary between BLT 2/4 and the ARVN. It was a simple, straightforward plan, but an unrealistic one. The number of NVA on the battlefield was simply overwhelming.

Lieutenant Colonel Weise, CO, BLT 2/4: “We were in no condition for another assault, and I had so informed Colonel Hull. When the assault commenced, I moved close to the forward elements to let my exhausted Marines know I would be with them when the bullets started to fly. I tried to encourage them and talk to them. I told them I was very proud of what they were doing.”

Disaster

AT 1538 ON 2 MAY 1968, AN AERIAL OBSERVER IN A LIGHT-weight, single-engine Birddog reported movement in the clearing between Dinh To and Thuong Do. The aerial observer spoke with Lieutenant Hilton, the forward air controller on the ground with BLT 2/4. Hilton confirmed that there were no Marine elements that far north (“… anything running across that clearing is fair game”). As the aerial observer marked targets for air strikes with white phosphorus rockets, his adrenaline was up. “We got lots of ’Em in there,” the observer shouted excitedly. “There’s a beaucoup bunch of people moving out of Dinh To. They’re moving across to the north and northeast. There’s maybe hundreds of ’Em!”

The aerial observer also reported seeing litter teams with casualties. Lieutenant Hilton relayed the information to Weise. The battalion commander was excited, too: “Okay, okay, we got ’Em on the run! We got ’Em on the run!”

Colonel Weise smells blood, thought Hilton. Weise and his command group were at the forward edge of Dai Do with Golf Company. Weise, in fact, had just been briefing Captain Vargas, the company commander, about their upcoming assault when the aerial observer came up on the net. They too could see figures in the open fields, as well as the Phantoms and Skyhawks dropping napalm and bombs onto them. The aerial observer reported that those NVA not being chopped up in the open were cut off in the northwestern edge of Dinh To. Artillery blocked their escape routes. Some of the NVA coming out of Dinh To were within range of Golf Company in Dai Do. Weise later wrote that the most forward Marines “had the morale boosting experience of squeezing off carefully aimed shots and watching the enemy drop. I bet the reenlistment rate in the 320th NVA Division dropped after Dai Do.”

Weise instructed Major Warren, his S3, to remain in Dai Do and take charge of the perimeter manned by the remnants of E and H Companies. Their other decimated company, B/1/ 3, was to remain in An Lac to secure the medevac and resupply points on the Bo Dieu River. The only elements still capable of mounting the assault were F and G Companies, and Weise planned to use both. Weise planned to accompany Golf Company. There were fifty-four Marines left in Golf, and as Weise saddled up with them he noted that, with the exception of grenadiers and machine gunners, almost all were carrying AK-47s. Weise saw only one M16; it was carried by Captain Vargas. The only other functioning M16 was carried by Weise himself. Nevertheless, Weise later wrote that this undermanned, badly equipped company went into the assault as “a viable, spirited fighting outfit despite its two-day ordeal. Captain Vargas knew his men well, and they knew and respected him for his outstanding competence as a combat leader and his compassion. I knew that I could depend on him and Golf Company.”

Weise did not place the same trust in Captain Butler, whose Foxtrot Company, with about eighty men, was the most able-bodied in the battalion. Foxtrot had been rejoined about thirty minutes before the air strikes by its executive officer, weapons platoon, and one of its three rifle platoons. These elements had previously been outposted to My Loc on the Cua Viet River. Finally released from regimental control, they had been brought forward by amtracs to the company position in Dong Huan, at which time Foxtrot moved out for Dai Do. Upon reaching the hamlet, Foxtrot joined Golf for the assault on Dinh To.

The assault was a complete and bloody failure. Weise blamed both higher headquarters and Butler for the debacle. Golf Company, Weise explained, was to have led the attack and Foxtrot was to follow closely behind in reserve. When Golf ran up against the NVA who the aerial observer said were still in Dinh To, the stronger Foxtrot was to move forward, pass through Golf, and press the attack. Weise wrote that he chose to place his command group directly behind Vargas and ahead of Foxtrot “because I wanted to be in position to decide exactly when to commit Foxtrot, and because my presence up front seemed to boost the morale of my exhausted battalion.”

In actuality, when the assault made contact with the NVA, Foxtrot was not behind Golf in Dinh To, but in the open fields east of the hamlet. A map that Weise later prepared to explain the situation shows Foxtrot straying out of Dinh To and into the open, and then bogging down there under fire while Golf continued forward unaware that it had no reserve and no rear security. The map shows Golf encountering the NVA far in advance of Foxtrot. But the map is inaccurate. Foxtrot never strayed out of position behind Golf because Foxtrot was never behind Golf to begin with. Golf and Foxtrot went into the assault on line, with Golf in the hamlet and Foxtrot in the open, and they were still side by side when the shooting started. Foxtrot was abreast of Golf and not in reserve, as Weise said it should have been, because that was what Foxtrot understood its mission to be. Lieutenant McAdams of Foxtrot One later wrote that before the attack:

Captain Butler called the platoon commanders together to issue his order. Butler said that Foxtrot was to move parallel with Golf in a line formation. We were to keep just outside the village and when Golf made contact Foxtrot was to wheel in a counterclockwise motion just beyond Golf’s point of contact and envelop the enemy. We did not move in trace of Golf and the orders I received did not hint of that maneuver being part of Foxtrot’s role. After we were through Dai Do and somewhere along Dinh To or Thuong Do, and very much out in the open on Golf’s right flank, the NVA opened up with very heavy fire. The ground seemed to be dancing with bullets and explosions.

Captain Butler, whose military career did not survive this incident, later contended (without visible bitterness) that he was following Weise’s orders when he advanced with Foxtrot through the fields east of Dinh To. Such an explanation suggests that Weise wanted Foxtrot to prevent Golf from being outflanked in Dinh To (as E and H Companies had been in the previous attack), or that Weise had overestimated the damage done to the NVA in the preattack turkey shoot, and had spread his companies out so as to roll up as many of the supposedly disorganized foe as possible. As Hilton said, Weise was smelling blood.

Weise rejected Butler’s explanation. The scheme of maneuver suggested by Butler’s version of his orders would have left Weise no reserve and thus no flexibility. He said he would never have placed any Marines east of Dinh To because they had already learned the hard way that the area was under enemy observation and subject to preplanned machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire. Weise explained instead that Butler had completely misunderstood his orders.1 Furthermore, Weise wrote, “I had lost confidence in Butler’s ability to control his company in a firefight because of his previous performance.” After Dinh To, Weise said he concluded that no matter how intelligent and motivated Butler was, the amiable young captain ultimately lacked self-confidence and was “overawed-by difficult assignments. Close combat is a terrible, shocking experience. No one knows how he will react until it happens, and I fully expected to have to command Butler’s company myself when the shit hit the fan in Dinh To.”

The attack kicked off at 1550. The hedgerows and surviving vegetation in Dinh To were thicker and more concealing than was thoroughly blown-away, wide-open Dai Do. As Golf Company started across the clearing between the two hamlets, the Marines reconned by fire with automatic weapons and M79s. Foxtrot did the same as it advanced on the burial mounds in the open fields on Golf’s right flank. Both companies were moving fast, and Lieutenant Hilton commented that, to psyche themselves up, they went in “yelling and screaming, like, ‘Go, go, go! Get ’Em! Uh-rah!’ I mean it sounded like a football stadium. It was massive. It rumbled. We knew we’d got ’Em. We were going to finish ’Em off. We were going to roll ’Em up. But it was a trap. They set a trap and they let us get into it.”

The grass that the Foxtrot Company Marines advanced through was above their knees, and dead NVA lay in it. One of the first to see the live NVA was HM2 Roger D. Pittman, a corpsman, who noticed them as they moved off a little elevated island in the fields about two hundred meters ahead on the right flank. There was a pagoda on the island, which was dense with vegetation and trees. For an instant Pittman thought that the figures were Marines, but he quickly realized that they wore neither helmets nor flak jackets. Their fatigues were khaki-colored. The seven or eight NVA were running east along a dike at the base of the island. Pittman stopped in his tracks and shouted, “What is that? Look at that, look at that! Get ’Em, get ’Em!”

The assault was moving fast, and no one paid attention to him. Doc Pittman, suited up in helmet and flak jacket, humped a lot of canteens and medical gear, but his only weapon was an Ml carbine, and he carried only a few straight clips and three or four more banana clips with tracers. The NVA were moving out of the carbine’s range, so he backed up into the tree line at the edge of Dai Do and passed the word that a sniper team was needed. In a few moments a sniper came up and Pittman pointed out the NVA, who by then had reached an elevated trail and were running north on it, away from the Marines. They were totally exposed.

As the sniper took aim, they were shocked by a sudden and sustained blaze of NVA fire from the little island and the burial mounds in the grass. Doc Pittman scrambled into a bombed-out house that had no roof, no south wall, and only remnants of the other walls. There was a broken-up table on the floor with him. There was a doorway in the east wall, and a Marine charged through it, desperately looking for cover. “His eyes were as big as eggs,” recalled Pittman. The Marine accidentally discharged his M16 as he ran in, and a long burst kicked up dirt across the floor. The last round impacted with a blur right in front of Pittman’s face. The Marine threw himself down behind the south foundation of the house. Orders were being shouted to keep the assault going, and Pittman rose up just as five Marines rushed into the field from the tree line directly in front of him. His eyes stayed on those men. “There were five, then there were two—then there were none. They fell like rag dolls. I didn’t want to believe what I’d seen. I was near panic. The cracking noise of AK-47s was constant and deafening, and dirt, stucco, and dust filled the air around me. I hugged the floor, holding my breath and waiting to die.”

Moving forward with his M79 at the ready, Pfc. Doug “Digger” Light of Foxtrot Two also spotted NVA a moment before the shooting began. There were maybe fifteen of them standing in the tall grass, and in the instant that the assault line got close enough for the Marines and NVA to recognize each other, Light could have sworn that one of them smiled at them. He wondered if the NVA were shell-shocked or on opium. The enemy troops dropped down in the grass, and AK-47 fire seemed to erupt from every direction. The Marines fired back even as they sought cover, and Light got off his first grenade round before jumping behind a burial mound. The enemy were only forty meters away.

The firefight began at 1600, and in the initial shock wave what sounded like a round from a captured M79 landed directly to the right of Lieutenant McAdams of Foxtrot One. His platoon was forward on the left flank, with Foxtrot Two on the right. Foxtrot Three was in reserve. McAdams accidentally dropped his .45 as he ducked behind a burial mound on his left. The enemy soldier had him in his sights. There was another explosion almost on top of where McAdams had gone down, and when he rolled left to another spot of cover, he heard yet another explosion to his right. He moved left again. McAdams didn’t realize it yet, but he’d been superficially wounded in his right shoulder, right shin, and left elbow.

Lieutenant McAdams’s radioman, Mongoose Tyrell, was also wounded immediately by either RPG fragments or the same captured M79 that got the lieutenant. Tyrell never knew exactly what happened. He never heard the explosion that nailed him. One moment he’d been walking forward, and the next thing he knew he was drifting back from a warm, floating euphoria. He realized then that he was on the ground and that the whole world seemed to be firing at them. He was not in any pain, although he was wounded in his legs, arms, and face. He was simply numb. He couldn’t open his right eye, and blood was rushing out as if from bad razor cuts. The corpsman who crawled up to bandage his worst wound, which was in his right calf, told him to get back to the medevac point. Tyrell unshouldered his radio and gave it to a Marine named Bing-ham with instructions to stick with the lieutenant. Tyrell started back without a weapon: A good-sized chunk of metal had hit the butt of his M16 and caused it to jam.

The acting platoon sergeant, LCpl. Ronald J. Dean—who had thumbed a ride to the front in an Otter the day before despite the jungle rot on his feet that had gotten him a light-duty vacation in the battalion rear—was also dropped in the opening volley. Dean was hit so hard that it felt as though he did a backward flip. It was as though a sledgehammer had been swung between his legs. He had, in fact, caught shell fragments in his testicles and across his stomach. When he caught his breath, Dean turned to the grunt lying beside him and said, “I got a little peter anyway—what’s it look like now?” The Marine just shook his head, and Dean’s stomach dropped.

Lance Corporal Dean, age twenty-two, was from Newnan, Georgia, where his father worked in a cotton mill. Having served with C/1/3 near Da Nang in 1965-66, he volunteered for a second tour because he was tinkering with the idea of a military career. He was a natural-born rifleman, but he was still only a lance corporal because of numerous reductions in rank. He drank too much in the rear, and was a hothead who loved to fight.

“We got into a big fistfight when he first got there,” recalled Tyrell. “Dean was a wild man, but a wonderful guy.”

Dean was bleeding badly, but there was no time to bandage his wounds. Adrenaline masked the pain. He got to his feet. The only way to survive was to close with the NVA and kill them. Dean began firing his M14 toward the burial mounds ahead of them and to their left. He grabbed Marines who were lying prone behind cover and shouted, “Let’s go! If we sit out in the open, hell, everybody’s going to die!”

Lance Corporal Dean was running forward when another explosion knocked him down, peppering his legs with fragments. Dean got back up and kept moving forward. Lieutenant McAdams was also back on his feet, directing the platoon’s wheeling maneuver into the tree line running along the left flank. Golf Company was on the other side of the trees. McAdams and Dean reached the cover there with about fifteen other Marines, including a machine gunner and grenadier, and they took up firing positions that faced the open field they had just left. At a range of about a hundred meters, they could see NVA bobbing up from behind burial mounds to fire on Foxtrot Two on the far right flank. They opened up on those NVA, but when they fired a LAW the backblast marked them, and still more enemy soldiers blazed away at them from the left flank.

Golf Two advanced through Dinh To on the right and Golf One on the left. Golf Three was in reserve. By the time Foxtrot became engaged, Lieutenant Morgan of Golf Two had experienced four jams with his M16 as they reconned by fire through the thickly vegetated hamlet. He had discarded his fouled-up M16 and was going forward with .45 pistol in hand when Foxtrot One, on the other side of the trees to his right, began hollering for help with recovering casualties.

The momentum of Golf Company’s assault died then and there as Lieutenant Morgan sent his machine-gun team and several riflemen to help Foxtrot. One of the riflemen was Lance Corporal Parkins, who had picked up an M16, a weapon he hated, to replace the M14 for which he had run out of ammo. Parkins was moving when several NVA with AK-47s popped into view in the brush in front of him. They were not looking in Parkins’s direction, and he fired at them from the hip. The M16 jammed after the first shot. When Parkins looked down to pull back the bolt, he was knocked off his feet as at least one of the enemy soldiers turned toward him and returned the fire. It felt as though a red-hot poker had been rammed into his left shin. The bone was shattered. Parkins, lying prone, quickly pulled out the .45 he had scrounged up that morning along with two clips, and screamed for a corpsman.

The Marines in the machine-gun team were also wounded, and as the casualties were dragged rearward, things got chaotic. The NVA opened fire from the hedgerows to the front, and when Marines with AK-47s returned the fire, other Marines who couldn’t see who was doing the shooting got pretty shook up. It sounded as though the enemy was right there in the bushes with them. Lieutenant Morgan ushered the ten survivors from his platoon into a crater on the left. It was a big crater, probably the result of a five-hundred-pound bomb. They were joined there by Staff Sergeant Wade and Golf One, which had pulled in from the left flank. The NVA fire got heavier, and the Marines expended a great volume of M60 and M79 ammunition in return, without visible effect, while those men who still had M16s kept their heads down and tried to clear jams.

When an enemy soldier stood up about fifteen meters in front of Captain Butler, it was his one and only look at the NVA who had his command group pinned down. The man had an RPG over his shoulder. He had totally disregarded cover, so focused was he on finding a target, but he was hit before he could fire. When the NVA fell backward, Butler’s senior corpsman, who like Butler had his eyes a fraction of an inch higher than their paddy dike, managed a grin and said, “You know, Skipper, these guys are getting real personal.”

Having found cover behind a burial mound, SSgt. Richard L. Bartlow, the commander of Foxtrot Two—which was pinned down in the high grass on the right flank of the battlefield—put his M79 into action. Bartlow was a cold, stern, and inflexible NCO, respected but disliked by his grunts. Bartlow was joined by Digger Light, who also carried a grenade launcher, and by a pair of tough Mexican-American Marines from California—Ernesto Tanabe and Tom Alvarado. Bartlow kept rising up to fire from the same spot, and while Light was down reloading, fell back with a neat little hole between his eyes. He died instantly. Alvarado was hit next. He was coming up to fire his M16 when a shot slammed into his helmet, dropping him like a stone. He was only unconscious, though. The bullet had gone in the front of his helmet and skidded around the inside of the steel pot to punch out the back without even scratching him. Alvarado picked his M16 back up as soon as he came around, but when he started shooting again a round hit the weapon’s hand guard, knocking it from his grip. The M16 was rendered inoperable, so Light, who was steadily pumping out M79 rounds, handed Alvarado his .45-caliber pistol.

At that instant, Tanabe, rising up to fire, went down with a terrible backward snap of his head. It looked as though the whole front of his head had been blown away, but although his forehead was laid open and he was temporarily blinded by the concussion and the blood in his eyes, he was very much alive. Tanabe and Alvarado, in fact, got into an argument. Alvarado’s M16 was damaged and he figured Tanabe didn’t need his anymore, but Tanabe held tight. “You ain’t getting my rifle,” he shouted.

“You can’t see anything to shoot!” exclaimed Alvarado.

“I’ll shoot at the noise!”

An NVA jumped up and tried to get around their right flank. Alvarado shouted a warning to Light, but Light had already seen the soldier and in the same instant had squeezed the trigger on his M79 grenade launcher. The NVA was only twenty meters away, and the 40mm round took his head off. The body continued to run a few more steps before it fell into the tall grass.

Private First Class Light, who was nineteen, was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal for Dai Do. He was from Hurley, Virginia, a small town in the Appalachian Mountains, and he joined the Marines because he’d never seen anything or been anywhere. His people were coal miners, and he had himself worked in the mines during his summer vacations. Light was in Vietnam what he’d been back home: a hardworking, squared-away kid (although the marijuana they smoked in the rear was something new for him), who never reported any of the three superficial wounds he picked up. He was given a job in the company mail room near the end of his tour, but the “maybe-if-I’d-been-there” syndrome pulled him back to the bush. On his first mail run he’d brought all his combat gear along with the mail sacks. When the helicopter dropped him off he approached the company commander with his problem. “Captain, the first sergeant wanted me to be a mail clerk, but I don’t want to be no mail clerk,” he explained. The skipper asked if he’d go back to the rear if ordered, and Light said, “No, sir.” The captain’s solution was simple: “Well, Digger, then get back to your platoon.”

The bag that Light had slung over his shoulder at Dai Do held about ninety rounds for his M79. He shot more than half of them during the fight, especially while firing cover for their wounded, who crawled toward the hasty position Foxtrot One had secured in Dinh To. The trees there provided good protection from the constant NVA fire. One of the casualties, a big guy named Johnny Corey, who’d been hit in the stomach, crawled to Light’s burial mound from the right. Light’s squad leader, Corporal Favourite, had gotten separated from them somewhere over on the right, so Light asked Johnny, “Where’s Fave?”

“Fave’s dead, and Devine’s dead, and the new guy, Dick, he’s dead, too.”

“Are you sure Fave’s dead?”

“He’s dead, man. I know.”

Corporal Favourite had been a much-beloved squad leader, and Alvarado impulsively got up to rush to him. Light had to grab Alvarado and hold him down as he tried to calm him. “Johnny said it wasn’t no use, man. There’s no use gettin’ yourself killed.”

Corporal Ronald L. Favourite, twenty-one, of Bryan, Ohio, had been a great guy in Digger’s opinion—despite the fact that he was a Yankee. He was a stocky man with a sunken chest and a funny walk, but he had a big heart and a subtle sense of humor. He didn’t let anyone get over on his squad. He was a pack mule on patrol, and if one of his guys was fading under the load, he’d help carry the man’s gear without complaint. He would stand extra watches at night. He was a gourmet chef with C rations in an upturned helmet. When they finally recovered Favourite’s body it didn’t have a mark on it. He had apparently been killed by a concussion grenade.

Lieutenant McAdams of Foxtrot One, who’d already been wounded by shell fragments, was shot while in the cover of the wood line on the eastern edge of Dinh To. He was up on one knee trying to figure out where Golf Company and the NVA were in the vegetation when a bullet hit the ground beside him and ricocheted into his left leg near the groin. It ended up lodged in his buttocks. McAdams fell forward when he was hit. When he tried to stand he found that he could not. After a corpsman bandaged him, McAdams told his platoon sergeant, Lance Corporal Dean, to take command of the squad-sized group they had in the tree line while he went to round up some help from Golf. He had yet to find a weapon to replace the .45 he’d dropped, so McAdams was alone and unarmed as he snaked his way down a ditch in Golf’s direction. Some forty meters later he bumped into Sergeant Major Malnar, who was in a trench with his pump-action shotgun, talking with another Marine in the command group. Enemy fire snapped overhead. McAdams was in pain and he excitedly told the sergeant major that he had a lot of wounded men, a lot of jammed weapons, and that they badly needed help on the right flank. Malnar told him that they were doing everything they could and that he should get to the rear. McAdams obliged him, although at his crawling pace it seemed he would never escape the roar of automatic weapons and explosions enveloping the hamlet.2

Meanwhile, McAdams’s radioman, Corporal Tyrell—who’d been hit in the first volley—crawled out of the killing zone with bullets zinging over his head. When he didn’t hear them anymore, he got up to run but stumbled hard and decided to stay down. He was heading toward a pagoda that was among the burial mounds in the field. When he got close to it, he saw an AK-47 trained on him from around one wall of the pagoda. Tyrell never found out what happened next. He was so scared that his brain turned off. He saw the rifle and the next thing he knew he was on the other side of the pagoda lying beside the body of the NVA who had been holding it. He wondered if the man was already dead, or if he had killed him. He was not carrying his M16 because it had been damaged, but he still had fragmentation grenades clipped to his flak jacket. He kept moving even though he was completely lost. When Tyrell saw a Marine he recognized behind a burial mound he thanked God. The Marine was lying there shouting at him to come on over. Tyrell ran to his position, and the man explained that when he’d first seen the short, wiry Tyrell crawling through the tall grass he’d almost shot him.

“I thought you were a comin’ gook!” the grunt said excitedly.

The man directed Tyrell toward the medevac point. When he got there, a corpsman exclaimed, “Your right shoulder’s a mess!” Only then did Tyrell realize that he had not tripped when he’d gotten up to run—he’d been shot. The round had skimmed across the top of his shoulder, opening up a large gash. The doctor who checked the wound back aboard ship said, “Whoa, you were lucky—this sonofabitch must have been a twelve-point-seven!”

Other Foxtrot casualties were being treated on the spot by Doc Pittman, who had crawled along the tree line in which the reserve platoon was pinned down and established a hasty treatment area at the southeastern edge of Dinh To. The fire was so heavy that as Pittman had crawled through the shadows of the thick foliage, bullet-clipped banana leaves fell around him. He moved on through an old, overgrown garden on his belly, and was feeling more than a little lost when he finally saw the USMC-issue jungle boot of a man lying in the bushes. He looked around then and saw Marines he recognized from the company mortar section. They were in firing positions around a large bomb crater, and a very relieved Pittman crawled into it to set up shop. Most of the Marines returning fire from the crater’s north lip were struggling with fouled M16s, and one who saw Pittman’s hot little carbine called to him only half in jest, “Hey, Doc, how much you want for that?” Keeping his carbine slung and his pistol on his hip, Pittman replied, “No way!”

The mortarmen around the crater directed the wounded into it as they came back singly or in pairs. “They walked, crawled, and stumbled,” Doc Pittman remembered. “Some didn’t realize they were wounded and had only retreated because they had run out of ammunition, or a limb had stopped functioning, or both. All had that special look about them that said they had just been to hell.” Teaming the badly wounded with the lesser wounded, Pittman sent all the casualties rearward as soon as he got a battle dressing on them, stopped the bleeding, and made sure they were well oriented enough to know which way was south. “Safety was relative, but sending them south seemed like the only thing to do,” he explained. The fight was just north of their crater. Smoke and dust rose from the bushes there, and the able-bodied Marines at the crater’s edge looked increasingly nervous. Many of the wounded were in shock, and none complained of pain, so Pittman administered no morphine. “The war wasn’t over for those Marines,” he said later. “They could still have had to fight for their lives, and being doped on morphine wouldn’t help.”

Almost all the M16s in Foxtrot were jammed, and Captain Butler saw that one of his Marines who’d picked up an AK-47 was having trouble with that weapon, too. The operating rod was bent, so it would fire only one round at a time. The Marine had to manually force the mechanism back each time to chamber the next round. Butler passed his still-working M16 to the Marine and took the AK in return. Behind the firing line, the wounded Tyrell, meanwhile, had reached an amtrac in Dai Do, which moved its load of casualties to the splash point on the Bo Dieu River in An Lac. There they boarded skimmers. When they reached the aid station on the beach at Mai Xa Chanh West, one of the casualties with Tyrell, a little machine gunner named Miller, became incensed at the sight of television crews filming the dead and wounded. “The bastards,” he shouted. “We kick ass and they don’t do nothin’—but when we’re gettin’ our asses whipped up here, they show up like a bunch of vultures. If they want blood, I’ll show ’Em blood!”

Miller tore away the battle dressing wrapped around his wrist to expose a hand that seemed to be hanging as though on a hinge. He thrust the red, wrist-shattered mess at the nearest lens and screamed at the cameraman, “You motherfuckers want some blood? Here’s some blood!”

Medevacked to the hospital ship Repose, Corporal Tyrell, whose wounds were not critical compared to those of Marines being immediately prepared for surgery, was instead escorted to a ward where a female U.S. Navy nurse assigned him a bed and then said cheerfully, “You’d probably like to take a shower, huh?” Yes, yes, he would, he replied. Tyrell walked to the shower room. There was no one else there. He had stripped to his utility trousers, exposing the battle dressing over his right shoulder. Another dressing was wrapped around his right calf where the trouser leg was torn open. He spotted a mirror to his right as he came in “and when I saw my reflection I didn’t recognize it as me at first. It was dirt and blood and everything but the person I knew.”

1. Questioned later, Captain Vargas said that he could not recall whether Foxtrot was supposed to be in reserve or on his flank.

2. Lieutenant McAdams, in-country only eight days, was awarded a BSMv and Purple Heart. Upon recuperation, he was rotated back for a 1969-70 tour as a company commander with the 7th and 26th Marines, which resulted in an end-of-tour BSMv.

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