This history of the platoon will take us from the time the platoon left Camp Pendleton and it returned to Okinawa. It covers 1966 right up to the end of 1969. Some of the information comes from the first Platoon Sgt. who had the Platoon when it left the states. Then from March of 1968 until November of 1969 the information is taken from my own memories and my official Marine Corps records.
The platoon started out as 4th. Plt. B Co. 1st. Amtrac Battalion and was stationed in Camp Pendleton, California. It left for Vietnam in 1966 aboard ship. On the way to Vietnam stops were made in Guam and Okinawa. It arrived in Vietnam and off loaded at Cua Viet with the 1st. Amtrac Battalion.
During early operations in the Cua Viet area it participated in numerous ambushes and patrols against North Vietnamese Army soldiers. In their spare time they helped to build Cua Viet into the sandbagged fortress I remember so well. They also helped to build the place known as C 4 up the coast from Cua Viet and right near the Demilitarized Zone.
Millions of sand bags were filled at both Cua Viet and C 4 to protect from the artillery and rocket fire that rained down on Cua Viet through out 1966-1968. I have talked to another Amtracer that was stationed at Cua Viet in December of 1968 and he said that they never received one round of incoming while he spent his whole 13 month tour there.
The Cua Viet area was the point of entry for supplies going up the Cua Viet River to 3rd. Marine Division supply at Dong Ha Combat Base. It was the mission of 1st Tracs to help keep this river open. Near the ocean the area was white sand and nice beaches and a lot of sand dunes. Of course with all that sand in the heat of Vietnam it was not a very nice place to be.
I remember some of the old guys telling me of listening to Hanoi Hanna on the radio and welcoming them to Vietnam. She also told them she would be eating in there mess hall by Christmas in 1967. The threat was never made good upon and the base at Cua Viet was never even close to being over run. It did receive almost a daily pounding with Artillery and Rockets. It had lots of sand to keep filling the sand bags with and it was the most heavily sand bagged area I saw while in Vietnam.
I never liked being there and avoided the place whenever I could. Cua Viet is also the place the platoon suffered its last KIA. I was assigned to burn shitters that day and we received incoming all day long so the shitters never did get burned.
Stephen Joel Foster had 7 days to go in country when we got hit with the incoming. He was laying on a cot when he got hit. He survived to make it to a hospital in Japan. He died on August 24, 1968.
I am getting ahead of myself a little bit so lets back track to the activities of 1966-67. In addition to pulling ambushes and patrols, the platoon also had people that rotated up to Con Thien, they had a couple of more KIA's and had numerous other casualties. They pulled patrols and resupply missions while there.
They received their first Unit Citation in September of 1967 which was the Presidential Unit Citation that the whole 3rd Marine Division earned. It was to be the first of three such awards that the Platoon would receive.
In December of 1967, they were awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation for actions against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces in the Cua Viet area. This would be the first of two such awards.
It was also in December of 1967, they went on float with the "Magnificent Bastards" of 2/4. They loaded aboard and LPD and traveled to Subic Bay for refitting and some hard earned rest and relaxation. They were suppose to spend a month at Subic but the visit was cut short as they were summoned back to Vietnam and the Tet Offensive. They off loaded back at Cua Viet and were placed under the operational control of the 3rd. Battalion 1st Marines.
They fought in the battle to capture the village of Mai Xe Tai.(also known as Mai Xe Chang). Mai Xe Tai was a heavily fortified village on the Cua Viet River at the mouth of Jones Creek. It was about midway between Cua Viet and the Dong Ha Combat Base. It was a very fierce battle that cost the platoon a great many casualties.
Up until February of 1968 the platoon had lost four Marines KIA plus one or two Corpsmen had been killed while with the platoon but we are now in the time frame when the platoon suffered the most casualties and also the biggest share of the KIA's. I am only guessing but I would say that the casualty rate was between 50 and 70 percent until May of 1968 when things slowed down a little bit and we started getting lucky and did not suffer as high of casualty rate.
In a recent letter from platoon member Jim Lockhart he describes his actions during the battle for Mai Xe Tai:
"Early on March 1, 1968 I remember staging the Tracs for the assault on Mai Xe Tai. I also remember someone saying don't eat the apricots. Guess who did? I remember the assault was to begin at 0800. Seemed like we shelled the village for days. We loaded the grunts, and I was the lead trac. My job was to draw fire so we could determine the strength and position of the enemy.
As I traveled down the river I remember the grunts inside being very nervous. We were in column, and I remember being given the order to begin the assault.
As we approached from the water, I remember a round hitting the edge of my helmet. I dropped down behind the periscope and continued forward. The small arms fire seemed to pick up a little, but nothing heavy. Cpl. Zelner, my crew chief was behind the parapet on top of the trac. About 30 yards from shore I saw him fall through the cargo hatch, to the deck of the trac. Blood was spurting from his chest and stomach.
I reached the bank of the river, dropped the ramp, and all hell broke loose. The small arms fire was intense. I remember the first round entering my thigh and spinning me from the drivers seat. I also remember people falling on top of me and everyone screaming. All I could think of was getting Zelner back to a safe area to get treated. I crawled to the edge of the seat, as I started to pull myself up I saw a wounded grunt half on-half off the ramp. I knew I could not raise the ramp, so I crawled out, grabbed his leg, and started to drag him in. I was wounded seven more times while attempting to get him in the trac. Keep in mind these were not direct hits, but ricochets off the ramp. I dragged the man inside, crawled into the seat, and started backing into the water. It is quite an experience trying to explain to a nervous corpsman, how to dog down a ramp under fire.
I drove up the river to a secure area. I remember medical personnel helping the wounded. Rumor has it, that I refused medical treatment till last. Truth is, I just sat in the seat till I fell out and some one noticed me.
Well, Tom that the whole sorted story, not such a big deal after all. I think in time I could remember something about everyone I served with that would classify them as a hero."
From Jim's account we can tell that it was no picnic for the members of the platoon. I joined the platoon about 2 weeks after this battle and the village of Mai Xe Tai was completely destroyed and we stayed there until July. The Platoon received it's first of five Naval Unit Citations for this operation.
I did not know it but the platoon had been with 3/1. It was 20 years later that I learned that. I had always thought that 2/4 had been the unit but they did not arrive in Mai Ze Tai until March 8, 1968.
While with 2/4 the platoon carried out several missions including running supplies to the different locations the Companies were at. We also participated in several assaults on enemy positions through out the month of March and April.
On April 30, 1968 the Battalion ran into a buzz saw at the village of Dai Do in a three day running battle with the 320th NVA Division. We mounted 106 recoilless riffles on top of the vehicles and helped in the assault of Dai Do village and the Tracs were damaged by RPG fire.
We also had one trac damaged by hitting a mine while running supplies. I was on board this trac so the memory is fresh in my mind on that one. In addition, to that we also hauled out many of the wounded and KIA.
For the actions of the Battalion during the Battle Of Dai Do the Platoon received their second Naval Unit Citation. The Platoon had been omittted from the original Citation but was added in 1996 when Bill Weise the Battalion Commander during Dai Do found out the Platoon had been omitted.
After Dai Do we remained in Mai Xe Tai until July of 68 when we returned to 1st Tracs at Cau Viet. We were with 1st Tracs only long enough to pick up our second Meritorious Unit Citation. Once again for actions against the North Vietnamese Army.
We were transferred to BLT 2/26 in August of 1968. We were changed from 1st Tracs to 1st Plt. A Co. 5th. Amtrac Battalion. We boarded ship and went to Subic Bay for a week of rest and relaxation. We were suppose to repair the Tracs but I really do not remember getting much done in the way of repairs.
We supported the 9th Marines in August of 1968 until October 8, 1968 and received our third Naval Unit Citation. It was another one of those operations that we all took part in but have no clear memory of what really occurred.
Our second Presidential Unit Citation came by way of the 1st Marine Division which we were serving with. It runs from September 16, 1967 through October 31, 1968.
We received our third Presidential Unit Citation while supporting the 1st Marine Regiment for the period of November 20 to December 9, 1968. Another one of the operations that we had no idea that we were even with the 1st Marines. We parked our Amtracs in Da Nang and went out and humped the bush as grunts. The operation we were on at the time was operation Meade River.
While serving with the 7th Fleet we were awarded our fourth Naval Unit Citation for Operation Bold Mariner. This lasted from January 12-24th of 1969. If memory serves me well this would have been on Barrier Island that we were operating on and we started that one off with an amphibious landing.
We received another Naval Unit Citation for our work with Task Force Yankee from February 9- 12, 1969. So all together we earned five Naval Unit Citations. I would say that is an accomplishment that was not equaled by any other Amtrac Platoon in all of Vietnam.
In addition, to all of the unit citations the Platoon was a warded the National Defense Medal, Vietnamese Civic Action Ribbon (unit award), Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry (unit award), Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 7+stars, and Combat Action Ribbon.
The last Purple Hearts would have been awarded on July 31,1969 when I hit my last of three mines. My whole crew was wounded except me. My one crewman, Vern Bjugstad, never received his Purple Heart unit until July of 1995 when it was presented to him by Brig. Gen Bill Weise.
On November 7, 1969, I boarded a C130 bound for Okinawa. I took 19 of the my fellow platoon members. We were only on the Rock for about 2 weeks when our Tracs came in on ship and were returned to 1st Tracs and were disbanded from 5th Tracs.
The Platoon traveled to Subic Bay on at least three occasions for repairs. During the time the platoon was in Vietnam it probably replaced all of the Tracs from battle damages. They also went as far north as Vinh, North Vietnam to exchange POW's. I believe we had twenty NVA that we returned to Vietnam in that fall of 1968. We did not return with any American POW's and never were informed if any were returned.
In September of 1968, we crossed the equator while traveling to Singapore. Every member of the Platoon went through the Shell Back ceremonies to become Shell Backs. After that we spent a week having a good time with the British Marines at the British Naval base in Singapore.
The Platoon also traveled to Hong Kong. I was one of the unfortunate ones that remained behind in Da Nang for repairs to some of our Amtracs that needed maintenance. I guess those that went to Hong Kong had a great visit and party.
It was an honor to have served with this Platoon as it was the most heavily decorated platoon in Vietnam as far a non grunt outfit. I dedicate this page to those brave men and brothers that I had the privileged to have served with. Their memory will remain in my heart forever as I shared some of the best as well as the worst times of my life with them.