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China Beach Surf Club - Part 2
By Joseph Giannini
Off the Republic of South Vietnam
Onboard the USS Duluth
September 12, 1967
Still restless and anxious. Since I joined 1/3 we have been on seven operations in four provinces. Covered the length of the I Corps area, from the DMZ down to the Que Son Valley southwest of Da Nang, about 250 miles. 1/3 is constantly on the move. Always going into a new dangerous place. Then leaving it for another. We move at a killing pace, returning to our ships for a brief stand-down and to re-outfit for the next operation.
We've been back on the ship for three days. After the beach party, we'll get one day to recuperate. Then we're going back up North to Quang Tri Province, just below the DMZ, for Operation Freemont.
While on board I wrote up medal citations for seven Marines. Five for Medals of Honor and two for Silver Stars, for bravery during a vicious fight, to hold a hill in the Valley of the Walking Dead.
One day after our last beach party, 1/3 hit the beach in Quang Nam Province. The fighting was mostly hit-and-run. The Viet Cong harassed us with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. We called in air strikes and arty and the VC ran.
Several days later, 1/3 choppered inland to An Hoi, Happy Valley. While moving in the Valley, my First Squad Leader, Cpl. Andenora, was shot in the right shoulder by a VC sniper. We found the sniper's position on a high hill. He hadn't taken the time to collect his shell casings.
A few nights later, machine gunner Cpl. Listorti was killed. He had completed his tour and was due to rotate on the next chopper out. Watching him being wrapped in his own poncho, I thought about his parents, back home waiting for their son. As the medevac rose and Cpl. Listorti started his journey home, my right eye started to twitch.
Que Son Valley
August 16, 1967
Early this morning we left Happy Valley and choppered into the Valley of the Walking Dead. Though this valley is being hotly contested by the NVA, we came into a cold LZ. 1/3 is on a Fix and Destroy Operation. We're looking for two NVA regiments that have been fucking with the First Battalion Fifth Marines.
We move west over small brown scrub-covered hills. The morning passes without incident. It's sunny and hot. Over 100 degrees. Not a bit of shade anywhere.
I move Bravo One onto the crest of a small hill, not more than 15 meters high. From there I see the point platoon of Charlie Company. They're moving across a large dry paddy. At least 400 meters wide. They're heading toward a very large hill covered with dense jungle.
A storm of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades slams into them. They all go down. Hit or scrambling for cover. They're fucked. Caught in the open on the other side.
From this side, Charlie Company opens up, providing cover fire. The NVA responds. Rounds start hitting the hill and whizzing by. We move back a bit. Get low, sit tight, and wait. We're not in this fight yet.
Our support kicks in: Fighters scream over, dropping bombs and napalm on the NVA positions. Between bombing runs, artillery and mortar rounds pound the NVA But the fire from the hill is incessant. Charlie Company can't go out to help their stranded platoon. They'll have to pull back on their own.
The fight continues through the blistering afternoon. It's a standoff. The word comes down that some from the point platoon have made it back. As evening approaches, the enemy fire starts to trail off. There are wounded and dead Marines out there. Charlie Company, under the cover of dark, will have to go out and get them. I get a radio call from Bravo Six, Company Commander Captain Landes, requesting me to come up for his nightly briefing. I call up my Platoon Sergeant, Sgt. Head.
"Sarge, I'm going over to see Six. Set in the First Squad and one machine gun on the hill. I'll be back. I'm staying on the hill. Tell the Second and Third Squads to stand by. I think they'll have to dig in across the paddy behind us with the rest of Bravo Company."
I go down the hill. Cross a narrow dry paddy. Spot the Captain with the other Platoon Leaders and our Forward Observer, Ron, a Marine Pilot assigned to Bravo. They're in a large ville just across from the hill. We're squatting in a small circle as Captain Landes begins. "Listen up."
It's pitch black as I make my way back to the crest of the hill after the briefing. A Night Attack. My first. Fuck, attacking across that paddy is crazy. It's too wide and there's no cover. They'll hear us coming and cut us to pieces. I reach the top and locate Platoon Sergeant Head.
"Sargeant Head, call up the Platoon Guide, Squad Leaders and Gun Team Leaders."
When all are present, I start my briefing. "Battalion is sending out a Recon Patrol. I'm going out with it. When the Patrol returns, 1/3 is going into a Night Attack. Bravo Company will be Point for Battalion. Bravo One will be Point for Bravo Company. Alpha on our left. Delta on our right. Charlie and Headquarters behind. We'll move in a wedge formation. First Squad will take Point. Second, our left flank and Third, the right. Guns will move with Second and Third Squads. I'll move with the First Squad. Sergeant Head will move with the Second Squad. Platoon Guide with the Third. For now, First Squad stays in place. Sergeant Head, you stay on the hill with my Radio Operator until I return. Second and Third Squads will saddle up and follow me to Bravo's lines to set in. Any questions?"
Sergeant King, my First Squad Leader, speaks up. "Lieutenant, did Captain Landes volunteer Bravo for Point?"
"Sarge, how the fuck would I know? Anything else?" No response. "Get back to your men and pass the word."
Just before leaving I go over to Sergeant Head. "Sarge, we'll be moving out as soon as I return. Make sure everyone stays awake, alert and ready to go."
"Lieutenant, we'll be ready and waiting."
"Second Squad, Third Squad, let's go, follow me."
We move in single file down the hill and across the paddy that separates the hill from Bravo's position. I set in each squad, put a machine gun team with the Second Squad. Both squads are facing the hill. While they're digging in, I go over to each Squad Leader. Tell them to keep their men awake, alert, and ready to go. Move off to rendezvous with the other members of the Recon Patrol, gathering nearby.
To be continued next issue.
Joseph Giannini, a criminal defense attorney, served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 with the First Battalion, Third Marines. A victim of Agent Orange, he is currently writing a book of short, non-fiction stories about fate, surfing, and war.