This article first appeared in the Stars and Stripes Pacific edition, May 18, 1967. It is republished unedited in its original form.
Tom Dreiling — one of the two Stars and Stripes correspondents mentioned in the article — was on patrol with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines when they were ambushed by North Vietnamese Army forces. A claymore mine killed the platoon leader just minutes after Dreiling took a photo of him. When the article was published originally, none of Dreiling’s photographs ran with it. To conform with embed policies, Stars and Stripes is not publishing any photographs identifying the platoon leader.
CON THIEN, Vietnam — U.S. air strikes and artillery opened a path Tuesday to embattled Marines who were pinned flat for two days by North Vietnamese mortar attacks and human wave charges near the DMZ.
Many Marines lay wounded for nearly 40 hours before medevac helicopters were able to land. In the battle which started Saturday four miles south of the DMZ, the Marines lost 26 killed and 232 wounded.
Marines said they killed more than 200 crack North Vietnamese troops, including many who charged a Marine perimeter before dawn Monday near Con Thien. The North Viets shouted in perfect English, "Cease fire, we are Marines."
The Marine company had pulled back to a churchyard after it met stiff Communist resistance after a sweep north along Route 561 toward Con Thien.
Reports from two Pacific Stars & Stripes correspondents with the Marines said the U.S. company was pinned down by heavy mortar fire all day Monday and part of Tuesday. The North Vietnamese, believed to be from the 812th North Vietnamese Army Regt., mortared the churchyard each time the Marines tried to evacuate the wounded.
Correspondent Ray Belford reported that 11 Marines were killed and 77 wounded at the position Monday. Belford said the North Vietnamese were cutdown within 10 yards of the U.S. lines.
The Communists struck again Tuesday as U.S. helicopters tried for a second day to ferry out wounded Marines. One helicopter was shot down as it approached the perimeter, but its crewmen were rescued.
Air strikes and artillery cleared the North Vietnamese from the area by Tuesday morning and the Marines were pulled out. A Marine combat correspondent was reported killed.
From Con Thien, S&S correspondent Tom Dreiling reported other Leathernecks were fighting pitched battles with a North Vietnamese force surrounded by companies from four Marine battalions.
Dreiling said a patrol of the 1st Bn., 9th Marines, ran into heavy enemy machine gun fire when it moved down Route 561 Tuesday morning to pick up bodies of two Marines. A few hours later the U.S. troops fought for three hours to drive back a Communist force who fired mortars and claymore mines from bunkers near the road. The command post at Con Thien was hit by mortars, recoilless rifle fire and artillery Monday night.
At nearby Gio Linn, 2 miles below the DMZ, the North Vietnamese launched mortar attacks Monday and Tuesday. A command bunker was hit but no one inside was hurt.
Sixteen Marines at the two bases were wounded. After the artillery attack the Marines fired on two North Viet trucks near the Communist gun positions north of the Ly Ly River and one of the trucks was destroyed.
Meanwhile, in Operation Union, 35 miles south of Da Nang, 5th Marines with air and artillery support, killed 22 North Vietnamese in a company that mortared the Marine position Monday afternoon. Six Marines were killed and 33 wounded.
In another action Monday, 14 Marines were wounded when a U.S. 2 1/2-ton truck hit a large mine while carrying Leathernecks on a mine-sweeping mission along Highway 1, 22 miles southwest of Hue.