From the S&S archives:How Marines captured shattered tower

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: February 21, 1968

SAIGON — A U.S. Marine, wounded in hip chest and both legs, recited the Lord's Prayer as a Navy corpsman fired bullets into the platoon's radio so that counter-attacking enemy soldiers could net use it.

Another Marine, buried alive for eight hours under bricks, stone and concrete, complained when he was pulled free: "I could hear you guys plain as day; why couldn't you hear me?"

A third Leatherneck, a black-bearded machinegunner, led a charge up a mountain of rubble that had once been a stately tower, shouting: "We're Marines, let's go."

These three episodes illustrate the battle of the Hue citadel — a grim struggle through the courtyards and battlements of the old imperial fort. The fight pits U.S. and Vietnamese marines, determined to take the citadel, against North Vietnamese solders equally determined to hold it.

Spec. 4 John Olson. a photographer with Pacific Stars and Stripes, spent three days in Hue's citadel with the third platoon of D Co., 1st Bn., Fifth Marines.

Thursday morning, Olson said. the platoon moved forward through the narrow alleys and tree-lined streets of a housing area to attack the tower over the east gate. They dashed at a half crouch into a courtyard but didn't make it across.

Three Communist rockets crashed into the yard. The radio operator was killed. Several other Marines were wounded. Eight men in the squad retreated to a vacant villa and fired back.

A medic ran out to help the wounded and was hit in the legs and fell. A Marine scrambled into the courtyard but an enemy sniper hit him in the neck and he cried for help.

"We know, we know," a buddy shouted back from the villa, "but we can't get to you."

One of the wounded men, hit in both legs, dragged himself across the courtyard to the door of the villa, where he grabbed he end of a rifle extended to him and was pulled in.

An hour later, as the battle still raged, there were nine men in the villa and three were wounded. They did not know where the other units were.

They were down to several hundred rounds of ammunition. and the radio was lying in the court on the back of the dead radioman.

The machinegunner, a lance corporal, borrowed a knife, crawled forward, cut the radio free, and crawled back. But the radio wouldn't work. The small band of Leathernecks could hear the other platoons report to the company but they couldn't transmit.

The Marines ripped drapes and mosquito netting from the villa walls to cover the man with the chest wound. He shivered from shock.

"They're coming around us, on both sides," riflemen at the windows shouted as they saw North Vietnamese soldiers circling the house. One badly wounded man began to recite the Lord's Prayer. Another Marine, the one who had been hit in the neck, tried to comfort him.

"Save your ammunition until they charge," the corpsman, a Navy man, advised the Marines. Then he smashed the radio headset against the cement floor, turned the dial so that enemy soldiers couldn't trace the frequency, and fired a round into the transmitter.

When the enemy didn't attack, the corpsman told the others he was going for help. He disappeared through the rear door and was back in 15 minutes to say help was an the way. A half hour later, Marines of Bravo Co arrived and laid down a veil of fire as the Marines in the villa ripped off doors to serve as stretchers and carried their wounded out.

The platoon hadn't made it to the east gate tower, but other Marines had.

They blasted their way along the wall and seized the massive stone structure. But the North Vietnamese counterattacked and drove them back. The Marines attacked again and held until 4 a.m. Friday.

Then the North Vietnamese unleashed a barrage of rockets and recoilless rifle fire and charged. The enemy took the tower again, but now it was reduced to a torn finger of stone protruding from a mountain of rubble that the Marines labelled "The Hill."

Pfc. Thomas A. Zwetow disappeared as his comrades pulled back from the tower.

At daybreak the Marines regrouped for another assault on "The Hill." At 9:30 they began scrambling up the shattered wall. The first five men to reach the top fell back wounded. The others stopped, crouching behind chunks of masonry.

The black-bearded machinegunner, cradling his weapon in his arms, stood up and shouted: "We're Marines, let's go!" The Marines charged.

They reached the top — the tower — climbing over the bodies of Marines and North Vietnamese soldiers. They fought two hours to hold it.

At noon, a Marine sniper cried out, "They're running, put out some fire." Other Marines jumped up and began shooting at the North Vietnamese soldiers darting back through the ruins to another tower farther south.

As the shooting faded away, a Marine behind a machine gun on top of a mound thought he heard voices.

He poked through the rubble and came across a hand.

It belonged to Zwetow.

Other Marines scooped away two feet of bricks and dust that had buried Zwetow, who was chalk white front the powdered concrete.

They gave him a drink of water and bandaged his wounds.

He had been hit in the legs in the 4 a.m. attack and had fallen as explosives sent a section of the tower toppling over on him.

Zwetow's voice was calm but his hands shook as he drank the water and told the other Marines:

"I could hear you guys plain as day; why couldn't you hear me?"