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From the Stars and Stripes archives

Marines kill 300 Reds as 'Utah' trap closes

A U.S. Marine walks with three Viet Cong prisoners taken during fierce fighting 10 miles northwest of Quang Ngai in March, 1966.

JACK BAIRD/STARS AND STRIPES

By BILL BRADFORD AND JACK BAIRD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 8, 1966

QUANG NGAI, Vietnam — Eight Vietnamese and U.S. Marine Corps Battalions Sunday closed in on a north Vietnamese force estimated at regiment size.

A Marine spokesman reported 300 of the enemy confirmed killed and a Vietnamese spokesman said government forces killed another 225. American and Vietnamese casualties were light.

The area in which the well-trained and well-equipped enemy is trapped was reduced from 15 square miles Saturday to 5 square miles Sunday, about 7 miles northwest of Quang Ngai City.

There are four Marine battalions engaged in the battle. The Vietnamese forces consist of three airborne battalions and a battalion of Rangers.

The battle, dubbed Operation Utah by the marines, is the third joint operation in Vietnam by the Vietnamese 2d Div. and U.S. marines.

Other American and Vietnamese forces pulled back Sunday to permit massive air and artillery strikes on the heavily fortified village of Tra Binh Dong. After the village was reduced to rubble, the friendly forces moved back into holding positions.

Medics of the 3d Bn. worked to save the lives of wounded prisoners. Navy doctor Lt. D.K. Campbell said.

"It is not just a matter of intelligence ... Any American would do this for humanity's sake."

Lt. Col. Leon Utter, commander of the 2d Bn., 7th Marine Regt. — the unit hardest hit by VC 50cal. fire on Friday as they were helilifted into the operation — said "We are about to settle the score."

A few feet away, Lance Cpl. Kenneth Williams of Fairfield, Conn., was digging a fox hole when his shovel suddenly broke through into a VC hideway. Williams pulled a struggling prisoner out of the ground and turned him over to interrogators.

The tally of VC killed is expected to soar when friendly forces get to the enemy bodies for a count. Marine Capt. James Losey said the second battalion found 40 to 50 dead VC in one cave Saturday.

"I saw bodies strung all over the place. If the VC don't drag them away before we get to them, we will be able to double our current kill figure," he said.

In other ground action:

On Operation Cocoa Beach, in the Binh Duong area 35 miles north of Saigon, multi-battalion elements of the 3d Brigade, 1st Inf. Div. reported 189 Viet Cong killed and 5 captured in the heavy fighting Saturday.

Sunday, the 2d Bn., of the 3d Brigade launched an air assault into the area, hoping to trap the remaining Viet Cong. There was an estimated regiment of VC in the area at the outset of the operation.

Pacific Stars and Stripes Vietnam Bureau Chief John K. Baker, reporting from the scene, said the battalion made only sporadic conduct in an 8½-hour drive through five miles of rugged jungle and woodland.

However, he said the troops uncovered an enemy hospital, many freshly dug fortifications and other signs the guerrillas had been in the area recently.

The Viet Cong Sunday launched a mortar attack on an element of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne, near Tuy Hoa.

The paratroopers struck back with artillery and mortar fire to rout the Reds. Friendly casualties were light. Enemy dead were unknown.

Units of the 25th Inf. Div. report 12 Viet Cong killed, two captured and 63 suspects detained in Operation Garfield 10 miles northwest of Ban Me Thuot.
 

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