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 By Pat Lisi

A young US Marine like me, basically ignorant to the ways of the Marine Corps, especially a ‘newbie’ to the sights and sounds of a true situation in a foreign and violent country such as 1968 Vietnam, always remembers their very first supervisor. After all, everyone has to ‘belong’ to someone, which is actually a good thing.  Why get killed your first day in Nam? You don’t get to just step off the plane in DaNang, RVN, and take charge.  If you did, you wouldn’t last more than a couple of days once you got to the bush.  Someone, or some thing, would eat you up alive in a hurry and you’d be standing there with your skivvies around your ankles wondering what the hell just happened.  It doesn’t even matter if you are the highest ranking NCO or officer in the entire country, everyone has a boss.

In the United States Marine Corps as in all branches of the military, who gets to boss around who is all designed by way of a ranking system.  There are two distinct classes of rank:  officers, and enlisted personnel.  In a Marine combat platoon there are typically three squads, and in a perfect world these squads are supervised by a corporal.  Within each squad there are supposed to be three fire teams that are led by lance corporals, one rank down from a corporal.  Under them are the privates-first-class (PFC’s) and then the privates who are the lowest ranked enlisted people in the Marines.  A fire team in Vietnam in 1968 may have had anywhere from four to eight members in it.  All of these numbers are debatable, of course, and are completely dependant upon recent casualties and shuffling of personnel within a Marine combat company.

My first combat leader when I joined Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines in late July of 1968, on Operation Mameluke Thrust II in the Arizona Territory just outside the An Hoa Marine combat base, was a corporal from California by the (last) name of Forbes.  I don’t remember his first name, because it’s been a long time since I first met Forbes.

Corporal Forbes was standing near the landing zone (LZ) when our resupply chopper, a Marine CH-46 Chinook helicopter stuffed to the bulging point with resupplies of ammunition, food, water, mail, and 8 other newbies besides me, touched down in a drained rice paddy field amidst a blinding swirl of dust, rubbish, grasses and a whole lot of noise from the rather large blades of the birds.

The corporal did not say much to my group of newcomers, but by his gestures and very short but understandable command of, “You – with me!” pointing directly my way, told me that I was now formally introduced to my new supervisor/squad leader and that he wanted me to follow him off the LZ.

Forbes was a skinny little guy which was easy to figure out right away as he was shirtless at the LZ.  It was nasty hot out and very humid, so most of the Marines there were also running around without shirts (or, utility jackets as we called them). The months in Vietnam had darkened Forbes’ skin to a bronze/tan.  A ‘boony’ hat perched on his head made him look “salty”, which is a term Marines use to describe someone who has seen it all, been through it, tasted it all, and has now earned the right perhaps let his sideburns come down a bit, to even grow a mustache if he so chose, and to wear old and tattered clothing signifying his time in the bush.

The 9 of us who hustled off the Chinook that day looked like we had just come from the United States, with our brand new fatigues, un-scuffed jungle boots, and regulation haircuts.  Of course, that’s because we HAD just come to Vietnam, most of us within the last week or two.  We were a sorry looking bunch of boot-ass characters, that I can promise you.

Why I had been chosen by Forbes to follow him around right from our first meeting was not quite clear at the moment, but it soon would be.  The way it works is this:  When a bunch of boot-to-the-Corps, boot-to-the-bush Marines hit the ground as replacements, immediately following a period of ass-kicking combat and booby-trap scenarios for the veteran combat troops, and the squads’ trained radioman has been one of the casualties and has been evacuated from the field due to injuries or death, it means someone else needs to add twenty pounds’ worth of PRC-25 radio to their already bodacious, bulky load.

I and two other ‘boots’ were assigned to Forbes’ squad.  The reason the corporal had me tag along was simple – I was the biggest of us three and so I would become the new squad radioman whether I liked it, or volunteered for it, or not.  Did I know anything about the PRC-25 (also known to Marines, especially to those of us who had to carry one, as the PRIC)?  No!  Had I been trained to operate a field radio at all?  No!  But, when you are a PFC in the Marine Corps and your corporal tells you that you are the new radioman, then that’s the way it is.  I was the new radioman.

My immediate life was simplified by my assignment.  I would not be joining up with a fire team yet but would instead be a member of the squad’s CP (command post) which really didn’t mean much in the way of enjoying a safer position in the group.  It was very seldom that a squad worked in broken fire teams, except for rare occasions when it was just a small team that went out on a nighttime LP (listening post), or when a fire team might be given the duty of providing flanking security.  The squads almost always worked as complete teams, so there was never a reason for a squad radioman to feel any safer than anyone else in the unit.  In fact, radiomen in Vietnam were prized targets of the NVA and VC, because they knew if they could put the radio out of business that we would be in dire straights for communication to supporting Marines and firepower.  The tall, whip antenna that we sometimes had to attach to the PRIC for increased range didn’t help matters, either.  Besides, even a person with one eye missing could pick a radioman out at a hundred meters, because the pack that the PRIC fit in was perfectly square and we walked two steps behind whoever our supervisor was so he could get to the handset quick.  It was not hard at all to target a radioman.

And so, my new goal in life was to stick to Corporal Forbes like glue.  Wherever he went, I went. no matter what.  This included all movements in the bush, day and night.  If our squad was on patrol and Forbes needed to get up to the front of the line to make an assessment, I went with him.  If Forbes was attending a short briefing at the company command post with the other squad leaders and the officers in the field, I was not more than a few feet from him.  If Forbes had to relieve himself in the bushes or in a shallow hole dug in the ground, guess who was pretty much right there to offer communication to him – that’s right, I was!

At night Forbes and I manned the same fox hole and in the daylight I walked directly behind him not even ten meters away (I learned to open the gap a bit after the first time we were shot at).  The handset to the PRC-25 was always at the ready and I could get it into Forbes’ grasp in a matter of a couple seconds, even while diving for cover and returning fire.  Of course, that was the point.  After all, communications in the bush is of utmost concern for backup.  Without it, many a Marine patrol would not come out of combat alive.  The radioman is, many times the lifeline, the very link, to survival.  It is not an enviable position being the squad radioman, but someone always has to do it.
And, the selection process seemed incredibly easy at the time – the biggest Marine assigned to the squad became the radioman unless, of course, a replacement on the helicopter to the bush happened to actually be a trained radioman with the proper MOS (military occupation specialty).  In those instances it didn’t matter if you were the larger man among your peers, or that you looked more athletic and capable of adding the cumbersome and heavy box to your backside.  The real radiomen got to hump the radio, plain and simple.

Now, before you start feeling sorry for poor PFC Lisi and his non-volunteer job of squad radioman, let it be known that being the squad’s radio operator in the bush also had its few advantages.

First, there were those rare times when a single fire team was sent out on their own, which meant that the remainder of the squad would stay back in the assigned perimeter as a reactionary team in case the fire team needed support.  Assuming nothing happened during the fire team’s mission outside the perimeter, hanging around by the squad leader while paying attention to what might come over the PRC-25 radio was considered kind of a “skate job”.  That is, the chances of me getting killed during those few hours were fairly minimal.  Naturally, if the fire team out in the boonies were to hit the shit and the rest of us were pressed into emergency service, then we all stood the same chance of meeting an untimely demise.

Another advantage, if you will, to being the squad radio operator was in knowing the “scuttlebutt” pretty much before anyone else did, squad leader excepted.  In other words, since the radioman hangs close to his squad leader at all times the various orders and plans coming from the platoon commander are, at least, overheard by the radio Marine.  This might give me as the radio operator a chance to better prepare for what is about to come our way which, in truth, amounted to perhaps a 10-mintue advantage most of the time; but, I would know certain things up to a whole day in advance, sometimes.

The squad leader was the Marine that perhaps needed and received the most protection in a lot of situations.  Let’s say there was a squad-sized night ambush planned and executed.  The squad would dig in to one of a variety of defensive positions or shapes, as in an L-shaped ambush for example, and typically the squad leader and his radioman would be centered behind the main body of the ambush formation so as to give orders if the ambush is triggered.  The theory being that the enemy would have to break through the main line of defenses to get me and my squad leader.  In reality, if the ambush team was compromised by an assault by the NVA, it meant that you all fought for your very lives and you tried to kill every enemy soldier you possibly could before they were to overrun our positions.

I guess one of the real advantages to being the squad’s radioman was that someday, if you did a good job even though you were not trained as a radioman, you could actually become the platoon’s radioman and, if you really had it together enough, the company radioman.  The same advantages previously discussed are still intact, but to a higher degree.  The platoon radioman gets to hang out with the lieutenant and the rest of the platoon CP group; the company radioman toddles along with the captain and his CP group.  Those positions opened up to an untrained squad radioman seldom at best, so I didn’t have my hopes of ever advancing up the ladder.  For the time being I was the newest, biggest guy around, and so I carried the PRIC.

One of the fire team leaders in our squad was a corporal by the name of Lynn Dixon.  Lynn was an experienced combat Marine with a few months under his belt when I joined Echo Company and the squad.  He was from Billings, Montana and a devout Mormon.  As I got to know Lynn I found out that he was an accomplished hunter, fisherman, and basically a good, all around outdoorsman from an area of the United States that many folks consider to be God’s Country and perfect for all of these activities.

Dixon wasn’t particularly an athletically built Marine but he certainly wasn’t small or frail.  His demeanor was very calm, thoughtful, easy to talk to, and he paid particular attention to detail.  He could read a map and compass, which I assumed he probably taught himself as a Montana antelope hunter.  There is a lot of scouting, walking and planning to be a successful antelope or mule deer seeker, and Lynn knew some pretty desolate back country near Billings as if it was his own back yard.

I had occasion to work with (for) Corporal Dixon early in September, 1968 when Corporal Forbes, the squad leader, went on R&R for a week.  During this time is when I got to know Dixon much better.  When we weren’t out on a road sweep or a search and destroy mission, or doing a night ambush or a listening post assignment, we had a chance to talk about the states and what our hopes and dreams were for after the war.  We both had kind of the same things in mind:  Settle down with a nice lady, have a few kids, work, play, hunt, fish, and goof off whenever possible.  After the war, everything would be “gravy”.  Crappy times ahead could be easily neutralized just by remembering the hard times in Nam.  “It don’t mean a thing,” was an expression that we used to numb the horrible aspects of fighting in Vietnam, of which there were many.  And, we used the expression often to help ease the pain and frustration.

When Forbes returned from R&R Dixon went back to his fire team.  Lynn was, for sure, the next corporal in line to get his own squad but he would have to wait for an opening.  This would mean Corporal Forbes or some other squad leader would either have to rotate back to the United States, get a promotion to sergeant and move up the ladder in the platoon, or become a casualty of war.  The latter was the least desirable method of creating an opening, to say the least, but it happened more often than any of us wanted to think about.  After all, it wasn’t just Dixon and Forbes who looked forward to advancing in rank and importance; it was all of us, including me!  Yes, I was just a lowly PFC at the moment, but someday I would come up in the ranks to lance corporal, corporal, and beyond.  Well, if I lived long enough that is, or I didn’t get my butt opened up and sent home.

As the days and weeks slowly passed, something wonderful happened to my position as the squad radioman.  I was at a point where it didn’t matter to me if I was actually relieved of the cumbersome PRC-25 that I had lugged across every imaginable type of terrain in South Viet Nam, or not.  It was like a cow on my back now that I had performed this duty for about a month and a half.  I was getting pretty good at knowing the PRIC and its capabilities, and there was talk of making me a lance corporal, meritoriously no less, because of my proven skills as a radio operator.  But, the PRIC was big, bulky, heavy, and in the intense inferno and humidity of Vietnam I was susceptible to heat exhaustion; I remember more than once having to sit down on a paddy dike and pour water over my head and down my front to avoid passing out.  I was also still a teenager, replete with a grand case of acne that spread to my underarms.  The extra digging caused by the straps of the PRC-25 was instrumental in keeping the lesions under my arms open and ‘runny’ pretty much all the time.  I longed for the days when I could simply be just another “grunt” who carried his own gear most of the time, except for perhaps an extra mortar round for the weapons team or a belt of M-60 machine gun rounds for the machine gunner.

One afternoon, late in the day when we had dug in for the night along the Thu Bon River on Operation Sussex Bay, a couple of Chinooks brought the usual resupply for the next couple of days.  On this particular chopper a young Marine, a large, athletic, young Marine, was assigned to our squad.  I saw my opportunity.  Pulling Corporal Forbes over to the side of the LZ I petitioned him to let me pass the torch – that is the PRIC – to the November Golf (or, ‘new guy’).  Forbes, knowing that I was truly ready to give up my special friend which I had been humping for almost two months, and Forbes being the one who had to treat my heat exhaustion more than once, granted permission for this exchange to occur, and so it came to pass that the new guy, a Marine private, became the new squad radioman.

This, of course, meant that I needed to be assigned to a fire team and, thank God, I went to Corporal Dixon’s group.

I say thank God not so much because Lynn and I had become friends and were ‘tight’.  It’s really because I knew that he knew what he was doing out there in bush country of South Viet Nam; I knew that I stood a better chance of living through whatever missions Echo Company might find itself in; I was confident that Dixon was a strong leader and that he would see to us, his men, when times got tough; I would follow Dixon not because he was simply the leader, but because I respected his decisions and choices of options.  Sure, a lot of times we didn’t have many of those, but even small things can keep a tiny team of a few Marines alive and well, ready to fight the next skirmish.  Dixon had an eye for the lay of the land and a sense of where the enemy might be and when they might move our way.  We had options, then.

By October, 1968 our platoon, squad and fire team were well versed in the art of warring with the NVA and VC.  We spent most of the time in the bush, and when we came into the rear for a couple of days we were assigned night watch on the ‘wire’ around the An Hoa Combat Base.  We also conducted night ambushes known as “freak outs”.  One of these operations made the Stars and Stripes Newspaper in mid-September, 1969:“Freak Out” Ambush Nets Enemy Unit.

“An Hoa – Shortly before dark, a Marine company dug in by a village after walking 10,000 meters over a rudely constructed road.

North Vietnamese (NVA) soldiers hiding in the village tried leaving the way the Leathernecks came, but they ran into a problem…more Marines.

Echo Co., 2/5, 1st Marine Division used a tactic nicknamed by some Marines as a “Freak Out.”  In a “Freak Out,” part of the unit falls out of the formation and sets up an ambush while the rest of the unit continues on.

The platoon left behind formed a triangular perimeter along the side of the road, with two machine guns on the flanks facing the road.”

I might point our here that the platoon that formed the triangular ambush was ours, the 2nd Platoon.  In order for a “Freak Out” to work, the Marines that drop out of the company formation need to do so very quickly and they need to set up almost immediately with as little to-do as possible.  And, they must wait until well after dark to drop back and form the ambush.  Picturing the triangle setup, it was our squad that was actually watching the road with the other two squads forming the other two sides of the triangle.  Corporal Dixon’s fire team, including me, was positioned on one of the ends of the squad’s line, Corporal Forbes and his new radioman set up in the middle of the line directly behind another fire team of 6 Marines.  The village where the NVA were getting ready to move from was across the road.  Now, back to the news article.

“Pfc. P.L. Smith (“Smitty”) was the first Leatherneck to open fire.  A fraction of a second later, additional small arms and machine gun fire starting spraying the area.

After firing stopped the platoon of Marines stayed in their positions to wait for any further movement in the foliage.

When dawn came, Leathernecks searched the area, finding three enemies killed and numerous blood trails where some of the killed and wounded had been dragged away.”

PFC Smith was a black man in our fire team.  He would last a few weeks longer in Viet Nam, sent back to the states after being severely wounded on Hill 100 the following month.  That story begins here.

Right around the first of October, 2nd Battalion was mustered for an operation designed to rescue a group of Army Special Forces (Green Berets).  Thanks to the declassifying of certain documents held in the Marine Corps History Archives, I can actually present excerpts from the Command Chronology and After Action Reports that detail the events that led up to the battle on Hill 100.

Mission

“Initially, to occupy Fire Support Base at Hill 52 and be prepared to attack on order to relieve friendly elements at Thuong Duc Special Forces Camp.”

Concept of Operations

“Second Battalion reins attack to the Northwest along Route #4 to seize the high ground vicinity Hill 100.  Establish blocking positions along high ground from ZC194561 along line to ZC203564.”

General Situation – Operation Maui Peak

“Elements of the 21st Regiment, 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment, one Battalion of the 368B Regiment (NVA artillery), in position to interdict Route #4 (Dien Ban to Thuong Duc) and harass friendly units in the area.  POW’s and documents taken after ground contact indicated that the 1st Battalion 141st Regiment (artillery) was reported to have 140MM rocket capability.”

During the first few days of this massive operation known as Maui Peak, Golf Company took one hell of a pounding.  Day and night, it seemed like they were always in contact with the NVA.  Echo Company was still staged on top of Hill 52 waiting for the order to insert our selves into the battlefield.  The movement would be done on foot, for helicopter landings would be pretty much impractical given the fact that NVA had a large force guarding Route #4, and their positions were well armed with everything you can think of including anti-aircraft guns.

Naturally, we (the Marines) blasted any known NVA positions with 90MM tank fire and air strikes of 250 and 500 lb. bombs, and an occasional canister or two of napalm.  Corporal Dixon and I sat atop sand bagged bunkers on hill 52 and watched the show.  I remember trying to follow the 90MM tank rounds as they burst from the barrel and screamed downrange toward the target.  It was not possible to actually see the heavy round, but in the heat of the day when the vapors of humidity wiggled into the cooler air above the low ground, I could definitely visualize the rounds cutting through the vapor trails.  You had to follow the round very quickly with the eye; it was absolutely fascinating!

On the 8th of October it was Echo Company’s turn to step into the “belly of the beast.”  2nd Platoon mounted up and Forbes’ squad was assigned point.  Our fire team, led by Corporal Dixon, was the tail end of our squad, but the rest of the platoon was right behind us.

We walked from Hill 52 for about 1 klick (1000 meters, or 1 kilometer which converts to .62/mile).  The company was well-spaced, meaning we weren’t clustered which would be a disaster when the NVA opened up on our columns.  We used both sides of Route #4, which was a dirt road about 8 feet wide, not nearly enough room for two tanks to pass each other and keep both the tracks on the road.  Of course, that really didn’t matter on this operation, because any tanks heading towards Hill 100 were only going one way.  Not only that, but only 2 tanks accompanied us and, once our assault up Hill 100 was complete the tanks retreated back to their positions on Hill 52.  The purpose of having tanks with us at all was to offer protection as squads of Marines double-timed across openings that were in plain view of the NVA positions.  So, the tanks worked back and forth for awhile as teams of Marines hunkered down and hauled ass for the base of the hill.  This took awhile, but within an hour Echo Company was ready to assault Hill 100.  Up to now there were no casualties.

Part of the reason for us being spared an enemy shooting gallery came partly by the aid of the M48A1 tanks that escorted us to the base of hill 100.  But, more importantly, was the previous days’ artillery and air bombardment and an assault by Golf Company that helped ‘prep’ the area for our attempt to take the high ground.  Marine Corps documents tell the story:

“The first contact was at 060930H October 1968 (translated, this means October 6th, 1968 at 9:30 AM) in the saddle in the vicinity of ZC197561.  This contact was light and involved about a platoon (from Golf Company) which held the high ground west of the saddle.  The platoon was in shallow fighting holes and was overrun.  The second contact was at 071600H in the vicinity of ZC190561 and was heavy.  The contact was with a company size unit and was carried into the next day (which would be October 7th, the day before Echo Company entered the scene to relieve Golf Company and make our way to the base of Hill 100 for our assault up).

8Oct68

“1655H – CoE assaulted obj. at ZC190561”

This is the exact time that 2nd Platoon, including Corporal Forbes’ squad with Corporal Dixon’s fire team (my group), began the assault of Hill 100 in an effort to drive any remaining NVA soldiers from the peak.  Effective fire from Hill 52, and supporting 90MM tank fire from the two tanks out on Route #4, proved to be too much for the NVA anywhere near the top of the hill and they scattered, leaving just enough soldiers behind on various hillsides to harass us as we laboriously clawed our way up.

One of the Marines in our fire team, PFC Timothy Creech, was struck in the helmet by an enemy bullet as we neared the top.  But, it would prove to be the luckiest day of his life.  As the round entered his steel pot it spun around the inside, making a sort of ‘track’ that cut into the material.  The initial impact knocked Creech on his duff, of course, and it caused a concussion massive enough to put him asleep for awhile, but he survived!  Dixon and another fire team member grabbed his arms and they dragged Creech to the top of the hill.  A medivac bird would take him off the hill, later.

Over the next 2 days and nights all companies of the battalion would take harassing fire from the NVA in the form of 82mm mortars and rockets.  Light probing of defensive lines, mostly after midnight, was common, and these minor attacks were repelled by the Marines of the various units.  Pilots who flew anywhere near Hill 100 or Hill 52 reported back to the ground commands.  Often, pilots would see groups of enemy soldiers maneuvering around the valleys in an attempt to position themselves for attacks up the hills.  The pilots would, of course, fire at the soldiers in an attempt to kill as many as they could, but it seemed like an endless supply of NVA as they just kept coming to us.

The Declassified 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines S-3 Journal revealed the following activities:

  • “11oct68”
  • “1015H – AO (aerial observation) observed enemy base camp at ZC175605
  • “1310H – AO observed large cave at ZC186572
  • “1415H – CoE (Echo Company) while being resupplied, received enemy small arms and mortar fire from ZC187575
  • “1830H – All units continued to sight enemy movement
  • “0200H (12Oct68) – Enemy movement heard outside perimeter
  • “0400H – CoE came under a well coordinated ground attack”

The evening of October 11 and into the early morning of the 12th Echo Company took its share of casualties.  Many Marines were wounded and 8 killed as the NVA conducted a well-planned assault up Hill 100.  Corporal Dixon did a splendid job at keeping our fire team together and tactically sound.  The main attack by the NVA did not occur all at once.  Instead, they started by ‘probing’ or testing our perimeter by shooting 140mm rockets and lobbing 82mm mortars over to us from distant hills, and then a few random pot shots with small arms from soldiers who were making their way up the hill to confront us.

By 4:00 AM when the main force attacked us with full fury, the NVA had placed a large number of soldiers up Hill 100 and then they came at us with everything they could.  The attack was expected, so we were ready.  I was in a three-foot-deep, 3-man foxhole with a black lance corporal who we called “Smiley”, and another Marine with the last name of Walsh (who would be killed three weeks later by a ‘friendly’ air strike). The three of us peered over the lip of the fighting position just high enough to pick out targets, and there were plenty of them.  Within the first few minutes of the attack we had already detonated both of our Claymore mines (M18 Claymore anti-personnel mine, named after the large Scottish sword by its inventor, Norman MacLeod.  The Claymore fires steel balls out to about 100 meters and within a 60-degree arch in front of the device).

We also exhausted our supply of M33 grenades by tossing them downhill into the ranks of the enemy.  We then opened up with our M-16 rifles and sent a hail of lead down into the night.  Illumination flares from nearby artillery batteries helped tremendously to spot actual humans instead of trying to pick targets from hazy silhouettes.  The noise of battle was horrific, guns blazing, Marines and NVA hollering commands, shouts going out for the Corpsman or for ammo.

Dixon was in the thick of battle, too.  Just a hole or two over from the three of us, his stock of ammunition was being fired at the enemy at the same rate ours was.  Dixon continued to fight off the enemy soldiers who kept coming until helicopter gun ships arrived on station to hit the NVA with missiles and Vulcan cannon fire.  By 0600 the sun had started to make the eastern horizon glow and the NVA pulled back.  Dixon and the team took an assessment of damage and casualties.  Several Marines who manned the fighting positions to my left were killed, including Mike Wasserman, our M-60 machine gunner, and his assistant gunner.  Mike was a fellow recruit from Marine boot camp in San Diego back in February of 1968.  We gathered as a squad, what was left of it anyway, after helping to clean up the bodies and weapons strewn all over Hill 100, to figure out new assignments and collect our thoughts.

Echo Company remained dug in on top of Hill 100 until October 19.  This wasn’t necessarily because the company had been reduced by casualties so much as it was the fact that it never stopped raining long enough get air lifted off.  On the 19th the sky broke for a couple short hours, and we were all very happy when we got the word to pack up our crap and get to the top of the hill for evacuation.  Maui Peak was over for Echo Company, but we were headed right into the next operation called “Henderson Hill.”  We were flown into An Hoa for resupply, one hot meal, a shower, and one night’s sleep.  The next day our Company Commander, Captain John Woggon, informed us that the NVA units in the new TAOR for Operation Henderson Hill were the 2nd Battalion 368B Regiment (artillery), the 80th Battalion 21st Regiment, and main force Viet Cong units.  To date, aerial observations had sighted 450 uniformed NVA soldiers, and Marine artillery missions and fixed wing air strikes had accounted for 157 NVA/VC killed.

Sadly, we were also given the casualty report (for the battalion) from Operation Maui Peak:  30 KIA, 108 WIA, 42 WIA NE (wounded but non-evacuated out of the field) and 1 MIA (missing in action – I never heard if this Marine was located or not).

Operation Henderson Hill moved to the northeast part of the 5th Marines TAOR in the opening days of November, 1968 when intelligence from S-2 reported elements of the 36th NVA Infantry Regiment working from the west end of Go Noi island.  Light to heavy contact was maintained throughout the period from November 1st through the 12th.  Heavy monsoon rains made it very difficult to patrol any of this assigned real estate, and Dixon’s fire team was exhausted, just like the rest of the platoon and company, at the end of any long day of search and clear missions.

One major change had occurred in the squad.  I was promoted to lance corporal and was also given a fire team of my own within the squad.  Forbes was still the squad leader.

Within the first days of November Corporal Dixon would be wounded and sent home.  What happened was this:  Echo Company had been inserted by helicopter into a zone that would place us in a ‘blocking position’ for the remainder of the battalion to conduct a huge sweep.  We had a scout/sniper with us, including a large German shepherd.  As the 2nd Platoon approached the top of a knobby little hill around mid-morning, the dog started growling and then barking, and then viciously tugging at the leash to break free from his master.  What the dog was seeing were two older women down below who appeared to be digging holes just across a short rice paddy that was mostly water.

A quick meeting of the commanders, and it was decided that the first and second squads of 2nd Platoon would form two columns and head across the dikes as the point element.  As I recall, this placed Dixon, myself, a machine gunner from Wisconsin named Terry Larson, and the remainder of our two fire teams including a young Marine from Germany, in the open rice field that separated us from the possibility of a dug-in force of enemy soldiers across the way.  As the bunch of us neared the middle of the rice field someone shouted from behind for us to get down!

At that moment a 3.5” rocket was launched over our heads and it exploded in the tree line just to our front.  Movement had been noticed by the rest of the platoon that was still sitting up on the knoll from where we had descended into the water.  Rifle fire broke out instantaneously from both directions, and those of us caught out in the middle of the rice ducked behind dikes to momentarily escape the intense firefight.

The decision was quickly made to get up and assault the NVA, because if we stayed where we were, we could be killed by the fire coming from the enemy to our front, or from the fire from the Marines behind us (otherwise known as ‘crossfire’).

The Marines to our rear ceased fire and our two squads attacked the NVA positions with M-16 rifles and grenades.  Weapons Platoon had also started to lob 60mm mortars over us and into the village which helped tremendously.  It actually only took us thirty minutes or so to reach the other side of the rice field and rush any remaining occupied spider holes.  Dixon and I got to the enemy trenches about the same time and there, lying dead but with a grenade in his clenched hand with the pin removed, was the Marine from Germany.

Dixon was wounded pretty badly in the hand from enemy fire, and this would be his last day in the field in Viet Nam.  The grenade in the dead Marines’ grasp was removed and an engineer detonated it later in a controlled “fire in the hole”.  That evening, choppers came in and took out our KIA (1) and WIA (4).  That’s the last I saw of Corporal Dixon, for a few years, anyway.

Lynn and I have kept in touch by phone and e-mail since around 1972 when I got out of the Marine Corps.  He and his wife, Joyce, and their kids visited me in Wisconsin once.  My wife Marjorie and I went to Shepherd (Billings), Montana to see them in the mid-90’s.  The four of us got together again in 2010 in San Diego, CA when Echo Company reunited for a few days, and we met once more in Greeley (Denver), Colorado for a ‘mini reunion’ between Lynn, myself, Bruce Olson and Tim Holliday, who was actually the first Marine to reach the top of Hill 100 back in October of 1968.

Lynn Dixon was a great leader and an outstanding Marine.  What always struck me was his quiet, but always confident, demeanor.  That is, he never panicked under any circumstance.  It was calming to be around him even when we were under intense fire from the enemy.  There was a methodical, deliberate approach to every problem, is how Lynn saw it, and his technique was flawless.

One can only admire a guy like Lynn Dixon, whom I have been proud to know ever since the first day I met him.  Thank you, Lynn, for helping me get through the Viet Nam War.

One Response to “Corporal Lynn Dixon”

  • Amy Dixon Dilworth:

    Pat, this was fabulous to read! Things I always knew about my dad, but it’s so nice to hear the same things echoed by others. How he (and so many other vets) managed to stay grounded after all that amazes me. I am so blessed to call him “dad” and to have learned so much from him. Thank you for taking the time to write this.
    ~Amy

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