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By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

It’s the 4th of July in Saint George, Utah.  The city, like hundreds of thousands of others throughout the United States, hosts a full day of fun and patriotic events that culminates with a wonderous and colorful display of lavish fireworks – loud, fast, furious …

It was night time, July 4, 1969 when our company of Marines was assaulted at Phu Loc 6.  We were providing “bridge security” for a couple of days, switching on and off with other elements of 2nd Bn, 5th Marine Regiment as they patrolled the river banks, hamlets and rice fields that surrounded Phu Loc 6.  It was actually considered to be a kind of “slack” duty to be assigned to the bridge security for whatever period of time.  Two days at Phu Loc 6 was like taking a break from the war.  There was nothing at Phu Lac 6 except for the Marines who manned both sides of the river, and the bridge in the middle that provided dry passage for vehicles across the Vu Gia River.

During the daytime we took turns standing guard with a squad while the rest of the men of Echo Company swam in the river to cool off.  Meals were not a problem though there was no mess hall to speak of.  Two cans of beer per man per day could be counted on, and cold sodas were plentiful.  In other words, bridge duty at Phu Loc 6 was coveted for the most part, and we took full advantage of the slack as we knew it was short-lived.  After two days of guarding the bridge we would be back in the bush for weeks on end.

July 4th found us at Phu Loc 6.  The day had come and gone with the usual ho-hum and boredom.  It was mid-summer so the sun was blaring and the heat was horrible.  Humidity levels were near 100%.  Much of the day was spent either in or near the water of the river and most of us were very relaxed once the cover of darkness blanketed South Viet Nam.  We received our orders for perimeter guard that night and also for the next day, which meant heading back out into the boonies at 0500.

Around 1 AM the platoon sergeant and I were summoned to the platoon commander’s bunker.  We were told to quietly go from bunker to bunker around the perimeter and get every Marine on full alert.  A unit out in one of the hamlets near Phu Loc 6 reported a rather large force of NVA soldiers sneaking up on Phu Loc 6 and our positions.  I went one way and the sergeant the other, and before either of us could ‘meet in the middle’ so to speak, all hell broke loose!  The NVA had launched their attack.

Night time in Nam is incredibly dark when there is no visible moon.  And, in customary fashion, the NVA attack was initiated with a heavy volume of .82 mm mortars and RPG rounds which is meant to get the Marines to duck down inside their fighting positions while the NVA ground troops get up to the target and launch their human wave.  One of the .82’s hit an M48 tank inside the perimeter and it exploded in a fireball that then sent ‘fireworks’ skyward as stored shells and .50 caliber ammo cooked off.  Every man with a rifle, both NVA and Marines, fired back and forth at the same time, sending hot tracer rounds bouncing and streaking into Phu Loc 6 and the rice paddies, and skyward.

The attack and fire fight lasted for an hour and then it was over.  At least for the moment.  Unfortunately for the NVA, the platoon outside the wire who alerted us to the NVA approach had now repositioned themselves to ambush the NVA when they retreated from attacking us at Phu Loc 6.  Again, the ‘fireworks’  lit up the countryside and the night sky.

In Saint George, Utah the long-awaited fireworks display commences.  The crowd squeals with delight and they “oooh” and “aaah” in grand unison.  It is awesome, to say the least.  And all I think about for the duration of the fireworks, as I lay there on my blanket on the ground looking skyward,  is July 4, 1969.

 

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