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10 Days in June, 1969

By Pat Lisi

Southern Utah Vets Aid

Not every unit assignment in Viet Nam was hair-raising or filled with terror.  There were times when Marines and Soldiers enjoyed days of duty that weren’t so bad.  Relatively speaking, time spent in Viet Nam during the war varied from good to bad and from bad to good, with a lot of “in-between”. The first ten days of June, 1969 was one of those periods for me and the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines.

Two major rivers, the Phu Gia and the Thu Bon, converged at a point approximately between DaNang and the An Hoa Marine combat base where 2nd Battalion 5th Marines was stationed in 1969.  A long and usually sturdy bridge that we called “LibertyBridge” kept the road open as a major supply route.  The road had to be kept clear of enemy mines and ambush sites the entire distance between An Hoa and DaNang (about 50 miles), and the bridge across the Thu Bon had to be secure at all times as well. The immediate hamlet nearest the bridge was Phu Lac (6).  The enemy loved to demolish LibertyBridge which they did accomplish more than once in a five year period, for obvious reasons.  While the bridge was rebuilt during those times, supplies and troops crossed the river by way of a ferry.  This was a ride that none of us ever wanted to experience.

To accomplish both goals of securing Liberty Road and Liberty Bridge in the spring and summer of 1969, the 2nd Battalion always had a least a company of grunts posted at the bridge who would send a platoon out for a daily sweep of the road south between Liberty Bridge and An Hoa during daylight hours when the convoy from DaNang reached Phu Lac (6) in the morning.  The slow march would go all the way to An Hoa; to get back to LibertyBridge for night time defense the sweeping platoon would ride aboard the convoy as it travelled back to DaNang.

From LibertyBridge north to DaNang the road was swept less often by Marines and more often by ARVN soldiers (South Vietnamese) who weren’t always as successful or proficient at the task.  Just north of LibertyBridge and Phu Lac (6) was a hillside known as “CharlieRidge”, and it also marked the entrance into the ArizonaTerritory which was one of the very few “free fire zones” in all of South Viet Nam during the war.  Free fire meant that you had permission to shoot any human being who carried a rifle unless they were American.  The ‘territory’ was situated within the larger Province of QuangNam.  The significance of that fact is this:  During the war, about 10,000 Marines were killed in action, and roughly 7,000 of those died in QuangNamProvince.  You bet the bridge at Phu Lac (6) was important!  In fact, it was absolutely critical to the survival of any American unit that operated anywhere near the confluence of the Thu Bon and Phu Gia rivers and the ArizonaTerritory.

The best duty anywhere within miles of Phu Lac (6) was security at the LibertyBridge itself and, if it was your unit’s turn to guard the bridge you could expect a week’s worth behind the wire there, except for when your platoon had to go out and sweep the road for mines.  Security at the bridge meant hot food, colder beer and soda, a swim in the river when you wanted, and less action for the most part.  But, don’t be fooled into thinking that this was some sort of slack-off time or anything like that, because you have to believe that the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) soldiers and the Viet Cong would have loved nothing better than to overrun the troops at Liberty Bridge and capture the artillery and mortar batteries set up there.  And, of course, they loved destroying the bridge or parts of it so that we would be easier targets on ferry barges until the bridge was once again operational.  One such attack that occurred in May, 1969 while 2 platoons were doing bridge security at night at Phu Lac (6) was so fierce that a PFC named Jimmy Phipps of Santa Monica, CA earned a Medal of Honor.  So, to say security duty at LibertyBridge was “easy” is to simply put it into terms of relativity.

Admittedly, the job of security at LibertyBridge and the task of road sweeping that went along with it was always much better duty than being the company that provided flanking protection for the Marines working on the road.  That’s because the guys on the flanks lived in the bush all the time and did not enjoy the relative luxury of spending the nights at LibertyBridge.  To make it fair for everyone the companies took turns on weekly intervals.  As it turned out for our unit, we spent the first 10 days and nights of June on the flank security; there was no slack.

In 1969 a huge pacification program was underway in South Viet Nam to try and win over the hearts and minds of the ‘normal’ civilian population.  One of the off-shoots of this program was a reward system that basically meant if a Vietnamese person turned in any kind of weapon or ordnance to the Americans, they would be paid with a monetary reward for their find.  The currency back then was called the Piaster; today it is not a currency in Viet Nam and it has no worth.  I don’t even remember what a “P” was in American dollars back in 1969, but I know it was a coveted prize among the locals.

With the aid of the declassified field reports from that era, now available on-line, I am recalling some of the events of those first ten days in June, 1969 that our outfit was engaged in.  For example, the log shows that on June 1 at 0930 we discovered a Chicom grenade and a 155mm artillery round while patrolling as flank security for the men who were sweeping the road.  Our engineer packed a couple pounds of C-4 around the 2 weapons and blew them up in place.

(Just as a quick side note here, in February of 1969 an engineer with the 5th Marines was getting ready to blow up a booby-trapped 155mm arty round when he discovered that it had a secondary detonation device that had been activated. This happened very near Liberty Bridge where we now were on June 1st.  Knowing full well that other Marines would be killed if it exploded before they could all back out to safety, he lay his own body on the 155mm and took the full brunt of the explosion.  For his ultimate sacrifice he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The Marine’s name was William Prom; he was from Pittsburgh, PA).

At 1400 that same day the Marines at the artillery battery radioed from LibertyBridge that they had spotted 15 enemy soldiers with rifles moving into a village nearby.  Echo Company double-timed a click to investigate but by the time we got there the enemy had disappeared.  The log shows that awhile later, at 1430, our company found 51 rounds of 105mm artillery shells near the ville.  The rounds were bundled together which told us that they had been accidentally dropped by a helicopter at one time or another!  The engineer with us rigged C-4 to the entire stash and blew them up while we all cringed in cover a half click away.

At 1810 on June 2, after a day of providing flanking security again and we were really dragging our tails, a Vietnamese boy turned in a 60mm mortar round plus an M-79 grenade.  The official log shows the boy was paid 100 Piaster and the rounds were blown in place.  You can tell we didn’t like carrying stuff back with us.

At 1925 that evening Echo Company was treated to an enemy propaganda broadcast over loudspeakers from the next hamlet over.  We called in a mission from the 155mm and the 81mm battery at LibertyBridge and the “speech” was over.  It was quiet the rest of the night.

On the 4th of June at 0630 we stumbled across a booby-trapped M-79 round rigged for pressure detonation, which was blown in place by our engineer.  No one injured.  Later that morning back at Liberty Bridge an adult male Vietnamese turned in a Chicom grenade and an M-26 grenade, but he didn’t get paid any Piaster; it turned out he was a suspected VC and was instead sent to An Hoa aboard the next convoy.

At noon a village chief pointed out 3 women known to be VC sympathizers.  Captain McClung (Echo Company Commander) sent the 3 to An Hoa where the S-2 officers would interrogate them.  We never heard what happened after that.

One of the pacification programs was called the “county fair”.  Another was called “medcap”.  These two were sometimes conducted at the same time, the purpose of which was to gather the villagers, be nice to them by listening to their problems, and to treat any wounds, sores, illnesses, etc.  It was also a time to hopefully get the names of key enemy personnel who might be living in or near that village or hamlet.  It was 1500 on June 4th that Echo Company conducted a “county fair and medcap”, during which 300 villagers were seen by Navy corpsmen and S-2 reps from An Hoa and DaNang.  At 1605 at the same “fair” a young boy turned in a 60mm and a 105mm round for which he was paid 200 Piaster.

At 1640 the same day, just as Echo Company was leaving the village and heading across the paddy dikes, a Marine detonated a booby-trapped M-26 grenade with pressure detonation, resulting in 2 WIA’s evacuated.

As if the day had not been long enough, yet, at 1820 the command post back at LibertyBridge spotted a small group of the enemy moving east.  Marines at Liberty opened up on them with rifle fire and 6 rounds of 106mm.  Echo Company was then assigned to head over to where the enemy soldiers were last seen to get a body count.  The log shows that we found 2 enemies KIA.

June 5th at 0915 a Vietnamese girl turned in a 60mm illumination round to our company CP for which she received 100 Piaster. At noon members of Echo Company witnessed an explosion from the road between the bridge and An Hoa, which turned out to be a mine that was missed during the current road sweep in-progress.  It was believed to be a 400-pound box mine, pressure detonated by one of the M-48 tanks.

On June 6th at 1100 hrs Echo Company was again pulling flank security for a road sweep between An Hoa and LibertyBridge when the two scout/snipers with us observed 20 armed enemy soldiers fleeing to the northeast.  While the snipers picked them off one-by-one, the remainder of Echo Company set up a perimeter and then called in 81mm mortars from LibertyBridge, upon the enemy.  When the shooting stopped we went out across the paddy fields to where the NVA were first seen.  There, we found 7 dead and 4 blood trails.

The official, declassified log shows later that day, at 1425, a squad from our company saw another group of 20 or so VC (you could tell the difference between VC and NVA mostly by their clothing) 200 meters south of the Marines.  The squad engaged the enemy at that range with their M-16’s and then assaulted what was left of the NVA now in disarray.  The log says that the NVA bolted through a nearby village instead of sticking around to fight it out with the grunts.  When we got to the village we were told that the band of NVA passed through and were carrying with them 3 KIA and 4 WIA.

Another squad from Echo Company was in a village not too far from the one previously described.  They did not encounter any enemy, but a Vietnamese male approached the Kit Carson scout who was with the Marines and turned himself in as a “VC Cheiu Hoi” (meaning he surrendered).  The Cheiu Hoi was sent to An Hoa.

On June 7th just after midnight Liberty Bridge was attacked by a dozen VC ‘sappers’ who attempted to blow holes in the defenses by way of satchel charges and Bangalore torpedoes.  Hotel Company 2/5 defended the outpost along with the Marine gunners of Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines.  They did so with amazing courage and tenacity.

The VC succeeded in creating a hole large enough in the wire to actually enter the compound; there they were met with the awesome fury of “beehive” rounds fired at point-blank range from 105mm cannons.  As the VC fled Phu Lac (6) and the LibertyBridge compound they were escorted by 81mm and 60mm mortar fire on their tails.  None of them survived the attack against the Marines.  According to the log some of the equipment captured included 2 Bangalore torpedoes, satchel charges and sticks to ignite them, and 3 Chicom grenades.

The second week in June was pretty much like the first one.  On June 8th our snipers observed 8 NVA moving south.  The snipers were only able to kill 1 of the enemy, and a volley of 100 rounds of 81mm mortar fire produced no more KIA than the snipers were able to come up with.

Later that day one of our Marines tripped a wired M-26 grenade that wounded himself and another Marine.  Neither was taken out of action.  At 1700 hrs that day a Vietnamese boy handed over two 60mm mortar rounds to Echo Company and we rewarded him with 300 Piaster.  An hour later another boy traded two M-79 grenades for 300 Piaster.

Our company engaged the enemy the following day, June 9th, at 0630 when we observed a group of armed soldiers at about 900 meters.  This was a very long distance to open fire but they were headed for a village and we didn’t want to lose them.  We also called for artillery from the battery at Phu Lac (6)/LibertyBridge, and when the smoke cleared we swept out for a body count.  We only found 2 KIA but several blood trails.

At 0900 the same day we saw another group of NVA, this time a larger bunch of approximately 25 soldiers.  Again, artillery was called in on them and they scattered in every direction.  We tried to cut them off, but in the end we only accounted for 2 more KIA.

By 1130 that day Echo Company was up by the road and had joined in on the sweep there.  One of our injured Marines was aboard an M-48 tank hitching a ride into An Hoa to check in with the battalion aid station for treatment.  At that time, a Marine from Lima Company jumped off the same tank and landed directly on a pressure detonated booby-trap that exploded with enough ferocity to re-injure the Marine from Echo Company who was still up on the tank.  The blast also killed a Marine from Echo Company and wounded three others from Lima Company.

Still on June 9th, a half hour after the previous entry into the official logbook, one of the Marines from Echo Company detonated a booby-trapped 105mm round.  The Marine was a grenadier and was carrying M-79 rounds which also exploded upon detonation of the 105 mike-mike.  The grenadier was killed as was the Marine standing next to him and 6 others were wounded in action.

Between 1230 and 1300 hrs that day Vietnamese boys turned in 5 M-26 grenades, 1 smoke grenade, and 3 sticks of C-4 to Echo Company.  Total reward for these items was 600 Piaster.

June 10th was relatively quiet.  There was 1 male Vietnamese adult “Cheiu Hoi” at 0700 who we allowed to enter our perimeter as long as his hands were raised over his head.  Then at around 1715 a resupply chopper accidentally dropped an entire nets’ worth of supplies and ammo while in flight.  Echo Company was sent to rescue the resupply which we did, and send it up to the road to catch the convoy for An Hoa.  At 1800 a boy turned in 2 M-26 grenades and a Chicom for 400 Piaster.

By June 11th it was time to switch places.  Echo Company hiked to Phu Lac (6) for LibertyBridge security, and Hotel Company replaced us on the road and out on the flanks.  This cat-and-mouse game of booby traps, attempted assaults on the defensive perimeter at LibertyBridge, and taking small bands of armed NVA and VC under fire continued throughout the entire month of June, 1969.  Kids kept getting paid for turning in armament, adult Vietnamese kept surrendering, “county fairs” and “medcaps” continued to help relations with the locals.  But still, Marines kept getting wounded and killed mostly by booby-traps that the kids did not tell us about; and, we knew that they knew where they were.  Pretty soon it became obvious that there was really no end to this madness.

And remember … the first 10 days in June, 1969 were considered “good times” for those who got to stay at Liberty Bridge at night and sweep Liberty Road during the day; and “so-so times” for the Marines on flank security.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Responses to “10 Days in June, 1969”

  • James A Parkhurst:

    Was a grunt there at the same time wiith Delta 1/5. Know very well every thing you described. Walked a lot of point on the flanks for the road mine sweeps.

  • gene tucker:

    Did my time at the bridge with Fox 2/5,April-Sept 69. Wounded early sept in Arizona.Funny we did the same things and have the same stuff to recall during bull sessions with other vets.Lost my Squad leader and 4 others at AnHoa on 7 June when Dan Bullock was killed. A NVA sapper got close enough to put a sachel charge in their bunker killing all four instantly. Don,t believe the hero write up about Bullock cause he was dead the first sound of that battle which was his bunker blowing up,never fired a shot.

    • Thanks Gene. We did a shitload of work alongside Fox Co. You guys were stand-up Marines. Had our backs and fronts plenty of times. Hope you’ve had a decent life after Nam, brother. Now, it seems like a long time ago (which it is!). Oorah Marine. Semper Fi. Pat Lisi

  • Been a wonderful life bro.Every day since Sept 16,69 is a blessing. I have been looking forever for a picture of the blown bunker at AnHoa in which Dan Bullock and three other Marines died. I know they are out there cause I saw plenty of guys taking pics.If anybody knows,,let me know./SEMPER FI

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