Written by W.J. "SMITTY" SMITH
This is an account of the events of 28 December 1967, as witnessed by me, accompanied with the transcribed verbal statements of several Marines from Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3`a Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. These verbal statements were recorded on 9 January 1968 by Gunnery Sergeant Robert H. Pierce, 183 5623, U.S.M.C., l` Marine Division Historical Unit. In July, 1995, I obtained a copy of the Echo 213, Marines interviews from Benis M. Frank, Chief Historian of the Marine Corps, Marine Corps History Museum, Washington Naval Yard. The tapes I received were transferred from reel to reel tapes to cassette tapes. Because of the method used to re-record these tapes some of the wording is inaudible. Also used as a reference is the after action report prepared by Lt. Col. Rockey, 3' Battalion, 5"' Marines, lst Marine Division and the publication U. S. Marines in Vietnam, The Defining Year, 1968, United States Government Printing Office.
My name is Bill Smith. I was the platoon radioman for the "3rd Herd," during this operation. In the Corps, my nickname was Smitty.
The appearance of the North Vietnamese units near DaNang and the formation of Group 44 added another dimension to the danger that the enemy posed to the airbase and the City of DaNang.(i)
In order to preempt any such concentration of the enemy local and main force units, the 5"' Marines at the end of December initiated a spoiling action, code named Operation Auburn, on Go Noi Island. Located 10 kilometers inland from the South China Sea, the Go Noi is not a true island, but is simply an area bounded on all sides by rivers. Remains of the National Railroad tracks (known to the Marines as the "B&O") bisected the island. Hedges and bamboo thickets literally formed walls around these rural communities. The terrain between the hamlets varied, and included untended rice paddies overgrown with vegetation, open sandy areas, high elephant grass, and cemeteries with tall grave mounds. (2)
(1) "U.S. Marines in /Vietnam: The Defining Year", 1968, James L. Leonard, pages 91-92.
(2) "U.S. Marines in/ Vietnam the Defining Year", 1968, James L. Leonard„ pages 92-94
Auburn was to be part of a larger operation involving both the ARVN Quang Da Special Zone command and the Americal Division. The Marines units were to establish blocking positions along the abandoned railroad track. After the Marines were in position, three ARVN battalions starting from Route 1 would then attack from the east to west along Route 537, pushing any enemy units into the Marines. Operation Auburn was slated to begin at 0900 on 28 December when Marine helicopters were to bring Company E, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines into Landing Zone Hawk, an abandoned dried -up rice paddy, just east of the railroad and about 1,000 meters south of the Ky Lam River.t3>
27 December 1967
We actually killed our first gook on, 27 December 1967. We arrived at the 3rd Battalion, 5"` Marines rear area in the afternoon of 27 December 1967. The events after our arrival are quite unremarkable until 3' Platoon Commander, Sergeant Henry Morgan, sent the base into a frenzy. We were sitting around several tables under some thatched overhangs cleaning our weapons. Sgt. Morgan was briefing us about the operation we were going on the next day. He told us we were to be a blocking force for the largest U. S. Army/A.R. V.N. coordinated sweep through the Go Noi Island area. We were to be helicoptered into LX Hawk early a.m. on 28 December 1967. Our assignment was to sit in along the railroad tracks in the area and await the enemy being pushed toward us. It was supposed to be an easy day and a turkey shoot for us.
Several of us were still cleaning our weapons when, Sgt. Morgan, brought to our attention two South Vietnamese soldiers walking toward the showers wearing flip-flops and a towel around their waist. They were about twenty feet from us when, Sgt. Morgan, drew his .45 caliber pistol, aimed it at one of the soldiers and said, " Tomorrow men, we are going to kill a lot of these motherfuckers." Suddenly a shot rang out. The look on Sergeant Morgan's face was one of complete surprise and horror. He had forgotten that he had loaded his weapon after cleaning it. It was obviously an accident because neither Sergeant Morgan nor any other Marine killed the other gook. The "good gook" dropped like a sack of rocks having immediate problems trying to breathe with a sucking chest wound. We were later told that he died. I did not see Sergeant Morgan again until the morning of 28 December 1967, when he showed up on the flight line. I really didn't think he would be with us on Operation Auburn, I thought he would be in the brig. But it was Vietnam, anything could happen, and it did.
(3) U. S. Marines in Vietnam -The Defining Year 1968, page 92, James L. Leonard
Oral History Tape;
William Jennings Smith, Jr., Lance Corporal, 2151311, U.S.M.C. Radioman, 3rd platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, Yd Marines, ls` Marine Division. "On 27 December 1967 we left 2/3's area for Operation Auburn to 3rdBattilion 5`h Marines T.A.O.R.. On 28 December 1967, about 1000 hours, we were on the last series of choppers to leave the LZ and we had heard that the lst series had taken some incoming rounds so they held up our series from leaving. So, when we hit the LZ we were under fire as soon as we hit the LZ untilabout 5 O'clock in the afternoon. The chopper we were in took 2 rounds. We got off the chopper and we went to the,
where was it?, oh yeah it was supposed to be a graveyard. The graveyard was filled with pungy stakes, even pungy stakes for the chopper and the whole LZ was like this. They moved the LZ back about 200 meters, and landed us in a rice paddy [tape fades] so they moved down 1 S` and 2na platoon [inaudible]. As soon as we got to the graveyard where the LZ was supposed to be , we already heard word on the radio that 15` platoon got 6 KIA's and about 4 WIA's. So, the C.O. called the Yd platoon and told us to come up and help the Is' platoon. So we moved up on the right flank and moved up to where the 15` platoon was located and started helping them bring back the KIA's and the WIA's and while air strikes was going on [inaudible] firing on us for about maybe a half hour, died down quite a bit. That's when the Company Gunny got it and the squad leader from our 3`d platoon, Cpl. Cox [inaudible] got killed. Our platoon commander Sgt. Morgan, was helping us with ls` platoon bring up the KIA's. After the air strikes the Huey gun ships came in and cleaned up the area or something, but we were told to move up and get on line [inaudible] nothing but graves and elephant grass and began sweeping it was the 1 S` squad and the 2"a squad of 3' platoon and the platoon commander and myself and the 3' squad of the 3ra platoon. [loud background noise]. We saw that we couldn't sweep like that so we had to get up on line, and we started sweeping we received 2 sniper rounds and we got down and gave a little fire back and never heard anything again. On the way traveling through the elephant grass we saw about 4 or 5 wounded (dead) bodies. We found one wounded (dead) body in a bunker that had been strangled, I guess, by one of his own prisoner codes. He was wounded and they strangled and killed him. We moved on from there and we never got any sniper fire at all. We got about 75meters from the tree line [loud coughing] and after that we asked the CO for permission to recon by fire. He said go ahead. So as soon as we opened up reconing by fire, everybody opened with about 3-4 rounds, we started receiving enemy fire from that tree line. They had us pinned down. We couldn't move they just had too much fire power for us and we called for assistance and they told us 2°d Platoon was gonna come up. We called again a few minutes later and asked what the position of 2nd Platoon was and at that time they said they couldn't come up because they were pinned down at the same time. So we got the word from the CO that we had to pull back, we couldn't get any reinforcements. So, at this point I think Sgt. Morgan had already been wounded, he was later killed. A Corporal, Johnny Barker took over the platoon and we got the word to pull back and we weren't going to pull back unless we had all the dead and wounded with us. So we passed the word along the line and we were told that all the wounded was accounted for so we started pulling back. We had to crawl all the way back from the tree line, about 225 meters. We had to crawl all the way back to where we had, where the Company had a command post. My opinion of the Operation was that, well not just the Operation but the day, it was just a suck job. It was a suck job because after the 1g` Platoon got hit bad we never got that much fire after that and they just waited until the 3rd Platoon or whoever was going to do it. We had 10 KIA's in the 3`d Platoon and 11 WIA's. The first day we, we didn't get any reinforcements that day. 2/3 was just a blocking force in 3rd Battalion 5' Marines, ls` Marines T.A.O.R., and I don't see how we could gone in there and gotten hit so bad without any reinforcements from 3/5 Marines. And also the LZ, the way we were set up and the way the ambush was set up you could tell that they had known we were coming about a week prior to when we landed."
As you can see in reading the above oral statement, we do not speak in the same manner that we write. Listening to the tapes, it is hard to even recognize your own voice. Also when these
Bill "Smitty" Smith
Secretary Echo Company