"On 15 April (Mon.), 1968, Operation Pegasus ended and Operation Scotland II began.
The Marines at Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB) broke out of their perimeter and began
attacking the North Vietnamese in the surrounding area. On 16 April (Tues.), 1968, a
Marine Corps company (Alfa 1st Bn. 9th Marines, A 1/9) began a patrol near the Hill 689
of KSCB. It wandered into tall vegetation and was decimated by concealed NVA soldiers
in bunkers. Two more companies from the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines (C and D 1/9) were
dispatched to save them, but they became ensnarled in this confusing battle in which
dead and wounded Marines were left behind as the battalion retreated back to Khe Sanh
in disarray. This resulted in 41 KIA, 32 wounded, with 2 of 15 MIAs later rescued by
helicopters. The battalion commander ( Lt.Col. John J.H. Cahill) was relieved of duty."
(U.S. Marines in Vietnam, The Defining Year 1968, J.Shulimson, L. Blasiol, C.Smith, and
D.Dawson, History and Museums Division USMC - p 313)
Quote from The battle For Khe Sanh, Wikipedia. Info in the quote within parens added.
(Map coordinates are from JOG NE 48-16, and XD6342-3 Series L7014 Huong Hoa
District, Quang Tri Province, SVN) (Map following text.)
Sunday 21 Aprill, 1968, Hill 580 (XD795398) off Hill 689 (XD803409) Khe Sanh.
Three companies of 2d Bn. 3d Marines (E, G, and H) recovering 31 dead of Alfa
Company, 1st Bn, 9th Marines.
It was about 0700, because of the mountainous terrain, it had only been light less than
an hour. After our clearing of the bunkers/holes inside 2/3's perimeter, 3d Platoon Echo
2/3 was still online facing South just behind Hotel 2/3's line on the South side of the
perimeter. (Echo was along the Northern third of the perimeter facing North towards Hill
689, Golf covered the North-East to South, and Hotel covered the South to North-West
portion.) Lcpl. Simmons, the platoon sergeant, had insured that the available ammo, and
what grenades were left had been redistributed and had collected the several RPG
launchers and two dozen or so AK-47s we had collected off of dead NVA when clearing
the bunkers. Gunny Moss, Company Gunny E 2/3, and another Marine from the
Company CP group had just "found" us. Gunny Moss wanted to make sure of who was
and wasn't wounded, and who would be medevaced out when the helos arrived.
(Because of the large number of NVA in and around our positions, the last helos we had
seen were the ones that dropped us off on Hill 689 when we attacked and occupied Hill
580 the previous afternoon.) He also made sure we had collected up any of 1/9s body
bags and had delivered them to the collection point, just above the LZ on the finger
below (North) of Echo's lines. (Although the top of Hill 580 would have made a fine LZ, it
was exposed to NVA fire from the South and West of Hill 689. The chosen LZ was
covered by Marines on both 689 and 580, and the area had been cleared when Echo,
Golf and Hotel had attacked off of 689 and occupied 580.) We (3d Plt. E 2/3) had lucked
out. We only had 2 routine medevacs from the previous evening, and had suffered no
casualties during our sweep of the inside of the battalion perimeter. (We had formed
online, facing South towards the inside of the perimeter, in groups of two, about 8-10
feet between twos, and had crawled on hands and knees South towards Hotel's and
Golf's lines grenading every bunker and hole we found. No rounds were fired and it had
taken us almost two hours to sweep less than 50-60 meters.)
Gunny Moss told me that
Captain Russel (Captain William E. Russel, commanding officer of E 2/3, who would win
a Navy Cross just over a month later on Foxtrot Ridge the last day of May 1968.) wanted
to see me about where to put my platoon back in Echo's lines.
About 0745, Lcpl. Collins, my radio operator, and I started out for Echo's CP which was
in a bomb crater just behind Echo's lines.
As we approached the CP, about 20 meters away, an NVA jumped up from a bunker to our right front, just behind Echo's lines.
He fired a magazine of AK at the CP from about 30-40 feet away, but missed the dozen or
so Marines in and around the crater. I was armed only with a .45. I had given my M-16 to
one of my men whose own M-16 had been damaged by shrapnel. Lcpl. Collins was
armed with a M-16. We both fired at the NVA as he ducted back in the bunker. I don't
think we hit him. Collins and I had both ran towards the bunker as we fired. I had fired 3
rounds from my .45 and Collins had emptied a magazine.
The Marines on Echo's lines had been facing outboard and down hill and had not engaged the NVA when he had
shot at the CP group. When Collins and I came up on the bunker, we found an "H"
shaped bunker with narrow, 2-3 foot, and shallow, 3 foot, "communication" trenches
running from the North-East and South-West entrances. These "comm" trenches ran
parallel to, and about 15-20 feet behind Echo's lines. This was not one of the
trenches/bunkers we had cleared the previous night. It was too close to Echo's lines and
should have been cleared by the platoon manning the line just below it. The NVA, who
had shot at the CP had jumped up from the entrance on the South-West side with a
"comm" trench running from it. As Collins re-loaded his M-16, I had pulled a M-26 frag
grenade from my left rifle pouch and pulled the pin from the grenade. (Even though I am
left handed, the Marine Corps had trained me to fire the rifle and pistol and throw
grenades as a right hander, so I had switched my pistol to my left hand, and held the
grenade in my right hand.) I crossed over the top of the entrance and crouched left side
to the bunker entrance.
Collins covered me form the other side of the "comm" trench. I
threw the grenade in and backed up and away from the entrance until the grenade went
off. Gunny Moss ran up with his shotgun as Collins and I took up positions to grenade
the South-East hole. (Whereas the entrances opening up on the "comm" trenches were
basically vertical, the entrances on the South-East and North-West entrances were
horizontal holes dropping down 3-4 feet, with short tunnels going towards the center of
the bunker.) Collins had to lie on his stomach to toss the grenade down and underneath
him, then roll to the side off the top of the short tunnel once he had thrown the grenade.
Other than grenade detonations there were no reactions to the grenading of the first two
entrances. At the third entrance, the North-West hole, I threw the grenade with Collins
Gunny Moss was knelling off to the South side of the bunker with his
shotgun and the other Company CP Marine who had an M-16. The grenade I threw into
the North-West hole was a "Willie Pete" White Phosphorous grenade. I only had the
"Willie Pete" and two smoke grenades left. After the "Willie Pete" went off white smoke
billowed from the hole and someone started screaming inside the bunker. Obviously our
first three grenades had not cleared the bunker. As Collins and I moved towards the
North-East/fourth entrance, Gunny Moss and the other Marine moved to cover the
North-West entrance, with the smoke still billowing out of it. The screaming inside the
bunker continued. The North-East entrance was the last entrance which we had not
grenaded, and had a "comm" trench running out from it to the East for about 20 feet to
another bunker. This bunker's entrance was partially collapsed and looked like someone
had satchel charged it. I crossed above the entrance to the North side of the entrance
and crouched down, right side to the entrance, just above the "comm" trench with my
right arm straight and my pistol pointed at the center of the entrance. Collins had to
"borrow" a M-26 from the Marine with Gunny Moss covering the North-West
entrance/hole. Collins approached the entrance from the South and had to step down
ito the trench because the trench walls were partially collapsed. With his right foot in
the trench, left side to the entrance, Collins threw the M-26 into the entrance. He then
pivoted to the right to step up and out of the trench to clear the entrance before the
grenade would explode. At that moment a NVA emerged from the entrance, in a crouch,
firing his AK-47 on automatic. Simultaneously he ran into my pistol, which was pressed
against his face just below his nose. I fired by reflex but the NVA had managed to put
three rounds in the back of Collins radio and one through the back of his upper arm.
Collins fell face down in the trench. My round took off the back of the NVA's head and
spun him towards me.
Although he was now dead, he gripped the trigger in death and
his AK continued to fire on automatic. With the muzzle a foot from me he put one round
through the top of my holster and into the canteen on my right hip. Another round hit the lower part of my pistol's trigger guard which threw my arm straight up in the air. A third round hit the smoke grenade I had hanging from my right suspender strap. A fourth
bullet hit my right temple, just to the right of my eye.
I found out later another round "can
opened" a three inch gash on the right side of my helmet about two inches up from its
lower edge. As the rounds hit me, I was spun to the right and slipped into the trench,
with my back hitting the opposite side of the trench. Collins had fallen face down in the
trench and the NVA fell face up on top of Collins with his AK still firing. As I fell I pushed
the AK away from me with my right arm as I landed face up on the NVA's chest. As I
landed on the NVA's chest, his AK finally stopped firing. A second later, another NVA
exited the bunker firing his AK. The second NVA put his right foot on my chest, with his
left foot between my legs, and was firing over me at other Marines. I shoved my pistol up
against his belt, but the pistol would not fire. The round which had hit the trigger guard
had jammed my finger against the trigger, thus preventing me from releasing the trigger
in order to fire another round. Simultaneously with my attempt to shoot the NVA standing
on me, the NVA's head disappeared then his right arm was blown off at the shoulder.
Gunny Moss was standing over the entrance and had fired his shotgun into the NVA
from 3-4 feet from behind. The decapitated, disarmed NVA fell forward face down onto
me, with his chest over my face.
The grenade Collins had thrown into the fourth entrance
then went off. It had only been four to five seconds since Collins had released the
grenade. Although I could not see anything because of the NVA laying on top of me, a
third NVA emerged from the bunker and was shot by Gunny Moss and the other CP
Marine. The third NVA landed on the second NVA laying on top of me. I felt like I was
smothering. I knew I was bleeding badly from the gunshot wound to my right temple. I
had swallowed some of my own blood. The right side of my head and face felt like they
were on fire. My right shoulder and right hand throbbed. The ringing in my head was
deafening. All of a sudden the NVA was pulled off of me.
A Marine, who I would find out
thirty-two years later was Cpl. Ray Miceo from 1st Plt E 2/3 reached down, grabbed my
"H" harness and pulled me out of the trench. When he pulled me out, I was pulsing blood
a foot or two out from my temple. In pulling me out, I gushed blood into Miceo's mouth.
As he continued to pull me away from the bunker he started vomiting. A corpsman was
on me even as Miceo pulled me clear. The corpsman tried to stop the head bleeding and
bandage me, but I continued to gush blood. Another corpsman came and helped the first
one. The first corpsman pinched the artery in my neck which reduced the bleeding. They
laid me on my left side, wound up, put bandages on the temple, then took my right hand
with the trigger guard still jammed against my finger and my hand still grasping the
receiver, against the bandage, then taped the pistol and bandage against my head.
(Later in the hospital, the last of my wounds was losing my right eyebrow when the tape
was removed.)(While the corpsman had been working on me another Marine had tried to
remove the pistol from my hand.
When he couldn't get it off, he cleared and field striped
the pistol, removing the magazine, the slide, and the barrel, leaving only the receiver
attached to my hand. A few days later an armorer hack sawed the trigger guard off my
finger which was quite swollen and black and blue. I asked for the receiver as a souvenir
but they couldn't give it to me because the receiver was considered as a weapon.) I said
an Act of Contrition and a Hail Mary and fought with myself to remain calm...don't
panic...don't go into shock. I knew I was badly hit. I didn't want to ,nor would I let myself
go into shock. (I remember when Lcpl. Collins and I first started moving towards the
bunker, I heard and saw helicopters, several CH 46s and a H34, approaching Hill 580
from the North.
These were the first helos we had seen since we had been dropped off
on Hill 689 for our attack on Hill 580 the previous afternoon.) After the two corpsmen had
bandaged my head, they picked me up under my arms and ran with me towards the LZ
just below Echo's lines. The two 46s landed on the flat part of the finger which was the
LZ. The H-34, with CAT's Eyes on its nose hovered about four feet near the slopping
side of the LZ. The two corpsmen took me to this helo and lifted and pushed me up as
the crew pulled me in the side door. The first corpsman grabbed the helo crewman's
hand and showed him how to pinch off the artery in my neck. The two crewman in the
passenger compartment of the 34 pulled me back from the door. There were three or
four other badly wounded Marines on the bird.
They appeared to be unconscious. The
door gunner laid me on my left side and continued to pinch my neck with both of his
hands. I was still bleeding past the bandages. The crew chief came over and put his
hands on the bandages then kneeled on his hands to increase the direct pressure on the
wound. The pain was searing. I was head forward looking out the side door. I was
praying and looking out at the sky, the mountains, and the clouds. All of a sudden I felt
warm allover, my vision blurred, sounds went away, and I passed out. I woke up briefly
at the evac hospital, Delta MED (Delta Company, 3d Medical Battalion) at Dong Ha. I
was naked, on my back, on a damp stretcher with 4 or 5 people gathered around my
head. The doctor asked me something, but I had problems hearing him and nothing to
do with my face seemed to work. My face and head felt like they were aflame. Someone
was fooling with my feet. I looked down with my left eye, my right eye was swollen shut.
The person fooling with my feet was a priest anointing my feet. He was giving me the
Sacrament of The Last Rites. I passed out and would not regain unconsciousness for
One of the surgeons operating on me at Delta Med was a LCDR/CDR Powers. Three
years later my son Kevin was born three years to the day of when I was shot. He was
born at the Naval Hospital at Annapolis and required emergency surgery about three
days after he was born. As my wife Jane and I were being briefed by the surgeon after
he had operated on Kevin, I noticed he had a picture on his desk, obviously taken in
Vietnam. (Several officers were posed in front of a "C" hut) When I asked him with whom
he had served in Vietnam. He replied Delta Company 3d Medical Battalion. I told him I
had been a patient at Delta Med after I had been shot through the temple at Khe Sanh.
He looked at me and looked at the scar on the right side of my head. He then told me
that he had been the doctor who had operated on me.
Thirty-two years after I was shot, my wife and I were in a rug store, about a mile and a
half from our house buying a runner for the basement stairs. I immediately recognized
the salesman. I had seen his face in my dreams. Even today, a couple of times a month,
I relive in my dreams getting shot. At first these dreams were nightmares. I knew what
was going to happen but couldn't get out of the dream. Now I just have the dream; it is
no longer a nightmare. The salesman was the Marine who had pulled the dead NVA off
of me and dragged me clear of the bunker.
His name was Ray Miceo and he only lived a
few miles from me. When my wife was finished talking to the salesman, I said "You were
in the Marines in Vietnam in1968. You were in 2/3 in April of 68 on Dead Man's Hill (the
name 2/3 had given to Hill 580)." He looked puzzled or a little shocked. I said "Do you
remember a red headed lieutenant getting shot through the head?" He replied "How can
I ever forget that." I replied "I am that lieutenant." Ray looked a little unsteady, he
thought that I had died and he himself was wounded and evacuated a few days after the
Battle for Dead Man's Hill. Ray wrote a letter to the local paper "The Freelance Star"
concerning the "miracle" he had seen. the "Freelance Star article was later.