First Lieutenant Adinolfi called the platoon commanders together for an operations order in our attack on 881N. We would attack two companies abreast; Foxtrot on the left, Echo Company on the right. We would have both artillery and air support. Since Foxtrot Company would be on the left; they would pass through our position, pick up Carroll's platoon, and move to the designated assault position. Echo Company would follow in trace, tie in with the right side of Foxtrot Company at the assault position, and on order seize, secure and defend the right side of the objective, OBJ 3. Adrenaline ran high we were chomping at the bit. "Echo 2, you have the point."
Foxtrot Company came up from our rear end and, after coordinating with our Skipper, continued their movement through us. Echo Company followed in trace to a point where we were to turn northeastward and move to the assault position. We would assault northeasterly up the slope, over the ridgeline, turning northwesterly up the ridgeline. We reached the assault position and waited for Foxtrot Company to get in place. Artillery was pounding the hill. Some dropped within 50 meters of us. When we assaulted, we would walk the arty up the hill in front of us. Upon securing the hill, we would readjust the arty onto a high knob to our north about 200 meters.
Finally, the word came to assault and my platoon moved out as rapidly as possible, keeping generally abreast of the platoon on my right. Echo Company was guide company and Foxtrot Company was to guide on us. Foxtrot Company fell behind on my left and was slow maneuvering even though we met minimal resistance. To prevent any decrease in our momentum, we (Echo Company) pushed forward up the ridgeline and over the crest and into a hasty defense. We were already in our hasty defense when Foxtrot Company arrived. My platoon set in from 11 to about 2 o'clock, where we tied in with the 1st or 3rd Platoon. As Foxtrot arrived, I showed the company commander where to tie in with my most leftward position.
There were a few NVA bodies lying around on the hill, which I attributed to the artillery and previous air strikes. Hill 881N was ours.
Just to our front stood a peak. It towered over us. Sooner or later, it would have to be taken. It was too late in the afternoon to do it right now. We set about establishing our night defense, plotting our night defensive fires, putting out trip flares and claymore mines, and establishing our listening posts. There was a sense of relief through the company.
Sometime during the night, we were hit with enemy mortars. They fell short but, still, I called in the coordinates of the suspected enemy mortars and counter-mortar fire was fired. There was some sporadic fire during the night to my right and right front. We were being probed. I had specified 50% alert but throughout the night, I found everyone in my platoon awake. The following morning, to our front at about 1 o'clock, we found two dead NVA, one assault machine gun, and one AK-47.
Later that morning, my platoon was pulled off the line to patrol the ridgeline to our rear, east of Hill 881. Golf Company, after securing Hill 861, had continued their attack northward to support our attack on 881N if necessary. My platoon was to patrol the ridgeline behind them to search out any enemy they may have missed or bypassed. We made no enemy contact but did find another machine gun and one rifle. Hotel Company had reverted to the battalion reserve.
Upon our return to Hill 881N, the company commander called me to his CP to issue me another frag order. This was to take the high peak to our front. I was told by 1st Lt. Adinolfi that Foxtrot Company had tried to take it while my platoon was on patrol but was unable to do so. I thought to myself, "My God, this is unbelievable." Foxtrot Company was virtually unscathed and numbering, with attachments, well over 200 men. I asked for flamethrowers because I knew that if the North Vietnamese were in bunkers, the best way to get them out was with flame.
I called my entire platoon together and issued a five-paragraph order. Normally, I would have issued the order only to my squad leaders and attached unit leaders, but I only had one squad leader. I expected some grumbling and complaining, but instead they cheered. I was so proud of those few men. We would jump off in 30 minutes.
We were preparing to move out when we were stopped and I was called back to the CP. I was told we would remain in our positions and let close air pound it with bombs. I must admit I was very relieved. After the bombing runs were completed, it was only a matter of Foxtrot Company walking up and searching it out.
For the next three days, we maintained our defensive positions and conducted vigorous patrolling. On 9 May, both companies Echo and Foxtrot were to patrol in force northwestward of Hill 881N. Foxtrot Company was to patrol northwesterly; Echo Company would patrol westward, then swing northward to our final patrol objective, Hill 803. Intermediate objectives and checkpoints were established, preplanned fires were plotted, and the patrol order was issued. Our patrol would be made up of the 1st and 2nd Platoons, the company CP, and one section of 81 mm mortars. The 3rd Platoon would remain on Hill 881N. My platoon, the 2nd Platoon, would take the point.
We moved out along our assigned route, assaulting each intermediate objective or checkpoint as if it were defended by enemy troops. As we neared our final objective, Hill 803, we could hear Foxtrot giving situation reports to battalion. They first started off with messages such as "Pygmalion 6, this is Foxtrot 6; we have encountered snipers; we have 1 kangaroo (KIA) and 3 wolves (WIA)." In no time, it became "We have 5 kangaroos and 9 wolves. " Their problems were becoming larger with every passing moment. The situation was intensifying.
As we came to the base of the hill to our front, I deployed my platoon for the assault and up the hill we went. Upon reaching the top, the platoon went into a hasty defense. I dropped to my belly and took out my field glasses to see if I could determine what was going on with Foxtrot Company. What I saw horrified me. The North Vietnamese were crawling over the men of Foxtrot Company, stabbing what appeared to me as being wounded Marines. Foxtrot Company had been drawn into a saddle along a small ridgeline and couldn't move. I saw the NVA attempt to drag off what looked like a wounded Marine.
I grabbed an M-60 machine gun and determined that a clump of bushes, which appeared to me to be the closest the NVA had got to Foxtrot Company, would be my reference point. I determined that all left of those bushes were dead Marines and NVA. I opened up with a long burst of fire, raking the ridgeline from the bushes to the tree line at the left end of the finger. The range was about 1100 meters. I turned and told the weapons platoon sergeant, SSgt. Benny R. Gavin, to take the other gun, watch my tracers, and rake the finger from the bushes to the left. Our fire was right on target.
Meanwhile, my company commander had come up behind me. He shouted, "Get off the gun, Cannon." "Go to hell," I replied, and kept firing. I meant no disrespect. He had not seen what I had. I knew what I was doing.
After driving the NVA off, I turned the gun over to the gunner, with instructions to keep the NVA off that finger. First Lieutenant Adinolfi was on the radio with battalion. As soon as the radio conversation was over, Adinolfi turned to me and said, "Jim, you're a leader; go pull them out." I answered with, "You're a commander; give me some support."
First Lieutenant Adinolfi informed me that Foxtrot 6 (Fox Company Commander) was hit and that the entire company was pinned down and couldn't move. He said Lt. Col. Delong had told him, "send Cannon down there but have him be careful and if he gets into it, pull him out." How cold I not get into it? The Skipper informed me that artillery support could not be provided because of the close proximity of the enemy to Foxtrot Company.
I turned to Frank Izenour, the 1st Platoon Commander, and asked him to guide me to the base of the finger where the bushes I used as a reference point were located. I always carried a pen flare in my helmet cover band. I would pop one of these every few minutes and Frank could adjust me. He nodded that he would.
I issued a frag order to my platoon and we moved out, down the western slope of the hill we were on, toward the valley floor. We knew it would be rough going and that time was of the essence. The valley floor was a jungle but not as thick as I thought it would be.
Somewhere along the line, we had inherited a combat photographer a corporal and before we moved out, he asked if he could go with us. I could use all the help I could get. He grabbed a rifle from somewhere and left his camera behind.