We reached the valley floor in hardly any time at all. I had informed my point to keep me informed as to anything he heard or saw. I had handpicked my point man. I knew he was good. As we moved across the valley floor towards Foxtrot's position, two things kept worrying me. I kept thinking of the possibility that I may have killed some of Foxtrot's men when I was raking the finger to my front with machine gun fire. The second thing was my plan to envelop the enemy's right flank. It could happen that Foxtrot would mistake us for the enemy and fire on us. I changed my plan. I decided to take the high ground to Foxtrot's rear and conduct a frontal assault through Foxtrot Company.
Suddenly, shots rang out to my front. My point had made enemy contact. I halted the platoon until I could ascertain what was happening. I saw my point man as I moved forward. He had two additional rifles slung over his shoulder. They were enemy rifles. We didn't have time to chat about what had taken place, but apparently he had run into two un-alert NVA and killed them both. He pointed to his right. There, as far as I could see, were freshly dug graves. Bloody web gear lay all about.
By radio, I informed Frank that I had changed my mind; that I would be securing the high ground to Foxtrot's rear and to guide me to the base of the high ground.
As we reached the base of the high ground, I asked Frank to have machine gun fire delivered on the northern edge of the finger. This would keep the enemy down and provide us with some covering fire. We formed one line and swept up the hill. At the top, I found 2nd Lt. Carroll and three other Marines. Of the four, two had been wounded. It was payback time. I was glad that I could help him and Foxtrot Company. He had helped me so much just six days earlier.
Second Lieutenant Carroll informed me that he and the other three Marines were the only ones who could break out and reach the high ground. Two of them had been wounded trying to the to the high ground.
Meanwhile, back on Hill 803 where I had just left, the battalion commander had flown in by chopper with a skeleton staff, a 106 Recoilless Rifle section, and another 81mm mortar section. They, too, were under fire, from a hill to the north of them. I again asked for support but was denied, at the time, because they were under fire. Because of my preoccupation with pulling Foxtrot out, I may have gotten support later and not realized it.
It was time to act. One fire team and one machine gun, along with the combat photographer, would lay down a base of fire over the heads of us and Foxtrot. Two fire teams would assault through Foxtrot. As the assaulting fire teams passed through Foxtrot, the base of fire would shift their fire from the finger to the edge of the tree line. They would cease fire on a red smoke and join us by hand and arm signal. I would be with the assaulting fire teams.
We moved out and the base of fire opened up over our heads. As we passed through Foxtrot, I overheard a big black Marine ask, "Who was that mother f***er on the machine gun?" I asked as I passed him, "Why?" He replied, "He saved our asses." I felt relieved. I believe he was a gunnery sergeant.
We passed through Foxtrot Company and opened up with our assault fire. My Marines began to run, firing and screaming across the northern finger. As we neared the tree line, I popped a red smoke. The base of fire ceased. We immediately went into a hasty defense and I signaled my base of fire up. While my platoon sergeant supervised the defense, I radioed Echo 6 to inform him that we had secured the finger. He, in turn, informed me that choppers were on their way to lift us all out. We were all to he helilifted back to Hill 881 N.
When the choppers began to arrive, my platoon protected the hill while Foxtrot boarded. I had a team survey the dead NVA and strip them of their weapons and equipment for use by our S-2 (Intelligence). Foxtrot had 29 dead and 19 wounded. My platoon had suffered no casualties. The enemy had 33 dead and an undetermined number of wounded.
I was the last man off the finger; the last man to board the choppers. The first three or four choppers were able to make it to Hill 881 N, but the choppers carrying my platoon didn't. By the time we reached 881, the clouds and fog were so thick we were unable to land. It was back to Hill 803 for us.
After we landed on Hill 803, the battalion CO joined me in my newfound fighting hole. He asked how 1st Lt. Adinolfi was doing. I told him "fine." He replied "Great. I was going to give the company to you, but since Jack is doing a good job, he'll keep the company." That was fine with me. I was content with being a platoon commander.
"Pappy" asked me what we needed to defend that hill for the night. I told him we had not come prepared to spend the night. For a good defense, we needed a lot more than what we would get. A chopper would fly in from Khe Sanh and bring us trip flares, claymore mines, a resupply of ammo, including additional 106 rounds and 81 mm mortar rounds and grenades. For now, we would have to do with what we had.
The Skipper issued a defense order for the night. In it, he stated that Lt. Col. Delong had asked for B-52's to bomb the valleys west of us. H & I (Harassment and Interdiction) fires would continue all night from our 81 mm mortars and artillery from Khe Sanh. After the order was issued, 1st Lt. Adinolfi and I had a chance to talk. He told me that Lt. Col. Delong had personally fired the 106 into the back of an NVA as the enemy soldier ran up the hill during the action when my platoon was helping Foxtrot.
During the conversation, I asked 1st Lt. Adinolfi, "What are you trying to do, get me killed?" It seemed that my platoon always had the point, was always the assault element, and always occupied the most likely avenue of approach in the defense. I told him if that was the case, let's get it on right now and settle this damn thing. I added that if it was because he had confidence in me and my platoon, I appreciated it. He didn't answer. I would receive my answer months later by mail. I appreciated the letter, his answers, and the rationale on which he based his decisions.
During that night, I experienced one of the most eerie feelings I have ever had. B-52's bombed the valleys to our west. You didn't know they were even up there until you heard the bombs whistling. By then it would be too late for those below. It wasn't until after the explosions that we heard the sounds of the jet engines far away. They were that high. Incidentally, it was that night that the NVA division moving southward would bypass us and overrun Lang Vei, killing or capturing most of the defenders. After a hairy might of strong easterly winds, constant firing from our 81 mm mortars, flares drifting softly and slowly form the skies above, the distant thunder of our artillery, and the screaming of B-52 bombs raining down on the valley below, the fog which had settled in the valleys around us began to dissipate. The sun shone beautifully. It would be a magnificent day.
First Lieutenant Adinolfi summoned his platoon commanders and other key personnel together to brief us as to what we were about to do. We would expend all unnecessary ammo on possible enemy positions, avenues of approach, and suspected enemy bunkers. We would move out in company column back to Hill 881 N, where we would be helilifted back to Khe Sanh, spend the night, get a hot breakfast, and then be helilifted back aboard ship to resume our role as the SLF (Special Landing Force).
And wouldn't you know it --------2nd Platoon, you have the point
James R. Cannon, Major
20 July 1989