CAC Oscar History
There are now many books and articles, as well as many excellent sites with more detailed information on the events leading up to Khe Sanh. These include the Third Marines site, which hosts an article originally from the Khe Sanh Veterans Newsletter Special Issue on the 30th Anniversary of the Hill Battles at Khe Sanh. Ray Stubbe compiled the text from official records and personal narratives of those involved, as well as Bruce M. Geiger's excellent account on PBS and others (See Links). However, there are relatively few which even mention Oscar Company, and then only in passing. These few include Ray Stubbe's books - see Bibliography ). I believe that this is a shame, since the CAP program was one of the few bright stars in that war, and Oscar Company's part in the story of Khe Sanh was much larger than one would think for such a small unit. I hope to rectify these omissions to some degree.
This history is only an outline. It is told mainly from my own memories, and those of other Oscar company men, as well as official records. Unfortunately, my memory is not what it used to be, and I was not present for all the events recounted here, and the official records are sparse and sometimes incorrect or incomplete. Therefore, there is much that still needs to be written that I cannot write alone. I hope that all of you who were there will help fill in the details.
I also am still trying to get all the names of the men who were in Oscar in its various phases, but this has been difficult, as we are not in touch with all of them, and many were known at the time mainly by their nick-names rather than their given names. In addition, record-keeping (where I have been able to find records) was often haphazard.
I will be adding the personal recollections section (which was removed due to some issues) again later. You may E-mail yours to me, and I will edit them for you if needed.
I have recently started adding in more details and photos of the three Oscar Company platoons from both extant and recently acquired material. Therefore, this site will be undergoing a number of additions and changes in the coming months. Unfortunately, some of the men who supplied the earlier material are no longer with us, so any of you who has relevant information or corrections are urged to get in touch if you spot any errata or deficiencies.
(Most ranks, where given, are taken from MPRs and other official sources, or as given by the individuals concerned, and reflect either their highest-held rank in Oscar Co., or when they left the Marines.)
Foundation of Oscar Co.
During early 1967, there was heavy enemy activity in the Khe Sanh area, and the USMC infantry companies stationed at the nearby Khe Sanh Combat Base (which included elements of first the 9th Marines, and later the 26th Marines) were getting most of the action. However, despite this activity, the Marine CO at the combat base remained unconvinced that there was a large and growing enemy presence which would eventually lead to the "Hill Fights" of April, 1967 around the Khe Sanh area. ( See: Before the Siege )
It was determined that a Combined Action company would be established and headquartered near Khe Sanh Combat Base and airstrip and plans were completed with the Huong Hoa Sub-Sector Chief for the establishment of three Combined Action Platoons (CAPs). (SOP 031530 / Feb 67, SITREP #3)
In February 1967, the Narrative Summary of the HQ 3rd MarDiv (Rein) notes the establishment of Sub Unit # 5 at Khe Sanh. This corresponds to the establishment of Oscar Company, and the arrival of three platoons on the morning of 5 February at 0945. (SOP 051315Z / Feb 67) The company was officially established, with the HQ and 1st platoon in the Huong Hoa Sub-Sector Headquarters (XD 846380) in the ville outside of Khe Sanh Combat Base. (SOP 061414Z / Feb 67, SITREP #6)
These official accounts coincide fairly well with oral accounts given by the late SGT Ray Gray and the late CPL Steve Green (see In Memoriam ), and other "plank-crew" members of O-2 (who gave a date of about 2 Feb 1967), and that of Larry Larsen of Sub Unit #5 (the original reporting command), who stated that CAC Oscar was part of Sub Unit #5 from 1 February until 15 July 1967. At that time they were reassigned to Sub Unit #4 which was headquartered in Phu Bai, but this was just a "paper change" which had no effect on the men in the field - other than having to change their mailing address again.
The company consisted of the HQ and 3 CAPs. HQ / Oscar 1 was in the "downtown" section of the village near Khe Sanh Combat Base, and was located in the Huong Hoa District Sub-Sector Headquarters compound, which was garrisoned by 2 platoons of the 915th Regional Force Co. (ARVN) under LT (later MAJ) Nhi Tinh (who was also the sub-sector chief). There was also a small team of US Army advisors under MAJ James Whitenack (later replaced by CPT Bruce B. G. Clarke) for a total of approx. 178 men in the HQ compound.
Outlying units were Oscar 2 (XO 843380), on the north side of Hwy. 9 at the western end of the village, about 200 meters west of O-1, and responsible for Vil Con (aka Lang Con 1 & 2), and Vil Bu (Lang Bu); and Oscar 3 (XD 841408) assigned to Vil Ta Cong (aka Ta Cong) and several other villes in Khe Sanh Valley, originally located on the South side of QL-9 approximately 800 meters south of the west end of the main Khe Sahn Airfield.
Below is a period tactical topographic map (provided by PFC Charles D. Stanker, an Oscar radioman) and a hand drawing of the TAOR (Tactical Area of Responsibility) provided by LCDR Ray Stubbe.
TAORs for CAC Oscar, 1967(Courtesy of LCDR Ray Stubbe, USN Ret.)
Oscar Co. Commanding Officers and Staff NCOs
Originally, the company was established and commanded by SGT Roy Williams. SGT Williams established the initial Oscar units in their respective areas, and began fortifying them and conducting local operations while awaiting an officer and SNCO to be assigned. He was later replaced by 1st LT (later CPT) William T. Sermeus (see In Memoriam), who arrived sometime during the latter part of February 1967, and SSGT Gene Scroggy (no photo available) acting as company GYSGT.
1st LT William T. Sermeus, early 1967(Picture from the late SGT Raymond Gray. Verified by CPT Sermeus' brother)
1st LT Sermeus was in turn replaced by 1st LT (later CPT) Peter D. Haines with SSGT Robert L. O'Dell as his company GYSGT. CPT Haines wrote that he had been a 1st Lieutenant when he came, then made Captain, and was a CAC commander from May 1967 - May 1968, first at Phu Bai (one or two months), then Oscar (until November) then Papa. CPT Haines later left the Marines, and became a sculptor.
1st LT Peter D. Haines with Bru counterpart following a water buffalo feast, 1967(Courtesy CPT Peter D. Haines)
O Co. GYSGT Robert O'Dell, Oct. 1967(Picture courtesy of CPT Peter D. Haines)
CPT Haines' replacement was 1st LT Ernest Elmore (no photo available). His Co. GYSGT was SSGT Gene Scroggey (no photo available)..
According to Ray Stubbe (in his superlative book with historian John Prados, "Valley of Decision"), 1st LT Elmore had been sent to Khe Sanh as a sort of R&R as he had been wounded twice already. Unfortunately, he was wounded again while at Oscar Co. PFC Charles Stanker related his wounding in a document attached to an E-mail dated 24 Aug. 2013.
"One night we took some incoming rounds, and I was with Mr. Elmore as he was checking on everyone, when a round hit close by. When I got my senses back, Mr. Elmore had taken some fragments in the face and couldn’t see, he had me guide him around the compound so he could check on everyone and only after he was sure everyone was okay did he have me guide him to the command bunker for medical assistance. The next morning he was taken out and replaced by LT. Stamper. I never knew if Mr. Elmore had lost his sight or how bad he was injured."
(I was in touch with LT Elmore briefly by phone some years ago, but he fell out of touch and I could not re-locate him afterwards. I am unsure if he had ever regained his vision, as I had not then known of his injury and thus did not ask him, nor did he volunteer any information about it.)
LT Elmore was replaced (on Dec. 27th 1967) by 1st LT Thomas B. Stamper, a "mustanger" (a Marine term for an officer who rose from the enlisted ranks), with SSGT Robert J. Boyda as his company GYSGT. 1st LT Stamper had also been in some heavy combat earlier in the year when he was with 3/3 at Alpha-3. Though relatively quiet when he arrived, CPT Stamper would shortly find himself back in the line of fire. (See below.)
CPT Thomas B. Stamper (Photo courtesy of Shirley Stamper)
LT Stamper's company gunny, SSGT Boyda, had been in the Hotel CAP system prior to joining Oscar. He put in H-6, and Double-CAP H-7 & H-8. He arrived at Oscar in December 1967 before the assault, and was at the Oscar HQ when the Tet assaults began in January 1968. (See below for details.) He remained with Oscar after Tet & the Siege, in April 1968 , when he and the few remaining men in Oscar Co. were sent to Phu Bai, where they then operated from the Phu Vang District HQ. SSGT Boyda was accidentally burned in August 1968, shortly after a gun-fight at Phu Vang. He remained in the Corps, serving in a number of of units, including Reconnaissance, and retiring as a SGTMAJ.
As you can see by the relatively brief tenures of the COs (and to a lesser extent, of the SNCOs acting as Co. Gunnery Sergeant, the program (or at least Oscar Co.) was merely a short stop-over for most of them. I am not sure whether this was a factor of the pervasive lack of support of or interest in the program by some conventional warfare advocates, or another factor.
However, each of them contributed in their own way to improving the fortifications at the Oscar Co. platoon sites. Charles Stanker (a radio operator for O-1) has stated that in his opinion, the work of Captain Stamper and Gunny Boyda and their predecessors in constructing and reinforcing the trench and bunker systems (along with the air and artillery support) was largely responsible for the defenders to be able to hold out and repel the enemy.
Building ammo bunker, O-1, Oct. 1967An example of the Combined Action Program's emphasis on team-building.(Courtesy of CPT Peter D. Haines)
SGT Roy Williams' Recollection of the Establishment of Oscar Co.
I was in Vietnam on my 2nd tour as a SGT assigned to 1/26. I was with them for about three months when I was med-evaced for immersion foot.
While in the rear, a bulletin was sent to units asking for volunteers for combined action units. I heard that it was a very dangerous mission and I didn’t know where I would be stationed. I didn't know how dangerous or what it was about until I started asking around.
After finding out that I would be working within a village consisting of just a squad of Marines, I thought to myself about how it might be and where I would be going. I knew it would be very dangerous especially with just a squad of Marines and supported by Popular Forces (PFs) or Regional Forces (RFs). Also It would be in a village away from a base or bigger unit.
However, I really thought working with the Vietnamese or Montagnards would be something I would like to do, so I put in my request for transfer and got accepted, and was sent to a two week school teaching us what our duties would be.
When we graduated, I was assigned to the town of Khe Sanh and since there were originally no officers or SNCOs, and I was the senior NCO, I was put in charge of CAC Oscar. Most of the Marines were from infantry units, so we all knew what to expect when we got there.
I was assigned to the 1st squad, which was in the Houng Hoa District Sub-Sector HQ with a detachment of US Army advisers and a medic. The camp commander was an officer from the Vietnamese overseeing the detachment of Regional Forces in the compound and United States forces’ Montagnards, etc., called LT Nhi.
I positioned 2nd squad at the north-west end of town about a half mile away. The third squad I put by the base camp of the Khe Sanh airbase about quarter of a mile away.
Immediately, we started improving our positions, coordinating with the base camp Khe Sanh. I had to find out where our sectors of patrolling would cover, along with the villages we were to hold Med Caps in, and try to get information of North Vietnamese soldiers in the area.
All three squads had to patrol out 1500 to 2000 meters to see if there were any sign of troop movement in the area, with 360 degrees of patrolling. These patrols were done by each squad with usually six Marines and 7 PFs, while the rest of the squad were in the rear holding down the security and building our defensive positions.
I would take patrols out myself, and tried to go on most. Sometimes CPL Hegmann would take a patrol out. We patrolled about every other day. You’re talking about patrolling, getting enough sleep, standing guard at night and building defensive positions in the day-time, and security with 12 Marines and PFs, not much time for anything else. We were lucky because we never made any kind of contact, probably because the North Vietnamese were getting ready for the Siege of the Khe Sahn air strip.
We saw signs of when they were there, trails and booby traps, but not much else until the squad near the base camp ran into a ambush. That kind of kicked off everything. We knew they were close to the base camp. That first contact came after we were there for about 6 months.
All of our patrols handed in overlays of the areas we were patrolling each day along with check points, but I don't think we would have survived in that environment even with artillery and air support available it was a really vegetated area, with elephant grass 11 feet high and no place for evacuation. We did hold “county fairs” on the villages to catch North Vietnamese coming and going.
After I was there for about 5 months, LT Sermeus was assigned as the OIC of CAC Oscar, with SSGT Scoggey as Co. Gunnery Sergeant.
LT Sermeus wanted us to do close order drill in the compound, but I told him we didn't have enough people to stand watch, rest, clean weapons, work on positions and patrol and still do drill. He was unhappy with my response, and sent for a relief, but he didn't tell me until he arrived. (Sgt. Gray I believe.) I was transferred to the HQ section at the airfield.
LT Sermeus, I take it, was a fine infantry officer but we just couldn't do our job in a CAC unit as we were sent to do to the best of our ability. I think the LT found out afterwards. There were some very bad mistakes that cost some Marines there lives. The month I was with LT Sermeus he didn't go on any patrols with us while I was there, but SSGT Scroggey did. He couldn't believe what a large area we patrolled without anyone getting hurt. We were lucky the siege didn't start until later, though some contact was made later and we did lose some of our Marines.
That’s about all I can remember. The Marines that I worked with were all “Semper Fi.” It’s been awhile and I hope I got things right. I don't know what happened to SSGT Scroggey. I heard he was killed after being transferred. I know that the squad near the air base lost some people taking up mines, also I know that squad had reversed their grid coordinates by mistake and their village was hit. While I was there Lang Vei was hit by the enemy, burning their village.
Oscar was a great platoon of Marines and Corpsmen and I feel compassion for those who lost loved ones. In my eyes, they are all heroes.
Oscar Co. Platoons
In addition to SGT Roy Williams, "Plank Crew" and early members included (in rank & alpha order): SGT Robert Funk; CPL Howard Hegmann, LCPLs Fred Harkrider, Charles Aaron Lynch (KIA on Hill 689 - see below and In Memoriam ), Johnny L. Payne, Daniel L. Sanford, Michael L. Sexson, Jim Silver (0331 and radio), and Larry Woolverton (radio operator), PFCs Victor Garfield and Donald Powell.
(Larry Woolverton was perhaps the longest-serving member of Oscar Company, being there from almost the beginning to the Siege. Larry has written a memoir of his service, "Memories of a Khe Sanh Marine: 1965-1970" available from Amazon.)
PFC Carroll E. “Chip” Daly (2531, radio operator) also served in O-1, as well as in O-2 and O-3, making him one of a handful who had service with all three platoons.
1st LT Sermeus was already in command when the late SGT Raymond M. Gray (see In Memoriam) arrived in February 1967. LT Sermeus picked Gray up, along with two men whom Ray described as "CIA" at KSCB. They rode in a "Mighty Mite." (The M422 / A1 - a field utility vehicle somewhat like a jeep), and visited CAP O-3, en route to CAP O-1.
(Ed. Note: Perhaps some of the "plank crew" can help fill in the names, ranks, and MOSs on this list, and ID photos. )
Over the course of the next 15 months or so, they were to be joined or replaced by the following men (in order of rank / alphabetically) : SGT John Balanco (who would receive the Silver Star for his gallantry in action in the defense of O-1); CPLs John F. Groman, Gary Keegan, John ("Lou") Loschelder, Verner Ray Russell (see In Memoriam ), and James Zipler; LCPLs Franklin R. ("Lurch") Batchman (see In Memoriam), William A. Breedlove (see In Memoriam), James Carpenter (see In Memoriam), Richard E. Dahler, Stanley J. Dilley (see In Memoriam), Douglas Eldridge, Billy Dale Livingston (see In Memoriam), Charles Aaron Lynch (see In Memoriam), Howard C. McKinnis, Jose Ramos, Ulysses Reyes, Clarence E. ("Butch") Still, George A. Vachlin (see In Memoriam), Antonio Vera, and Louis C. Whiting; PFCs Donald Powell (Motor T), and Larry Woolverton (2511, radioman); and Charles David Stanker (2531, radioman).
A number of these men would participate in the ferocious fighting that accompanied the 1968 assaults on Khe Sanh village and the ensuing Siege.
L-R: Donald Sanford, Johnny L. Payne, ARVN soldier - CAP O-1, Khe Sanh, RVN, early 1967
Bunkers O-1, early 1967
Jim Silver (?) rigs PRC-25 radio in Bru ville, 1967(Photos above courtesy of the late SGT Ray Gray)
Fire Registration, O-1, Oct. 1967(Courtesy of CPT Peter D. Haines)
As noted, Oscar 2 (XO 843 380),was on the north side of Hwy. 9 at the west end of the village, about 200 meters west of O-1. Their TAOR included Vil Con (aka Lang Con 1 & 2); and Vil Bu (Lang Bu).
O-2 Compound looking East from Hwy 9, 1967
O-2 Compound (seen from NW corner), 1967
I am not certain of all those who were in the original complement, but early “plank crew” members included: SGT Charles Spell (0331) then NCOIC of O-2, CPL Steve A. Green (see In Memoriam), assigned to SU #5 in February 1967, left in August 1967, and PFC Carroll “Chip” Daly (see above and below), another "plank crew" member, who also served in O-1 and O-3.
Men who were in O-2 before and during my time there (Oct. - Dec. 1967) included: SGT Roy R. Harper; CPLs: Lawrence P. ("Jinx") Harding (who had been sent to B 1/9 as a replacement for those Marines KIA in the ambush of that unit at Con Thien in June 1967), Ronald L. Harper (formerly a combat engineer with 3rd Engineers from Jan.- Jun. 67 ), Frank Iodice (later promoted to SGT and transferred to O-3); Daniel R. Kelley, who had joined the Marines in May 1965, serving 2 years at MCB Camp Lejeune, NC, followed by 6 months at Guantanamo Bay. He then spent 6 mos. in a grunt unit, where he said he had "lost a lot of buddies" and recalls going days w/o supplies, food, water, as well as what he calls the "insane" Rules of Engagement that hampered their fighting. Like the others, he saw a lot of action before volunteering for CAP. Dan also had a gift for languages, and had studied with the Millers and others, learning to speak the Bru language fairly fluently and act as translator. He later transferred to O-3), Daniel E. ("Moose") Mobley, Albert Joseph Potter (an engineer, who, like Kelley, had volunteered for several extensions, thus having several years in Vietnam when I arrived), Al Terry Sullivan, Richard L. Tullis; LCPLs Jerry L. ("Frenchy") French (previously in C 1/26 on Hill 861), Donald ("Gully") Gullickson (0311), Barry G. Hardin (0311, also previously in 2/26), Dana Matonis (originally in Motor Transport, he served as an 0311 with CAP); Jesse J. Ray (1833 - Amtracs), George B. ("Doc") Sargent, Jimmie J. Tyson, Enrique L. ("Rick") Valdes, Joseph Zudor (see In Memoriam), and Larry J. Yates; PFC Steven K. Biddle (0311, see In Memoriam), and F. J. Taylor. HN John R. Roberts was our Hospital Corpsman.
Gullickson, Hardin, and Biddle had all previously been in 2/26. Gullickson recalls being over the DMZ and being cut off from his unit by a deadly ambush, which left him and one other man dodging and hiding from NVA soldiers. Hardin recalls this period as being dangerous and daunting, being "behind the tanks eating exhaust" and "pinned down in paddies." According to Gullickson and Hardin, they had lost most of their original comrades either KIA or WIA in the operations along the DMZ (Macon, Hickory etc.), and that this was the reason they decided to try for Combined Action. Gully recalls the last four of their original group meeting after a particularly deadly fight, and saying, "If we stay here, we're all going to die." Fortunately, they were all accepted to CAP and all ended up in Oscar 2.
O-2 personnel unit photo around July-August 1967L-R (front rank kneeling): LCPL Jesse Ray; CPL Lawrence ("Jinx") Harding; CPL Joe Potter; SGT Roy R. Harper(Rear rank standing): HN John Roberts; LCPL George ("Doc") Sargent; LCPL Donald ("Gully") Gullickson
(All O-2 photos above courtesy of John Roberts)
As noted, Oscar 3 (XD 841408) was assigned to Vil Ta Cong and several other villes, originally located on the South side of QL-9 approximately 800 meters south of the west end of the main Khe Sahn Airfield. Among their "Plank Crew" and early members were (in rank & alpha order): SGT Eraldo Iocono; later replaced by SGT Larry Bosworth (see In Memoriam), CPLs Craig William ("Slats") Albers (see In Memoriam), Kenneth L. Burk, David L. Fleming, John F. Groman, Talis Kaminskis, Dennis Alfred O'Connor (see In Memoriam), Carl F. Pepple (see In Memoriam), James Merrill Shepard, Jr. (see In Memoriam), LCPLs Bruce E. Abraham (see In Memoriam), Earl Grissom, G. (?) ("Sloopy") Leasure, Francisco Alberto Mazariegos (see In Memoriam), Richard Moison, William Pennock, John Charles Poole, David E. Roberts; and Raymond E. Strehlow, PFCs Donald Libansky, Brian "Olds" Oldervik (see In Memoriam), Donald Stewart, and a man named Andrews (first name or rank not known). They would later be replaced or joined by SGT Armand Maranda, LCPL Lacey Lahren, and PFC James White, and later, at Phu Vang, by LCPL Don Robbins. HN John Fisher was their first Corpsman, being later replaced by HM3 R. A. Bell, who was replaced in turn by HM3 Dale W. Faidley (see In Memoriam).
Raymond "Red" Strehlow, Jim "Shep" Shepard, Craig "Slats" Albers, Bruce Abraham, house-girl, Jack Provo, "Olds" Oldvik, O-3
(Prior to June, 1967)
The late SGT Bosworth, like most of the CAP Marines at Khe Sanh, had a great liking for our native Bru counterparts and the other local people so a sad memory for him was of "Tim" the unit's houseboy, whom he had hired.
In an E to me dtd. August 1, 2006 thanking me for a book on Khe Sanh ("Valley of Decision" by Ray Stubbe and John Prados - see Bibliography ) Larry wrote;
"It was uncanny that I opened up the book and I was starring at a picture of Tim. I hired Tim for a dollar a day. He did all of our laundry (mine had priority, there is a story here) and washing of pots and pans. We were trying to teach him to cook without a lot of success. We did make him the richest person in the entire district. On pay day, we paid him ($30 based on a 30 day average month) and gave him the day off. He and I because very close and it was hard for me to leave. I wrote my Father for him to explore how I could bring him and his Family to the States but that never worked out. Tim followed the jeep carrying me to Khe Sanh my last day and it was very emotional for Tim. He did not want me leaving. He ran after the jeep yelling"don't go, honcho!". He was crying and the dust was choking him to death and he continued until he just fell in the roadway from sheer exhaustion. That was my last memory of Tim. I often wondered what happened to him and his family and I did not see how they could have survived the siege. I am overwhelmed with emotion and happiness to see he survived. Jim, I cannot thank you enough for this great gift."
Ennrique "Rick" Valdes, w/ shotgun, O-2, November 1967
Shotguns were popular, especially for night patrols and ambushes.
"Gungy" picture of Doc Roberts with a .45 M-3 "grease-gun"(Both photos used courtesy of HN "Doc" John Roberts, O-2)
Except for the weekly inspection, when we would turn out in field "uniform of the day" CAP units could be pretty casual.