Summer 1967

Things became relatively quiet for Oscar Company after the action on Hill 689, despite the enemy build-up that was clearly going on in the area. Patrols, LPs (listening posts) and ambushes were being run, and some contact was made. However, as noted in Ray Gray's account, there was only one significant assault on the Sub-District HQ / O-1 compound, in late August 1967, which was beaten back. (In retrospect, this may have been an attempt by the NVA to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of the garrison, and a "dress rehearsal" of the attack that was to come on January 21st, 1968.)

The following is mainly based on conversations with Ray Gray and other members of Oscar Co. who were there at the time, and by personal recollections of the time after I arrived. I would be glad to have someone who was there help fill in the gaps.

Oscar went through several officers during this period, although I am not certain of the exact sequence or chronology, but here is what I believe was the sequence - however, I am open to correction.

As noted, the unit was originally commanded by SGT Roy Williams. He established O-1, followed quickly by O-2 and O-3. He was replaced later in February 1967 by LT William Sermeus, who was still in command as of mid-to-late June 1967. (I am unsure if LT Sermeus was a 1st or 2nd LT at this time. He later made CPT.)

During this period, things were relatively quiet after the ambush, despite the activity that was obviously going on in the area. Patrols, LPs (listening posts) and ambushes were being run, and some contact was made. (I believe this was mainly because the NVA did not want to tip their hand until all their men, weapons and supplies were in place for the kick-off.)

However, they did get some contact occasionally - though apparently some was generated by "war nerves." Bob Hall, who was attached to the HQ as part of the 26th Marines Radio Relay Team in August 1967 relates one such incident in his book "The Good Bits" ( see Bob's entry on the Bulletin Board for details );

Just at dusk one night, as I was entering the communications bunker from the approach trench, automatic weapons opened up from the Vietnamese compound next to ours. CAC Oscar consisted of several bunkers around the district chief’s headquarters, plus a couple of hardbacks (tin roofed, raised huts with screen sidings), one for the officers, one for us snuffies (junior enlisted men), all surrounded by concertina wire.

Next to us was a triangular shaped compound, a bit smaller, where most of the Vietnamese Regional Force (RF) company billeted, though we had Vietnamese radio operators and others in with us. A connecting gate was closed at dusk. All the firing was coming from the far side of the RF compound.

I popped into the bunker and my team and the radio operators started arming ourselves, grabbing our M-16s and stuffing our pockets with magazines. Dark had fallen, The Captain (I think his name was Ernie Elmore) came in, fresh from a nap, wearing skivvies, boots, cartridge belt with 45 automatic pistol and helmet. Not the way you see officers in war movies.

“What’s happening? What’s happening?” he was shouting. We had no clue.

“Someone go find out what’s happening?” he ordered.

I shouldn’t have read Battle Cry as a kid, or gone to John Wayne movies. “I’ll go,” I said, and went out into the night. As the door shut behind me in the dark, I suddenly thought, “Go where?” We had telephone communication with the other Marine bunkers, no use getting shot by going to ask them what we could ask on the phone.

And I sure wasn’t going to go over and knock on the door of our Vietnamese allies when they seemed to be in a hostile mood. I climbed out of the trench and crouched behind the bunker in the dark, peeking around the corner towards the RF's compound. I could see outgoing tracers, but nothing coming in.

“What’s happening?” the skipper whispered out through the slit windows in the bunker.

I gave him the news flash. “Lot’s of shooting.”

“What else?”

“Can’t see any incoming. No one’s moving inside or outside the perimeter.”

Just then I heard a noise in the trench behind me and swung around with my M-16, expecting, oh, a VC sapper squad. It was my buddy Murphy, come to back me up. Or maybe worried that I’d kill a VC and he wouldn’t. Murphy was a Gung Ho stud for the battle, if not for the brass’s chicken shit. If I recall, he used to volunteer for ammo re-supply columns out to the Special Forces camp at Lang Vei—the place the NVA overran with tanks during the Tet offensive a few months later. Not me.

Luckily I recognized him in the dark and we didn’t kill each other. I think “friendly” fire is the worst way to go for your family.

We kept watch as the firing died down. Slowly, things returned to normal.

The next day the RFs reported the NVA or VC had “probed” their lines. Probably an NVA pig or VC rat, as no blood or bodies were found. Or maybe the RFs couldn’t shoot, but all that fire should have hit something.

Lesson: If you’re going to be a “hero,” give a little thought before you jump in. I was very lucky it wasn’t serious.

Semper Fi. ~ Bob Hall

I arrived at O-2 in late September or early October of 1967, and found things were rather calmer than I had expected them to be. I was new to "real-life" scouting and patrolling, having been assigned as a clerk and later (briefly) to Fire Direction Control (FDC) assigned to HQ 3/12, but I remembered the basic infantry concepts from ITR (every Marine, whatever his MOS, is considered a rifleman first and thus all receive rifle and infantry training). Also the veteran men there were quick to teach me the ropes. In our unit, CPL Joe Potter, LCPL Donald Gullickson, and others gave me much valuable training on how to operate in the bush.