Thursday, May 18, 1972
It Looked Like A Bad Day For The Reds
by Ken Schultz
Aside from the recognized fact that the Marine victory marked the first time in the offensive that the South Vietnamese have actively and in force sought out and engaged the enemy, it also demonstrated that the troops are looking out of the corner of one eye for additional guidance and leadership above that of their generals and other leaders.
One American Marine adviser who was airlifted by helicopter in the fight, involving three South Vietnamese Marine battalions, reported that many of the troops, including one battalion commander, had their palms read before going into the battle. "I had my palm read too," the officer said.
The battalion commander reportedly was told, "It would be a very serious day, but luck is with the brave".
That's pretty corny, but that's what he (the battalion commander) said," said the adviser.
One Marine was not allowed into the fight when the battalion commander learned of the gloomy lines a sooth sayer had noticed in the Marine's hand.
"He was told to stay and take care of Buddha," the American said.
While one Marine was looking after affairs of the soul, and others were looking into their palms for a hopeful sign, others went into the battle with a Catholic crucifix clutched between their teeth.
It was like a baseball team trying any gimmick to break out of a losing clump.
But after a long losing string, the South Vietnamese took the first winning steps that they hope will lead to others.
The Marines received massive U.S. air and naval gunfire support in the day-long operation last week, along with South Vietnamese Army artillery fire.
U.S. helicopters dropped in one battalion of Marines about four miles north of the front line near Hai Lang, while another battalion was airlifted three miles farther east. As they began moving south, the 3rd Marine Bn. was moving north from My Chanh, trying to catch the North Vietnamese Army's 66th Regt. in a pincer move.
B52 strikes softened up the area before the Marines were airlifted in.
As NVA troops scattered to the north, they were caught in a barrage of U.S. Naval gunfire from ships offshore.
"They just broke and ran", one American adviser said of the Communist. "But they held their packs and weapons," he added, in reference to the frantic route of the South Vietnamese 3rd. Div. from Quang Tri City.
South Vietnamese troops driving north from My Chanh were slowed by heavy Communist resistance in their planned link-up with the Marines pushing south. The delay allowed the fleeing NVA to escape to the northwest, but they ran into yet another B52 strike.
The official count of NVA casualties is 300 killed, but sources here say the enemy casualty total is probably more like 500.
As the two Marine battalions pushed south, some 1,300 of the civilian populace "began walking to us and asking us to help them out", an adviser said.
"About 60 walked out with us", an American adviser with one of the battalions said. "They were mostly old men, young children and women.
"The others, the men and boys, had been drafted by the NVA as stretcher bearers, ammunition bearers and porters", the officer said.
Nobody seemed to know how many of the men were taken by the NVA.
"All they (the villagers) would say was "Many, many"", he added.
"The villagers thought their men would be released to help with the harvest of the rice, which was still standing in the fields.
"It Looked Like a Bad Day for the Reds", by Ken Schultz, published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes Thursday, May 18, 1972 and reprinted for European and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.
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