Home History They Were Told to Wait. They Didn’t — and Saved Dozens of Marines

They Were Told to Wait. They Didn’t — and Saved Dozens of Marines

by Enochadmin

Late within the afternoon of Jan. 14, 1967, three tanks with the Ace of Spades painted on their hulls rolled into the command submit for the third Battalion of the first Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, close to Cau Ha, about 15 miles southeast of Da Nang. The tanks comprised the heavy part of 2nd Lt. Jim Ray’s 2nd Platoon, Charlie Firm, 1st Tank Battalion. Ray was in Hawaii for relaxation and recuperation, leaving three M48A3 Patton tanks underneath the command of performing part chief and tank C-25 commander Sgt. John Bartusevics, a 12-month veteran of in-country fight.

Sgt. John Bartusevics, in command of three tanks in Charlie Firm when a close-by platoon was attacked on Jan. 15, 1967, waited and waited for orders to help. Then he determined he couldn’t wait any longer.
(By way of John Bartusevics)

The heavy part escorted Marine soldiers into the sphere, an space that was principally tree traces, rice paddies and sand dunes. Usually, the tanks rotated again to the third Battalion Command submit each three to 5 days to bear repairs, rearm and refuel earlier than taking one other group of grunts into the sphere. That work by no means took longer than an hour or two, however the tanks have been late getting in with a gaggle from Lima Firm, so Bartusevics determined to stay in a single day on the Charlie Firm command submit, connected to the battalion command submit, and head out at daybreak.

Within the area “a lot of the guys slept within the tanks,” Bartusevics recalled. “It was very uncomfortable. You couldn’t stretch your legs out. You both slept sitting up or propped your legs up.” Cpl. Ed Boyette, the loader on tank C-23, commanded by Cpl. Gary Soncrant, remembered, “It was going to be our first night off in fairly some time in a hooch with an actual bunk.”

Photo of Marble mountain near Da Nang, Vietnam 1967
The battle website at Khai Tay was just some miles southwest of Marble Mountain, about 11 miles from Da Nang. A Marine helicopter facility was on the foot of Marble Mountain, seen right here on Jan. 15, 1967.
(Courtesy Izzy Ortiz)

Simply after midnight on Jan. 15, when the tank crews on the command submit have been sleeping “we began listening to mortars and artillery and crap like that,” recalled Lance Cpl. Rick Lewis, the gunner on C-23. The explosions have been shortly adopted by the faint sounds of gunfire.

The firing and explosions have been coming from a platoon patrol base often known as the Desert Place or Sand Dunes, just a few miles southwest of Marble Mountain, close to the hamlet of Khai Tay. The platoon patrol base was considered one of a number of arrange inside a crescent-shaped zone guarding southern approaches to Da Nang and dubbed the Mortar Belt as a result of the North Vietnamese Military frequently performed rocket and mortar assaults on air amenities at Da Nang and Mable Mountain. The Marine patrol bases have been accountable for maintaining a tally of enemy actions.

Two depleted platoons from Kilo and Mike corporations of the third Battalion, 1st Marines, have been manning the Desert Place. The tankers assumed they’d be instantly known as to reply to the menace. Because the minutes handed and no orders got here, the boys puzzled why they have been nonetheless parked there. A couple of minutes later, a junior officer ran in and stated the tanks have been wanted. “Everybody up!” Bartusevics shouted. “We’re going again out!” The crews jumped up, grabbed their gear and ran to the tanks. It was 12:30 a.m.

The crewmen noticed mortar flashes within the distance as they climbed aboard their tanks. They revved their engines and lined up, getting ready to tug out. After quarter-hour, an officer emerged from the fight operations heart. He informed Bartusevics {that a} reserve drive of grunts and amtracs (tracked amphibious touchdown automobiles) was being assembled to affix them. The tankers have been ordered to face down and wait.

this text first appeared in vietnam journal

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Twenty minutes glided by, then 30. Throughout this time the tankers listened intently to the radio, listening to males yelling orders and screams from the wounded blended in with the sounds of gunfire and explosions. A further quarter-hour handed. Flashes lighting up the sky throughout the platoon patrol base could possibly be seen from the battalion command submit. Staying put, simply sitting there was excruciating for the tankers.

Lastly, a annoyed Bartusevics ran again to the fight operations heart and declared he wasn’t ready any longer, including: “Simply ship the grunts and amtracs once they’re prepared.” Strolling out, Bartusevics requested for a crypto radio so he would have a safe line with the soldiers within the platoon base and people again on the fight operations heart. Lance Cpl. Greg Auclair, the driving force of Soncrant’s C-23, recalled that a couple of minutes later an operator ran out with the radio, yelling: “You guys must get down there. They’re getting overrun. They’re getting worn out.”

“The hell with it!” Bartusevics barked to his crews. “We’re going. Put the grunt radioman up on the lead tank.” Not one of many tankers hesitated.

The morning after the attack, the Marines, their tanks and amtracs (amphibious vehicles) have sole possession of the platoon base, largely a mass of rubble.
The morning after the assault, the Marines, their tanks and amtracs (amphibious automobiles) have sole possession of the platoon base, largely a mass of rubble.
(Courtesy Izzy Ortiz)

Underneath regular circumstances, sending tanks on an operation with out infantry assist was too dangerous. However Bartusevics took the initiative and lurched ahead. He turned to the radioman, positioned behind the turret subsequent to him. “Inform COC to ship the amtracs ASAP,” the sergeant ordered. “We’re leaving!” The tanks took off with Bartusevics and C-25 within the lead, adopted by Soncrant’s C-23 and C-24, commanded by Cpl. John
McNally.

Just like the U.S. cavalry of the Previous West, the Marines of their three Ace of Spades iron monsters rode to the rescue. The time was now 1:55 a.m. The space between the battalion command submit and the Desert Place was 4½ miles. Bartusevics had served in Vietnam lengthy sufficient to know that the probably route between the battalion submit and the platoon patrol base was undoubtedly mined, and pockets of NVA troops could be positioned alongside the best way, able to ambush any reinforcements headed to the bottom.

As a substitute of creating a beeline for the bottom, Bartusevics set off throughout the rice paddies and stable terrain, then jumped onto the primary provide route operating north and south. He crisscrossed forwards and backwards on the provision route, then turned west close to Ngan Cau, hoping to flank any enemy ready to ambush the tanks within the wide-open sand dunes.

“We went as quick as a 54-ton tank can go,” recalled Auclair of C-23. The tanks bounced alongside and at one level plunged down a 12-foot embankment. “That’s one time I came upon you could possibly really go weightless in a tank,” Lewis stated. “One second I’m sitting within the gunner’s seat and the following I’m floating as much as the highest of the tank. It was fairly an expertise once we hit!”

Approaching the bottom from the southeast, the tankers might see inexperienced tracers from the attackers and crimson tracers from the Marines entering into all completely different instructions. As soon as the tankers obtained close by of the bottom, Auclair remarked that the scene appeared like Christmas with all of the crimson and inexperienced tracer fireplace going in all places.

Photo of tank crew near Marble Mountain in 1966
The crew of Tank C-23 was despatched to retrieve wounded Marines stranded at a listening submit in bushes 50 yards outdoors the platoon base. Proven right here, close to Marble Mountain in late 1966, are tank commander Cpl. Gary Soncrant, driver Lance Cpl. Greg Auclair and loader Cpl. Ed Boyette, in a photograph by gunner Lance Cpl. Rick Lewis.
(Courtesy Rick Lewis)

The tankers realized that the scenario contained in the platoon base was turning into extra dire by the second. They heard incessant firing, explosions, yelling and screaming over the radio. Boyette of C-23 recalled that somebody got here on the radio shouting, “They’re all over!” Each tanker knew he was about to participate in his hardest struggle but.

After pulling up on the concertina wire perimeter, the tankers got here to a full cease. They have been surprised by the depth of the battle round them. “The scene was full chaos,” Boyette remembered. Pink and inexperienced tracers have been crossing one another in all instructions. There was hand-to-hand preventing in all places. Virtually instantly, rounds from North Vietnamese AK-47 assault rifles contained in the perimeter started bouncing off the tanks. It was 2:05 a.m.

The tanks moved a bit farther alongside the perimeter and tried to enter by means of the gate, which was nothing greater than a jumble of concertina wire strung throughout the doorway. Pfc Jack Mitchell of Mike Firm rushed ahead to pull the gate open. Boyette jumped down to help. Each instantly got here underneath withering fireplace as they struggled to clear the doorway.

Annoyed that it was taking so lengthy, Bartusevics yelled over the radio, “We’re going over the wire!” Usually, that’s a nasty transfer for tankers. The wire can simply catch within the tank’s sprockets and be pulled in, turning the tank into nothing greater than an immobilized sitting duck. Nevertheless, Bartusevics knew his crews wanted to get inside the bottom shortly if the defenders have been to have any hope of surviving the night time. He additionally knew that punching straight forward lessened the probabilities of turning into mired within the wire.

The three behemoths entered in column with bullets bouncing off the perimeters and entrance as they plowed over the wire simply left of the gate, operating down Viet Cong within the course of. The entire tanks have been geared up with the brand new Xenon searchlight, way more highly effective than the unique barrel lights. Bartusevics acknowledged the benefit these lights introduced and had the covers eliminated simply earlier than leaving the battalion command submit.

He ordered his crews to change on their lights. “I believed the lights would loosen up the realm and in addition blind the Viet Cong and NVA,” Bartusevics stated. The tactic labored. Incoming photographs started lacking, passing too excessive or too low. When the lights got here on, the crew instantly noticed our bodies and physique components in all places.

The Viet Cong shortly realized they have been unprepared to take care of tanks getting into the fray. “Not too lengthy after a few tanks arrived, the VC began making their manner again to the bushes as quick as they might,” stated infantryman Pfc. Butch Kempka of Mike Firm.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG/Shutterstock (2541865a) A US MAG-16 helicopter evacuates STARLITE casualties, while a Marine M-48 tank stands guard. The Marine on the left carries a M-79 grenade launcher. History
An H-34D Marine helicopter lands to evacuate casualties throughout an August 1965 offensive in northern South Vietnam. An M48 Patton offers safety. At Khai Tay, Marine medevac choppers arrived about 4 a.m., and the tankers helped get well our bodies.
(Picture by Common Historical past Archive/UIG/Shutterstock (2541865a))

The NVA troopers, nevertheless, have been extra seasoned and decided fighters. Bartusevics break up his tank column, sending McNally and C-24 to the left whereas Soncrant and C-23 proceeded to the correct. Bartusevics in C-25 moved straight ahead. Because the tanks have been splitting off, he reminded the crews to watch out of their actions as a result of the battlefield was strewn with lifeless and wounded Marines. Bartusevics additionally ordered the crews to not use their 90 mm primary gun, as they have been more likely to take out as many Marines as North Vietnamese. As a substitute, the tankers went in with their .30-caliber and .50-caliber machine weapons, in addition to any aspect arms they have been carrying.

Quickly after the tanks entered the compound, Sgt. Roger Lipscomb, the platoon sergeant of Kilo Firm, climbed aboard Bartusevics’ tank and identified the place the assaults have been coming from, the areas of heavy weapons and the command submit. He additionally alerted Bartusevics to the presence of a four-man listening submit that was outdoors the wire to the north. The lads have been surrounded and pinned down. Two have been badly wounded. Bartusevics ordered Soncrant’s C-23 crew to help them.

Because the Viet Cong, NVA and Marine soldiers blended collectively in brutal close-quarters fight all through the platoon base, the tanks waded into the struggle with their machine weapons blazing. When the tanks break up aside, every moved independently by means of the bottom, performing as cell bunkers.

Taking the correct flank, Soncrant fired the sky mount .30-caliber machine gun on the cupola, whereas Lewis was in his seat firing the .50-caliber coaxial machine gun on the turret just under and to the left of the 90 mm gun. Boyette was under, feeding ammunition belts as quick as he might. Driver Auclair was compelled to face in his hatch so he might see the place he was going, making himself an ideal goal for enemy fireplace. He responded by taking out his .45-caliber pistol and selecting off NVA troops dashing towards him.

By this time, the North Vietnamese troops have been overrunning a lot of the base. Soncrant noticed that his crew was in imminent hazard. “Traverse proper!” he yelled to Lewis. The turret instantly swung sharply to the correct. Lewis, peering at his complete world by means of the slender view of his scope, was surprised to see a Marine and an NVA soldier locked in hand-to-hand preventing immediately in entrance of him. In a break up second, one other NVA soldier ran up and shot the Marine within the again together with his AK-47, killing him immediately. Lewis pulled on the set off of the .50-caliber coax gun and gave the 2 NVA troopers a burst that almost lower them in half.

1st Marine Regiment patch
1st Marine Regiment. The unit was fashioned on Nov. 27, 1913, because the 2nd Advance Base Regiment. It fought in Caribbean campaigns till 1925. It was redesignated 1st Regiment in 1916 and the first Marines on July 10, 1930. Assigned to the brand new 1st Marine Division in early 1941, the regiment was within the World Conflict II battles of Guadalcanal and Okinawa. In Korea it fought at Inchon and Chosin Reservoir. The first Marines entered Vietnam in August 1965 and left in June 1971.
(Courtesy Izzy Ortiz)

When Soncrant and his crew swung proper, they unknowingly turned straight into the primary thrust of the NVA assault. “I saved traversing proper and picked up a wave of NVA dashing our proper flank,” Lewis recalled. “They have been so shut you could possibly see their eyeballs. I simply laid on the gun switches and saved firing till I spotted Soncrant was hollering at me to stop fireplace.”

Pfc. Don Reed of Mike Firm remembered that “when the tanks got here in there was a second wave of Viet Cong and NVA dashing us. Some man on a .50 began up and dropped each considered one of them—saved our hides.”

“Now we began searching,” Boyette stated. “We ran over quite a few Viet Cong as we moved about on the lookout for pockets of NVA fighters.” The C-23 tank continued alongside the bunker-lined perimeter and fired at enemy targets. Soncrant, nonetheless on the sky mount .30-caliber gun, was joined by Boyette, who was out of his hatch firing an M14 rifle and his .45-caliber pistol. Auclair unloaded his pistol whereas maneuvering the 54-ton tank by means of an impediment course of lifeless and wounded Marines, blown bunkers and particles.

In the meantime, Bartusevics, in C-25, seen that the heaviest firing was coming from the mess corridor tent and directed on the command submit bunker. The enemy within the mess corridor turned his quick precedence. Because the tank moved ahead, it obtained heavy fireplace from three sides. Lance Cpl. John Koski, the loader, got here up by means of his hatch, firing in all instructions together with his M14, “selecting off guys that have been attempting to get on the tanks,” remembered Bartusevics. The sergeant and Koski noticed a gaggle of NVA on high of the command submit and collectively shortly dispatched them.

Bartusevics noticed the NVA occupants of the mess corridor establishing a machine gun to fireside on the command submit. Lewis recalled later that he heard Bartusevics yelling over the radio: “They’re within the mess corridor tent!” Setting his sights on the goal, Bartusevics yelled to his driver, “Reb,” actual title Cpl. Joe Deluca: “Hunker down, however preserve the hatch open.” Because the tank moved ahead, Bartusevics shouted once more to Deluca: “Go straight! … Now, step on it! … Don’t cease until I inform you to!” The tank ran full pace forward—proper over the mess corridor, crushing the construction, together with the machine gun and all of the NVA intruders.

Pfc. Mario Rojas of Kilo Firm noticed a tank coming and ran to it. He discovered Sgt. Robert Demark of Kilo already on high of the automobile, McNally’s C-24. The corporal was taking his tank across the southern perimeter of the compound. Demark held out his hand to Rojas and pulled him aboard. Quickly they have been joined by 4 different grunts. “We had a turkey shoot then,” Rojas stated. “NVA troopers saved attempting to leap on the tanks, and we simply saved kicking them off and taking pictures.”

In the meantime, Soncrant’s tank moved into an space with bunkers on its proper and left. Instantly the tank lurched ahead to an entire cease. An infantry sergeant jumped on board and pointed to the situation of the listening submit outdoors the wire, 50 yards into the tree line to the north.

“There’s simply Viet Cong in entrance of us,” Auclair declared. “I’m going ahead!” The tank swerved proper and moved ahead to a gap blown within the wire by a bangalore torpedo, an extended steel tube full of explosives. Boyette climbed out of his hatch, moved throughout the tank, jumped off the entrance fender and ran by means of the opening within the wire, “hauling ass and firing his .45 as he ran to the tree line,” remembered Lewis.

Boyette discovered the listening submit simply contained in the bushes. Quickly he was sprinting again to the tank carrying one of many wounded riflemen on his shoulders, taking pictures down the enemy as he got here in. Laying the person on the again of tank, he turned to Lewis and requested for one more clip for his pistol. Lewis obliged. Boyette changed the empty clip, chambered the spherical and headed again out to the tree line to retrieve the second wounded Marine.

We Had A Turkey Shoot. NVA Troopers Stored Making an attempt To Soar On The Tanks, And We Simply Stored Kicking Them Of And Taking pictures.

“I grabbed him, flung him over my shoulder and took off for the bottom,” Boyette recalled. With the 2 wounded Marines aboard, Auclair backed the tank as much as the medevac space to unload their valuable cargo earlier than persevering with ahead alongside the perimeter as soon as extra.

A lot of the NVA and Viet Cong have been now outdoors the perimeter, and the tankers took the chance to set unfastened their 90 mm weapons on the fleeing enemy. About this time, Bartusevics obtained phrase over his radio that the amtracs and infantry despatched from the battalion command submit have been misplaced.

After ordering Soncrant and McNally to assist mop up on the platoon base, Bartusevics set out alone searching for the amtracs. He radioed the amtrac crews and informed them he would shine his searchlight straight up into the sky for just a few seconds, flip it off, then on once more. He did this periodically till the amtracs have been in a position to get their bearings. Bartusevics then escorted the reinforcements to the bottom. By the point they obtained there the preventing was all however over.

It was about 4 a.m. when helicopters started arriving to medevac the wounded. After sweeping the realm as soon as extra, the tankers assisted the soldiers in recovering our bodies. In addition they took inventory of the bottom. One mortar was knocked out. The recoilless rifle and a machine gun bunker have been destroyed. A number of gun positions had been blown aside. After-action reviews acknowledged that 45 % of the bunkers have been destroyed by explosions from mortars, explosive-filled satchels and Chicom grenades, wooden-handled grenades made by Chinese language communists.

Marines ride an M48A3 Patton tank to their next destination in 1966.
Marines trip an M48A3 Patton tank to their subsequent vacation spot in 1966. After the Marine tankers of Charlie Firm escorted the survivors of the Khai Tay battle to the battalion command submit, they obtained an excellent night time’s sleep and returned to their work.
(Nationwide Archives)

The defenders of the Desert Place had fought off a battalion of about 360 males from the North Vietnamese V-Seventy fifth Regiment, together with quite a few native Viet Cong and at the very least two models of sappers, extremely expert commandos. Outnumbered greater than 6-to-1, the defenders endured explosions, computerized weapons fireplace and hand-to-hand preventing with bayonets till aid got here within the type of three “chariots of angels,” as Rojas later described the Marine tanks.

The Marines misplaced 16 killed and 33 wounded of a 79-man drive. All of the casualties have been among the many soldiers. The tanks have been credited with 20 confirmed enemy killed and 10 possible. The entire variety of Viet Cong and NVA casualties was formally reported as 61, however each man concerned within the struggle agreed that these numbers have been vastly undercounted.

Auclair remembered the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 15, 1967, on the Desert Place as “essentially the most terrifying night time I ever spent in Vietnam!”

Late within the afternoon, the tanks escorted the amtracs and soldiers again to the battalion command submit. That night time the tankers obtained a well-deserved relaxation. The next morning, totally resupplied, 2nd Platoon, Charlie Firm, 1st Tank Battalion, went again out into the sphere. Bartusevics was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on Jan. 15. His driver, Deluca, and Boyette, the loader on Soncrant’s tank, obtained the Bronze Star. Lewis later confided: “It was an excellent factor that Bartusevics obtained the Silver Star. He definitely deserved it. In any other case he in all probability would have been court-martialed for disobeying orders.” That night time, the tank crews have been like all good Marines. They improvised, they tailored, and so they overcame.

Samuel N. Thomas Jr. is a navy historian, revealed writer and museum director of the T.R.R. Cobb Home in Athens, Georgia, the place he lives.

This text appeared within the Autumn 2022 problem of Vietnam journal.

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