Thoughts of that Day
Today is a particularly dreary, rainy day. Lookout Mountain is socked in good. It is not unusual for it to be socked in. Hell they fought the Battle Above the Clouds there during the Civil War.
However, today it put me in mind of another dreary, socked in ridge I was on for around 2 hours on 3 June, 1968. Known only to me as Hill 200, it was a desolate, indefensible place that somebody in the 1st Mardiv G3 shop picked off the map to insert my platoon on as an observation post & radio relay.
200 was a high hump on a triple canopy ridgeline running northeast to southwest. One could observe a small section of a river to the south if one looked closely and the hill wasn’t socked in as it was when I was there. Other than that, all you could observe was a lot of triple canopied high ground that surrounded the hill for aprox 320 of the 360 degrees of view. For those less trained in the fine art of surveill
\ance than myself………….You couldn’t see shit and the place was a defender’s nightmare.
On 29 May, 1968 team Cayenne 3rd Plt. Bravo co. 1st Reconnassiance Bn. (Rein) led by S/Sgt. Phil Hampton inserted on hill 200 to conduct a 6 day static OP mission & act as a radio relay for teams operating in the far reaches of the battalion comm. net. Hampton’s team was composed of his normal people operating with Cayenne, HM3 Earl Lerch, and the remainder of the platoon minus an 8 man patrol being conducted on Charlie Ridge by Team Blue Spruce, the other team in the Platoon. His patrol numbered 15. 14 Marines & 1 Navy Corpsman. (HM3 Lerch)
They were inserted by CH46 helicopters after fixed wing had prepped the zone and basically blown the jungle off the ridgeline for about a 100 meters along the spine of the ridge and about 75 meters of the sides of the finger. They immediately set to work digging 2 man positions, setting fields of fire, putting out their claymores, & laying a pitiful single strand of concentina wire on their perimeter. Only God and Phil Hampton knows why a request for extraction from this position was not submitted. Maybe one was, but the 1st Recon Unit Diary shows no such request.
From the insertion thru the day of the 2nd of June, the patrol was uneventful, other than 1 sighting called in on a sampan traveling upriver. The SALUTE report cited 2 male occupants dressed in black Pjs. No packs or weapons were observed and no request for fire was submitted.
The afternoon of 2 June marked a turn for the worse in the weather.
The rain came and the accompanying fog started to sock the team in. the team set in for a miserable night in the mountain jungle, but what the fuck, they were getting out in the morning.
On the 30th of May Team Blue Spruce had returned to Camp Reasoner from our patrol. We were debriefed, cleaned our weapons and gear, and proceeded to see who could get the drunkest on 3.2 beer. The next few days would be spent taking turns on guard duty on the battalion perimeter, going to freedom Hill PX, and getting briefed and trained up for our next mission. On the 2nd we were assigned the additional duty of acting as the Bravo Co. React team. We were briefed by our TL, Sgt. Jimmy Linn of our duties and advised that there would be no drinking. This fell on deaf ears partly because most of us were already drunk and partly because Shakey Linn was pulling on a Budweiser when he said it.
Sometime around midnight we we awakened by the Co. 1st Sgt. And Sgt. Linn and advised that Cayenne was in heavy contact, had reported heavy casualties, and had lost commo with Grim Reaper. (The Bn. TAC callsign) We were told to grab our shit and muster at the 3 shop for deployment to their pos.
The C.O., 1st Sgt., Linn, & Doc Domino were taken in the 3 shop for briefing and the rest of us were waiting outside for word about our team in trouble. The word we were getting was that the NVA were all over the hill, Huey gunships were on station and providing cover fire, Spooky gunships were on station, but unable to work because of limited visibility due to the hill being socked in, and there was no contact with the team on the ground. We were beside ourselves and begging to be inserted immediately. We were told we would be going in as soon as a viable assessment of the situation on the ground could be made and visibility permitted.
About 0300 we received the word that S/Sgt. Hampton had came up on Grim Reaper’s push and requested emergency medivac for Doc Lerch & himself. A CH53 pilot with a lot more balls than brains landed and picked them up. It has never been made clear to me if Doc Lerch died on the medivac or shortly after landing at Charlie Med. We were advised that Hampton was seriously wounded and reported the rest of his team were dead or missing. We would be inserting as soon after daybreak as the safety of the choppers allowed.
We boarded 2 CH46s just before dawn on the morning of the 3rd. The React team was composed of:
Sgt. Jimmy Linn TL
Cpl. James Southall ATL
Cpl. J. Boland Primary radio
HM3 Michael Domino Corpsman
L/Cpl. Jerry Kecker M79
PFC Delbert Enos Rear Point
PFC Nelson Livingston Alt Radio
PFC Doug Wolfe Point
L/Cpl. Dave Morris M60
& 2 Marines from 1st MarDiv graves regrestration who I didn’t know. I’m not sure , but believe Capn. Little, B Co. C.O. was co-ordinating the operation from the other CH46 in out flight.
We sat down on the south end of the hill and I remember seeing Campanella and McAdams lying in their hole on that side of the hill. They had both been shot in the head. I could not get off the side to my security position soon enough. I could see to my right another fighting position with bodies, but could not tell who they were. I found out later they were Petey Wedemier & Patterson.
If you were ever in a firefight with the NVA, you are aware that they didn’t normally leave brass piled up on the battlefield. This morning I was kneeled down in a virtual pile of AK brass. We were later told a force of aprox 30 overran the hill. Bullshit, I never saw a gook on my whole tour with over 3 mags of ammo and it was piled at least 30 to 40 yards up the whole side of the ridge. I think they were hit by at least a Sapper Co. and maybe more. Most of the claymore wires were still in position and had been cut. The claymores themselves were gone and no sign was evident that they had been blown. I was told by Phil Hampton months later that every position on the hill was hit by RPGs in the initial assault.
After we had been there about 15 minutes I heard a lot of excited shouting from the N.E. side of the hill. Jim Southall came to our side of the hill and said somebody off the side of the hill was whistling the Marine Corps Hymm and we might have survivors. PFCs Gorman, Mecedo, and L/Cpls Gonzales, Washburn, Ski (can’t remember his real name) and 1 other Marine who I have forgot his name were found in a streambed at the bottom of a cliff on that side of the hill. They had apparently been blown off the hill by the RPGs. I believe it saved their lives. All but Ski were injured to the extent they were sent home.
The KIAs, along with HM3 Earl Lerch, who had been medivaced earlier, wereL/Cpl. Terry Edgar, PFC Frank Huff, PFC Darrell Campanella, PFC Gerald. McAdams, PFC Peter Wedemier, & PFC Scott Patterson. I will never forget them. They are together on 60w & 61w of the Vietnam Memorial. We also recovered 1 NVA body. I have no idea why they left him.
I went on several missions with Hampton after the Cayenne mission and found him to be a brave and competent leader. I never asked him about that mission. Several times he brought it up and I just listened.
Thats what Lookout Mountain being socked in this morning made me think of. I hope the fuck its sunny & clear in the morning.