Phu Bai Reaction Force
( click on maps to enlarge )
The Reaction Force from Phu Bai was an ad-hoc unit consisting of about a platoon of Marines from “H” Company 2nd Bn
5th Marines and a number of “warm and breathing” volunteers from other units. The convoy was made up of a M 151
command jeep, two 2 1/2 ton trucks w/50 cal ring mounts, a wrecker/tow truck and very importantly, two 2 1/2 ton US
Army M-35 A1 “Gladiators” ( truck mounted Quad 50 cal machine guns ) from 1st Bn 44th Air Defense Artillery
This little force was rapidly pulled together at the Phu Bai Combat Support Base, briefed by Company 1st Sargent V. U.
Yruegas ( "Chosin Few" ) and quickly sent into action. Fortunately some of the “Hotel” 2/5 Marines ( rifle squad led by
Cpl McMahon ) had fought an intense engagement at this very location only a week before. Knowledge of the area proved
to be a distinct advantage.
Much like “David” set upon “Goliath” this small force fearlessly attacked into the teeth of the numerically superior NVA
force. When contact was made, at the “Graveyard” site, the enemy ( 804th NVA Bn ? ) was in the business of
systematically devouring the pinned down convoy. Desperately short of ammunition, badly shot up and outnumbered, the
convoy defenders were at their very last. Survivors describe the reaction force coming in on an artillery barrage with
Quad Fifties blazing away, truly like the “Calvary” in an old John Wayne western. One wounded Marine reports the NVA
soldiers scurrying like rats running in front of the “Gladiators” and assaulting Marines. What a wonderful sight to a
Marine who was sure that this would be his last day.
Another surviving Marine is reported to have said out loud to himself “what a hell of a note … fighting for your life in
a …’damned graveyard”.
After breaking the NVA grip on the besieged convoy it was dark, the reaction force Marines crawled around through the
graves and combat debris looking for our dead and wounded. This small force, concerned about their very precarious
situation and knowing that the enemy was regrouping, never the less took the time to collect all of the dead, wounded and
survivors. All were loaded up on the trucks, dead on the bottom, wounded on top
of the dead, able Marines just hanging on the trucks or traveling by foot. This
small force made its way back to Phu Bai, stopping periodically to tend the
wounded. At each stop the Marines formed a defensive perimeter knowing that
contact with the enemy would be a high probability until they reached the safety
of Phu Bai Combat Base. This was early in the '68 Tet offensive, Thua Thien
Province, where anyplace "outside the wire” was considered enemy territory.
There was also the very strong possibility that their previous opponents would be
pursuing hell bent on redressing their previous defeat. This was a painfully slow,
dangerous and exhausting trip, not arriving at Phu Bai until about 0030.
During the heat of the engagement, one of the US Army “Gladiators” had broken
completely through the “Graveyard” ambush site, came out the other side went
through the “Bypass” and on to firebase Rock Crusher, where it spent the rest of
the month. Lt Coates, the unit commanding officer, was killed in this heroic effort.
The other “Gladiator” had mechanical problems and returned to Phu Bai with the
remainder of the force. Both of the units had a major effect on the course of events
“I can still remember going up that road when we started receiving fire. We
returned fire, but when the quad 50’s started talking that was the end of that.
When they got thru firing there was not a rock or tree left around the enemy’s
position.” Ron Mangilit Hotel 2/5.
Due to the extreme combat situation the battlefield could not be thoroughly policed. The damaged equipment had to be left
behind and an accurate accounting of NVA casualties was not made, estimated at about 100 - 150 resulting from both, the
convoy defense and the counterforce actions. Considering the circumstances we were very fortunate to have at least
recovered all of our personnel.
Truly a very busy afternoon and evening!