Ambush of 5-22-68

"When Bravo moved out from Yankee Station around noon, morale was high. The weather was hot and the roads dusty. The route of march was east along the southern edge of the Trace. They were accompanied by eight Marine tanks. The combined unit followed the Trace until it reached the north-south road known as Route 561, approximately 2000 meters east of Con Thien.


The Marines' apparent plan was to flush out any NVA troops that were in the area east of Route 561. Captain Harris' Bravo Company was to align itself south from the Trace along Route 561 and then advance to the east toward Phu Oc."


"The terrain here was rolling with successive swales and ridges. The waist-high Kunie grass was interspersed with patches of heavy brush, and the hedgerows divided off the countryside. As they moved forward, David's [David Westphall's] platoon approached one of the long low rises that characterized the locality. Several of the point men had crossed over it when an L-shaped ambush was sprung.


Suddenly, ferociously, Bravo Company was hit with a devastating fusillade of machine guns, mortars, and grenades. The yell of "tubing" mingled with the din of battle, and most of the Marines hit the ground. Captain Harris promptly issued the command to open fire and move up. The men of Bravo as quickly complied, but no enemy was to be seen. Corpsmen were called for. Air and artillery FOs radioed for support.


Captain Harris ordered assault fire and personally moved out toward the point. Now some 100 of the enemy appeared in assault formation moving in on 1st platoon's lead squad--the point. Heavy weapons fire was sweeping the company's front from the north side of Bravo's line. The officers and NCO's moved out quickly trying to form a firing line to stop the assault. It was obvious that they knew their jobs as they exposed themselves in the line of duty, and the enemy concentrated its fire on them. Most of the 13 killed [it was later determined that 14 were killed during the battle and two other Marines died later of their wounds] and 27 wounded were lost at this time. These included every officer, radioman, and all but two staff non-coms's. But for their timely and heroic action, Bravo Company would surely have sustained immensely more grievous losses.


Captain Harris had moved up to cover a wounded machine gunner while his teammate got the gun back into action. He was killed instantly, shot through the heart. David rushed forward to move up a squad in order to build up the firing line and stop the enemy assault. He was killed as he advanced, struck by machine gun fire along his left side. His radioman, Charles Kirkland was killed by his side with the same burst of fire as he loyally stayed with him to provide vital communication.


The enemy wavered when it didn't see the 2d platoon as it moved in on the 1st to cover it, but some half dozen actually entered Bravo Company's lines before being killed or driven back. The engagement had started at 1720, now at 1740, the firing stopped as quickly as it had started.


The 2d platoon, the farthest from the point of contact, closed up and formed a perimeter into which the CP moved. The wounded were attended to and brought into this tight perimeter, while the dead were placed side by side at the company aid station."

David's Story : A Casualty of Vietnam