In May of 1966, a small band of North
Vietnamese Army regulars made their way across the DMZ into Quang
Tri Province to begin preparing for a massive invasion by ten
thousand troops of the NVA's 324B Division. The invasion
would begin in late May after the local sympathizers and the recon
platoon were charged with readying the battlefield with supplies, including
Led by General Nguyen Vang, the invasion
by the 324B began in the last week of May. But
soon, Vang realized his supplies were not in place, thanks to the
ineptness of the VC. The Division stalled itself on the
banks of the Ben Hat River while the General sent troops back to
North Vietnam for supplies.
Meanwhile, General Westmoreland began
receiving information about the presence of the 324B. He had
long suspected that the NVA would attempt an invasion into Quang
Tri and had so informed President Johnson as early as
February. Now recon photo's, intelligence and even a
captured NVA soldier had confirmed the buildup of the NVA's
But even with the mounting evidence,
Westmoreland waited for more intelligence. He felt that an
all-out counterattack was premature without Marine reconnaissance
information. But the Marine commanders, though concerned
with the buildup at the DMZ, believed that it was not in
preparation for an invasion. The 324B's presence, they believed,
was an attempt to lure the Marine forces to the area and
weaken the Da Nang stronghold.
But Westmoreland, growing tired of the
Marine commander's position, finally ordered General Walt to
send reconnaissance into the area and determine the purpose
and scope of the NVA 324B. On July 1, 1966, a Marine recon unit of
12 men lifted off from Dong Ha and were dropped near two
intersecting trails in the DMZ. Immediately, they were
overwhelmed with fire from the NVA and were hurriedly airlifted
Over the next two weeks, they landed in
several locations. They spotted hundreds of NVA regulars,
mortar placements, trench lines, fortifications and
foxholes. It was now apparent to Westmoreland that the NVA
had crossed the DMZ, an unprecedented event .
Orders went out to General Walt:
Seven Marine Infantry Battalions and Five ARVN Infantry and
Airborne Battalions (over 11,000 men) would be reinforced by
artillery and aircraft as well as the long-range guns of the U.S.
7th Fleet. Operation Hastings, the largest Marine operation ever
undertaken, had begun.
The field of operations in Quang Tri was
varied but almost half of the Province was mountainous
jungle. A jungle which had a canopy so thick that bombs
couldn't penetrate it. To the east, the mountains gave way
to foothills and then a thin stretch of paddy land followed by
sandy beaches in the coastal regions.
Commanding Hastings was Brigadier General
Lowell English. His plan was to cutoff the 324B by taking control
of two trails just south of the DMZ. A key point in this
plan was the placement of Marines on top of the "Rock
Pile", a craggy hill overlooking the Cam Lo River and the
flat plains to the north. With such a massive deployment of
troops, the NVA could surely see the dust rising out of nearby
Dong Ha as US planes continuously landed with supplies and
troops. Then, for three days, B-52's began dropping bombs on
On July 15th, Operation Hastings began
with the airlifting of troops into an area called "Helicopter
Valley". Marines from the 3/4 landed in peace on the
first drop but it was short lived. The second drop was
answered with sniper fire and soon the marines were taking heavy
fire. By the third drop, things were going bad.
Helicopters collided and marines were dying. Soon, the
Marines of the 3/4 were cutoff behind enemy lines and were taking
a pounding that lasted for days. It was the bloodiest battle
of the operation.
Hastings Map from the Hastings
History Page. The red arrow is the movement of India 3/5
into the battle area.
On July 24th, India 3/5 was ordered
to proceed to the top of Hill 362 and establish a radio relay
station. The station was necessary due to the mountainous
terrain and the need to be able to communicate with troops within
the Helicopter Valley and Rock Pile regions. India Company
made their way to the Hill and began securing the outlying trail
when it was ambushed by a large force of NVA. Heavily hit,
the men of India remained on top of the hill throughout the night
protecting it and their wounded. At dawn's light, the
carnage was apparent. Finally, the wounded could be
evacuated while skirmishes continued throughout the next day.
For a description and account of what
happened to Tink on Hill 362, please click
here. A word of warning, this is a graphic
account of the fighting that was going on. PVT Joe Holt, who
was on Hill 362 that day, has also written a graphic account of
the battle. Click
here for that account. Lt. Sam Williams was
leading the Platoon that Tink was in at the time. Williams
later wrote home to his wife, giving an account
of the battle.
The battles of Operation Hastings lasted
throughout the month of July until the NVA abandoned their plans
for an invasion of Quang Tri. Pulling back to North Vietnam,
they had left 882 of their soldiers dead and 17 captured.
They lost hundreds of weapons and tons of ammunition. There
was a stiff price to pay for the Marines, though. 126 had
been killed and 448 wounded in the three weeks of the
operation. The operation ended on August 3rd, 1966.
Weber, Tink's A-gunner
Holt, 2nd Platoon
Williams, 1st Platoon
Creek Bed, July 22nd