August 9th, 2004
Submitted by JD Murray

Note: In August 2004, JD Murray and friends, including several Marines who served with M Co. 3/5 in 1966-1967, returned to Vietnam to view the battleground sites where they fought on Operations HASTINGS (July '66), UNION and UNION II (May-June '67), SWIFT (Sept. '67) and ESSEX (Nov. '67). JD Murray was on a mission when he and a few others headed to the DMZ: a mission to find the creekbed where Denny LaNore and several other M/3/5 Marines were slain during Operation HASTINGS, and to lay a Memorial for Denny and specially made crosses for their fallen comrades.

While the M Co Swift Tour Marines toughed it out in Hue, I went North to Dong Ha to prepare for a trip into the DMZ and hopefully find M Co BLT 3/5 Operation Hastings LZ and the creekbed battle area of 22Jul66.

According to sources, no Marines had been into the area where I wanted to go. It was North of the Village of Cam Lo, and we needed permission from the village head to enter that area.

According to my old 1:50,000 map, there appeared to be a trail from Cam Lo right into the two sites I wanted to visit. I had requested to visit these two sites 8 months before we went on the trip and assumed that we could accomplish the task, or get within relative distance of those sites.

(click images to enlarge)



August 10th, 2004

On Aug10th, I met Huy, my guide, and a Vietnamese driver, and we headed down Rt. 9 to Cam Lo.

Kevin Kelly Handmade Crosses

Crosses were created by Kevin Kelly (3rd Plt M Co. 3/5 1966-67) to be placed as memorials as both Chuck Goebel and I saw fit during our visit. Mr. Huy asked me where I wanted to go in the DMZ. When I showed him my map he looked concerned. He told me he wished I had told him earlier because he would have gotten a 4-wheel drive vehicle and lunch for the trip. He was also concerned whether we could get into that area. I must have looked equally shell shocked since I had sent in maps with 8-digit coordinates on the two sites that were a must to visit in the DMZ.

Outside hotel in Dong Ha with Denny LaNore Memorial and crosses

At Cam Lo we headed north on a super highway, no less, up to the old Marine Cam Lo Combat Base. Although the highway goes further up to Con Thien, we peeled off onto a dirt road that soon turned into a dirt path.

Rough Trail into DMZ

The DMZ had been defoliated during the Vietnam War and has since been replanted with numerous rubber tree groves like these lining the dirt trails.

The DMZ is sparsely populated with small, widely scattered farms. We did see people gathering bamboo and a few Vietnamese searching for metal in the hills.

The trail quickly deteriorated into a severely eroded and bumpy trail that became impassable for a car. We then went be motorcycles driven by local guides. These guides were familiar with most Marine battles in their area and when I mentioned the dates, they understood generally where I wanted to go.

Two beautiful Vietnamese kids near farm in DMZ. I believe I may have been the first American they had seen. What a frightening thought! I gave the boy one of many racketballs I have brought over for situations like this. I think this might be the first time he had a ball.

Another small farm. I was beginning to have second thoughts on this venture. Had finished half my water, butt sore from riding motorbikes, and trail was endless.

I got chills in 100-degree heat, as I knew we were very near the creek and LZ of Hastings. I must have appeared somewhat odd as I viewed the surrounding terrain for NVA.

It should be noted that I speak of two creekbeds--one is the LZ Creekbed of 18 Jul (this creek can be seen on any 1:50,000 map of area)--the other is the creekbed of 22Jul and is not seen as a creek on a map. On Jul22, 1966, the creek was running.

Creekbed just south of Hastings LZ. Once you cross this creekbed the land slowly rises into the surrounding hills.

All Pictures above are of the LZ. I Planted numerous Kevin Kelly Crosses there for M Co BLT 3/5 casualties suffered on 18 Jul 1966. This was the LZ for both L and M Cos. on the 18th of July 1966 as we launched from Operation Deckhouse 1 into Operation Hastings. We landed right on top of a NVA unit and captured a 12.7mm antiaircraft weapon in the LZ before they could man the gun. The remainder of the day we fought a well- entrenched NVA unit finally overrunning it later that day.

The above pictures show our trek up one of the nearby hills, eating lunch, and viewing the nearby hills where the creekbed battle of 22Jul66 was located. About this time the heat became almost unbearable. I had finished off 100 ozs. of water from my back pack as well as another 32 oz. water bottle. It would take another 2 hours of climbing to reach my next objective. I was flat out exhausted and decided to retreat for the day. We hiked to the motorbikes and eventually the car and returned to Dong Ha for the evening.

That evening I was joined by John and Jerry Keker for a few beers, dinner, and, "What have you been doing the last 38 years." John was the 1st Platoon Commander for M Co 3/5 when we were Special Landing Force, Vietnam, and was wounded on Operation Hastings on July 22, 1966 near the creekbed we hoped to find the following day. I had asked John last year to consider joining me on the hunt for the creekbed. Although he did not go on our Swift tour, he and his brother Jerry decided to tour Vietnam and join me on the 12th of August for our DMZ journey. Jerry joined the Marine Corps just after John was wounded and he served in 1st Force Recon the following year (I think). You can also see the LaNore Memorial on the table that I planted the following day.

August 11th, 2004

Our 4-wheel drive vehicle got us closer to the objective the following day and in this picture John and Jerry Keker and guides are following the LZ creekbed towards the 22Jul66 creekbed. I have rear Security! The next picture shows the vegetation near LZ creekbed.

There were no trails or paths into the creekbed so we headed in the genreal direction according to the map. We climbed up a small hill covered with fighting holes and bomb craters and some unexploded ordnance to this hill that overlooks the 22 Jul66 creekbed battle area. Certainly crossed my mind that this was not the time to get another purple heart! I stayed directly behind our guides. This hill was on the right flank of the creekbed where 1st and 3rd Platoons fought the afternoon and evening of the 22nd. Later that evening both John Keker and Joe Mirgeaux were wounded. It should be noted again that defoliation of most of the DMZ has changed the landscape immensely but the land contours and physical characteristics are still distinct. I have several shots of the hill area and the medevac area in my pictures on Debbe and Brad Reynolds Internet Site (Operation HASTINGS link at the bottom of the page).

As the sweat poured off us, John, Jerry and I stood on the hill overlooking the 22Jul66 creekbed battle. Just like the feelings I got on Hill 71, Antenna Valley, and the Knoll, my heart pounded a little faster as we went down into the gully and the creekbed. It's Indian Territory again!!

We carefully walked down into our final destination.
It was cool and comfortable with plenty of flowers and vegetation.

Local guides near the creekbed.
Wild red flowers were everywhere in this isolated terrain as if sown by our fallen comrades.

John Keker trying to cool off.
The temperature was around 100 and scorching in the sun.

While everyone was recovering from the heat and relaxing, I moved down creek and planted Denny LaNore's Memorial and crosses and laid other crosses for all our casualties from this battle some 38 years ago. I had promised the LaNore Family in July of this year that I would try and get into this area and plant his memorial. I felt fortunate in being able to accomplish that promise and to lay memorials for our other Marines.

Reluctantly, I left feeling I needed to do something else but wasn't sure what that missing ingredient was. As we started another cross country march, I began to wilt. I think the emotion of the event had gotten to me and my legs were like sacks of cement. Jerry Keker gave this old campaigner his walking stick for the rest of the journey out of the DMZ. This allowed me to keep my bitching to a low roar.

John Keker near LZ creekbed. He planted a cross in the LZ for M Co casualties on the 18th of July, 1966.

Jerry Keker with our local Vietnamese guide, his wife (note the pipe in her kind of gal!!).
They were thrilled to get our empty water bottles!

And finally our daily DMZ special lunches before we headed back to Dong Ha. Later that day the Kekers left and I waited for the rest of the Swift tour to arrive in Dong Ha.

For me, everything else was gravy. I had been very fortunate in accomplishing all my objectives of the tour. It was indeed a gratifying trip and I only wished others could have enjoyed the special camaraderie that was in this tour.~JD

See also:

Operation HASTINGS
Operation UNION and UNION II
Operation SWIFT
Operation ESSEX
Denny LaNore Memorial

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