Earl Gerheim

Earl Gerheim, USMC Correspondent I was with 3/5 off and on from Nov. '67 to Aug. '68. I was on Operations JUNCTION, DENVER, AUBURN, HOUSTON I, II, III, and IV, ALLEN BROOK and MAMELUKE THRUST. Because of my job as correspondent, I had to rotate around because there were so few of us. I basically moved around looking for trouble. I also spent quite a bit of time with Echo 2/3, 1/5 in Operation Hue City and 2/5.

I just got in after Operation Essex in November. In fact, I was in Da Nang for three days before they shipped me to 3/5. Another of my fellow Marine correspondents was with 2/5 on Essex, and came in from the field with a 1,000-meter look. I had one stretch from early March to mid-April where I was on five operations with five different platoons, companies from different battalions. I always considered 3/5 my home outfit and finished my tour with about eight name ops with 3/5. As you can judge from the Kilo and Mike Co. websites, I wrote a lot on 3/5. I think about 15 stories have been posted. 

By record book I was with Division HQ, then with Task Force X-Ray out of Phu Bai. It made it kind of interesting because I had trouble getting paid but, also, the units I was with were always very happy to see me.

I remember getting Lt. Col. Rockey's letter of appreciation when he left 3/5 -I gave Ron Heath a copy which he posted on the Kilo Co. site- but it couldn't get put into my record book because I was an attachment and nowhere in my record was I actually part of 3/5. That got kind of crazy because I got my second Purple Heart with 2d platoon, E 2/3 on Operation Ford, yet I couldn't get the Navy Unit Citation 2/3 got because I wasn't with them by record book.

The battalion was strung out between Phu Bai and Hai Van Pass for about two months before going south. During that time I was with a lot of other units on ops - Delta, 1/27, E 2/5, E 2/3 - because we just didn't have that many correspondents. In between those ops, I'd always make it back to 3/5, which was an effort because, until Kilo got to Lang Co, it was hard to track down units because they were moving around so much.

We are always referring to actions around Hai Van Pass, the Bowling Alley, Lang Co and all the other spots between Hai Van and Phu Bai where 3/5 operated. Operation HOUSTON was the name of the actions. When I rotated, I had Operations HOUSTON I, II, III and IV in my record book. The goal of the HOUSTON operations was to keep Route One open, and also to provide security for the Army engineers who worked on and maintained that stretch of road. 

 As I've mentioned before, 3/5 was strung out along a long stretch and the companies moved around a lot. I recall being with Mike Co. at a ville called something like Thua Lu. A Chieu Hoi had told us an NVA Co. was going to try to attack a nearby bridge, so we set up an ambush by the river. The NVA never showed up, and I remember it as being the coldest night I ever spent in Vietnam. Re-supply was a problem at times. The battalion CP was at the ville with Mike, and I noticed when I checked with the S-2 about something that Lt. Col. Rockey and Sgt. Maj. Hanson were sharing a C-ration meal.

I usually got to Danang two days a month and would load up a seabag with canned goods from the Hill 327 PX to supplement C-rats, and also make up for the slop laughingly called "chow" that the Task Force X-Ray messhall would produce in Phu Bai. I had a large can of pineapple rings which I broke out and shared with some of the Mike Co. guys. I didn't have to ask anyone if they wanted some.

The Marines certainly bore the brunt of combat in Vietnam, taking 40 percent of the casualties while accounting for only 15 percent of the American troops. Shortly after Iwo Jima in 1945, James Forrestal, the secretary of the Navy, said he could never again look at a U.S. Marine without feeling a sense of reverence. 

Semper fi, Earl Gerheim

Operation AUBURN

Both India and Mike were on Operation Auburn, a bloodbath that started Dec. 28, 1967 on Go Noi Island. I went in with Echo 2/3, known as Rent-A-Battalion because it was a Third Div outfit under the operational control of the LstMar Div. The plan was for Echo to go in first, followed by Indian and Mike. Echo tripped a massive ambush by a VC Main Force unti augmented by NVA. In the initial contact Echo suffered Nine KIA and 5 WIA. By day's end, the company had 17 KIA and something like 35 WIA. 

Because of the heavy fire, Indian and Mike was landed far to the west of where we were. I got hit by AK-47 fire while another Marine and I were trying to carry a casualty to cover. We formed a defensive position. Later up came a platoon from India commanded by Lt. Corr. Corr was a really nice guy who used to kid around with me about my putting rolls of film in ammo pounches. Moments later, he was shot in the chest and killed.

While near the LZ with the rest of the casualties, I noticed Capt. Mitchell, the Mike CO, meeting with Lt. Col. Rockey. My thought was that Mike Co. was here, too. I spent 23 days on the USS Sanctuary before getting back to RVN. Mitchell commanded Mike at least through August, if I recall correctly.

 I know after the NVA Base Camp operation, there couldn't have been more than 40 able-bodied guys to go on Operation Allen Brook, and all of them, as Brad can tell you, were dehydrated and half-starved. I was shocked to see them loaded onto the trucks and headed south. They needed a rest.

After a week on Allen Brook, I think Mike Company was down to about 20 guys. Mike had borne a terrible burden for some time prior to that. Mike took heavy casualties on Swift - note the Medals of Honor and Navy Crosses -and was hit hard on Essex. Mike also got hit hard during the TET near Thanh Quit, southeast of 3/5 Battalion Combat Base south of Da Nang. 

Operation HOUSTON II

Lang Co

 Recalling some events when we (3/5) were along the Bowling Alley in the vicinity of Lang Co. Lima Co. was sent to Hue in the third week of Feb. They wound up, I believe, along the south side of the Citadel. When the battle was over, there were only about 25 guys left to return to Phu Bai. Capt. Niotis, in keeping with his reputation of having little regard for men's lives, immediately had them dispatched on a sweep into the hills West of Phu Bai.

They were ambushed and suffered a couple of casualties. One was Doc Sinor, who later was transferred to the 2nd Platoon of Kilo Co. Doc was hit in the arm with grenade fragments.

Mike Co. was involved in the NVA base camp battle in late April , not too long before we took off south for Operations Allen Brook and Mameluke Thrust. I still recall how half-starved and dehydrated the Mike Co. survivors of that five-day battle were when we took off South. As you might recall, they had a lot of heat casualties and, coupled with a booby traps tripped by the battalion casualty reporter while getting medevac numbers of the heat casualties, left them about 25 strong.

 Those two wounded men were taken to Lang Co probably because it was the nearest 3/5 unit with a corpsman. At one time, the battalion BAS was at Phu Gia Pass, where India Co. was at the time, along with a mess tent from which the battalion attempted to provide at least one hot meal a day for as many men as possible.

Lang Co fishing village
Postcard from re-visiting Vietnam in 2000

This pic of Lang Co is a great shot. At the far left of the causeway is the old French railway station Kilo Co. fortified. The area to the left of the causeway also was the starting point where Mike Co. embarked on the sweep that ended at the NVA base camp (May 8-13, '68). 

NVA Base Camp

CAMP HOCMUTH, Vietnam, May 29 -- A Marine Company stumbled onto a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) base camp and held it for five days as they repulsed an enemy battalion south of Phu Bai, May 8-13.

Leathernecks of "M" Co., 3rd Bn., Fifth Marine Regiment killed 20 of the enemy in the contact.

The Marines found the base camp after a two day trek in mountainous terrain. They were proceeding down a mountainside when the enemy ambushed their rear elements.

"We hit the back door of the camp," said Capt. Frank Pacello, 27, (101 W.28th, Wilmington, Del.) the company commander.

The company fought off the enemy ambush, killing four NVA who were occupying two camouflaged huts.

For the next five days, the company withstood enemy attempts to overrun them. With close air support impossible due to the sloping terrain, the Marines relied heavily on artillery and fierce small arms combat to maintain their positions.

The enemy would attack, be fought off and then break contact with the Marines, only to hit the embattered outfit again later.

Finally, with the help of a relief column from 2nd Bn., Fifth Marine Regiment, the beleaguered company drove off the enemy, and returned to their combat base.

While in the communist camp, the Marines found six messhalls, each with a capacity of seating 100 men. The structures had benches, tables and a plumbing system made from bamboo pipes connected to a mountain stream.

The Marines found and destroyed eight tons of rice, 180 B-40 rockets, 300 Chicom grenades, 4500 blasting caps, 300 pounds of plastic explosives and 300 uniforms.


Postcards of Hai Van Pass from re-visiting in 2000

South of Hai Van Pass overlooking Danang

(click to enlarge)
North of The Pass (80 km from Hue Imperial Old city)

Hai Van Pass
Left: Trans-VN railroad through tunnel
Right: Tour buses

Landscape of Hai Van Pass
Left: Hai Van Mandarin (established under Minh Mang dynasty)
Right: Resisting towers for fighting fortress by the French and puppet troops (1945-1954

Lo Cot phong thu cua My-Nguy
Resisting fortress by the US troops and the puppets (1954-1975)
(Interesting note: In French it says Vietnamese soldiers, but is translated to US troops and the "puppets.")

Marine, NVA Have Contest. . . NVA Lost
By Earl Gerheim

HUE/PHU BAI -- A Marine interpreter and a North Vietnamese (NVA) soldier held a grenade throwing contest in the mountains south of Phu Bai.

The enemy trooper lost.

Sgt. Terry Wilkinson (5119 Meridian Ave., N., Seattle, Wash.) of the 1st Interpreter Team, 1st Marine Division was accompanying "M" Co., 3/5 on a company sweep when an enemy camp was found.

The Marines were met by fire from enemy positions on a ridge, overlooking the camp.  The Leathernecks assaulted the ridge but were pinned down under heavy automatic weapons fire.

"I got down behind a tree," said Wilkinson, "and then an NVA popped up 10 meters in front of me and threw a grenade."

The Chi-com (Chinese-communist) grenade hit Wilkinson's foot but failed to explode.

Wilkinson threw a grenade back at the enemy.

The NVA threw three more grenades at Wilkinson.

The grenades injured Wilkinson's wrist.

Wilkinson lobbed another grenade.

The duel ended . . .


H&S and Mike 3/5 website

Kilo 3/5 website

(Background by Redeye)