Mead River Oper., Dec. 68

Pertinent excerpts from Marine RG Fieseler USMC History relating to Operation Meade River

Oct 2               Bridge Duty continued.  We got a new Captain this week named Captain Foster.  One of the first things he did was order everyone to shave their moustaches.  We were all pissed.  I was glad we had taken those pictures when we did.

Nov 19            Tuesday.  Started a letter home but didn't get to finish it.  Had to get ready to go on a big operation.

Nov 20            Wednesday.  Wrote a letter home.  We got up at 2:00 am and were trucked into Hill 55 in 6-bys.  Then we humped into Dodge City and set in along the Sông La Tho river.  This was the start of Operation Meade River.  It was supposed to last 1-2 weeks.  I have started carrying my Texas flag with me to the bush.  Arwood is carrying a Confederate flag.  We are so patriotic!

Nov 21-27       Wednesday.  Wrote a letter home.  For the past week we have been taking it pretty easy.  We are still a blocking force at the river.  We have dug in and made comfortable holes and are not too bad off.  We mostly eat, sleep, write letters, play cards, and stand hole watch.  Almost like camping at home!  Kowalker stirred up some excitement at our hole.  For 3-4 nights in a row he would hold up a lit match and yell "sniper check!"  Finally one night he did it and a gook shot at us.  That stopped that sort of foolishness.  On two different nights I saw gooks moving across the river.  Each time I fired a few shots and I saw the gook fall down.  The second one got up and started back the way he had come from until my next burst knocked him down for good.  Too bad we could not cross the river to check out the bodies.  I am positive I killed them.  It was only a 40-50 yard shot.  No problem!

Nov 28            Thursday.  Thanksgiving Day!  We had a hot turkey dinner choppered in for us to eat, but just as they were ready to serve it we were told to saddle up.  Some more choppers came in to move us, and the Marines on those choppers who replaced us got our hot chow!  Boy were we pissed off!  I had turkey for Thanksgiving all right, but I got it out of a C-rat can!  I found out later from Cralley that he, Gunny Crawford, Lt. Coe, and some others managed to steal a mermite hotbox of chow from the chow line and took it on the chopper with them.  At least some of Alpha Company got hot chow.  We moved to another river, the Suôi Co Ca, on the east side of the Operation Meade River area near an old demolished bridge.  There was an old amtrack nearby.  It is still an easy operation so far.  Edwards and I have set up a nice hooch and hole area.

Nov 29            Edwards, Brian (Mac) MacAndrews (Philadelphia), two other guys, and I went on a patrol to our rear (east).  We snooped around old ruins and hooches.  I found a nice old clay vase to send mother.  As we approached a clump of bushes with an old brick building in it we heard noises.  Mac yelled out "Hey Marine!" just in case.  There was no answer, just more noise.  We all opened fire.  I was A-gunner for Edwards and we blasted off a hundred rounds or so.  When we quit, we headed in to check it out.  To our surprise, we had pinned down a squad of Marines who were taking a break and, for some reason or another, had not heard us yell.  We were just damn lucky no one got hurt.

Nov 30            Still sitting around.  Took a few pictures.  We took heavy fire from the rear after dark.  Edwards and I had gotten complacent and had not dug our hole deep enough.  Edwards was closest so he jumped in the hole and grabbed me by my collar and drug me into the hole.  We just couldn't fit in all the way.  Our heads and shoulders were face up and leaning out of the hole at our waists.  We watched green tracers zip by about 2-3 inches above our heads.  We discussed how easy it would be to die if we just stood up a little higher.  It was sort of a strange conversation.  When the firing stopped, I got an E-tool and quickly enlarged the hole!  No one got hit.

Dec 1               Sunday.  Wrote a letter home.  I have had the shits for a couple of days now.

Dec 2-3           Moved from the river west into the area betweem Hà Nông Trung (1) and La Hoà (1) where we replaced another Marine unit who had gone elsewhere.  This is a ville area of old abandoned houses and paddies.  We have now become an assaulting force.  I guess they figured we had gotten lots of rest while we were a blocking force.  I think we may have been the last company of 1/7 on the operation.  Puff has been working out to the north.  We have been dodging illume canisters again and collecting the parachutes from them.

Dec 4               Some of us were bored so we started prowling around the rubble of a bombed out building and found all sorts of neat stuff.  We all got some good souvenirs.  I got some NVA mess gear, sunglasses, knife, an old French varmint trap with teeth, some dishes, and some Ho Chi Minh sandals.  We also found 1000 lbs of rice, 25 lbs of salt, 3 ammo boxes of clothes, personal effects, ammo, a chicom grenade, a canteen, and some cooking pots.  We destroyed most of this.  Because of our find, everyone started checking out their area.  We were right in the middle of Dodge City in an area which was supposed to have been swept three times by other companies.  However, Frank C. Archibald (California) stuck his head in an old bunker and saw a gook point a pistol at him!  He ducked back just as the gook shot and missed.  Archibald threw a frag and a tear gas grenade in and after the explosion, 3 NVA officers and 3 VC nurses came out and were captured by 1st Platoon!  One of the women and two of the men were wounded.  The bunker had lots of goodies:  3 Russian pistols, 2 transistor radios, 3 watches, and a lot of papers, including one signed by Ho Chi Minh himself, who has very pretty handwriting.  I wrote a letter home using a ballpoint pen from the bunker.  1st Platoon was bragging like crazy to 2nd Platoon since we had the most kills and have found lots of rockets.  About 2-3 hours later, 3rd Squad, 2nd Platoon captured an NVA officer and 4 NVA out of another cave without firing a shot.  The guys in 2nd Platoon razzed the 1st Platoon about fighting women!  Before the day was over another Marine killed two NVA in another cave.  Needless to say, we were very watchful that night.  We got hit a couple of times, but not too bad.

Dec 5               Thursday.  Wrote a letter home.  Mostly set out the day in our positions and continued to search the area.  I think it may have been this day that Lt. Huesner tripped a booby trap and he and his radioman got wounded and were medivaced out.  Gunny Crawford took over as CO of 2nd Platoon, because Lt. Coe had left to take over Delta 1/7.  So, we have no XO or Company Gunny for now. Alpha CP is essentially down to just Capt. Foster, Barry Goodson his radio man, Dennis Cralley and David Skowronski, office clerks.  A bunch of gooks have been cornered in a bend in the river to the north and arty and air support is giving them hell.  We have been getting fire support from the Battleship New Jersey.  They are firing 16" shells from about 20 miles away.  They make a helluva roar when they go over.  They are landing only about 300 yards away.  We all hid when we imagined those swabbies bouncing on the ocean trying to aim that close to us!  During the afternoon some of us took a bath in a 1000 lb bomb crater.  The water was sort of orange so I'm not sure we got very clean, but it felt good.  We got the word that our gear has been moved to Hill 55 and that after the op we will be stationed there.  So long Hill 10!  Used my last writing paper today.

Dec 6               Friday.  At 7:00 am we got on line to sweep across a 1000 yards of open rice paddies.  Alpha Company was moved west toward a railroad track.  2nd Platoon was next to the railroad track, and to the east was the CP group, 1st Platoon, and 3rd Platoon.  There was another 2-3 companies to our east.  We were all concerned about being so exposed but we got across okay with no contact.  I stepped in a hole and went in over my head.  I kept tromping rice under foot and flailing around until I got my head above water.  I finally got out into thigh deep water.  My camera was ruined and I was pissed.  90-100 pounds of gear can really keep you under water!  During the night some guys from 3rd Platoon spotted some gooks and shot at them but no confirmed kills.  The rest of the night was quiet.  Lt. Sorrell tried to get some arty or air support on that area but Capt. Foster denied the request.

Dec 7               Saturday.  Pearl Harbor Day.  Once again, it started with gunfire.  At first light, four men from 3rd went to check things out and were hit by 30-40 gooks set in around a pagoda with snipers, machinegun nests, and bunkers.  Two were killed instantly and two were wounded.  Squads from 1st and 3rd went to get them.  The gooks pinned them down.  Marines were getting killed and wounded fast.  A 3.5 rocket launcher was called up and it knocked out a .30 cal. machinegun nest.  A lot of Marine fire support allowed those pinned down to withdraw with the wounded and some of the dead.  Some dead had to be left.  Finally the area was hit with arty and air strikes along about noon.  While all this was going on, 2nd Platoon was getting gook sniper fire, M-79, and automatic rifle fire.  We had a good long fight and drove them back.  My rifle barrel got very hot.  Amazingly enough, 2nd suffered no casualties.  We ran low on ammo and some Marines went and got some more ammo and even some beer from the blocking force on the railroad track who felt sorry for us.  Gunny Crawford was commanding the 2nd since Lt. Huesner had been medivaced on the 5th.  Then the CO of 1st Platoon had to be medivaced so the Gunny took command of 1st Platoon.  SSgt. MacAndrews took command of 2nd Platoon.  Alpha is down to just two officers...Capt. Foster and Lt. Sorrell.  After all this reorganizing, we saddled up and got on line to assault.  We moved and "recon'ed by fire" and was doing pretty good until the 1st and 3rd hit the shit and got pinned down again.  2nd was 50 yards ahead of everyone else and had to pull back.  1st and 3rd were losing men again.  Gunny Crawford was among those killed.  I sure hated that.  He was the best gunny we had ever had.  Lt. Sorrell saw SSgt. Flaherty get shot in the arm.  Then Sorrell got shot, also in the arm.  The squad I was with had to go over to where the shit was going down and provide covering fire so 1st and 3rd could pull back.  Once again my rifle barrel got extremely hot, and so did the M-60 of Edwards and Garcia, and the rest of the grunts' rifles.  It was just one incredible firefight.  It was one of the most awesome events I have ever been through.  We fought nearly all day and fired thousands of rounds of ammo.  We had to scrounge up more ammo, get some from the railroad guys, and spread it around the best we could.  We set in for the night along a treeline.  We were spread very thin, with 50-60 yards between holes, which is a helluva long way in combat.  There just wasn't enough of us left for closer holes.  As I recall, we had lost about 12-13 KIA and over 40 WIA and medivaced.  Lt. Sorrell had lost all but 8-9 men from 3rd Platoon.  I think there was maybe 70 to 80 of us left and we were spread very thin.  Everyone was beat, but had to stay alert.  Edwards, Garcia, and I were set in where 2-3 bomb craters were connected and were trying to relax.  At 8:15, Garcia pointed at a gook coming through the treeline about 10-20' from us.  Garcia and I opened up with our M-16's and each of us emptied a 20 round magazine.  Garcia's last round was a tracer, of which he was unaware.  When he saw the tracer, he thought the gook had shot back at us so Garcia dove into his hole.  The gook fell about 10' from me, moaning and groaning and talking some gook shit and moving around.  I stuck a full magazine in my rifle, flipped the selector on full auto, and emptied the magazine into him.  That stopped his shit.  I laid my rifle down, turned around and said, "Well, the son-of-a-bitch is finally dead!"  Just then, Edwards threw a grenade and it landed beside the gook.  I flung myself into a shallow bomb crater to escape the blast.  When the grenade went off, I got covered with dirt and mud and my rifle took some shrapnel in the fore stock.  I was scared shitless and my ears were ringing.  I yelled to Edwards to not throw any more grenades!  By now Harry Goad, who was in the next hole to the east, was freaking out.  All he knew was that tracers were flying, shots were ripping out, grenades or chicoms were exploding, and lots of yelling was going on.  He was afraid we had gotten overrun.  He and Tobias came running over to help.  When they found out we were all OK and saw the dead gook laying there they went wild.  Goad covered me and Tobias while we checked out the gook.  As I walked up, I thought of stories about the gooks playing possum and said to myself, "You sneaky son-of-a-bitch" and shot him between the shoulder blades 4-5 times just to make sure.  Tobias shot a couple of times as well.  I picked up the rifle he was carrying and found it was Ronald Ceres' M-16.  Ceres had been shot in the jaw earlier in the day and had been medivaced.  I discovered that in the heat of battle, and with my mood influenced by losing so many buddies, it was easier to shoot a gook than a deer back home.  There was no time for buck fever, just instant action.  Pretty exciting afterward though and everyone was congratulating me.  We tried to calm down, but the adreneline rush lasted a long time.  Everyone was edgy for the rest of the night.  Edwards, Garcia, and I threw several grenades at what was probably monkey noise.  Later on, I saw what I thought was movement.  Watching carefully, I finally decided that I saw a pith helmet, a rifle, and movement and that it was indeed a gook and ripped off a 20 round burst.  Turned out that I cut a gently swaying banana tree in half!  Oh well, better safe than sorry.  The rest of the night was uneventful but very tense with little or no sleep.  We knew that in the morning, we would have to go back to the area where the shit hit the fan and try to assault through the dug-in gooks.  We were pretty worried.

Dec 8               Got a slow start this morning waiting for some ARVN reinforcements.  A lot of the guys came around to see the gook and give him a good kick.  Even Capt. Foster gave me a pat on the back and commented that I sure didn't cut that gook any slack!  Finally the ARVN's got there with some APC's, which we loaded our packs into, and we got on line again.  We assaulted through the jungle all the way to the river.  We caught some sniper fire but took no casualties.  Amazing.  Only a few gooks were flushed out at the river.  Once again, they had hidden in caves, tunnels, and spider holes.  The gooks are like ghosts when they want to be.  We set in for the night by the river.  When we got our packs back, my camera had been stolen.  It was waterlogged, but I wanted to get it repaired.  Boy was I pissed.  I decided I would never trust an ARVN again.  It was a nasty night.  The mosquitoes were large and numerous.  Hell, they were horrible!  Even bug juice seemed to do no good.  We slapped and cussed all night, trying desperately to keep 100% of our skin covered, which was nearly impossible.  I tried to heat some coffee water with some C-4.  To avoid the light of the fire, I put my flak jacket over the fire hole.  When I lit the C-4, there were two giant beams of light coming out of the arm holes just like some damn spotlight at a shopping center opening!  Terrified that I had given my position away, I smothered the fire and gave up on my coffee.  I guess my brain was not to sharp after two days with almost no sleep.  Luckily, nothing happened all night.

Dec 9               Monday.  Borrowed some paper and started a letter home.  We crossed the Sông La Tho on a pontoon bridge and got choppered back to Hill 55.  After 21 days in the bush, Operation Meade River was over.  We had 12-13 guys killed (need to check this number) and at least 40 wounded and medevaced.  Several more were walking wounded.  We were the only company of 1/7 to go through the entire Operation Meade River.  Back on Hill 55, we sure looked like the most scroungy and raggedy-assed Company in the Battalion.  In fact we had been through hell and looked like shit warmed over.  There were only about 70-80 of us left as I recall.  We got beer, hot chow, cold milk, mail, packages, and a nights rest.  Too bad there were so many guys missing.

Dec 10             Tuesday.  Finished the letter home.  Started organizing our Company area.  All of our gear had been brought over from Hill 10 and was in disorganized piles.  It took days to really get squared away.

Dec 11-14       Since Alpha Co. was so short handed, we were assigned to provide security for the tanks and engineers on road sweeps.  We usually finished by 8:00 am and then had the rest of the day off, except for the eternal working parties and squaring away our Company area.  We got to see a flick almost every night.  Some of the wounded guys began trickling back from 1st Med.  Most of them would rather have been shipped back to the World!  Captain Foster has passed the word that we can grow moustaches again.  I think he felt bad because when he ordered us to shave, Gunny Crawford had to shave his off for the first time in many, many years.  We had all complained, and even the Gunny hated to do it, but he was a good Marine and followed orders.  Then the Gunny got killed, and he would be buried smooth shaven and his wife and kids would see him looking "unnatural".

In addition, there is an error in the USMC publication "A Brief History of the 7th Marines that needs to be corrected.  This publication has described the December 7 Alpha 1/7 Operation Meade River action as taking place in "late December".  This is completely erroneous since Alpha was doing nothing but "Palace Guard Duty" on Hill 55 after we were so shot up and short of personnel after December 7th.  I can give you all the citations and quotes on this error.  Even the Marine Corps gets things wrong once in a while...I guess we can blame it on the rear echelon pogues (grin!)

I think some of the mix-up is due to Alpha being under operational control of another Company during the last few days of Operation Meade River.  All the other 1/7 Companies were moved out of Operation Meade River several days before December 7th.  I can probably find out which Company we were attached to just to set the record straight.

I will be happy to have some of this plugged into an article on Alpha 1/7  and will get back with you soon.

Ron Fieseler

You are right about Alpha being under the control of 3/26 during Operation Meade River. I am attaching the Command Chronology for 3/26, December 1968. It apparently left Hill 55 under the control of 2/5 until the end of November, and then went to 3/26.

Nothing is more satisfying than correcting previously published, but erroneous accounts. It is the well-deserved  "thumb in the eyes" of those rear echelon "pogues" who failed to do the research required to get the facts right.

Best regards to all,

Dave Sullivan