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First Name: Gatlin

Last Name: Howell

Birthplace: OK, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Home of Record: Colma, CA
Middle Name: Jerryl

Date of Birth: 07 November 1935

Date of Death: 07 July 1967

Rank: First Lieutenant

Years Served: 1953-1956 Enlisted; 1965 - 1967 Officer
Gatlin Jerryl Howell

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Gatlin Jerryl Howell
First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve)

Gatlin Jerryl Howell served an enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953-1956, before attending San Francisco State University under the GI Bill. After graduating from SFSU, he taught physical education and also coached the track team at Felton Junior High School in the Hunter's Point section of San Francisco. In 1965, he took a leave of absence from teaching and re-enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve.

He entered the 38th Officer Candidate Course at Quantico, VA, and was assigned to the 1st Platoon of Bravo Company. At age 30, Jerry graduated on 17 December 1965 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the USMCR. He was then assigned to the 3rd Platoon of Delta Company in Class 3-66 at The Basic School at Quantico and completed that class on 27 May 1966.

Ordered to the Republic of Vietnam, 2ndLt Howell was initially assigned as the platoon commander (MOS 0302) for 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Amphibious Force in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam for 10 months. He assumed command of Bravo 3 in late July 1966, while it was located on Liberty Road, approximately 3 kilometers south of Dai Loc and 1 kilometer north of the Liberty Road Ferry Crossing on the Song Thu Bon.

1/9 left country in late September to go through an Special Landing Force (SLF) rotation. Refitting and training occurred on Okinawa. Additional training took place at Subic Bay in the Philippines in preparation for an early January Operation Deckhouse V in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. After changing shipping, 1/9 returned to Vietnam in early February 1967. At this point, Bravo Company was detached and sent to Khe Sanh to provide security for the Combat Base for the months of February, March and April. After a brief assignment to Camp Carroll in early May, Bravo Company rejoined its parent Battalion, 1/9. Jerry continued as the Bravo 3 platoon commander through most of the month of May.

On 28 May 1967, Jerry took over the 1/9 Battalion Intelligence Officer billet (S-2) in Headquarters & Service Company from his Basic School Classmate, 1stLt Steve M. Snyder. On 2 July, while serving as the S-2, Jerry left the 1/9 command bunker at Con Thien to accompany his Basic School platoon commander, Captain “Mac” Radcliffe in rescuing as many of the survivors of the Bravo Company ambush at the “Marketplace” as possible. Jerry’s former platoon had been on point and had accordingly suffered the most severe casualties in the close fighting. Jerry’s loyalty to “his” platoon and love for his men motivated him to leave the relative security of the Command Bunker and accompany the relief column in the WIA recovery effort.

Several acts of valor are described in the Navy Cross citation that details Jerry’s courageous actions and commitment in recovering the Bravo-3 wounded. Five days later, 1stLt Howell was back at his desk in the Combat Operation Center at Con Thien (YD 113703) attending to Battalion Intelligence matters when, at 13:45, a 152mm delayed fuse artillery round penetrated the east-facing entrance and exploded inside, collapsing portions of the bunker. The round virtually exploded where Jerry’s S-2 desk was located. Jerry’s body had fragmentation wounds to the back and right knee. The wounds suggested that he was not at his desk at the moment of impact, but rather some distance from the site facing further into the bunker.

1stLt Howell died instantaneously along with 13 other Marines in this incident in Quang Tri Province during Operation Buffalo. The single artillery shell also wounded 27 other Marines in the 1/9 Command Post. Operation Buffalo had also taken the life of Classmate 1stLt Wayne Hayes [Honoree Record ID 252427] one day earlier. Wayne and Jerry had been in the same Basic School Company, Wayne in platoon D-2, while Jerry was in D-3.

Jerry married Nancy J. Ebert in San Francisco County, CA, on 14 June 1962. They had a son, Jay, prior to his departure for Vietnam. Nancy had visited him during the refitting and training cycle on Okinawa and she became pregnant with their second child, Mark, who was born after Jerry's death. Jerry was 31 years old.

Medals and Awards

Navy Cross
Purple Heart with Gold Star
Combat Action Ribbon
Marine Good Conduct Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal
Vietnam Campaign Medal

Navy Cross Citation

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to First Lieutenant Gatlin Jerryl Howell (MCSN: 0-93190), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Intelligence Officer, First Battalion, Ninth Marines, THIRD Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in the Republic of Vietnam from 2 to 7 July 1967. While manning the command bunker at Con Thien on 2 July, First Lieutenant Howell was closely monitoring the progress of Company B, First Battalion, as it became heavily engaged with an estimated two battalions of North Vietnamese Army Regulars near the Demilitarized Zone. When the unit suffered heavy casualties and was in danger of being overrun, he volunteered to lead a relief force to rescue the beleaguered Marines. Displaying exceptional leadership and tactical skill during his advance, he fearlessly exposed himself to enemy mortar and small-arms fire as he kept the relief column intact, pointing out directions of fire for the tanks and providing effective flank security as he moved rapidly to Company B's position. Immediately evaluating the situation when he arrived in the battle area, he established a defensive perimeter and moved to rescue the forward elements of the besieged company. As he searched for the wounded, he observed two men in a hole fifteen meters beyond the friendly lines. With complete disregard for his own safety, First Lieutenant Howell ran through heavy small-arms fire to treat the men and carry them to the safety of the perimeter. When his right flank was threatened by a North Vietnamese squad, he directed heavy fire against the assaulting force, undoubtedly saving the lives of at least three injured Marines caught between the enemy and the friendly lines. Subject to intense enemy mortar and artillery fire and road mines that disabled two tanks, he moved the casualties to the landing zone. After ensuring that the casualty evaluation process was well under way, he refused medical treatment for himself and instead returned to the forward area to determine that all of the wounded had been moved. During a rocket attack on 7 July at Con Thien, First Lieutenant Howell was killed in action. By his intrepid fighting spirit, daring initiative, and selfless devotion to duty at great personal risk, First Lieutenant Howell was instrumental in saving many of his fellow Marines from capture, injury or possible death, and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service He gallantly gave his life for his country.

General Orders: Authority: Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals


The name Gatlin J Howell is located on Panel 23E Line 28 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.


First Lieutenant Gatlin Jerryl Howell is buried at San Francisco National Cemetery in San Francisco, CA, in Plot E-EAS, 50-A.

[Thanks to Captain Dave Mellon, USMCR, a classmate of Jerry Howell in the 38th Officer Candidate Course and in Basic Class 3-66, for the valuable information, and the photo, he provided for this bio. Capt Mellon (twice wounded) also served as a platoon commander in Vietnam with 1stLt Jerry Howell.]

The information in the first part of this biography was furnished by Captain Dave Mellon as noted above. However, Dave Mellon also provided a much more detailed remembrance of his good friend, Jerry Howell. For those who might be interested, here is that remembrance told in his words, completely unedited. MHOH



I am pulling together this "Remembrance" of Jerry Howell because he was my friend and I want to honor his memory as well as document his service to our great country. It is long overdue. Additionally, I have lost track of his survivors and hope that this might facilitate reconnecting. In retirement, I have the time to address some of these "obligations", which were neglected earlier. I was fortunate to serve in the same rifle company with Jerry in Vietnam - First Battalion, Ninth Marine Regiment, Third Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific from mid-July 1966 until I was evacuated on February 25, 1967. Jerry served as a platoon commander with Bravo Company for 10 months, at which time, he went up to the Battalion staff, as the S-2. I will attempt to describe Jerry's entire tour in Vietnam, which is also a partial chronology of the combat history of Bravo Company and his platoon, Bravo 3, for the period. As I was not there for his final 4 and ½ months of Jerry's service in Vietnam, I have relied on information available in the 1/9 Command Chronologies, a couple of authors (Edward F. Murphy - "The Hill Fights - The First Battle of Khe Sanh" and Keith William Nolan - "Operation Buffalo") and some friends who served with Jerry and I in 1/9, specifically, a Basic School Classmate, Stephen M. Snyder, who was the Delta 2 Actual, then Battalion S-2 Delta 1 Actual, Delta XO and then Delta CO, William F. Delaney, who was the XO of Bravo Company, and Melvin L. Thompson, who was Bravo 2 Actual, XO of H&S Co and finally CO of H&S Company.


My recollections are undoubtedly diminished by the 43 1/2 years that have passed since Jerry died and the writing of this "Remembrance". There are many things I would have asked back then, if I had known he would be killed, but at the time, I thought that we would always be friends and some of those items of information would come out as we sat around later in life, enjoying a beer, recalling our youth and telling "war stories". Some of this background information is a matter of fact, found in the written records of the war, while some are my recollections of the facts and the man. I take full responsibility for any errors of fact.

I first met Jerry in Basic School. We were both assigned to platoon, D-3 in Basic Class 3-66. We graduated from the 38th Officer Candidate Course on December 17, 1965 and returned to Quantico in early January (1966) to start Basic School. Our platoon commander was Captain Henry J. M. "Mac" Radcliffe.

My recollection is that Jerry was of Native American extraction and was born and spent his early life in Oklahoma. I believe his family moved to California during his youth. Jerry was born in 1935, so he would have graduated from High School in 1954 or 1955. The point here is that he was too young to have served in Korea. It was a war that he missed. I believe he joined the Marine Corps following High School and did a four year hitch. He would have gotten out in 1958 or 1959. He undoubtedly went to college on the GI bill. He graduated San Francisco State, got his teaching certificate and taught school at Pelton Junior High in San Francisco Unified School District from1963 through the spring of 1965, while living in nearby Colma, CA. In addition to teaching, Jerry was a track coach. He was married to Nancy and had one son, Jay. While I am sure that Jerry was an outstanding teacher and coach, I think he felt cheated by his Marine experience, in that he did not get to experience combat - that which we understand at a more advanced age - to actually be the "horrors of war". With his college degree he was officer material. A very persuasive guy, I am sure that Jerry convinced Nancy that it was a life experience he did not want to miss and went back on active duty to see the war in Vietnam first hand. So Jerry, at age 30, joined the other officer candidates in Quantico, VA to comprise the 38th Officer Candidate Course. We began the Course, the officer training equivalent of boot camp for enlisted personnel, on October 11, 1965. Jerry was assigned to OCS Platoon B-1, while I was in C-2, which explains why we never met in OCS. Each Company of Candidates was on an entirely different schedule. Jerry, with former enlisted experience, was undoubtedly a strong resource for those recent college graduates that found themselves in his OCS platoon. Graduating with the Class, Jerry was commissioned on December 17, 1965. The Military Guest of Honor at our graduation was MajGen Lew Walt, the Commanding General of III Marine Amphibious Force.

Jerry was smart and fit and with his enlisted experience knew what the Marine Corp expected from its officers. Being married, he was also focused. During Basic School, Jerry didn't stay in O'Bannon Hall, which was the Bachelor Officer Quarter (BOQ). He lived in married quarters and commuted to Basic School with other married guys in our class. The married officers had a locker room in O'Bannon Hall, which I understand was a pretty raucous place. The married guys, like Jerry, took part in every class and exercise that the bachelors did and then commuted back to their families to take care of their husbandly and fatherly duties. The schedule was grueling for the bachelors as the Marine Corps was pushing us through for service in Vietnam. It must have been an incredible strain on these married officers, as they had the additional responsibility of being husbands and fathers to their families. Jerry finished 29th in his Basic School Class of approximately 470 2nd Lieutenants, despite all of these pressures.

After graduation from Basic School, Jerry had 30 days leave and a reporting date to meet a contract air carrier at Travis Air Force Base for the flight to Vietnam. He moved his family back to Colma, CA and enjoyed some quality family time with Nancy and Jay before preparing for departure to Vietnam. Jerry and I had gotten to know each other pretty well during Basic School, but that was just a prelude. We both had orders to the 3rd Marine Division.

Vietnam - Phase 1 - Da Nang and the VC

We left CONUS out of Travis Air Force Base on 9Jul66. After a refueling stop in Honolulu, we flew to Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa. We did the traditional processing at Camp Hansen and then boarded a flight into DaNang. We arrived in Vietnam in mid-July and began our in-country processing. When Jerry and I found we were on the same Vietnam-bound flight from Okinawa and both had orders to report to the Third Marine Division, we decided to travel and report together. We went through some general orientation and Land Mine Warfare and Demolitions training at the Division level before being processed for assignment to a Third Marine Division unit.

As it worked out, we were passed to the 9th Marine Regiment and then along to 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. At the time, Division and Regiment were co-located on Freedom Hill (Hill 327) in DaNang. We spent one of our first evenings in transient Bachelor Officer Quarters and went over to the Regimental Officer's Club for a beer. While we were there, we met a couple of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines 2nd Lieutenants, who had by that time been in country about 2-3 months. We had a few drinks with them and were very interested to learn as much as possible from them as to what we would be facing as new Lieutenants in-country. The two were 2nd Lt. Danny Mitchell, A Naval Academy graduate and 2nd Lt. Bill Sermeus, both assigned as platoon commanders in Alpha Company. During the conversation, 2nd Lt. Mitchell made a comment that I remember to this day, that presaged actual events, he said, "One of you will probably be killed here!" Welcome to Vietnam!

The next day, we rode a convoy down to Hill 55, where we checked in with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines headquarters. It was there, Jerry and I first met Major James L. Day, who was the XO of the Battalion. We were called into his portion of the underground bunker that served as the Battalion CP. Major Day was the first to welcome us aboard. Shortly thereafter, he took us in to meet the CO, Lt. Col Robert E. Jones. It was at Hill 55 that we were also assigned our 782 gear. This process consisted of picking through a heap of gear that was piled on the ground outside the S-4 tent. The equipment was just a mound of web gear and helmets that had been reclaimed from KIAs and WIAs as they were evacuated from the Battalion area. Even as young 2nd Lieutenants, Jerry and I knew this was not the way new personnel should be assigned 782 gear.

Our OQR's indicate that both Jerry and I were assigned to Bravo Company effective 19Jul66; but, we did not reach the Company CP position until 23Jul66. At the time, Bravo Company was assigned to the southwestern most sector of the Battalion's TAOR. The Company was deployed with First Platoon on the Song Thu Bon (Southern Flank) maintaining security for the Liberty Road Ferry Site, Second Platoon on the Song Vu Gia (Western Flank) and Third Platoon positioned in depth providing security for the company CP and the 81mm mortar section. The CO of Bravo Company was Captain Roger A. Splean. He assigned me to 1st Platoon and Jerry to 3rd Platoon. 2nd Lt. Melvin L. Thompson was already in place as 2nd Platoon Commander. Mel had arrived in-country a few weeks ahead of us. Although 2nd Lt Thompson was a decorated veteran of the Korean, in his commissioned status, he was junior to Jerry and me by Service Number. This fact was not lost on Jerry and I when time was later available to reflect on it and harass our "Big Brother".

Initially, Bravo 1 was located approximately 300 meters back from the bank of the Song Thu Bon, but later deployed forward to rivers edge to provide improved security to the pontoon ferry and the LCM-8, which spent each night on the north side of the river.

Second Platoon was located approximately 500 meters from the Song Vu Gia and approximately 1500 meters due west of the Company CP, but had an Observation Post (BOP 2) right on the bank of the river looking into the Arizona Territory. BOP 2 had two tanks inside its squad sized perimeter. The tankers were detached from 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 3rd Tank Battalion.

The Third Platoon, which Jerry was leading, the 81mm Mortar section and the Company CP were co-located approximately 200 meters west of Liberty Road and approximately 1200 meters from the confluence of the Thu Bon and the Vu Gia Rivers.

Our positions were essentially astride Liberty Road which connected Da Nang to An Hoa. We were located approximately 4000 meters south of Hill 37 (Dai Loc), which was home to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, commanded by LtCol Victor Ohanesian.

Jerry and I joined Bravo Company after the conclusion of Operation Liberty, a 3rd Marine Division Operation that began on 7Jun66 and concluded on 22Jun66. The operation was intended to push the Battalion's Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) to the south and west and to accomplish "the deliberate, detailed, systematic and thorough clearing of VC forces and complete destruction of VC facilities and influence with the assigned Zone of Action (ZOA)". Kilo Company, 3/9 was attached to 1/9 for the entire operation. Bravo Company was an active participant in Operation Liberty. The Battalion suffered 30 KIAs and 146 WIAs, including 5 Officers, during the month of June. The Command Chronology states "the entire month of June was conspicuously absent of any solid VC contact. Once again, mining and booby-trap incidents were frequent... and most of the casualties taken by the battalion were a result of such activities." While the VC avoided head-to-head contact, sniping was another strategy they used quite successfully during Operation Liberty.

Prior to our arrival in-country on 7Jul66, a squad from Bravo 3, which was subsequently assigned to Jerry, found more than 300 concussion grenades and 18 Claymore mines buried under the foundation of an abandon house. I suspect it was the house they were using as the Company CP and this stock of VC munitions was found as the 3rd Platoon dug in for their tenure as the security element at the Company CP site.

When Jerry and I arrived at the Company, Captain Splean kept us in the CP for a few of days to get us properly oriented. On 25Jul66, we participated in County Fair type operation, moving out with elements of 3rd Platoon. The concept of the operation was that one platoon each from Bravo, Charlie and Delta companies would form a cordon around the ville - Phu Loc (2) and a platoon of Popular Force soldiers from the Dai Loc Headquarters would provide the search element. The activity consisted of a night movement from the Company CP, with the 3rd Platoon, to be in blocking positions outside Phu Loc (2) a couple of kilometers north of the Company CP on the morning of 25Jul66. The platoon remained in position during the day, while Popular Forces interviewed the residents of the ville and searched it for weaponry. Jerry and I were assigned to our platoons on 26Jul66. During the month of July 1966, the Battalion?s casualties were 7 Enlisted Marines - KIA and 2 Officers and 41 Enlisted Marines - WIA.

The Company was in a period of relative calm after we joined. The only substantive enemy contact occurred at the BOP-2 outpost. One evening, the Viet Cong attempted to overrun the observation post and destroy its two tanks. The squad from Bravo 2 manning the observation post that evening repulsed the Viet Cong force which was armed with small arms and RPGs and killed 5 without sustaining any Marine casualties. The routine platoon operations consisted of squad size day patrol, a squad sized night ambush, a fire team size night listening post and 50% security on the platoon perimeter during the hours of darkness. During this somewhat static period, Jerry and I had the opportunity to get to know our troops and learn our jobs as Platoon Commanders, through on-the-job training. We were fortunate as well to be assigned to a TAOR which was several kilometers from the Battalion CP on Hill 55. Earlier, Hill 55 had been an ARVN outpost and during that time, the ARVN had deployed numerous anti-personnel mines (M-14 "Tomato Cans" and M-16 "Bouncing Betties") as part of their defensive plan. The ARVN did not provide appropriate security to their minefields and the local VC had appropriated many of these anti-personnel mines. The 1/9 Companies patrolling the area around Hill 55 were subjected to the constant threat of anti-personnel mines. It was these mines that accounted for most of the Battalion?s casualties, during July, August and September 1966.

Our Company, Bravo, was tasked with basically four tasks, (1) blocking the south west boundary of 1/9?s TAOR, (2) providing security for the Liberty Road Ferry Site, the pontoon ferry and the LCM-8, (3) providing security for Liberty Road to keep the Engineers safe while they were completing its construction and (4) conducting the daily Mine Sweep of the Main Supply Route (MSR). Jerry's platoon, Bravo 3, was primarily tasked with protection of the Engineers while they were sweeping Liberty Road for vehicular mines and completing the improvements to the MSR to make it an all-weather roadway.

We had occasional vehicular mine incidents that disrupted the construction of Liberty Road by the Engineers and the daily platoon re-supply, but no anti-personnel mine incidents. One Amtrac was disabled as it shuttled from the Company CP, where Jerry's platoon was located to the 2nd Platoon CP on a re-supply mission. Additionally, a road grader, was damaged when it hit a mine planted in the MSR between Jerry's location and mine. Later a dump truck suffered the same fate. In both incidents, the engineers suffered minor wounds, but were not seriously injured.

On 6Aug66, Alpha Company conducted a raid into the Arizona Territory. The BOP-2 squad sized strong point on the Song Vu Gia, took regular sniper fire from the west side of the river. In order to relieve the pressure on BOP-2 from this harassing fire, the Battalion put together this raid. The objective was to attempt to kill the sniper(s) and eliminate the firing positions from which they were harassing the Observation Post. 2nd Lt. Thompson had earlier scouted out a fording point on the Vu Gia. At 17:00 on 6 Aug 66, Alpha Company supported by Tanks and Amtracs passed through Bravo 2's position and crossed the river into the Arizona Territory. The raid concluded at 1800 on 7Aug66, when Alpha Company returned to the Battalion's TAOR and resumed its previous missions.

Operation Swanee brought an LCM-8 from the South China Sea up the Song Thu Bon to supplement the capability of the pontoon ferry at the Bravo 1 position on 21Aug66. The LCM-8 was used to move heavier equipment more easily across the Thu Bon thereby connecting the northern and southern segments of Liberty Road. The month of August produced an incredible improvement in communications for the Battalion, as the PRC-10 radios were replaced by the new PRC-25. Each squad leader (3) and the platoon headquarters received the new radios for a total of 4 per platoon. The Battalion?s casualty figures for August were 5 Enlisted Marines KIA and 22 Enlisted Marines and 1 Corpsman WIA.

Jerry and I didn't see much of each other during this time as our platoon strong points were over 1000 meters apart. I do remember going through the Company CP at one point as I had been named investigating officer for an incident that had taken place up north at 2/3 CP at Dai Loc. When I went through the Company CP, I got to talk with Jerry for a while. I was really impressed that he had been able to get fresh eggs for his troops. Jerry's prior enlisted Marine experience and his naturally gregarious personality put him way ahead of me and most other new Lieutenants in terms of his ability to "scrounge" or put in a more civilian context, "beg, borrow and barter" for the things he wanted or needed for his troops.

I do remember a patrol with one of my squad's on the east side of Liberty Road, which was the line of demarcation between the 1st Platoon and 3rd Platoon Zones of Action. We were in a stand of trees approximately 200 Meters due east of the Company/3rd Platoon CP. Across open fields on both sides of Liberty Road, we could see make out the large stone house that housed the two command posts. One of my Marines noticed a 6 foot by 6 foot platform at a height of about 30 feet in one of the trees. It was obvious that the VC were using this platform to observe the action's of Jerry's 3rd Platoon, the mortar section and the Company CP. I remember my squad leader, Sgt Tolentino, using C-4 and detonation cord to bring down the entire tree.

September saw numerous changes in Bravo Company and the Battalion. On 5Sep66, our CO, (Captain Roger A. Splean) was promoted to Major and assigned a job at Division. As the Battalion was designated for relief in late September and reassignment to the Special Landing Force (SLF), Major Jim Day, who was working the personnel assignments for the Battalion Commander, recommended that he give command time to the recent Naval Academy graduates serving with the Battalion. LtCol Jones agreed and 2nd Lt F. D. "Danny" Mitchell was made CO of Bravo Company on 6Sep66. 2ndLt Sim Pace, picked up Alpha Company on 2September and 2ndLt Gary MacLeod picked up H&S Company on September 25th. LtCol Jones was seriously wounded in an ambush of his jeep on September 26, 1966 with a "through and through gunshot wound of the left thigh." This wound ultimately resulted in Col. Jones medical discharge from the Corps in 1970. The Colonel's driver, L/Cpl Ferrebee also sustained gunshot wounds of the legs. With Col. Jones medevaced, Major James L. Day assumed command of 1/9. 2nd Lt. Danny Mitchell commanded Bravo Company from 6Sep66 through 30Oct66, when he took over the S-3-Alpha assignment on the Battalion Staff. Captain Mike Sayers, who assume command of Bravo Company at that point, actually reported to 1/9 on 15Sep66 and immediately assumed responsibility for the S-4 (Logistics) shop. Later, he would take over Bravo Company.

Captain James Simpson, the CO of Bravo Company 1/26 relieved Bravo 1/9 at 1000 on 27Sep66 and assumed responsibility for the Company?s missions. After a brief turn over discussion with our counterparts, Bravo Company boarded trucks for the movement to DaNang Harbor. A few hours later, LtCol A. A. Monti the CO of BLT 1/26 relieved 1/9 in place at Hill 55 and assumed responsibility for the 1/9 TAOR at 1800 on 27Sep66. The Battalion proceeded to DaNang and boarded the USS Henrico (APA-45) for sealift to Okinawa. The USS Henrico departed DaNang at 1000 on 29Sep66. During its last month in-country, before departing for assignment to Special Landing Force as BLT 1/9, the Battalion suffered 11 Enlisted Marines KIA and 34 Enlisted Marines and 1 Officer WIA.

Phase II - Special Landing Force (SLF)

As we were passing through Da Nang, en route to the awaiting ship, Jerry and I did see, then Maj. Spleen in the Division area and had a drink with him at the O-Club. When we left Vietnam, I was assigned duty as the Company Pay Officer aboard ship. I still have the sign-off sheets I used as Pay Officer. All of the other platoons and HQ and mortar section sheets were laboriously made out in my handwriting, but 3rd Platoon sheets are neatly filled out in Jerry's handwriting. Typical of Jerry, he had the sheets filled out with the names and amounts, so I just had get the signatures his Marines and pay them. Jerry always did a great job of planning ahead. While we were aboard the USS Henrico, 1/9 was OpCon to CTG-79. Once we arrived on Okinawa at 16:00 on 3Oct66 we were OpCon to RLT-26. Upon arrival, we were transported to and billeted in the SLF quarters at Camp Schwab on the northern end of the inhabited portion of the island. We were on Okinawa, undergoing training for a couple of months (October and November). During that period, the Company underwent a significant training cycle. General Military Subject Proficiency Tests were administered and Physical Readiness Tests and Swimming Qualification Tests were conducted. We surveyed our individual weapons and received reconditioned M-14s. We engaged in weapons training to include familiarization firing of all individual weapons and extensive training and firing of all crew served weapons, except the 60mm mortars, for which ammunition was unavailable. During this period, the emphasis was on small unit tactics and the intensive training included: Counter Guerilla Warfare, Demolitions, Land Mine Warfare, and Jungle Lane live-fire exercises. In addition, Bravo Company received instruction in Amphibious Raid techniques on a submarine that was moored just off Camp Schwab. Our training also included a deployment further to the Northwest to the incredibly rugged terrain of Okinawa's Northern Training Area (NTA). The training included negotiating several different types of rope bridges over deep gorges and a zip line, which resulted in a plunge into a pool of very refreshing water. This was a real treat for the troops. Additionally, we conducted a multi-day tactical problem in the NTA stressing land navigation and patrolling techniques as well as familiarization with life in the ?field? for those who had joined the Battalion on Okinawa. Command of Bravo Company passed from Danny Mitchell to Captain Mike Sayers on 31Oct66. While the Battalion was billeted at Camp Schwab, a Memorial Formation was held to honor the 153 members of the Battalion who had lost their lives in Vietnam, since the Battalion landed on Red Beach in Da Nang Harbor on June 16, 1965. The Battalion also celebrated the Marine Corps Birthday at Camp Schwab and each Officer got a small pocket knife from Major Day as a memento of the occasion. The Battalion was also inspected by the G-2 of 9th Amphibious Brigade on 12 Nov 1966.

During this period in garrison, our equipment was totally refitted and our table of organization was completely filled. Jerry requested approval to have his wife, Nancy, join him on Okinawa, during this slow period, so they could spend some time together. At the time, we shared an officers quarters duplex unit that had a common access door and then individual units. I believe Nancy and Jerry spent a night or two in the BOQ, until Jerry located an apartment right outside the main gate of Camp Schwab, in the scenic village of Henoko. My recollection is that Nancy stayed for a period of about two weeks.

As we prepared to leave Okinawa for further training in the Philippines, Jerry led a surgical strike, in which I was happy to participate. During our period of training on Okinawa, we had become aware of the fact that there was a new item in the supply system. It was a camouflaged poncho liner with great heat retention capabilities. As we were headed back into country and it was winter time, we reasoned that it would be great if our company had this comfort item. So, Jerry requisitioned a jeep and we went in search of the item's inventory point on Okinawa. Jerry, in his traditional manner, did a masterful job of convincing the supply staff sergeant who we finally located, that issuing the poncho liners to Bravo Company was the best way to get a field evaluation of this new item. Jerry was successful and we returned to Camp Schwab with enough to outfit all of Bravo Company. This shortly made us the envy of the balance of the Battalion.

The Battalion left Okinawa at 2300 on 2Dec66 aboard ships and traveled to Subic Bay in the Philippines to take up temporary residence in the SLF Camp, United States Naval Base Subic Bay. We arrived at Subic Bay at 0900 on 7Dec66. The Battalion was transformed into a Battalion Landing Team through the attachment of support services and supporting arms, specifically, Amtracs, Ontos, Tanks, 107mm Howtars, 105mm Howitzers, 155mm Howitzers and HOW-6s (105mm Howitzers mounted in an Amtrac). We moved into the SLF Camp and continued our training regimen, which included hot weather acclimatization and preparations for amphibious operations. We spend nine days learning amphibious doctrine during Operation Mud Puppy II. The landing was conducted on Mindoro Island, near the village of Nagiba. As Bravo Company was designated to conduct the amphibious assault, it was embarked aboard the USS Thomaston (LSD-28). This was a new ship and the accommodations were quite comfortable for both the Enlisted Marines and Officers. Mud Puppy II was conducted from 19Dec66 through 22Dec66. As the operation area was primarily mangrove, no substantial maneuver was available except for riverine operations aboard the attached Amtracs. We did end up pitching poncho shelter-halves in a sandy pine forest near the village of Nagiba toward the end of the operation. We concluded the practice landing and operation on December 23rd and returned to Subic Bay to celebrate Christmas.

Jerry and I were selected to take our platoons to Manila on "Christmas Liberty". After hanging out in the slop-chutes of Olongapo, this was a real treat. We boarded buses that took us to the capital, Manila, and we checked into the hotel, that had been previously negotiated, with our platoons. Jerry and I spent Christmas day together wandering around the capital. We had a wonderful lunch at one of the premier hotels near the Bay. As we walked the city after lunch, again Jerry's gregarious nature came to the fore and he engaged a nicely dressed Filipino in conversation. It turned out that the he was, like Jerry, a teacher. When asked what we might do to get the unique flavor of Manila, the teacher suggested going to the Cockfight, and announce that he was on his way there and would be delighted if we would join him. It proved to be a great afternoon. We were struck immediately as we entered the premises by a sign in several languages (including English) that announced all attendees were to check their guns and knives upon entry. The atmosphere in the enclosure was electric and our host negotiated our wagers on the outcome of the numerous contests. We had a great time betting on the outcomes. Alcoholic drinks were prohibited from the event as emotions ran at the mega-watt level.

We returned to our hotel had dinner and then parted company, as I was headed out to the local bars to make up for the lack of libation during the cockfight. This occasioned another incident which I didn't find out about until the next morning, when we were readying our troops for the bus trip back to Subic Bay. Jerry's Marines loved him; so much so, they arranged a female escort for him for the evening. As Jerry was happily married and a straight arrow, he, of course, rejected their gesture. But, being ever thoughtful, and perhaps a bit frugal, he rang up my room to see if I would like be accompanied for the evening. Jerry was a moral beacon in a sea of testosterone, but frugal as well. He did not want to see the funds that his troop had lavished on him go to waste. It was the thought that counted to him.

We brought our troops back to Subic Bay in time to embark aboard the USS Washtenaw County (LST-1166) on December 28th. This was a WWII vintage ship which was much less comfortable for the embarked troops. The only justification for switching Bravo from the USS Thomaston to the USS Washtenaw County could be the mode of launch. From the LSD, we had to wait for the well deck to flood to launch the troop laden Amtracs, while launch could be accomplished much more quickly off the LST by merely opening the bow and driving the Amtracs, with all hatches secured directly into the South China Sea. The other companies and attached units of the BLT were embarked aboard the USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2), USS Vancouver (LPD-2), USS Thomaston (LSD-28) and the USS Washtenaw County (LST-1166) on December 28, 1967. The following morning, the BLT departed for Vietnam at 10:00 on December 29th. We arrived off the coast of Vietnam on January 3, 1967 to conduct Operation Deckhouse V. The operation we were about to launch was predetermined. It was intended to break up a VC strong hold in the Thanh Phu District of Kein Hoa Province. This was a combined forces action, as the 7th ARVN Division kicked off an operation to the west a couple days ahead of our landing. Additionally, two battalions of Vietnamese Marines identified as Vietnamese Marine Brigade Force Bravo were embarked with the Task Group aboard the USS Henrico (AP-45). One of the Vietnamese Marine Corps battalion's was comprised of the 31st, 32nd, 33rd and 34th companies, while the other battalion was comprised of the 41st, 42nd, 43rd, and 44th companies. The Vietnamese Marines were responsible for the delay in the "landing the landing force" because the operational plan called for them to go down cargo nets to waiting Landing Craft and then to be transported up the estuaries and landed inland (North) of our Area of Action. The heavy seas on 4Jan67 and 5Jan67 made debarkation down cargo nets into landing craft bobbing in the violent seas too dangerous an undertaking for the Vietnamese Marines. Accordingly the entire amphibious operation, D-Day, was postponed to 6Jan67. As Bravo Company was billeted on a LST (Landing Ship, Tank) which had very little draft and was designed to be run up on the landing beach, the incidence of seasickness was quite prevalent during the delay.

The plan tasked Bravo Company with seizing, occupying and defending the landing beach (White Beach) and the adjacent LZ Sparrow to establish a secure BLT operating base. We were to provide initial security and defense for the build-up of forces ashore. Bravo Company was to be relieved of the BLT CP security mission, when a Provisional Company was formed at approximately 15:00. We landed as planned in the 2nd Wave with Jerry securing the left (9:00 to 11:00) flank, 2nd Lt. Mel Thompson and the Company CP the center (11:00 to 1:00) and my platoon on the right flank (1:00 to 3:00).

As the beach was relatively narrow, and space was needed to accommodate the subsequent landings of Marines and materiel, Bravo pushed across the sand and ended up with most of its personnel standing in tidal mangrove swamp. Initially, the water was mid-calf, but by the time we were relieved, the on-coming tide had raised the water level to mid thigh.

As subsequent waves landed on the beach, and the manpower to take over the Battalion CP security was accumulated, Bravo Company was released from this beach security mission and moved off to the north-north-east to establish platoon strong point (platoon Patrol Bases) and protect the BLT CPs Northeastern flank. As Bravo 1 had established it Platoon Patrol Base (PPB) the furthest to the Northeast, I was tasked early on January 7 (D+1) with leading a platoon patrol to the north though an area that had been totally defoliated to see if other company units could use that approach to crossing the mangrove and taking up positions on the north side. My platoon completed the patrol and returned to the Company CP at approximately noon. I reported that we had been able to cross a couple of rather deep streams using a rope bridge and pulling ourselves hand over hand. On the afternoon of January 7th, the Company was split up, with Bravo-1 remaining on the beach and Bravo-2 and Bravo-3 and the Company CP Group proceeding to the north side of the mangrove and then continuing to sweep to the Northeast. The Command Chronology and reports from those that were there ( Bill Delaney and Mel Thompson) diverge at this point. The Command Chronology indicates that the two platoons and the Company CP were heli-lifted approximately two kilometers North to a rice paddy area on the other side of the an area of the mangrove swamp which was approximately 1 kilometer wide. Then 2ndLt Thompson and 1stLt Delaney indicate they marched through the mangrove, along the route I had patrolled that morning to get position to the North and continue the Company sweep. The three platoons were aligned from north to south Bravo 2 and the Company CP group on the left flank, Bravo 3, Jerry's platoon in the center and Bravo 1 on the right flank as we advanced. The three platoons with weapons attached moved simultaneously in a Northeasterly direction for the balance of the operation, encountering reasonably light resistance. There were occasional firefights, but the VC units generally were sniping or sending squad sized units to conduct long range ambushes and harassing actions.

It was during Operation Deckhouse V that Jerry and I first got the opportunity to maneuver our platoons against enemy forces. The S-2 Spot Reports in the Battalion's after action report for Deckhouse V and the narrative of the Command Chronology for the period relate the details of several actions where Jerry's 3rd Platoon was under enemy fire.

At 1655 on January 7, Jerry's platoon received small arms fire from a force estimated at 5 VC, while the firefight did not last long, it did produce 3 VC WIA, who were taken into custody and evacuated to the BLT CP for questioning.

The following afternoon, at approximately 1415, Jerry's platoon received automatic weapons fire from what was estimated to be 3 VC. One Marine was wounded during the exchange, and when they searched the area, Jerry's Marines found ChiCom grenades, 3 M-1 magazines and 400 rounds of 7.62mm linked ammunition.

On January 9 at 0245, Jerry's platoon, Bravo -3, suffered a friendly fire casualty. I remember monitoring the Company tactical net that evening and feeling the anguish in Jerry's voice as he reported the incident. At 02:45, as Jerry's squad sized night ambush returned to his perimeter, the four man listening post, took the squad under fire. One of the Marines was seriously wounded and an emergency medevac was undertaken. PFC D. R. Roberson later died of wounds in the USS Iwo Jima's dispensary. While Jerry and I never spoke of the incident, I could tell from his radio transmissions that evening that it affected him very deeply. Jerry was very paternalistic toward his Marines and I am sure that losing one to friendly fire was a deep blow to him. That evening at 2115, Jerry was again involved in a significant exchange with the VC. In their platoon patrol base and hunkered down for the evening, 3rd Platoon was attacked by approximately 15 VC with 60mm mortars and small arms. In addition to returning fire with his integral weapons, Jerry called in 57 rounds of 105mm artillery, directed 25 rounds of 60mm mortar and directed a C-47 flare ship and UH1E gun ship against the VC position. Jerry's actions during the fire fight, which lasted approximately 30 minutes, produced such total target coverage it resulted in an estimated 10 VC KIA and 5 VC WIA. There were two Marines wounded during the exchange.

On January 10th at approximately 1900, Jerry's platoon was receiving a resupply by helicopter. When the bird landed, the perimeter received 15 rounds of sniper fire. One of Jerry's Marines was killed by the accurate sniper fire.

On January 11, at 1024, Bravo 3 again received automatic weapons fire from a squad sized VC unit. Jerry established a base of fire and directed one of his squads to envelop. This maneuver was successful and the enemy machine gunner and his crew were pinned down. During the firefight, 3 VC were killed and a machine gun and Russian carbine were captured. During the firefight, two Marines were wounded.

At 0210 on January 12th, one squad from Jerry's platoon was returning to the platoon patrol base from a night ambush. They were taken under fire by approximately 15 VC who opened fire with automatic weapons and threw hand grenades at them. The squad leader saw five VC fall in the initial burst of fire. The fire fight lasted approximately 10 minutes and it was estimated that five VC were killed without any sustaining any friendly casualties. Later that afternoon, at 1610, Jerry's platoon stopped four VC Suspects for questioning. This caused approximately 17 VC to prematurely trigger an ambush from a distance of about 100 meters. Jerry coordinated return fire and employed his 60mm mortar and called in 18 rounds of 105mm artillery on the VC. The results were two friendly WIA and 3 VC KIA estimated. Later that afternoon, Bravo 2 and Bravo 3 consolidated their Marines in a single perimeter with the Company CP and 81mm mortar section in anticipation of relief on January 13th. Jerry's platoon manned the perimeter, while Bravo 2 provided the night ambush and listening post and otherwise rested inside the Bravo 3 perimeter. Delta Company was flown in to relieve Bravo Company and continue its mission. Bravo Company in turn was flown out to the USS Iwo Jima and provided the BLT reserve for the remaining days of the operation.

Deckhouse V secured at 1621 on January 15th. The operation, which was compromised by the participation of ARVN and Vietnamese Marines, resulted in light casualties to the 518th VC Coastal Security Battalion and the 530th Company. The operation inflicted the following loses on the VC:

VC KIA (Body Count): 21
VC KIA (Probable): 41
VC WIA (Probable): 53

Friendly casualties were reported as:

USMC Non-Battle: 46

Bravo Company accounted for 17 of the Battalion's 21 confirmed kills.

Maj Jim Day's Commander's Analysis read: "Operation Deckhouse V was successful. One large deterrent, however, was the advance information gained by the Viet Cong of the impending operation and the general location of it. This information, however obtained enabled the enemy to remove forces from the AOA and thus avoid large scale contact with a superior force. It is estimated that only scattered squad sized VC units remained behind. Those Viet Cong forces and supplies remaining in the AO were found and largely destroyed. Operation Deckhouse V should have a prolonged effect on VC operations in Kien Hoa Province from a psychological as well as a logistical standpoint."

From January 15th to January 23rd, the Task Group was enroute to Okinawa. We stopped in Subic Bay for two days on our journey north. As the Warrant for Bill Delaney's promotion to 1stLt came through while we were in Subic Bay, all the Company officers celebrated the occasion at the Cubi Point Officers Club. We all got wasted in this traditional "Wetting Down" ceremony. Fortuitously, we were at the Cubi Point Club when the USS Enterprise pulled into Subic Bay. It was an amazing sight to behold from the height of the Club. We proceeded on to Okinawa and the BLT returned to Camp Schwab where it was relieved of its SLF responsibility. 1/9 remained at Camp Schwab until January 31st, when it boarded the USS Henrico (APA-45) for transportation back to Vietnam, rejoining the 3rd Marine Division. The Battalion debarked the Henrico on February 5, 1967 and moved by LCM up the Perfume River to the LCM ramp at Hue City. The Battalion was transported by truck to Phu Bai Combat Base. It had been decided that Bravo Company would be detached from the Battalion at this point and sent to Khe Sanh to report to the Senior Officer Present (SOP), 3rd Marine Division/3rd Marine Amphibious Force. The Battalion arrived at Phu Bai at approximately 1300 on February 5th. Bravo Company, which had sent an advance party ahead to Khe Sanh, was chopped OPCON to SOP 3rd MarDiv/III MAF Representative, Khe Sanh at 1400 on February 6th. The Company was flown by C-130 to Khe Sanh and assumed responsibility for the security of the Khe Sanh Combat Base later that afternoon.

Phase III - Khe Sanh

Khe Sanh was a sore subject between MACV, General Westmoreland and III MAF, LtGen Walt. In an attempt to conserve force, LtGen Walt made the decision to replace 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, which had provided security for the Combat Base for a period of approximately 3 months with very little enemy contact, with a single infantry company.

Upon arrival at Khe Sanh, Bravo Company deployed in clockwise manner beginning approximately 500 meters from the east end of the runway, which was oriented from WNW to ESE. Bravo 1 covered from 4 to 8. Bravo 2 was responsible for the zone from 8 to 12 wrapping around the WNW end of the runway and Bravo 3, Jerry's platoon, had from 12 to 4 on the north side of the runway. Bravo Company, despite the vast distances that the lines stretched, immediately resumed its standard procedure of 3 day time squad patrols, 3 night time squad ambushes and 3 night time fire team listening posts. Although 3rd Force Recon made periodic contact and continued to report on enemy movements, there had been very few engagements with the NVA close to the Combat Base. During the month of February, 5 Force Recon patrols were extracted under fire. The first close in contact was on February 25th, when an NVA 82mm mortar section was engaged initially by a squad from B-2 and later by the assigned "Sparrow Hawk" unit, B-1-1 approximately 1500 meters northwest of the perimeter. The action broke up the NVA objective of mortaring the Khe Sanh Combat Base, as part of a coordinated attack on Phu Bai, Dong Ha, Camp Carroll, the Rockpile and Lang Vei. All of the other Marine installations were mortared or assaulted as part of an NVA show of force.

A few days later, however, at 0100 on March 3rd, the NVA did hit Khe Sanh Combat Base with approximately 65 rounds of 82mm mortar. The rounds landed on the north side of the perimeter, in Jerry's platoon area, the adjacent Landing Support Unit (LSU) area and on the Helicopter Pad. Fortunately, no Bravo 3 Marines were injured, but the LSU suffered 1 KIA and 6 WIA. Additionally, the NVA damaged 2 CH-46 Sea Knights and 2 UH-1E Huey gunships. As a result of the increased enemy activity, the number of night ambushes sent out from the Combat Base increased from 3 to 5. The NVA also began isolated probes of the perimeter. During the evenings of March 4th and March 7th, Bravo Company had a WIA each evening as a result of the NVA probes.

On March 7th, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines was sent to Khe Sanh to bolster the garrison and provide for better defense in depth. With the added infantry, the size of the patrols was increased from solely squad sized to a mix of squad sized and platoon sized patrols. Additionally, Platoon Patrol Bases were established at significant distances from the Combat Base to keep the NVA away from its perimeter. Bravo Company had one platoon assigned to perimeter security at the Combat Base and its other two platoons out on 4 or more day platoon patrol base assignments. The platoon patrol bases were moved periodically and squad size patrol and ambushes continued at greater distances from the Combat Base. The infantry patrols, however, were always under the "umbrella" of the 105mm artillery battery located at the Combat Base.

Echo stayed for only 13 days, departing on March 20th. However, on 16 March, one of their platoon's, Echo 1, initiated a significant action. Echo 1 was moving up the southern slope of Hill 861, when it was engaged by superior NVA forces. Bravo 2 which was located in Platoon Patrol Base approximately 1500 meters to the east was dispatched to link up with Echo 1 and help them to disengage and evacuate their casualties (10 KIAs and 29 WIAs) When the combined units attempted to evacuate the KIAs and WIAs, the NVA directed devastating mortar fire on the helicopters and personnel carrying the casualties to the birds. Bravo 2 lost 8 KIAs and had 34 WIAs during this mortar barrage.

On March 20th, Cpl Wright's squad from Bravo 2 ambushed an NVA squad and killed 6 of the NVA.

On March 30, Jerry's platoon was northwest of Combat Base, on the North side of Hill 861 and took under fire the Listening Post of an NVA base camp. They continued to move forward cautiously and moved into the encampment that included caves and sleeping positions. At 0830, the NVA began a bombardment of Bravo 3 with approximately 85 rounds of 82mm mortar fire. Jerry instructed his men to take cover in the NVA bunker complex and there were no casualties. Later, fixed wing aircraft came on station, and Jerry directed air strikes on the area where the NVA mortars were located. One of the F4B Phantoms was struck by ground fire during the air strike and crashed killing the NFO. The pilot was able to eject and survived. This was one of three occasions at Khe Sanh, prior to the beginning of the "Hill Fights" (April 24, 1967) in which Bravo 3, under Jerry's command, had firefights with the NVA.

It was during the "Hill Fights" that Basic Class 3-66 lost three of its members. 1stLt Phillip H. Sauer was the first to die, as he led a small patrol to the top of Hill 861 to determine if he could get his Ontos section up there to support Bravo Company's attempts to extricate themselves with direct fire from the mounted .50 Cal machine gun and 106mm recoilless rifles. 1stLt David S. Hackett was awarded the Silver Star posthumously for his conspicuous gallantry on April 30 while serving as XO of Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines for directing crew served weapons fire, evacuating wounded Marines and going to the assistance of a wounded platoon commander, all under heavy enemy fire. In the same coordinated assault, 1stLt John B. Woodall of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines was awarded the Silver Star, posthumously, for single handedly eliminating an NVA bunker that was stopping two of his wounded Marines from being recovered, so they could receive medical attention.

Jerry was scheduled to go on R&R and was indeed in Hawaii with Nancy, when the "Hill Fights" began and through the entire period of Bravo Company's involvement (April 24 - 27). This was a period of intense combat for the Company, the fiercest since Jerry had joined the Bravo Company the previous July. During his absence, Jerry's Platoon Sergeant, S/Sgt Afredo V. Reyes, was acting platoon commander. While the Company was under fire on the slopes of Hill 861, 23 of its number were killed and 38 were wounded. The remnants of Bravo Company left Khe Sanh as they had arrived, by C-130 at 1630 on April 27th.

Phase IV - Con Thien

They were flown to Dong Ha and immediately transferred to trucks for the ride to Camp Carroll, where they would assume another perimeter security mission. During the period April 27 to May 12, Bravo Company would be OPCON to the 3rd Marine Regiment, which had responsibility for the Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) in which Camp Carroll was located. One platoon from Bravo Company was assigned the responsibility for providing security at the Khe Gai Bridge. The other two platoons shared responsibility for security of a portion of the Camp Carroll perimeter security with Lima 3/9. Bravo Company was actively patrolling during this period, running two to four squad sized day patrols, occasionally with tanks on the major roads in the vicinity of Camp Carroll. The Company was also tasked with conducting one or two night ambushes each day. On May 1st, a Bravo squad-sized night ambush killed one NVA. On May 7th, at 1400, a patrol from Bravo 1 called in a practice fire mission approximately 800 meters to their east, but the marking round landed on the patrol, wounding 4, one of which later died of his wounds. These injuries were classified as Non-Battle Casualties (NBC). The following day, at 03:00, Camp Carroll was hit by 24 rounds of 102mm spin stabilized rocket fire. One Bravo Marine was wounded very seriously by the rocket barrage and required an emergency medevac. Generally, the two weeks spent at Camp Carroll were reasonably quiet for Jerry and the balance of Bravo Company, particularly when contrasted with the hell they had endured at the end of their service at Khe Sanh. On May 13th, at 0830, the Khe Gai bridge responsibility was turned over to a platoon from India, 3/3. The Bravo platoon returned to Camp Carroll and rejoined the Company, which was then trucked by 7th Motor Transport to Dong Ha. The convoy left Camp Carroll at 1015 and control of the company was returned to its parent, 1/9, for the first time in 3 ½ months.

Once Bravo Company arrived at Dong Ha, Captain Sayers gave up command to Captain Curd. The Battalion Commander, Major Fulham, who had taken command from Major James L. Day on March 18, 1967, intended to use the Company in a vertical envelopment as Operation Prairie IV continued. As helicopter resources were not available, Bravo Company once again embarked on trucks and backtracked to the Cam Lo Bridge. There they disembarked and move tactically on foot to join their parent Battalion about 2 Kilometers Northeast of Cam Lo and were designate the Battalion Reserve on May 14th.

The Battalion was tasked with conducting a deliberate search and destroy operation northward on the Main Supply Route from Cam Lo to Con Thien arriving by the morning of May 15th. NVA forces utilizing small arms and mortars effectively were to slow the Battalion's advance. Observed mortar fire caused numerous casualties and precluded all but emergency medevacs of Delta Company personnel, who were leading the Battalion advance. Bravo Company remained the Reserve until May 15th, when they were directed to join Delta Company at the front to assist in the evacuation of Delta's casualties. The heaviest resistance was in a fortified bunker complex approximately 2 kilometers Southeast of Con Thien. On May 16th, Bravo and Delta moved to a safe LZ and evacuated their casualties, but took further fire from the fortified complex all afternoon. They withdrew at nightfall and an artillery barrage began at 0550 on May 17 in which 685 rounds of 105mm and 155mm were fired into the target area. Jerry and the balance of Bravo Company swept through the complex receiving only occasional sniper rounds. As dusk approached, they returned and occupied the 75 NVA bunkers they had found in the fortified complex in order to deny the NVA use of them. On May 18, Bravo conducted a bunker by bunker search locating 27 enemy dead and 11 individual weapons, 5 crew served machine guns, 177 82mm mortar rounds, 100 ChiCom grenades and 3 RPGs.

Once the Battalion arrived at Con Thien, Delta took up perimeter security positions inside the wire, while Bravo and Charlie established company strong points south and slightly to the east of "The Hill of Angels". In this screening capacity, Bravo moved north of Con Thien and began finding more extensive fortified complexes. On May 24th they found 11 bunkers and on May 25th they found 100 bunkers north of Con Thien. The NVA were obviously preparing for additional offensive actions and creating positions to which their personnel could retreat when Marine supporting arms were brought to bear against them.

On the morning of May 28th, Bravo Company went inside the wire at Con Thien and Delta Company assumed their screening role. It was at this time that Jerry took over the Battalion S-2 shop from our Classmate 1stLt Stephen M. Snyder. At this point, Jerry had commanded Bravo 3 for 10 months. For the balance of May, June and into July, Jerry would work the S-2 job at his desk in the underground 1/9 CP Bunker at the east end of the bunker adjacent to stairs that zigzagged back up to ground level.

Jerry's work during the month of June is summarized in his Intelligence Report that was published in the Command Chronology for June:

" Intelligence

The following NVA units were believed to be operating in the AO during the month of June. Elements of the 342B Division which included the 90th NVA Regiment, elements of the 341st Division including a report of one engineer battalion operating to the west and northwest of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines position. Captured documents dated 30 May 1967 found at YD 115721 (two kilometers north of Con Thien), identified one unit as 3rd Company, 31st Battalion.

Most of the area north of our position is believed to be a logistical supply route serving most of northern Quang Tri (Province) and the Cam Lo areas. This area also holds storage facilities, ammo dumps and training areas.

The use of air support, air observation, combat patrols and extensive use of the AN/TPS-121 unit enabled the battalion to detect enemy activity in the area. Most of the activity was on a small squad-size level and these were generally detected early enough to minimize their success.

During the month of June, 23 different bunker complexes were found and destroyed. They ranged in size from 2x2x4 to 8x8x10. Propaganda leaflets were found in bunkers and forwarded to the rear.

Most of the equipment captured or taken from the NVA was new or of a new type. In almost every pack was found a gas mask, either the new Chinese issue or a crude but effective home-made mask.

The AN/TPS-21 made 11 sightings of troop movement which resulted in either mortar or artillery missions being fired.

The battalion Psy-Ops Team coordinated the dropping of 250,000 leaflets on 20 June 1967 and 80,000 on June 22, 1967. The themes of the drops were Chieu Hoi safe conduct passes and surrender leaflets. Additionally, aerial broadcasts to the NVA were conducted for a total of 2 ½ hours."

At 09:00 on June 30th, Bravo Company again moved outside the wire under the command of Captain Sterling B. Coates, who had assumed command on June 21st to replace Delta Company in the screening mission. S/Sgt Reyes was the acting platoon commander for Bravo 3, Jerry's former platoon. Bravo Company moved out of the south gate of Con Thien to the east and their destiny at the "Marketplace" on July 2nd. I will not attempt to tell the story of that desperate battle as it is better told by Keith William Nolan in his landmark book, "Operation Buffalo - USMC Fight for the DMZ". Suffice it to say that Bravo Company sustained the highest casualty rate of an infantry company during the Vietnam War. The after action report listed 1/9 casualties on July 2nd as:


While the other rifle companies all suffered some casualties, the majority of these casualties were Bravo Company personnel.

It was into this maelstrom that Captain "Mac" Radcliffe, Jerry's Basic School platoon commander was sent, once it was determined that Captain Coates had been killed. In his capacity as Battalion S-2, Jerry had no business joining Captain Radcliffe, in the relief of Bravo Company, but a loyalty and love for "his Marines" motivated him to do so. Captain Radcliffe and 1stLt Lieutenant Howell supported by Delta 3, commanded by 2ndLt Thomas P. Turchan and accompanied by 4 tanks made their way to the most forward elements of Bravo Company and evacuated as many WIAs as possible, as well as those KIAs which could be reached. As the battle had developed, Bravo 3, Jerry's old platoon had penetrated the furthest into the NVA ambush; so, their casualties were the most forward on the battlefield. It was "his Marines" that Jerry was most motivated to recover.

[Note a copy of the Navy Cross Citation was displayed here. It can be read in the upper part of the Bio. MHOH]

While the citation describes events demonstrating great personal courage, it was Jerry's original decision to leave what was assumed to be the "safety" of the Combat Operation Center (COC) to assist the less combat-experienced Captain Radcliffe and 2nd Lt Turchan in the relief of Bravo Company that was, indeed, his most heroic deed. It demonstrated his loyalty, commitment and love for "his Marines".

Jerry's love for his men is further demonstrated in a letter that he wrote to the parents of Corporal Troy D. Payne, Jr., who was killed in action on April 26, 1967, during the initial action of the Hill Fights, so well chronicled by Edward F. Murphy in "The Hill Fights - The First Battle of Khe Sanh". Jerry's undated letter was on a 16mm microfilm reel in a Bronze Star Medal file for Corporal Payne. The letter was printed off the reel and then retyped by Chaplain Ray W. Stubbe in an attempt to preserve this and many other historical records. Jerry's letter reads:

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Payne:

Please let me introduce myself, I am 1st Lt Gatlin J. Howell. I had the honor of being the Platoon Commander of the unit that your son Cpl Payne was attached to.

Troy worked with the 3rd platoon Bravo Company for approximately three months. During this time he was involved in many activities, while with my platoon.

I would like you to know that Cpl Payne was one of the most outstanding young men that I have ever served with. He continually exhibited leadership abilities far superior to those we normally expect from our small unit leaders.

Prior to the action on Hills 861, we made three separate contacts with enemy units. On all three occasions, it seemed that Troy was everywhere possible doing all within his power to insure success of each operation.

Regrettably, I was in Hawaii on R&R when the company became involved in the action that claimed your son. I've talked to member of the platoon, who were witnesses to his last actions and I will try to relate them to you to the best of my ability.

Your son was not in on the initial encounter with the enemy atop Hill 861, due to a cold he had contracted. He was on light duty and remained behind when the company moved out to try and clear Hill 861 and the surrounding areas. As you no doubt know, the company made immediate contact with the enemy and was taking grievous casualties. We were evacuating our casualties by helicopter, which in turn were taking them to Khe Sanh Combat Base for medical treatment.

A Marine Corps General landed at Khe Sanh to receive instructions on how to get to the scene of the battle. In a move characteristic of your son, he boldly climbed aboard the general's helicopter and accompanied him to the action, whereupon he joined 3rd platoon.

Upon reaching the battlefield, Troy was of invaluable assistance. He carried wounded to the landing zone and fought off repeated enemy attacks with weapons he picked up from his injured comrades. He was comforting the wounded and providing protection for his men even to the extent of using his own body as a shield. Tragically, it was this heroic gesture which resulted in his death.

Many injured Marines were in a landing zone waiting to be lifted to safety when the enemy began to mortar the site. Cpl Payne moved undauntedly to the very center of the impact area to move the stricken men to a safer position. It was at this time that he was hit. He was not subjected to any pain whatsoever and died in a valiant effort to help his companions.

I hope that this letter will not cause you any undue distress. I could not let you go unaware of your sons unwavering devotion to duty.

The First Sergeant of Bravo Company gave me your letter to read and it caused me to be doubly proud of having served with your son. His loss has been keenly felt by all those who were fortunate enough to know him.

On behalf of the third platoon and Bravo Company, may I extend my most heartfelt sympathy for the loss of Troy. We will all miss him.

If I can be of assistance to you in the future, please do not hesitate to write.

Most Sincerely,

1st Lt Gatlin J. Howell"

Upon Jerry's initiative and supported by numerous eye-witness accounts of Cpl Payne's bravery, his parents were presented with the Bronze Star Medal he was awarded posthumously.

Our Basic School Class suffered another casualty on July 6th as Operation Buffalo continued. 1stLt Wayne M. Hayes was a tank platoon commander with Charlie Company, 3rd Tank Battalion assigned to support Bravo Company 1/3. When Charlie 2 of 1/3 received fire from a 57mm recoilless rifle on the morning of July 6th, 1st Lt Hayes' heavy tank section was dispatched along with a platoon of infantry (Bravo 3) to eliminate it. Upon arriving at the Charlie 2 position, 1stLt Hayes took the recoilless rifle under fire with the tank's 90mm gun and appeared to have eliminated it, but after several minutes it resumed firing. Its replacement crew fired one round, which struck 1stLt Hayes tank between the hull and turret. 1st Lt Hayes received a sucking chest wound and although quickly evacuated, died before reaching a medical facility.

The myth of the "safety" of the Combat Operation Center at Con Thien was ironically exposed a day later on July 7th, when as described by Keith Nolan, "a single NVA 152mm shell with a delay-fuse scored a direct hit..". The NVA artillery shell fired from a battery located in the DMZ literally exploded at Jerry's feet as he worked at the S-2 desk. This single artillery shell killed 14 Marines, wounded 27 and collapsed the COC Bunker. 1stLt Steve Snyder, who was only meters away in the Delta Company CP described the incident as follows: "I don't know the size of the round that killed Jerry or whether it had a delayed fuse. Most of the incoming those days was quick fuse, exploding on impact. I made it to the bunker about 3 minutes after hearing the muffled "thump" when that round hit and entered via the narrow east to west slit trench/ramp on the east side of the bunker that lead down into it. The round had hit a target about the size of a dinner plate. It had cleared the top of the north side of the entrance to the bunker but had passed just under the sandbags on its south side, landing right in front of Jerry on his desk. At the time I thought the round must have slipped in via that trench and exploded high on its south wall, since Jerry's field desk was at the bottom of that trench and he was killed immediately". 1stLt Snyder added, "I talked to Jerry at some length just before I went on R&R at the end of May, when Jerry replaced me as S-2. I recall very vividly that his wife and children were uppermost in his mind and that he wanted very much to return to them. That just serves to highlight how seriously he took his obligation to Bravo, when he asked to be sent down into the maw of Buffalo to extricate Bravo's dead and wounded and carry on for them".


At the time of his death, Jerry was within 30 days of a reunion in California with his pregnant wife Nancy and his son, Jay. Jerry's second son, Mark, would never know his father.

A final memorial to Jerry took place at Pelton Junior High School in San Francisco on May 29, 1968. Military honors were mingled with the initial awards of the "Howell Memorial Plaque", which recognized Pelton track and field athletes who displayed the traits of "courage, dedication, enthusiasm, friendliness, leadership and loyalty". The plaque's criteria captured perfectly those qualities Jerry embodied and lived. Awardees were selected and recognized for the years 1963, the year Jerry first coached and taught at Pelton JHS, through 1968. Attending the assembly were 6 Marines in Dress Blues, including Jerry's 1/9 Battalion Commander, LtCol James L. Day, who would later be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Clinton for an action on Okinawa during WWII and would retire a Major General. Two of the platform guests for "Memorial" were Captain David L. Mellon and 1st Lieutenant Melvin L. Thompson, who had served with Jerry, as platoon commanders, in Bravo Company 1/9. The most poignant moments of the assembly occurred when LtCol Day presented the Navy Cross Medal to Nancy Howell. LtCol Day concluded his comments to Nancy and the crowd with his acknowledgement of feelings that all Marines who were fortunate enough to known and served with Jerry felt upon learning of his sacrifice - "we knew him, we loved him and we miss him".

Semper Fidelis, My Friend!

David L. Mellon
Platoon Commanders Together In Bravo Company
1st Battalion, 9th Marines
3rd Marine Division, FMF

Honoree ID: 254606   Created by: MHOH




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