A Brief History of the 7th Marines
1965 - 1970 By
Victor J. Vilionis
U.S. Marines.....First In....First Out.....
Thirty-nine members of the regiment have received the nation's highest military award for bravery - The Medal of Honor, four were Navy Corpsmen. Eight of the awards were given in Vietnam. This, the highest number of awards for any regiment in the Marine Corps, is indicative of the caliber of men who have served in the 7th Marines.
Because of the Marine Corps policy of utilizing mixed units in VietNam and not Regiments as a whole, it is difficult to include all the engagements against the enemy which the 7th Marines participated in. I have tried to include major Operations where the 7th Regiment had OPCON (Operational Control), those 7th Marine Battalions that were detatched and assigned to OPCON of other Regiments will not appear in this brief history of the Regiment.
Marines who have participated on some of the Operations may find the information sketchy at best. I have attempted to give a brief outline of the events that happened and may have ommitted important unit activities due to space. This is an attempt to inform those who have not been there of the hardships and sacrifices the Marines who served endured in America's longest undeclared War.
Acknowledgement and Bibliography
The Marines had already landed and were fighting the Viet Cong in Vietnam since March, 1965. RLT-7 (Regimental Landing Team ) was quickly, formed around the core of the 7th Marine Regiment in Camp Pendleton, California. The entire 7th Marine Regiment, with all of it's equipment and supporting units, left Long Beach and San Diego, California, for the far East and Okinawa on the 23rd of May, it's final destination Vietnam.
Between 24 -26 June, LtCo. Charles H. Bodley's, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines embarked on board the amphibious ships Iwo Jima (LPH-2), Talledega (APA 208), and Point Defiance (LSD 31) in Okinawa and departed for Vietnam. The Battalion landed unopposed near the city of Qui Nhon in II Corps, on 1 July 1965. The Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines embarked in the Okanogan (APA 220, and the Alamo (LSD 33) in Okinawa deployed to Vietnam arriving off the coast of Qui Nhon on 6 July. By July 7, the 2nd Battalion relieved the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines who had reembarked the waiting ships to become part of the SLF off the coast of Vietnam. On the 14th of August, Headquarters and the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines landed at Chu Lai, I Corps, completing the Regiments deployment to Vietnam. Shortly thereafter, Headquarters, 7th Marines and the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines joined in "Operation Starlite", the first regimental-size battle for American forces since Korea.
Operation Starlite began on the 18th of August 1965 as a combined amphibian-helicopter assault on enemy fortified positions on the Van Tuong Peninsula, with major ground units being the 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines, 2nd Battalion 4th Marines, and 3rd Battalion 7th Marines. Marines landed behind enemy lines and drove them to the sea. The classic encirclement was successful in that the units of the 1st Viet Cong Regiment were forced to stand and fight. After seven days the enemy was severely mauled and decisively defeated.
Operation Piranha began on the 7th of September 1965, with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines coming ashore by landing craft on the Batangan Peninsula. It's sister unit, the 3rd Battalion, was brought to the objective area by helicopter. Support came from South Vietnamese units while the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines acted as the reserve force during the engagement. Results were less than expected and less spectacular than Starlite, as the Marines found no large concentrations of enemy personnel.
The 2nd Battalion in Qui Nhon, who's main task was defense of the airfield, port, and American installations, was re-deployed in November 1965 to Chu Lai, where the remainder of the regiment was situated. The regiment, with it's responsibility of defending installations in and around Chu Lai, continued to expand its TAOR through aggressive patrolling, counter guerrilla activities, and battalion or multi-battalion operations. By the end of 1965, the number of encounters with regular North Vietnamese Army units had become increasingly more common. The Viet Cong, however, still remained the primary adversaries in the Regiment's area of responsibility.
In early December, three Marine battalions - the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, the 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines, and the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines - were deployed to an area midway between Chu Lai and Da Nang to relieve the pressure on South Vietnamese forces that had been hit hard by the 70th Viet Cong Regiment. On the 18th, the 80th Viet Cong Battalion ambushed the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, although the Viet Cong gained fire superiority in the beginning, the Marines turned viciously on the enemy. With the accurate artillery support from the 4th Battalion, 11th Marines, forced the Viet Cong to leave the field of battle and sustaining heavy casualties. Lt. Nicholas H. Grosz Jr., the CO. of H&S Company was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that day, and Lt. Harvey C. Barnum Jr. an Artillery FO earned the Nations highest Award for Valor, The Medal of Honor.
In early January, in Operation Mallard, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines joined the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines in a sweep of an area 20 miles southwest of Da Nang. The Viet Cong were reluctant to engage in large scale fighting and resisted in the form of harassing tactics. The 7th Marines didn't know at the time that this area which came to be known as the "Arizona Territory" would be one of their main operating area's in the very near future.
The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines entered Operation Double Eagle II in Mid-February, but only light contact occurred. The unit had more success in engaging the enemy in Operation Utah, which began on 4 March in an area northwest of the city of Quang Ngai. Also included in the operation were the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, plus the 1st South Vietnamese Airborne Battalion. Immediately following its landing by helicopter, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines encountered a sizable North Vietnamese force and engaged in a heavy battle. When the NVA retired from the battlefield they left 150 dead. The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines also paid a heavy price with 43 killed and 104 wounded. Corporal George O. Norwood of Company "G" and HN Samuel G. Orlando were awarded the Navy Cross, the later was a posthumous award.
Two more operations, Texas and Indiana , were carried out in the same general vicinity towards the end of the month. The 3rd Battalion participated in the former, while the 1st Battalion participated in the latter. Operation Indiana was short when compared to the previous two which preceeded it, but indredibly ferocious, on 28 March, 1966 HN3 Robert R. Ingram a Corpsman serving with "C" Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines was awarded the Medal of Honor for his undaunted bravery during the battle that insued. Two other brave young Marines, Corporal Earl W. Fowler and Pvt. Alvin S. La Pointe received the Nations Second Highest Award, The Navy Cross for their acts of bravery on that very same day.
Hot Springs was the next major operation in April. The Regiment, minus it's 1st Battalion, launched an offensive drive against units of the 1st Viet Cong Regiment in an area 6 miles northwest of Quang Ngai. This operation saw the largest single troop lift by helicopter in the war up to that time.