Starlite: The First Big Battle

Intelligence and Planning

Throughout July evidence had accumulated showing a VC buildup in southern I Corps, especially south of Chu Lai. A deserter confirmed to interrogators that the 1st VC Regiment, consisting of the 60th and 80th Battalions, the 52nd VC Co., and a Co. of the 45th Weapons Battalion, had established a base in the Van Tuong village complex.

A plan was formulated to attack and destroy the VC threat. Originally code named "Satellite", due to a loss of electricity, a clerk made a typing error when the plan was being typed up and Operation "Starlite" was born. D-Day was to be 18 August, 1965. LtCol. Fisher's 2nd Bn., 4th Marines, were to be heli-lifted into pre-designated LZ's inland, LtCol. Muir's 3rdBn, 3rd Marines, minus "Mike" Company, were to make an amphibious Landing and LtCol. Bodley's, 3rd Bn, 7th Marines, designated the SLF, were to remain in reserve. These ground units were to participate in the operation with support from numerous other Marine units.

The Battle

On the 17th, "Mike" Co., 3rd Bn, 3rd Marines moved out towards the area of operations on LVT's. Disembarking on the coast the Marines then marched 4 miles inland before digging in before dawn and establishing a blocking position.

At 0630 on the 18th, LtCol. Muir's "India" and "Kilo" Co.'s landed in LVT's and pushed Inland. LtCol. Fisher's Marines were heli-lifted to their designated LZ's and proceed to search the designated area of operations.

Most of the Marine companies met only light resistance as they moved to the attack. At one juncture, Marines of "Echo" Co., 2nd Bn, 4th Marines spotted 100 VC in the open and asked for artillery fire which the 3rd Bn, 12th Marines promptly delivered resulting in 90 enemy dead.

Major action developed in the south in the vicinity of Hill 43 were "Hotel" Co., 4th Marines LZ was almost on top of the 60th VC Battalion. The VC fought tenatiously, but the Marines were too strong for the enemy. One platoon counted six dead with more bodies scattered throughout the brush.One prisoner was taken and over 40 weapons were collected.

"India" Co., 3rd Marines attacked An Cuong (2) after receiving heavy fire from the hamlet. By the time the Marines gained the upper hand and secured the hamlet the CO, Captain Bruce D. Webb, had been killed. The Marines counted 50 Viet Cong bodies on the battlefield.

Muir ordered "India" Co. to join "Kilo" Co. and "Hotel" Co., remaining near Nam Yen (3), to clean out all enemy opposition there and then link up with the Battalion. As "Hotel" started to advance on the left flank of "India" Co., suddenly, from positions in Nam Yen (3) and from Hill 30, the VC opened up with murderous crossfire. "Hotel" was taking fire from all directions, one squad killed 9 VC who were manning a mortar. LCpl. Joe C. Paul was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. Forced to withdraw, the lead platoon was separated from the main body but unexpectly linked up with "India" Co.'s, helicopter security detail. The force was engaged by a VC unit but together the two units fought their way to An Cuong (2). Cpl. Robert E. O'Malley, killed 8 VC single-handedly that day. He was awarded the Medal of Honor of his act of heroism during the battle.

The main body of "Hotel" was directed to establish a defensive perimeter and await reinforcements, however they never arrived because they had been diverted to help a supply column that had been ambushed west of An Cuong (2). Fire from VC recoilless rifles and a barrage of mortar rounds tore into the column of 5 LVT's and 3 flame tanks. The Marines mounted a rescue mission but approaching Hill 30, they encountered intense mortar and small arms fire, suffering 5 dead and 17 wounded within minutes. Artillery fire and air support was called in immediately.

"Lima" Co., 3rd Bn, 7th Marines, which was in reserve on the LPH Iwo Jima, was ordered to land and then join "India" Co. in search of the supply column. With darkness approaching the Marines were ordered into defensive positions, especially after LtCol. Muir was advised that the column, although immobilized, was not in danger. "Lima" was to join "Lima" and "Kilo" Co's., 3rd Bn, 3rd Marines and "India" Co. was ordered back to the CP. Of the 177 men of "India" who hit the beach, 14 were dead, including the Company Commander. 53 were wounded but the Marines would claim 125 VC dead.

During the night the rest of the SLF, which was the 3rd Battalion 7th Marines, came ashore. The Marines were ready to attack and destroy the enemy in the morning. Moving into the area of the fiercest fighting the Marines found that the VC were gone. At 0900, "India" and "Mike" Co.'s, of Bodley's 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, brought out the supply convoy from An Cuong (2). Of the 23 Marines assigned to the convoy, 5 were killed and several others wounded. The enemy left 60 bodies behind. Small pockets of resistance still remained as the VC were holed up in bunkers and caves, directing small arms fire on the Marines. By nightfall organized resistance had ceased.

The Aftermath

The first phase of "Starlite" completed, Fisher's and Muir's Battalions returned to Chu Lai on the 20th. LtCol. Kelly's 1st Bn, 7th Marines, moved into the objective area joining Bodley's Battalion and units of the 2nd ARVN Divison. The Marines killed 54 more VC in the Van Tuong complex before "Starlite" came to an end on 24 August.

The Marines had killed 614 VC by body count, taken 9 prisoners, held 42 suspects, and collected 109 assorted weapons, at a cost of 45 Marines dead and 203 wounded. The 60th and 80th VC Battalions had taken a beating, but they would be back.

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