"Operation Prairie and the DMZ"


With solid contact along the DMZ with the NVA 324B Division in Operation Hastings, it was plain the the enemy was infiltrating in large numbers and were in the south to stay. Both sides had sustained heavy casualties. The Marines lost 126 killed and 448 wounded while reported NVA casualties numbered 700 killed with a significant loss of material. Forward bases in the northern portion, such as Dong Ha, were established and the Marines were determined to meet the challenge. With the termination of Hastings, Operation Prairie, a reconnaissance in force, would commence on 3 August 1966.

During the month of August the 4th Marine Regiment found itself in heavy contact with various elements of the 324B NVA Division throughout the area of operations, particularly along Nui Cay Tre (Mutter's Ridge), the Razorback and the Rockpile. Casualties were substantial for both the NVA and Marines, who found the enemy dug-in and in fortified bunkers that had to be breeched. On 27 August, Col. Alexander D. Cereghino, CO. of the 4th Marines, realigned his forces and assigned LtCol. John J. Roothoff's newly arrived 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines to the the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines' area of responsiblity. This included the Razorback.

The Battle

The 2nd Battalion continued patroling in it's area of responsiblity until it was relieved on 8 September by the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, and returned to Dong Ha. On 15 September, two Companies of the 4th Marines left the Battalion perimeter and advanced towards Mutter's Ridge. The Marines were soon ambushed by the NVA. Digging in, the Companies were provided artillery and air support, while the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines were ordered to assist.

It took two days march from Dong Ha, and several skirmishes with the enemy, for Roothoff's men to reach the surrounded Marines. The enemy was gone, but 170 of the enemy were killed, most attributed to air and artillery strikes. Nine Marines from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines also died in the battle. Once again, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines took up the challenge to patrol in the Nui Cay Tre area while the 4th Marines returned to their Battalion perimeter near the Rockpile.

Two days later the 7th Marines were ordered back to the Rockpile. The North Vietnamese had returned to the Razorback and were mortaring the Rockpile. Colonel Cereghino decided to first clean out the Razorback before attacking Mutters Ridge. On 22 September a combat base was established west of the Rockpile and "F" and "G" Companies were ordered to sweep the Razorback. On 24 September, a "Golf" Company patrol spotted five enemy NVA soldiers on the western slope and killed them. Within 10 minutes the Company reported that it was under attack and "unable to advance or withdraw". "Fox" Company was order to assist but heavy enemy fire prevented the Marines from joining forces. A platoon from "Fox", moving forward, entered a base camp and a sentry killed a Marine before slipping away. The Marines found a mortar which they destroyed and killed seven NVA who were returning to the camp. The platoon kept moving forward towards "Golf" Company until they pinned the NVA in a gulch. Air and artillery support killed 58 NVA before the enemy broke contact and melted away.

The battle over, Company "F" reported three dead and 17 wounded. "G" Company suffered 3 Marines killed and 26 wounded, with 7 Marines missing. A heavy price to pay for a short lived victory.

The Aftermath

After the contact on 24 September, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines participation in Operation Prairie, in essence, was over. Company "G" managed to recover the bodies of Marines missing two days after the battle, but not before once again encountering the enemy, who inflicted more casualties on the understrength Company of Marines. Finally, the Marines left the Rockpile-Razorback complex for Dong Ha. LtCol. John J. Hess' newly arrived 2nd, Battalion, 9th Marines relieved Rootloff's Battalion which left northern I Corps to rejoin it's parent Regiment in Chu Lai to rebuild. Operation Prairie continued well into October with continuous heavy contact between Marines and the 324B Division, causing the enemy well over 1000 men killed. The north Vietnamese were prevented from establishing a major operating base in northern Quang Tri, although intelligence sources indicated that the 341st NVA Division had replaced the 324B Division in the area.

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