The Battle At Finger Lake
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  1. #1

    The Battle At Finger Lake

    BATTLE AT FINGER LAKE (copyright)

    By
    Lawrence E. Wilson

    I am writing this article for two reasons. First, in response to an editorial by Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. (Ret.) in Vietnam Magazine, to “set the record straight,” which should be “the ambition of all who served there as well.” Secondly, to provide an eyewitness account of an under-reported battle by the Platoon Commander’s recollection of what transpired and how a platoon of Marines lived up to the tradition of “Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue.”

    On November 21, 1967, at approximately 0300 I was in command of the First Platoon, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division participating in a company sized sweep into a platoon sized blocking position in Arizona Territory, Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. We normally operated out of Liberty Bridge, but were now part of Operation Foster, which commenced on November 13, 1967, with the mission of conducting “search and destroy operations in the northeastern portion of the Arizona area to destroy or capture enemy forces, supplies and equipment, located therein.”

    In the dark, I lead my platoon into our assigned position along the Line of Departure, which was just across a stream in a slight depression, in the middle of a rice paddy between Phu An (1) and Phu Binh (3), as shown on the map in Photo . The platoon was on line along the bottom of the depression, facing towards Phu Binh (3) and the lake to the right of that village, which became known as Finger Lake. The right flank of the platoon was next to a paddy dike trail which proceeded perpendicular to us from Phu An (1) to the base of Finger Lake, not to be confused with the trail depicted on the map which proceeds from Phu An (1) to Phu Binh (3).

    Prior to positioning my platoon, the Second Platoon executed a night march to a blocking position just beyond Phu Binh (2) and before Finger Lake curves to the left. They faced us and their left flank was Finger Lake itself. I felt compassion for the men of that platoon for having to make this type of a maneuver, in the dark, after what they went through just two days before.

    From the moment our company executed the “helicopter-borne assault into LZ SPARROW” near Giang Hoa (2), on November 13, 1967, until November 19, 1967, we made very little contact with the enemy. In fact, we were beginning to think that Operation Foster was going to be just a “walk in the sun.” However, that came to an abrupt end on November the 19th.

    We had been primarily operating out of Phu Long (1) and (2) and into Phu An (1) along the trail from Phu Long (2), but we did not venture along the trail from Phu An (1) to the base of Finger Lake. We eventually evacuated over 7,000 villagers from these villages, but again did not approach Finger Lake. When we did encounter minor skirmishes with the enemy, it was to the left of Phu Long (2) and towards Phu An (1). However, on November 19th a squad from the Second Platoon, which was on patrol near Phu An (1) decided to cross the rice paddy along the dike trail leading to the base of Finger Lake. The enemy waited until the entire squad was on the dike when they opened up with automatic weapons and machine gun fire. The squad was decimated and the remainder of the Second Platoon, under the command of Lieutenant Boyd Faithful immediately responded to their aid, approaching the dike from the rice paddy to its right.

    Lt. Faithful and his radioman were seriously wounded and pinned down in the paddy, along with the remainder of his platoon. The entire Second Platoon was involved, suffering four KIA’s and numerous seriously wounded, including the Platoon Commander. The squad members on the dike were either killed or seriously wounded. Lt. Faithful was evacuated and would never return.

    Second Platoon was seriously impacted and somewhat shaken by the magnitude of its loss, an entire squad and its beloved Commander. The men truly loved Lt. Faithful and it was evident that this was a mutual feeling. The leadership of the platoon then fell to one Sergeant Gus, who did an admirable job, but definitely was also experiencing the trauma of the events on November 19th. In assisting in recovering the wounded, dead and silencing the enemy fire, my platoon suffered approximately 10 WIA’s.

    In any event, Second Platoon was sent into the blocking position described above on November 21st. The paddy dike on the right flank of my platoon was the same one, which claimed the lives and wounded of the Second Platoon Squad and at a time just before daybreak, made an eerie image to us all. Supposedly on the other side of this dike, further to my right was to be the remainder of India Company, which included the Company Commander, his Command Group, the Third Platoon and a platoon detached to our company from Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. The plan was for all three platoons and the Company Command Group, under the leadership of the Company Commander, to sweep along Finger Lake towards the blocking Second Platoon, or what remained of that platoon.

    However, as the glow of daybreak was just about to begin, at a time when a silhouette could barely be detected against the sky, I noticed movement to my right, just out of the corner of my eye. I was kneeling behind my platoon, just about the center of the line when I detected this movement. My first impression was that the movement was that of a human moving along the paddy dike on my right flank, towards the tree line at the base of Finger Lake. As I turned and squinted closer, I determined that indeed it was the movement of a group of humans and by the nature of their movement, it didn’t appear to be Marines.

    I asked my radio operator to contact the Company Commander, advise him of what I saw and ask if any of his Marines were moving on the dike. He replied that I was probably seeing members of the platoon I was to link up with, but it just didn’t ring true to me. Just at that moment I observed more groups of four to six people moving the same direction along the dike. I passed the word down the line and asked if those next to the dike were able to determine if they were Marines moving or not. The word came back that they were not Marines, but were in fact enemy soldiers.

    I again contacted the Company Commander to report this and he advised that if they were really the enemy, we should let them go because they were moving into the direction of our intended sweep and we would get them when we moved out. I told him that I did not believe we were connected with any of his units on the other side of the dike and was concerned that they may be too far to our right.

    As daylight broke, I realized that we were out in the open and there were no Marines to our right across the dike. It appeared that the movement of enemy troops had subsided, so I decided to get us out of the open. I moved the platoon to the right, across the dike and just into the tree line at the foot of Finger Lake.

    Almost immediately after we got into position I heard an enemy soldier coming down the trail from the tree line towards us. He was calling out in Vietnamese and apparently trying to link up with one of his buddies, who was most likely following behind him when the soldier calling out crossed the dike, prior to our movement across the dike. However, due to our movement, his buddy delayed and now this one soldier was trying to link up with his brethren. I couldn’t see the enemy soldier, due to the thickness of the shrubbery ahead of us. But I could tell that the dike lead into the tree line and continued as a trail. I felt that if he walked into my view, I would kill him, but this wouldn’t have been too smart, since there would have been enemy both in front and behind us. But I couldn’t help feeling a desire for revenge, since these were probably members of the same unit, which attacked Second Platoon and my platoon on the 19th.

    To this day, I can still see the enemy crossing that dike and realize what perfect targets they would have been if we had been in an ambush position, parallel to the trail instead of on line perpendicular to the dike, where one shot could have gone through all of us. Many nights before I fall to sleep I recall this incident and wish I would have opened up on them, but of course that would probably have resulted in a catastrophe. Still, on November the 19th we had not seen the enemy which caused so many casualties, and now I had many of them in my sights. Maybe we will get them on our sweep, I thought. Maybe Second Platoon can exact some revenge when we push the enemy into them.

    When the Company Commander gave the word to move out on our sweep, we tried to move through the shrubbery on line, but found it too dense and had to break down to fireteam sized units in order to proceed. I don’t believe that we ever linked up with any of the other Marine units on our right flank as we proceeded on the sweep. (continued)


  2. #2

    Part II

    When we reached the outskirts of Phu Binh (2) we encountered the left appendage of Finger Lake, as depicted in Photo . We maneuvered around it to the left and then came back in towards Finger Lake, using the Lake as our right flank boundary. It was at this time that I realized Finger Lake separated us from the other two platoons and the Command Group. The lake became a natural obstacle, which prevented either of us from joining one another. This subsequently became critical, but at the time the Company Commander did not feel it was necessary to alter the plan and directed me to sweep into the Second Platoon. I believe he was of the opinion that his units were more likely to encounter the enemy on the right side of Finger Lake, since they would have more cover and concealment in Phu Binh (1).

    I recall feeling a little uneasy because both the First and Second Platoons were undermanned due to the casualties suffered on the 19th. In addition, the Forward Air Controller and artillery Forward Observer Teams were with the Company Command Group. Furthermore, just two days before our entire company was engaged with the enemy in this area and earlier this morning I observed enemy troops moving down the trail in the direction we were sweeping. I felt a battle was likely, when the enemy decided they were in the best position to attack.

    We continued to sweep through Phu Binh (2) and linked up with the Second Platoon just at the top edge of the village, prior to the rice paddy depicted in Photo . I must admit I was both surprised and relieved that we had not made contact with the enemy, nor had the Second Platoon reported seeing any as we moved towards them. My relief soon became concern, where were they? They were in front of us when we started our sweep. To the left was open rice paddies for about 2 kilometers and Second Platoon had a clear view. To the right was Finger Lake, a difficult obstacle to cross and then our other units. I thought maybe they crossed at the base of Finger Lake, before it was an obstacle and were in front of the Company Commander.

    I radioed the Company Commander, advising him of the situation. Since it was close to noon, we were advised to rest for lunch and then I was to bring both the First and Second Platoons in a sweeping action to the top of Finger Lake, around to the other side and then down the right side to link up with his units. I thought, sounded good to me, the enemy was probably on his side and he would probably engage them while we are coming around the top. I thought, finally a break for the First and Second Platoons, who seemed to have had their share of casualties in the last couple of days. How ironic that we have ended up together after an uneventful sweep, can now rest and take a leisurely march around the top of Finger Lake to link up with the rest. I hoped that the other two platoons didn’t encounter too much of a fight, but surely desired that they “paid back” the enemy for our suffering. Too bad we couldn’t be with them, but maybe it’s just as well that we lick our wounds.

    I lead my platoon through the Second Platoon to the edge of the rice paddy, just beyond Phu Binh (2). In the back of my mind I was still a little concerned about the whereabouts of the enemy we had sighted earlier that morning. I directed that listening posts be placed in the tree line to our front next to Finger Lake, on our left flank and our right flank, next to Finger Lake. The platoon was spread out in hooches next to Finger Lake and extended to the left towards the large open paddy to our left. The map in Photo does not depict this, but there was considerable foliage around these hooches, making the paddy between the village and the tree line smaller than it appears.

    I was having a bite with my radioman, Art Toy, under the porch of a hooch located closer to Finger Lake on the right than the rice paddy on the left flank. Sitting in the same area was Corporal Herman LaJeunesse, Jr. After eating I called the Second Platoon Leader, Sgt. Gus and suggested that we start moving out and that my platoon would initially lead. He agreed and I then passed the word to, “saddle up.” It seemed so peaceful at that spot and I was so appreciative for the rest that the Company Commander gave us, that I wished we could just stay there and have the other units sweep around the lake and meet us here. Oh well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

    I stood up and was confronted immediately by an explosive and utter massive amount of incoming small arms and machinegun fire




    I stood up and was confronted immediately by an explosive and utter massive amount of incoming small arms and machinegun fire, which appeared to be coming from our front and right front flank. The bullets were crashing into the bamboo on the hooches and into the dirt all around us. Almost simultaneously I heard the shrieks of my men being hit and the consequential cry for “Corpsmen.” My immediate thought was where the enemy was and how I could counter them. As I was trying to gather my thoughts, mortars started impacting all around us. I recall looking up at the roof of the porch, just as a mortar hit and noticed that Corporal LaJeunesse had been hit. It was later determined that he was struck by a bullet, rather than shrapnel from the mortar. The incoming fire was becoming more intense and the mortars were increasing, I had to get help. I got on the radio and in a very panicked voice asked the Company Commander for assistance. He didn’t appear to share the same concerns, I don’t think he realized just how significant the enemy force was. In order to convince him that we were really in deep trouble I keyed the microphone handset so he could hear the violence of the incoming fire and said; “just listen to this.” “Now do you believe me?” He indicated that he would get back to me or get over to me, I am not sure. He was trying to calm me.

    (Continued)


  3. #3

    PART III

    I think that he still believed that he was going to encounter the main force of the enemy and that I had just encountered a smaller diversionary force. I was not of the same opinion since the enemy fire was increasing and we were being overrun. Two of my men were dragged away by the enemy and casualties were mounting. I believed that I had to outmaneuver the enemy, gain fire superiority and counter assault. I decided to move out of the safety of the hooch, much to the chagrin of my radioman and take up a position that provided me clearer observation of the battle scene. I moved to a rise next to an old bomb crater, on the edge of the paddy between the tree line ahead and Phu Binh (2) behind, in the center of my platoon line. The enemy spotted me, since I had now acquired another radio and had one hand set in each ear. The bullets started impacting between my radioman and myself, but I could see the enemy location.

    The enemy was dug in at the base of the tree line about 50 meters across the paddy to our front. The tree line generally followed the village buildings depicted on the map in Photo , starting at the edge of Finger Lake and following the lake as it snakes to the left. I observed a heavy machinegun firing at us from a position in this tree line, next to Finger Lake, not far from where one of my listening posts was located. It was at this time that one of my Corpsman, “Doc Mac” came to me and advised me that one of the men near or part of that listening post was PFC Vaughn O’Neil. At the moment of the opening volley of enemy fire from the machinegun, PFC O’Neil took a full blast in the chest. “Doc Mac” screamed that O’Neil’s lungs were falling out of his back and he was trying to keep them in by wrapping tape around his upper torso, and added in a plea, “but Lieutenant I don’t know how long I can keep him alive, so you have to get him out of here.” I tried to explain to “Doc Mac” that I was trying to gain fire superiority, but with the sounds of battle and his rightful concerns for O’Neil, I don’t think I made much sense to him. He just wanted me to help him save O’Neil. Of course this conversation was taking place under heavy incoming fire, with enemy soldiers running among my men.

    I designated an area behind me where we could stage the wounded and decided to use that for our medivacs. At the same time I was calling for a machinegun team to come up so I could start putting suppressing fire on the enemy gun. Simultaneously I was asking my radioman to start calling for a medivac chopper, obviously feeling the urgency expressed by “Doc Mac.” When the machinegunner, Cookie Barela, got to me, I was so busy on the radio I couldn’t talk to him, so he utilized his own initiative and moved to set-up and engage the enemy, which was very effective in holding off the enemy attack.


    While my radioman was calling for a medivac, I was calling for artillery support.

    While my radioman was calling for a medivac, I was calling for artillery support. I had to call this in directly, since the Artillery Forward Observer Team was with the Company Command Group. As this was happening, I called for my Rocket Launcher Team to come forward and they setup in the bomb crater to my right. I pointed out the enemy machinegun location and they prepared to zero in on it. At the same time, through the medivac frequency an airborne Forward Air Controller contacted me. Since the Forward Air Controller assigned to the company was with the Company Commander; I had no other way of obtaining air support. In fact, it was highly unusual for a Platoon Commander to have to call in air strikes; the Forward Air Controllers usually accomplished this at Company level. However, the circumstances dictated it now and it didn’t appear that the Company Commander was going to get to us.

    Through the medivac frequency I was able to communicate with the airborne Forward Air Controller. I advised him of the situation, the location of the enemy and friendly forces. He stated that the enemy was too close for regular bombs, but that he could get napalm in, but that some of my Marines might be hit. I told him that we were in fear of being overrun and that I needed the support. He advised me that he had a flight of Air Force Phantoms coming down from the north after aborting a bombing run and they were carrying bombs and napalm. He would not drop the bombs, but would give us the “nap” if I would take responsibility for the results. I agreed and through him, vectored the Phantoms in. At the same time my rocket team was ready to fire.

    The incoming fire was increasing and casualties continued to mount. I was afraid the enemy was going to make an assault that would overwhelm us and called for assistance from the Second Platoon. I recognized that my platoon had suffered about 10 wounded on the 19th and we were probably operating at a strength of about 32 Marines. The Second Platoon was operating with an even smaller number and still suffering from the mauling they had received on the 19th. When I contacted Sgt. Gus on the radio, he seemed very concerned, but depressed. I quickly told him the situation and he suggested that his platoon protect our rear and left flank. I knew what he was telling me, that he felt that his few remaining men had had enough and he hoped that we could take care of the battle without committing them. Further, protecting our rear and left flank left him stretched pretty thin. I’m sure that if I pushed it, they would have come, but he was right. Especially covering our rear, since I didn’t know where the enemy might appear next.

    As it turned out, as I was making my decision to agree with him, my rocket team started aiming at the enemy gun. I watched as I talked with the Forward Air Controller, still vectoring in the Phantoms. As I watched the rocket team I noticed that every time they raised up to aim at the target, the enemy opened up on them and the incoming was so sever, they had to duck back down. This happened about two times and then the last time, they didn’t rise up quite as high. However, at the same time the first Phantom jet was making its run of napalm, I saw the rocket team fire. The backblast from the rocket did not clear the bomb crater and injured the Marine firing the launcher. I could see the projectile heading for the enemy machinegun and it impacted at the same time the napalm landed, both right on the enemy machinegun. What a beautiful sight, but the second jet’s napalm was dangerously close to my men, but did the job. After another run, we finally started turning the tide of fire superiority.

    The Forward Air Controller advised that he had another flight of aircraft, Marine A-4 Skyhawks. They came in and dropped more napalm, but again couldn’t deliver larger bombs due to our close proximity with the enemy. However, I felt it was now time to make our first counter assault. I asked the controller if the jets had any cannon and he indicated that they had 20 millimeter available. I asked for a run and two aircraft came in blasting, one after the other. What a sound and impact. I wanted more of this so we could maneuver closer. When the controller said they were out, I realized just how much could be spit out at one time. I asked if they could come in for another pass “dry” so we could assault. My plan was to have my men assault while the jets were flying in, believing that the enemy would have their heads down to protect themselves against the cannon bursts, while we would charge them knowing that the cannons wouldn’t be firing, I hoped.

    All worked out as planned. Although my men were not all that eager to assault in the open while the jets were bearing down, they performed admirably and relied on my word that it would be safe. Thank God it was. You should have seen my men fight. Throughout the battle, they seemed to naturally know what they had to accomplish to gain fire superiority and hold back the enemy attacks. They also seemed to understand that they had to give me the opportunity to analyze the situation and make decisions, which would ultimately insure our success. In short, they appeared to have complete faith in my actions and that I would do everything I could think of to save them and defeat the enemy. At the same time they were taking care of their own casualties, moving them to safety and giving them as much help as possible, given the situation.

    As the jets passed, my Marines got up one after the other, actually in support of one another, and courageously charged the tree line, routing the enemy and retrieving our two men that were dragged away. Their assault drove the enemy further up the left side of Finger Lake and out into a rice paddy. Once out there, the Forward Air Controller was able to call in another flight of jets to make what we thought was a final kill. After his last run, he told me over the radio that he counted over 80 confirmed enemy killed.

    (continued)


  4. #4

    Conti Part IV

    I regrouped my platoon, protecting the medivac area and holding the tree line to the front. I then felt comfortable in calling in the medivac chopper to evacuate the wounded, including PFC O’Neil. By now we had gathered quite a number of wounded who required medivac, including the Corpsman working with “Doc Mac.”

    It wasn’t long before we heard the drone of the CH 34 Korea vintage helicopter coming in for the pickup. One of my Sergeants, Zaryl Stamford, was waving the chopper in and as it got within a few feet of touching down, I started noticing what appeared to be flakes of metal coming from the engine cowling. I couldn’t hear anything, except the roar of the engine laboring to softly settle the helicopter when, all of a sudden the chopper pulled up and started banking away as it climbed. I immediately became enraged and grabbed the handset to angrily demand an explanation.

    We had been fighting for about 4 to 5 hours by now.


    Before I could get a word out, the pilot yelled that he had taken incoming and his crewchief had been shot in the head. He was leaving for An Hoa and “would not return until we could assure him that the zone was clear.” I was amazed and astounded to find that after all the fighting and air strikes, we still had enemy who were attacking us. Since none of my men were evacuated, including PFC O’Neil, I felt horrible. What more could I do? Where was the enemy coming from? By now it was late in the day and darkness would not be far away. We had been fighting for about 4 to 5 hours by now.

    Since we had control of the tree line, the enemy had to be somewhere else. Due to the noise of the helicopter, I didn’t hear the incoming and couldn’t determine where it was coming from. However, one of my machinegunners, Dennis Martinez, told me he thought it was coming from the open rice paddy to our left. This was such an expansive area of open space; it was difficult to fix a location. However, we started receiving fire again and this time we spotted a hooch surrounded by some trees that seemed to be the suspect location.

    It just seemed like the enemy kept appearing from nowhere. After we would beat them back, they would reappear, just as strong in numbers and overwhelming in firepower. This time a United States Army Huey Gunship came up on the medivac frequency and offered his assistance. The Forward Air Controller had long since departed the area. I agreed to his offer and attempted to vector him to the hooch, but he just couldn’t see it.

    I decided that it was time for another assault, but the purpose would be to mark the hooch so the Huey could attack it. I directed Corporal Gerald Dumont to take some men and get close enough to the hooch to mark it with smoke. In selecting his men from the few remaining who were not wounded, he picked a newly arrived platoon member, PFC Charles N. Taylor III. I remember personally cautioning PFC Taylor that he was new and that it was imperative that he follows every order given by Corporal Dumont, who was very experienced. To this day I remember saying, “if you are told to move don’t hesitate but go immediately.” Of course he said that he would. What else do you tell your Lieutenant? But I felt a special duty to tell him this; maybe I had a premonition.

    After about thirty minutes of talking with the Huey and giving him various vectors, we saw a plume of yellow smoke rising from the area of rice paddy to the right of the hooch. From that point I was able to vector the helicopter in more precisely. Within minutes he had the hooch in sight. He fired a rocket to verify with me and after giving him the affirmative, unloaded on the hooch, destroying anybody that was in there.

    The enemy firing ceased from that location and shortly thereafter Corporal Dumont came back with his team. One team member, PFC Jerry Ezell was carrying another member and when they got to me the helmet of the Marine being carried fell off. I then could see a bullet hole in the top of his head and recognized that it was PFC Taylor. I asked what happened and was told that they were crossing a small open area. Corporal Dumont told everybody to go when he ordered. One delayed, PFC Taylor and a sniper got him. I felt sick and at the same time disappointed that I was not able to get through to him. I will never forget this incident and always wonder if it was a true premonition.

    By this time I was comfortable with trying another medical evacuation. Of course my heart was in my throat when the chopper came in. We made sure to lay a heavy barrage of suppressing fire down, as did the escorting helicopter. The medivac went off without a hitch and I felt that finally we had finished. “Doc Mac” came to me and informed me that PFC O’Neil didn’t make it. I guess it just took us too long to get the zone secure and the other chopper in. Nobody really knows what variety of pressures come to bear on Lieutenants during incidents like this, but all the time I was trying to locate that hooch for the Huey, I kept worrying about saving O’Neil. To loose another man, PFC Taylor while trying to get the aforementioned accomplished and still loose O’Neil in the long run, makes it even more troubling.

    By this time I believe the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Roger H. Bernard probably became involved. After all, one Platoon Commander was engaged in a 5 hour battle, calling in artillery, one air strike of Air Force Phantoms, another air strike of Marine A-4 Skyhawks, a Army Huey and two medivacs with an enemy kill count by an airborne Forward Air Controller of 80 confirmed and more to come. It also must have appeared to Colonel Bernard that the friendly forces were indeed becoming outnumbered through attrition, if not outnumbered from the beginning, due to previous casualties on November the 19th.

    Shortly after the last medivac, my men in the tree line started reporting hearing yet another buildup of enemy forces to their front. We were now about an hour from darkness and had suffered many casualties. I would have to pull in our perimeter and call in the Second Platoon in order to try to make it through the night. We were carrying gas masks and tear gas, which were used for tunnel searches and clearing. I ordered everybody to check their masks and make sure they were functioning well. I was convinced that we would be overrun and would use the tear gas to try and survive. While I was doing this, the enemy started calling out to us telling us we would not make it through the night. My men reported hearing the following: “ Marine you die tonight.”

    (Continued)


  5. #5

    Part V

    I received a call from the Company Commander who advised that he was unable to get to us because of enemy forces between his position and ours. He did advise that reinforcements could be flown in to assist us if I still felt we needed them. I advised that our situation was not good for making it through the night without the assistance. That was all the Company Commander needed and he assured me the assistance would be forthcoming. It was now apparent to me that the Battalion Commander was involved and recognized the severity of our situation.

    Within the hour we heard a large number of helicopters coming towards us from the paddy to our left. As they landed and Marines disembarked in full battle dress ready to fight, our hearts pounded with joy, pride and relief. Although I never let the thought sink in, we probably wouldn’t have made it through the night.

    The reinforcements were Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, call sign, “Red Dancer.” The Company Commander came to me, recognized the situation we were in and stated, “your men can rest tonight, we will handle all the perimeter watches.” Once he took over, my Company Commander came on the radio and requested that we all move, that night, to the head of Finger Lake and come down the right side to link up with him. “Red Dancer” advised that they would not move at night after what was encountered during this battle. We stayed put and got a well-deserved rest.

    The next morning we received replacements for our casualties. Of the 35 or so Marines of the First Platoon that entered the battle, only 12 remained without serious wounds. Of the casualties, two were killed in action, the remainder were wounded. The estimated enemy force was approximately 300 and it was later determined that there was an extensive tunnel complex leading into the area where the enemy chose to stand and fight. It is believed that this is how they kept reinforcing the battle casualties they were sustaining. Calculating enemy killed was as arbitrary in this battle as any other battle in the Vietnam Conflict. We did not have the luxury of walking out into the battlefield and count bodies. The Forward Air Controller said he counted 80 confirmed killed and the Commander of “Red Dancer” reported to me that they came across numerous enemy dead when they landed and approached our position. By the morning the enemy had removed the bodies, as usual.

    Did we win? Yes! We survived and the next morning went on to fight more battles. The enemy chose to stand and fight, a very unusual tactic, and lost. They would not employ that tactic unless they believed that they outnumbered their enemy and could defeat them. In this situation they probably thought they had our force divided and could cut us up. They didn’t realize that we still could summon up air power and reinforcements. They definitely underestimated the tenacity and fighting spirit of a platoon of Marines.

    The next day the Battalion Commander came out to present Purple Heart Medals to the men of the First Platoon and assess the overall operation. I was present when he asked our Company Commander about the battle at Finger Lake. I heard the Company Commander state, “oh you mean Larry’s little thing?” I don’t remember another word after that characterization.

    For years I presumed that or battle was indeed nothing to write home about. But then as I analyzed it and spoke with others, I realized that my men fought a very significant battle, for six hours. They all performed heroically and each and every Marine fighting in that battle deserves the proper recognition and commendation.

    my men put me in for the Bronze Star Medal for my actions


    I only hope that this record of the events of that day serves to let them know how important their efforts and courageous actions were and that they have not gone unnoticed. I never received any recognition from my superiors, but several months later I found out that my men put me in for the Bronze Star Medal for my actions that day. It was awarded to me and it serves as one of the most important accolades of my life. Not because of its status as a medal, but that it came from my men in recognition for what I did that day to keep them alive. I therefore dedicate this record as my way of recognizing them for what they did that day to keep each other alive. YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN HOW WELL MY MEN FOUGHT!



    Lawrence E. Wilson, USMC





  6. #6

    Sgt Gus 2nd platoon

    Sgt Gus had to take over 2nd platoon after his platoon commander Lt. Faithful was wounded in battle.

    This picture taken after the 20th reveals what he endured.

    With only a small unit of Marines left in 2nd platoon, all he could do for us was to keep the enemy away from the tunnels they tried to use to come up behind us during the battle at Finger Lake.

    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version

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  7. #7

    Pictures taken after the Battle

    With Foxtrot 2/3 having secured the area to the left front of where this picture was taken. The enmey had been entrenched in that location for 5-6 hours in a day long battle.

    the ones that were not wounded that day
    Doc Mac, left Sgt. whiteside, Corporal Jones my gun team leader, and Marty who became seperated from me and became Jones a-gunner that day.

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  8. #8

    It begins to set in that the Battle is truly over

    Marty has the last of the machine gun ammo strapped to his chest.

    both Aggie my a-gunner and I had already been wounded

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  9. #9

    in this last picture

    Ira Hullihan joins the group as does the engineer that was atached to 1st platoon. The engineer had take a bullet right through his blasting cap holder he carried. The bullet went through the case without hitting any of the blasting caps.

    He hadn't realized this untill the next morning.

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  10. #10

    From a drawing I kept of the battle scene

    redrawn from recollections of that day

    Some Marines in front of my gun's position played dead while I shot over their heads for hours.






  11. #11
    Thanks, Cook........

    Semper Fidelis, Frank


  12. #12
    Marine Free Member mrbsox's Avatar
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    May God continue to bless all, that are consumed by the memories of what was. My heart always feels your pain when I read these things, eventhough my minds does not know the actions themselves.

    Semper Fidelis

    Terry


  13. #13

    Doc here's Larry's story above

    Glad to see you dropping by




    Cook

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  14. #14

    My Father

    I found this article regarding the battle of Fingerlake and was proud when I read the entry about my dad carrying off a fellow Marine. My dad retired from the Marine Corps after 21 years of service and 2 Purple Hearts as a 1SG. My dad is 1SG Jerry Ezell USMC Retired. I also was awarded the purple heart and retired as an SFC / E7 from the Army. I printed this article off for my dad to read and he grinned when he started to remember all the names in the article. Thank you for having such a website that my dad can remember you guys and all your achievements as a team.


  15. #15
    I was with Echo 2/1 bravo 1st squad. I was in that area January 28,1971 and was hit by some kind of a suprise device. The gooks set it off. I found the information of that day in another Marine Corp site. What memories I had of that place every single day. I am not complaining,I'd do it again in a heart beat. Thanks for this post............

    bootlace15 out


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