KILO Company, 3/9, moved towards the base of Hill 881South and formed a defensive 360. The squad leaders were summoned: K/3/9 was to stand-by to assist if there were any trouble. And trouble there was!
"About an hour later was when all hell broke loose up on the top of the hill. You couldn't hardly hear yourself think where we were so much small arms fire and mortar fire going on." K/3/9 advanced to assist M/3/3 and M/3/9 to disengage. About noon, K/3/9 proceeded up 881South, company on line, platoon column. Second and Third Platoons went up the left side; First Platoon went up the right.
Reaching a small knoll about half-way up the hill, First Platoon became pinned down by a sniper who seriously wounded the rocket man. The corpsman immediately began attending to his wounds when the Lt got hit in the leg and someone called "Corpsman Up!" The corpsman jumped up and started to run across the hill, but was shot through his head. One enemy dashed across an opening, attempting to climb a tree for a better shot at the Marines. He was shot and knocked out of the tree. Another NVA soldier ran across the opening; he was tore apart by Marine fire. Still pinned down, another Marine began to carry out the corpsman, but was shot in the shoulder and fell. The Marines began to fire 3.5" rockets, and the platoon began to withdraw. The Marine who had been shot in the shoulder was again shot, this time in his leg. The enemy began pouring mortars. The Marines took cover in some North Vietnamese bunkers as the mortars exploded around them. Then the Lt gave the order to withdraw. Everyone ran off the hill-fast. "We went back and sat in, and they waited that night for whoever was going to come back, to come back. They brought the wounded and the dead back in, and it wasn't very pretty, a few of my friends were dead or wounded pretty badly.
Leading the point squad of Second Platoon, K/3/9, Sgt Dale E. Partee observed an enemy MG bunker and immediately directed his unit in a vicious assault which resulted in the destruction of the emplacement. LCPL Orie O. Linn quickly located the enemy MG emplacement and, completely disregarding his own safety, moved forward through the hostile fire and without assistance, courageously assaulted the enemy fortification. Armed only with a .45 caliber pistol, he killed the occupants and seized their crew-served weapon. Second Platoon encountered devastating sniper rounds both on their way up, once up the hill, running across a little open space. "We lost quite a few men. I know I lost quite a few buddies. And those of us that made it got in the teeline up there which we knocked out a gook bunker and stayed up there. It was a hillside, which we couldn't see too far over it. We kept getting fire." Quickly and alertly assessing the situation and, realizing that prompt action was required to rescue those already wounded and without regard for his own safety, Cpl Edward J. Bohannon ran to a bomb crater forward of the wounded Marines. He deliberately exposed himself to the enemy to draw the enemy snipers' fire to himself He continued to draw their fire while simultaneously returning fire on the enemy. He remained in this dangerous position until all the wounded were safely evacuated. [Cpl Bohannon was killed 21May 67 on a subsequent operation].
The Second Platoon now began to receive heavy small arms and automatic rifle fire from 3 enemy bunkers located across a 50 meter wide clearing in a tree line. Quickly assessing the situation and disregarding his own safety, Sgt Stanley Charles Butterworth formed up his squad and charged across the clearing through intense enemy fire and successfully silenced all 3 enemy bunkers. When the enemy attempted to organize a counterattack using a reverse slope defense, Sgts Partee and Butterworth organized their squads to deliver a high volume of accurate and suppressive fire, inflicting heavy enemy casualties and forcing them to flee. Their actions saved the lives of many Marines.
The platoon began recovering their wounded and dashed off the hill amid a shower of exploding mortars. During this, Sgt Partee and another Marine were wounded by an exploding mortar round. Ignoring his own painful wounds, Sgt Partee carried his wounded comrade to a place of relative safety.
Third Platoon, K/3/9, moved up Hill 881-South through a ravine. The vegetation was thick, but moveable, and began thinning out towards the top of the hill. The Marines of Third Platoon could see that the other platoons were pinned down by enemy fire, "..but we weren't receiving any fire of any kind from our movement up the hill. So we continued moving up on the hill, thinking that the VC hadn't spotted us yet and we might be able to get in behind them. That's when we underestimated them." The NVA force was prepared and had lulled the unsuspecting Third Platoon into a trap.
First Squad veered off to the left with the Platoon Commander, 1Lt John Braxton Woodall, and immediately found itself in the midst of an interlocking enemy bunker system. The initial burst of enemy fire felled the two point men who were closest to one of the hidden bunkers. Several attempts to reach the two critically wounded Marines were thwarted by a hail of deadly fire from the enemy positions. Immediate medical attention was necessary to save their lives. With a total disregard for his own personal safety, 1Lt Woodall grabbed a rifle and placed accurate fire into the bunker. He then charged the bunker and killed both of its enemy occupants. From this position he laid down covering fire enabling the two Marines to be carried to safety. As he covered their withdrawal Lt Woodall was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper.
There was a yell: "Corpsman up!" A corpsman ran up to treat a wounded machine gunner. He said the machine gunner would be alright. But the wound was greater than at first apparent; the machine gunner died. Then the corpsman was killed, and the whole squad wiped out. Then came the yell: "Get the other squad up there!" First Squad proceeded up the hill, but could not locate the point squad. Six Marines of First Squad made it to the top, but were pinned down as soon as they arrived.
"The VC had U-shaped bunkers in this one corner that we moved up on. And as soon as we reached it, they started throwing grenades and heavy volume of small arms fire in to us. They would come up out of the bunkers, and just throw a grenade, duck back down, and as you were concentrating on the one bunker that the grenade come through, there would be another one come up from behind you, and throw another grenade. At the same time-we don't know what kind of machineguns it was, but it had to be a pretty heavy caliber-it was coming in, just tearing up trees and anything that was in front of us."
The Marines of First Squad attempted to retrieve the casualties of the point squad after they were finally located: "..when we finally found them, we noticed they were all dead-over in the left-hand corner. They walked right into the enemy bunkers that were almost in a 360, right on top of the hill."
The remnants of Third Platoon managed to reach the bottom of Hill 881-South, regrouped, and about an hour later, charged back up the hill to recover their dead and wounded. LCPL Henry Rose, Jr., was checking the dog tags of the wounded and dead when a machine gunner, McQuillan, said, "Rose, Rose, the VC got a mortar over there. I can see it. I can see it! Can you hit it with a LAW?" Due to the large amount of canopy, Rose knew he could not. McQuillan fired at the enemy position with his machinegun, left handed, from the off-hand. Then more mortars came and McQuillan was wounded in his back. "The mortar hit about ten feet in front of me and I did not get a wound, not a scratch on my body, but people behind me, all around me, got hit by this mortar. I didn't hear it when it came in. It was 60 mortars. They were-I never heard it at all."
Third Platoon finally reached the bomb craters and a heavy tree line where most of the dead and wounded were, and managed to move most of the wounded. "But the dead we couldn't hardly even more to get at em- snipers and machineguns set up." Cpl Kenneth W. Shields, a Squad Leader of First Squad Third Platoon, K/319, repeatedly exposed himself to fire from enemy bunkers to determine their exact location. After alertly pinpointing the exact location of several fortified bunkers, Cpl Shields effectively directed his squad's fire and assisted in the destruction of the enemy emplacements. Observing several wounded Marines lying in an area exposed to hostile fire, he disregarded his own safety and maneuvered through concentrated enemy fire barely escaping death from accurate snipers to carry them to safety.
Simultaneously, Cpl Walter Junior Washut spotted several dead and wounded Marines in an open area covered by heavy MG and rifle fire. With complete disregard for his own life, Cpl Washut maneuvered through the intense fire, making repeated trips until all the casualties were moved to safety. [Cpl Washut was later killed by a burst of enemy fire on 20 May 67 near Cam Lo while giving first aid].
Cpl Washut was not alone in rescuing casualties. He observed LCPL Roland F. Wing leave his position of relative safety and carry a wounded Marine through the hostile enemy fire to a covered position. Then he returned and brought another wounded Marine to safety. While attempting a third evacuation, he was felled, wounded by mortar fragments. But two Marines owe their lives to LCPL Wing.
The rocket men fired their 3.5" and the machine gunners fired for about 5 minutes without let-up. WP was called for a smoke screen. Third Platoon was able to withdraw. 37 dead marine bodies had been abandoned on top of the hill; trying to retrieve them would have meant the loss of much additional life. "..From what I saw I didn't think it was really feasible to go up there and sacrifice other Marines to get dead Marines down off the hill, even though you are taught in basic training to never leave a dead Marine out on the field if at all possible."
The Battalion (M/3/3, M/3/9, and K/3/9) now disengaged from the area of heavy enemy contact, moved to XD 782445, and set up for the night. Evacuation of casualties was completed by 302155H. Final casualty figures for the 881-South battle of 30 Apr were: 43 Marines killed, 109 wounded (90 of which were medevaced), 125 NVA killed (confirmed) and another probable 85. Most of the casualties were suffered by M/3/3, the intially engaged unit. 33 Marine bodies along with body parts were left on Hill 881, recovered 022100H by 3/3 who evacuated the body parts in one bag.