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Photo shot by Bruce Leming - Weapons Platoon Alpha 1/5

Alpha Company 1/5 at the tower – February 13th 1968 / Photo shot by Bruce Leming – Weapons Platoon Alpha 1/5

It’s been two weeks into the TET Offensive in Hue, and the fighting continues north of the Perfume River inside The Citadel. The Battle for the Ancient City of Hue was being fought by ARVN (The South Vietnamese Army). After eleven days of fighting, The Marines have now secured the southern part of hue south of the Perfume River. But ARVN is still unable to secure the city north of the river in the Citadel, which was now being overrun by the NVA and the Vietcong. It was at this time, that the decision was made to move in the First Battalion Fifth Marines (The 1/5) to clear out the Citadel along the Northwestern Wall.

On Februarys 10th and the 11th, the 1/5 and its commanding Officer, Major Robert Thompson started moving into the City. Alpha Co. 1/5, arrived in Hue’s new city the afternoon of the 10th by Vehicle Convoys. They departed, and soon crossed the ruined An Cuu Bridge which was earlier destroyed by the NVA on February 4th. That night Alpha Company settled in at the MACV Compound, while meetings took place for a plan of attack. The plans were set; they were to launch a three Company attack southward along the inner wall down towards a secure line that ARVN had secured earlier. This line extended from the Dong Ba Gate (halfway down the wall) along Mai Thue Loan Street to the Northwestern corner of the palace’s wall. The next day the 1/5 boarded LCU Naval Crafts, and moved up the Perfume River to the Northeastern corner of the Citadel.

On February 13th at 0800, the 1/5 moved out of the Mang Ca Compound (The 1st ARVN CP Division Compound) with two companies, one on each flank. Captain John Bowe’s and his Alpha Company was on the left flank and First Lieutenant Scott Nelson’s “C” Company on the right flank with Captain Fern Jennings’s “B” Company in reserve. Alpha Company was in the front, leading the way down Dinh Bo Street. When they got to Tinh Tam Street, First Platoon turned left towards the Southwest wall with the tower right in front of them to their right. The two other Platoons behind them proceeded forward towards the ARVN Line. Once first Platoon reached the wall, they turned right and started maneuvered along it towards the “The Dong Ba Gate/Tower…………. These are their stories.
 

The Wall

 

February 13th 1968, Told by Jesus Quintana, Alpha 1/5 – 1st Platoon
We left the Compound in the early morning. We were in front. The two other Companies, Bravo and Charlie, they left the compound, and went straight ahead. And we didn’t. As soon as we went out the door and got out onto the street, we turned left and went down a side street. And I guess that the others were going to cover to the front. They could still shoot from where they were at, but they were like about, probably two blocks away. And, this street that they were on had a big wall thing in the middle. With grass, maybe some trees and some benches. It’s in between the two streets and they might go for a block, two blocks, or three blocks, you know, like we got here in the United States? Well, that’s the way this was.

So when we left the compound, that’s what was in front of the compound all the way out. We did pass some ARVN. An ARVN unit that were in the houses. They seen us coming and they were grinning and waving. Somebody made a joke and said, “I wonder what we’re getting into” you know? We all thought it was the unit that we were replacing. And then I found out through history, that the unit that we were replacing which was the ARVN airborne unit had already left the day before I think. And these were just remnants of these guys.

Anyway, we took a right, and there was a wall. The wall started right there. And it was about an 11 foot wall, It was holding back the high ground, that’s what it was. It was an 11 foot wall and it ran all the way down, past the tower to the other side. The entrance that went underneath the tower, was a big, kind of like an overpass, and you could probably drive a vehicle through there or even a tank, maybe. But it was a big opening, and the street went underneath the tower and the other side is where the rest of the town was at. And what we seen were, people running. I don’t remember if it was one, two, three people. I just remember it was more than one. And they ran across, and went underneath that tower. And somewhere along there for some odd reason, we got the command to halt. And we stopped. And that’s when I got behind a 55 gallon metal drum that was full of water that was catching the water off the roof. You know when it rains? It was right there and I just got behind it for some stupid reason, I don’t know why. And while I was sitting there, I kept my eye on the tower. Because growing up watching war movies, any time there’s a tower, there’s going to be snipers right? So I just kept my eyes on it, just staring at this big window in the tower. And about that time I seen this trail of smoke coming. And I remember hollering out, “ROCKETS!” And ah, I got down lower behind the barrel, and I never realized that we had actually past up a crater that was in the middle of the street there. I guess I didn’t pay any attention to it. But there was a crater there. And that rocket came down and landed into that crater, and nobody got hit from it. I remember Staff Sgt. Anderson was right next to it so he just laid right down.
 

From the book “Fire in the Streets”
Alpha Co. 1st Platoon leader Vic Walker and two others crossed the archway of the tower when Chicom Grenades started falling on them from above. Walker and several others were wounded, and his point man was also hit by shrapnel and knocked out. At this time they were now moving back. This is when Walker took out a few NVA leaning over the wall. He then moved back and took cover in some house across the street. Another Squad Leader, Walter Rosolie moved up but was also turned back. At this point Walkers M79 grenadier, Garry Senkbeil yelled out. That’s when Rosie ran up onto the wall and disarmed a claymore. (END)
 

February 13th 1968, Told by Jesus Quintana, Alpha 1/5 – 1st Platoon
Rosie’s Fire Team had pulled back from the Tower and found some steps that lead up to the High-ground to the Tower. I remember there was i think Davis, Harkanson, and another guy that had only been there only a few days. As the Fire Team started up the steps, they were immediately fired on. That’s when Harkanson went to throw a grenade and when he went to swing his arm back, he somehow caught his pack and dropped the grenade. All the guys seen this and continued up the steps fast. Nobody was wounded from it thank god. That’s when they say, Rosie found a Clay-more and picked it up and threw it at the enemy.
 

February 13th 1968, Told by David Rippberger, Alpha 1/5 – 1st Platoon
I remember this one NVA leaning over the wall and I unloaded an entire magazine of tracers into him. I Found out later from Vic Walker that we were both probably shooting at the same NVA’s up on the wall.
 

February 13th 1968, Told by Jesus Quintana, Alpha 1/5 – 1st Platoon
Still, guys were all lying up against the wall at the tower, and I remember an incident were Gerry Senkbeil was hollering out of a house across from the tower that he could see up on the wall. I remember him saying that it looked like the enemy were changing places. In other words, one guy got killed, and the other guy who didn’t have a weapon would run up and take the weapon from the other NVA. OK, But Senkbeil couldn’t shoot because he used an M79, and he couldn’t get him. And so he hollered “RIPPBERGER!” And Rippberger was the one that said, “I can get a shot” and then yelled, “I’m going to run and jump through the window! Is there anything in my way? Is there any debris and stuff there?” And I remember Senkbeil’s voice saying, “Rippberger! It’s Ok!” and that’s when I looked and saw Rippberger running across the street. Which wasn’t a wide street, we’re only talking about “oh…20….” It was wide enough for a tank to come down that street and maybe enough for some guys walking on a column on both sides. So it wasn’t that wide of a street. But anyways, he ran. I caught him running and it looked like he was going to dive through the window, but I think he wound up just jumping in. But he landed on debris, apparently because the next thing I heard was him kind of coursing Senkbeil out for lying to him. After that, I don’t know what happened to Rippberger.
 

February 13th 1968, Told by David Rippberger, Alpha 1/5 – 1st Platoon
I was forced to take cover from nearby Chicom grenades, dropping my Rifle in the street. Everyone was scattering, trying to take cover wherever they could. I ran and took cover alone in what looked like an old station building full of diesel fuel containers, just opposite of the tower. From this building I can see NVA soldiers moving inside the towers entry. Not having my Rifle, I was still equipped with my Law which was strapped around my back. I remember in the midst of everything jumping out of the doorway and firing the law at the tower. Unfortunately the missile over shot the entryway to the Tower.
 

February 13th 1968, Told to Ric Seesz, by Robert Carson, Alpha 1/5 – 1st Platoon M60 Gunner.
I remember, me and some other guys were in this one building and the next thing we saw was Rippberger jump out of this doorway and fired a Law and jumped back inside. I remember this well, because he looked like a frog jumping out into the street and quickly jumping back in the door way. I also remember a few of the others getting a chuckle out of it.
 

February 13th 1968, Told to Jesus Quintana by Robert Carson, Alpha 1/5 – 1st Platoon
Bob Carson had told me, When they started pulling us back, Vic Walker was standing in a doorway of a building and a rocket came, and the way Carson made it seem, Made it sound like the Rocket went right between Walkers legs and hit the door behind him and not going off. But the look on Vic’s face, you know was full of fear.
 

February 13th 1968, Told by Jesus Quintana, Alpha 1/5 – 1st Platoon
After that I had already been hit and I’ve been patched up on the chest you know, and they were getting ready to call guns up again. And about that time is when I seen Bigg Vulgamore, I think he was from South Dakota, a big tall guy, and kind of looked Swedish looking. But he and J. L. Davis came running up and took my place. And when the Corpsman got done with me, I got up to go up onto the wall again with them. That’s when my gun started to mess-up. So I took off running down the street and I remember staff Sgt. Anderson, yelling out to me, “ GRENADE!” And when I was running, I remember trying to run as fast as I could and noticed I was going to fall. And so I pushed myself as far as I could forward and hit the ground, And when the explosion went off, I didn’t feel like I was hit, so I got up and started down the street again towards by the CP Group behind a wall where there wasn’t all that much happening besides you know, Sound….And so I commenced on the 60, and I remember Jim Billa being there, and I seen J.B. was there, and about probably 6 other guys were standing in that little cubby hole. It was about this time we were called to retreat back.
 

February 13th 1968, Told by David Rippberger, Alpha 1/5 – 1st Platoon
We were all getting shot up! Alpha Company was being wiped out around us. I think it was around this time i cant remember, that I noticed that I had been wounded. I remember being treated by the “Doc” from Shrapnel I received to my hand, arm, and to the back of my head. I quickly wrapped a cloth around my hand and got back into the battle. I can also remember they brought in a tank and the enemy fired on it just missing it. The Rocket came down and went right by our Squad Leader. Thankfully it was a dud and it never went off.
 

February 13th 1968, Told by Jesus Quintana, Alpha 1/5 – 1st Platoon
We got so torn up in Hue that they had to pull us out. That’s when I first got hit. But we got bandaged up and went back into the stuff. We pretty much lost all of our officers with an RPG. I think we lost somewhere like 37 guys total and that’s when they pulled us out and the other companies took over.
 
 

The Turning Point

 

February 18th1968, Told by, Bill James – Alpha Co. 1/5
I remember the 18th. Frisbee and Harkanson I think were 2 of the 6 new guys, Sgt. Jon Pack and I herded to Hue on Feb 14. I recall that supply, in disarray from the move from PhuLoc, didn’t even issue them jungle utilities or jungle boots. Santos Santiago, in the same defensive night position with them was hit in the spine. I will never forget the look on Frank Mariani’s face, also one of the 6 new guys, as the only unscathed person in that position. You don’t bounce back from that kind of thing. Sgt. Guitterez was also new to the Company. An hour or so after we got the wounded and dead cleared from that action. I was hit, and never returned to the company. There were 6 men in 2nd platoon including S.Sgt Jim Monroe (my actual).
 

February 18th 1968, Told by, Robert Carroll – Alpha Co. 1/5, 2nd Platoon
Bill is right about the Feb 18th ambush, Sgt. Guiterrez, died of a stomach wound next to me, and Frisby, I believe shot by an N.V.A gun team in the head. If Bill James, and a couple other marines had not come up to get us out, I believe the sniper and gun team would of taken us all out, we were mortared, hit with chicoms, the sniper nearly got me in the head, I think the sniper got the third Marine KIA. I think our patrol got too far out in front of our own lines we got ambushed. Bill must remember the tank that shot at us by accident as we were carrying dead Marines back to our line. Bill got hit by RPG that day, I ended up with a small piece of shrapnel in my leg, burned like hell for a while, but nothing serious.
 

February 18th 1968, Told by, Robert Carroll – Alpha Co. 1/5, 2nd Platoon
Bill James was one of the guys also that risked it all to get us out of an ambush a day are two before the 21st raid, Frisby as i said was killed on that ambush, along with the Sargent, and one other Marine, we even had a Marine dropped into Hue with his boot camp gear still on. He was given a wounded or dead marines flak jacket. His name was Frank Mariani, 2 hours off the jet, then finds himself in a bad ambush. Bill never forgot the look on his face as I never did. When I became his squad leader I always tried to be a little easy on him, he was a devout Catholic. And on a number of occasions Frank would say” God sees what we are participating in, what do you think he is going to do to us,” my answer always was shut the f—up Frank your thinking too much. Frank died in bed four or five years ago on the eve Of Troui River Bridge, as he always said he would, and he would always wear that big scar across his nose he got a Troui, his whole life, proud of his purple heart. We were great friends, I miss that New York Italian kid, just as all you guys miss your best friends who never came home.
 

The Final Push to the South Wall

 

February 20th-21st 1968, Told by, Robert Carroll – Alpha Co. 1/5, 2nd Platoon
Yes I was on that raid, we drew straws that night, as to what platoon was going, the term suicide raid was used, more than likely not coming back was used, the fair thing was to draw straws, and second platoon got the short straw lucky us. Staff Sgt. Monore lead the raid, for whatever reason the N.V.A. left the whole building just a few hours before we arrived. Battalion told us to hold the building at all cost through the night cost. The N.V.A. never knew we were there. If there were 20 Marines left in the whole Plt. On that raid I would be surprised, most of the battalion had been shot up very badly by then. It was not hard to go on the raid for me since at that point it was not a matter of if i was going to die in Hue, but when I was, I think a lot of the other Marines felt the same way. We wanted to kill as many N.V.A. as we could at that point, we caught the N.V.A. by surprise that morning, we caught them right in the open, a few were trying to run back to their fighting hole to get their weapons, we found them socializing with each other, stretching, out of their fighting holes at dawn, we let loose with everything we had, to this day I don’t know how many we killed, it felt good, I had lost too many close friends in that battle, I know that sounds crazy, but it felt good, looking at their lifeless enemy bodies, instead of dead Marine!!
 

February 20th-21st 1968, Told by, Bill James – Alpha Co. 1/5
Patrick Polk was Alpha Co. skipper from 2/16 to 2/26. He didn’t have to come out to the field, he was very short, but he did. He volunteered his new company for a raid suggested in the above meeting by Frank “Top” Nuanez. He said, “the only thing we haven’t tried is a raid like we used to do in Korea. Thompson agreed, Polk volunteered Alpha Co, ordered 2d plt led by SSgt Jim Monroe to go in first, the platoon with less than 10 men was fleshed with a sniper team and an 81s FO team. They moved into the tallest bldg in that area, and at daybreak caught the NVA in the open. One of the men on that raid told me years later, “we got them good that time, we got them good.” Just a week after the slaughter on Feb 13.
Jim Monroe was awarded the Silver Star for his part in it. Jim was also offered a battlefield commission, declined it, and accepted meritorious Gunnery Sgt.
 

 
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Comments (7)

  1. Kevin Seldon, Sgt. USMC '98-'05, April 8, 2013
    Good evening I am looking for anyone from Alpha Company who might remember or know Pvt. James Harkanson who was KIA February 18, 1968. I am not related but am a U.S. Marine son of a Vietnam veteran Marine who was with 3/26 at Khe Sanh and current history teacher and college adjunct professor working on a project with high school students to adopt a veteran from the wall and learn their story. It\'s a very effective endeavor for young men and women generationally removed from Vietnam to understand the impact and magnitude of sacrifice. For a few years I have been trying to inquire about James and have found quite a bit from Hdqtrs Marine Corps in terms of after action reports, casualty reports but nothing that can tell me about James. I am curious if anyone remembers him, knew him or knows the circumstances surrounding what was happening the day he was killed Feb. 18th. I know I am an outsider but my intentions are to preserve the memory of these Marines. I can think of no great effort than to ensure that sacrifice never falls upon a forgetful conscience by the generations that precede. Semper Fi Reply
  2. Guy Day, January 17, 2014
    My uncle was Lance Corporal Howard R, Carpenter Jr. He was KIA 18FEB1968 in Hue. He was A 1/5. I was born 21JUL1968, so I didn't get to know him. Can anyone please give me details of his death? I appreciate and and all information. Thank You. Reply
  3. William Frisbee, February 17, 2014
    Dennis Wayne Frisbee / Frisby A 1/5 KIA 2/18/1968 as mentioned above was my Cousin and I still miss him. He was very special to us. Can anyone give any further memories of serving with him on that dreadful mission. Bill James and Robert Carroll I see you remembered him, any small detail would be a Godsend. Thank you all for your service. Reply
    • David Thompson, February 15, 2015
      Go to: 1-5vietnamveterans.org A lot of the Hue City guys are members. S/F Reply
  4. William A. Andrews ( Joe ), November 2, 2014
    My brother, L/CPL Michael A. Andrews was with Charlie Co. 1/5 and was KIA on the 20th of Feb 68. I would really appreciate hearing from any Marine that may have known him. I also served in the USMC from Oct 68 to Oct 71 but did not serve in Vietnam but spent my time in Cuba. Semper Fi to all of my Marine Brothers out there. Reply
  5. Phil Peeler, February 15, 2015
    It must of been on 14,15 or 16th of February. 2nd sq was to hook up with other Marines on our right flank & we were in no mans land cause we couldn't see any one to our right. My sq leader (don't remember his name) sent me to find the other unit. If I don't find them get my butt back asap. I went along the back row of houses & across a small alley & couldn't hear or see any Marines. So I snooped & pooped my way back to 2nd sq when I heard the whoosh of a RPG coming my way. I took off like a drunk gooney bird zig sagging my way back to my squad. Brother's they looked like 1,000 miles from me but I was running as fast as I could. I must of been off balance when I tripped & fell face down & then BOOM it hit behind me. Seems like 1/2 of HUE CITY dirt came down on top of me. Not feeling any pain I jumped up & ran faster than before hit the ground & rolled to 2nd sq. We checked to see if I was hit & didn't know it. Then for a short time had a chuckle. Never did find the other unit that day. My luck ran out on the 17th & I got zinged by RPG along with 3 or 4 Marines one of which if I remember correctly was a radio man & still had new utes on.He got it pretty bad. I remember the brave truck drivers from motor T coming in fast & then turning around to pick up our WIA. The driver leaned out the window & when he got the high sign he was booking back to the medevac station like he was in a race. Reply
  6. charlotte edwards, March 6, 2015
    Its with a Heavy heart I report the loss of my dear dear friend, Lt. Leo Myers, 2/5...a highly decorated Marine an at the fall of Hue City...he received 2 Purple Hearts, Silver Star for single handedly taking an embedded trench of Viet Cong with grenades to save his men...my friend, along with 3 other Marines took the Viet Cong flag down an put up Ole Glory.....he passed on Feb. 26, 2015... Reply

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