MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
Operation Lam Son 250
Breakfast at the Ben Hai River
By Virgil Melton, Jr. 02/12/13
1st Platoon, Alfa Co., 3rd Tanks 67/68/69
In the early morning of 15 August, 1968 the 1st Platoon, Company A and the 3rd Platoon, Company B, 3rd Tank Battalion, one Army tank retriever and two ARVN Regiments in APCs departed from Gio Linh on Operation Lam Son 250. The Operation was under the command of Capt. R. J. Patterson, Company A, 3rd Tank Battalion. We departed Gio Linh at 0400 hours and traveled North up the coastline of the South China Sea.
All ten tanks moved slowly up the coast by the light of the moon in a single file formation so as to sustain minimum mine damage. As the sun began to rise we turned Northwest and made our way on top of a sand dune ridge and then turned back North on the ridge. At daybreak we arrived at the end of the sand ridge which split in two directions, one ridge running East and the other West.
I was the tank commander of A15 and my tank was the lead tank. Capt. Patterson was aboard my tank, which he used as his command post. From our observation point we could see the Ben Hai River and between us and the river was what appeared to be an old plantation. Camped out on the plantation was an estimated 600 to 800 NVA eating breakfast. We were so close you could smell the food.
We had completely surprised the NVA and we took full advantage of it. I ordered my gunner, L/Cpl. Ronald Floyd, to fire at will using the 90 mm main gun and all 10 tanks begin to fire in unison. Capt. Patterson ordered the two ARVN Regiments of APC’s to flank the NVA on the West side. With all tanks now spread out and firing from the ridge we clearly had the advantage.
The NVA had no time to use their light artillery. Our tanks destroyed it quickly. The NVA begin to return fire with RPG’s, mortars and machine guns, however we took most of them out. We called in air support and shortly a Huey Gunship showed up and began spraying the enemy with machine gun fire.
The ARVN’s had flanked the NVA on the left and were pushing them east to the coast and our tanks were moving forward pushing them to the North. Many of the NVA panicked, breaking formation and began to retreat North on foot toward the Ben Hai River and East to the coast. Our tanks pursued the NVA all the way to the mouth of the Ben Hai River, destroying two enemy boats, one truck, and many NVA bunkers and fortifications.
Late in the evening Capt. Patterson gave the order to head back to Gio Linh. Many of our tanks had suffered minor damage and A13 hit a mine on the way back which we repaired in less than 15 minutes to get it back to Gio Linh. The Army tank retriever hit two mines leaving it inoperable. We fired a couple of HE into it and called in for a napalm strike to burn it so the enemy could not use it.
The four man Army retriever crew rode back on our tanks. I saved three rounds of HE just in case we ran into trouble on the way back and sure enough we did. We took some machine gun fire from the sand dunes to the West and we returned fire on those positions.
Sgt. Eddie Miers, tank commander of A14, spotted an NVA solider trying to hide in some bushes on top of a sand dune. He headed toward the soldier and the soldier ran toward Sgt Miers’ tank with his hands up and surrendered. Sgt Miers blindfolded the prisoner and took him back to Gio Linh turning him over to the authorities. We arrived back at Gio Linh around 2100 hours.
Some of the Marines that I remember that participated in the operation were Ronald Floyd, Eddie Miers, Rich, Dan Colkosky, and William “Bill” Swisher (Swisher was KIA 1-10-69) and many other faces, I can see but cannot remember their names.
Our tanks inflicted heavy damage to the enemy, being credited with 189 KIA confirmed and 70 KIA probables out of a total confirmed count of 421 KIA’s. Our tanks fired 126 plus rounds of HE, 34 rounds of Beehive, 20 rounds of Canister, 21,675 rounds of .30 caliber and 2,000 rounds of .50 caliber. These figures are conservative because all tanks came back empty or with just a few rounds of ammo left.
Operation Lam Son 250 received little or no recognition but you wouldn’t know that by the Marine Tankers that accomplished their mission that night. I’ve never seen such happy, excited, and thrilled Gung-Ho Marines. We could hardly believe what we had achieved. Operation Lam Son 250 may always be a mere footnote in history, but that didn’t matter to us.
Capt. Patterson put me up for a medal for taking out an RPG team preparing to fire on A13; however, that day every Marine Tanker was a hero and deserves a medal. All of our tanks suffered minor damage from mortars, machine gun fire and mines, yet we had no casualties.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Lord was with us on this journey.
This taken from the 3rd Tanks' August Command Chronology:
“Note: Lam Son is the name of a small ville that was the birthplace of Le Loi, the heroic nationalist who led defeat of invading Chinese in 1428. The name graced many ARVN ops in order to honor Le Loi and nationalist spirit. Literal translation is “Blue Mountain”. Thanh Hoa Pr., NVN.
And Virgil is correct: no reference to the battle he’s written is found in the Foundation Library or a search through several sources. Virgil’s Tank unit made history and the Foundation is making it known.”
Ray Stewart LtCol. USMC (Ret)